Health Encyclopedia

Steer Clear of Sports Supplements

Big-name sports stars aren't the only ones who use risky performance-boosting drugs or supplements. High school youths, especially athletes, frequently use supplements ranging from energy drinks, vitamins, herbs and minerals to illegal anabolic steroids.

In well-publicized cases, star athletes have suffered serious and even fatal harm from these drugs and supplements. The possible short- and long-term threats include stroke, heart attack and cancer. Yet many youths who've used steroids, ephedra and similar substances aren't aware of the potential risks. Even worse, some youngsters do know the risks, and they choose to ignore them.

Young people don't look that far down the road. They have a sense of invincibility. They rationalize it away; they say there's no proof. They like what's happening to them.

Youth often see their sports heroes using what seem to be magic potions, and they want to do it, too.

Experts say the answer is education. Parents, coaches and teachers must learn the dangers so they can teach children to avoid these unsafe substances.

Popular supplements

Here is a rundown of several popular supplements and their safety:

  • Anabolic steroids. The claim is that these substances build muscle mass and strength. Fact: These substances are illegal and dangerous, boosting the risk for stroke, heart disease, liver damage, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, as well as testicular shrinkage and breast enlargement in men.

  • Androstenedione. The claim is that these substances build muscle mass and strength. Fact: "Andro," which is a banned substance, raises the risk for heart disease, cancer, liver damage and stroke, also leads to testicular shrinkage and breast enlargement in men.

  • Chromium picolinate. The claim is that this substance builds muscle mass and reduces fat. Fact: Studies have shown this supplement leads to liver damage, kidney damage, and a condition called rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue, which is very dangerous).

  • Creatine. The claim is that this substance builds muscle mass, and may cause weight gain. Its effect on the kidneys is unclear.

  • Ephedra. The claim is that this substance boosts energy and maintains body weight. Fact: Ephedra is dangerous, causing rapid or irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, nerve damage, stroke, and memory loss. It has been taken off the market, but products with ephedra-like qualities are still promoted.

Red flags for anabolic steroid use:

  • Sudden bulking and muscling up

  • Violent emotional swings

  • Very severe and widespread acne

  • Hair loss

  • Breast enlargement in boys

  • Facial hair in girls

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly condemns the use of performance-enhancing substances. The AAP recommends a sensible strength and conditioning program along with a well-balanced diet with proper hydration for the best long-term improvements in performance.

Medical Reviewers:

  • MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
  • Trevino, Heather M., BSN, RNC