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Contamination in nutritional supplements


Analysis of the true composition of more than 100 nutritional supplements available in Switzerland.


In 2000, LAD was mandated by the Federal Office of Sports (OFSPO) to conduct an initial study on the state of the Swiss market of nutritional supplements (Kamber et al., 2001). A number of other studies on the same subject have been carried out since then. One such study, carried out by the German laboratory in Cologne and commission by the IOC, described the global state of the market of nutritional supplements. The alarming results obtained in this work as well as in several others prompted the OFSPO and LAD to reanalyze approximately one hundred products offered in Switzerland via different Internet sites.


A total of 103 products were classified in four different categories: prohormones (37 products), creatine (42 products), mental enhancers (12 products) and BCAAs (branched chain amino acids, 12 products).
The obtained powders and tablets were dissolved and chemically treated and the extracts analyzed by GC-MS to detect the presence of stimulants or AAS not reported by the manufacturers.


There was no evidence of  stimulant contamination. However, large quantities of caffeine, ephedrine or synephrine were found in products classified as stimulants. This finding cannot be interpreted as contamination because the presence of these substances was clearly indicated on product labels.

The analyses of the 103 products for the presence of anabolic steroids (precursor molecules) revealed large quantities of metandienone in three different nutritional supplements. Similar results hade been obtained previously by a German and an Austrian laboratory. After administering these three nutritional supplements orally, traces of metabolites of metandienone could be detected in the urine up to one week after ingestion. The presence of these metabolites in the urines constitutes sufficient evidence for a positive result in an anti-doping test.

The search for testosterone and nandrolone and their precursors revealed that the true composition of 18 different products did not match the composition listed by the manufacturers. These included prohormones (14 products), stimulants (3 products), and creatine (1 product). The testosterone precursor was the most common contaminant.

The contaminated supplements, with the exception of the prohormones, were administered orally to healthy volunteers. In the case of creatine contaminated with testosterone and nandrolone precursors, the measured urinary concentrations of 19-norandrosterone and 19-noretiocholanolone reached levels that are close to the limits set by WADA(2 ng/ml). A prolonged treatment with such a contaminated product may indeed lead to positive urine results in any anti-doping test.


The results of this study conducted in 2004 clearly demonstrate that the purity tests conducted on nutritional supplements leave to be desired. It is important that the relevant authorities and the sports federations address this problem more seriously and that new rules are made to apply to the production, sale and use of nutritional supplements. This study is also essential to inform the athletes and the general public about possible contamination in nutritional supplements. It should ultimately help prevent the abuse of such products.


  1. Kamber M, Baume N, Saugy M, Rivier L. Nutritional supplements as a source for positive doping cases? Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2001 Jun;11(2):258-63.
  2. Baume, N., Mangin, P., Saugy, M. Compléments alimentaires: phénomène de société et problématique dans le monde antidopage. Médecine & Hygiène 2004: 62: 1510-1514.
  3. Baume N, Mahler N, Kamber M, Mangin P, Saugy M. Research of stimulants and anabolic steroids in dietary supplements. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2006 Feb;16(1):41-8.
  4. Baume, N., Hellemans, I., Saugy, M. Guide to over-the-counter sports supplements for athletes. International SportMed Journal 2007: 8 (1): 2-10.

Analyses des compléments alimentaires par GC-MS
Nutritional supplements composition was analyzed by GC-MS

Compléments alimentaires


LAD publications


Last Update on 07.10.2008

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