Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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How ’bout a boost?

Did I eat today? So many things to do so little time. In between juggling classes, schoolwork, internships, extracurriculars and time with friends, it’s often hard to find time to follow a healthy diet when most college meals come pre-prepared.

Getting in all the necessary nutrients and vitamins every day can be difficult, and students who depend on dietary supplements to provide daily nutrients may not be getting all they bargained for.

So what is a dietary supplement anyway? According to the Federal Drug and Food Administration, the Congressional Dietary Supplement Health Education Act of 1994 broadens the definition to include, with some exceptions, any product intended for ingestion as a supplement to the diet. This includes vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals and amino acids, which are the individual building blocks of protein.

Supplements come in pill or powder form and are not regulated by the FDA. These supplements can also be found in drinks and energy bars like Cliff Bars and in drinks like Slim Fast or Gatorade and even in herbal teas.

Susan Haney, nurse practitioner at the Student Health Center who gives advice to students attempting to eat healthier, said Echinacea is one of the most popular supplements on campus.

According to the Medicinal Herbs Online Web site, Echinacea stimulates the body’s immune system against infectious and inflammatory conditions and stimulates digestion. It is one of the most powerful and effective remedies against all kinds of bacterial and viral infections. There are no generally recognized side effects of Echinacea overdose, but some users have noted a peculiar scratchy, tickling sensation in the throat from excessive use, according to the Web site.

“Many students take Echinacea on a short term use when they are sick,” Haney said. “Long-term use of any dietary supplement like Echinacea is not good, especially when combined with other medications.”

The Food and Drug Administration Web site suggests checking with a doctor or manufacturer before using a supplement, especially if one has a chronic medical condition such as diabetes or heart disease. According to the FDA, some supplements may interact with prescription drugs. Many supplements such as ginko biloba and vitamin E cause blood thinning. Taking these products together with over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin can increase the risk of internal bleeding and could also have unwanted effects during surgery.

Ginseng is another popular supplement among students. This Chinese herb is used to improve memory and enhance physical performance. It also helps the body adjust to high or low temperatures and even helps relieve some stress. Ginseng is not recommended for use at night and should not be used in excess of 5 to 10 ounces a day.

According to a Reuters health report, researcher William Forrest Martin, a graduate student at University of Connecticut, presented in a conference Monday that high-protein diets place such a strain on the kidneys that even fit athletes can become dehydrated. High-protein diets have become more popular in recent years for quick weight loss. Most of these plans promise prompt results if dieters fill up on steak, bacon, eggs and other high-protein foods, while cutting back on carbohydrates such as potatoes, pasta and fruit.

According to a recently issued report from the American Heart Association, there was no scientific evidence that protein diets actually work to keep pounds off over the long term, and they may trigger unwanted side effects such as fatigue or dizziness.

Registered Dietitian Amy Chen, currently a nutrition writer on, said most people already get too much protein in their diets.

“Excess animal meat causes the kidneys to work overtime to excrete the metabolites, which could eventually lead to (kidney) failure,” she said. “Excess animal protein can also cause calcium to leech out from the bones, leading to osteoporosis.”

As a nutritional counselor for students in California, Chen rarely sees college students eating a balanced diet.

“I’d first try changing your diet and drinking more water before trying herbal remedies,” she said. “Over the counter herbal formulations are not FDA regulated, and their content and efficacy are questionable.”
For students who want to take supplements, Chen suggested a visit to a licensed herbalist or a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who can give the right dose of high-quality herbs.

“A natural energy booster is an icy cold glass of fresh orange juice,” she said. “It’s a vitamin-rich source of quick energy that can serve as a pick-me-up any time of the day. I’d also recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement for the chronically stressed.”

On campus, many GW students get their protein boosts and herbal supplements from Jamba Juice.

“The protein, energy and immunity boosts are the most popular boots sold,” said Sean Price, a Jamba Juice employees. “In the winter time, immunity boosts are especially popular because many students have colds and don’t have any energy.”

Although many students get the boosts for energy to satisfy a meal or to help enhance physical performance, students are skeptical about whether or not the boosts actually work.

“I get the energy boost because I think it will maybe do something,” freshman Annie Blinkoff said. “(The boost) does something more for my mind than it does for my body.”

Haney said some supplements do not come without some risks. Like anything, these supplements should only be taken in moderation and on a short-term basis. The FDA Web site also says supplements should not replace the variety of foods important to a healthy diet.

“Jamba Juice is not a good substitute for daily values of protein and other nutrients,” the Student Health Services nurse said. “GW students, especially women, do not get their daily values of nutrients each day. It is good to have in balance with other things but it does not replace the vitamins and minerals from balanced meals.”

-Adina Matusow and Salma Khalil contributed to this report.

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