Informed Choice is a global quality assurance program for sports nutrition products developed to ensure products are not inadvertently contaminated with substances prohibited in sport by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Supplement products bearing the Informed Choice logo or on-pack descriptor are regularly tested for banned substances.
The Informed Choice program was established in 2007 by one of the world's leading anti-doping laboratories, LGC. Responsible supplement companies have made Informed Choice part of their existing quality assurance systems to ensure their products are safer for athletes and those living an active lifestyle to use.
Informed Choice is a voluntary program for reputable supplement companies who wish to register some, or all, of their products and carry the Informed Choice mark on those products. Supplement users who see the Informed Choice logo on a product can be assured it has undergone rigorous checks and regular testing to ensure that it is not contaminated with banned substances and is safer to use.
LGC is accredited to ISO/IEC 17025, a globally recognized standard relating to laboratories and test procedures. LGC holds accreditation for a broad range of analytical testing, including the analysis of nutritional supplements for banned substances. LGC has held accreditation for supplement analysis since 2003 and is frequently inspected by the accreditation bodies UKAS (the United Kingdom Accreditation Service - LGC laboratory number 1187) and A2LA (the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation - LGC certificate no. 3244.01). During inspections, analytical methodology and validation data are independently assessed by a third-party auditor/expert, providing confidence to brands and consumers alike that methodology and analytical procedures meet some of the most stringent certification standards possible.
Accreditation held by LGC covers all common supplement matrix types (e.g. powders, liquids, bars, gels, capsules, tablets, etc.), with test procedures having defined method capability/reporting levels.
ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation is critical for any laboratory, in that it shows that test procedures have been independently assessed/evaluated objectively by third-party industry experts. LGC has held ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation for supplement analysis since 2003.
Independent audits ensure that test methodology and validation data are "fit for purpose" for each individual test.
At LGC, stringent quality control measures are adopted for each and every sample, to validate both analysis and extraction procedures. This provides brands and consumers alike with the assurance that test results are both robust and reliable. The analysis of such control samples also allows LGC to identify problematic and challenging sample matrices, where additional investigative work may be required - a growing requirement within the evolving supplement market. Where a laboratory does not have such exacting quality standards (as required by ISO/IEC 17025), such problems may be overlooked, resulting in the false reporting of an unsubstantiated result.
LGC has more than 55 years of experience as a regulatory doping control laboratory, testing both animal and human biological samples for the presence of substances prohibited in sport. Between 2004 and 2007, LGC (formerly HFL Sport Science) was accredited by WADA/IOC for the testing of athlete samples. However, in 2007 and following rising concerns from athletes regarding supplement contamination, LGC voluntarily withdrew this certification to focus efforts on the testing of supplement products for banned substances.
WADA accredited laboratories cannot commercially test supplement products for endorsement purposes - the following extract is taken from the WADA website:
WADA is not involved in any certification process regarding supplements and therefore does not certify or endorse manufacturers or their products. WADA does not control the quality or the claims of the supplements industry which may, from time to time, claim that their products have been approved or certified by WADA.
Our extensive experience as a sports anti-doping laboratory provides us with a unique understanding of the sports regulatory environment from a laboratory perspective.
WADA testing is specifically targeted at the analysis of human biological matrices (e.g. urine, blood, etc.). There is no such thing as a "WADA test" for anything else. However, WADA testing for urine/blood is carried out to ISO/IEC 17025 standards. ISO/IEC 17025 is an international laboratory and testing standard. Any tests that are accredited to this standard have been developed and validated in line with international requirements and are independently assessed/evaluated objectively by third-party industry experts.
The testing lab used by Informed Choice (LGC) performs supplement testing to the sane international analytical standard (ISO/IEC 17025).
LGC has been testing supplement products for prohibited substances since 2002 and has tested tens of thousands of product/ingredient samples during that time. LGC currently tests over 20,000 samples per year for more than 600 companies worldwide.
Unfortunately, no supplement testing program can test for all substances which would be considered prohibited in sport. This is also highlighted by the fact that even the WADA prohibited list is open-ended; using the wording "other substances with a similar chemical structure or similar biological effect(s) in specific sections of the list. There is no specific list defining all prohibited substances.
In addition, the WADA prohibited list is specifically focused on the analysis of human biological samples (e.g. urine, blood, etc.). As such, WADA laboratories will also be testing samples for a wide range of metabolites (i.e. the metabolic breakdown products of drugs). With respect to the analysis of supplement products, the analysis will typically focus on the presence of the parent drug. '
Although it is not possible to test for all substances on the WADA prohibited list, through its experience in testing over 150,000 and its close relationship with the anti-doping community, LGC has been able to develop an extensive screening program to manage product integrity; addressing both historic and emerging threats within the supplements industry.
LGC/s testing capability for supplements includes the analysis of over 250 substances that are prohibited in sport and substances that pose a threat in respect to product contamination. These substances include the drugs of abuse, anabolic agents, stimulants, beta-2-agonists, masking agents, diuretics and new and emerging threats such as SARM's, Vaptans and PPAR's, etc.
Informed Choice currently does not allow any cannabinoid-containing products onto the Informed Choice program. This includes CBD extracts, gummies, hemp protein, and others that knowingly contain CBD or THC.
Although we do not currently certify cannabinoid-containing products, we are evaluating our position and how it relates to the scientific literature available and our own internal research projects. We are in the process of developing a suitable test for the market, but at current it is not associated with the Informed Choice program.
With the evolution of test methodology and instrumentation over the last decade, detection capabilities in the field of anti-doping are continually improving. It is common practice for WADA laboratories to test urine samples in the low ng/g (10-9) (part per billion) region; with some test procedures having detection capabilities at even lower levels e.g. in the picogram (10-12) range.
It is therefore imperative to ensure that the detection levels employed for the analysis of supplement products are sensitive enough to limit the risk of inadvertent doping.
Research has shown that for certain compounds, consuming as little as microgram (10-6) quantities of a prohibited substance, could give rise to an adverse finding i.e. a doping violation. Obviously, these levels will vary based on drug compound and class; noting that all drugs will be metabolized differently. However, such knowledge and data further emphasize the requirement for testing procedures to be fit for purpose.
LGC conducts extensive method development and validation analysis to ISO/IEC 17025 standards to establish detection capabilities in the low to mid ng/g (part per billion) region for most compounds included with its screening programs; providing athletes and consumers with the assurance that products have been tested to some of the most stringent standards possible with respect to banned substances.
The key difference between Informed Choice and Informed Sport is the frequency of testing. Informed Choice is catered towards "weekend warriors" or those who live an active lifestyle who are not subject to the strict doping control of elite athletes and drug-tested personnel. However, they are still conscious of what goes into their bodies.
Informed Choice is a voluntary quality assurance program for reputable supplement companies so they can ensure products are not contaminated with banned substances and are safer for use. With Informed Choice certified supplements, supplement users can minimize the risk of ingesting banned substances, which can often have adverse and harmful health effects.
For further insight, please read our Informed Choice vs Informed Sport: What is the Difference? blog.