Right Field

The FDA, Tainted Supplements, and Drug Testing

Whenever athletes test positive for steroids, the excuses come flying. My least favorite has always been that they didn’t knowingly ingest steroids or other banned compounds. Somehow, the vitamins or protein shakes must have been tainted.

I’ve been responsible for many different aspects of managing the use of pharmaceutical products for years and I have always found this excuse to be laughable.

Until now.

On July 26, the FDA released a statement warning consumer that a vitamin-B supplement has been shown to have two different anabolic steroids — methasterone and dimethazine.

The FDA started looking into Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50 when it started receiving complaints from users. These included fatigue, cramping, and muscle aches called myalgia. More concerning were changes in liver tests and cholesterol levels. Also, women using this supplement reported unusual hair growth and missed menses. Men reported low testosterone levels — taking steroids reduces the body’s usual testosterone production — and sexual dysfunction.

Anabolic-steroid use has been linked to liver failure, breast enlargement, and testicular shrinking in males and to masculinization in women. It is also believed to alter cholesterol metabolism and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Obviously, the fact that consumers are unwittingly being exposed to dangerous steroids is a public-health problem, but I am concerned about another issue: drug testing in professional sports.

The FDA statement just gave a get-out-of-jail-free card to every athlete who has an unexplained test that is suggestive of steroid use. Every athlete will now be able to claim, with the FDA and therefore the U.S. government on his side, that he was the victim of tainted vitamins.

The sports leagues have only one way out that I can see: quickly get the same lab that does their urine testing to do a series of quality tests on common supplements and create a partnership with a few manufacturers whose products can be consistently shown to be pure. Add these to the drug testing policy — any supplements not explicitly covered by the policy should be assumed to be dirty and used at the player’s risk.

These changes need to happen quickly. Every lab with aspirations to be like BALCO or Biogenesis is advising its clients today on how to start adding more steroids into their training regimens and where to get some dirty vitamin B.

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