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Parent Plus: Performance-enhancing products no substitute for exercise, healthy diet :

June 27, 2016

If your teen is looking for an easy way to change her appearance without working out, she might be tempted to take a pill, supplement, or energy food or drink. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages teens from using these types of “performance-enhancing substances” because they can do more harm than good.

Performance-enhancing substances include legal products sold in your local pharmacy and illegal drugs like steroids and growth hormones. The legal forms include protein powders and shakes, vitamins, pills and energy products.

They used to appeal mainly to athletes, but non-athletes also are being lured by false claims that these products build muscles, burn energy and help with weight loss. Teens who use legal performance-enhancing substances are more likely to try illegal substances.

Some products may seem perfectly healthy but could contain ingredients not listed on the label like anabolic steroids, heavy metals and stimulants. They are not tested for safety like prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

The products also may have ingredients that will cause problems when taken at the same time as prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. For example, the amount of caffeine in energy supplements is not regulated like it is in soft drinks and coffee drinks. Supplements may contain an unhealthy amount that can cause jitters or nervousness, especially if taken with a stimulant prescription for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The biggest gains in performance do not come from pills or shakes for teenage athletes, but from strength training and maturity, according to the AAP. A months-long strength training regimen can lead to a 30% improvement for young athletes. This is more effective than using a performance-enhancing substance.

Parents should encourage athletes to focus on hard work, pushing limits, teamwork and respect. They also should talk about the negatives of performance-enhancing substances. For example, 2014 Olympics competitors have been eliminated from future competitions because they were using banned substances.

The AAP urges parents to monitor their child’s use of supplements or shakes. Side effects include:

  • increased hair growth and acne;
  • rapid changes in body shape;
  • voice changes, particularly in girls; and
  • aggressive behavior and mood swings.
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