Caffeine and sport: recent studies

New interesting evidence related to the involvement of caffeine in sport performance has been published during the last month.

The first of these studies suggests that 6 mg/kg BW caffeine supplementation improves by ~2% rowing (2000 m effort)
performance; combination with sodium bicarbonate seems to prevent performance enhancement, due tu GI side effects.
Further investigation to minimize GI symptoms is required. Health claims on caffeine have received favorable opinions by EFSA but have caused concerns with Member States.
The second one reports that adding 8 mg/kg BM caffeine to postexercise carbohydrate (CHO) feedings seems to improve subsequent high-intensity interval-running capacity compared with CHO alone. This effect may be related to higher rates of postexercise muscle glycogen resynthesis previously observed under similar feeding conditions. In line with EFSA health claim assessment (still controversial with Member States) it may be interesting to suggest on label to take
caffeine supplements after the intake of CHO, or with CHO. Nevertheless the recommended dosage in the study seems to be too high (560 mg/day for a 70 kg person).

In both studies a potential concern seems to be related to the levels of caffeine used. For example EFSA, in its opinions, takes into
account lower levels of caffeine compared to those used in trials; Member States allow lower amounts of caffeine in food supplements (Belgium bans solid caffeine). In Italy, for example, no more than 300 mg/day caffeine are informally allowed.

These studies provide further support to the use of caffeine in sports under some circumstances, although levels may be an issue.


Armando Antonelli – Sport Nutrition Team

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Sorbitol death is wake-up call for Internet retailers

In Barletta, a town with 91,000 inhabitants in South-East Italy, a woman has died, and two have been hospitalized after ingesting a vial which seems to have contained sorbitol. According to Carlo Locatelli, of the Poisons Center in Pavia, Italy, which is one of Italy’s leading Poisons Centers, the patients developed methemoglobinemia, a condition in which oxygen cannot be captured by red blood cells. Fortunately, the two surviving patients were saved by prompt administration of methylene blue, a colour dye, which also reverses methemoglobinemia .

Sorbitol is a polyol which naturally occurs in fruit, and is widely used in candies and other low-calorie products. From the outset, the symptomatology suggested that nitrates could be responsible for the tragic deaths. According to Italy’s Ministry of Health, there is no information suggesting product contamination. Nevertheless, the Italian police squad assigned to food safety matters, the NAS, have seized over 1,000 tons of food-grade sorbitol at Cargill’s plants in Northern Italy but have apparently ordered no product testing. The implicated sorbitol was manufactured at Cargill’s plant in Rovigo, in Northern Italy. The most recent media reports indicate that the product was 70% sodium nitrite, and it is unclear how it could have been mistaken for sorbitol. News that implicated an industry-grade sorbitol lot (sorbitol is also used for manufacturing plastics, etc) are not confirmed.

It is early to say what the root cause of the problem was, or what failed in the system that should protect patients, and to separate the root cause from the inevitable legal blame-game that follows tragedies.

The doctors administering the sorbitol-based test seem to have purchased the product from eBay, which has expressed sorrow and halted globally the sales of sorbitol. It is unclear if a recall should follow, or if it will. There’s no basis at this time to suggest that food companies should recall sorbitol-containing products; however, they can trace their sorbitol to exclude the affected lot is involved. Moreover, they should follow closely the events.

Cargill has issued a press release in Italian (well done, and the loss of website formatting means their crisis team had to act quickly), explaining that the lot was manufactured at their site in February 2010, and since packaged elsewhere. The product conformed to tests when it left the production site.

As we wait for further news, it is still unclear how the product was sold over ebay.

For the moment, this tragedy seems to show that Internet retailers, when selling foods or food ingredients, are food business operators, and should ensure the safety of their products – much like grocery retailers do – and issuing recalls when necessary.  eBay seems to be behaving like a responsible food business. Others, like Amazon, should start doing the same even if they think they’re not food businesses.

– Luca Bucchini, Managing Director –

European Commission and Member States on food supplement classification, labeling of wine and health claims

‘On 1 February 2012 the EC Standing Commettee on the food chain and animal health met in order to discuss many topics related to the general food law. Below a feedback of main discussions, with Hylo’s point of view.

Status of the products placed on the market as food supplement/dietetic food for special medical purposes

Member States and EC have recently debated whether the same product can be classified and sold as a food supplement and as food for special medical purposes simultaneously by two entities. EC said yes in theory, no in practice, and pointed out that art. 14 of Dir. 2009/39 cannot apply to food supplements (and quite confusingly mutual recognition would not apply).

In Hylo’s view, the borders between the two pieces of legislation are so blurred, especially with the vast discretion Member States exercise in this area, and the national pieces of legislation that they have put together (including Spain), that this will continue to be uncertain. Some Member States have a strong preference for dietetic foods, some others prefer food supplements; and several Member States have consistently refused to accept the interpretation of other Member States (it is unclear if the EC was supporting this attitude with the remark on mutual recognition).

This is unlikely to change as long as dietetic foods exist, or a single process is established. Confusion will continue to persist.

Spermidine and related health claim

The spermidine and prolongation of the growing phase (anagen) of the hair cycle health claim proposed by the Italian pharma company Giuliani Spa (also known for the GABA novel food application) continues to be mired in controversy. EFSA had opined in December 2011 that since the population studied for the claim (and likely beneficiaries) has a pathological condition. So the claim would be medicinal, and not allowed within Reg. 1924/2006.

The EC has commented, and we @Hylo will follow with interest to see how it goes (not well but it’s still uncertain). Whether EFSA is coherent on this matter, given hypercholestoremia is also a disease, it’s another matter that deserves in-depth analysis.

Sugar beet fibre and related health claim

Member States and the EC seem to have agreed to soften EFSA’s wording on sugar beet fibre and increasing faecal bulk. EFSA proposed “Sugar beet fibre increases faecal bulk”, EC and MS decided to say “sugar beet fibre contributes to an increase in faecal bulk”.

We Hylobates observe that it is not unexpected that the direct, simpler style of health claims in the English-speaking world would be rejected at the EU-level where broadly fuzzier claims are favored by regulators. Moreover, this decision signals the intention of regulators to intervene in the wording of claims much more aggresively than could be anticipated. It is not entirely clear that consumers would perceive the two wordings in different ways.

Status of allergens in wine

After the rejection  of scientific studies on allergens in wine presented in order to avoid the application of allergen labeling requirements, there has been much speculation on what would happen. Member States and the EC could not agree on a solution that would make everyone happy. However, the EC indicated that a decision should come soon – and that it should be pragmatic.

Selling of foods beyond maximum durability

Last but not least, Member States discussed the selling of foods beyond maximum durability at the 1st February meeting. Most said it’s possible but it’s also a complex issue. Our view: each Member State will go its own way.

– Sport Nutrition Team –

Focus on Astaxanthin antioxidant properties

Here’s a second post on health claims and oxidant properties. As commented earlier, EFSA is saying that an antioxidant property per se is not a health benefit, as long as it is not shown that there is a direct effect in the body, on proteins, DNA or lipids. EFSA also argues that only some markers have been validated to show this type of direct beneficial effect on the body’s antioxidant defence network. Astaxanthin is an interesting case-study caught in the middle. EFSA has rejected an application because ‘although astaxanthin has antioxidant properties in vitro, the human studies presented do not provide any evidence in support of an in vivo antioxidant effect in terms of lipid peroxidation following the consumption of astaxanthin’. A recent study, according to the authors, provided support to “benefical effects on the oxidative stress markers in overweight adults”. If we focus on markers, the authors have used: malondialdehyde (MDA), isoprostane (ISP), superoxide dismutase (SOD), and total antioxidant capacity (TAC). Changes in F2-isoprostanes (ISP) in 24-h urine samples in considered the gold standard as direct measurement of lipid peroxidation. TAC has not been evaluated by EFSA. MDA and SOD can be used as supportive evidence in addition to reliable in vivo techniques. The concept itself of “beneficial effects on oxidative stress markers” is rejected by EFSA; if there is no protection of macromolecules in the body, there is no benefit. Companies and scientists seeking to support health claims are warned. Of course science goes its own way.

Sport Nutrition Team

Standing Commitee: choice of analytical method in the way of health claim authorisation

The EC’s Standing Committee on the food chain and animal health (Section on General Food Law) met on 5 December 2011; the minutes have just been released. The discussion seems to have been particularly lively, and shows how the health claims legislation is impacting food law and practices across the EU, and potentially leading to harmonization (which Member States naturally object to).

The first issue on the agenda was a health claim related to slowly digestible starch and its role in on reduction of post-prandial glycaemic responses compared to rapidly digestible starch. The claim received a favourable opinion from EFSA under the new science mechanism (art. 13.5 of Reg. 1924/2006).

The applicant used the Englyst method to characterize the food, and EFSA agreed. Nevertheless, the Commission had doubts on whether Member States (MS) were able to use the method for enforcement. Also, EC officers wondered whether ‘slowly digestible starch’ is understood by consumers across the EU.

In fact, most MS said the method could not be mentiond in the final regulation, since itis not internationally recognized, and that the wording of the health claim should be improved.

In summary, getting EFSA to say yes bring you only half-way, and there is a risk that enforcement of the regulation will be even messier than the EFSA process.

– Sports Nutrition Team –

Art. 13 health claim list regulation will provide reassurances (and worries)

The first outcome of the discussion in Brussels on the 5th of December was that the Regulation with the “big list” under art. 13.1 (the claims which should have been based on generally accepted evidence) will clarify that only health claims on the list are allowed, all others being forbidden, with two exceptions.

The exceptions include “claims requiring further consideration by the risk managers before a decision on them can be taken; claims requiring a further assessment by EFSA; and claims on “botanical” substances; that have not received an assessment by EFSA following a request by the Commission”. Such claims will be listed on the EC website (botanicals, probiotics, caffeine, some odd claims on arginine, one claim on fructose and one claim on glycaemic carbohydrates, etc). Hopefully the text will be clear enough to avoid unwarranted enforcement (and the situation with caffeine is rapidly resolved).

The Committee also accepted that the claims of beta-glucans cannot be extended beyond EFSA opinion (to all beta-glucans); clarified the conditions for use on water-related health claims and on glucomannan; extended health claims valid for some weight loss products to all products complying with Directive 96/8/EC; and said no to a claim on fat and to one on sodium (as they are not beneficial).

On a related matter, providing a spark of hope, the Committee approved a new Regulation refusing market authorisation to some claims. This smaller Regulation will grant  more generous terms extending “the period granted to operators and national controlling authorities to adapt to the new requirements of the draft Regulation to all claims used in commercial communications and not only to those used on the label of products”. There is widespread concern that enacting terms have been too stringent for stakeholders so far, especially when the health claim had legally been on the market for some time. Hopefully, this reasoning will be applied more broadly in the future.

– Sports Nutrition Team –

Food additives: EC adopts a new Regulation

The European Commission has  adopted a new Regulation, implementing Regulation EC 1333/2008. The new Regulation includes list of food additives intended for foodstuffs and food ingredients. The lists will replace lists under  Directives 95/2/CE, 94/36/CE and 94/35/CE in 2013.

The Regulation also foresees that anti-caking agent silicon dioxide can be used for salt substitutes at higher levels and that the coating agent basic metacrilate can be used for food supplements. These specific rules will come into force 20 days after the publication of the present regulation, on December 2 2012; the general list apply on 1 June 2013. Products legally marketed before 1 June 2013 can continue to be sold.

It is interesting to note that the list is divided into categories for different foodstuffs. The category for food supplements is number 17 (solid form such as capsules and tablets, liquid form, syrup or chewable). It is noteworthy that category 13 is food with particular nutritional purposes; foods for sportsmen are not included, further confirmation of the upcoming abolition of this category (if not abolished, theoretically from June 1  2013, no additives would be allowed in foods for sportsmen, as well as in other dietetic foods for which specific rules have not been set).

Armando Antonelli- Sport Nutrition Team

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