Consuming dietary supplements not approved by the FDA a gamble for athletes

Are supplements safe for student athletes?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Dietary supplements are prominent in use among athletes and those who exercise. But many consumers may not know what makes up the products they’re taking.

Most bottles list on the packaging that the FDA has not approved the product prior to its availability on the market.

“Supplements are typically not regulated by the FDA so there is no supplement police, there is no process to test or assure the purity of a different supplement or whether certain supplements are combined with other things,” Dr. Pat Connor with OrthoCarolina said.

Dr. Connor is the head team physician for the Carolina Panthers. He says supplements can be a beneficial tool in athletics, but they should only be taken under the guidance of a physician.

“They’re not necessarily something to be afraid of, they can be very helpful. But again, they supplement a good diet and good sleep patterns,” Dr. Connor said.

Supplements can become problematic, he says, when found to contain other ingredients than advertised.

“It’s been estimated that 25 to 40 percent of supplements that athletes can get their hands on may have banned substances in them,” Dr. Connor said.

Those banned substances would cause an athlete to fail a drug test, even if they didn’t know the product they were taking was contaminated. However, amateur athletes who are not frequently drug tested, may not ever know what’s in the supplements they’re taking.

“They might go a decade of having exposure to performance enhancing drugs in their dietary supplements without even realizing it and that can have both long term and short-term effects on their health. And most parents don’t even realize that this is a possibility,” Dr. Amy Eichner, Special Advisor on Drugs and Supplements for the United States Anti-Doping Agency said.

The FDA may recall a product that’s been found to cause harm to consumers because of banned substances. However, a 2014 study by the JAMA Network found more than 66% of recalled products were still available for purchase at least 6 months after the recall was issued.

Dr. Eichner urges consumers to do their research before choosing to take supplements. She says research should go beyond googling the ingredients listed on a product’s label.

“Labels are not always accurate. We have seen so many examples of dietary supplements that list nothing unusual or dangerous on the label but when we’ve testing it, we’ve found performance enhancing drugs,” Dr. Eichner said.

She recommends checking USADA’s website. It provides a supplements guide, as well as a High-Risk List. The list contains more than 500 supplements that USADA has tested and found to contain banned substances. Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list of everything on the market.

“We add products to that list as we become aware of them, but there are so many products out there coming on and off the market. New products, new formulations all the time. That we cannot possibly add every product that should be on the high-risk list we can’t add it. We just don’t have the manpower to make that an exhaustive list,” Dr. Eichner said.

For more information on USADA’s supplements guide and high-risk list, click here.

Dr. Eichner also recommends using NSF International’s website or app to select supplements. NSF has a database of supplements that have been Certified for Sport. That means the supplements have been tested and do not contain banned drugs.

Products that have been approved by NSF will have the NSF logo on its packaging. For more information, click here.

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