The FDA frequently recalls dietary supplements that are found to contain banned substances. But a new study suggests that many of these products return to store shelves months later with the same dangerous ingredients.
The study, published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that out of more than two dozen supplements that were pulled from shelves after that were found to contain anabolic steroids or powerful prescription drugs, roughly two-thirds were back on the market a year later with the same illicit ingredients.
Most of the supplements were marketed for weight loss, exercise and sexual enhancement, and they were sold across the country at convenience stores, in health food shops and over the Internet. They were found to contain steroids and prescription drugs like Viagra and Prozac, an antidepressant.
The study also found that several of the weight-loss products contained Sibutramine, an amphetamine-like drug that was removed from the market in the US, Asia and Europe after a clinical trial showed it increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
In recent years, research has shown that herbal supplements such as echinacea, Ginkgo biloba and St. John’s wort are frequently mislabeled or diluted with cheap fillers like powdered rice.
Jennifer Dorren, a spokeswoman for the FDA, said that supplement companies “are legally responsible for marketing a safe product that is not adulterated.” But because companies do not need approval to sell their products, she said, the agency cannot identify tainted supplements before they reach consumers.
Between January 2009 and the end of 2012, the FDA recalled at least 274 dietary supplements. Many of these products returned to the market a short time later. In the new study, Dr. Peiter A. Cohen, as assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues purchased 27 of these products on average about one year after they had been recalled.
The study found that two-thirds of the supplements analyzed contained at least one unlisted anabolic steroid, prescription drug or banned substance. A majority contained the same drug or illicit ingredient that led to them being recalled by the agency. And in some cases, the products contained additional drugs as well.
Dr. Cohen, who has published a number of studies identifying dangerous or illicit ingredients in dietary supplements, said that consumers should be particularly wary of products containing mixture of herbs or ingredients – what he called “herbal cocktails.” Many of these products may be unadulterated, he said, but consumers usually cannot be sure, and often these are the sort of products that are most likely to be spiked with dangerous ingredients.
“If you want to buy herbal supplements, but individual ingredients,” he said. “But echinacea or black cohosh separately. But don’t buy a mixture and don’t buy a supplement that’s sold to cause weight loss or improve your workouts. These are exactly the types of supplements that these drugs have appeared in.”
Kudos to Dr. Cohen and his crusade to make supplements safe. I love using herbal products because they are so effective. However, I obtain my botanicals from Australia, where pharmaceutical quality is mandated by law. In Europe, herbal companies have voluntary guidelines that are almost as stringent as Australia, but in the US there are none.
The “herbal cocktail” is usually called a “proprietary blend”. That’s a little of this and a little of that with no standard measure of each herb. That’s fine for cooking, but not for quality herbal products.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
There is no magic potion for weight less, increased sex drive, or exercise enhancement. Products that advertise these benefits probably contain dangerous drugs and should be avoided.
Source: The New York Times -October 21, 2014