Do Your Supplements Contain Unapproved Pharmaceuticals?

Matt Cardy  Getty Images

Matt Cardy Getty Images

More than one unapproved pharmaceutical ingredient was found in 20 per cent of those supplements. Of these, most (86 percent) were marketed for sexual enhancement or weight loss, and 12 percent were marked for muscle building.

More than 50% of adults use dietary supplements, a $35 billion industry, notes the study.

Nearly all the muscle building supplements, 82 out of 92 products, contained synthetic steroids or steroid-like ingredients, which, when abused, can lead to mental health problems, kidney and heart problems, and liver damage.

To get tainted supplements off the market, the FDA first has to try to get the companies to issue a voluntary recall every time the agency finds evidence of drugs in a supplement, Cohen said.

Sexual enhancement - unapproved drugs On the Tainted Supplements Database, each FDA warning included the date, product name, company, the name of the hidden ingredient identified, lot number, and an indication for which the product was marketed. The most common hidden drug ingredient in sexual enhancement supplements is sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, while the most common additive in weight loss supplements is banned weight-loss drug sibutramine, and synthetic steroid drugs for the muscle building supplements.

Among them were dapoxetine, an antidepressant that is not approved in the United States, and sibutramine, an appetite suppressant that was banned from the USA market in 2010 because of cardiovascular risks.

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Almost 800 dietary supplements sold over the counter from 2007 through 2016 contained unapproved drug ingredients, a new analysis of US Food and Drug Administration data found. Despite what consumers may think, the supplements are actually regulated as food and therefore not subject to premarket safety and effectiveness testing imposed on pharmaceuticals.

Researchers at the California Department of Public Health combed through a Food and Drug Administration database of contaminated supplements for 2007 to 2016. Even more disturbing, in 2015 and 2016, about 85% of adulterated supplements received only public notifications, and only 15% were voluntarily recalled.

As such, experts are now urging the FDA to take urgent action to have these products removed from the market. Another would give the FDA tougher enforcement tools so that a product's registration could be withdrawn if found to be adulterated.

"There's many problems with the law [regulating supplements], so the ideal situation would be to revise the law so the FDA could do this much more efficiently", Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who has studied the dangers of supplements, told Gizmodo.

FDA spokeswoman Lindsay Haake wrote in an email that "the FDA recognizes the seriousness of this problem and continues to act within its resources and authorities to address this problem as best it can". At least 19 of these products contained new unapproved ingredients in the second or third warning, consistent with the assumption that the FDA found the product to be adulterated a few times.

Because consumers don't know if these products contain illicit substances, they "have the potential to cause adverse health effects both on their own and also in combination with other medications an individual may be taking", the authors write.

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