A recent press release from the public university in South Carolina provided details about a series of journal articles being written by Bryan Denham, a professor of sports communication and chair of the university’s communications department. Denham’s main thesis, according to the release, is this: “Contaminated dietary supplements may cause health problems in users and render athletes ineligible to play.”
Focus on contamination, misinformation
Denham’s first article, published in the International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, focuses on contamination in supplements. The article singles out the presence of DMAA in some tainted products masquerading as dietary supplements. A second article, which will be published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, focuses on what Denham characterizes as ‘misinformation’ about supplements that athletes get in a word-of-mouth fashion. According to the release, Denham says that athletes, “Often rely on one another for information about supplements. That practice may or may not result in an accurate understanding of the risks involved.”
Denham takes a stance common among industry critics that the very underpinning of the industry—the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act—contained within it the seeds of the despoliation of the sector it helped create.
“The DSHEA classifies supplements as a subcategory of food and from a policy standpoint the assumption is that supplements are safe to consume, but that assumption means players looking to improve their health or performance might find themselves suspended from competition,” Denham said.
Common goal of a better industry
For Duffy MacKay, ND, executive vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the best way to respond is not ferret out the deficiencies in Denham’s arguments, but rather to focus on what the end goal of the articles ought to be: creating a better industry.
“When he says that a consumer should be able to expect a legitimate product when they pick one up off the shelf, I would say that is an area where we completely share values,” MacKay told NutraIngredients-USA.
“The only thing I would take issue with is that he makes what I guess your could call an accusation about the prevalence of DMAA in products. Except for some libertarians who for some reason think this ingredient ought to be in the marketplace, I was under the impression that we were pretty much done with DMAA. Now it’s our job and the FDA’s job to try to eradicate the presence of this ingredient down to the lowest level of background noise possible,” he said.
Products containing DMAA still pop up on the market, but McKay maintained this does not represent the responsible supplement industry. And he said in his view there is plenty of information available about where to go to find clean, responsibly manufactured dietary supplements. For example, McKay said there are a variety of certifications with wide distribution in the marketplace that give assurance that the products are free of banned substances.
“For those athletes whose paycheck relies on their pee test, there are the seals they can look to,” MacKay said.
Outmoded view of industry
To some degree MacKay said Denham seems to be relying on an outmoded view of the supplement industry. Responsible supplement companies aren't seeking to operate in the shadows, avoiding scrutiny. More information is available all the time about supplements and their ingredients, and self regulatory efforts are continuing apace, he said.
“Dr. Denham seems to spend a lot of time on the dark corners of the industry. For example, when he talks about the ‘strong supplement lobbies’ having blocked legislation on designer steroids, I disagree. I would say that it was those same ‘lobbies’ that pushed hard to get DASCA (the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act) passed,” MacKay said.
“We have a lot of responsible companies that could reach across the aisle to Dr. Denham to say that we are taking action. We are completely open to new legislation if it could result in a better industry,” he said.