With the London Olympic Games underway and a handful of athletes sent home for doping to go with the 107 violations in the two months leading up to the Olympiad, the “blame it on the food supplements” line has been used by some athletes although it rarely gets a sympathetic hearing from the likes of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Writing in Slate, science writer Christie Aschwanden said food supplements could indeed be contaminated with WADA-banned substances and should be avoided. She referenced swimmers Jessica Hardy and Kicker Vencill and cyclists Flavia Oliveira and Scott Moninger as athletes that had tested positive for banned substances they blamed on supplements use.
She noted a US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) campaign called Supplements 411 that warned athletes off food supplements, despite groups like Athletics UK backing their use if they have passed through a contamination verification programme like that run by HFL Sport Science in the UK.
At the Supplements 411 website, a former US athlete who tested positive for a banned substance and said a food supplement was the culprit, relays on a video: “It’s important for athletes to know that taking food supplements is not 100% safe.”
A recent attack on the sports nutrition sector published in the British Medical Journal was also mentioned by Aschwanden.
She outlined the argument that lax regulation in the US was to blame for food supplement contamination, ignoring the fact that most problem products are manufactured by rogue players that have no intention of following the laws in place, unlike the bulk of the supplements industry.
She backed this up by noting about half of US Food and Drug Administration Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) inspections have failed to date since they began a few years ago.
Reference was also made to the pre-workout stimulant DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine/methylhexaneamine), which authorities are cracking down on, including the FDA and medicines agencies in Australia, New Zealand and across Europe, due to sourcing and safety issues.
Hints of efficacy
“Given these dangers, why on earth would athletes take supplements?” she wrote, saying supplement health benefits were not backed in the scientific literature.
“When studies do appear to support supplement companies’ claims, they are usually small and at best can offer only hints of efficacy, not definitive proof,” she continued.
Yet statistics show upwards of 80% of athletes consume food supplements of one kind or another.
HFL Sport Science’s Informed-Sport programme publishes a positive list of products that have passed tough testing protocols although it gives no guarantees about products being contaminant-free.
HFL Sport Science lab manager, Paul Brown, told us recently: “…products not only have to go through a very rigorous testing process but the manufacturing site where thoseproducts are produced also has to go through a thorough review of quality procedures, cleaning procedures to ensure there is no risk of cross-contamination; a review of all ingredients used in that production site as well toavoid any potential risks…”
Once such a review is completed products are then able to bare the Informed-Sport approved logo, “which is a clear marker to athletes that it has been subject to a testing programme and therefore that can help athletes review their risk.”
HFL is involved in the Olympics, using its 50-year horse racing testing background at the equestrian events, and testing foodstuffs and food supplements consumed by athletes in the Olympic Village in east London.