Food supplements are used in medicine, pharmacy, sports and beauty, and many people buy and use them recklessly relying on advertising promises of immediate and noticeable effect. Irina Kazuša, lecturer and chemist at Rīga Stradiņš University, reveals the truth about the “magical” carnitine and taurine added to energy drinks, “magical” water, amino acid cocktails in sports, chemical peeling beauty treatments etc.
“The number of food supplement users is so high because people ignore simple regularities taught at elementary school – physical and chemical regularities, which ensure our life processes. Lack of knowledge about these regularities allows manipulating with information, as occasionally we lack critical thinking skills. The human life is maintained by extremely harmonious processes – homeostasis,” says Ms Irina Kazuša.
“Any intervention in the process of homeostasis causes a response. Therefore, we should think about consequences of using food supplements and whether we are ready to use them for the entire lifetime, because, as soon as the consumption of food supplements is ceased, the cell has already accustomed to this particular substance in the food supplement and to its high concentration. Moreover, the ability of this cell to synthesize this substance may already be slowed down. For example, carnitine and taurine, most frequently used by athletes, are among such molecules. Taurine is an ingredient of energy drinks and is promoted as an energy booster. It is a molecule, which binds with bile acid and emulsifies fats in the intestinal tract. This is one small step in the metabolism of fats. It is the same with carnitine. “Magical” qualities are attributed to both these molecules, although they cannot handle the entire job alone, because the rest set of the metabolism is required as well.”
“It should also be noted that many people misinterpret the advertising phrase “fat burning” and stop eating fatty food. As a result, we are using molecules that ensure metabolism of fats, at the same time refusing to eat fatty food. It turns out that the food supplement substance is working needlessly and the homeostasis operates unreasonably.”
“A healthy individual should speed up the metabolism through nutrition – carbohydrates, fats and proteins. We receive the majority of our proteins from vegetables, less through meat, cereals, milk and fruits. Sometimes people renounce this proportion in favour of a particular group of products. For example, athletes renounce proteins and consume amino acid cocktails with an aim to replace the proteins. These cocktails can be used for a while, however, it is absurd to assume it would promote building of muscles. In case of insufficient physical load, amino acids will create reserves – fat molecules,” reveals the chemist.
“It is the same with carbohydrates. Total renouncing of carbohydrates might lead to a risk of suffering from ketoacidosis or increased environmental acidity. The concentration of ketone substances grows causing the increased acidity. This condition is often observed in people suffering from various diseases, such as diabetes. Those, who are not aware of it, foster the creation of this pathological condition by themselves. A significantly increased concentration of carbohydrates is another extreme. Such condition might be caused by consuming energy drinks. The concentration of carbohydrates increases, but the person is sitting at the computer, however, energy is generated only through physical load. Lack of physical activities leads to the creation of fat reserves.”
Carnitine, taurine and caffeine are mentioned the most frequently, occasionally they are called “magical molecules”. Products are often advertised as scientifically proven, which makes buyers of food supplements believe it, though there is no legitimate evidence to support it. Possibly, studies have been carried out on animals, still the phrase “scientifically proven” is used.”
“Nowadays, even water is called “the magic molecule”. Still, water is nothing else but water – the substances dissolved in it and their concentration might differ,” emphasizes the researcher.
Concerning food supplements in beauty, there is a prevailing stereotype that expensive things are better. “For example, everybody is aware that putting acid on the skin is unpleasant and in such case medical attention is needed, as it is a chemical burn. However, when we are asked to pay for this as a service, it is called chemical peeling.”
“To conclude, I would like to emphasize that we should think critically about the necessity these foreign molecules. Do we really want to sustain the food supplement business? Let us focus on our own health,” adds the chemist.