A recent study shows measurable levels of steroids and ephedrine in popular sports supplements, according to Informed-Choice, a Lake Wylie, S.C.-based supplements testing and marketing group, which commissioned the study. Industry groups quickly raised questions about both the report's findings and the methodologies used.
The results, first reported in the Dec. 5 USA Today, show that 25 percent of the products tested have some levels of steroid contamination, while 11 percent tested positive for traces of banned stimulants such as ephedrine. Testing was done by HFL, a U.K.-based laboratory recognized by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Though the levels found are not considered dangerous, they could trigger a positive test for athletes.
"The point of the study is to illustrate that there's a quality challenge in the industry," said Kelly Hoffman, executive director of Informed-Choice, a not-for-profit partnership between supplements companies and HFL. "We knew there was an increasing incidence of athletes who test positive and blame supplements, despite the ban on pre-hormones and ephedrine in such products. We wanted to check the current state of the market."
The report states that 58 unspecified products were purchased for testing. "Products were selected from manufacturers who were not believed to regularly carry out banned-substance screening as part of their routine quality-control processes," according to the report.
"If this report is legitimate—and that's a big if—then there should be concern from the supplements industry," said Judy Blatman, spokeswoman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a Washington, D.C.-based supplements industry trade association. "What concerns us is that companies were not named, so basically they've accused an entire industry and made the suggestion that consumers should not buy any sports supplements products."
Hoffman said the organization has notified the affected companies, and also offers solutions to contamination problems. "Broadly, the industry is pretty thankful [for this information]," she said. "The industry has been painted with a brush that says it's tainted. Often, it's made to sound like purposeful contamination, but this study illustrates that much of it is not within a company's immediate control. We need assistance from regulatory bodies, third-party manufacturers, suppliers—an industry-wide effort to fix the perception."
The group's motives in conducting the study have come under scrutiny. "We're in favor of testing products, but testing needs to be transparent, and shouldn't be a publicity tool for companies to make money or bash an industry," Blatman said.
Though Informed-Choice is a nonprofit, it offers help for member companies examining manufacturing equipment and testing raw materials, and its Web site lists products that have passed testing. "Informed-Choice is a solution to this problem. It's acceptable to the general public, to athletes and to parents, and it's something the industry can easily use at a reasonable cost."
Hoffman disputed that naming the products would help. "Naming names won't bring the industry together," she said. "Bad companies [that deliberately add steroids] will have sell-out products, and athletes will have batch numbers for tainted products to blame if they fail tests."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 1/p. 9,12