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Dietary Supplements and The Wild Wild West

Dietary Supplements and The Wild Wild West

A Love Affair

In the spring of 2013, I began a love affair with energy drinks.  I had started a new job and the boss was a big fan of energy drinks.  He is one of the sharpest people that I have ever met and he absolutely loved energy drinks.  He kept energy drinks in the refrigerator in our common kitchen at work.  One day, he offered me a nice cold energy drink before a meeting.  I thought that it was absolutely incredible.  I started drinking Diet Coke when I was in college and eventually switched over to Coke Zero.  I could easily finish an entire 2 liter bottle by myself in one day.  Energy drinks were far superior to any cola that I had ever tried.  After my first energy drink, I felt that I was unstoppable.  I felt like I could run at a 100 miles per hour.  I started buying energy drinks on a regular basis.  First, I would purchase them in packages of four and eventually, I started to purchase energy drinks in packages of twenty-four, realizing that that that is a far more economical option.  I went from drinking one energy drink every day to drinking a few energy drinks a day and eventually, I started five or six energy drinks a day.  Five months after my love affair had begun, things took a turn for the worse.  It was a Sunday afternoon in mid-August and I had just got off the phone after speaking to a customer service representative from my credit card company about some charges that I did not recognize.  I was feeling somewhat aggravated during the conversation.  Then all of a sudden, I started feeling weird.  “Boom, boom…pause.”  “Boom, boom…pause.”  Why was my heart beating like this?  What was happening? What’s going on?  “Boom, boom…pause.”  Am I going to die?  What’s going on?  

A Trip to the ER

Riding in the back of an ambulance en route to the University of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital, I wasn’t quite sure what was happening.  What happened over the next several hours still remains a daze to me.  I remember being hooked up to the I.V. line and various monitors.  I remember various people coming by my room; nurses, medical students, residents, Cardiology fellows.  I remember taking some medication to bring my heart rhythm back to normal.  I remember waking up and falling asleep again and the sound of the T.V. on in the background.  I was told that I would be spending the night at the hospital and in the morning, I would have to go for a cardiac stress test.  This is a test in which a dye is injected into your arm before you run on a treadmill.  The Cardiologist can then study how your heart responds with and without stress.  After spending more than twenty-four hours in the hospital, I was given the ‘green light’ to go home the following day after the Cardiologist had reviewed the results of my cardiac stress test.  My love affair with energy drinks had come to a bitter end.

Exploring the Wild Wild West

After my trip to the hospital, I became interested in better understanding the nutritional supplement industry and how the industry is regulated in the United States.  In the United States, dietary supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administrated under the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Title 21, Part 111, also known as “The Dietary Supplement Rule.”  The “Dietary Supplement Rule” is complicated and comprehensive.  It lays out a number of guidelines for the industry to follow as it relates to manufacturing, chemical testing, microbiological testing, record-keeping, employee training, etc.  Reading the “Dietary Supplement Rule” made me feel happy that the government is doing their part to keep me safe.  I did more reading on the internet and realized that one of the problems in the nutritional supplement industry is that the F.D.A. does not have adequate personnel to regulate such a large industry with literally thousands of products on the store shelves.  Being a Scientist, I knew what I was doing all along when I was consuming energy drinks.  I knew that energy drinks contain caffeine and that too much caffeine can be harmful.  I thought that my body could handle it.  I took me a trip to E.R. to realize that my body could not handle the ridiculous amount of caffeine that I was consuming.  However, the average teenager likely does not understand what they are doing when it comes to supplements such as creatine.  A study [1] that was recently published in the journal, Pediatrics found that 67.2% of retailers at health food stores recommended creatine to teenagers without prompting and an additional 28.7% of retailers recommended creatine to teenagers with prompting.  Creatine use is not recommended for teenagers and excess consumption of creatine can lead to pretty scary outcomes; frightening outcomes just as I had experienced with excess caffeine use. Then there is another problem: many dietary supplements such as those prepared from natural herbs are frequently adulterated with drugs that could cause serious harm.  “Natural” herbal supplements to enhance sexual health have actually been found to be spiked with popular erectile dysfunction drugs such as sildenafil.  “Natural” weight loss supplements have been recalled by the F.D.A. after they were found to contain sibutramine, a drug used to promote weight loss that was withdrawn by the F.D.A. due to cardiovascular risks.  “Natural” supplements that are marketed to athletes to build muscle mass have been found to contain anabolic steroids.  

As a Scientist working in the nutritional supplement industry, I was distraught to read about this as my company, MYOS RENS Technology does play by all of the rules.  Our flagship product, Fortetropin® is fertilized egg yolk that is prepared using a patented process that involves two steps: high pressure pasteurization and freeze drying.  We hold a U.S. patent on our manufacturing process, we have presented at prestigious scientific meeting and have published results from one of our three human clinical studies in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition [2].  

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Where Do We Go From Here?

There are many safe, nutritional supplements on the market that are backed by solid scientific research and prepared from ingredients are truly natural.  When these supplements are used in the intended manner, they can lead to quality of life improvements.  However, products that are safe at relatively low quantities such as caffeine can be very harmful at much higher quantities as I found out the hard way.  Further, adulteration is a major problem in the supplement industry and you have to be vigilant in order to protect yourself which means doing our homework about any supplement that you consider taking.  Does the product have research behind it that has been published in the peer reviewed literature?  How does it work?  What are the active ingredients?  What quality control (QC) testing is done prior to final release of the product?  Does the laboratory follow good laboratory practices (GLPs)?  Who manufactures the product?  Does the manufacturer follow current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs)?  How frequently has the manufacturer been audited?  Have they ever received a warning letter from the F.D.A.?  Has the F.D.A. ever recalled any of their products?  These are questions that you need to ask yourself before you consider taking any supplement.  When in doubt, ask your doctor.

References:

1. Herriman, Maguire, et al. "Dietary supplements and young teens: misinformation and access provided by retailers." Pediatrics (2017): e20161257.

2. Sharp, Matthew H., et al. "The Effects of Fortetropin Supplementation on Body Composition, Strength, and Power in Humans and Mechanism of Action in a Rodent Model." Journal of the American College of Nutrition 35.8 (2016): 679-691.

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