Members of the Rural Health School this spring are Bob Berg, a third year medical student; Holly Elg, a Pharm.D. student; Wendy Francis, a medical laboratory technician student; and Malia Evjen, a social work student.
As part of its community project, the group decided to investigate nutritional supplement use among adolescents. Similar studies in other areas of the state had revealed a high instance of use. They were curious to see if students in Paynesville followed this trend, and, if so, to attempt to educate them on the use and risks of such supplements.
They began researching the topic 12 weeks ago, starting with background information, such as results from past studies.
At the beginning of April, they went to health, physical education, and social studies classes in Paynesville to poll the students. Nearly 150 students were polled. Fifty two percent of those were male, 44 percent were female, and the rest did not specify gender. Due to class distribution, the majority of students were in grades nine and ten, although 11th and 12th grades were also represented.
The survey consisted of 16 questions and took about five minutes to complete. To begin with, students were asked to submit their height and weight so an ideal body weight could be established. They were asked about how they felt about their body-too large, too small, or just right.
They were then asked to list any nutritional supplements they use to gain or lose weight or to enhance athletic ability. The survey asked about the specific goals of the supplement taker, where they learned about what they were taking, and if they were taking any other type of medication.
According to Berg, up to 75 percent of high school students take a supplement. The four most commonly taken were: Vitamin C, Calcium, Ecanasia, and Creatine. The first three promote immune function and general health, while Creatine is taken to gain weight and muscle mass.
Other common supplements taken were: diet pills such as dexatrim, ex-lax, protein supplements, multivitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron, and various herbal remedies.
"Most are safe, some are not," said Berg. "We want to stress that our main goal is to educate, so that those who choose to take supplements can do so safely."
"We want to provide nonbiased information that didn't come directly from the company, but is based on research," added Elg.
The medical students are currently generating pamphlets which will focus on the four commonly used supplements. These will explain the effects and give guidelines for safe usage. Also included will be references to three reliable websites containing related information. The pamphlets will be distributed through coaches, the athletic director, and the nurse's office.
Using the dosage indicated is a main concern. "Unfortunately, some people think that if something is good for you, more must be better. That is not true," said Elg.
Josh Roemeling, Jeff Voss, and Karl Ainsley are all seniors who decided to begin taking supplements to gain weight and muscle mass and increase strength for football. The most popular choice for football players, and for these three boys, is Creatine.
Creatine comes in a powder form that is mixed with a drink. It is taken twice daily to increase muscle mass.
Roemeling first heard about Creatine in Sports Illustrated four years ago as a freshman. He felt that it could aide his weight lifting to build muscle strength for football.
At that time, he said, the supplement was still controversial. There were rumors, both verbal and in the media, that Creatine could cause kidney damage, liver damage, muscle cramping, and that it was not helpful. Even with these warnings, Roemeling began the recommended program. "I felt that it was all hearsay and conjecture," he explained.
Roemeling took the supplement over the course of his freshman, junior, and senior years. Along with Creatine, he has been taking a protein shake twice a day, along with vitamins and multivitamins.
Over the last couple of months Roemeling began taking a pill form of an amino acid that aids in the formation of muscles. He has also been involved in a weight training program.
In four years of weight training, Roemeling was able to gain 40 pounds. "I think Creatine helped a lot," he said, "that's why I'm still purchasing and using it."
However, Creatine use has not been without side effects. Users must drink large amounts of water to prevent muscle cramping. Even so, Roemeling said he has problems with a forearm that cramps up, and explained that after lifting weights, a Creatine user's muscles stay tight longer than a person who doesn't use it.
Roemeling shrugs off what he considers minor discomforts. "It doesn't hurt," he said.
Voss took Creatine during his junior year to prepare for his senior year of football. He heard about the substance through friends who were also taking it. He was also warned about the possible side effects but was not worried by them. Voss's main reason for taking the supplement was to gain weight and strength for football. Taking the recommended doses, and participating in a weight lifting program, Voss managed to gain 15 pounds.
"If I wouldn't have taken it, I wouldn't have done as well in football this year," he said, "My main problem is not being able to gain weight, and this helped with that."
"The stronger you feel, the more competitive you become," he explained, of its value in football. "You are less timid and hit harder."
Voss's only side effect was occasional hamstring cramping.
Although he is positive about the effects of Creatine use, he doesn't recommend its use for underclassmen. "They need to get started lifting weights on a regular basis before they start using it," he advised.
Ainsley also took Creatine for a year, but discontinued his use of it because he did not feel it was helping him.
"I didn't notice any big jumps, and I didn't want to risk the side effects," he said. "You have to drink a lot of water or you'll cramp up, especially after lifting weights."
Instead, he opted for a protein powder, which he mixed in a shake, to gain weight and muscle strength. He felt this helped him more.
Ultimately, students and their parents, armed with facts, need to decide together what should be taken.
Elg said, "We want to encourage students to contact a doctor or pharmacist before starting to take anything so they can get reliable information up front."
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