Athlete complaints of contaminated ingredients could be “valid”

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25 Jul 2017 --- It is possible that complaints about contamination of the ingredients used in athletes’ dietary supplements have some merit. This is according to Lukas Vaclavik, a Staff Scientist at Covance Food Solutions, which is a LabCorp business. Vaclavik notes that dietary supplements that were taken by athletes who have been banned from competing could conceivably have contained products that were not listed on product labels.

“I think some [athletes’ claims] are really valid and that athletes take banned substances without knowing they’re actually present in the dietary supplement. These products may contain […] ingredients that are not listed on product labels,” Vaclavik says. “In the case of products for professional and amateur athletes, I think steroids and stimulants are the adulterants of the most interest.”

Click to EnlargeVaclavik made his comments during an 18 July FoodIngredientsFirst-hosted webinar related to non-targeted analysis for advanced adulteration and authenticity testing in food, beverages and dietary supplements. Topics covered included the essential nature of authenticity testing and fraud detection to protect consumers’ health, ensure compliance of products with regulations and safeguard valuable brands. The webinar was sponsored by Covance, a global contract research organization and drug development services company.

Some adulterants may be hidden, according to Vaclavik. “Sometimes they are even declared on the label under a botanical name – because some of the botanicals are known to contain stimulants, for example – but when we look at the actual concentration in the product it is clear that those active components, or those active stimulants, cannot come from the plant itself,” he adds.

“They are just […] manufactured or synthesized by man, so I think in many cases, athletes may take these active ingredients without any knowledge or unintentionally.”

Vaclavik believes he may have seen this type of contamination in specific botanicals. “For example, geranium oil may contain DMAA, which is a stimulant,” he says. “Another example might be acacia rigidula. It’s a plant, and in those cases we found, or it has been described, that such products have contained […] phenethylamine, which is a stimulant.”

The world of athletics seems to share Vaclavik’s concerns about supplements and what they may contain. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Medical and Scientific Consensus Meeting on Supplements calls for more effective action in its report on its 3-5 May meeting at IOC HQ, Lausanne, Switzerland. 

“There is a clear need for well-conducted and sports-specific research on supplements, as many of the published studies have used inappropriate experimental models and subject populations that are not representative of the elite athlete,” the IOC’s conclusion says.

With these issues in mind, are there any untapped areas of non-targeted testing? Vaclavik believes that there are many. “You can look for quality markers – or even biologically active compounds – in particular materials,” he suggests. “You can deal with problems […] during processing. You can characterize what’s going on with your program during heating by monitoring the differences. You can find out what is being developed in the product upon heating or processing and what kind of component you are losing during the process, so there are many other uses.”

Sports nutrition is a much-discussed topic at the moment, and its ideas continue to be integrated in mainstream food and beverages. Active nutrition was also discussed in a NutritionInsight webinar about platforms emerging as performance nutrition products tackle specific consumers’ needs according to age, gender and lifestyle.

by Paul Creasy

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