Natural Foods Merchandiser

News stories attack dietary supplements industry

If media reports of the "unregulated" supplements industry aren't enough to make members lose a collective night of sleep, how about East German female athletes with beards and Barry White-style baritone voices?

A Washington Post story published Nov. 30 reported that Halodrol-50, a product manufactured by Neptune, N.J.-based Gaspari Nutrition, "contains a steroid that closely resembles Oral-Turinabol," according to researcher Don Catlin of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory. Oral -Turbinol was largely responsible for East Germany's 1970s-era secret athlete doping program—which led to criminal convictions, lawsuits and long-term health troubles.

The finding led the Post to write, "The discovery provides further evidence that the [United States'] multimillion-dollar dietary supplements industry also has become a clearinghouse for the distribution of anabolic steroids."

According to Catlin, Halodrol-50 was also found to contain madol (DMT), the steroid at the center of the recent BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) scandal involving professional athletes such as home-run champ Barry Bonds, Olympic sprinter Marion Jones and the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi.

The Post had previously published a story on Oct. 18 that claimed that five other supplements contained anabolic steroids. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has since opened investigations into the four companies marketing them, according to the Post .

"Apparently some people were either in the weight room or in the showers when Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Control Act last year. Selling steroids of this kind as dietary supplements adds new meaning to stupidity," said Loren Israelsen, executive director of the Utah Natural Products Alliance.

Adding to the supplements industry woes, another story published Nov. 27 in the San Jose Mercury News detailed how professional and college sports teams have been purchasing supplements from a company run by a convicted felon. Gary Lewellyn, owner of Oklahoma City-based Nutrient Technology Corp., is a former stockbroker who served time in prison for embezzlement and whose former company, Dallas-based Performance Nutrition, was forced to remove products from the market for making unsubstantiated claims.

The Mercury News story states, "Federal law allows supplements to enter the market without screening by the FDA, creating, according to some industry observers, a Wild West mentality that makes using some products a risk."

The paper claims that safety testing conducted for Nutrient Technology at Ball State University in Indiana was done by a researcher who had previously endorsed products for Performance Nutrition and had received shares of Performance stock. "It's just something that screams 'red flag,'" the story states.

Judy Blatman, vice president of communications at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, said, "We think that it's important that if companies are illegally marketing steroids that this issue be brought to light, and we think the Post did a good job." She said CRN took special exception to the Post 's statement that the industry is a "clearinghouse" for steroids because "it implies that the activity is widespread when, in fact, the responsible industry condemns companies that are selling steroids and calling them dietary supplements."

David Seckman, executive director and chief executive officer of the National Nutritional Foods Association, concurred, saying, "The U.S. dietary supplement industry holds that any product containing steroids, regardless if it is labeled as a 'dietary supplement,' is an illegal drug masquerading as a legitimate supplement in the face of inadequate enforcement."

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