Supplements: The Risks And The Benefits Part I (Caffeine and Stimulants)

Dr. Larry Ladi

By Dr. Larry Ladi

More and more people are taking supplements daily from the young to the old, are supplements safe? The honest answer is that it depends on what supplements you are taking. If we speak about over the counter supplements such as those you use before or after a workout you must be very careful because those sometimes have products in them that are psychostimulants and stimulants that can have adverse effects if not taken appropriately.

Supplements such as vitamin D and vitamin C where people may not have enough vitamins in their diet, those are safe to take as well as those pre-workouts but everything is in moderation. The key here is follow the instructions. Unlike medications, a lot of supplements do not have the vigorous FDA (Food and Drug Administration) oversight. So at this point not a whole lot of supplements and drugs do not have the vigorous testing and oversight of the FDA.

With that being said, if you look at the label of some of the supplements, they will tell you vitamins and vitamin B12 and then they have something call proprietary blend. So what’s in that proprietary blend? Sometimes they list some of the ingredients and sometimes they list nothing at all. There may be high doses of caffeine or any stimulant to give you that give you a boost before you work out.

From young ages, children may be in sports and as they get older they may want to set a scholarship or go to major leagues and if they are reading that they should take supplements to help them reach their goal, how do they know what’s safe? Many time young athletes receive a quick sports physical or none at all and they do not receive a cardiac workup. A lot of time you don’t know that they might have some kind of heart problem and they take the supplements recommended to them or more commonly they will take more of it thinking more is better, and more is not always better and it can lead you into a lot of problems.

You need to remember that these supplements have a lot of caffeine or other stimulant in it designed to help get you through your tiredness. However, these speed up your heart rate, and many times they have diuretics in them which causes you to urinate more. So now your urination is up and you are losing more water through your workout in addition to increased urination and you become dehydrated. You take more supplements and now there is an acid base disorder and without enough fluids you have muscle breakdown and this can all lead to problems that are many times seen in an emergency room.

As a parent, grandparent, sibling, you may not know that the athlete is taking supplements. As an example, in 2017, there was a case report done where a teenager overdosed on caffeine. He ended up with a heart arrhythmia and passed away. This brought attention to the use of caffeine and the FDA and the European Council looked at what was considered a normal dose of caffeine. They determined that anything less that 400mg a day is considered safe. This roughly translates to four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola or two “energy shot” drinks. But even these vary from brand to brand and sizes are not consistent. But remember that this varies from person to person also. If you are pregnant or under the age of 16 you should not be taking high doses.

Anything greater than the 400mg. can lead to toxicity which sometimes presents itself as ringing in the ears, your muscles twitch more, you are cramping more, trouble sleeping, your sleep cycles change and you sleep less and never get into deep sleep because of the stimulants so you wake up tired again and then take more stimulants. It becomes a cycle.

Even worse is hearing voices, having auditory hallucinations and visual hallucinations and these are at the higher level of caffeine. You can take supplements with caffeine and you may not know how much you are taking, then you get coffee at your local coffee shop and that has a lot of caffeine and you take a soda and before you know it you are at toxic doses.

Irritability, inability to sleep, acting strange, these are some of the signs that parents can look for to see if their child is having caffeine toxicity.

Sit down with your children, talk to them about supplements and make an appointment with your primary care doctor so they can talk about it.