What we can learn from the media drama circling spiked supplements

What we can learn from the media drama circling spiked supplements

It's been a few years now since Sports Illustrated wrote its damning piece on the sports supplement industry, so it was time for another mainstream publication to pick up the story. The latest version comes from Men's Health under the headline, "Who’s Spiking Your Supplements?"

The piece, written by Laura Beil, is part of the magazine’s special report on “The Dangers of Supplements.” In it, Beil recounts the story of how an average athlete who just wanted a “little more oomph” fell victim to Competitive Edge Labs’ M-Drol—a sports supplement product that is believed to have caused liver failure in this man and has since been pulled from the market because it was found to contain illegal steroids.

Beil’s story also describes the meteoric rise of products such as Ejaculoid, a sexual enhancement supplement sold by Goliath Labs that was found to covertly contain a form of sildenafil that the company’s own independent testing failed to detect. But rather than deter customers, news of the product’s recall actually fueled demand for Ejaculoid. “Our phones started ringing off the hook with people wanting it,” Goliath Labs Owner Bart Panessa told Men’s Health. “I actually could have sold triple the amount with just a recall.”

As it was in the 2009 Sports Illustrated story, the drama is laid on pretty thick throughout Beil’s well-written narrative. But unlike the Sports Illustrated piece, the Men’s Health investigation is much less hyperbolic. It doesn’t cast all supplements in an evil light, but rather zeroes in on those categories where most of the current illegal activity occurs and where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is rightly focused: bodybuilding, sexual enhancement and weight loss.

Also, unlike numerous other mainstream articles about dietary supplements, the story never once falsely states that dietary supplements are unregulated or that the creation of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) put consumers at risk. Beil actually quotes a supplement trade association leader—Loren Israelsen of the United Natural Products Alliance—and, at the end of the piece, Men’s Health offers tips for “Supplements that Actually Work” in these three categories.

After reading the Men’s Health article, I was left with two overarching thoughts:


  • Although drama sells magazines, it can also remind us of the real dangers that are posed by companies that care more about making a quick fortune than they do the safety and long-term health of their customers. Responsible supplement companies and retailers are probably tired of seeing the spotlight put on the “shady drug labs” that are “dosing ‘natural’ nostrums with illegal meds”—as Men’s Health describes the tainted supplements trade—but, until these rogue players are eradicated, the headlines will continue. Can the industry live with this? Or is the need building to step up the actions against sellers of drugs masquerading as supplements?
  • The media story being told about dietary supplements is pretty one sided right now. That’s why everyone involved in the reputable and responsible trade of supplements needs to add their voice to the conversation—just as Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage did with the blog it posted in response to the Men’s Health piece. In that post, Natural Grocers hit two critical points that need to be repeated: One) The vast majority of dietary supplements are safe, and 2) retailers such as Natural Grocers take serious steps to make sure the natural products they sell are reputable and that their sales clerks are trained to legally discuss the benefits of these offerings.

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