Study Finds Most Sports Supplements Inaccurately Labeled

UM researchers discover nearly 90% of labels are false

UM researchers warn that users of sports supplements should beware of mislabeled or contaminated products. A recent analysis at the National Center for Natural Products Research found that most sports supplements were not accurately labeled, and many also contained ingredients prohibited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Adobe Stock photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Nearly 90% of sports supplements are inaccurately labeled according to a new study by scientists at the University of Mississippi‘s National Center for Natural Products Research.

NCNPR researchers Ikhlas Khan, Bharathi Avula and Kumar Katragunta collaborated with scientists from Harvard Medical School, the Cambridge Health Alliance and NSF International on the study, recently published in JAMA Network Open. They analyzed 57 products – all purchased online – that purportedly contained one or more of five botanical compounds promoted for their stimulant or anabolic effects.

Of these, 40% did not contain a detectible amount of the labeled ingredient. Those that did had actual quantities ranging from .02% to 334% of the daily recommended amount. Only six of the products contained a quantity of the ingredient within 10% of what was stated on the label.

Ikhlas Khan

“Our team at the NCNPR has so much experience working with these products that I can’t say we were surprised by this,” said Khan, the center’s director. “Consumers need to be aware that there are many safety issues with sports supplements.”

The ingredients the team evaluated included R vomitoria, methylliberine, turkesterone, halostachine and octopamine. Those ingredients are not preapproved for efficacy and safety by the Food and Drug Administration. However, FDA inspections have found that supplement manufacturers often fail to comply with basic manufacturing standards that could establish the identity, purity or composition of the final product.

Perhaps most alarming is the number of illegal substances found in the products, Khan said. Seven of the 57 products, or 12%, contained at least one FDA-prohibited ingredient. Four of these ingredients are synthetic stimulants, which can produce side effects ranging from vomiting to cardiac arrest.

“These compounds are added by manufacturers because they are performance-enhancing,” Khan said. “If you consume these ingredients, there can be serious consequences.”

The supplements industry as a whole has faced a myriad of problems, such as mislabeling. Those seeking to improve their health with dietary supplements should be proactive and discerning when selecting a product, Khan said.

Dr. Pieter Cohen, associate professor of medicine at the Cambridge Health Alliance, was the lead author on the paper. He offered some guidance for consumers when shopping for sports supplements.

Dr. Pieter Cohen

“Just keep in mind that no one is checking the products before they arrive on store shelves,” Cohen said. “While they are technically regulated by the FDA, they are not checked. We’re at the manufacturer’s mercy when we’re taking them.

“There are a few high-quality certification programs that some manufacturers use to evaluate their products. If they are tested by these third-party groups, they are likely to contain what’s on the label.”

Cohen recommended looking for seals from the NSF’s Certified for Sport and the USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program.

Additionally, the Department of Defense Dietary Supplement Program allows users to answer questions about a product to determine its safety.