Potentially harmful pharmaceuticals not listed on product labels were found in more than 700 over-the-counter dietary supplements, researchers from the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento report.
The pharmaceuticals, which were found in so-called natural products, were most likely to appear in supplements marketed as weight loss aids, muscle builders and male libido enhancers.
Data for the study came from the Food and Drug Administration’s Tainted Products Marketed as Dietary Supplements, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research database. The researchers identified 776 tainted supplements in the database, from 2007 to 2016.
To put the problem in perspective, a study published in 2015 in The New England Journal of Medicine linked dietary supplement use with 23,000 emergency department visits and 2,000 hospitalizations each year.
Pharmaceuticals in supplements
Of the tainted products in the current study, 45.5 percent were marketed as aids for sexual enhancement, 40.9 percent for weight loss, and 11.9 percent for muscle building.
They contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra; sibutramine, the active ingredient in Meridia, a weight loss drug removed from the market because of links to stroke and other cardiovascular events; and anabolic steroids or steroid-like substances.
Experts aren’t surprised. “There’s no evidence that over-the-counter products work for weight loss and the ones that do work seem to have a high risk of being what the FDA calls ‘adulterated,’ They have prescription medications in them and that is why they work.”
Another danger in such “adulterated” supplements is they may have a combination of different ingredients that do similar things and have an additive pharmacologic effect.
A large part of the problem, said the researcher, is that U.S. laws allow a company “to say anything it wants and it’s up to the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to stop it from saying it. In Canada the rules are different. Health Canada has to approve the claims that are on the label.”
How to avoid tainted supplements
If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. If a product is promising rapid weight loss, or great strength/muscle gains or it says it’s comparable to Viagra, that’s a red flag. Look out for products that have labels in dual languages.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.