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Dietary Supplements Laced with Dangerous Steroids, Stimulants

Dec 7, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Dietary supplements often contain steroids and banned stimulants, the side effects of which could endanger the health of those using them.  According to a new study, one-quarter of dietary supplements purchased contained traces of steroids and 11.5 percent contained banned stimulants.  The study was overseen by Informed-Choice, a nonprofit coalition of dietary supplements and was conducted by a British company, HFL.  HFL bought best-selling brands of a variety of supplements made by companies that were not believed to screen for banned substances as part of their routine quality control process.  Unfortunately, the study does not reveal the names of the brands or their manufacturers.

Of the 52 supplements that could be analyzed for steroids, 13 showed up with steroid contamination, surprising Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, who said no American athlete has tested positive because of supplement contamination since 2004.  He is hoping that the group conducting the study will provide the names of the contaminated products so that this illegal activity can be shut down. These results come about five years after an International Olympic Committee study that sampled 240 supplements purchased in America found that nearly 19% contained steroids.  The report stated that the presence of steroids and stimulants in supplement products is still very much an issue and that it is obvious that not all supplement manufacturers follow good manufacturing practices and that the necessary controls are not always implemented to ensure the safety of athletes and the general public who use the supplement products.

Kelly Hoffman, executive director of Informed-Choice, told USA Today, which first reported on the study, that banned substances can find their way into products accidentally, such as when manufacturers fail to properly clean equipment. In all, 10 categories of supplements were tested.  Those known as testosterone boosters were most susceptible to having banned substances in them; six of nine boosters contained androstenedione, which was declared illegal about three years ago.  While amateur athletes are considered most susceptible to buying tainted products at health stores, the issue is also relative to professional sports given professional players who test positive for steroid use typically say they inadvertently ingested a tainted product. Three years ago, the NFL and the players union began working with the nonprofit company, NSF International, that put supplements through a purity test and labels substances that are safe to take. Lori Bestervelt, senior vice president and chief technical officer for NSF, said she also wasn't surprised at the results of the HFL test, adding that there two categories, one where people are intentionally putting steroids in supplements and another where they aren't but they don't have a good rein on the supply chain or manufacturing practices, so contamination occurs.

If there is not a good control of the supply chain and routine testing and auditing is not taking place, contamination can occur. Bestervelt said the NSF Web site provides a list of supplements that have carry the "Certified for Sport" seal, meaning they've passed that organization's rigorous testing process and are at low risk to contain banned substances.

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