Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dietary Supplements in Teens

Are supplements bad for teenagers? Do we need to be concerned about what they are picking up on the shelves and ingesting in an effort to look and/or feel better? According to a recent study, that answer is YES! Wow, I'm amazed I survived my teenage years.

Yesterday a colleague sent me this article abstract:

A Content Analysis of the Quantity and Accuracy of Dietary Supplement Information Found in Magazines with high Adolescent Readership (published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine).

Here's the lowdown - more adult magazines then teen magazines contain dietary supplement information (advertisements, editorials etc.) and of the 88 claims evaluated, 55% were found to be unsubstantiated, 15% accurate, 23% inconclusive, 3% inaccurate, 5% partially accurate. They concluded that teen magazines had few references to dietary supplements but we need to be concerned about adult magazines with high teen readership. These could indeed increase the potential for "unexpected effects or possible harm."

Back when I was in High School I remember going to a local vitamin store and buying l-carnitine. It's amazing I'm still alive and well today isn't it? Sure, other high school students were drinking and driving, driving (even sober that could be a scary thing), smoking or dipping, smoking weed and having unprotected sex. From this article though, it appears I may have been the most at risk for "possible harm" for wanting to burn a little body fat.

This article caught my attention for several reasons. One, like I said, I took dietary supplements as a teenager. If they had Red Bull at that time you better believe I would have stashed that in my locker and consumed it in between classes just to stay awake. Secondly, all dietary supplements have directions on them. Are teenagers exempt from having to read the instructions and take a product as directed? Third, what harm are they talking about? Having worked at CDC for years, I've seen the statistics on teen suicides, STDs, drug use, alcohol use etc. Are dietary supplements really something we need to be concerned about? Show me the evidence and then let's put it in perspective. Sure a little excess vitamin C may give a person the runs but a little weed may send them to a detention center for kids. There are numerous dietary supplements on the market, grouping them into one category and indicating they could cause harm is indeed way off base.

As a high school kid I can tell you I would have been thrilled if the worst thing my fellow athletes did was take dietary supplements. Instead, I had a shortstop who couldn't play one game because she was suspended for coming to school drunk and another upperclassman who went to bat complaining that she may have morning sickness. There's a reason my coach turned to me once during batting practice, shook his head and said "you better strike a lot of batters out this year." And it wasn't because my teammates were harmed from taking dietary supplements.


Jose Antonio PhD said...

Makes me wonder who in the study 'evaluated' the claims?

Robin said...


Where scientific studies have been done, some products have been found to lack the effect the manufacturer claims. In addition, most studies look at the short-term use of best dietary supplements by adult or elite athletes, so we have little information about their possible risks over the long term or in teenagers.