Thursday, March 30, 2006

Steroids in Supplements!

Can over-the-counter supplements lead to a positive drug tests in athletes?

Looking for the competitive edge in sports is natural. The desire to win is what leads many athletes to start taking banned substances in order to improve their ability to train harder and increase their performance. Those athletes who respect the governing rules of amateur sport on doping and choose not to take any products on the banned substance list may still be at risk of having a positive drug test!

Recent research in to the area of contaminated over-the-counter (OTC) sports supplements has shown some disturbing results. In a study by Baume et al (2006), they looked at 103 OTC supplements in 4 categories (37 prohormones, 42 creatine, 12 "mental enhancers", and 12 branched chain amino acids (BCAA)) for the presence of major anabolic steroid parent compounds, stimulants and traces of testosterone, nandrolone and their precursors. The category of prohormone supplements is in fact on the banned substance list of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the findings related to this category will be discussed later in this article.

Of the 103 supplements tested, 18% were found to contain anabolic steroid precursor contaminants not present on the label. Fourteen of the 37 prohormones were contaminated, as well as three of the 12 "mental enhancers" and one of the 42 creatine supplements contained contaminants.

Of all of the above mentioned findings, the most significant to the amateur athlete is the contaminated creatine supplement. After the presence of 19-norandrosterone and 19-noretiocholanolone contaminants were discovered in the creatine supplement, it was administered to volunteers to see what the results of a urine sample would be if one was taking the supplement. At the manufacturer's recommended daily intake of 5.25g/day, this led to the excretion of Nandrolone in the urine (19-norandrosterone and 19-noretiocholanolone convert into nandrolone in the body). The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the IOC has set a maximum allowable limit of 2ng/mL of nandrolone in the urine. In this study, after only 3 days of supplementation, the levels excreted in the urine reached this 2ng/mL level. The authors hypothesized that if an athlete was on the creatine supplement for a longer duration, or taking more then the recommended dosage, a positive drug test could be possible. These are very interesting results since nandrolone was the source of numerous positive drug tests back in the year 2000. Many elite athletes tested above the 2 ng/mL level and were banned from sport while always maintaining their innocence. Here are just a few of the athletes who tested positive for nandrolone:

Linford Christie, Britain, sprinter
Merlene Ottey, Jamaica, sprinter
Doug Walker, Britain, sprinter
Mark Richardson, Britain, swimmer
Petr Korda, Czech, tennis player
Djamel Bouras, France, judo player
Spencer Smith, Britain, triathlete
Igor Shalimov, Russia, footballer
Christophe Dugarry, France, rugby player

Baume et al did a similar analysis on the supplements labelled as prohormones. A prohormone is chemical compound that has a structure very similar to actual hormones in the body and is in fact a precursor to natural hormones. These prohormones usually have limited effect on their own until they are converted in the body to their respected hormone.

As previously mentioned, all prohormone supplements are banned by the IOC and after the signing of the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 by U.S. President Bush, the supplements are supposed to be on the list of controlled substances. However of the 37 prohormone supplements tested in this study, 3 contained metandienone - an anabolic steroid more commonly known as Dianabol! This steroid has in fact been used by professional body builders and athletes for decades after its introduction in the United States in the 1950's. Therapeutic doses, based on recommendations from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (1996), are in the range of 5-10mg/day. At a manufacturer's recommended dosage of 40mg/day of prohormone supplement, it resulted in Dianabol intake levels equal to 22-26 mg/day! These high amounts of Dianabol can actually be harmful to the consumer and with long-term use may lead to numerous adverse side-effects such as acne, high blood pressure, gynaecomastia, cardiovascular disease, liver dysfunction as well as psychological and psychiatric disorders.

The IOC and WADA are aware of the possibility of contaminated supplements and are now pushing for more strict international laws to regulate the contents of OTC supplements. More and more research is being done in an effort to identify reputable manufacturers of supplements as these findings are disturbing to any amateur athlete that is trying to stay clean and compete for the love of sport.


Baume N, Mahler N, Kamber M, Mangin P, Saugy M. Research of stimulants and anabolic steroids in dietary supplements. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2006 16: 41-48.

Geyer H, Bredehoft M, Mareck U, Parr M, Schanzer W. High doses of the anabolic steroid metandienone found in dietary supplements. Euro J Sport Sci. 2003: 1(3): 1-5


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