LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) - A recent study found banned steroids in nutritional supplements and ordinary vitamin tablets that doping experts say increases the risk for honest athletes.
"The situation in the nutritional supplement market has worsened and the risk of inadvertent doping is increasing," Hans Geyer, a researcher at the Cologne Doping Control Laboratory in Germany, said Sunday. "It's absolutely catastrophic, even criminal in some cases."
Geyer made the comments at a three-day anti-doping symposium, organized by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Researchers have long known some nutritional supplements are intentionally spiked with undeclared steroids. However, the introduction of new, unknown steroids in supplements and the inadvertent contamination of regular vitamins - because of poorly cleaned production lines or transportation containers - present new dangers.
Most scientists at the symposium said they did not recommend using nutritional supplements but were still seeking ways to make them safer for athletes.
"We don't promote the use of supplements," said Christiane Ayotte, head of the WADA-accredited doping control lab in Montreal. "But we are in a very difficult position as we are being pressured by athletes, national organizations and federations to help athletes choose good supplements.
"Athletes are told not to dope, to take nothing on the list. So they say 'Tell us what we can take.' "
An IOC-funded international study in 2001-2002 examined 624 nutritional supplements from- different countries. About 15 per cent of non-hormonal supplements such as vitamins, minerals and creatine contained forbidden anabolic steroids that were not listed on the labels.
Since 2003, Geyer said, research also detected products on the international market intentionally containing high amounts of classic anabolic steroids undeclared on the label - such as stanozolol or metandienone, an anabolic steroid associated with severe health effects.
In 2005, German food control services confiscated nutritional supplements doctored with high amounts of stanazolol and metandienone from a German manufacturer. The analysis of vitamin C, multi-vitamin and magnesium tablets produced by the same manufacturer on the same production line showed cross-contamination of those products with metandienone and stanazolol. The vitamin tablets were sold in ordinary German and Spanish grocery and drug stores.
"People on the street were taking this. For an athlete, just a tiny amount can lead to a doping offense even though there is no doping benefit," Geyer said.
Since 2005, new designer steroids have been introduced in nutritional supplements.
"Every week there is a new steroid," Geyer said, adding that in September urine of three athletes showed use of unidentified steroids.
Vitamins and supplements are not the only risky substances.
Recently, herbal diet capsules produced by a Czech company were found to contain high levels of the stimulant sibutramine, undeclared on the label, Geyer said.
Taking supplements was sometimes necessary, Geyer said.
"During the Tour de France most nutritional intake is done on the bicycle and mostly by nutritional supplements. You can't take the schnitzel on the bicycle," he said. "Those are the supplements we need to test. We don't recommend nutritional supplements but if they want or need to take nutritional supplements, they should take those with a minimized risk."
Geyer suggested countries copy the protective system of the Netherlands, which has an extensive database on nutritional supplements from different countries.
Geyer's lab requested funding from WADA for more research but was turned down.