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Research Highlights Risk of Steroids in Supplements

The King's College London Drug Control Centre is the UK's WADA-accredited laboratory

The King's College London Drug Control Centre is the UK's WADA-accredited laboratory
(Credit: Getty)

New research published from the Drug Control Centre, the UK’s WADA-accredited laboratory at King’s College London, has shown that some supplements available to purchase in the UK contain anabolic steroids. 

These latest findings reinforce the need for athletes to effectively manage the risks associated with taking supplements.

The team at King’s College London, working with colleagues in Liverpool and Lisbon, selected 24 products from two fitness equipment shops in the UK. The products were chosen because they appeared to be anabolic agents due to the name of the product, the ingredients listed, or the nature of their advertising. These products were then analysed by Drug Control Centre scientists using a range of sophisticated analytical techniques to identify the ingredients to determine whether they contained substances prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The results of this study showed that 23 of the 24 products contained anabolic steroids prohibited by WADA. The research also found that the steroid identified within the product was often different from that indicated on the packaging. A selection of products included in the study were advertised as ‘prohormones’, with researchers suggesting they could be misconstrued as legal replacements for steroids. This however is a false assumption, and the steroids identified during this study are prohibited in sport and many are controlled in the UK under existing legislation, meaning they are being sold illegally.

The research also highlighted concern for the health of users who take the tested products on a regular basis. Over 50 per cent were found to contain significant amounts of a particular group of steroids (the 17α-alkylated anabolic steroids) which are rarely used as medicines due to significant evidence linking chronic use to liver damage. Many of the steroids identified have never been licensed as medicines, meaning limited or no published safety data are available for these potent drugs.

Lead author Dr Chris Walker from the King’s College London Drug Control Centre said: “We are concerned by the range of different anabolic steroids being sold openly despite limited safety data. This puts the athlete at risk not only of failing a doping control test but also of possible harm to their health.”

UKAD Head of Science and Medicine Nick Wojek added: “The Drug Control Centre at King’s College London used some of the most sophisticated analytical techniques available to conduct this research. It is once again encouraging to see the desire of academics in the UK to conduct high-quality research in this area."

The findings highlight the risks around supplement use and demonstrate the importance that athletes thoroughly research each product before use. Although it is not possible to provide a guarantee for any supplement, selecting a product that has been batch tested through programmes such as Informed-Sport can help to minimise these risks.

UKAD Head of Education and Athlete Support Amanda Batt said: “UKAD and its partners are committed to educating athletes on the potential risks associated with sports supplements. This latest research reinforces the importance that athletes who decide to use supplements choose reputable manufacturers who can justify their claims with scientific evidence, and screen products to minimise the risk of a user testing positive for a banned substance.”

Anabolic steroids are currently controlled as Class C drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Read the full research paper

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