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Sport Products Focus of MHRA, Academic Investigations

Posted 24 July 2012 | By Alexander Gaffney, RAC 

It hasn't been a particularly good week food and supplement manufacturers, and in particular those of the sport science variety.

In a widely-covered study published in the British Medical Journal, lead-author Carl Heneghan and ten of his colleagues set about trying to determine what evidence, if any, substantiated claims by sports drink manufacturers that their products enhanced athletic performance.

The results were not flattering for the manufacturers of the 104 products studied. Researchers looked at 431 claims displayed on more than 1,000 web pages. Products primarily claimed to either enhance performance during an athletic event or accelerate the recovery process for an athlete after the conclusion of an event.

"More than half (52.8%) of the websites that made performance claims did not provide any references, and the authors were unable to perform critical appraisal for approximately half (72/146) of the identified references," wrote Heneghan and colleagues in their BMJ article.

Of the products that did report references for their claims, the authors discovered none of them referred to "systematic reviews"- randomized controlled clinical trials-and 84% were judged by the authors to be "at high risk of bias."

Even basic tenets of the scientific method such as randomization were used sparingly (58.1% of cases), while double blinding was used in just 27% of studies and allocation concealment in just 6.8%. In the end, the authors found only three studies of the original 74 "to be of high quality and at low risk of bias."

"The current evidence is not of sufficient quality to inform the public about the benefits and harms of sports products," the authors concluded. "There is a need to improve the quality and reporting of research, a move towards using systematic review evidence to inform decisions."

MHRA Investigation Nets 84 Supplements

All of this came just days before the UK's Medicines and Healthcare product Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced the results of an investigation finding dozens of sport supplements are dangerous and can cause serious adverse events.

In a 23 July statement, the regulatory agency said its investigation is expanding and it has asked "major supplement suppliers to submit their products for review."

Several products, including those containing Ephedrine, Synephrine and Yohimibine, are associated with kidney failure, seizures and numerous cardiovascular risks.

The investigation coincides with the start of the Olympics-a high-profile opportunity for MHRA-and is meant to show the agency's "ongoing commitment to protect people from potentially dangerous products," the agency said in a statement. Regulators said they have issued warnings to suppliers to remove the products from the market or face enforcement action.

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