Skepticism

Study: Don’t Bother Buying Fitness Supplements like Turkesterone

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca!

As some of you may know, I am training to ride my bike hundreds of miles through Death Valley to raise money for climate charities. A quick aside, THANK YOU to everyone who has donated! We recently BLEW past my goal, which means I WILL fulfill my promise of making videos of my journey that I’ll share over on my alt account.

Hitting that goal inspired me to up my training, which means spending more time on my bike, increasing the intensity of my strength training, and also taking a good, long look at my diet: eating healthier, getting more protein, and of course, watching every fitness influencer YouTube and other social media algorithms serve to me, taking all of their advice without question, and thereby ultimately going on anabolic steroids.

No no no, just kidding. Well, sort of. I’m not going to go on steroids. As I got more obsessed with fitness over the past few years, my algorithm did start suggesting influencers, and at first I was pretty impressed because these particular people seemed to be as interested as me in the SCIENCE of fitness: for instance, Derek from More Plates More Dates and Greg Doucette from, well, Greg Doucette. And these guys did admit that LOTS of people are on steroids these days, from actors in superhero movies to your average gym rat influencers, including these very guys. And they also admit that steroids have a LOT of downsides, and so instead of recommending people start taking steroids, they promote a “safer,” friendlier alternative: supplements. Turkesterone, a plant-based steroid (or ecdysteroid), is probably the fitness supplement I’ve seen promoted the most often, usually with the influencer claiming that it’s almost as good as taking anabolic steroids with none of the side effects. And that may be true, if you’re a rat. Not a “gym rat” as I referenced earlier but an actual rat, like the one in Ratatouille but instead of cooking your passion is getting shredded. In 2015, researchers found that rats who took turk actually got MORE shredded than rats that were on traditional anabolic steroids, which is truly incredible.

Unfortunately, that study was a bit an outlier, and there isn’t a lot of data about how humans respond to turkesterone: scientists know it has a very short half-life, which means you need to take a lot of it, but they don’t know how much you can take before it does something nasty to you. 

So, while it’s promising, there’s not much evidence in favor of the average athlete spending their money on it. And to tip the scales even further toward “don’t bother,” there’s a LOT of evidence to suggest that most of the fitness supplements being sold on the market right now don’t actually contain the raw materials they claim in the amounts they claim. Oh and they might contain bonus substances that are bad for you.

A devastating new study has found that 89% of fitness supplements are mislabeled and 12% contain FDA-prohibited ingredients. That includes supplements that claim to contain turkesterone, but also “extracts of R. vomitoria containing ?-yohimbine, the caffeine-like compound methylliberine, the partial ?2-agonist halostachine, and norepinephrine-like octopamine.” Amusingly (to me), they performed these analyses back in June of last year, which happens to be the very month that a supplement-selling competitor claimed that the turk supplements sold by Derek from More Plates More Dates and Greg Doucette contained practically no turkesterone at all.

As with all of my videos, you can find links to everything I mention in the transcript on my Patreon, which is linked below and publicly available to everyone, whether you’re a patron or not. If you find that Reddit post from the competitor confusing, I found a good explainer from another science-minded fitness coach that I’ll link to as well

There was a lot of back-and-forth over that competitor’s accusations, with many people giving Derek and Greg the benefit of the doubt. Like, either this guy is lying or else they were fooled or else this is all just a big misunderstanding. Well, here we have a completely disinterested third party confirming that, yeah, these supplements are terribly regulated and completely untrustworthy.

Let’s talk briefly about that disinterested third party: I was delighted to see that the lead author on this study is Dr. Pieter Cohen at Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, because I LOVE that guy. I actually talked about him back in 2017 when he was sued by a cowardly pissbaby named Jared Wheat, the owner of “Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals.” Jared was sad because Cohen published a study showing that their weight loss supplements contained an illegal, dangerous chemical similar to amphetamines.

Wheat lost the lawsuit but actually bragged to the press that he accomplished his ultimate goal of scaring scientists into censoring themselves lest they have to go through a similar costly court case: “I spent a lot of money, but hopefully it will deter others from going out there and making baseless allegations. Think twice and do better research, knowing you can get sued if you do this.”

Back in 2017 I said I was excited to see what Cohen would do next, because he had vowed to keep investigating the supplement industry, and here we are! 

The full study is available online, so I was interested to see in particular which products were the worst. They don’t give the brand names, but they say they chose the products using an online database that does show Derek and Greg’s products, and the two turkesterone products that were advertised for bodybuilding had no turkesterone in them. Only half of the eight turk products tested had ANY detectable amount of the substance in them.

And again: we don’t even know if turkesterone actually does anything for humans! 

On the plus side, none of the turk products had any prohibited ingredients in them. R. vomitoria products were worse in that none of the 13 products tested had any detectable amount of vomitoria in them, but four of them did have stimulants that the FDA prohibits, like the “designer drug” stimulant octodrine.

All of this should alarm you if you or someone you love is taking these supplements: they’re marketed as a “safer” alternative to steroids, which…sure, but only because steroids are really very bad for you. But they’re being sold by these influencers who present themselves as being highly educated and knowledgeable about the science of fitness and performance enhancement. Like, Greg Doucette does have a masters in kinesiology but until I made this video I legit assumed Derek had some kind of chemistry background…it turns out he has a business degree and a decent vocabulary, which he is using to sell you supplements of dubious quality.

This research is just one more paper to add to the pile that shows the FDA needs to be better funded and better run to go after these predatory companies that sell credulous people pills that AT BEST do nothing and at worst cause active harm. But unlike actual medicine, supplements are allowed to be sold with zero oversight unless and until something goes terribly wrong and the FDA has a crystal clear reason to investigate them. It’s exactly the opposite of the way these substances should be regulated: these companies should be held accountable and forced to prove that their products are SAFE and EFFECTIVE before they’re allowed on store shelves or on the websites of influencers telling you they have the key to quick results.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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