Opinion: Sports supplements need stricter regulation

When supplements can contain unlisted drugs, no one wins


By Liam Hill-Allan

Canada’s sports supplement market is under-regulated, leaving athletes at risk of taking dangerous and banned drugs unknowingly. In order to better protect Canadian athletes, Health Canada needs to step up to the bat and improve supplement regulation.

Supplements include products such as probiotics, muscle boosters and protein powders. These products are meant to be drug-free, classified by Health Canada as “natural health products”.

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport warns that natural health products are regulated separately from food and drugs, receiving less rigorous oversight.

Supplements contain more than you know

In a recent Voice interview conducted by Austin Everett, exercise physiologist Dr. Charlie Seltzer said that sports supplements are known for containing unlisted and harmful ingredients.

If some supplements do contain unlisted drugs, athletes could be in danger of testing positive for CCES banned substances taken unknowingly.

Substances currently banned by the CCES include performance-enhancing drugs like steroids, hormones and stimulants.

Thanks to the current state of supplement regulation, Canadian anti-doping organizations like the CCES warn athletes about the dangers of taking supplements of any kind.

Spiked supplements bad for reputation and health

While testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs may seem bad enough for an athlete, lax regulations cause health concerns as well.

When taken without proper guidance, performance-enhancing drugs can cause serious health problems. For example, the negative effects of steroid use can range from the superficial, like acne and baldness, to the deadly, like blood-clotting and liver cancer.

The truth, however, is that not all supplements are dangerous or illicit. According to Dr. Seltzer, some supplements can be perfectly safe and even beneficial, so long as athletes are aware of any pre-existing health conditions and consult with a doctor prior to consumption.

Therefore, rule-abiding athletes need the right to take Health Canada approved supplements without the concern of testing positive on their next doping test.

While none of this is to say that some athletes do not break the rules knowingly, the state of today’s anti-doping system and Health Canada’s regulations could let some rule-abiding athletes slip through the cracks.

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