I’ve covered the legal regulations behind dietary supplements in Part One of this series, and now I want to discuss my top five tips to recognizing that a supplement may pose an anti-doping and/or health risk.
1. Avoid supplements that contain prohibited substances, and further yet, avoid supplements from companies that sell products with prohibited substances. There is always the risk of ingredients accidently (or intentionally) ending up in other products.
Thoroughly examine the label of any supplement you are taking. If you are unsure of an ingredient, research it. Many ingredients go by multiple names. Be vigilant about knowing what you are putting in your body.
Watch out for ingredients ending in -ol, -diol, -stene or ingredients containing multiple numbers. These may be steroids or stimulants, and it is a way for companies to use marketing strategies to appear unique by using obscure names. By law, they are required to list ingredients in their common name.
2. Beware of “proprietary blends”. This is a marketing tool that companies use to make their product appear unique or special. Plus, the supplement company doesn’t have the list the amount of each individual ingredient, they only have to list the total amount of the proprietary blend. Buyer beware – sometimes companies will use minimum amounts of expensive ingredients that have no physiological effect and use cheaper ingredients (or fillers) to bulk up the blend.
3. Be skeptical of “clinically proven” or advertisements saying “doctor recommended”. Often, the marketed positive outcomes are based on theory, not proven science. Or, the studies that were performed were poorly conducted and are not scientifically valid.
Several sports supplements have well-supported studies and supporting evidence for their use. However, there is also research for sports supplements showing their claims to be misleading or false. Here are a few examples from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
Beta-Alanine: Acts as a buffer in the muscle
Claim: Improve high-intensity exercise performance.
Evidence: Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA): Leucine, isoleucine and valine
Claim: Delay fatigue; boost the immune system.
Evidence: BCAA can provide fuel for endurance activity, but has not been shown to delay fatigue as a result. Growing research suggests it may play a role in supporting immune function.
Carnitine: Found in muscles and used for energy production
Claim: Helps you burn fat.
Evidence: Does not increase fat burning when taken as a supplement.
Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT): Fatty acids
Claim: Increases endurance; promotes fat burning in long duration exercise.
Evidence: Does not enhance endurance performance. May increase blood lipid levels; therefore, not recommended.
4. There are some red flags that indicate junk science in supplement’s claims. Protect your body and your wallet, beware of the following claims:
5. Watch out for “all-natural” herbals. Herbal ingredients are not always safe. They can naturally contain ingredients that may interact with each other or medications you are taking.
I recently researched a supplement that a friend was taking, and one of the herbal ingredients could possibly interfering with birth control pills. Now, wouldn’t that be a shock if they end up pregnant due to the “seemingly harmless” supplement they are taking? If you have any doubts or questions, check with your pharmacist about potential interactions with medications.
It is important to recognize that there are issues in the supplement industry. When an athlete or consumer doesn’t know what they are consuming it can pose a risk for a positive anti-doping test or potential health risk.
What’s next in this supplement series? Tools and links to use to reduce the risk of testing positive or experiencing harmful health effects from supplement use.
Source: United States Anti-Doping Agency, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics