December 2018

Certain supplements are more likely to be tainted with drugs: Which ones?

New research shows that supplements tainted with unapproved drugs are most often marketed for weight loss, muscle building, or sexual enhancement. As patients plan to tackle their New Year’s resolutions, it’s a good time to remind them about these risky supplements.

From 2007 to 2016, the FDA identified 776 supplements containing prescription or unapproved drugs. Sildenafil, sibutramine, and synthetic steroids or steroid-like ingredients were the most common contaminants. These drugs can cause serious side effects, including increased blood pressure and heart rate, increased risk for stroke or heart attack, and kidney and liver damage. It’s important for patients to know that, even after an FDA warning, tainted products aren’t always pulled from the market. Only 360 of the 776 products identified from 2007 to 2016 were recalled. Additionally, when products are pulled from the market, they are often reformulated with a different drug contaminant and placed back on the market. Many manufacturers, including NovaCare and USPlabs, had several products recalled during this time period.

The bottom line is, products flagged by the FDA as being tainted may still be sold by some retailers. Weight loss and muscle building supplements are two of the most likely classes to be tainted. Since the benefit of these supplements isn't worth the risk, discourage your patients from taking them. Also, remind patients that herbal combination products, particularly those manufactured overseas, are frequently tainted with drugs and heavy metals. If your patient insists on taking a supplement for weight loss or muscle building, advise them to stick with products verified by a third party like USP. We include a link to USP verified products at the top of our monographs when available.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.