Many Dietary Supplements Contain Harmful Active Ingredients: Study

Widely used dietary supplements may contain harmful pharmaceutical ingredients, which have not been approved or declared safe by federal health officials, according to the findings of a new study. 

Researchers from the California Department of Public Health found that more than 776 over-the-counter (OTC) supplements marketed for sexual enhancement, weight loss or muscle building contained unapproved active ingredients that were associated with a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning. The findings were published on October 12 in JAMA Network Open.

With more than 50 percent of United States adults consuming some sort of over-the-counter dietary supplement, researchers have raised concerns that a large portion of these OTC supplements contain ingredients that could actually pose increased health concerns.

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Dietary supplements include products that contain vitamins, minerals, botanicals, amino acids, and enzymes, which are not marketed or intended to treat or prevent disease, according to the FDA.

Researchers reviewed data from the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Tainted Products Marketed as Dietary Supplements (CDER) database from 2007 through 2016 to identify ingredients used in supplements that were associated with a warning by the FDA.

They found 776 dietary supplements manufactured by 146 different companies were cited by the FDA for containing ingredients associated with a wide variety of adverse health consequences.

Approximately 45.5 percent of these products were associated with sexual enhancement supplements, 40.9 percent were associated with weight loss supplements, and 11.9 percent were marketed as muscle building supplements. At least 28 of the products were found to contain two or three ingredients related to FDA warnings.

Some of the most common active ingredients associated with FDA warnings were dapoxetine and sibutramine for weight loss which were both banned in the U.S. market in 2010 because of its direct link to cardiovascular risks.

Synthetic steroids or steroid-like ingredients for muscle building products were also commonly found, which have been linked to liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, depression and suicidal behavior among other adverse reactions.

Supporting studies have found that dietary supplement use is associated with 23,000 emergency department visits and 2,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year. Individuals who suffered serious adverse health effects from supplement use included stroke, acute liver injury, kidney failure, pulmonary embolisms, and death.

Researchers indicate that the public should consult with their healthcare providers prior to taking supplements, due to the potential that many contain ingredients that could be harmful to consumers, and even adversely interact with prescription medications or underlying health conditions.


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