Who among us doesn’t want to look and feel good? The quest for beauty has been around forever — long before Narcissus did himself in when he couldn’t cease gazing upon his own beauty. The diet industry, according to a recent BusinessWeek article, devours $40 billion a year from Americans who want to lose weight. Some of that is spent on dietary supplements and, according to the Food and Drug Administration, some of those supplements — a relatively small number — are dangerous.
In December, the FDA alerted consumers that it had identified about 300 tainted products marketed as dietary supplements — advertised to assist with weight loss, body-building and sexual enhancement.
The products included “deceptively labeled ingredients” that were either the active ingredients in FDAapproved drugs or their drugs with similar effects, or even new versions of synthetic steroids.
Before you worry that the protein powder or appetite suppressant you’re using is on the list, it’s important to point out that the majority of the targeted supplements most likely aren’t on local stores shelves.
“They’re primarily sold online or through mass emails or sometimes at convenience stores,” says FDA spokesperson Siobhan DeLancey. However, the FDA is getting the word out because consumers need to know. “Some body-building products containing anabolic steroids — we have seen those in your everyday pharmacy and places that sell dietary supplements.”
Tracy Carter is a fitness trainer based in Spokane Valley, and she picks her supplements carefully. “I use Animal Pak [multi-vitamins] and Amino Energy [for a pick-me-up before/after a workout],” says Carter.
“Unfortunately, without FDA-approval or some other type of regulation or testing done prior to supplement companies marketing and selling the product, you don’t know if they’re 100 percent safe,” Carter admits. “You can, however, do your research, and read the labels and consumer reviews. Bottom line, do your homework.”
In fact, that’s the general slant taken by the industry as a whole, with the addition of emphasizing the existence of a very credible supply chain — something the FDA endorses.
Laura Brophy, spokesperson for the health and supplement chain GNC, says, “We fully support the FDA’s initiative to rid the market of drugs masquerading as dietary supplements. Consumers should be aware that the vast majority of illegal products identified by the FDA today have been sold over obscure Internet sites and represent a small fraction of the overall dietary supplement market.”
Mother’s Cupboard Nutrition in Spokane has the same approach. “We have to rely on our suppliers who we trust and have a quality track record,” says Richard League, owner of Mother’s Cupboard. “We obviously don’t have the resources to conduct tests on every product that comes in the door any more than a grocery store tests all the products they sell. They rely on the manufacturer’s reputation and past performance, as we do. FDA GMP’s [Good Manufacturing Practices] have weeded out most of the marginal players in our industry now, and I would bet a lot of these tainted products are being made offshore.”
While the FDA does suspect that the majority of products containing illegal substances are made overseas, “some of the distributors of these products are in Southern California and southern Florida… We, too, have difficulty tracking them,” says DeLancey.
The FDA has been joined by five major trade associations in the effort to educate consumers about problematic ingredients. FDA officials say consumers shopping for supplements should be leery of products that are marketed as supplements, but claim to have effects similar to prescription drugs. That includes products that claim to be “alternatives” to FDAapproved drugs or “legal” alternatives to anabolic steroids. If the labeling is in a foreign language, steer clear. And be aware that credible companies will print their address and phone number on the label.
Before trying anything, consider having a chat with your physician. “I encourage my clients to speak to their doctor to find out what they might be deficient in and educate themselves before taking anything beyond a daily multi-vitamin,” says Carter
BANNED INGREDIENTSWeight-loss products
Sibutramine, the active ingredient in the drug Merida, was recently banned due to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Product names include Slimming Beauty, Solo Slim, Slim-30.
Anabolic steroids or analogs, which can cause liver injury and increase the risk for heart attack, stroke and death. Names include Tren Xtreme, ArimaDex, Clomed.
Sexual enhancement products
This category often includes products that contain the same active ingredient, or an analog, of those in FDA-approved erectile dysfunction drugs. The approved products are available only by prescription. Some of the products found to be in violation of federal law include Vigor-25, Duro Extend Capsules for Men, Magic Power Coffee.
— Tim Robinson