ESPN Addresses Olympians Taking Dietary Supplements

April 10, 2001

3 Min Read
ESPN Addresses Olympians Taking Dietary Supplements

NEW YORK--With the Winter Olympics around the corner and the events of the Summer Olympics still fresh in the mind's eye, the media is still looking at the advent of athletes testing positive for steroids, either due to their own ignorance or a mislabeled product. On April 8, ESPN's Outside the Lines featured host Bob Ley leading a panel of industry experts in a discussion concerning Olympic athletes who have tested positive for steroids after consuming certain dietary supplements. These world-class athletes had been disqualified for taking substances labeled as "prohibited anabolic androgenic steroids" by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which include 19-norandrostenediol (-ione), androstenediol (-ione, or "andro") and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).

However, numerous athletes have been taken aback by these steroid accusations, an issue Ley attempted to address in his half-hour show. He was joined by Johann Olav Koss, a member of the IOC Medical Commission; General Barry McCaffrey, the former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; and Phil Harvey, Ph.D., the director of science and quality assurance for the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA).

Ley opened the show by stating that testing positive for steroids may lie either with mislabeled products or with supplements metabolizing into prohibited substances within the body. In addressing mislabeled products, Harvey stated, "Our position at NNFA...[is] that any dietary supplement that would have a steroid added to it is in fact misbranded and adulterated, and we do not support that at all."

Koss had a hard-line view on this issue, insisting that these hormone precursors are steroids. "Athletes...take much more [of these products] if they believe the benefits...of these so-called legal substances," he stated. "But if they...test positive, they're out of the sport."

Supplement manufacturers are well aware of the concern regarding these precursors. "We always err on the side of being overly conservative in our recommended doses," Jen Larimer, account manager of international distribution at Aurora, Ill.-based Optimum Nutrition, told the Insider. Optimum sells both andro and 19-norandro products. However, Larimer added that because of the controversy surrounding these products, the company has not invested a lot of ad dollars in marketing these supplements.

McCaffrey agreed during the ESPN broadcast that many people abuse these supplements, and many youths are taking large amounts of substances such as andro in order to enhance sports performance, like baseball player Mark McGwire once did. Harvey stated that many labels include "Do not take if you're under 18," but McCaffrey rebutted that many people either do not read or ignore labels, rendering them useless. He added that the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) should be modified, "so that these precursors to steroids only get issued with a doctor's prescription." He added that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health should turn their attention to supplements that may be legal when ingested but illegal when excreted.

"Olympic athletes should definitely read labels more closely or...just steer clear [of these products]," said Larimer, adding that there are companies out there that do not list everything on their labels or else refer to a red-flag ingredient by its brand name. She also said that consumers run into trouble when they take more than the recommended amount in order to get bigger, quicker results.

In a phone interview with Insider after the program aired, Harvey stated that Olympic athletes should not even risk taking these supplements because of the poor efficacy of oral andro reported in various studies. "The risks far outweigh the benefits," he said. "Why risk your life-long dream of being an Olympian?"

A transcript of the show can be found at For more on the IOC, visit

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