Frequently Asked Questions
LGC is a world-renowned sports doping control and research laboratory, with over 50 years of expertise in anti-doping in sport. LGC has published over 300 scientific papers on methods for detection of trace levels of substances that are prohibited in sport and has over 450 man-years of research into doping control.
LGC has been testing supplements and ingredients on behalf of reputable manufacturers and suppliers for over 10 years. It has tested tens of thousands of samples during this time and has also carried out a number of research studies to explore the prevalence of contamination with prohibited substances in products and ingredients. LGC's research into supplements and contamination also includes several administration studies to investigate the levels of prohibited substances that could cause an athlete to fail a doping test. These have been published in peer reviewed scientific journals.
LGC's testing capability for supplements and ingredients includes the analysis of over 146 substances that are considered prohibited in sport and substances that pose a threat in respect of product contamination. These substances include drugs of abuse, anabolic agents, stimulants, beta-2-agonists, masking agents, etc.
Testing methods used for a range of substances from these categories have been validated and accredited to the ISO 17025 standard in supplements and ingredients, in each of the relevant matrices: powders, bars, liquids, capsules, tablets, etc., with defined method capabilities/reporting limits. LGC Fordham has held this accreditation since 2003, granted by UKAS (the United Kingdom Accreditation Service), while LGC Lexington gained its accreditation from A2LA (American Association for Laboratory Accreditation, see www.a2la.org: certificate no. 3244.01) in 2012 shortly after opening.
Other prohibited substances tested for are not explicitly covered within the ISO 17025 accreditation schedule for supplements/ingredients; however, similar analytical methods and quality control procedures are employed to those used for the analysis of the accredited compounds.
As a doping control laboratory, LGC works directly with sports authorities, national anti-doping organizations, and national governing bodies worldwide. Providing advice and expert support, LGC is able to represent the views of partners and assist in the shaping of future regulation.
Informed-Choice is a certification program for sports supplements, raw materials, and manufacturing facilities, which assures athletes that products carrying the Informed-Choice mark have been regularly tested for substances considered prohibited in sport. In addition, Informed-Choice also ensures that products have been manufactured to high quality standards. Responsible supplement companies have made Informed-Choice part of their existing quality assurance systems to ensure their products are safer for athletes to use.
Research has shown that some supplement products have been found to be contaminated with low levels of substances that are prohibited by WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) and other sporting bodies. The Informed-Choice program aims to work closely with supplement manufacturers and suppliers by reviewing the quality systems they have in place at the manufacturing facility and by providing high quality analytical testing for products and ingredients to minimize the incidence of banned contaminants finding their way into sport. It also aims to provide athletes with an effective risk management service so that they can choose products that have undergone additional quality control testing as required in elite sport.
The Informed-Choice certification program was established in 2007 by one of the world's leading sports doping control laboratories, HFL Sport Science, which is now known as LGC. Although LGC has been testing supplements since 2002, it became clear that there was a need for a comprehensive certification program which not only tested products for banned substances, but that also ensured that products were manufactured in accordance with good manufacturing practices.
The Informed-Choice certification is a voluntary program for reputable supplement companies who wish to register some, or all, of their products and carry the Informed-Choice mark on those products. Athletes who see the Informed-Choice logo on a product can be assured it has undergone rigorous checks and testing to ensure that it is not contaminated with banned substances and is safer to use.
LGC is accredited to the ISO 17025 standard for a broad range of analytical testing, including the analysis of nutritional supplements/ingredients for banned substances. LGC Fordham has held this accreditation for supplement/ingredient testing since 2003, grant by UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service, see www.ukas.com: laboratory no. 1187), while LGC Lexington gained its accreditation from A2LA (American Association for Laboratory Accreditation, see www.a2la.org: certificate no. 3244.01) in 2012 shortly after opening. This accreditation covers all relevant matrices: powders, bars, liquids, capsules, tablets, etc., and all tests have defined method capabilities/reporting limits.
LGC was only the 34th laboratory in the world to be accredited by WADA/IOC in 2004. WADA prohibits any of its accredited labs from providing commercial testing services to supplement companies. LGC voluntarily withdrew its WADA accreditation in 2007, ensuring that a high integrity testing service could be provided to address the issues of quality assurance within the supplement industry.
Our extensive experience as a sports anti-doping laboratory provides us with a unique understanding of the sports regulatory environment from a laboratory perspective.
LGC has been testing for prohibited substances in sport since 2002 and has tested tens of thousands of product/ingredient samples during that time. LGC is currently testing over 5,000 samples per year for over 180 nutrition companies worldwide.
The WADA Prohibited List is specifically designed for urine analysis and refers to substances found in urine (i.e. after the drug has passed through the body). The body may convert some or all of the drug to other compounds as it passes through the body.
Not all of the substances on the WADA prohibited list are able to be present in a supplement product.
Additionally, the WADA list of prohibited substances is not definitive. By necessity the list identifies classes of prohibited substances, such as anabolic agents and related substances and prohibited methods only, rather than publishing a full list of substances. When analyzing a supplement product for contaminants the Prohibited List is unable to act as a checklist for all prohibited substances against which products should be screened — supplement analysis cannot guard against contamination using untried, untested and unknown designer drugs.
Although it is not possible to test for all substances on the WADA list, LGC's experience in testing over 50,000 samples and its' close relationship with the WADA community, it has been possible to identify a list that will maintain product integrity.
- That testing methods accredited to ISO 17025 (an international analytical testing standard)
- That accredited methods are used for all of the relevant formulations (liquids, powders, tablets, capsules, bars, etc.)
- That testing is performed by a credible WADA-experienced laboratory (with proven capability)
- A thorough audit of the manufacturing and supply chain quality systems to ensure the products are manufactured to strict GMP standards.
- That the program is committed to education and training
- That the program is committed to underpinning research in supplements and sport
LGC's testing capability for supplements/ingredients includes the analysis of over 160 substances that are considered prohibited in sport and substances that pose a threat in respect of product contamination. These substances include drugs of abuse, anabolic agents, stimulants, beta-2-agonists, masking agents, etc.
The labs that are accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to screen athletes blood and urine samples use techniques that are very sensitive — with capability to detect banned substances down to 2 nanograms per milliliter of urine (i.e. 2 parts of substance in 1,000,000,000 parts of urine).
Doses (total intake) of low levels of banned substance (in the microgram range) can generate such levels in an athlete's urine. As a result, supplements need to be tested for the presence of banned substances at sensitivity levels in the nanogram per gram or nanogram per milliliter range (as an athlete may ingest many tens of grams of supplement). Such low detection levels are beyond the "normal" QC requirements of pharmaceutical and food industries.
In supplements tested through LGC and the INFORMED-CHOICE program, the Level of Detection is 10 ng/g for steroids and 100 ng/g for stimulants.
Since no lab can test against the whole WADA List (see here), a relevant sub-set of compounds must be defined. The list of compounds screened for in the INFORMED-CHOICE Standard uses the knowledge gained by the WADA experienced lab with the most exposure to supplement testing — LGC. From this knowledge of testing over 30,000 samples, and close relationship with the WADA community, it has been possible to identify a list that will maintain product integrity.
LGC screens for over 160 substances listed on the WADA and other prohibited substances lists.
The relevant limits of detection for analysis at the manufacturing stage are much smaller than those conventionally addressed by "standard" quality control procedures in the supplements industry.
In general, the necessary levels of detection used in anti-doping screening for athletes are measured at the part per billion level (i.e. nanogram per ml). However, the supplement manufacturing industry would generally use parts per million (i.e. microgram per ml or microgram per gram) for detection of general contaminants for quality control purposes. This means that an athlete's urine or blood test is much more sensitive and is more likely to detect the presence of a prohibited substance than when a supplement is tested during the manufacturing process using conventional methods, with parts per million detection limits.
The concentration levels expressed in terms of a standard unit (i.e. a gram or ml in this case) are not as relevant as the total intake of a supplement within a daily dose, which may vary from a few grams to perhaps over 100 grams depending on the product. For example, an athlete would consume a greater volume of the supplement taking one serving of creatine than they would in taking one vitamin tablet. The more one takes, the higher the risk of having traces of a prohibited contaminant in your system.
The levels and limits of analytical detection have profound implications on supplement quality assurance program, demanding testing sensitivities that can only be met by highly specialized analytical laboratories, working to ISO 17025 standards. It is extremely uncommon for the manufacturing facilities used by supplement companies to have the capability to undertake such trace analysis, concentrating instead on the verification of label listings of specified contents. In most cases, supplement manufacturers will test products for other contaminants such as toxic substances, heavy metals, etc. and not necessarily for those substances that may give rise to a positive drug test for a professional athlete, such as nandrolone or ephedrine.
ISO 17025 is the key standard for an analytical laboratory. It provides absolute confidence that if contamination exists above the defined limit of detection, then it will be identified and called "positive". Laboratories that do not meet this standard may call a "negative" simply because they are unable to find the contamination, NOT because it is absent. Their techniques may be wholly inadequate. Analysis is of no value unless it meets the exacting requirements of the various regulating bodies.
LGC understands the importance of integrity, and analytical methods for supplement analysis meet the requirements of:
- ISO 17025 (international standard for analytical laboratories)
- GLP (Good Laboratory Practice)
- GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice)
Results are therefore dependable, and will withstand scrutiny in court, in any jurisdiction around the world.
WADA screening is specifically designed for urine and blood analysis. There is no such thing as a 'WADA test' for anything else. However, WADA testing for urine/blood is carried out to ISO 17025 standards. ISO 17025 is an international analytical capability standard - any tests that are accredited to this standard have been developed and validated in line with international requirements and are regulated by external authorities.
The testing lab used by INFORMED-CHOICE (LGC) is a WADA-experienced lab that performs testing of supplements to the same international analytical standard (ISO 17025) that WADA urine/blood testing is carried out to.