Sports SupplementsDangers of Sports Supplements

December 18, 2019

In November 2017, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released a warning about dietary supplements.

Dietary supplements can contain designer steroids or selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs).

SARMs have been developed for clinical use to treat disorders such as muscle wasting. All SARMs are still in clinical trial, and this makes their use illegal and dangerous because their safety profile is not known.

SARMs are prohibited under the S1 Anabolic Agent category of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List. They have known anabolic effects through the potent activation of androgen receptors expressed in bone and skeletal muscle.

SARMs have been found in a number of dietary supplements. Sometimes the SARM is labelled as Ostarine, or alternative names (often fabricated), or not declared on the label at all.

What we see for SARMs are very similar to what is known for Designer Androgens. These too are sold illegally as dietary supplements, often with obscure labeling (eg made up steroid name) or not disclosed at all. Some of these Designer Androgens are very potent as published by my laboratory in 2016. Cooper et al, 2016 “The use of tandem yeast and mammalian cell in vitro androgen bioassays to detect androgens in internet-sourced sports supplements” ( DOI 10.1002/dta.2000

My laboratory has also recently published that undeclared androgens in dietary supplements is a big problem. We screened 107 over-the-counter dietary sports supplements and found that 6 of them tested positive for androgenic activity despite no disclosure of an androgen on the product label. These products pose an immediate risk to young or female consumers, and potential harm to male consumers as well as jeopardise the career of elite athletes. Cooper et al, 2017 “Androgen bioassay for the detection of non-labeled androgenic compounds in nutritional supplements” ( DOI:10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0018

There are legitimate sports supplements that are safe, beneficial, and not prohibited by WADA. Many manufacturers of sports supplements now have their products screened for androgens and other banned substances. These products can be identified by specific logos included on the label.

To date, the products tested by chemical analyte recognition approaches. Novel Designer Androgens and new SARMs may be missed because their structure is not known. Therefore it is important to consider such risks when consuming dietary supplements.