Why supplements including anti-oxidants should be taken seriously.

Here are a few simple things to know about nutritional supplements, selenium and deer antler velvet

CrossFit Seven and Womens reistance training

Summer and Bill discuss womens resistance training, deer antler velvet and supplements at CrossFit Seven

I was recently informed by the well-meaning  president of a supplement company that there is no upper limit of safety for selenium.  The company president may be well-meaning and sincere in her beliefs, but her belief about selenium is incorrect.  Selenium overdoses occur.  Its hard to do that eating whole foods although it has happened.  Selenium poisoning from food happens only in areas where selenium in soil is extremely high and people eat locally grown food.  Birds and animals can also get selenium poisoning in such areas.  In most cases, selenium poisoning happens when people over do it on nutritional supplements.  Nutritional supplements (unless they are simply inert) contain biologically active ingredients. They are sold with promises of improved health, improved athletic performance or of some other form of improved well-being.   Nutritional supplements are, for the most part, drugs/medicine.

  • Products that are classified as drugs/medicine are required to meet standards of quality and consistency in manufacturing and of safety.    Studies are done in vitro, on animals, and finally on humans.  Drug interactions are checked.  Information is gathered on how the drug is metabolized. Drugs are sometimes metabolized into something deadly before being rapidly metabolized into something safe.  Tylenol is an example.  Not a problem unless something, like alcohol, blocks a metabolic step and traps Tylenol in its deadly form.  This is why people sometimes die when they drink alcohol and then take Tylenol.  This should be common knowledge, but it isn’t, yet.
  • Another important thing to know about a drug or supplement is its “Effective Dose.”  How much is needed to give a desired effect?  How much selenium is needed for health?  How much is too much?   How much is “optimal”?  These are unanswered questions for many nutritional supplements.  What happens if you take too much?  Frequently the answer to that question is unknown as well.
  • Anti-Oxidants should not be assumed to be safe.   Recent research has indicated that anti-oxidants, like oxidants, can harm DNA.  DNA damage can lead to cancer, the very thing anti-oxidants in nutritional supplements are supposed to prevent.
  • The last point to raise for this article is a manufacturing issue.  Like most people, I used to assume that vitamins and supplements contained what was written on the package.   But this is not always the case.  An example is the recent report of human growth factors added to deer antler velvet supplements.  It is hard to believe human growth factors were accidentally added to deer antler velvet supplements.   You’d have to hear the manufacturer out on that one.  However, problems like poor mixing and poor calculations can and do happen.  Our research group found that out the hard way when we tried to use a well-known brand of vitamins for a human health study.

So, how much of what is in a multi-vitamin?   How much of what is in Deer Antler Velvet, DHEA supplements, or “high performance packets?”  Deer antler velvet, especially if it is secretly spiked with human growth hormone may quite unsafe.  Secret additions to supplements may or may not be added carefully or consistently.  There is no way to know unless you are the one doing the spiking . . . or if you have the technical expertise and expensive equipment needed to test it yourself.

The supplement industry is an important economic entity, employing possibly hundreds of thousands of people.  That deserves respect.  It can be very difficult to make a living in what have lately been very difficult economic times.  That said, please understand we fully support the efforts of small businesses and individuals to make a little extra money.     However, we do believe people will be better off knowing more about what they are taking.

Lu LY, Ou N, & Lu QB (2013). Antioxidant induces DNA damage, cell death and mutagenicity in human lung and skin normal cells. Scientific reports, 3 PMID: 24201298
Cox HD, & Eichner D (2013). Detection of human insulin-like growth factor-1 in deer antler velvet supplements. Rapid communications in mass spectrometry : RCM, 27 (19), 2170-8 PMID: 23996390

Morris JS, & Crane SB (2013). Selenium toxicity from a misformulated dietary supplement, adverse health effects, and the temporal response in the nail biologic monitor. Nutrients, 5 (4), 1024-57 PMID: 23538937

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