Sports Supplements The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly! Part 2

Chromium was popularized after studies revealed that exercise increased chromium loss, which raised the idea that many athletes may be chromium deficient. The theory is that chromium enhances the action of insulin, especially in relation to protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism. However, promoters (manufacturers) of chromium supplements claim that it reduces body fat, increases muscle tone and increases energy. Although some early studies seemed to indicate that chromium helped subjects reduce body fat and increase lean body tissue (muscle), recent studies refute these claims.

In a recent study (2), 16 untrained males instituted a strength-training program for 12 weeks. During this time, half of the subjects were given 200 micrograms of chromium picolinate and the others were given a placebo. At the end of the 12-week program, body weight, percent body fat, lean body mass and skin-fold thickness was unchanged in both groups. These results indicate that supplementation with chromium, in conjunction with a strength-training program, did not promote a significant increase in strength and lean body mass, or a significant decrease in body fat. There are many other studies that demonstrate the same or similar results.

So, the bottom line here is this: chromium does not enhance fat loss or muscle development. While some exercise enthusiasts may need to supplement with chromium because of a poor diet in relation to loss of the substance through exercise, it will not help you lose weight or gain muscle.

L-Carnitine
Carnitine is an amino acid that synthesizes in the liver and kidneys from two essential amino acids, lysine and methionine. It is also commonly found in meat and dairy products. L-carnitine is billed as an energy-increasing supplement because it increases the body’s use of free fatty acids while reducing muscle lactic acid accumulation, which causes fatigue.

Similar to chromium picolinate, early studies of L-carnitine seemed to suggest that it caused fatty acids to be used during exercise instead of carbohydrates. However, recent (well-designed) studies do not support this idea. In fact, it appears that studies conducted measuring muscle glycogen and lactate levels through biopsy and serum analysis indicate that L-carnitine does not alter fat metabolism at all.

Dehydroepiandrosterone / DHEA
DHEA became popular in 1996 when manufacturers started marketing this substance as a food supplement and not a drug. DHEA is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is a chemical precursor that the body uses to make both androgens and estrogens. This is why it has been marketed for both male and females. DHEA is also contained in wild yams.

Current thinking suggests that as a precursor to androgenic steroids, DHEA supplementation may increase the production of testosterone, which is thought to provide an anabolic steroid-like effect. In addition to the muscle building aspects, manufacturers also claim that it helps reduce body fat and slows the aging process.

While there have not been many well-designed studies outlining the effects of DHEA supplementation, a few studies tend to stand out. In one study (3), which focused on the effects DHEA supplementation in 13 men and 17 women, 40-70 years of age, fifty (50) milligrams of oral DHEA was given to some subjects daily, while the others received a placebo. At the end of six months, it was concluded that both men and women receiving DHEA experienced a significant increase in perceived physical and psychological well-being. In addition, researchers found that the subjects’ human growth hormone levels also rose to that of younger adults.

Another well designed study (4) found similar results. In addition, this study also found that 100mg of DHEA taken for 12 months increased the subjects’ muscle strength, lean body mass and immune functioning.

While the results of this and other similar studies seem very positive, there have been some fairly significant side effects reported from DHEA supplementation.

These side effects have to do with the increase in the levels of androgens in the body.

As such, some men develop gynecomastia (female-like breasts) and some women develop male-like characteristics such as hair loss, increased body hair and a deeper voice.

Due to the lack of long-term controlled studies, the effects of using DHEA on an ongoing basis are not known. In addition, there are those that believe that long-term elevation of estrogen and testosterone may contribute to an increased risk of uterine and prostate cancer.