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Is supply chain risk worse than feared in sports supplements?

The scale of supplement contamination in supply chains and how to mitigate it

22 September 2022

We remember the story last year that the Team GB 4x100 relay team lost their Olympic silver medal following CJ Ujah’s positive test for the prohibited substances ostarine and S-23. The athlete later admitted that he may have taken contaminated supplements that were not certified by Informed Sport, a mandatory standard set by UK Athletics.

Supplements are not subject to the same level of approvals as medicine. It is the manufacturers responsibility to ensure that their products are safe and to disclose their ingredients. There are no requirements to test the quality and quantity of ingredients, impurities, related compounds, or lead.

The global sports nutrition market size was valued at USD 40.0 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 8.5% to reach an estimated USD 82.3 billion by 2030. This is being driven by fitness enthusiasts and active lifestyle consumers, as well as elite athletes who see the uplift in performance benefit. As a result, new companies are entering the market, while leading brands are building or acquiring supplements brands to expand their wellness and lifestyle offering.

The consequences of contaminated supplements can be far-reaching. A positive test for a professional athlete can lead to a suspension or ban, loss of medals, and lucrative sponsorship deals being cancelled. For consumers, there is a risk of health-related issues such as an inability to produce natural hormones, infertility, cardiovascular, and joint pain. For brands, the reputational damage of being associated with a failed test or a product recall due to a health scare, can be highly damaging.

Is supplement contamination a bigger issue?

New data, published in BioMed Research International, suggests that the problem of contaminated supplements is more widespread than thought for both athletes and consumers.

Testing of 3,132 supplements revealed that 875 contained undeclared substances. 28% contained sibutramine, 26% contained testosterone and other anabolic steroids, and 7% contained 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA).

The report also states that 21% of the supplements tested contained an antidepressant and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) called fluoxetine. There were also lower levels of various diuretics and Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) identified.

These potentially toxic substances were not listed on the product labelling, or the quantities differed from the stated amount.

The majority of the supplements used in the study were purchased online or from bricks and mortar shops and pharmacies. The contaminated products originated primarily from the US, the Netherlands, UK, Italy and Germany.

These findings mirror those found through our own testing of samples that are available on the shelves, which estimated that 10-15% of supplements on the market suffer from low levels of contamination.

Help to reduce risk in your supply chain through INFORMED

Amazon has recognised this issue and updated its requirements for dietary and sports supplement products being sold on the site. As a part of these new requirements, Informed Sport and Informed Choice from LGC ASSURE are accepted as a means to fulfil these requirements.

Third-party testing and certification programmes, such as Informed Sport and Informed Choice, provide athletes and consumers that products are safe and free from contaminants. While they are not a legal requirement, they mitigate against reputational damage.

Would you like to find out more about Informed?

Informed Choice and Informed Sport are leading the fight against contamination in sports supplements. This helps brands build trust in the supply chain, helping consumers to choose more easily.

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