Potentially harmful pharmaceuticals not listed on product labels were found in more than 700 over-the-counter dietary supplements, researchers 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, according to the report published in JAMA Network Open.
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, led by Madhur Kumar of the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento, identified 776 tainted supplements in the database, from 2007 to 2016.
To put the problem in perspective, the authors point to a study published in 2015 in The New England Journal of Medicine. That study found dietary supplement use was associated with 23,000 emergency department visits and 2,000 hospitalisations each year.
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 pharmaceuticals such as sildenafil, which is the active ingredient in Viagra; sibutramine, which is 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.
“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,’” said Aronne, a professor of metabolic research and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. “They have prescription medications in them and that is why they work.”