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Sports supplements under fire again

By Shane Starling , 31-Jul-2008

The contamination of sport supplements has again come under the microscope after a high-profile Olympian tested positive to a banned substance and blamed the dietary supplements she was taking.

American swimmer Jessica Hardy tested positive for the banned stimulant clenbuterol at the recently held US Olympic trials and said the transgression was due to the dietary supplements she was taking.

The former breast stroke world record holder is appealing the result and her coach called for all dietary supplements she consumed to be tested for banned substances.

Hardy disassociated herself from Advocare, a company she had been sponsored by, and removed an advert she featured in from her website which had her stating: "With Advocare I have definitely noticed improved stamina and increased energy. I feel that Advocare products have helped make me an all-around better athlete."

Advocare was unavailable for comment at the time of publication but, in press reports, denied any of its products contained clenbuterol or any other banned stimulant.

Uses and abuses

The gap between elite and public standards is an issue that has played out many times as breaches of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code tend to occur most frequently and gain the greatest time in the public eye around sporting events such as the Olympic Games, which begin in Beijing next week.

Unlike some ingredients that are permitted under dietary supplement manufacturing regulations but fall foul of the ever-changing list of banned WADA substances, clenbuterol is also banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It is a decongestant and bronchodilator that increases aerobic capacity, oxygen transportation and blood pressure and stimulates the central nervous system. For this reason it is popular among asthma sufferers, athletes, gymnasium users and horse trainers.

It is also a popular weight loss aid and has been used by celebrities such as Britney Spears as well as professional baseballers and wrestlers.

Quality control

But the fact the mainstream media seems less willing to wield the knife against the dietary supplements industry in the Hardy affair, highlights its maturity.

Fifteen years after the enactment of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (1994), coupled with the 2007 introduction of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and pending Adverse Event Reporting regulations(AERs), quality control in the dietary supplements industry has never been in better shape.

In the UK, the group that looks after the interests of elite athletes – UK Sport – only this month advised athletes that dietary supplements could be safely used as long they were tested in WADA-certified labs.

Previously UK Sport advised athletes to steer clear of all dietary supplements.

Such an action calls into question statements such as the one made by Hardy’s coach, Dave Salo: "The worse [sic] fears may be realized in this circumstance as it pertains to Jessica – i.e. the supplement industry runs unabated without any controls."

But Salo added: "The community of athletes – elite and otherwise – do believe in the benefit of supplements and in fact many coaches often prescribe such supplements with the expectations of better training recovery.”

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