We regularly read news stories of an athlete getting suspended due to testing positive for a banned substance. Numerous times, the athlete had taken supplements that were inadvertently contaminated. Based on our surveys and testing, 10-15% of supplements on the market may suffer from low levels of contamination. The danger of contaminated supplements affects not just athletes, but all supplement users. Many banned substances can have adverse health effects once ingested and/or could lead to death. When taking any form of dietary supplement, it’s important to know the ingredients it is comprised of.
From a supplement brand perspective, even low levels of contamination in their product could have devastating consequences. Since we don’t know the exact levels of a banned substance that has to be ingested to produce a side effect, any amount could pose danger. This can lead to lawsuits, tarnished brand image and millions of dollars lost. The only safe way to ensure supplements are safer for use is to have them tested via a third party testing and certification program, like Informed Choice.
The majority of contamination of supplements is inadvertent and typically occurs one of the following ways:
Cross-contamination During the Manufacturing Process
Manufacturing facilities and all equipment used to produce supplements must be thoroughly cleaned between batches. To safeguard cross-contamination, Informed Choice performs a manufacturing audit prior to product certification. Since the consistency of numerous banned substances can be very sticky and are difficult to isolate, ridding equipment of them is a challenge. Other critical control points must be looked at when analyzing a manufacturing facility. Contamination can occur due to improper storage, ingredient handling, and dust management as ingredients can go airborne. This knowledge is based on over 12 years of audits in over 550 manufacturing facilities worldwide.
The manufacturing audit includes reviewing Standard Operating Procedures for all production, packing and storage areas to make certain cleaning processes are in place to eliminate the possibility of contamination. During an audit, Informed Choice identifies any high-risk materials and develops a corrective plan to ensure these materials are removed and do not come in any contact with Informed Choice certified products and the equipment they’re produced on.
Botanical (Plant-Based) Supplements
Many times, the source of contamination comes from a plant source(s). Some plant materials can include naturally occurring steroidal or stimulant compounds. These ingredients can be overlooked when testing for banned substances or may not be known to contain a banned compound. Because of this, plant-based supplements can carry varying amounts of a banned compound, thus, resulting in failed drug test or health risks. The Informed Choice program recognizes the severity of this risk. Our world-class anti-doping lab is able to detect these naturally occurring compounds and determine if they are at levels to pose a risk to supplement users. The sporting industry recommends to only use products that have been tested for banned substances using ISO17025 accredited methods. Informed Choice testing is accredited to ISO17025 standards.
Cross-contamination Between Ingredients Within the Supply Chain
Ingredients used in supplement production may be produced in countries with poor quality control standards. We have seen this be an issue with inadvertent contamination in finished products. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require testing for inadvertent contamination of banned substances in ingredients.
Informed Choice performs a Raw Material Supplier Assessment to confirm the manufacturer has a vendor qualification program in place. The vendor qualification program must include a process to identify whether the supplier produces or handles banned substances.
For consumers to protect their health and brands to protect their reputation, it is important that any supplement has been tested by a third-party testing and certification program. Sports nutrition supplements brands can trust their certified product(s) have been robustly tested to the highest of standards. All supplements users can trust their health with safer supplements by just looking for the Informed Choice logo or on-pack descriptor on the product packaging. Also, search by product name and specific batch number of Informed-Choice.com. All certified products, along with the tested batch numbers, are listed on the Informed-Choice.com.