South African health insurance companies unhappy about the use of supplements and steroids.

The use of sporting drugs and supplements could have significant consequences for the insurance industry.

On Monday Professor Tim Noakes of the University of Cape Town told the International Committee for Insurance Medicine congress that heart problems and drug dependency are among the major health risks for sportspeople using drugs and other supplements.

Insufficient data have been compiled on the extent of the risk for the life insurance industry, but the ingestion of such agents is increasing dramatically, with consequent raised implications for assurers.

According to Noakes, the big difference between supplements and sports drugs is that the former are legal but unregulated, while the market for the latter is estimated to be much larger than that for so-called recreational drugs - which include substances like cocaine and heroin.

Pharmaceutical groups do test supplements but, because the industry is not regulated at an international level, there are many manufacturers flooding the market with supplements whose safety cannot be guaranteed in the long term.

Noakes reports that studies show that users of anabolic steroids are more inclined to develop depression and heart problems, use recreational drugs and die violent deaths.

Noakes believes the use of supplements and steroids is widespread among ordinary people exercising at gymnasiums around the corner, who ingest them just to look good - the typical people that life assurance companies have to insure.

According to Noakes the presence of very little body fat is one indication of the use of drugs and supplements in sport.

If a woman athlete's body fat is less than a man's, she is using supplements, he declares.

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