Nutritional and dietary supplements: are university students risking their health?

Author: Bright Oppong Afranie*
*Teaching and Research Assistant, NSP, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana (afranieoppongbright@gmail.com).

“Bulk up for the girls”, that has become a popular “mantra” among university male bodybuilders. Over the past years, bodybuilding has become an important part of the physical development process especially among university students in Ghana. This desire and the need to attract the opposite sex has necessitated many to rely on nutritional and other dietary supplements to enhance their bodybuilding process. In Ghana, common supplements consumed include whey, creatine, Herbalife, amino acids, botanical products and many others, and to those who cannot afford these supplements, just consuming high amounts of protein-rich foods like beans, pork, and eggs in excess is thought as “a sure way to go”. Despite the cost and the widespread health issues such as kidney malfunction raised on the use of these supplements, little has been done to address this problem. Awareness creation has been directly proportional to supplement use. The more health concerns are raised the more the supplements are being used.

A recent study on a sampled population of students in the Kwame Nkrumah University Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi-Ghana has revealed elevated levels of uric acid and creatinine among supplement users. Uric acid values were found to be far above the normal ranges. Though the high creatinine levels did not imply Kidney malfunction, higher levels were measured among supplement users in comparison to non-supplement users.

The study published in the International Annals of Medicine assessed the levels of three endogenous markers (creatinine, uric acid, and urea) of renal function among university student bodybuilders in KNUST. The study involved about 78 students forming three test groups (26 supplement users for the past 12 months, 25 non-supplement users for the past 12 months) and 27 non-bodybuilders serving as the control. The study also showed the possible association between the measured variables of renal function and the unique patterns of dietary intake among this population. The authors revealed that though the creatinine levels of the supplement users did not imply kidney malfunction, higher levels accumulated over time may be detrimental.

Among athletes, bodybuilders are prone to the use of supplements compared to other sportsmen. Complications such as kidney failure, neurological, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders from the use of these nutritional supplements may create a large economic load on individuals, health care providers and the world’s economic system as money and funds used for the treatment of patients can be channeled to other sectors. The authors recommend strict public health interventions and policy is needed to address this issue and further study to validate these findings.

Read more: Effects of Nutritional and Dietary Supplements on Renal Function Among University Bodybuilders in Ghana

The authors of the study were John Taylor of the Department of Biochemistry, College of Science, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana; and Winifred Mensah of Department of Sport and Exercise Science, College of Health Science, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana.

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