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Young Athletes Turn to Dangerous Sports Supplements Despite Warning

Creatine and ephedra: With the start of the fall sports season, many young athletes will turn to these over-the-counter supplements to bulk up and increase their stamina. This comes despite repeated warnings that they are unsafe.

The Early Show talks to Dr. Jordan Metzl.

What has been your experience? Do you see kids in your own practice taking supplements like creatine and ephedra?

I have parents call me all the time asking about sports supplements. Some already have children taking them. Others are considering it and want my opinion. And in all cases I say the same thing: Children should not take these supplements.

Are there any long-term dangers from taking creatine?

Little is known about the long-term effects of taking creatine because there have never been any safety studies done on children. However, it has been linked to muscle injury and kidney problems. Another interesting point: There was a study this year that found kids as young as 11 were taking it.

Now let’s talk about ephedra, another supplement popular with young athletes.

Ephedra is not as widely used as creatine, but it is potentially more dangerous. In fact a study in the New England Journal of Medicine has linked ephedra to 18 deaths in California alone over the past 2 years.

Ephedra is found in many over-the-counter products and works by stimulating the heart and central nervous system. Athletes use it to lose weight, increase metabolism, and burn fat.

But since ephedra is classified as a natural supplement it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and therefore very hard to pull off store shelves.

Many children take these supplements behind their parents’ back. But you say there are some common warning signs they should look for:

Team Test

If one child on a team is taking a supplement, there is a high probability others are too. This is why I encourage parents to keep in close contact with the coaches and other parents. And while we've been focusing a lot of attention on boys this morning, this is also a big problem with girls.

Rapid Weight and Muscle Change

This is something we would see in a teen taking creatine or other more dangerous performance-enhancing substances such as anabolic steroids. A teen will, in a very short span of time, gain a considerable amount of weight and begin to get "cut."

Irritability and Hyperactivity

This is common among teens on ephedra. They are often moody and have a hard time keeping focused, because they are overstimulated. If your young athlete's grades start to fall suddenly, you may want to ask him or her if they are using ephedra.

Are there any supplements that are okay for teens to take?

No, because supplements have not been tested in children. So if you have a child playing a sport who is looking to bulk up, it's importnt you tell them that gradual is the way to go. Get them involved in a strength training program or have them talk to a nutritionist, who can suggest what foods can help them get bigger.
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