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Performance-enhancing products may be "over the counter" but are still dangerous. What are performance-enhancing products? There are a variety of products in the market place that claim they can build muscle, increase strength, improve performance and make you look good. Most of these products are unproven and dangerous. Even those that may help burn fat or build muscle are dangerous.

There are many products in this category. The following information from the Mayo Clinic describes some.

Creatine
Creatine is best known for improving performance in sports involving short bursts of high-intensity activity, such as power lifting, wrestling and sprinting. Side effects include stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and muscle cramps. High doses of creatine may be associated with kidney, liver or heart problems, and even high blood pressure, although definitive links to severe illness haven't been established. Although teens may be taking creatine to bulk up, what actually happens is that draw water away from the rest of the body. The bulking up  is often the result of the extra water stored in muscles, not increased muscle mass.

The effects of creatine on children and teens haven't been studied. And most studies of adults have followed participants for only a short time — as little as six weeks — so the long-term effects are unknown.

Androstenedione (andro)
Proponents of andro claim it boosts testosterone production, which in turn increases muscle mass, energy and strength. In reality, andro doesn't do any of that. The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 classified andro as a controlled substance, adding it to the list of banned anabolic steroids and making its use as a performance-enhancing drug illegal.

Side effects of andro differ for men and women. In men it can actually decrease the production of testosterone while increasing the production of estrogen. Side effects in men include acne, diminished sperm production, shrinking of the testicles and enlargement of the breasts. In women, side effects include acne and masculinization, such as deepening of the voice and male-pattern baldness. Andro might also stunt your child's growth.

In men and women, supplemental androstenedione can decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol). Lower HDL levels put you at greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

Ephedra
Ephedra is a plant that contains the chemical ephedrine, a stimulant similar to amphetamines. Athletes may take an over-the-counter supplement containing ephedra to reduce physical fatigue, lose weight or improve mental alertness.

In late December 2003, the Food and Drug Administration announced the ban of ephedra from the marketplace because of health concerns. Long before that Westchester County acted to ban the sale of this dangerous supplement to people under 18.

Also known as ma-huang, popotillo and ephedrae herba, ephedra can cause such side effects as strokes, seizures and heart attacks — even death. Ephedra can raise blood sugar and cause an irregular heart rhythm. Long-term use can lead to addiction.

Doesn't the federal government regulate these products?
No, generally not at all. In 1994, Congress stopped the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from directly monitoring supplements. Recently, after publicity about the adverse effects of Ephedra, the FDA banned this product, but the FDA's authority to do this is being challenged in court.  
 
So these products are legal? But are they allowed by organized sports?
Many of  these products are legal and may be purchased over-the-counter as a dietary substance. However, some of these products are banned by major sports governing bodies, both professional and collegiate.