A few recent studies published in many mainstream publications have concluded that men who use muscle building supplements have a greater risk of developing testicular cancer, this would seem like really big news if not for the fact that the results and methodology were not so cut and dry.
The actual truth requires a close inspection of the study itself rather than the conclusions drawn up by the press, so let us take a sharp look at the research and the facts you should know. The truth is not as sensational as some reports would have you believe.
This study was performed by researchers at the Yale School of medicine in Connecticut, the researchers interviewed over 350 men aged between 18-55 years old diagnosed with testicular cancer between 2006 – 2010 along with over 500 control subjects (men with no testicular cancer).
Participants were surveyed about dietary supplement use or as the study stated ‘muscle-building supplements’, things like protein powders, creatine and androstenedione. the inclusion of androstenedione, an illegal anabolic pro-hormone or precursor to testosterone should raise a few red flags regarding this study.
The subjects were asked how many of the 30 different muscle-building supplements they took, how old the subjects were when consumption began and how long they have used them for, with this data an analysis was made to see if there was a link between supplement use and testicular cancer.
The researchers reported in the British Journal of cancer in a 2015 issue that there was in fact a link between using ‘muscle-building supplements’ and the development of testicular cancer. More accurately, they found a higher risk of cancer in men who used more than one kind of supplement, those who began using supplements before the age of 25 years old and those who used supplement for 3 years or more.
Nearly all media outlets rushed to conclude that the study was definitive and ‘muscle-building supplements’ caused cancer. The truth is that this study fails to answer hardly anything. This type of epidemiological study does not allow for anything more than association to be drawn.
Even though the stats suggest that ‘muscle-building supplements’ were linked to a higher risk of developing testicular cancer, there is no cause and effect that can be listed here. Imagine the same study with the supplements replaced with normal food or food products. Statistically speaking you can associate any factor and any disease, especially with statistics that can be thrown at it until you find such an association. Correlation does not equal cause and effect.
Another potential issue with this study is that they decided to use a questionnaire relying on subjects memories on previous supplement usage, most people can’t recall what they ate last week, leave alone several years ago..
A huge downfall with the study is that no one really knows what supplements the subjects were using, Androstendione was included in the list of 30 different ‘muscle-building supplements’ as well as creatine and protein powders. the prohormone androstensione is not a dietary supplement and is pretty much an anabolic drug.
Compared to protein powders and creatine, androstendione is not even on the same level, also there is no telling if the supplements used by the subjects were spiked with anabolic steroids or other dodgy ingredients not shown on any product labels, the researchers even mentioned this in their paper.
Take the sensationalism around this badly done study with a pinch of salt. When someone tries to tell you about the dangers of taking ‘muscle-building supplements’ and the risks of cancer you can inform them of the flaws in the research.
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