Nutrition Business Journal
Elite athletes eschew dietary supplements over fears of contamination

Elite athletes eschew dietary supplements over fears of contamination

COLD-FX among the few supplements Olympic athletes will risk taking.

Paul Rosen, a gold medalist paralympic athlete, is one of a growing number of elite athletes who say they would like to take a multivitamin, protein powder and other dietary supplements but do not because these products simply carry too much risk of being contaminated with a banned substance or of triggering a failed drug test. “I am a team athlete, and I get drug tested a lot,” said Rosen, who is the goalie for the sledge hockey team Canada is sending to the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver next year. His team won a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy. “If I were to test positive during a drug test because of a supplement I was taking, my entire team would lose any medals it had won. I cannot take that risk.”

About 90% of the 11,000 athletes who competed in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing used some form of dietary supplement, but no supplement was implicated in a positive drug test during the 2008 Games. That said, tainted supplements have been at the center of several high-profile failed drug tests in the professional athletic arena of late. J.C. Romero, a relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, was suspended in January for the first 50 games of this year's Major League Baseball season after failing a drug test. Romero blamed the product 6-OXO Extreme for the traces of androstenedione found in his urine in August 2008 and has sued Ergopharm, makers of 6-OXO Extreme. Romero also named in the suit Proviant Technologies, Vitamin Shoppe and GNC, which sold him the product. This and other events have caused both the media and Congress to take notice and, in many cases, label dietary supplements as unsafe and not worth the risk.

One dietary supplement that Rosen and likely many other Olympic athletes will take in preparation for the upcoming 2010 Winter Games is Afexa Life Sciences Inc.'s immune-support product COLD-FX. That's because COLD-FX was named the official cold and flu remedy of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and as such is being recommended by trainers around the world as a proven product that can help Olympic athletes avoid illness come game time. “The athlete is no good if he or she is not healthy on race day,” said Dale Henwood, president of the Canadian Sport Centre, one of seven Olympic training centers in Canada. “At the recommendation of a pharmacist, we approached COLD-FX in 2001 to make sure we were doing everything we could to keep the athletes healthy.” Afexa Life Sciences has been able to earn the trust of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and trainers such as Henwood because of the 12 clinical trials the company has conducted on COLD-FX; the company's ChemBioPrint technology, which ensures batch-to-batch uniformity of its product; and its efforts to test COLD-FX to ensure that the ginseng-based product won't trigger a positive drug test in athletes. “Being named the official cold and flu remedy by the Olympic committee is a great validation of our science and testing,” said Jacqueline Shan, PhD, Afexa's chief scientific officer and the co-discoverer of COLD-FX. Already Afexa has seen the IOC endorsement boost COLD-FX sales, which have now hit the $50 million mark, Shan added.

Along with conducting its own doping trial of COLD-FX, Afexa is one of a growing number of companies investing in NSF International's Certified for Sport program. The program was designed to protect against product adulteration, to verify label claims and to screen for banned substances — such as stimulants, steroids or beta blockers — in a finished product or ingredient. Since the program's creation in 2004, NSF has formed testing partnerships with numerous leagues and players' organizations, including Major League Baseball and the National Football League. To date, 49 products from 16 companies have gone through NSF's Certified for Sport program. Afexa's COLD-FX passed NSF certification in September 2009.