|Supplements Could Easily be Contaminated|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on August 17, 2009
I, for one, am sick of players testing positive for using banned performance enhancing drugs.¬† Since at least the early 70s (and probably before), players have ingested amphetamines, steroids and just about anything else they could take to give themselves an "edge" when they got onto the field.¬† In fact it's possible that the use of what we would deem illegal supplements has gone on since the 1950s when medical use of steroids was not uncommon for things like bad knees or even just to help get over the effects of drinking a bit too much the night before.
The hall of shame includes plenty of notable names, many of whom have admitted using steroids or been implicated in ways that cast almost no doubt that they indeed were using banned substances to make themselves better.¬† However there has been a small minority who've tested positive but strongly deny having ever used steroids or other banned substances. The scary thing for all of us is that some of them may in fact have been telling the truth.
A common thread in most of these cases, be in the largely forgotten Alex Sanchez, the well hyped David Ortiz, or anyone in between, is that they have all pointed the finger at supposedly safe, over-the-counter nutritional supplements that one can find at pretty much any vitamin mart in the United States.¬† They might be right.¬† The nutritional market -- or perhaps more correctly the nutraceutical market -- is the equivalent of the old west right now, rough and tumble and largely unregulated.
The reason for that is that the entire industry essentially defies regulation by the FDA, as the products are not considered to be drugs, nor are they considered to be food.¬† They are non-patentable products (as they are considered to be produced in or by nature) so no company has a vested interest in funding multimillion dollar studies to verify whatever claims that they make.¬† In essences this allows the manufacturer to make claims based on less than solid evidence with only the wildest claims such as being a sure cure or treatment for a disease (which the FDA then would classify as a drug) subject to regulatory actions.
These products are pitched via the media and vitamin marts to anyone who wants to enhance their performance in weight loss, in the bedroom or on the athletic field.¬† And many people make the fairly natural assumption that these products are natural, safe, pure and can actually live up to their claims, none of which may actually be true.
While some of them may actually be solid products that deliver on their claims, an awful lot of them are probably little different than the products that used to be deemed "snake oil" in the old west.¬† Those products came with wild health claims and were purported to be real medicine, but often were mixed together with whatever happened to be in hand, be it healthy, toxic, pure or polluted.¬† What those con men sold were the claim of what their product did.
Some of these products worked, at least sort of.¬† Those with tuberculosis or wracked with lung cancer might have been sold a product laced with alcohol or opium, both of which would have at least somewhat have quieted their coughing and alleviated some pain, but it was hardly the miracle cure promised.¬† The current marketplace, while generally legit, isn't always, and products contaminated, intentionally or not, with steroids, or steroid precursors aimed at athletes have been found on shelves.¬† In fact one recent article cited a report that found that approximately 25% of supplements purchased over the counter could have steroid contamination.¬† That's been backed up by studies conducted in a number of countries (take a moment to Google supplement contamination if you'd like to see a barrage of these).
There is no doubt that some of this contamination is intentional.¬† After all, a product which is supposedly safe, but makes you feel strong as a horse when performing is likely to outsell a similar product that doesn't.¬† That's a strong financial incentive for any unethical businessman who is making money by selling the claim on the label, rather than a proven commodity.
Plenty of regular people, not to mention ballplayers like Bronson Arroyo, fall for the hype and pop these supplements.¬† In fact, most athletes trying to boost their performance probably take something, be it vitamins, creatine, high protein shakes or something else.¬† For most, it's just looking for a legitimate way to achieve peak performance, but that may not be what they get, no matter what the label claims.
A positive test, thus, may not mean that a player has intentionally cheated, but it should scare the heck out every single one of us who ever takes a supplement.¬† Because if they are not intentionally cheating, they at least serve as the canary in the coal mine when it comes to products we might all be ingesting.