Perhaps you might think that you are far removed from the issues related to designer steroids. Some see it as a problem for professional or Olympic sport to deal with but don’t see the issue influencing their daily lives. Well, if you take dietary supplements on a regular basis, as more than half the population of the United States does, according to a recent Nielsen survey, designer steroids should matter to you.
Why, you might ask; I only take vitamins or herbs? Well, the answer comes from the manufacturing process, which often occurs in co-packing facilities in the case of dietary supplements. Co-packers simply mix and package the formulas provided by various supplement manufacturers and turn them into final products. If your vitamin, protein powder, amino acid supplement or other product is processed in the same facility as one of the many designer steroids that continue to be produced you may have a problem.
A quick tour of a co-packer manufacturing facility illustrates the potential for contamination…
First, the raw materials are obtained and are warehoused for use.
The ingredients for a particular formula are then gathered and sent for measuring.
The ingredients are weighed out according to the formula for the product.
The ingredients are combined in a huge blender to be mixed for hours. If the blender is not completely cleaned and sanitized between mixes of different products, one can see how cross-contamination between products can occur.
If your protein powder is produced just after a designer steroid, one can see how cross-contamination might occur. Many co-packers in the industry make an ethical choice not to participate in the manufacturing of dangerous products like designer steroids, but not all. O.K., so there are regulations in place to protect against possible contamination of the finished products with potentially harmful unlabelled ingredients right? Wrong. (In fairness to the many competent and capable co-packers we should mention that we test products regularly from the facility shown above and have yet to find any contamination)
Certainly dietary supplement industry regulations have come a long way. The phase-in of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) for dietary supplements over the last few years is likely to significantly improve quality of products as manufacturers are held to the new standards that CGMP dictate. All manufacturers are now subject to CGMP, although the industry recognizes that the benefits will only be as good as the enforcement and auditing of the CGMP.
The new CGMP requirements, however, DO NOT include the need to test finished goods for contaminants such as designer steroids. This is surprising given the prevalence of such compounds still today, even though they should be illegal to put in supplements. CGMPs do require raw materials to be tested for purity prior to being formulated in the product and they also require testing for adulterants like arsenic or lead.
Some argue that purity checks will ensure that contaminants like designer steroids do not enter the marketplace. However, if you explore the concept of purity testing and you realize that purity checks are often done at the microgram level, the problem is exposed. Microgram testing is done at parts per million, testing for contaminants like designer steroids is usually done at the parts per billion level (nonograms). Say you do a purity check on an ingredient and it comes back 99% pure after testing at the microgram level. Well, how do you know the other 1% does not contain a hidden steroid, stimulant or otherwise unlabelled pharmaceutical ingredient?
Is it O.K. if your protein powder, amino acid, or vitamin contains microgram quantities of a steroid or stimulant? How does that magnify itself in your body with daily use of a protein powder where a serving size might be 100 grams, three times daily? We don’t think that such contamination is acceptable as it could reach levels significant enough to lead to harm for a consumer. Certainly, such levels of contaminants could cause positive drug tests for elite professionals like athletes or police officers; in fact, even contamination in the low parts per billion can lead to positive drug tests.
We would like to evaluate how prevalent contamination is in today’s supplement marketplace. Nobody knows the scope of the issue since there are no requirements to test. We want to survey the industry to characterize the issue through random sampling of a variety of products. We also want to work to expose the bad products in the industry, like the new designer steroid options that continue to pop up daily.
If you are interested in such issues and would like to support our efforts to conduct a survey of products from the industry, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or explore our Dietary Supplement Survey concept, which we are currently raising funding to conduct. All contributions to our 501c3 public charity Anti-Doping Research are tax deductible. We would welcome your support of this public-health initiative as we believe it will lead to improved consumer protection, better regulations, and much-needed improved quality control of dietary supplements.