85% of sports enhancement supplements contained banned substances, including steroids, say's a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (JAMA. 2014;312(16):1691-1693. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.10308.)
The US study also found 67% of weight loss and 20% of sexual enhancement supplements also contained banned substances.
The real kicker here is that this study was done on supplements that had previously been recalled by the FDA for containing banned drugs. Supplements were tested six months after being banned, and the study shows that 65% of previously recalled supplements either still contained the same banned drugs, or added additional new drugs.
Pharmaceutical ingredients contained in the supplements included "sibutramine analogs (banned appetite suppressant), sildenafil (viagra) fluoxetine (prozac), phenolphthalein (laxative), armoatase inhibitor (breast cancer drug that boosts testosterone), and various anabolic steroids", according to the JAMA study.
The supplements list only the herbal contents on labels, with no hint that drugs may be present in the ingredients.
Interesting. Folks pushing apparently "natural" herbal compounds who often also proclaim that their "natural" formulations are better than those synthetic compounds made by evil pharmaceutical companies.. actually rely on those pharmaceutical compounds to try and get some kind of result.
What is the number one market for sport supplements?
Anyone who's gullibility and wishful thinking can be teased out.
What people are the most likely to be recommending these phoney promises?
Coaches and personal trainers, and other wishful thinkers who have convinced themselves whatever they're on is working, or that what they're on is "natural".
Why all the wishful thinking, and why, despite either being proven ineffective or for containing mislabeled drugs for decades, is there so much acceptance of this snake oil?
The same reason snake oil was able to be sold back in the late 1800's and early 1900's..
Crafty marketing meant to take advantage of peoples natural gullibility and wishful thinking.
Ok, that's a circular argument, I didn't actually say why this happens, just wanted to emphasize the wishful thinking bit.
When we become desperate on some level, or plunge into the reward seeking pathways in our brains, our critical thinking is replaced with cognitive illusion. Cognitive illusions do an end-run around the part of our brains that we use for logical reasoning, and behavioural control. (the frontal cortex).
When the reasoning part of our cortex is impaired, the limbic system and dopamine reward-seeking pathways use our biases and emotional processing to make decisions.
The scam is known as "the promise of hope", and is very effective. Once we get the idea that our wishes can be granted instantly, or that our desperate situation can be relieved instantly, our gullibility increases because the potential reward we are being stimulated by affects our brain circuitry.
We're typically not aware of the change in our brains behavior, all we experience is feeling convinced that promised hope is worth pursuing, and we'll be oblivious to the fact that we're experiencing a cognitive illusion. We'll be suckered by our own selection bias and confirmation bias, where we choose to seek out and accept information that confirms the claims promise, and ignore valid evidence that refutes it.
This is the power of our brains reward seeking pathways, and the activation of our impulse behavior. They impair our reasoning centres, because if we start using our reasoning centres, there's a good chance we'll figure out the scam, and not follow through.
Ultimately that's the best outcome, but because of the attraction of the dopamine system getting it's reward hit, the dopamine pathways can often win. Our impulse behavior wins out over our impulse control.
Our brains want the reward more desperately than we want to weigh the evidence. The tricky limbic system doesn't want the logical part of the brain to win because that means no instant reward.
Your limbic system can impair your logical reasoning, and you won't even know it's happening. You'll just say, "yeah! Snake oil! Sign me up!".
The snake oil makers understand the physiology and psychology of how to manipulate everything that I just told you about here. They use this knowledge to attempt to trigger the automated reward seeking response. Some may not know the biological details of reward seeking, but they know how to fake being wholesome, and how to work the art of the scam.
I'm using this understanding of the biology to show you how to avoid getting scammed. It's tough though. One has to face the reality that they've been duped, and that what they thought was their own reasoned thinking, was actually a cognitive illusion, and facing that can feel embarrassing and humbling. Not wanting face to this, many will keep up their biases and illusions, and go into denial.
The good news is if you can keep your frontal cortex doing the thinking, you won't feel compelled to fall for the promise of hope.
JAMA research letter Oct 22/29, 2014