Read below for a summary of key points. For a full review on the importance of supplement third-party testing, read “The Need for Oversight.”
If you choose to use dietary supplements, an important step to reduce the risk of using a contaminated or unsafe product is to have the supplement company and the final product checked by a qualified, independent third party. Ideally, the supplement third-party testing agency should:
- Be free from conflicts of interest.
- Have external accreditations such as ISO Guide 65—General Requirements for Bodies Operating Product Certification Systems or equivalent, and ISO17025 – General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories.
- Conduct an audit of the supplement company to Good Manufacturing Practice (CFR 111). The third-party testing company (or another vendor if this step is outsourced) should offer proof of qualifications to conduct the audit.
- Evaluate the dietary supplement for overall safety and quality (preferably according to NSF/ANSI 173 Dietary Supplements).
- Have validated and accredited methods to test for prohibited substances in sport.
Why are these features important? Freedom from conflicts of interest is critical to prevent bias from affecting the outcome of certification. No individual at the supplement third-party company should have a financial stake in whether a particular product passes the certification.
Testing companies should have ISO17025 accreditation to include testing for substances prohibited in sport and the scope of the accreditation should cover as many prohibited substances, methods, and matrices as possible. The supplement third-party testing company should have a standard operating procedure that specifically defines which substances are tested, the methodology used, and the limits of detection.
It is the law to manufacture supplements in compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to find non-compliant companies. Athletes who care about their health and career should look for lawful products that are properly made. Products not made in compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices may be inconsistent from batch to batch. Batch consistency is essential. If the contents in each bottle are not the same, something might be missed if the wrong bottles are picked for testing.
Finally, anyone can claim they are qualified to test for prohibited substances or conduct audits, but accreditation means that the company has demonstrated their ability to ISO, or to the American National Standards Institute (USA) or other accrediting body. By verifying accreditations, you do not have to be an expert at laboratory testing to independently confirm that the supplement third-party testing company has the accreditations that they say they do. You can also confirm the “scope” of their accreditation and make sure that it matches what the company advertises as its services.
Don’t be fooled.
Neither WADA nor USADA certify, approve, endorse, or guarantee any supplement. Some products on the market imply, or state directly, that they are WADA certified or approved by USADA, but they are not. If a supplement company tries to convince you that they are WADA or USADA certified, what other lies do you think they might be selling you?
Did you know?
Testing for substances prohibited in sport in dietary supplements can be tricky compared to testing for the same substances in blood or urine. Why? The substances in the supplement need to be dissolved in something in order to be detected. Blood and urine are both water-based solutions, well characterized, and don’t vary much from person to person. It is well known which substances will appear in the blood versus the urine. In contrast, what supplements are made out of (called the “matrix) varies widely (a bar, versus a powder, versus an oily capsule, for instance). Testing for prohibited substances in such a wide variety of matrices requires vigilance and good technical skill to ensure that nothing is missed.