Recalled and Banned Products Were Still on Shelves

Supplements with banned substances were still on sale more than six months after recall

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Recalls are meant to ensure that every medication and supplement on store shelves is safe. But do those recalls work?

A recent research letter assessed whether US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalls were successful. The authors studied supplements that had been recalled but were still available for purchase.

They found that most contained the ingredients the FDA had banned.

“Action by the FDA has not been completely effective in eliminating all potentially dangerous adulterated supplements from the US marketplace,” the authors wrote.

Pieter A. Cohen, MD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, led the study.

The FDA recalls substances that can cause severe health problems or death. From 2009 to 2012, the FDA recalled 274 supplements, such as weight loss, sexual and sports enhancement supplements.

The study authors found that 27 of these supplements were still available for purchase in July or August 2013, either on the manufacturer’s website or through retailers. The supplements were purchased an average of 34 months after the FDA issued its recalls.

For instance, the FDA recalled Trenadrol — a sports enhancement supplement — in late 2009 because it contained a steroid or steroid-like substance. In August of 2013, it was still available for purchase.

The authors tested the supplements to see whether an adulterant (or dangerous substance) was present. Two-thirds of the supplements tested positive for at least one adulterant.

The study authors who bought the Trenadrol, for example, found that it still contained a steroid after the recall. Many types of steroids — which are used to build muscle — can cause serious health problems, such as liver disease and high blood pressure.

The study authors found that 85 percent of the recalled sports enhancement supplements and 67 percent of the recalled weight loss supplements contained banned ingredients — even when they were purchased long after the recall.

The authors of the study said FDA actions don't always eliminate dangerous products. They called for more aggressive enforcement of laws and FDA recalls to reduce the number of these products on store shelves.

The study was published Oct. 21 in JAMA.

A grant from Consumer Union funded the research. Two of the authors had financial ties to supplement manufacturers.


Review Date: 
October 21, 2014
Last Updated:
October 22, 2014