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Nutritional supplements may not live up to claims

Nov. 5, 1999

By BECKY OBERG

Staff Writer

Nutritional supplements may not be all they claim to be.

MET-Rx Nutritional Boosters can be purchased in smoothies at the Bill Daniel Student Center and the McLane Student Life Center for an extra 59 cents per supplement. The supplements are supposed to increase energy and mental focus, raise metabolism and the body's immune system and burn fat.

Supplements include Siberian and Korean ginseng, micronized creatine, ginkgo biloba, citrus aurantium, kola nuts, anic, echinacea and glutamine.

Debra McCoy, supervisor of the food court in the SLC, said fat burner and protein are the most popular, and fat burner is popular among women.

However, she said she hasn't heard any students comment on the supplements' effectiveness.

'They have to use it every day in order for it to work,' she said.

Claims made in the MET-Rx Nutritional Booster pamphlet include '[Citrus aurantium] is loaded with vitamins and minerals and works to boost your metabolism,' and 'echinacea has been demonstrated to reduce the duration and severity of common cold and flu symptoms and boost the immune system.'

Dr. Janelle Walter, associate professor of family and consumer sciences, said there is no evidence to support these claims.

'My question is, why take them if they don't do anything?' she said.

Walter said the Food and Drug Administration regulates products that claim to cure, diagnose or prevent a disease. MET-Rx states in the pamphlet that the FDA has not evaluated their claims and that the product is not designed to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Walter said nutritional supplements are not subject to FDA evaluation.

'Only if they cause a problem do they have to be evaluated,' she said.

For example, ephedra, which is contained in products such as ma huang, speeds up heart rate and can cause problems for people with heart trouble.

Walter said regulations on contents are lenient.

'It could have one one-millionth [of the supplement] in a tablet and still be called ginseng,' she said.

Claim regulations are also lenient.

''Boost your metabolism' is sort of a vague term, but that's on purpose,' Walter said. 'Anyone can interpret them the way they want.'

Met-Rx contains some coconut oil, which is 91 percent saturated fat, giving it a distinct flavor. Walter said the more bland canola and soybean oils contain the same number of calories but less saturated fat.

According to the MET-Rx Web site, it is possible to get the same effect of MET-Rx by eating a balanced diet but says it is difficult and impractical due to fast-paced lifestyles.

'I would disagree,' Walter said. 'Studies have shown that we absorb nutrients better from foods than supplement tablets or powders.'

Walter said some companies make money off the 'fear of food.'

'People shouldn't be afraid of food,' she said. 'God made this world. He made our foods. It's our job to choose wisely and moderately.'