FDA targets manufacturers of tainted supplements

Long time readers of this blog, and those who’ve read my book, Alternative Medicine: The claims, the options, the evidence, how to choose wisely, are aware of my warnings to U.S. purchasers of natural medications (herbs, vitamins, and supplements) that these products are virtually unregulated. Scores of these medications have been shown to be contaminated or mislabeled, making the purchasing of safe and effective product very difficult. (You can purchase a signed copy of the book here.)

Alternative Medicine - 2009

Now, comes some great news from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The AP reports, “The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on manufacturers of certain weight loss, body building, and sexual enhancement supplements that contain potentially dangerous ingredients.”

The FDA “said Wednesday that some manufacturers are deceptively labeling products to hide that they contain ingredients known to cause adverse health effects. Other supplements contain ingredients that should only be available by prescription.”

The AP notes, “Dietary supplements can slip through the regulatory cracks because, unlike drugs, they do not have to be approved by the FDA before they are marketed.”

Bloomberg News reports, “The FDA has worked with the supplement industry to recall more than 80 products marketed for body building, 70 for sexual enhancement, and 40 for weight loss, the agency said.”

Some of the “weight-loss supplements contained the active ingredient in Abbott Laboratories’ diet drug Meridia (sibutramine), which was pulled off the market in October because of heart risks.”

In addition, “some illegal sexual-enhancement products contain sildenafil, the active ingredient in Pfizer Inc.’s erectile- dysfunction drug Viagra and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Cialis, the FDA said.”

The Washington Post reports that the FDA’s Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein said that while “FDA’s actions have included recall of supplements and referral of companies for criminal prosecution, ‘we do not think that the problem is solved.'”

The Los Angeles Times reports, “Five major trade associations — the Council for Responsible Nutrition, Natural Products Assn., United Natural Products Alliance, Consumer Healthcare Products Assn. and American Herbal Products Assn. — joined the FDA on a press call to publicize the crackdown.”

WebMD reports, “Since December 2007, Sharfstein says, the FDA has alerted consumers to about 300 products marketed as dietary supplements that were tainted in some way. Serious adverse reports associated with the products include strokes, artery blockage in the lungs, kidney failure, acute liver injury, and death, although the FDA couldn’t provide exact numbers of adverse events or deaths.”

I hope this is only the first step of many that need to be taken to protect consumers against unsafe or contaminated products.

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