Supplements FAQ

What are supplements?

Supplements, also referred to as nutritional or dietary supplements, or natural health products. Supplements are not classified or considered to be drugs and include such products as:

  • Vitamins and minerals, e.g., calcium, vitamin E
  • Energy drinks, e.g., Monster, Red Bull
  • Some hemp products, e.g., hemp protein, hemp oil
  • Herbal remedies, e.g., arnica, echinacea
  • Homeopathic medicines, e.g., sulfur, arsenic
  • Traditional medicines such as traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines
  • Probiotics, e.g., acidophilous, lactobacillus
  • Amino acids and essential fatty acids, e.g., glutamine, taurine
  • Protein powders, e.g., whey, hemp, soy
  • Fat burners and weight-loss products,e.g., Hydroxycut
  • Muscle boosters and mass gainers, e.g., Jack 3D, Hemo-Rage Black Ultra Concentrate
Dietary supplements are not classified or considered to be drugs  

What is Health Canada’s position on supplements and natural health products?

Health Canada warns against the following potential risks associated with supplement or natural health product use:

  • Manufacturing problems like contamination, incorrect ingredients or dosage suggestions;
  • Unproven claims which can lead people to use the wrong products to treat serious conditions or to delay proper treatment;
  • Not enough information for people to make an informed choice, like incorrect instructions or no warnings that a product may not be suitable for certain users;
  • Interaction with prescription drugs or other natural health products leading to unpredictable side effects or interference with drug action;
  • Unwanted side effects, like allergic reactions.

Visit Health Canada's "About Natural Health Products" web page.

Can the CCES verify that I can take this supplement and/or natural health product?

Unfortunately not. The federal government has few regulations  related to the testing of supplements and natural health products, so it’s impossible for the CCES to guarantee that any supplement or natural health product is 100% free of prohibited substances.

Are there any supplements or natural health products that ARE safe to take?

There is no way of guaranteeing that any supplement or natural health product is completely safe. Ultimately, athletes are responsible for any prohibited substance that may be found in their sample; this is known as strict liability. If athletes who use supplements test positive for a prohibited substance, this can result in a violation, regardless of how the prohibited substance got into their body. Serious sanctions may be imposed.

How can I reduce the risk?

Although the CCES cannot guarantee that any supplement is 100% safe, even one that has gone through a third-party certification process, we have confidence in the NSF Certified for Sport TM program. This program can help athletes identify products that have been tested for purity and banned substances, and can help minimize the risk of inadvertent doping (www.nsfsport.com). The NSF website provides a list of certified products as well as information on how to get a product certified.

**This program is by no means a guarantee that your product is safe­it is a means of reducing the risk associated with supplement use. **

Why can’t I find the status of any of my supplement and/or natural health product in your resources?

As mentioned above, the government does not rigorously regulate the supplement industry. This means that some products may intentionally contain prohibited substances, while others may be inadvertently contaminated with prohibited substances. Because of this, we can never really be sure of what is in these products, and therefore can’t include their status in sport in our resources. The Global DRO and Substance Classification Booklet exist to help you find the status of medications – the production of which is strictly regulated and monitored.

Does the IOC (International Olympic Committee), WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), or the CCES certify or recognize supplement or natural health products?

Some companies claim that their products are certified by the CCES, WADA, IOC or other well-known sport organizations in an attempt to legitimize their brand. As a smart consumer, you should know that these organizations do not have certification programs for supplements or natural health products. Sketchy labeling is a good reason to second-guess the nature of the product. There is always a risk that these products may contain undisclosed prohibited substances.

Can you give me a list of supplements/natural health products that are safe to take?

No! The CCES can’t guarantee that what the label claims is in the supplement matches the actual contents of a supplement. Because of this, the CCES thinks that most supplements and natural health products pose a genuine risk for athletes and their athletic careers. To find out how to reduce the risks associated with supplement use, visit: http://cces.ca/supplements.

I checked all of the ingredients listed on my supplement/natural health product in the Global DRO and none of them are prohibited – does that mean my product is safe?

No! For these reasons:

  • Some products don’t list all of the ingredients on the label;
  • Some products have been adulterated with banned substances (that ARE NOT listed on the label) during the manufacturing or packaging process;
  • Some products are made from low-grade ingredients obtained from unreliable sources.

All that to say, checking the ingredient list on a label still doesn’t mean you can be sure about what is actually in the product, and you run the risk of testing positive for a prohibited substance!   

If you find supplement ingredients in the Global DRO or the Substance Classification Booklet, the associated status applies only to pharmaceutical-grade ingredients that are included in Health Canada-approved medications. The Global DRO does not contain information on, or that applies to, dietary supplements or natural health products.

Is caffeine prohibited?

Caffeine is not included in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s 2012 Prohibited List so there are no restrictions or limits on its use in sport. Caffeine was removed from the Prohibited List in 2004, but it is currently on the WADA Monitoring List which means that anti-doping scientists are watching to see if athletes are misusing or abusing it, and could decide to ban it again.  The 2010 and 2011 Monitoring Programs did not reveal patterns of misuse in sport, although consumption among athletes is significant. For more information, visit: www.wada-ama.org.

What can I do if I think my supplement/health product has side effects or contains a banned substance?

You can and should notify Health Canada at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/medeff/report-declaration/index-eng.php.