Almost daily, people ask fitness professionals about the latest and greatest dietary supplements that claim to enhance physical performance. Although it is outside the scope of practice of personal trainers and fitness instructors ever to recommend a particular ergogenic aid to anyone, clients want to know if these products produce the results promised in the ads. There is no denying that dietary supplementation is widespread, especially among professional and recreational athletes. Frankly, it can be overwhelming even for nutrition experts to keep up with all the news and scientific research on every supplement that joins the performance-enhancing arsenal.
In this article, we examine the current regulatory state of the dietary supplement market and define the different categories of these products. We also take an in-depth look at four popular dietary supplements in terms of their mechanisms of action, side effects, safety and legality.
Our hope is that the information presented here will give you more detailed knowledge of dietary aids in general. While fitness professionals are not permitted to prescribe dietary supplements to clients, it is possible for you to be a source of current and accurate knowledge about such issues.
CONCERNS ABOUT DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS
It is estimated that nearly 60% of all elite athletes use one or more dietary supplements (Schroder et al. 2002). And people appear to be using these supplements at an earlier age. Today, close to 45% of collegiate athletes consume one or more dietary supplements, most often multivitamin/mineral supplements and creatine (Beck et al. 2006; Jonnalagadda, Rosenbloom & Skinner 2001). The two critical questions most people ask about any dietary supplement are always the same: Is the product safe? And is it effective?
So who is tasked with determining the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements? In the past, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated dietary supplements under the classification of foods to ensure that these aids were safe for human consumption and that package labeling was truthful and not misleading. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. In 1994, Congress enacted the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which some experts say severely limits the FDA's ability to regulate these products (Barrett 2007). By reclassifying dietary supplements as a separate regulatory category from food and drugs, the DSHEA essentially expanded the types of products that could be marketed as supplements and allowed manufacturers to propagate misleading information to consumers about the effects of these aids (Barrett 2007). As a result, many ingredients used in dietary supplements are no longer subject to the pre-market safety evaluations required of ingredients contained in food or drugs. Many nutrition experts believe that the public is now more vulnerable, because under the DSHEA there is no requirement to prove claimed benefits of dietary supplements as there is with drugs; no requirement to show safety with acute or chronic administration; few provisions for quality assurance; and liberal labeling requirements in relation to claims made.
LACK OF QUALITY CONTROLS
Quality control (which can be quite poor or even nonexistent...