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You are here: Home / HPRC Blog / Tainted dietary supplements: How do you know?

Tainted dietary supplements: How do you know?

published: 04-15-2011 Journal entry icon

Tainted dietary supplements most often occur among products typically marketed for weight loss, sexual enhancement, and bodybuilding. They can have deceptive labeling as well as undeclared, harmful ingredients. The question is: How can consumers protect themselves from these products?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently taken some steps to help consumers look out for potentially harmful dietary supplement products.  Consumers and healthcare professionals can receive notifications from the FDA by subscribing to the RSS feed. The Commissioner of Food and Drugs also sent a letter to the dietary supplement industry reminding them of their responsibility to prevent the sale of tainted products in the United States. The FDA has also made it easier to report to the FDA about tainted products.

Some of these tainted dietary supplement products contain active ingredients of FDA-approved drugs or other compounds that are not classified as dietary ingredients. These products can have serious side effects, including death. The FDA has identified roughly 300 tainted products that are not legal dietary supplements and are warning consumers about the serious side effects of these products. Consumers should be cautious of:

  • Product ads that claim to “melt your fat away,” or claim that “diet and exercise [are] not required,” or products that use the words “guaranteed,” “scientific breakthrough,” or “totally safe.”
  • Products that use numerous testimonials about “results seen” from using the product.
  • Any product that is labeled or marketed in a foreign language. Consumers should not buy or consume these products.
  • Products that are marketed as herbal alternatives to FDA-approved drugs.
  • Products marketed and sold on the Internet.

    There have been some recent voluntary recalls due to FDA investigations of dietary supplement products. Some of these have included weight-loss products that contained the prescription drug ingredient sibutramine. Sexual enhancement products have also been recalled for containing the undeclared drug ingredients sulfosildenafil and tadalafil. Other products marketed as supplements have been identified as containing various prescription drug ingredients.

    It is important that consumers be aware that, under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, companies do not need FDA approval prior to marketing such products. Thus, generally speaking, the FDA does not approve dietary supplements.

    Consumers need to be savvy when they make product purchases, and when in doubt, check with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine if you need a dietary supplement product and to help determine what could be a tainted product. If it looks too good to be true, chances are it is.  For more information, read the “FDA’s Beware of Fraudulent ‘Dietary Supplements’.”