Helping athletes stay safe and clean with Informed Sport

The use of drugs in sport goes back a long time- all the way back to the invention of sport itself, when ancient Olympians would take herbal medicines, potions and drugs to enhance their performance. Chariot racers in Ancient Rome are believed to have fed their horses hydromel, while gladiators took stimulants to improve their abilities. But the Ancient Romans, advanced as they were, did not have mass spectrometres.

More recently, drug use in sport, or doping, has become one of the biggest problems facing sport. It’s now understood to not only oppose the spirit and integrity of sport, but also poses a danger to the athletes themselves.  And as science has moved forward, becoming more accurate and precise, we are well-placed to tackle this issue head on.

Sport is a multibillion pound industry, spanning nearly every continent and reaching billions of people, so it’s easy to forget sometimes about the individuals participating in it. A sport is only as great as the people who dedicate themselves to it and drive the sport. The industry’s top priority should be to protect these athletes and their health and integrity, which is why transparency and certification programmes like Informed Sport are so important.

 

The responsibility to stay clean rests with the athletes, who can be banned for several years, or even lifetime, from their sport if they test positive for a banned substance, whether they knowingly took it or not. Worse still, banned substances can pose serious risks to a person’s health, causing heart attacks, liver damage, and other problems.

But if people don’t know what’s in the supplements they use, how can they possibly have confidence in them or know which dangers to avoid? Surveys carried out on non-Informed Sport-certified supplements that were being sold in supermarkets suggest that as high as ten percent contained banned substances, which mean the products would not pass our certification.

The WADA banned substances list is not closed; items are added as and when new drugs are caught. So there is no way to absolutely guarantee that a product is free from these illegal ingredients, but there are definitely steps that will vastly minimise the risk posed to athletes. Ensuring that products are tested and certified is the first of these steps.

Simon Richardson of GCN visits LGC.

Global Cycling Network recently visited our labs to see first-hand how sports nutrition products are tested for banned substances.  Watch to learn for yourself how exactly our Informed Sport programme takes steps to protect athletes, giving them the option to see exactly when that protein bar they’re eyeing has been tested by experts.

We can all do our part. If we expect athletes to be informed about what exactly is going into their bodies, then supplements companies should strive to demonstrate that their products are safe.

The importance of iodine – are you drinking enough milk?

Ensuring the safety of the food we eat is of paramount importance. Iodine is an essential element naturally found in some foods. Insufficient amounts of iodine in the diet results in low levels of thyroid hormones, which are responsible for regulation of metabolism.

In pregnant women and infants iodine is of particular importance as it plays a critical role in brain development. The primary sources of iodine for most people are milk and dairy products but due to increases in dairy intolerance and changes in diet, milk-products are being increasingly substituted for non-milk alternatives.

To identify the impact that such dietary changes might have on iodine levels across the population, an understanding of the levels of iodine naturally present in milk is necessary. This includes the effects of seasonal variations or fat content and any processing effects of pasteurisation which might reduce the iodine content. These variations have been investigated by the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), Ulster University, with milk samples collected over a 12-month period. However, these differences needed to be measured accurately in order to properly determine the influence different conditions have on iodine content.

As part of the UK’s National Measurement Laboratory (NML) role, scientists at LGC have developed a high accuracy quantitative method (inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry) for the analysis of iodine in milk and milk-products to support the regulation on iodine levels in infant formulas. Using this expertise, we were able to support the work being done at Ulster University, providing the analytical capability required to determine the levels of iodine in milk under a variety of conditions.

Of the collaboration, Maria O’Kane, lead author on the paper, said: “LGC facilitated my visit to the laboratory in Teddington and enabled me to undertake analysis of the milk samples collected using high accuracy ICP-MS. The expert staff at LGC supported my learning and enabled me to develop a greater knowledge and understanding of ICP-MS analysis.”

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Nutrition, where Maria concluded that consuming additional cow milk can significantly increase the amount of iodine observed in the urine of women of childbearing age.

This work will help our understanding of current iodine intake and support future research in this area and clearly demonstrates the impact the UK’s National Measurement Laboratory (NML) can have on real-world problems, protecting human health and ensuring the safety of our food.