Contaminated Vitamins and Nutritional Supplements: Can we trust them?

The safety of contaminated vitamins and supplements can't be left to consumers. The vitamin, mineral and nutritional supplement industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. Millions of people take these supplement in order to keep their bodies working in tip top shape. People are interested in following a regiment of health and well-being

The supplement industry is considered big business In the US. In 2013 they made $32 billion. and is projected to increase to $60 billion by 2021. In the UK Sales are expected to rise £670m (US$1 billion) to £786m (US$1.2 billion) by 2018


Why is this important?

The industry is growing very quickly but supplements are severely under-regulated. 

This poses health risks when supplements are very easy to produce and sell, and have widespread availability in health stores, pharmacies, and online. Selling health products that are unregulated could put people in danger, not to mention trick them into buying products that aren’t proven to work. 

In the UK the majority of supplements are considered to be foods and are therefore regulated under established food laws. Unless a medical claim is made by the manufacturer, supplements are not regulated as a medicine. This means that supplement manufacturers do not need prior approval from the health regulatory agency before producing or selling their product. There also is no requirement for supplements to be licensed. Supplements not subject to the same scientific scrutiny as medicines and are not as strictly regulated. Most importantly, supplements are not tested on product safety, quality and efficacy before they are sold. No legal obligation for supplement manufacturers to test products.

This leaves room for contamination. A growing body of research indicates that many supplements sold in UK may be contaminated with “banned” or dangerous substances. 

2004 study:

  • Tested 634 supplements purchased in 13 countries from 215 different suppliers. 
  • Of the 634 samples analyzed, 94 (14.8%) contained anabolic androgenic steroids, 18.8% of which were purchased in the UK

2008 study:

  • found that 10% of supplements and weight loss products purchased and tested in the UK were contaminated with steroids and/or stimulants

2015 study:

  • Tested 24 products sold in fitness shops in the UK that were suspected of containing anabolic steroids
  • Of the 24, 23 were found to contain steroids including known anabolic agents.

In Europe and North America, we're seeing a similar problems with supplement contamination. Supplements found to contain illegal substances and some have even been found to contain ingredients not listed on the label. Many use cheaper alternatives and fillers like grass, wheat or rice. Often used to bulk up herbal supplements and may cause allergies. Companies have false and misleading claims surrounding the health benefits of the product.

Public Health Risk Around Vitamins

The contamination of nutritional supplements is a huge risk to public health. These can also be a risk to pro athletes unknowingly taking illegal / “doping” substances. Chronic consumption could have health risks associated with the unknown additives.

A prime example lies in anabolic androgenic steroids can cause acne, lowered HDL, testicular atrophy, liver damage etc. Users could have to mild to severe reactions to unlisted ingredients, could end up with an allergic reaction without knowing what did it to them. False claims the untested supplements make are consumer fraud. 

The key to minimizing risk is:

  • Stricter regulation and oversight is clearly necessary to ensure the safety and quality of supplements. 
  • Even if consumers can minimize their own risk – the industry need to take responsibility and take on a greater role in regulation of supplements sold. 

By not regulating government officials are putting the public at risk.