Dietary supplements are omnipresent in sports. When youth athletes see their professional idols or peers using supplements, they may feel supplementation is necessary to keep up with the competition. Since they are so readily available, it’s also easy for parents to think there’s no harm in letting athletes use them.
Unfortunately, the supplement industry is one of smoke and mirrors. Although they might seem appropriate for young athletes trying to stay healthy and competitive, there are many myths surrounding supplements that parents should be aware of before choosing to buy these products.
While you would think that a supplement sold in a health food store or pharmacy has been thoroughly vetted for safety and efficacy, that’s not the case due to how the U.S. supplement industry is regulated.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates supplements in a post-market manner, meaning that all supplements can be sold until something is proven wrong with them. This is the opposite of how pharmaceuticals are regulated, as their effectiveness must first be proven in studies and clinical trials.
Post-market regulation also makes it possible for supplement labels to be extremely misrepresentative, as well as intentionally deceptive, about what is actually in a product.
Many supplement companies list ‘Proprietary Blend’ on the label, meaning they can hide any ingredients they want, including those prohibited in sports, under that name. Other companies list ingredients under scientific names, or even fake names, that you might not recognize as anything dangerous or illicit, even if you are careful about reading the label.
In other cases, supplements that aren’t meant to contain potent substances become contaminated as a result of being produced in the same setting as higher-risk supplements. The manufacturer may be unaware and the label won’t reflect the error, but consumers are still at risk when products don’t undergo pre-market analysis and certification.