Sport sup­ple­ments safety crack­down

The Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - REGINA TITELIUS Health Re­porter

Com­mon per­cep­tion that ‘nat­u­ral’ and ‘or­ganic’ means a prod­uct is au­to­mat­i­cally safe and good can be mis­guided. Dr Lu­cas de Toca

SPORTS sup­ple­ments con­tain­ing a banned in­gre­di­ent sim­i­lar to the il­licit drug meth are among the body-build­ing prod­ucts seized by Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties.

Other pro­hib­ited sub­stances that can cause high blood pres­sure, headaches, vom­it­ing, brain haem­or­rhage and stroke have also been dis­cov­ered, a meet­ing of Aus­tralian health and food ex­perts heard.

The national round­table was or­dered by Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt after a se­ries of ex­clu­sive reports by The Sun­day Times on the death of Man­durah woman Mee­gan Hef­ford.

Sup­ple­ments and a pro­tein-rich diet con­trib­uted to the 25-yearold’s death in 2017. Un­known to the mum-of-two, a rare ge­netic dis­or­der stopped her body from prop­erly break­ing down pro­tein.

The Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion heard that out­dated reg­u­la­tions were ill-equipped to deal with the fast-chang­ing and ever-ex­pand­ing multi­bil­lion-dollar sports sup­ple­ments in­dus­try.

Many of the health risks came from im­ported prod­ucts, with some su­per-charged with mas­sive quan­ti­ties of caf­feine and other syn­thetic sub­stances, the min­is­ter’s round­table was told.

Dr David Cu­sack, of the NSW De­part­ment of Pri­mary In­dus­tries Food Au­thor­ity, told the meet­ing that com­pli­ance ac­tion found prod­ucts con­tain­ing NADB, which had “a very sim­i­lar struc­tural chem­istry to metham­phetamine”.

Prod­ucts with the now banned in­gre­di­ents DMAA, DMHA and DMBA — known to cause ad­verse health ef­fects — were also un­cov­ered in the 2012-13 op­er­a­tion.

The sup­ple­ments mar­ket was “de­mand driven”, Dr Cu­sack said, “with some con­sumers ac­tively mo­ti­vated to seek an edge or ad­van­tage”.

The big­gest chal­lenge in reg­u­lat­ing the in­dus­try was that the prod­ucts were mainly sold on­line.

The bans led some prod­ucts man­u­fac­tured over­seas to in­stead add “syn­thetic caf­feine de­riv­a­tives” — such as “teacrine” and “dy­namine” — of which there is a lack of safety in­for­ma­tion.

Dr Cu­sack said the amount of caf­feine in these sup­ple­ments should be re­viewed, with some con­tain­ing 400mg per serve — the same as an adult’s rec­om­mended en­tire daily limit. Food Stan­dards Aus­tralia New Zealand ad­vice states that in­creased anx­i­ety levels oc­cur with just 210mg a day.

Some sup­ple­ments pro­vide a very big serv­ing of a sin­gle in­gre­di­ent that were con­sid­ered “safe”, but when con­sumed at high levels had the po­ten­tial to be­come “toxic”.

Re­search showed users as­sumed that if it was on the shelf, it was safe.

The Fed­eral De­part­ment of Health’s Of­fice of Health Pro­tec­tion prin­ci­pal ad­viser Dr Lu­cas de Toca said there were con­cerns about the high amount of nu­tri­ents and un­known ef­fects of “nat­u­ral and herbal prod­ucts”.

“The com­mon per­cep­tion that ‘nat­u­ral’ and ‘or­ganic’ means a prod­uct is au­to­mat­i­cally safe and good can be mis­guided,” he said.

Dr de Toca said sup­ple­ment use started at a young age, es­pe­cially in ado­les­cent men. He said that while the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Sport had a frame­work that grouped sup­ple­ments into four cat­e­gories, based on safety and ef­fec­tive­ness, this ad­vice was “in­tended to guide elite ath­letes in con­trolled en­vi­ron­ments, not the gen­eral pub­lic”.

Dr de Toca said a FSANZ study in 2013 found 10 per cent of re­spon­dents con­sumed a sports sup­ple­ment in the four weeks pre­ced­ing the sur­vey. Of this group, 6 per cent re­ported hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced side ef­fects.

De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Wa­ter Re­sources im­ported food sec­tion di­rec­tor Mark Phythian said most sports sup­ple­ment prod­ucts were not sub­ject to in­spec­tion.

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