Canadian Cyclist


March 19/03 7:23 am - Beware of Supplements

Posted by Editor on 03/19/03

Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports News

The CCES supplies news items of interest, which we occasionally republish if they are of importance to the cycling community.

US Products Main Culprit in Sports Doping

Tue Mar 18, 5:55 PM ET

By Hannah Cleaver

BERLIN (Reuters Health) - In the continuing battle against the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs, or "doping," experts say they are gaining ground against some of the more specialized doping products, but warn that the use of nutritional supplements containing enormous doses of anabolic steroids is still extraordinarily difficult to control.

As the 21st International Cologne Workshop for Doping Analysis started this week, medics displayed confidence that they would soon update their analytical procedures to catch up with the use of genetically engineered products.

Three major doping agents are genetically engineered versions of the natural hormones insulin, the red-blood-cell booster erythropoietin (EPO), and growth hormone, according to Dr. Hans Geyer, deputy head of the Institute of Biochemistry at the German Sports University in Cologne, which hosted the workshop.

"But we are on the right track as far as developing the methods to detect these," he told Reuters Health.

According to Geyer, analysis experts can now "largely tell the difference" between the engineered hormones and the natural ones.

"We have a solution for EPO which works," he said, "and with growth hormone we also have a good solution, but it still needs to be validated."

The institute is also confident it will be able to start using a test it has developed to detect the presence of bovine haemoglobin before the end of the year. Haemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells.

"We don't know how often (bovine haemoglobin) is used," said Geyer. "We know that it could increase oxygen transport in the body, and it may be used as a method by some athletes."

But nutritional supplements are a more immediate threat to athletes' health, Geyer said.

"The worst supplier for these things is the USA," he said. "(The supplements) are a big problem. We estimate that about 15 percent of them contain anabolic steroids. We found some which have prescription drugs in them in such high levels that people taking them could suffer serious health consequences.

"We found one company on the Isle of Man which was supplying a supplement produced in the US which was full of metandienone, an anabolic steroid. It is connected with severe health problems such as liver toxicity, women developing deeper voices and hair on the face, and heart problems as well as mood swings and aggression."

He said two laboratories had confirmed the results last July, which were also confirmed by German authorities. The company concerned can't be named, Geyer said, as it is still under investigation.

The supplements were advertised for athletes' use and as containing anabolic products, Geyer added.

"It's terrible. It's a criminal act. We were very shocked by it," he said. "These nutritional supplements are really traps for athletes. The situation is catastrophic. And the most contaminated and falsely labeled products are from the USA."

The investigation took place after an International Olympic Committee-accredited lab produced a positive test for metandienone. A follow-up study found the athlete concerned had unwittingly imbibed the substance in a nutrition supplement.

"We bought it via a telephone order," Geyer said. "Anyone could get hold of it without a prescription. We made contact after looking at an Internet page and when we called, got a German-speaking voice. And they sent it within two or three days to my home without any customs restrictions. This could have gone anywhere within Europe with no problem."

"If you took the recommended dose of the supplement you would have taken up to four times the maximum therapeutic dose of this prescription drug."

Study Links Popular Sports Supplement to Sterility

By Tom Farrey

The athlete's toolbox is taking another hit with a new study suggesting that chromium picolinate, a popular supplement perceived to trim fat and build muscle, could cause sterility in a user's children and grandchildren.

The supplement industry denounced the findings of University of Alabama researchers that will be published Tuesday in a scientific journal, arguing that test results on fruit flies cannot be used to project what might happen to human beings.

But coming in the wake of a medical examiner's report that listed another dietary supplement, ephedra, as a contributing factor in the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, the Alabama study is sure to raise even further concerns about over-the-counter products used by athletes.

"It's just another example that there's no free lunch when it comes to using these supplements," said Frank Uryasz, director of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which runs the NCAA's drug-testing program.

Chromium picolinate, widely available in stores and over the Internet, is sold in forms that include pills and sports drinks. The substance became popular among bodybuilders and athletes about a decade ago, with sales now exceeding $87 million a year, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.

The Federal Trade Commission in 1996 cracked down on companies marketing chromium picolinate as a muscle-building substance due to studies that show otherwise. But its early reputation remains intact, as manufacturers often combine it with other products that have demonstrated anabolic effects.

Unlike ephedra, chromium picolinate is not banned for use by athletes competing in the NCAA or Olympics, among other leagues.

"I'm sure the NCAA will look at this study very closely," Uryasz said. "If the NCAA finds that it is harmful to athletes, it probably will ban it."

Like Uryasz, Richard Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency that is taking over drug testing for the Olympics, said he had not read the study. He also expressed interest in its findings, saying chromium picolinate could be added to the banned list if it is judged to be "harmful and contrary to the spirit of the

The Alabama study, funded by the American Diabetes Association, will be published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. received an advance copy of the 29-page study, which notes that fruit flies given chromium picolinate were more likely to produce female offspring that are sterile.

Dr. John Vincent, a chemistry professor at Alabama who led the study, said the substance appears to harm the DNA in future generations. He used flies because their short life spans allow for rapid study and, as a scientific practice, tests on humans often reveal similar results.

"This means there's a very good chance that chromium picolinate could cause a similar change in humans who take it," Vincent said. "We gave it to rats earlier this year, and saw damage to that animal as well."

The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade group for the supplement industry, issued a press release that discounted the Alabama findings. In an interview with, an official for the group said other studies suggest chromium picolinate is safe for human use.

"If this study was all we knew about it, they might have something (damning)," said Dr. John Hathcock, a CRN vice president. "But this isn't all we have."

The question of whether human DNA in subsequent generations is harmed by chromium picolinate has never been studied -- and probably won't be, Hathcock said, given the 60 years it would take to conduct the same three-generation test on fruit flies. But studies have yet to show damage to the DNA of a current user, he said.

Henry Lukaski, a lead researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who has read the Alabama report, said more study is needed before assuming that humans will be harmed. But Lukaski praised the credentials of Vincent, who has previous experience studying chromium picolinate, and said the findings "raise a red flag" for athletes.

"People probably should be cautious in general about using chromium picolinate," Lukaski said.


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