For years, as the industry has grown and the research has developed, the use of nutritional supplements in sport and by the general public has increased exponentially. Research has shown that over half of the UK’s population now take a nutritional supplement of some kind, and I would estimate that all professional athletes competing at the highest level consume at least one nutritional supplement each day.

Given the obvious prevalence of nutritional supplement use it is necessary to discuss whether we actually know what we are consuming. Whether we can guarantee we are consuming what we think we are consuming and whether the supplement we are consuming is safe. It’s beyond the scope of this post to discuss whether the supplements they are consuming confer any health or performance benefit, but supplement safety should be the primary concern when choosing to take a supplement.

In reality the risk of inadvertently consuming a contaminated supplement is extremely high. For an athlete this could be extremely costly, lengthy bans are handed to athletes who consume banned substances.

Several groups and organisations frequently analyse nutritional supplements with mass spectrometric methods for contaminations with doping substances. These investigations have consistently revealed that nutritional supplements commonly contain prohibited stimulants such as ephedrines, caffeine, methylenedioxymetamphetamie and sibutramine – which were not declared on the labels.

An international study between 2001 and 2002 on 634 nutritional supplements from 13 different countries showed that 15% were contaminated with anabolic-androgenic steroids, predominantly prohormones. Further research in 2005 also revealed that vitamin C, multivitamin complexes and magnesium tablets were also cross-contaminated with anabolic steroids.

The more recent HFL Sport Science 2013 European Supplement Contamination Survey revealed that of the 114 products tested in the UK, 10% were contaminated with banned substances, including steroids, stimulants, or both.

Cross-contamination of nutritional supplements by manufacturers is quite common, especially when they are manufactured in large facilities that handle a variety of different products in the same facility. Although cross-contamination with anabolic-androgenic steroids is likely a result of poor manufacturing practices in large Chinese pharmaceutical companies that produce and sell bulk nutritional supplements and anabolic steroids, there is also a suggestion that the cross-contamination is done deliberately.

This is not only relevant to professional athletes that are routinely drugs tested however, this spans to the general public too. The prevalence of cross-contamination with anabolic-androgenic steroids and other such illegal substances raises the question, what are we consuming? The research clearly indicates that some supplements contain excessive doses of potentially toxic ingredients, while others do not contain significant amounts of the ingredients listed on the label. Essentially the product you think you are buying may not contain that product at all; it may however contain an illegal or potentially toxic substance.

Cross-contamination of nutritional supplements and supplement safety is a growing concern, especially in elite sport where a failed drugs test can be extremely costly. Reputable manufacturers, such as MSC Nutrition now invest heavily in having their products rigorously tested by 3rd party anti-doping laboratories such as HFL Sports Science to ensure as far as possible that the risks to an athlete remain minimal.

Rest assured that these rigorous laboratory tests ensure the products provided by manufacturers such as MSC Nutrition are 100% safe for consumption, with near guarantee of no cross-contamination.

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