Harvard Study Finds 40% of Sports Supplements Have Mislabeled Ingredients


In today's fast-paced world, many of us turn to sports supplements to enhance our athletic performance and boost our daily energy. But what if the very supplements you trust might be deceiving you? A recent US study has found a startling revelation that could shake your faith in the supplement industry.

Dr. Pieter Cohen, a renowned researcher from Harvard Medical School, along with his team, investigated whether sports supplements actually have the correct ingredients listed. They ordered and analyzed 57 such products, all boasting of containing 1 of 5 compounds known for their performance-enhancing properties. These compounds gained popularity after the ban of the stimulant ephedra in 2004 due to the safety risks of heart attack, stroke, and even sudden death.

Now, here's the kicker: a whopping 40% of these supplements didn't even have a trace of the ingredients they proudly advertised on their labels!

If that wasn't alarming enough, half of them misrepresented the quantity of the ingredient, and a concerning 12% were laced with illegal additives. Among these, some even contained prohibited ingredients, including drugs that have never been approved in any country. Supplements such as these are the leading reason why some professional athletes may fail drug testing unintentionally.

"Only 11 percent of products were accurately labeled and 5 different FDA-prohibited ingredients were found, including an unapproved drug available in Russia, 3 drugs formerly available in Europe, and one drug that has never been approved in any country," Cohen et al. reported.

You might wonder, "How is this even possible?"

The answer lies in the way supplements are regulated. The FDA classifies them not as medications but as a subset of food. This means manufacturers can introduce any ingredient they deem safe into the market. The onus then falls on the FDA to monitor these products post-launch and pull any harmful ones off the shelves.

Remember ephedra? Once hailed for its energy-boosting properties, it was banned by the FDA in 2004 due to the significant health risks it posed. The ban was a success, with ephedra-related fatalities plummeting to zero by 2008.

But the supplement industry is vast and ever-evolving. Dr. Cohen estimates that there are over 75,000 dietary supplement products in the US market alone. With such a vast number, it's a Herculean task for regulators to keep up.

Australia has faced similar challenges. After several fatalities, their drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), reclassified high-risk sports supplements from 'sports foods' to medicines in 2020.

But the problem is far from contained. With the rapid introduction of new ingredients, the risks are unpredictable, as Dr. Cohen highlighted in his interview with the American Medical Association.

The issue isn't limited to sports supplements. Recent studies have shown that even melatonin gummies might be delivering doses much higher than their labels indicate. Another Australian study found that a mere 20% of 135 dietary supplements had their ingredients verified through lab testing.

So, what's the takeaway? While supplements can offer numerous benefits, it's crucial to approach them with a discerning eye. Always research before you buy and remember that not everything on the label might be inside the bottle.

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