Posted by THE FUEL Nutrition Editorial Staff on December 02, 2015
Contaminated and adulterated supplements are a huge problem for athletes. The problem is so widespread and harmful that in November the U.S Justice Department filed charges against 117 companies and individuals for selling tainted or misleading products.
The arrests came on the heels of a series of cease-and-desist letters that were issued by the New York State attorney general’s office to Walmart, Walgreens, Target, and GNC after they found that roughly four out of five of products contained none of the herbs listed on their labels. In most cases, the supplements contained cheap fillers like rice, beans, peas, and chopped up house plants.
A lot of athletes and coaches ignore the news that sports supplements contain illegal or harmful ingredients. They assume that if a product is available on store shelves it must be okay. After all, isn’t someone regulating this sort of thing?
The surprising answer is no. Although, the FDA does put out consumer alerts, issue injunctions, and send out warning letters when companies are found selling fraudulent supplements, there’s virtually NO up front regulation of the supplement industry. Supplements are not required to be evaluated or proven safe or effective before they are sold.
Companies are supposed to ensure that their supplements contain what the label says, be free of contaminants such as heavy metals, and not be spiked with drugs or other substances that can have a host of harmful effects, including scoring you a positive result on a drug test for performance enhancing drugs. But because there is no regulation, it’s become standard practice for unscrupulous companies to spike supplements with anabolic steroids and other banned substances.
For example, the illegal compound DMAA, which is similar to ephedra and stimulates the nervous system, was found in a supplement taken by two U.S. army soldiers who died in 2011. That wasn’t an isolated case either.
A 2004 study found that 18 percent of supplements in the U.S. contained undeclared anabolic steroids in the them. A 2001 study commissioned by the International Olympic Committee, found that nearly 15 percent of sports supplements (634 products from 215 suppliers in 13 countries) tested positive for undeclared prohibited substances (anabolic agents or stimulants).
Although some athletes have responded by avoiding supplements altogether, others have found their careers in shambles following a positive drug test, which was subsequently traced to a tainted supplement. For example, Will Grier, University of Florida’s starting quarterback, was suspended for a year starting in October 2015 after he recorded a positive drug test from taking an over-the-counter sports supplement that he neglected to run by his medical staff.
Grier’s not the only athlete to watch his athletic dreams come to a screeching halt due to contaminated supplements. In 2008, six NFL players were suspended after testing positive for a banned diuretic, bumetanide, which was traced to a weight loss supplement the players were taking. That same year, Jessica Hardy, an Olympic swimmer, tested positive for clenbuterol, an asthma medication that boosts muscle growth, which was traced to contamination of a supplement called Arginine Extreme.
Dr. Jeff Stout, an expert on supplements and sports nutrition, stresses that the only option is for athletes and coaches is to be relentlessly proactive. He recommends that every athlete answer three questions before taking any supplement:
Will this supplement help me?
Will it hurt me?
And most important, will it make me test positive on a drug test?
“Unless you know for sure, you shouldn’t be taking it,” Stout says, adding that he’s so concerned about this problem that he wouldn't let his daughter take an herbal supplement when she’s sick.
The only way to know for sure is to choose a supplement that is certified by the National Science Foundations Certified for Sport program. Because we believe in backing up all our claims with proof, we got all supplements in The Fuel Nutrition line NSF for Sport certified. Besides ensuring that you get what you pay for and you don’t test positive for a banned substance, here are four more reasons why the NSF Certification is a smart move for your supplements.
1: No need to sacrifice recovery, performance, or health.
Sacrificing recovery because some company thinks it’s funny to put DMAA in your favorite post-workout supplement isn’t an option. With all the training, sweating, and stress your body is under day in and day out, you need extra nutrition to ensure that you’re at your best when the coach calls on you. Nutrient depletion isn’t something you can take a chance with.
The scientific evidence clearly supports the use of some types of dietary supplements for faster recovery and better performance. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get the best quality supplements to support your training. That’s where The NSF Certified for Sport program comes in: It’s the gold standard in ensuring products are what they say they are.
2: It provides transparency in an industry what is riddled with fraudulent claims and adulteration.
Because supplements aren’t regulated, companies are on their honor to make sure that what is on the label is really in the container. Anyone can start a company, get a web site, and make up a product. They perform no testing, and then slap performance-enhancing claims on the labels.
That’s why when we designed The Fuel Nutrition supplements, we chose only the highest quality, research proven raw materials. Each nutrient is chosen with a purpose in mind—to give you the edge.
We believe that in a “Wild West” industry, top quality companies have the responsibility to lead the way by bringing integrity and transparency to the forefront. We chose to ease your mind, verifying our supplements for purity with the NSF Certified for Sport Program. The NSF certification proves our word is true and makes it easy for you to check—explore the NSF database here. Not only is every batch and product tested for purity and label accuracy, but every claim we make is 100 percent accurate.
3: Protect your career and reputation.
Very few athletes realize that when they take non-NSF certified supplement they could be putting their career and reputation on the line. But there’s a long list of athletes who have traced positive doping tests back to tainted supplements.
Even if you are as lucky as Olympic swimmer Jessica Hardy who was able to convince the World Anti-Doping Agency that she had inadvertently taken a contaminated supplement, it’s a lot harder to convince the media, companies you endorse, and the public that it was just a mistake. Hardy ended up with a one year ban instead of two year ban for her lobbying efforts, but it's impossible to escape the cloud of suspicion that follows all those media reports.
4: Don’t take the fall for another’s mistake.
Not all supplements are compromised due to intentional contamination. Mistakes get made in the manufacturing process that can easily lead to accidental contamination.
A lot of people think the company that sells a product is in charge of everything from sourcing the raw materials to placing the container on a sales shelf or in a box for shipping. In fact, there’s often a long supply chain in which supplement sellers rely on manufacturers, transporters, labelers, and so on. A lot can go wrong before a supplement reaches your door.
For example, if a protein powder is shipped or produced with the same equipment as another product it can easily be contaminated with trace residue. It’s similar to the problem of gluten contamination of non-gluten grains when they are processed or transported.
The NSF Certified for Sport label takes the guesswork out of the equation and makes sure you won’t fall for another’s mistake since every batch is tested for purity and quality. For instance, in the case of fish oil, the NSF tests for rancidity annually to make sure that each capsule maintains the utmost quality. Additionally, the NSF reviews every product formulation, label, and marketing prior to certification. It continues to monitor products, reviewing them three times per year and does random sampling for test selection from both distribution centers and store shelves.
Chan, K. Some aspects of toxic contaminants in herbal medicines. 2003. Chemosphere. 52(9):1361-71.
DMAA In Dietary Supplements. FDA Q & A on Dietary Supplements. http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/QADietarySupplements/ucm346576.htm. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
Newmaster, S., et al. DNA barcoding detects contamination and substitution in North American herbal products. 2013. BMC Medicine. 11(222).
Geyer, H., et al. Nutritional supplements cross-contaminated and faked with doping substances. Journal of Mass Spectrometry. 2008. 43, 892-902.
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