Food & Drink Magazine

Should High School and College Students Avoid Most Nutritional Supplements?

By Gjosefsberg @gjosefsberg

Gal’s Note – I recently posted up a page with various products that I use and received a question about supplements.  As a rule, I avoid the various “exercise” supplements because I would rather work on my body the old fashioned and natural way.  However, I received this little guest post at around the same time and thought it was very appropriate.

Should High School and College Students Avoid Most Nutritional Supplements?

Nutritional supplements are used by a large number of high school and college students, especially athletes. One of the major problems of these supplements is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements as foods instead of drugs. Unfortunately, due to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), passed in 1994, supplement manufacturers are not required to demonstrate efficacy.

Consumer Reports stated that supplement manufactures can actually launch products without any testing. They just have to send the Federal Drug Administration a copy of the language on the label. Consumer Reports also states that the DSHEA makes it the responsibility of the FDA to prove that a supplement on the market isn’t safe.

According to the UC Berkeley Wellness Center, flawed studies are vigorously cited by manufacturers of dietary supplements in support of dubious products. The Wellness Center also states studies that fail to mention the negative effects of a supplement. Supplement purveyors don’t have to guarantee that what’s in the bottle conforms to what’s placed on the label.

The American Dietetic Association suggests consumers be aware of recommendations which are taken from studies which have been published without peer review.

The University of Maryland Medical Center states that due to potential side effects and interactions with medications, dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable healthcare provider.

The UC Berkeley Wellness Center provides the claims, purported benefits, and its own evaluation of large number of popular dietary supplements.

Protein Supplements

Erin Palinski, a personal trainer and a registered dietitian, said, “Protein, for example, is relatively safe. But some products may contain multiple sources of protein … teen athletes who get too much can excrete calcium, which could decrease bone mass. Since that’s prime time for bone building it could lead to future problems.” High levels of protein intake can also lead to kidney damage and dehydration.


Some people claim that creatine, a supplement popular with bodybuilders athletes, increases high-intensity athletic performance. However, the American College of Sport Medicine stated creatine shouldn’t be used by people younger than 18. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the use of creatine can cause muscle cramps, upset stomach, diarrhea, high blood pressure, dizziness, kidney damage, and liver dysfunction. Effectiveness and safety has not been tested in people under 19.

Proprietary Mix and Matrix

Nick Karcz, a human performance specialist at Holy Family Memorial Hospital in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, said, “Be cautions of products that say proprietary mix or matrix. You don’t know how much of anything you’re getting.” Studies have found that some proprietary mixes have contained illegal steroids.

Ergogenic Nutritional Supplements

Ergogenic nutritional supplements are generally used by athletes. The McKinley Health Center, part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, provides a list of some of the most popular supplemental ergogenic aids. The list includes their legality as well as a brief statement of their claimed action, actual research of these claims, and side effects.

If high school and college students insist on taking dietary supplements, they should at least look for supplements which have the U.S. Pharmacopoeia (USP) or National Formulary (NF) notation. They signify that the manufacturers have undergone voluntary evaluation of product strength, purity, labeling, and weight variation.

Students should discuss nutritional supplements with a health professional who is knowledgeable about nutrition and supplements. According to many doctors and nutritionists, people who eat a normal diet generally don’t need nutritional supplements, even if they vigorously exercise.

Brian Jenkins writes feature articles about careers in athletic training as well those in nutrition for

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