The Hidden Danger of Dietary Supplements
Whether you want to lose weight, bulk up, or perform better in the bedroom, there is no shortage of dietary supplements that promise amazing results. Many supplements are advertised as being “safe” and “all-natural,” and they don’t require a prescription, so they must be, right?
A new study published in the JAMA Open Network sheds light on this question and reveals some disturbing findings.
Researchers from the California Department of Public Health reviewed data from the FDA’s tainted supplements database from 2007 to 2016, finding 776 products that were marketed and sold as dietary supplements contained unsafe or unstudied active ingredients that were not listed on the label. These ingredients include sibutramine, which was banned from the U.S. market in 2010 due to cardiovascular risks and dapoxetine, an antidepressant that is not approved by the FDA. Other ingredients, like sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, and ephedrine, a stimulant banned by the FDA in 2004, were also present. Anabolic steroids, or ingredients similar to them, were found in 73 of the dietary supplements for muscle growth.
The majority of the unsafe or adulterated (products containing unapproved ingredients) supplements were marketed for sexual enhancement (45.5%), with weight loss (40.9%) and muscle building (11.9%) products in second and third place. 14 additional products (1.8%) primarily included dietary supplements for muscle and joint pain. In the majority of cases (757 out of 776) the unapproved ingredients were not listed on the product label.
One reason that dietary supplements are able to fly under the FDA’s radar is due to their classification. Dietary supplements are not classified as drugs, as they aren’t intended to treat or prevent disease. Instead, they are classified as foods, along with vitamins, minerals, and botanicals. This means that dietary supplements aren’t subject to premarket safety testing like prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Supplement recalls are also handled differently from regular drugs. If the FDA discovers unapproved or unsafe ingredients in a dietary supplement, they can only notify the company. From there, the company decides whether to conduct a voluntary recall.
The researchers behind this study call the presence of untested and unadulterated ingredients an “important public health concern,” and it’s easy to see why. The dietary supplement market is a multi-billion dollar industry, with estimates that up to 50 percent of Americans take some type of supplement. If a patient is refused a prescription for Viagra due to health concerns or medication conflicts, but they can buy a supplement containing similar ingredients without a prescription, that doesn’t remove the risk. It just simply hides it.