20 December 2010

The drug of the year

Health24's FitnessDoc, Dr Ross Tucker takes a look at 2010 and the latest doping drug that made headlines this year and questions whether your supplement may be a 'loaded gun'.

Health24's FitnessDoc, Dr Ross Tucker takes a look at 2010 and the latest doping drug that made headlines this year.

This year, there were two "nominees" for the Drug of the year category:  Clenbuterol was an option, courtesy Alberto Contador and the Tour de France, and methylexaneamine, a drug that kept making appearances in 2010, before eventually hitting the news here in South Africa when two SA rugby players tested positive for it.

Methylhexanamine (or 4-methylhexan-2-amine for those preferring its IUPAC name) is a stimulant that was only added to the WADA list in 2009. 

It was developed as an ingredient of nasal decongestants, and has since become a component of certain supplements, and wasalso used as a recreational drug in New Zealand,until it was implicated in a few serious illnesses (strokes, severe headaches and nausea) and banned.

  1. There is very little testing to establish the efficacy (or effectiveness) of supplements.  Creatine is a notable exception, and of course, some supplements provide macro-nutrients (proteins and carbohydrates) that are known to aid recovery and performance. 

    However, there is still debate over whether a supplement is needed when diet is optimal (the "food first" approach), and just where the "ceiling" exists for how much of these nutrients is needed.  For the rest - the "glamour" supplements that promote massive muscle gain, miracle weight loss, or improved performance, there's not much in the way of well-conducted research, and so the benefits are at best "grey", at worst completely made up.
  2. The safety is never established.  This has two components.  First, there is no guarantee that the dizzying array of ingredients is safe to begin with - many are herbal, thrown in for effect and on a very tenuous link, and many are only a chemical reaction away from being risky. 

    Then second, there is a risk of contamination.  Amazingly, research on the supplement industry has shown that up to 25% of nutritional supplements, including those from companies that do not sell steroids or pro-hormones, may contain undeclared steroids or pro-hormones and stimulants which are banned by Wada. 

    In other words, if a squad of 30 footballers all take the same supplement,seven or eight of them may be taking a banned substance inadvertently.  These substances are not listed on the label, but they find their way into the bottle, as a result of what is non-existent control over the manufacture process of supplements. 

    The sources of this contamination include the sourcing of the raw materials, the machinery and the packaging plants. The end result is that there is no such thing as a guaranteed safe supplement.


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