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No one can really guarantee that the fat burners on the market right now will not cause you health problems several years down the line. Hydroyxcut, a long standing leader and best seller in the fat burner industry so far has been pulle from the shelves twice. First when the ephedra ban was passed, and more recently in after being its use was linked to at least one death and several cases of liver disease. There are now several class action lawsuits against the parent company, MuscleTech and as I mentioned earlier, after one formulation was pulled, they wasted no time in making a new one, this time with ‘all natural antioxidants’. We will see how long it takes for this new formula to put someone in the hospital. So how can you tell which one is safe when many of them have not even been around for that long. Answer- you can’t.
Have I used fat burners? Actually I did earlier on in my career, but not as much as you would think for a competitive bodybuider. I was never much of a fan of these products to begin with since I always paid very strict attention to my diet and training and so I didn't really need them. If I needed to get ready for a contest or a photo shoot, I would simply adjust my diet and train my behind off. When I did take fat burners on in my career, I never used more than an quarter of the recommended dose as I felt awful using anywhere near the suggested dose, even if I tried to slowly work up to it.
Did the fat burners work? The fat burners containing ephedra most certainly did. I got leaner faster, but and here is the rub, in the end I looked the same as I would if I had just spent more time on my diet, it just gets you there faster and makes it mauch harder to stay lean when you come off them. Remember, our bodies work on a principle of balance, and you cannot simply articifically acclerate your metabolism with a fat burner and then expect that there won’t be a consquence when you stop using them. There always is a bit of a kickback effect, when your metabolism slows down drastically after use and you find yourself gaininig weight very easily and you will have trouble not eating everything in sight as the appetite suppressing qualities of the drug wears off. We know today that losing and then regaining weight significnatly increases risk of heart disease further down the line. Considering also that when I took them I had trouble sleeping, my hands would shake and I would have terrible energy swings, it should be no surprise that I made the decision not to use them anymore and to ensure than my clients didn’t use them either. The pictures of me that you see posted are the result of years of hard work and conscientious dieting- not from any fat burners (or any other supplements for that matter) I believe the finished product proves my point that I didn’t need them.
We need to examine the mechanisms of these drugs to understand why they are so popular in spite of being so dangerous and filled with negative side effects. The most effective fat burners (the ones that were temporarily banned) were essentially ECA stacks. A combination of Ephedrine (from ephedra), Caffeine and Aspirin. Caffeine is a stimulant and has diuretic effect. Ephedrine is a bronchodilator and was sold over the counter as an asthma medication. It is a stimulant as well2. The two drugs together increase the body's norephinepherine production which then decreases appetite3 along with significantly elevating your heart rate measurably.3 Reduced appetite means you eat less and the elevated heart rate means that you should burn more calories. These drugs also combine to slightly increase body heat which further increases caloric burn while the caffeine forces you to lose water at a faster rate. The end result– short term weight loss. Which would have been wonderful except for the fact that you are also potentially harming yourself.
Ephedrine (derived from ephedra) was banned for some time after being linked to several deaths. Studies have shown that it can increase blood pressure and risk of stroke, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, myocardial infarction4, depression and psychosis2. Largely due to the lobbying of certain special interest groups, the federal ephedra ban was lifted. Still, most companies now are afraid to put it back in their products because of the fear of lawsuits, that, the high cost of liability insurance and the fact that the federal ban being lifted does not make it a legal product in many states- the state of New York included.
Caffeine as we all know can also affect heart rate as well as blood pressure2. There is also an addictive property to caffeine, just as there was with ephedrine. Put the two together and you're faced with an addictive compound quite adept at causing your natural adrenal production to be compromised. After developing a tolerance to the raciness effects of the drugs, frequent and increased dosages lead to a dramatic loss of "energy" when the drugs aren't taken. It's a classic addiction and it made many a supplement manufacture rich at the public health's expense. Let us not forget the aspirin added to the blend that wreaked havoc on your stomach lining.
Personally I chose not to use a substance that not only I didn't need, but also that had many dangerous side effects and was potentially addictive. Now that ephedra has made it to the 'we are not using it in our product list' (thankfully), the remaining ingredients on their own have not been proven to significantly reduce body fat. Translation, they are still dangerous compounds, but now they don't work as well.
ECA fat burners have been around for about a decade or so, but people have succeeded in getting into fantastic shape for much longer without potentially dangerous drugs. They did it over time. By being patient and by working hard and in a responsible manner to achieve their goals.
The other thing to consider is that studies have shown that individuals that lose weight and then regain it increase their likelihood of compulsive overeating5 developing heart disease6 and increasing mortality risks6 7. Remember if you rely on pills to get your weight down, the effects are only short term2. When you stop taking them your weight will eventually go right back to where it was to begin with, unless of course you choose to use them for the rest of your life. The only safe way is to be in shape all year round, not just for summer and certainly not thanks to supplements.
1. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA),
2. Shekelle PG, Hardy ML, Morton SC, et al.: Efficacy and safety of ephedra and ephedrine for weight loss and athletic performance. A meta-analysis. JAMA 289:1537-1545, 2003.
3. Effect of a Dietary Herbal Supplement Containing Caffeine and Ephedra on Weight, Metabolic Rate, and Body Composition Greenway et al. Obes Res 2004;12:1152-1157
4. Cardiovascular Effects of Ephedra JAMA 2004;291:1560-1560.
5. National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity. Dieting and the Development of Eating Disorders in Overweight and Obese Adults. Arch Intern Med 2000;160:2581–9.
6. Lissner L, Brownell KD. Weight cycling, mortality and cardiovascular disease: a review of epidemiologic findings. In: Bjorntorp P, Brodoff BN, eds. Obesity. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co.; 1992.
7. Wing RR. Weight cycling in humans: a review of the literature. Ann Behav Med. 1992;14:113-9
Information contained in this article is not meant to treat, diagnose illness, nor substitute for medical counsel and is intended for purposes of information and education only. Consult your physician before modifying your diet or starting any exercise program. Copyright 2009 by Kevin Richardson, Naturally Intense NYC Personal Trainer.
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