Myth Busters

  • Tribulus terrestris truth or hype

    Tribulus terrestris (tribulus) is a dicotyledonous herbal plant of the Zygophyllaceae family. The plant is widely naturalised and extracts of its fruits and aerial parts have been used in ancient medicine for its diuretic, tonic and aphrodisiac properties. It was also claimed that the use of tribulus could increase the body's natural testosterone levels, and hence can improve male sexual performance and enhance muscle building potential. Here we review the scientific evidence available about the effects of tribulus on human sexual performance, testosterone levels and exercise performance.

    Tribulus extracts has been shown to possess aphrodisiac effects on rats (Gauthaman et al 2002, Life Sciences). Supplementation of tribulus has been shown to significantly increase serum testosterone levels in a limited number of animal studies (Qureshi et al 2014, Journal of Dietary Supplements). One recent study found that tribulus supplementation can improve desire in women with hypoactive (not active) sexual desire disorder and may be used as a form of treatment in the future for such disorders (Raisi et al 2014, Daru). However, the use of tribulus did not appear to have any effects on male erectile dysfunction in a recent randomise, double-blind study (Santos et al 2014, Actas Urologicas Espanolas).

    The effect of tribulus on testosterone levels has been debated. Even though some claimed that tribulus supplementation could increase serum testosterone levels in some animals, such effect has not been observed in humans. Evidence to date suggests that tribulus is ineffective for increasing testosterone levels in human (Qureshi et al 2014, Journal of Dietary Supplements).

    Supplementation of tribulus extracts also showed no significant effects on the body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males compared to the placebo (Antonio et al 2000, International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism). Supplementation of tribulus over a 5-week period did not increase strength and lean muscle mass in twenty-two Australian male rugby league players (Rogerson et al 2007, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research).

    The existing scientific literature on the effects of tribulus on humans is still quite limited. Nevertheless, the data available to date indicates that the hype surrounding tribulus extracts is not warranted. To date, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that tribulus increases testosterone levels in humans. Furthermore, there is a lack of scientific evidence to suggest that it helps to improve athletic performance or to increase muscle mass. The best way to improve your performance is to through proper training, good rest and proper nutrition, there are no shorts-cuts or quick fixes.

  • Nitric oxide supplements

    Nitric oxide (NO) supplements are very popular in the sports and bodybuilding community. The NO molecule has been found to play an important role in many functions in the human body including mitochondrial respiration (and hence energy metabolism), blood flow, vasodilation and implicated in my own research, neuronal functions and developments. Nitric oxide is synthesized via two physiological pathways, I won't bore you with the details, all you need to know here is that L-arginine acts as a main precursor of the first pathway whereas nitrate is the substrate used to produce NO by the second pathway. It was hypothesized that NO supplementation can enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery to active muscles and hence improve performance. Truth or myth, let's find out.

    L-arginine works on the first NO pathway and it has been proposed that taking L-arginine can increase NO levels and subsequently exercise performance. However, oral L-arginine supplementation has been found to unable to elevate NO levels in the test subjects and did not improve strength performance (Alveare et al 2012, Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism). Other studies further suggested that the supplementation of L-arginine had no effects on the hormone and NO levels in the body and had no effect on performance (da Silva et al 2014, Food and Nutrition Research; Zajac et al 2010, Journal of Strength and Conditioning). There are some contradicting reports showing L-arginine has a somewhat measurable effect on hormone levels and exercise performance. However, the general consensus of the scientific community is that there is a lack of concrete evidence to support the claim that oral L-arginine supplementation has a positive effect on NO levels in the body and exercise performance.

    Nitrate is converted into nitrite after ingestion and can be converted into nitric oxide when the body's oxygen availability is low. The supplementation of nitrate has been shown to lower oxygen demand during submaximal workout, and improves exercise efficiency (Larson et al 2007, Acta Physiologica). It was suggested by one study that nitrate should be consumed 2-3 hours prior to competition or training for maximum benefits (Jones et al 2012, Medicine and Sports Science).

    One of the common flaws of the studies involving NO supplements and exercise performance is that only young males were used as subjects. To my knowledge, the effects of NO supplements on exercise performance in older males or women have not been yet been explored as of today. The effect of oral L-arginine supplementation is debated and the outcome is not conclusive. The use of nitrate supplements has shown to improve exercise performance in some and may be used for their ergogenic potentials.

  • Too much food or too little exercise? The myth of weight gain

    Many have blamed the current obesity epidemic on the food and beverage industries, with the increased consumption of high-calorie foods and sugary drinks being the primary cause of our society's ever-increasing waistline. Although it is true that having a healthy and nutritious diet is important for weight control and a healthy life, researchers found it's in fact the lack of exercise that is the primary contributor of being overweight.

    The study, conducted by researchers from Stanford University and published in the American Journal of Medicine in July 2014 analysed US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 to 2010 and found that the average BMI increased by 0.37% per year in both men and women and the average waist circumference increased by 0.37% per year in women and 0.27% per year in men in the past two decades. The prevalence of obesity and abdominal obesity has increased substantially, especially in young women aged between 18-39.

    Interestingly, in contrary to popular notion, the calorie intake remained steady in the past 2 decades; the daily carb, fat and protein consumptions had not altered significantly either. What changed was the significant decrease in the amount of leisure time physical activities in the general population. The percentage of people reported no physical activity had jumped from 19.1% to 51.7% for women and 11.4% to 43.5% for men between 1994 and 2010.

    The study also identified the prevalence of abdominal obesity in normal-weight women. Indicating women are more prone to gain weight around their waist than men on a population level, at least in America. Abdominal obesity can increase the risk of mortality even in young people with normal BMI. It is defined by waist circumference of 88cm and more in women and 102cm and more in men. This increase in waistline is primarily caused by a lack of physical activity.

    No one is denying that a healthy, balanced diet is essential for body weight control. However, the increased prevalence in obesity is not correlated with increased calorie intake, as we were made to believe. The ever-increasing waistline of the population is in fact associated with the ever-decreasing amount of physical activities we do. Your health is in your own hands. Be sure try to eat well, but more importantly, stay active. There are no shortcuts to good health, and nothing replaces good ol' physical activity.

  • Garcinia Cambogia, truth or myth?

    There has been a lot of hype surrounding the use of garcinia cambogia for weight loss. People who rely heavily on reducing calorie intake to lose weight usually experience terrible success rates and even if the diet program was successful, they usually put the weight back on as soon as reverting back to a normal diet. Here comes garcinia cambogia, also known scientifically as garcinia gummi-gutta, a tropical plant naturally found in the jungles of South East Asia, India and Africa, which has been claimed to suppress appetite hence aid weight loss by a number of high profile healthcare professionals.

     

    So does garcinia cambogia really work? Well, let's be direct here, there are currently no definitive clinical proof to indicate that garcinia cambogia works for weight loss in humans. The active ingredient of garcinia cambogia is called hydroxycitric acid, which has been found to inhibited fat production and increase serotonin secretion, hence lead to decreased appetite and subsequently weight loss in rats. However, rats are not humans, the results in human studies were less encouraging. It has been shown that garcinia cambogia caused no decrease in appetite in women compared to the placebo, and a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association showed that subjects taking garcinia cambogia actually lost less weight compared to the placebo, even though the result was not statistically significant. The limitation with the latter study, was that the test subjects were already on a high-fiber, low-calorie diet, therefore, the results only proved that nothing is better than a healthy good diet, even garcinia cambogia.

    Other scientific studies involving garcinia cambogia have showed mixed results, and even when a statistically significant influence on body weight was detected, the effect was still marginal. This, in a scientific context, rendered garcinia cambogia clinically ineffective for weight loss. A drug that only works less than 50% of the times with marginal results would not be deemed efficacious.

    However, one needs to understand that scientific studies usually, here I say usually, take the average results of the subjects tested, thus studies found that garcinia cambogia was ineffective for weight loss may be pverlooking those lucky few who might had lost weight by taking it. A search online showed mixed reviews of the product, with some claiming that it worked wonders on them while many others said it was ineffective and quite a few actually reported weight gain after the commencement of their garcinia cambogia regimes. These reviews, if credible, give a snapshot of the effectiveness of garcinia cambogia in real-life situations and it actually concured with the published studies. As stated previously, despite the global media frenzy, garcinia cambogia showed no consistent clinical benefit on weight loss as of the day this article was written. The best-proven method for natural weight loss is still through regular exercise combined with health eating, there is certainly no shortcut to get around that yet.

  • Creatine use, safe or not?

    Many of my articles intended to debunk common myths surrounding the perceived effectiveness of certain supplements in the world of fitness. On the other hand, although sometimes the effects can be inconsistent, creatine generally works, there's no question about that and with the currently available scientific data to back this up, I am in no position to criticize its efficacy. However, the increase in strength and energy comes at a cost, kidney damage, liver problems, muscle camping, diarrhea, impaired thermoregulation and death just for starters. Or is it really?

    The well-publicized side effects of creatine are generally hypothesised theories based on how the supplement works inside the body under extreme doses. Creatine is an organic acid that is synthesized by the kidney, pancreas and liver to help to supply energy to the body by increasing the formation of ATP. Theoretically, creatine uptake in muscle can result in an increase in fluid retention hence may affect the body's fluid balance and ability to dissipate heat. On the other hand, the body needs to get rid of and compensate for the extra creatine consumed, which puts extra strain on the kidneys and liver. The association between creatine use and liver and kidney damage was thus made based on a few case reports and small changes in organ function indicators.

    The theorized side effects have their scientific merits. However, if used properly, hardly any of the proposed side effects of creatine have been confirmed in well-controlled, randomized studies conducted on healthy subjects. Of course, you should not use creatine if you have an underlining health condition, especially kidney or liver problems, and you should not overdose, which may result in unwanted side effects. But if you are perfectly healthy, not allergic to any of the contents in the supplement that you ingest, and follow the proper guideline of oral creatine supplementation, it is very safe.

    How much creatine should I use then? One should always strive to achieve the best results with the lowest dose possible. According to the Mayo Clinic, a typical loading dose could be anywhere around 9-25 grams daily (depends on body weight) with good fluid intake for 4-7 days and a typical maintenance dose would be 2-20 grams daily for 5 days up to 12 weeks depends on body weight. This is just a general guideline and you should always tailor your regime based on your own circumstances. But remember, the effect of creatine can be inconsistent between different people and if you feel that the creatine you are taking does not give the expected result, it may not be the problem of dosage but the efficacy of the supplement itself.

    All in all creatine is safe supplement to use when taken properly.

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