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Against Recommendations, Supplements Are Popular Among Teens

August 23, 2021 at 12:00 PM EST.

Teens face a lot of pressures on their way into adulthood: alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex, etc. But there’s another risky habit that is not as regulated or talked about: supplements.

Recently, a team of researchers from the medical journal Pediatrics went undercover as teenage football players, with goal of building muscle. The researchers called almost 250 health food stores to ask about taking creatine, a popular sports performance supplement that is naturally found in the body and involved in energy production. 67% of the time, customer service representatives recommended over the phone that the undercover footballer use the supplement.

In fact, 40% of the time, the representatives recommended it without even being asked about it, and 74% of the salespersons told the undercover teen that a 15-year-old could buy it without a guardian.

Doctors say this is a dangerous discovery because little is known about long-term risks associated with creatine and other supplements. Creatine draws water out of blood vessels and into muscles, which visually enlarges muscles. This false sense of gain in muscle mass is actually just water weight, and not a growth of muscles. The shift of water from blood vessels to muscles can be a risk for kidney and liver failure and electrolyte abnormalities, as well as muscle breakdown.

In addition to the known and unknown side effects, it’s also important to recognize that the FDA does not regulate supplements, which are considered a “food” and not a “drug”.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against the use of creatine , and warning labels on creatine powders, bars and drinks state it is not to be used under age 18. Doctors say guardians and health professionals need to have frank discussions with teens on the potential damagers of creatine use, and spend more time educating them on the usual recipe of a balanced diet and regular exercise.