We had just filed away the case of heavy metals in protein powders, when already two more supplement incidents hit the news since then.
The first is the one of NFL player Duane Brown who got suspended after apparently using a dietary supplement that unbeknownst to him may have contained banned substances. For Mr. Brown this will come with a hefty price tag, as he is not only suspended for four NFL games, but also loses a quarter of his yearly salary.
Of course, it seems in professional sports these days steroids are more the rule than the exception, and one may think that Brown is trying to wiggle out of being caught, blaming it on his daily dose of Tyrannosaur Muscle 1000.
Meanwhile, Back In Quaint Oregon…
However, the other incident happened a couple of weeks ago in a rather rural and innocent town in Oregon, where after an intense training session 24 high school football players had to be hospitalized for severe arm pain.
This turned out to be compartment syndrome, a condition in which blood vessels, nerves and muscles are tightly compressed. Tests later also showed the majority of them displayed elevated creatine kinase levels, which is usually caused by dietary supplements containing creatine, a legal performance-enhancing substance. Creatine is known to heighten water retention in muscles and to safely use it, athletes have to consume it with appropriate amounts of water. Failing to do so can result in the aforementioned compartment syndrome.
But none of the players admitted to having used creatine. They swore they only drank protein shakes. One father told NY Daily News that his sons did not use creatine and that he neither believes the other boys did.
Should we at least believe them, if we don’t believe Brown?
If the Oregon players knowingly used creatine, then it should be fairly safe to assume that at least some of them were aware of the dangers of taking creatine without drinking enough water and would not have exposed themselves to the associated risks.
Unknown Ingredients In Supplements
Another explanation for this episode lies in what a German consumer organisation found in a test of protein powders a couple of years ago: One of the powders contained creatine without stating it on the tub. We can only guess why this was the case, but it may have been added to give the product an edge over rival brands – pure protein powders give the body nothing more than some of the protein necessary for building muscle and do not enhance performance. If a powder contains creatine without the user knowing it, however, his performance can increase beyond expectation and he might see this as testament to some magical property a protein powder may claim to possess.
And finally let us consider November 2009, which was the month when the FDA forced one of the biggest bodybuilding websites on the internet, bodybuilding.com, into a recall of 65 supplements sold in their shop. The reason? The products were suspected to contain steroids.
All this at least makes it possible that the Oregonians never knew they were taking creatine, nor that Mr. Brown had an idea what surprises awaited him. And if we count all of these together, then in the last 10 months alone we have had four incidents involving supplement safety, three of them possibly evidence for willful tampering with consumer health.
It’s ironic that those most interested in keeping their bodies fit are exposed to the least controlled quasi-medical nutritional products.
Picture courtesy of US Department of Health and Human Services.