The health risks associated with sports supplements

For so long, the sports supplement industry has been an unregulated place. Dressed up in beautiful packaging and promoted by health and fitness gurus, these supplements often come with the promise of improving performance, reducing weight or building muscle.

The recent boom in popularity of these products however has brought them under the spotlight, and it seems their claims aren’t all they’ve cracked up to be.

This realisation – along with the increase in consumer demand – has prompted many companies within the industry to carry out greater research on sporting supplements and call for tighter regulations. 

The industry is not heavily regulated

There are a wide range of products that fit within the category of sports supplements, which range from over-the-counter vitamins and supplements, to human growth hormones and anabolic steroids.

One of the biggest issues that has faced this industry is the lack of regulation. While patients often require a pharmacist or doctor to prescribe pharmaceuticals, sport supplements can be recommended by people in the industry without any specific qualifications or documentation.

From a manufacturing perspective, the industry has also not been heavily monitored. This means that manufacturers haven’t necessarily had to make sure the products are fit for use. Many of these products can also be purchased online from international producers, so while they may not have been tested or approved in Australia, they are still accessible. When the products arrive in a consumer’s mailbox, they may not list the ingredients or associated side effects that may occur from prolonged use. This poses a huge range of health risks, from allergic reactions through to contamination or unwanted aftereffects. 

Even products like protein powder, which are typically considered the ‘safest’ and most widely consumed supplement have been found to contain dangerous chemicals like arsenic, mercury and pesticides.

Consumers face serious health hazards

This lack of regulation has come with several risks, with products containing that can have significant side effects, like derivatives of the drug ephedrine that can place the heart under stress. This ingredient can sometimes be found in products that claim to aid weight loss. Other products may contain large amounts of protein or creatine, which can raise blood urea in individuals.   

Some sport supplements may even contain substances that are banned in professional sport, like anabolic steroids, putting consumers’ sporting ambitions at risk. For example, research found that about 20% of nutritional supplements sold in Europe and the USA contains anabolic steroids. These can also have significant long-term side effects including sterility and liver injury.

Changing Tides

Globally, the sports supplement industry is now valued at $82 billion, with consumption of these products skyrocketing in recent years. So much increased interest has brought new attention to these products, resulting in calls for tighter regulations from health professionals.

Furthermore, this newfound information has created a more discerning public, who take more care in the health companies in which they place their trust and the products they consume.

This has left the market open for health and sports supplement companies who make the health and wellbeing of their customers their top priority. Many of these are squeezing their predecessors out of the market, and have a focus on providing consumers with products that contain safe and legitimate ingredients that have been given the tick of approval by experts.

As this area of the supplement industry grows, there will no doubt be greater research undertaken and a larger movement towards companies that have a focus on providing trustworthy products that contain safe consumable ingredients.

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