FDA Warns Against Imported Dietary Supplements

Imported dietary supplements may contain harmful chemicals, drug ingredients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) Consumers, beware! Imported products marketed as "dietary supplements" or "herbal alternatives" to prescription drugs may do you more harm than good.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these products may contain potentially harmful chemicals or drug ingredients not listed on the label.

The FDA warns consumers to be aware that just because a product claims to be "all natural" doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe or free from hidden drug ingredients. Likewise, just because a particular ingredient is FDA-approved doesn't mean it's safe in the amounts used in these products.

For instance, many imported products that promise to help consumers lose weight were found to contain hidden prescription drug ingredients, such as sibutramine (a primary ingredient of the discontinued drug Meridia). Meridia was removed from the market in October 2010 after research indicated that it increased the risk of heart problems and stroke in some patients.

According to Cariny Nunez, MPH, a public health adviser at the FDA, health fraud scams abound. And scammers often target consumers who prefer to shop at nontraditional stores, especially non-English speakers and those with limited access to health care.

"These scammers know that ethnic groups who may not speak or read English well, or who hold certain cultural beliefs, can be easy targets," Nunez said.

According to Nunez, some populations have a cultural tradition of turning to herbal remedies over prescription drugs. Scammers know they can inspire trust in these groups by labeling their products with the word "natural."

Scammers may also seek out customers who have serious health conditions like cancer, HIV or AIDS, diabetes or heart disease, targeting those looking for less expensive treatment options. Other scammers may illegally sell imported antibiotics without a prescription, which can easily lead to overuse and resistance. Resistance can cause antibiotics to be less effective when they are truly needed.

The FDA warns consumers to be wary of products that promise quick results, claim to cure a wide range of diseases, have personal testimonials, are marketed as "all natural" or claim to be miracle cures.

Consumers should also be aware that neither domestic nor imported dietary supplements are approved by the FDA, and some products labeled "Made in the USA" may not be.

Patients who suspect that an imported product may be tainted or responsible for any illness or injury can report it to the FDA by calling 1-800-FDA-1088 or visiting the FDA's website. Consumers can also check the FDA’s website to see if action has already been taken on a particular product.

Review Date: 
October 15, 2015
Last Updated:
October 16, 2015