These 'Dietary Supplements' May Kill You

Dietary supplements may contain seizure and blood pressure medications

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) "Cut the fat without all the work!" "Exercise not necessary!" These are the misleading marketing messages on many weight-loss products directed to people looking to shed pounds quickly and easily. But do they work and are they safe for you?

The answer is no, according to the FDA. Not only do these products fail to produce results, but may be extremely harmful to your health. Federal regulators have found numerous so-called dietary supplements contain hidden prescription drug compounds that have not been sufficiently tested in humans.

dailyRx Insight: Just because a dietary supplement is on a store shelf does NOT mean it is safe, or that it even works.

While these products pretend to be all-natural or herbal supplements, their ingredients often include very powerful drugs that pose a high risk to the health of consumers, says Michael Levy, director of the FDA's Division of New Drugs and Labeling Compliance. In fact, some deaths have been linked to these weight-loss products. See FDA’s Web page and video on how to recognize fraudulent weight-loss products and claims.)

"Make no mistake," Levy warns. "They can kill you."

The FDA has found sibutramine, a prescription drug ingredient, in some of these weight-loss products. Until October 2010, sibutramine was part of a drug called Meridia® until the drug was pulled off the market because of serious side effects including heart problems and stroke.

On top of that, the FDA has also found prescription drug ingredients never even approved to go to market.

For example, says Levy, certain weight-loss products marketed as dietary supplements have been found to contain seizure and blood pressure medications.

These tainted products are often found on the Internet and imported from overseas. However, some are found on store shelves in the U.S. According to the FDA, federal regulators are making it a primary concern to find these harmful products, stop their importation, and take legal action against the companies responsible for making and distributing them.

It is also important, says Levy, that consumers are informed about the dangers of these tainted weight-loss products so that they steer clear of them.

The FDA is providing consumers with advice on how to identify these dangerous weight-loss products. They say to be on the lookout for warning signs such as: promises of quick action, like "lose 10 pounds in one week"; using words like "guaranteed" or "scientific breakthrough"; labeled or marketed in a foreign language; marketed through mass emails; marketed as an herbal alternative to an FDA-approved drug or as having effects similar to prescription drugs.

While you should avoid these tainted products, you may still plan on taking a dietary supplement. If this is the case, it is important to talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about any nutrients you may need on top of your normal diet. In addition, ask your doctor to help you tell the difference between dependable and questionable information. Be cautious about dietary supplements that have claims that seem exaggerated or unrealistic. Look out for claims like "quick and effective" or "totally safe." Lastly, be skeptical of products marketed with anecdotal information, or testimonials.

For the most part, dietary supplements are not FDA-approved. The companies that make the supplements are not required to get approval before marketing their products. It is up to the company to verify that the products are safe.

If you suspect a dietary supplement sold online may be illegal, FDA urges you to report that information online. You or your health care professional can also report an illness or injury you believe to be related to the use of a dietary supplement by calling 1-800-FDA-1088 or visiting FDA online.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 16, 2011
Last Updated:
March 25, 2011