Increased risk of heart attack or stroke, kidney failure, liver damage, depression and addiction are just a few of the reported problems caused by tainted products sold openly as dietary supplements. Marketing drugs as supplements is illegal, and can pose very serious health risks.
There are two big problems inherent in the dietary supplement industry: first, the products themselves are largely unregulated, and make any number of health claims, often with little to back them up. While producers of over-the-counter drugs have to try to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of their products through a series of clinical tests over a period of years, supplements are comparatively unregulated. Weight loss drugs are particularly notorious for making outlandish claims with little or no scientific evidence of their effectiveness.
Additionally, as the New York Times reported, many supplements are imported on the black market: they are sometimes simply adulterated versions of herbal supplements. In the U.S., black-market products that are marketed as sexual enhancement or weight-loss drugs may contain amphetamines, synthetic steroids, laxatives and compounds similar to those found in Viagra. But these adulterated pills sometimes contain up to seven times the recommended dose of their prescriptive counterparts. Many weight-loss products contained sibutramine, the appetite suppressant in Meridia, which was removed from the U.S. market last year after a research study found it increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
In the last three years, the FDA has issued warnings about 300 dietary supplements that it says have been adulterated, and seized more than $1 million worth of products. But the FDA lacks the resources to stem the influx of illegal supplements— mainly from Asia — to the United States.
Read the entire article in the New York Times on drug supplements with dangerous ingredients.