Supplements – what are the risks?

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Supplements are everywhere. Magazines, billboards, supermarkets, pharmacies, specialists shops, online shops, bus advertising, the list is endless. They are also usually accompanied by an attractive marketing campaign, or at the very least a convincing label spiel. But do you actually need them? What really lies beneath all the marketing (or beneath the airbrushed models flashing a gleaming smile at you?), and what are the risks?

Firstly looking to vitamin and mineral supplements. Despite what marketers want us to believe, the simple (but far less exciting) message is that by eating a healthy well-balanced diet, it is highly unlikely you will need supplements. If you are genuinely concerned you have a deficiency it is sensible to get it medically diagnosed. There are times when these supplements can have their uses – but make sure you seek advice before deeming them necessary. Taking supplements using an uncontrolled, self-diagnosed approach will unlikely be of much benefit, but may be detrimental to your performance and or health, not to mention your bank balance.

Secondly, the sport specific supplements, such as bars and shakes is an area of the industry which has grown exponentially in recent years. Despite the extensive range of supplements marketed to the athletic and recreationally active, few are currently considered to be effective, and many carry great risks. The aim of this article is not to explore these sport specific supplements (future article) but rather highlight the potential risks associated with them, and the importance of exerting caution when considering their use.

Some athletes would condemn the use of drugs in sport but would think nothing of reaching for a supplement without consideration of the associated risks. There have been several incidents where athletes have fallen foul of drugs testing in elite sport, as a result of inadvertently ingesting a banned substance from contaminated dietary supplements ( Even if an ingredients list seems relatively innocuous, there is potential for contamination in the manufacturing processes, for example if the product is made in a factory alongside other products which are classed as banned substances.

An athlete is 100% responsible for what they put in their body, and this is the stance given by the UK, and World antidoping agencies (UKAD, WADA). Whether a drugs test is failed due to deliberate attempts to consume banned substances, or inadvertently taking something contaminated the bottom line is clear – it was in your system, and it is your responsibility.

There is a wealth of accessible user-friendly and athlete specific information on the UKAD website ( for athletes, coaches and parents which is well worth a look. There is also information on the site about prescription medications which is another important consideration.

Some supplements have their place, but many don’t. Make sure you know the risks and take the necessary precautions; ultimately it will be you who pays the price if you get it wrong.

Supplements March 2016

Some useful websites and links:



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