Spiked supplements: New designer steroids that may trap Jamaican athletes

Tyson Gay is lucky to be an American athlete with one of the most powerful, resource-available anti-doping agency to help him through the doping minefield. He probably would have got the full sanction had he been Jamaican. While the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the IAAF work on the allegations and counter-allegations and political implications for certain regions, Jamaican athletes must be vigilant that they do not get caught in the crossfire.

A frightening picture of doping manifested as I sat down at the Major League Baseball Centre in New York with a panel of WADA-accredited lab directors and other scientists to explore some emerging challenges to anti-doping. The supplement industry is particularly worrying and is like a ticking time bomb. Realistically, it is very hard for an athlete to push him/herself through strenuous exercises without some form of supplementation to the diet. This is borne out by repeated studies done by the International Olympic Committee, among others, which showed that many athletes use supplements. Pre-1990 legislation in the USA allowed the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) to have a fairly firm grip on supplements, which were mainly vitamins, minerals and proteins.

However, in 1994, because of the vast amount of money to be made from the supplement industry, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) expanded supplements to include glands, tissue, constituents, and extracts, and most importantly removed many of the controlling functions of the FDA. Therefore the FDA now does not have the right to deny entry into the supplement industry and, because of this loophole, manufacturers have become more creative with steroids, hormones and other banned substances.

In 2010 the USA tried to cauterise some of the power of manufacturers. The Dietary Supplement Safety Act was to be passed, but it died in Congress possibly because of the vast amount of money earned from the supplement industry. In 2012, Bodybuilding.com pleaded guilty to selling dietary supplements spiked with steroids and agreed to pay a $7-m fine to the FDA.

In December 2014, the Designer Anabolic Steroid Act (DASCA) was passed because manufacturers were becoming too barefaced. DASCA was passed to protect consumers from potentially dangerous anabolic steroids falsely marketed as dietary supplements. Although the DASCA expanded the list of substances defined as anabolic steroids, there are limitations as a substance cannot be defined as a steroid if it is a herb or other plant, a concentrate, metabolite, or extract of or a constituent isolated directly from herbs or a dietary ingredient for purposes of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. And here lies the danger: I heard American Olympian Lauryn Williams at a panel discussion in New York saying that she visited one of the recommended contacts of a sanctioned athlete, and the contact tried to sell her something masked as 20 servings of broccoli.

Some of Gay’s infractions were from supplements spiked with steroids and other major banned substances. There is now an accusation against Mo Farah’s coach about the use of spiked substances. There is a question mark about Testoboost, a dietary supplement used in Coach Salazar’s camp. Many say it is testosterone masked as a supplement. This means that athletes will have to take supplement facts panel with a grain of salt, because spiked supplements are now trending. Dinitrophenol, which is used as a pesticide and research chemical, has returned as a deadly weight-loss drug and is being marketed in supplements. Methylsynephrine (oxilofrine), although not as abrasive, is also classified as a weight-loss drug and is banned in competition. Synephrine — omitting the Methyl — is found in bitter or sour orange and can be used for fat reduction.

Jamaican athletes therefore should stay away from these synthetic products and eat the natural fruits grown in the island as these can be used legally to stimulate the body. Ginger is one of the best plant-based product that rids an athlete’s system of lactic acid. Because a dietary supplement is sold at stores and online does not mean it is safe. An FDA recall will not protect the athlete. The steroid in a spiked supplement does not have to be on the WADA banned list. If it is a designer steroid, it will be deemed by WADA to be structurally and biologically similar to one of the steroids on the list. Taking a supplement does not mean that one cannot be sanctioned for the use of a steroid or a major banned drug. Teas on the supermarket shelves or in health stores are sometimes spiked with banned substances. DMBA is an unknown (designer) like amphetamine substance emerging in Pouchong tea.

A Pouchong tea is a slightly fermented form of Oolong tea. Like fake names for clothes and shoes, we also have fake or rip-off supplements. They have found that the supplement ‘Craze’ has been counterfeited. The counterfeit product has a larger gap between the base of the tube and the bottom of the label. The lot number can also be scratched off. Some fitness supplements have been found recently to contain Prozac. On Saturday, February 28, 2015, a public notice was made that there is a counterfeit OxyElite pro Super containing a prescription drug. Because of the new worrying trend of spiked supplements, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), in collaboration with other groups, recently tested 171 products from 54 manufacturers and found that 66 per cent contained a prohibited substance. Although it is risky, almost all athletes take a supplement.

This is the reason I think USADA developed a special supplement-scanning app that their athletes and coaches will be able to use to scan supplements to find out if the supplements are high-risk. The app has a feature for barcodes and counterfeit checks which gives a red alert if questionable. There is also a risk-evaluation feature on the app. If an athlete is not sure about the supplement, some additional suggestions are made as to the next step forward by clicking the Suggest Addition feature.

We do not have a fully ISO-accredited supplement-testing lab in Jamaica, but the time has come for us as a nation to design an app which will help athletes and coaches in screening risky supplements. While JADCO does not endorse supplements, neither does USADA, but the Americans have developed a supplement-screening app for their athletes. Apps are easy to design in this era of technology; the whole design should cost less than US$3,000 and could be copyrighted to JADCO. The screening app should be made available to all national representatives. A supplement-screening app must become a feature of all Brand Jamaica athletes’ wallets. We cannot afford another doping scandal.


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