Sports draw heat to supplements industry

Congress gets in on act, responding to 'emotional rhetoric,' said CRN

United States The ongoing 'clash' between sports associations and the supplements industry shows no signs of abating as the 2008 Beijing Olympics draws near, and scrutiny intensifies for athletes and the supplements they consume. Two issues dominate: the manner in which supplements are used, and contamination.

As Functional Ingredients went to press, things were getting heated. A bill was introduced on Capitol Hill in Washington that sought to amend the Controlled Substances Act to restrict the availability of supplements containing DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), especially among minors. Some athletes take DHEA supplements in the belief it will boost their performance and help them build muscle, as anabolic steroids have the capacity to do.

President and CEO of the Washington, DC-based Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), Steve Mister, strongly opposed the bill, calling DHEA — a steroid produced naturally in the body — "a legal and safe supplement product."

"There is no evidence that DHEA is being abused by minors, nor is there evidence that DHEA works as a performance-enhancing product in young healthy adults," he said. "Tying this legislation to the Mitchell report on steroid and drug problems in Major League Baseball is a misdirected attempt to push through meritless legislation based on emotional rhetoric. This bill would in no way address the problem of illegal anabolic steroid use. In short, this proposed legislation is a solution in search of a problem."

DHEA was omitted from the Anabolic Steroid Control Act because it does not produce extra testosterone like many anabolic steroids. It is most commonly used by adults whose bodies do not generate enough DHEA. Mister added, "We urge Congress not to restrict access to DHEA, but rather to focus its resources on enforcing the current laws around illegal steroid use more strictly, and educating the public about the dangers of illegal steroids."

Supplements contamination was also in the news as Fi went to press. With Adverse Event Reports and GMPs finally being mandated in the US, 2007 will be viewed as a good year for the supplements industry, but product contamination remains an issue even if the criticism, especially from the sporting world, is often far from justifiable.

The industry was, once again, in defence mode after a report from a testing lab that was picked up by the mainstream press found that many supplements were contaminated with prohibited steroids and ephedrine alkaloids.

In response, Loren Israelsen, executive directive of the Utah-based Utah Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), said, "In the post-GMP regulation era, I assume the media will report that a government regulation is in place that should manage this problem, but I also expect this story to be garbled up and will include comments that dietary supplements are unregulated, or that companies are openly producing products in disregard of regulations that do exist."

But the report highlights a problem, especially with athletes, whose own testing regimes are more stringent than even GMP requirements. What are the manufacturers to do, especially when the report in question refused to name products?

As Andrew Shao, PhD, vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs at CRN, told Fi: "It is unfortunate that athletes and some testing programmes can anonymously point the finger at either individual companies or the entire industry. We are in favour of testing programmes, but those programmes must be transparent. If you're not upfront about your testing programme, no one has any way to determine whether you're being accurate or just looking to make a profit."

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