Saturday, September 02, 2006

T-Mag Slams Muscle Milk

T-Mag, now known as T-Nation or Testosterone Nation is an online bodybuilding zine that's well known to most in the supplement world as a fairly biased, yet still a worthwhile read most of the time (I syndicate their RSS feed here on my blog). T-Mag is owned and operated by supplement maker BioTest, and has always had somewhat of a laughable element behind many of the articles, since they generally go to great lengths to pimp BioTest supplements. The online magazine was an enormous promoter of some of the worst supplements in history, including the ill fated Methoxy Isoflavone and the so called Myostatin blocker, CSP3. However, despite those failings, much of the information found on T-Mag is very well written and they have some excellent articles on training, much news about the latest happenings in the bodybuilding world, and some of the best writers around. BioTest has also come along way with its supplements, including making one of my personal favorites, is their jitter-free stimulant, Spike.

Another common complaint is of the T-Nation forums, which are reported to be heavily censored towards any criticism of BioTest products and the articles on the site. For a long period of time, T-Mag and BioTest have had a running feud with fellow supplement maker, Syntrax. They were one of the first to have serious criticisms of the compound glycocyamine. A substance first seen in Syntrax's first incarnation of Swole, and the subsequent tide of copy cat formulas that followed. Since Syntrax has turned into SI03 and it's online message board disappeared, it left them in a limbo, with people wondering who is now behind the scenes at Syntrax and does the renowned Derek Cornelius still reside as president? But, the debate over the safety of glycocyamine is a valid one, the concern being that it raises homocysteine levels, which is generally answered with the inclusion of Betaine (also known as TMG) in most supplements.

Now T-Mag has made another striking accusation against glycocyamine - that it is a neurotoxin. Unfortunately, the research they use to validate this is questionable. Used as their first source for this is the study Activation of GABA(A) receptors by guanidinoacetate: a novel pathophysiological mechanism. Quoted from this studies abstract for the method to determine that the compound is neurotoxic: "To examine a potential role of GAA accumulation, we analyzed the electrophysiological responses of neurons induced by GAA application in primary culture and acute murine brain slices." To be clear this study was conducted in vitro and is not sufficient to define glycocyamine as a toxic compound.

The next claim to be made by Dave Barr, author of the article, is that glycocyamine inhibits the "sodium pump". According to the Wikipedia, the sodium pump is correctly termed as:
Na+/K+-ATPase (also known as the Na+/K+ pump or sodium-potassium pump) is an enzyme .. located in the plasma membrane (specifically an electrogenic transmembrane ATPase). It is found in the plasma membrane of virtually every human cell and is common to all cellular life. It helps maintain cell potential and regulate cellular volume.
In essence, the sodium pump is not simply a brain enzyme as defined in the article, but actually a critical transport that regulates potassium and sodium, two highly important electrolytes, on a cellular level. Again, we see the author quote a study not done on humans, or even more pertinent, male athletes. Rats are the subject of this March 2006 study, titled Intrastriatal administration of guanidinoacetate inhibits Na+, K+-ATPase and creatine kinase activities in rat striatum. In the next study we see for the purported evidence against glycocyamine, is - surprise, surprise, "...the pathogenesis of the brain dysfunction in this disorder is not yet established. In the present study we investigated the in vitro effect of GAA on Na+, K+-ATPase and Mg2+-ATPase activities in synaptic plasma membrane from hippocampus of young rats."

However, just because these studies are not in vivo, or even done in male weightlifters or the human species, does that mean there is not valid evidence against glycocyamine? No, the evidence should be weighed as it, since it is some of the only good studies that show the activity of glycocyamine. There is one other problem with the studies all mentioned by Barr. All studies involve symptoms of an "inherited neurometabolic disorder" called a "GAMT deficiency" or Guanidinoacetate methyltransferase deficiency. Guanidinoacetate being another term for glycocyamine. But, what exactly does this mean? What is a Guanidinoacetate methyltransferase deficiency? The answer can be found through a quick Google search with the first result, a PDF study from the UK in 2001.

Guanidinoacetate methyltransferase (GAMT, EC 2.1.1.2) deficiency is a newly recognized inborn error of creatine synthesis. The clinical phenotype is variable including a spectrum of neurological involvement from progressive extrapyramidal movement disorder and severe muscular hypotonia, to epilepsy and mental retardation. Biochemical findings include high urinary excretion of guanidinoacetate (immediate precursor of creatine and substrate to the deficient enzyme activity), low urinary excretion of creatinine, and depletion of creatine in brain and muscle. Enzymatic diagnosis is possible by the demonstration of deficient GAMT activity in liver, skin fibroblasts and virus transformed lympho blasts. Prenatal diagnosis has not been performed so far. Symptoms are partly reversible under oral supplementation of creatine-monohydrate. GAMT deficiency is an autosomal recessive inherited disorder. In the 9 patients known so far in the literature, 5 mutant alleles have been identified which are located in exon 2 and exon and intron 6 of the GAMT gene. The most efficient way for investigation of patients at risk seems to be determination of guanidinoacetate in body fluids. Several analytical methods including gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, tandem mass spectrometry and column chromatography are available for this purpose.
So, not only is the author of the Muscle Milk article using studies that were not conducted in humans, but they were conducted on specimens that had a specific disorder that already had a deficiency of glycocyamine in the first place, making them totally irrelevant for weight lifters.

Still, despite all the banter back and forth about the mostly non-existent dangers of glycocyamine, Muscle Milk is still not a great MRP. The author is right about the fats, but he fails to mention the high GI carbs in the protein shake - made of maltodextrin, it will raise insulin levels which will in turn put the body in a prime state for fat storage. Still, MCTs aren't as bad as the author made it out to seem. The other negative for me for Muscle Milk is the worst sin of all - whey protein concentrate. For anyone who is the slightest bit sensitive to dairy products, it will send the user running straight for the bathroom.

But, for most, Muscle Milk should be a "cheat" protein shake. With all the flavors, which are all incredible, anyone could find Muscle Milk as enjoyable as a shake from McDonalds. It should be used sparingly, when you get sick of the Neapolitans - chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, try a root beer or pina colada. But, worry more about the high GI carbs, low quality protein, and questionable fat content in the MRP - not the glycocyamine.

Testosterone Nation - Consumer Report: Muscle Milk

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Final Blow for Ephedra

On August 17th, the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the previous ruling by a Utah Judge that the FDA's banning of ephedra was invalid, thus allowing supplement manufacturers to sell it in over the counter supplements in 10mg per capsule amounts.

The Consumer Health Digest newsletter said the following:

Appeal court upholds FDA ephedra ban.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has upheld the FDA's ability to enforce a ban against the selling of ephedra products as dietary supplements. In 2005, a Utah federal judge limited the FDA's ability to enforce a ban against the selling of ephedra products as dietary supplements. That ruling temporarily prevented the agency from taking action against Nutraceutical Corporation, a Utah-based company that sued to block the ban. The 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA) states that to ban a product, the FDA
must prove that it poses an "unreasonable risk of illness or injury." http://www.quackwatch.org/02ConsumerProtection/dshea.html Ephedra products have been linked to several deaths and thousands of complaints from consumers, many of whom have filed lawsuits. The FDA has concluded that "in the absence of a sufficient benefit, the presence of even a relatively small risk of an important adverse health effect to a user may be unreasonable." But the lower court judge ruled that to ban all ephedra products, the FDA would have to prove that they are unsafe "when used as recommended and suggested in the labeling." Concluding that a single dose of Nutraceutical's 10 mg product would not be dangerous, that judge ruled that the FDA could not stop the sale of dietary supplements containing 10 mg or less of ephedra alkaloids. He also ruled that DSHEA did not permit the FDA to compare benefits and risks as part of its evaluation of unreasonable risk. (In other words, whether a product is completely worthless is not relevant to judging whether it is reasonable to permit it to
continue to be sold.)

On August 17th, the Appeals Court disagreed and ordered the lower court judge to enter summary judgment in favor of the FDA. Its ruling concluded that Congress intended to integrate a risk-benefit analysis into DSHEA and that the FDA had met its legal burden by doing extensive research before ordering the ban.
http://www.casewatch.org/fda/court/ephedra/utah2.shtml
After the Utah ruling, some manufacturers and vendors decided to sell the herbal ephedra, despite the shaky legal ground the ruling set. In January, the FDA seized supplies of the supplement, Lipodrene, which contained 10mg of ephedra, from a warehouse in Pennsylvania. This did not determine some, though, as the supplement continued to sell through other marketers. The main hindrance for most to decide whether or not to sell ephedra had more to do with legal and insurance reasons than monetary ones. Some companies are trying to get rid of their final stock of the product now, while others believe that this most recent ruling will start to be enforced after a certain time period. Whether or not this is true is unknown at this time.

However, not all - even some in the government, disagree with the ruling. In an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) who authored the DSHEA, is quoted as saying "I can live with ephedra being off the market," Hatch says. "But if you give bureaucrats the right to determine the risks and benefits of supplements, the same standard used to evaluate drugs, [supplements] will be priced out of the marketplace just like drugs are now." The article goes on to discuss the possibility of supplement companies being forced to test new ingredients to the standards pharmaceutical companies are now required to do before bringing a new drug to the market. Sen. Hatch believes the original wording of the DSHEA is sufficient to allow for supplement makers to bring ingredients consumers want to the market without the lengthy evaluation process.

For now, however, consumers will no longer be able to purchase the natural herb, ephedra, and instead have to rely on the currently legal synthetic drug ephedrine HCl which is still available over the counter to anyone 18 and older.

FDA Statement on Tenth Circuit's Ruling to Uphold FDA Decision Banning Dietary Supplements Containing Ephedrine Alkaloids
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