I’m often asked about the role of supplements in terms of improving health and optimizing overall wellness. As a physician trained to practice evidence-based medicine, I am wary of claims about foods and products that are not substantiated with legitimate research; however, I am particularly concerned about products and practices that can do harm without extensive checks and balances in the testing process incorporated into the approval of regulated prescription medications in the United States. Over-the-counter muscle building supplements are very popular among young, healthy groups of people seeking to improve appearance and build muscle mass, and a recently-published study in British Journal of Medicine, calls to question the safety of creatine and androstenedione-based products, often used in young male adults as a way to build body mass.
The study showed that men who used muscle-building supplements for once a week for more than four consecutive weeks had a 65% greater risk of developing testicular germ cell cancer. Additionally, it demonstrated that there was a higher rate of testicular germ cell cancer among men who used muscle-building supplements before age 25, in those using multiple supplements and in those who used them for a prolonged period of time. This study is important because it is the first of its kind to analyze the risk of a modifiable condition for testicular cancer, a cancer not as well-understood as some others including as lung, colon or breast, for example.
My message is simple. Getting valuable building blocks from nutrient-rich food in otherwise healthy individuals though a well-balanced diet is preferable to taking supplements to achieve the same result. Moreover, future studies will give us more information about these early results and provide data to help us navigate guidelines as a way to optimize our over-all health. There are always specific cases which merit the use of certain protein and vitamin supplements, so it is always best to consult with your physician on an individual basis. However, research from the Predimed Study from Spain and others has shown that a Mediterranean diet is the optimal way of preventing disease, reversing diabetes, preserving cognitive function, controlling obesity and achieving optimal health. I advise people to ask critical questions about product and internet claims and to demand, “show me the data.” Be skeptical of products claiming to deliver exceptional results and be concerned about possible negative consequences from using untested products and results that promise to be “too good to be true.”
N Li, R Hauser, T Holford, Y Zhu, Y Zhang, B A Bassig, S Honig, C Chen, P Boyle, M Dai, S M Schwartz, P Morey, H Sayward, Z Hu, H Shen, P Gomery, T Zheng.Muscle-building supplement use and increased risk of testicular germ cell cancer in men from Connecticut and Massachusetts. British Journal of Cancer, 2015; 112 (7): 1247 DOI: 10.1038/bjc.2015.26