December 9th, 2014

Health N' Sports: Supplements

Staff Report

Health N' Sports: Supplements
Photo provided by Norton Sports Health

Fast results. Dramatic effects. Build muscle mass. Enhance performance. The promises go on and on when it comes to all the sports supplements on the market. But do they really deliver on those promises? And, more important, are they safe?  Learn more from the experts from Norton Sports Health.

Sports supplements are readily available in nutrition and drug stores and online. They may include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs and other compounds. Sports supplements do not require U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. That means their quality and safety cannot be ensured.

“When it comes down to it, protein and energy bars don’t do a whole lot of good, but they don’t do any harm either,” said John Lach, M.D., director of sports medicine at Norton Audubon Hospital. “On the other hand, supplements such as ‘natural’ steroids, creatine and fat burners can be very dangerous.”


Unlike anabolic steroids, androstenedione (also known as andro) and dehydroepiandrosterone (also known as DHEA) are available to just about anyone as “anabolic agents,” “natural steroids” or “prohormones.”

Some of these contain substances similar to testosterone and have similar side effects to the more dangerous anabolic steroids. These include testicular shrinkage and baldness in men, facial hair growth in women, and infertility and stroke in both men and women. Steroids can also cause mental health problems, including depression and mood swings. And teens who use andro while they are still growing may not reach their full adult height.


Creatine is a popular supplement with athletes. It is a naturally occurring substance manufactured by the liver, kidneys and pancreas, and it is found in meat and fish.

 “People usually take creatine to improve strength,” Dr. Lach said. “The effects haven’t been studied in teens, but research in adults found that creatine had no effect on athletic performance in nearly one-third of athletes studied. It has not been found to increase endurance or improve aerobic performance .”Common side effects of creatine include weight gain, diarrhea, abdominal pain and muscle cramps. It can also affect kidney function. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people younger than age 18 do not use creatine.

Fat burners

Some athletes use fat burners to lose weight or increase energy. They used to contain ephedra, which can cause heart problems, stroke and even death. Ephedra has been taken off the market, but fat-burning supplements still exist with ingredients similar to ephedra, including bitter orange or country mallow. These supplements can cause high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and seizures.

“Many fat burners also contain caffeine or other caffeine sources,” Dr. Lach said. “This combination may lead to restlessness, anxiety, racing heart, irregular heart beat and the risk for having a lifethreatening side effect.”

Protein powder

It’s true athletes may need more protein than less active people, but most teen athletes get all the protein they need through eating healthfully. It’s a myth that athletes need a high daily intake of protein to build strong muscles. Muscle growth comes from regular training and hard work.

“Taking in too much protein can actually harm the body, causing dehydration, calcium loss and kidney problems,” Dr. Lach said. Good sources of protein are fish, lean meats and poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts, soy and peanut butter.

When it comes to sports supplements, the fact is studies on adults show that their claims are weak at best. They won’t make you any stronger, faster or more skilled. They will cost you a lot of money and could be bad for your health. Instead of turning to supplements, concentrate on good nutrition, sleeping well and following a weight training and aerobic-conditioning program.

The Norton Sports Health team of highly trained sports medicine specialists include orthopedists, neurologists, physiatrists and primary care physicians who work together with trainers, physical therapists, nurses, nutritionists and other care providers to design customized programs that return patients to optimal performance and fitness following a sports-related injury. Learn more at



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