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Health professionals warn of drug hazards

By Lance Cpl. Daniel Thomas | | August 15, 2002

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Dietary supplements and enhancement drugs on the market may offer enticing benefits, but consumers may want to use caution when choosing and using these aids.

Many supplements claim to help people gain muscle and lose fat. They advertise themselves as providing the energy, power and strength needed to whip someone's body into its best shape, all in a matter of weeks. The directions say all one needs to do is take it a couple of times a day.

Does this sound too good to be true?

That's because in many cases it isn't true. However, makers of dietary supplements and enhancement drugs offer these results, and more, all the time.

"There's even one called, 'Exercise In A Bottle'," said Maria S. Norwood, Marine Corps Community Services, Semper Fit health promotions director. "It's so ridiculous, you would think it was on Saturday Night Live."

Supplements and enhancement drugs make numerous claims of benefits but are even more adverse in the side effects they cause.

"Hydroxicut is one that I get asked about a lot," said Norwood. "It's usually the ones that help you lose weight that people ask me the most questions about."

According to Norwood, Hydroxicut's main ingredient is caffeine.

"Caffeine can deplete calcium levels, so people taking these tablets could end up with osteoporosis," said Norwood.

"The main ones that are under scrutiny by the military right now are those containing ephedra f+t   f-t people die from it," said Norwood.

If someone doesn't know they have a heart problem, such as a heart murmur and then takes a supplement containing ephedra, their heart rate could increase and send them into cardiac arrest, said Norwood.

"Manufacturers will say that ephedra is all natural, which is true, but so is cocaine and that's not good for you," Norwood explained.

"It's all based on that dream, that wish, that there is something that can be taken," she said.

"In America we have this idea of doing everything quick," said Navy Lt. Marc T. Young, Branch Medical Clinic, head of clinical support services. "People want to cut corners and take the easy route."

According to Young, around 61 percent of Americans are overweight and so supplement and enhancement drugs are extremely appealing. He also added that it is not just those who are overweight using these drugs. There are a lot of people, usually those under the age of 25, who use bulking up products like creatine and androstenedione.

There is also a large market for supplements aimed at older people, but even these must be used with caution, warned Young.

Herbal supplements such as St. John's Wort, which is used to treat depression, can have adverse reactions with other medications and drugs.

"I wouldn't say all supplements are bad," said Young. "Vitamins and nutritional supplements can be good."

"Garlic, for example, is good for lowering cholesterol, but the amount taken can have bad effects," said Young. "It really just depends on the person."

Lance Cpl. Sean J. Grantham, Marine Air Control Squadron 1, air control electronics operator, says that he has experienced good results from his use of supplements.

"In the last three months my bench press has gone up 60 pounds," said Grantham

"They do help, but they are pricey and you have to be careful when you take them too," said Grantham. "I do research on the Internet, and 'Barnes and Noble' offers a lot of information on nutrition."

According to Young, the most important thing a person can do before they begin to take supplements or enhancements is to discuss it with a proffesional.

"The dangerous thing about dietary supplements is that there isn't a lot of regulations on it," said Young. "The Federal Drug Administration has taken a hands-off approach which I think is going to have to change."

Until then, Young suggests that before people start taking supplements, they talk to their doctor or pharmacist.
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