"The industry’s stance is clear on this: these substances are banned and have no place in the legitimate sports nutrition world," says ESSNA

Supplement ‘doping’ common in recreational teen athletes, finds Greek study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Almost one in ten supplements used by adolescent recreational athletes contain banned doping substances, warns a new study.

According to the data, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, ​almost 60% of the recreational adolescent athletes in Greece surveyed reported using some form of nutritional supplement – with proteins, amino acids and vitamins being the most popular.

While the majority were found to be consuming safe supplements, the Greek team warned that almost one in ten of the athletes were found to consume supplements contaminated with anabolic steroids, prohormones, selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) and aromatase inhibitors – “all pharmacological substances with endocrine modulating properties not stated on the label.”

“In the present study, 9% of the adolescent recreational athletes were using supplements containing doping substances. The users were consciously using anabolic agents, to increase protein synthesis and muscle building, but in most cases the products they were using were advertised as natural boosters,”​ said the team led by senior corresponding author Christina Tsitsimpikoug from the General Chemical State Laboratory of Greece.

“Both professional and recreational athletes are using 'black market' products to enhance their performance,”​ they warned, adding that the easy accessibility to contaminated nutritional supplements and black market products “could constitute a risk for public health.”

Key findings

Alongside colleagues form a number of Greek agencies and universities, Tsitsimpikou surveyed 170 teenage athletes from 11 randomly selected gyms in the Athens area – finding that 60% of all responders said they used some form of dietary supplement.

Of those using dietary supplements, 9% were found to consume supplements contaminated with doping substances, they said – adding that these ‘contaminations’ were of pharmacological substances with endocrine modulating properties, and were not stated on the label.

Tsitsimpikoug and her colleagues said these banned substances appeared in products that were often marketed as ‘natural boosters’ and

The team revealed that all protein, amino acid and creatine preparations tested were found free from doping substances.

 Legal or consumer problem?

Commenting on the findings of the study, Dr Adam Carey, chair of The European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) ESSNA said it is crucial to note that the sports nutrition industry is strictly regulated in the European Union, “from how products are made to how they are labelled, marketed and sold, and with consumer safety as the number one priority.”

“Unfortunately, and as with any other industry, a handful of irresponsible companies do operate and sell unlawful products, almost always via the internet – which authorities are only recently starting to police effectively – and most commonly products that are imported from outside the EU.”

The Greek authors also pointed out that despite the withdrawals of nutritional supplements when contaminations and illegal ingredients are found, “our results point to loose controls and market surveillance enforced by the authorities.”

However, the authors also noted that the 9% of recreational athletes using doping supplements were doing so by choice.

“Nutritional supplements are freely marketed to teenagers through the internet, without any legal restrictions and more importantly without warnings for possible risks for their health,” ​they said.

“In Greece, as elsewhere, the intake of supplements among people exercising in gyms is usually self-prescribed and free of legal restrictions.”

In these cases, the team argue that ‘special provision’ should be taken for retailers providing contaminated nutritional supplements to minor consumers.

“In addition, awareness of new products on the black market and in nutritional supplements is of utmost importance for laboratories to develop detection methods accordingly and screen for new substances as early as possible,”​ they said.

No place in the legitimate sports nutrition world

“As the study reports, some athletes do unfortunately make the conscious decision to use products containing substances such as anabolic agents under the false belief that they can safely enhance their performance and with no consideration of their possible side effects,” ​commented ESSNA’s Carey.

“The industry’s stance is clear on this: these substances are banned and have no place in the legitimate sports nutrition world; we urge the public to avoid them at all costs.”

The ESSNA chair said the association and its members’ priority has always been public safety and good health.

“We are working diligently to improve consumer knowledge of the industry and awareness of these potentially dangerous products​,” he said. “We have launched a number of resources to help the public ensure they’re buying the correct sports nutrition for the right reasons and avoiding those that could illegally contain banned substances and pose a risk to their health.”

“We urge consumers to only purchase products from reputable companies such as ESSNA’s members, whose commitment to ESSNA’s Code of Practice makes a promise that their products comply with all the laws put in place for the public’s protection.”

“Separately, we’re also engaging with the development of a European standard on good practices for manufacturing nutritional supplements in sport and food products, intended for sportspeople,” ​he said.

Source: Food and Chemical Toxicology
Volume 115, May 2018, Pages 447–450, doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2018.03.043
“Use of nutritional supplements contaminated with banned doping substances by recreational adolescent athletes in Athens, Greece”
Authors: Konstantinos Tsarouhas, et al

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