Protein supplements are advertised as "miracle-workers" that can help a person lose weight, obtain essential nutrients or gain muscle.
However, concerns are emerging about these supplements' safety and efficacy. Evidence shows that these supplements could potentially inflict damage to the liver, cause extreme anxiety or trigger psychosis.
How Supplements Affect The Liver
Such is the case of a 27-year-old man from Western Australia who suffered liver failure after taking a weight-loss supplement and drinking a protein poweder shake before working out.
After being diagnosed with the disease, Matthew Whitby was just given two weeks to live. He had to undergo an emergency liver transplant to survive.
Whitby's only choice was an organ with hepatitis B. Now that he has went through the procedure, he needs to take a tablet every day for the rest of his life, but he isn't complaining.
"I'm just grateful to be here," said Whitby.
In 2014, Whitby drank a protein shake and took a weight-loss pill he bought online from a store based in Melbourne. Within a week of taking the supplements, he was experiencing jaundice and extreme fatigue. These symptoms had persisted eight weeks later, and so Whitby took himself to the hospital.
The substance that most likely caused Whitby's condition was green tea extract, his doctors said.
Whitby said he never really thought green tea extract could be that dangerous. He had researched the supplements before purchasing and found good reviews.
"Because it was Australian I felt more confident buying it," said Whitby.
However, Dr. Jonathan Wardle of University of Technology said the concentrated doses of green tea found in powders could be equivalent to 20 cups per day.
Additionally, he said green tea contains compounds that interact with liver enzymes. With that, there can be severe side-effects.
"I'd liken it to Panadol, which is safe and efficient when used properly," said Wardle. "But if you're buying lots off the shelf, [it] can have terrible consequences."
Still, Wardle agrees with experts that green tea can have thermogenic and antioxidant effects, but there should be a limit to dosage.
"People think more is always better – that's not always the case," said Wardle. "You can have too much of a good thing, and it gets less effective as time goes on."
However, Herbert Bonkovsky, a gastroenterologist in Carolinas HealthCare System, said the benefits of green tea are not as significant as people think.
"There isn't any need to take these supplements," said Bonkovsky. "When you look at the actual scientific evidence, the benefits of green tea are small to nil."
The Effects Of Garcinia Cambogia
The other supplement Whitby took was a weight-loss pill that contained 70 percent Garcinia cambogia, according to a report that outlined his case.
Garcinia cambogia is used in many weight-loss supplements despite being linked to cases of liver failure.
Dr. Oz, the infamous celebrity who stars in his own TV show, claims that this tropical fruit is a "holy grail" for weight loss. But the doctor is facing a lawsuit after featuring the product in an episode. The class-action lawsuit says "all credible scientific evidence" regarding Garcinia cambogia do not work.
In 2005, a mice study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology discovered that while Garcinia cambogia seems to aid in weight loss, large amounts of the Malabar tamarind extract seemed to cause testicular atrophy and toxicity.
However, Garcinia cambogia is not entirely ineffective. The extract could help your body use glucose much easier. One mice study found that those who were given Garcinia cambogia had lower insulin levels than those who didn't receive it. Still, it isn't advisable to take it along with a medication that controls blood sugar, because the glucose levels could plummet.
Aside from that, Garcinia cambogia is also found to improve levels of cholesterol.
A Component That Causes Severe Anxiety And Triggers Psychosis
Two years ago, Dr. Venkata Kodali of the University of Western Australia wrote in the British Medical Journal that a healthy, young man had visited the emergency room in an unwell state. The man was having palpitations, and an ECG revealed that he had irregular heartbeat. Apparently, the man had been taking supplements to gain muscle.
One of the components found in the supplement was yohimbine, a stimulant that elevates adrenaline levels and inhibits a process that typically prevents fat burning in cells.
However, examine.com warned that yohimbine supposedly causes severe anxiety in individuals who are susceptible to the condition, while it may trigger suicidal episodes or manic psychosis in people with bipolar disorder.
Wardle said yohimbine can also affect neurological medications.
"You can have an idiosyncratic reaction such as an allergy," he said. "If you're using multiple substances, they can react together."
Another component typically found in bodybuilding supplements is the Acacia rigidula. Australia's Health department said the substance could pose a risk to health. A U.S. journal even revealed in April that the ingredient has a synthetic amphetamine that has not been proven safe for humans.
The Australian Institute of Sport said anyone – even athletes – can get all the protein they need from a good, healthy diet.
"There is no need for the amount of protein provided by many supplements and there is certainly no justification for the extra cost," the group said.
Meanwhile, experts advise that before taking supplements or drinking protein shake, you must consult a medical professional first.