Death By Raspberry Ketones And Caffeine Powder: The Dangers Of OTC Supplements

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Logan Stiner died last year after consuming a fatal amount of caffeine. (Photo courtesy of the Logan Stiner Foundation) 

Stiner ingested 23 times the amount of the stimulant that you’d find in a standard coffee drink. While not a supplement, the powder is often marketed as a weight-loss helper. It is also legally and easily obtained, even though just a teaspoon can deliver a deadly punch of caffeine. The FDA’s investigation into the powder is ongoing.

Part of the problem with supplements in particular is that they’re regulated much differently than drugs. “They’re regulated more like foods,” says Eliseo Guallar, MD, DrPH, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “They don’t have as tough a standard, and some of the claims reflect that.” Think: miracle weight loss.

This is unsupported, however. “Very often they don’t have the studies to back up their claims, and then they start moving the target to fix that — like the study was on the wrong population,” Guallar explains.

In general, distinct populations are all supplements should be used for — and not the ones that claim big slim-downs and the fountain of youth.

Guallar, who has studied the widespread effects of supplements like daily vitamins and minerals, says even these common forms have no clear evidence that they work to prevent disease or provide substantial health benefits for the general population. “They might work for a certain population, perhaps for overcoming a deficiency, but half of adults in the United States take a vitamin,” he explains.

Big results are unlikely. In fact, a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism did not find that any specific supplement promoted significant weight loss, only that some like green tea, fiber, and calcium supplements could “complement a healthy lifestyle.” But in particular, author Melinda Manore, PhD, RD, called out products containing substances like caffeine, ephedra and synephrine as “likely to produce adverse side effects,” saying that they “should be avoided.” This would include Forza.

Like Guallar says, there are many different kinds of supplements, and even “natural” substances can be harmful. The biggest danger might ultimately be in the idea that they’re not dangerous. “I think people have the idea that these supplements are safe, because you can buy them at the supermarket,” Guallar says. “And then they think, ‘If one is good, then why not take two?’”

So, beware and be smart: Over-the-counter supplements are not without dangers, and they can be just potent as the drugs prescribed by your doc.

Perhaps more so.

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