If you open a bodybuilding magazine or walk into any given supplement store, you get flooded with the wildest claims about the latest diet supplement pill that will make you lose X amount of pounds a week and turn you into a hulking Greek God in 6 weeks.
On the flip side of the coin, we have lawmakers and aggressive media claiming that these diet supplement pills - which are actually just a combination of ephedrine and caffeine and little more in 9 cases out of 10 - kill people right and left and should be banned immediately.
What's up with that? Are they really dangerous, or are they the magic key to ripped abs? The answer is: "Yes" to both questions - all depending on how you approach the issue. It is TRUE that ephedrine has killed people. It is also TRUE that tens of thousands use them with little or no side effects.
Ephedrine = Death?
As with everything else, too much of anything isn't good for you. Vitamins are great, unless you decide to chug a 100-pill bottle a day. THEN you get sick. Not because vitamins are necessarily bad for you, but because you're a moron without common sense who won't read the label.
The same holds true for ephedrine-based diet supplements. It is NOT for everyone. The labels clearly state that kids, pregnant women, those with high blood pressure, and some other medical conditions should not use them. What is more, the labels usually recommend a low to moderate dosage per day.
Let's ask ourselves: How many of the serious cases used as grounds for banning ephedrine in supplements are caused by:
- Exceeding the recommended dosage.
- Using the product in spite of medical condition.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any statistics for this, but I know that EACH AND EVERY CASE I've read about was caused by one of the two above.
It is my belief that - used sensibly - we have little to fear from ephedrine. We must respect the drug for what a powerful substance it is, and always put our health first. It's like being able to have a beer with your friends once in a while - there's no danger in that as long as you respect alcohol and don't try to drive for a couple of hours afterwards, and recognize the ever-present potential for abuse and alcoholism.
It might sound bizarre to talk about alcohol this way, but it puts a perspective on those who happily swallow ten times the recommended dose of diet pills for weeks on end, and then get surprised when they get sick. In a nutshell: Keep it sane - and safe - and you have little to fear.
Hype And Bogus
So let's look at the other side of fence. The supplement manufacturers market their stuff as the greatest thing since sliced bread, trying to put on a facade of scientific mumbo-jumbo, or using professional bodybuilders in an economic pinch, or the worst of all - trying to wake your competitive instinct by hinting that you can be the guy kicking sand in the face of the other guys on the beach. Any way you look at it, it's 99% hype and bogus.
The bottom line is that most of the active ingredients are ephedrine and caffeine, usually with some herb that supposedly imitates the effect of aspirin. The rest is usually fillers, trying to justify the outrageous claims. Sure - chromium picolinate IS good for you, and WILL help you stay in shape - in the long run. It'll work over the next 6-12 month and make you more sensitive to insulin, which translates to less fat storage. Once again, over the long run. It is NOT some 1-hour magic potion.
The other ingredients are typically herbs and components that created some kind of "revolutionary" study back in the 80s ... But later were proven useless for one reason or another. Nonetheless, the manufacturer can claim exceptional potency by quoting that first, bulls-t study.
Bottom line: It's almost like buying gas. There's very little difference - if any - between the brands that really counts.
What you DO want to look out for is con men who don't deliver the goods. You're paying for high quality, and should expect to receive what's on the label. Be wary of knock-offs that look like a big brand product, but are sold for half the price. Granted, some very well might be legit, but like in the case of creatine: Ask for an independent lab report to verify the claim if you're suspicious.