FDA warns that tainted products marketed as dietary supplements are potentially dangerous – Anti-Doping Research’s Dietary Supplement Survey – A strategy in response

The Good, the Bad, and the Dirty in the Dietary Supplement Industry – Anti-Doping Research’s (ADR) Dietary Supplement Survey

Despite being widely available today, dietary supplements can contain unsafe and illegal substances that pose significant health risks to consumers.  Novel designer steroids, stimulants like ephedrine, pharmaceutically active ingredients like sibutramine, and other untested or unsafe ingredients continue to slip into the dietary supplement marketplace.  The FDA has responded with a significant and laudable new effort to work with the industry to combat the issue as described in, “FDA: Tainted Products Marketed as Dietary Supplements Potentially Dangerous.”  We would like to assist the effort through ADR’s Dietary Supplement Survey, for which we are currently raising financial support.

In ‘Tainted Body Building Products,” the FDA issued a warning that, “FDA cannot test all products on the market that contain potentially hidden ingredients.  Enforcement actions and consumer advisories for tainted products only cover a small fraction of the tainted over-the-counter products on the market.”  The numbers of tainted products are vast and the problems real.  According to the press release, “In recent years, FDA has alerted consumers to nearly 300 tainted products marketed as dietary supplements and received numerous complaints of injury associated with these products.”  Yet this is just a small fraction.  We would like to use our experience to help test and expose more, one of the primary goals of our Dietary Supplement Survey.

In the words of the FDA Commissioner, Margaret A. Hamburg, “These tainted products can cause serious adverse effects, including strokes, organ failure, and death.”  The dangers, as we know first-hand, are all too real, as we have dealt with numerous cases of acute liver injury in young adults who have used such products.  Colleagues such as Don Hooton have had lives forever changed by the suicide of a son using steroids to pursue athletic advancement.  Unfortunately, the issues are not isolated to body-building products as they span other categories like weight loss and sexual enhancement as well.  If such products are manufactured in the same facilities as legitimate supplements, the potential for contamination is also a concern.

In the FDA Letter to Industry, a fine point is made. “These products not only pose risks to consumers,” it states, “but undermine confidence in legitimately marketed dietary supplements in these and other categories.”  The majority of the dietary supplement industry produces products that do not contain illicit ingredients or contaminants and that should also be showcased.  In the letter, the “FDA is also seeking continued input and collaboration from the trade associations to educate the industry about this problem and to develop strategies to combat it.”

We believe that ADR’s Dietary Supplement Survey initiative could be such a strategy.  To sum up our goals:  We aim to explore which products are good, which products are bad, and which products exhibit contamination with low but potentially harmful levels of illicit ingredients.

More specifically, we will perform focused testing on problem categories to expose dangerous new products.  We will also conduct testing on a variety of randomly selected products to evaluate the prevalence of contamination and to demonstrate that the majority of products are indeed clean.  In the process, we will help audit the current retail environment to assist with enforcement and will characterize new supplement ingredients that have the potential to cause harm or lead to a positive drug test.  The results of our work will available via an interactive website portal complete with testing data, public service announcements and more.

As a public charity, Anti-Doping Research, a leader in performance-enhancing drug and toxicology research and testing, is working to raise $1.5 million to conduct the Dietary Supplement Survey.  We hope to gain broad support from a variety of sources to provide for a collective solution.  We have reached out to our friends in the dietary supplement community, the sporting community, anti-doping, collegiate and high school athletics, sporting sponsors, pharmaceutical companies and others in pursuit of support.  We would also welcome the involvement of the general public through volunteer activity or small contributions.  All donations are tax deductible.

If you have any questions, please contact us at 310-482-6925 or by e-mail at dcatlin@antidopingresearch.org or ocatlin@antidopingresearch.org.

Consumers, athletes and other elite professionals deserve a marketplace offering legitimate and safe dietary supplements.  With your help, we are confident that we can help make this happen.   Please join us and help support this important initiative with your contribution today.

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