So we've heard it all before. An athlete tests positive for an anabolic steroid, and he/she claims "it must have been in one of my supplements", and we all go "yeah, or in your tea, or the town's drinking water or something..get real!" Well now we have a REAL DEBATE on our hands with the very intelligent forethought of a (very successful) cyclist in the US, Scott Moninger. Having recently tested positive for 19-Norandrosterone, a precursor of an Anabolic Steroid, he went looking for answers from the supplements he was taking, not provided by any "under-the counter" source, like some guy in a long coat at the local gym driving a Cadillac…. no, bought legitimately from a retail source he and no doubt most people, believed to be reliable.
Only today we see another positive test (Spain, La Liga) in professional football, and the initiative taken by the Italian Football Federation to introduce BLOOD testing has to be praised highly.. but the emergence that supplements, as suggested by the IOC only 6 months ago may OFTEN be contaminated opens up a huge can of worms.
What do the teams' dieticians do next? Ban all supplements? Even more so, what do the dope testers do next, nullify all recent positive tests in athletes using supplements known to be contaminated? (Think Jaap Stam, Pep Guardiola, Linford Christie, etc, etc) An even more difficult question will be who will advise and help the young amateur aspirant, probably the most important player in all sports: he or she with little or no income to pay for what are very expensive tests.. of EVERY SUPPLEMENT THEY MAY BE TAKING??
Of course the IOC and rules enforcement agencies can insist "if you're positive, it's your fault", but this shows a severe lack of compassion for people whose livelihoods and success often depend on a large amount of trust in their circle of friends, coaches, managers and trainers.
Speaking personally as a Community Pharmacist I have seen, at first hand, the expense associated with independent testing and analysis of products, as well as the extreme levels of commercialism associated with the supplement, herbal and complimentary healthcare industries. Some Premiership (UK Soccer) clubs get over the risk by getting individual batches of supplements analysed and cleared before that batch (and ONLY that batch) is bought up for the team members. This is particularly useful in large volume supplements used frequently like Creatine. The costs associated with doing this for a young amateur cyclist/swimmer/hockey player etc would be impossible to justify at the schools level and age group.
In short, given that Moninger has SEALED bottles of his supplements available for testing, and those he had opened have already been proven positive for Steroid Contaminants, it would appear almost no supplement is safe, unless Pharmaceutically confirmed. Athletes will have to be even more careful, and should learn from Moninger who had the presence of mind to hold onto samples in sealed jars of the supplements he may yet blame for ruining his career. Most of my Community Pharmacist colleagues have indemnity insurance of up to 15 million Euro…I wonder how much indemnity various supplement manufacturers and retailers have?
Some advice for those athletes hell-bent on buying nutritional supplements:
• If you are really serious about your sport, is your supplement manufacturer willing to categorically PROVE their products contain no banned substances?
• Products in the UK and Ireland with a medical authorization have a PRODUCT LICENCE or PRODUCT AUTHORISATION number, which makes the manufacturer provide sufficient information to prove the purity and effectiveness of products. Many multivitamin supplements have this license (and many others have not) Unfortunately FEW of the rarer supplements like Co-Q10, Creatine, MSM or L-arginine have such licenses.
• If you are going to buy supplements, buy from a licensed retail outlet. (It would be interesting to see what sort of insurance they might have for ruining a career!)
• Try to get good nutrition from good food, and good nutritional advice from dieticians.
As a wise old sage once said…" even when you're on the right road, you'll still get run over if you sit there"..probably by a truckload of Nandrolone!