Dangers in quest for body beautiful

Those who take pills and powders to lose weight or gain muscle need to know that they are not without their risks.

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As the number of people striving for the body beautiful increases, so does the range of pills, powders, supplements and medicines promising to help people lose weight or gain muscle. Every shopping mall seems to have at least one shop dedicated to health and fitness supplements and many more shops offer these products alongside healthy foods. Worldwide, these supplements are a multibillion-dollar industry.

Yet they are also an industry with very little regulation and even less understanding from consumers. This was highlighted this week when The National reported that the banned weight-loss pill Oxy Elite Pro was still available under the counter at some stores in Dubai.

The pill, marketed as a fat burner, is said to boost workout performance and was popular with those trying to lose weight. But several countries have banned the organic compound, 1,3-dimethylamylamine, which is linked to cardiovascular problems and heart attacks.

Oxy Elite Pro may be banned, but the wider issues of supplements remains. It is not that these weight-loss and fitness pills and powders are inherently dangerous, but that they are rarely used properly. Walk into any supplement store and the shelves are packed with powders and meal-replacement bars and shakes that promise enhanced performance. But how necessary are these protein shakes? How many are too many? And what about combining supplements with other supplements?

With prescribed medicines, doctors and pharmacists have to take into consideration other medicines that a patient is taking. But with supplements, there is no such oversight. Young men, those who aspire to lose weight or gain muscle, can easily be influenced by the image of glamour and strength that surrounds these supplements and feel that they need to take protein shakes or powders several times a day. That, combined with exercise and other medicines or supplements could elevate blood pressure or heart rates to dangerous levels. There have been numerous cases of people suffering heart attacks linked to excessive use of supplements.

The answer is not regulation but education. Parents, spouses and family members need to be aware of the potential dangers. And those who take such pills and powders need to know that they are not without their risks. Too much of anything can be bad for you.