Supplements linked to ‘potentially deadly’ rhabdomyolysis

Dr Zoe reveals which supplements to take

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Recent commentary by medical researchers stated that dietary supplements are probably a waste of time and money, yet their popularity prevails. There is an understanding that some supplements can benefit overall well-being with little to no risk. Others, however, have been linked to life-threatening complications like rhabdomyolysis, when taken at high doses.

Rhabdomyolysis is a known complication of taking certain herbal supplements alongside medications, like niacin and statins.

This is worrisome because pills are often taken together under the false belief that the cholesterol-lowering effects of one will boost those of the other.

Other herbal supplements, however, can also pave the way for severe complications like rhabdomyolysis when taken alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: “Rhabdomyolysis is a serious medical condition that can be fatal or result in permanent disability.

“[It] occurs when damaged muscle tissue releases its proteins and electrolytes into the blood.

“These substances can damage the heart and kidneys and cause permanent disability or even death.”

The condition is often characterised by a triad of symptoms, consisting of muscle pain, dark urine and weakness.

A great number of patients experience self-limited illness only, but a smaller portion of people will go on to suffer a dangerous build-up of potassium in the blood.

This could lead to the development of further complications including an irregular heartbeat, cardiac arrest or kidney damage.

Roughly one in four patients also develop problems with their liver, adds WebMD.

It can take up to three days for the condition to set in, but swift treatment with normal salts is paramount in patients presenting with symptoms.

In 2009, The American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy reported that nutritional supplements containing ephedra, creatine and large doses of caffeine had been reported to cause rhabdomyolysis.

Caffeine supplements are taken primarily to stimulate the nervous system and help prevent sleepiness.

In sports, they are often used by athletes to boost performance and relieve migraines and tension headaches.

Creatine supplements offer similar benefits to athletes, with the added benefit of fast muscle recovery after exercise.

Typical risk factors for rhabdomyolysis include dehydration, alcoholism and drug use, and it’s been suspected that creatine supplements increase the risk of dehydration.

“Even creatine manufacturers recommend a healthy fluid intake while on creatine supplements,” noted the authors of a report published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

Sometimes rhabdomyolysis occurs in athletes who have sustained a muscle injury or suffer from impaired blood flow in damaged tissues and infections, according to the MSD Manual.

It is therefore important to recognise that although reports of rhabdomyolysis have been made by athletes taking creatine supplements, a causative effect is hard to prove.

A good rule of thumb for avoiding such complications is to consult a qualified health provider before taking any of the above supplements.

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