According to a new study, the majority of dietary supplements that get recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still contain banned ingredients at least six months after the recall date. These adulterated dietary supplements could potentially lead to adverse side effects.
“The bottom line is that the FDA is simply not getting the job done,” said the study’s author, Pieter Cohen, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an authority on dietary supplements. “Our laws are lax when it comes to regulating supplements. But it is at least clear that you cannot sell pharmaceutical drugs as if they are supplements.”
Cohen and his team tested 27 easily obtained supplements out of 274 that had been recalled between 2009 and 2012 for containing banned drugs. His study, financed in part by a grant from Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, found that two-thirds of the supplements were not only still easy to acquire, but also contained either the exact chemical the FDA had detected or another banned substance with a similar effect.
For example, they found that Slim Xtreme Herbal Slimming Capsule, which comes in a tantalizing package boasting that it will make you “Lose up to 20 Pounds in JUST 4 WEEKS!” contained sibutramine, a banned obesity drug similar to amphetamine. The drug may lead to some modest weight loss, Cohen said, but, “We know that it causes more harm than good when prescribed by doctors, so we can only imagine how much more harmful it can be when the doses vary.” Sibutramine, in fact, was withdrawn from prescription drugs in 2010 because it often caused side effects such as heart attack, stroke, dizziness, seizures, and depression.
Cohen said that the FDA has spent millions tracking down tainted supplements and issuing warnings to their manufacturers. “The problem is that they don’t check that the products have been taken off the market,” he said. “There needs to be significant financial and legal consequences for repeatedly introducing banned substances in supplements.” (To see if a supplement you’re taking has been found to be tainted, search the FDA’s database.)
Without proper enforcement, Cohen said: “They are basically permitting manufacturers to continue selling these products that they themselves have identified as a high-priority risk to the public. There is no leadership. They send out alerts, but are they getting the products off the market? No.”