Supplement retailers pushing creatine and testosterone boosters to teen athletes

Supplement retailers pushing creatine and testosterone boosters to teen athletes

Researchers posing as 15-year-old high school football players wanting to increase their muscle strength phoned 244 chain and local health food stores in the U.S. and asked sales clerks what supplements they would recommend. If the sales clerk didn't mention creatine or testosterone boosters, the "student" specifically asked the clerk about them.

As reported this month in Pediatrics, a whopping 67.2% of sales clerks recommended creatine; 38.5% without prompting and 28.7% when asked about it. Almost 10% of the clerks recommended a testosterone booster.

According to the researchers, teenagers commonly get information about muscle-enhancing supplements from so-called health food stores, like GNC and the Vitamin Shoppe, who advertise their sales clerks as "expert[s] in health and wellness products" and "knowledgeable, courteous, and extensively trained Health Enthusiasts ready to help with all your health and wellness needs." No one has actually tested these claims of expertise however, and this study indicates they don't know what they are talking about.

There is little research on the effects of adolescent creatine use. These researchers note that anecdotal evidence suggests creatine may impair hepatic and renal function, cause compartment syndrome and cause dehydration and muscle cramps, although other research refutes the dehydration effect. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend against creatine use by those under 18.

Testosterone boosters are herbal or synthetic supplements that purportedly increase testosterone levels in the bloodstream by inducing the body to produce more testosterone or inhibiting the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. (Creatine is one ingredient in some testosterone booster supplements.) In adults, testosterone boosters can cause polycythemia, increased blood viscosity, prostatic hyperplasia, liver damage, and exacerbate sleep apnea. In adolescents, there are concerns that testosterone boosters cause the body to shut down natural hormone production, increase acne, and stop bone growth.

As if these weren't enough worries, workout supplements are sometimes adulterated with pharmaceutical drugs that have their own side effects, such as hypertension, stroke and liver injury.

Natural Medicines rates creatine "possibly effective" for sports performance, meaning there is not enough evidence to support its use in most people. As far as dietary supplements to boost your testosterone, WebMD advises "forget it." Healthline agrees. An article in the Journal of Plant Biochemistry and Physiology concluded:

"it appears that most herbal ingredients either lack effect when studied in human subjects or quite simply, have not been studied in a clinical trial [for increasing circulating testosterone]. Hence, there exists no concrete evidence to support their use."

The authors of the Pediatrics article suggest that state laws should be enacted preventing the sale of these muscle-boosting supplements to minors. While bills have been introduced in a few states, none have passed.

The real problem is the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the federal law that allows supplement makers to put their products on the market without any testing for safety or efficacy and make vague "structure/function" claims that no one, including the FDA, appears to understand. Unfortunately, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who sponsored this industry-drafted legislation and whose family has financial interests in the industry, has fended off all attempts to impose reasonable regulation on dietary supplements. Given our current president's background hawking supplements and the primacy of the Republican party, don't expect any of this to change in the foreseeable future. 

Points of Interest 02/26/2017
Points of Interest 02/24/2017