Kicking off in London today, the 2012 Olympics will boast more—and more sophisticated—testing of athletes for doping than ever before.

Already, at least nine athletes (including bronze medalist Nataliya Tobias) have tested positive for synthetic hormones, including testosterone and growth hormone, according to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It’s almost certain that contaminated dietary supplements will be blamed for positive results at some point during the events.

We spoke with Ed Wyszumiala, general manager of dietary supplement programs at NSF International, about the ongoing problem of adulterated sports and performance supplements, NSF’s Certified for Sport program and how to choose a safe supplement.

NSF International is a nonprofit, global public health and safety organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the food, water and consumer goods industries—including nutritional supplements. 

newhope360: There has been a flurry of announcements recently about athletes who have taken supplements contaminated with steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Recently, NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger and Olympic hopeful Debbie Dunn tested positive for steroids, and now the nine Olympic athletes.  

Ed Wyszumiala: We see two different cases where the athlete has tested positive and they’re sort of pointing at a supplement, but nothing has been confirmed to show that the contamination actually derived from the supplement.

It cuts both ways—sometimes an athlete has taken a contaminated supplement, but before additional testing comes out, it becomes an easy target to blame a supplement for accidental doping. 

newhope360: What are the most common problems with contaminated supplements?

EW: Bodybuilding products can have steroids and various anabolic agents added. The other category would be energy-based products with undeclared stimulants added. And weight-loss products sometimes have undeclared stimulants and diuretics added.

newhope360: What about DMAA in sports performance-enhancing products?

EW: This is where a non-prescription drug ingredient was being added under the guise that it was derived from geranium. In 2010, the World Antidoping Agency (WADA) added DMAA to its list of prohibited substances. On products, it was labeled as geranium, which has led to positive doping results all over the world. It’s the largest outbreak weve seen since androstenone.

newhope360: We've seen claims of proof that DMAA really is in geranium.

EW: All the independent research is counter to that right now. The main study was done at the University of Mississippi, where the FDA does its botanical research. A study done by Ole Miss carries a lot more weight than a study done by a manufacturer at a private lab. Like anything else, you can buy a result.

newhope360: How do the Olympics heighten the stakes?

EW: It’s really the global stage for sporting competitions every four years. There can be a lot of positive attention in terms of dietary supplements and nutrition, but if there’s a positive result it can also draw a lot of negative attention. The industry needs to react if the supplement is being scape-goated, but if it’s directly related, then it can be very damaging for the industry.

newhope360: How does NSF’s Certified for Sport program help? 

EW: With NSF certification, we’re protecting the value of the brands by minimizing their risk. A lot of the companies we work with sponsor professional or Olympic athletes. This is reassurance that their product has undergone the additional screening of auditing their facility, testing their label claims and screening products for potential banned substances.

newhope360: What major brands do you certify?

EW: Vitamin Shoppe, EAS, Muscle Milk, and Oh Yeah are some of the larger brands. Also Amway. You can find them all online (nsfsport.com) or on our app, which has been really popular with even high school and collegiate athletes and weekend warriors. They can check on their phone while they’re shopping for a protein powder and see which products have been tested.

newhope360: Have you noticed a trend toward cleaner sports nutrition products?

EW: Since we started the program in 2004, we’ve definitely seen an increase in companies being certified, and with expanding their certified lines. We turn down products that make outrageous claims, talking about boosting testosterone or explaining how you stack a product with other products to simulate a steroid effect.

The professional organizations we work with don’t want to see products that claim to boost growth hormone factors, or controversial ingredients like deer antler, or products claiming to be an EPO booster being certified.