Beware of “Natural” Weight Loss Supplements

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that there is a range of diet pills being sold nationwide, as well as over the internet, that are now considered unsafe.

FDA suggests to consult with your health care professional before taking dietary supplements to treat obesity or other diseases. All consumers should be familiar with the following signs of health fraud:

I would like to add “studies suggest” or “extensive research indicates” or “patented.” None of these statements really say that what was studied, researched or patented actually did anything.

But when I first saw this announcement a couple of weeks back, I was under the impression that while these pills / supplements were completely useless, they might not really pose much danger. Not so. Reading closer, I find that  these “natural supplements” may “contain prescription drugs in amounts that greatly exceed their maximum recommended dose.”

The updated (01/08/2009) list includes the following products:

Contains Sibutramine

Contains Rimonabant

Contains Phenytoin

Contains Phenolphthalein

Contains Bumetanide

FDA details what these ingredients do:

Sibutramine is a Schedule IV controlled substance and the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Meridia, an approved prescription drug to treat obesity. Some of the identified products recommend taking more than 3 times the recommended daily dosage of sibutramine. Because of this, even consumers without a history of health problems that take these high doses of sibutramine may suffer serious adverse effects if they take these products, such as increased blood pressure, tachycardia, palpitations, and seizure.

Rimonabant is the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Zimulti which has not been approved in the United States. In Europe the drug is known as Acomplia. In June 2007, the FDA Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee unanimously voted not to recommend approval of the drug because of increased risk of neurological and psychiatric side effects—seizures, depression, anxiety, insomnia, aggressiveness, and suicidal thoughts among patients. In June of 2008, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency of the United Kingdom linked rimonabant to 5 deaths and 720 adverse reactions over the past two years. In October, the European Medicines Agency recommended that marketing and sales of Accomplia be suspended due to safety concerns.

Phenolphthalein was an ingredient in some Over-the-Counter laxative products until 1999 when the FDA reclassified the drug as “not generally recognized as safe and effective” after studies indicated that phenolphthalein presented a potential carcinogenic risk. Phenolphthalein has also been found to be genotoxic in that it can damage or cause mutations to DNA.

Phenytoin is the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Dilantin, an approved anti-seizure medication.

Bumetanide is a the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Bumex, a prescription diuretic. Potential risks associated with the use of Bumetanide include serious and significant fluid and electrolyte loss and an elevation in uric acid concentrations.

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