Melamine contamination in South African nutritional supplements

Posted 21 July 2015

This South African study by Gary Gabriels et al., found that “47 % of all the sport supplements tested (n = 138) tested positive for melamine. Eight-two % of the South African produced products (n = 27) tested positive and 58 % of the products imported into South Africa (n = 50) tested positive. The median concentration estimate for melamine in the products tested were, 6.0 μg/g for the 138 supplements tested, 8.9 μg/g for South African produced products, and 6.9 μg/g for products imported into South Africa.” (Highest was 76.4  μg/g)

However, “The melamine (undeclared on product label) levels detected in the nutritional supplements products investigated were within the Tolerable Daily intake (TDI) limit guidelines of 200 μg/g as set by WHO and others. Melamine over exposure within the context of the nutritional supplements consumption in the products investigated should not be of concern to the consumer provided the recommended guidelines of daily product use are adhered to”.

The authors point out that although, these levels are beneath WHO levels and therefore possibly not of concern for intermittent accidental intake, it may be relevant for regular intake.

Melamine, a chemical found in plastics, glue and counter tops. It is not normally found in food or medicines. In September 2008, several companies, including Nestlé, were implicated in a scandal involving milk and infant formula which had been adulterated with melamine, leading to kidney stones and other renal failure, especially among young children. By December 2008, nearly 300,000 people had become ill, with more than 50,000 infant hospitalizations and six infant deaths. Wikipedia


The authors discuss this aspect, and further potential risks associated with melamine, in the discussion part of the article:

The PDF can be viewed here.


“This finding of low level of melamine in products can be interpreted as indicating that there should be no concern for potential adverse health events, based on melamine content only and the TDI. However other co-determinants, co-contaminants such as uric and cyanuric acid, not investigated in this study, may lead to precipitation of melamine chemical-complex. Animals studies further suggest that the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid which is almost undissolvable in water, appeared to be more toxic than each substance alone, and may therefore be a concern for human consumption. Liu et al. also suggest that most proteins bind to melamine crystals.”

“Melamine or melamine-complex accumulation may therefore occur due to consumption of products that leads to ‘depot formation’ in the kidney and other tissue. This may contribute to the cause of renal/ kidney impairment ‘injury’ over time. This indicates that melamine contaminated products (low levels) could contribute to adverse events, even though the prescribed dosage is adhered to within the TDI.”

“Whilst the concentration levels of melamine detected in the products is low overall (as contaminant), the number of products containing the contaminant should place nutritional supplement products under greater scrutiny. The melamine (undeclared on product label) levels detected in the nutritional supplements products investigated were within the TDI limit guidelines of 0.2 mg/kg as set by WHO and other organisations. So melamine over-exposure should not be of concern to the consumer, provided, the recommended guidelines of daily product use, are adhered to. Further, the WHO TDI may not be an appropriate guideline limit as it, (i) overlooks the effect of chronic dosing, (ii) that consumption of melamine contamination could come from different nutritional supplement products sources, collectively or consecutively, and (iii) that accumulation of low levels of melamine as contaminant or in the presence of other chemical- complex formation, over time, could lead to a health hazard or incident.”

Gabriels G, Lambert M, Smith P, Wiesner L, Hiss D. Melamine contamination in nutritional supplements – Is it an alarm bell for the general consumer, athletes, and ‘Weekend Warriors’? Nutrition Journal 2015, 14:69

2 comments to Melamine contamination in South African nutritional supplements

  • Evan Engelbrecht

    Please advise then on a “safe” brand!! I am in South Africa and i do realise that our products that are on the market are not really “safe”….

    • Harris

      There is no absolute ‘safe’ brand. Some do check to ensure that they are ‘safe’ from adulterants, but many do not. Also, because of the expense, not every batch manufactured will be tested. Most importantly, because the law does not compel these products to be registered, as yet, there is no legal pressure on them to ensure that they are safe.

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