Many men use bodybuilding supplements before, during, and after workouts to increase the potential for building and keeping muscle, while burning fat. These bodybuilding supplements often contain high levels of caffeine and other various chemicals to keep energy levels high during a tiring workout. Some men find it hard to work out without these supplements. However, it might get a little easier to ditch the supplements now that a new study published in Nature has linked these magical muscle pills to an increased risk of testicular cancer.
Rates of testicular cancer have increased over the past few decades – with many academics pointing to genes and family history as likely risk factors for development of the cancer. However, these factors alone cannot explain the increased rates of this serious form of cancer. From 1975 to 2011 – cases of testicular cancer in men rose from 3.7 to 5.9 for every hundred thousand men. Bodybuilding supplements may explain some of this increase, especially the steroid androstenedione (“andro”), which is currently banned in the United States after a long and illustrious history of buffing up our professional athletes. The chemical drastically increases serum testosterone levels in men – while also increasing estrogen, which may lead to unwanted side effects.
According to the researchers, “The observed relationship was strong… If you used at an earlier age, you had a higher risk. If you used them longer, you had a higher risk. If you used multiple types, you had a higher risk.” The team conducted a series of 900 interviews on 356 men who had been diagnosed with testicular germ cell cancer and 513 cancer-free men. The survey was not focused solely on supplement use either – the researchers asked various questions about activity levels, drinking and smoking habits, family history of cancer, and injuries to the groin. Use of supplements was also defined pretty broadly, and troublingly low compared to how many men use bodybuilding supplements. The standard for use was defined only as consuming one or more supplements a week for at least four weeks in a row or more. The chemical makeup of the supplements was not explored either – which makes the study quite broad. Androstenedione and creatinine were only mentioned as possible ingredients in the supplements the subjects reported taking.
The researchers warned that further large-scale clinical studies would need to be conducted to potentially establish a causal relationship between these bodybuilding supplements and testicular cancer. The link now is simply correlative, which means that the evidence is too scarce to actually show that one factor causes another. Instead, the two variables are only observed to occur together.
Of course, further research into the cancer risk of bodybuilding supplements is not being welcomed by all. The supplement industry, which we have written about for years, collected over $13 billion dollars in sales in 2013. It is still lightly regulated with little safety oversight into what it sells for American consumption. And just recently, “natural supplements” have made the news for containing (or not containing) ingredients other than what had been advertised. Synthetic amphetamines have been found in weight-loss supplements, and strange chemicals similar to Viagra have been found in “performance-enhancing” male supplements. As the above study and our former blogs on the subject point out, you take a roll of the dice each time you pop a supplement from Wal-Mart or GNC. Until the industry is regulated, it may be a good idea to stick to tried and true methods for achieving your goals instead of looking for an “all-natural” shortcut.