Service of Dodgy Supplement Manufacturers: Know What You’re Swallowing

November 1st, 2018

Categories: Medicine, Over the Counter Meds, Supplements


I don’t always read labels and instructions on over the counter remedies. After dousing my poison ivy-inflamed arms and face with the tonic recommended by a pharmacist my husband asked, “Did you read the instructions?” I hadn’t and I was using it incorrectly. I just popped in my mouth an Airborne lozenge that belongs in a cup of water. With my label reading record, lucky I don’t take fancy supplements—just vitamins and calcium.

A surgeon, Sreek Cherukuri, in Sumathi Reddy’s Wall Street Journal article said “Avoid supplements marketed for sexual health, weight loss and muscle building, which are most frequently tainted with illegal ingredients.” He added “The majority of products are unproven. Even if they aren’t dangerous, they could be a waste of money.”


Reddy reported findings from JAMA Internal Medicine in “The Illegal Ingredients in Your Dietary Supplements.” Even after the FDA warned about experimental stimulants that increase blood pressure and heart rate that are not approved for use by humans in dietary stimulants, they remain in some. DMAA, oxilofrine, BMPEA and DMBA can cause heart attacks and strokes. “By 2017, researchers found DMAA in two supplements, oxilofrine in nine, BMPEA in one and DMBA, previously found in none, in four.”

Reddy wrote that no manufacturers were identified. “The researchers looked at nine weight-loss supplements, two sports supplements and one cognitive-function one and tested them for the stimulants in 2014 and 2017.”


An earlier California Department of Public Health study also published by JAMA analyzed FDA warnings between 2007 and 2016 mostly in sexual enhancement, weight loss and muscle building supplements, wrote Reddy. It “found that prescription-drug ingredients were in 776 dietary supplements, many even after the FDA issued public warnings about the products. There were 157 products containing more than one unapproved ingredient.” Reddy reported that “The analysis found that the FDA recalled the products less than half the time.”

FDA Spokesperson Jeremy Kahn wrote this in an email to Reddy: “The FDA is committed to doing everything within its resources and authorities to identify and remove unsafe products from the market, and we continue to work collaboratively with all of our stakeholders to help ensure that products marketed as dietary supplements are safe, well-manufactured and accurately labeled.” According to Kahn, “Even when the FDA issues a recall or takes enforcement action against a distributor, other distributors often continue to sell the recalled product, or distributors relabel products to evade detection.”

Pieter Cohen, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance told Reddy: “Whatever the FDA is doing to try to eliminate these experimental stimulants from supplements is not working and consumers are going to continue to be exposed to this if the FDA doesn’t step up and become much more aggressive in its enforcement.”

Do you take supplements? Do you know what is in them? Were you aware that they are not vigorously regulated? Do you tell all your doctors about what you take as some might impact surgery and/or interact with prescribed drugs?


Tags: , , , ,

6 Responses to “Service of Dodgy Supplement Manufacturers: Know What You’re Swallowing”

  1. Judith B Schuster Said:

    The only things I take are Vitamin D and Calcium, along with a daily vitamin. All recommended by my doctor and approved in advance. Everyone should talk to their doctor before swallowing any supplements. I did and this is what she recommended. Every woman especially should take Calcium. I always have and still got osteoporosis, which is no fun.

  2. Protius Said:

    I was born at approximately the same time as President Roosevelt’s New Deal, and grew up during a time when we all believed that the government would protect us from being abused by corner cutting cheats trying to extort an extra dollar or two from the public by selling it shoddy and unsafe consumer consumables. Our then faith in what was a relatively strong, honest and efficient paternalistic central bureaucracy looking out for the public’s welfare was in many ways justified, however, as is the case with all large and cumbersome organizations, there were drawbacks to the ways in which it worked.

    Protection came at a price. Central controls were expensive, slow and inefficient, discouraged innovation and experimentation, as technology raced forward, the cheaters became increasingly capable of outwitting the public’s’ protectors. As in so many other ways, the past half century in consumer protection has been spent in conflict – the left seeking to shore up the role of the government in protecting us and the right seeking to liberate us from all governmental oversight over consumer product production.

    All my life, I have watched as these two conflicting interests have battled to capture the market place. Now, sadly, human greed being what it is, the right would appear to be clearly winning this war. Therefore, as a consumer, I’d be very careful about what I consumed. You should no longer place much trust in words on packaging like “inspected by…” or “guaranteed to contain…”

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are ahead of most people I suspect.

    Hope is part of the success of the weight loss, body building and sexual enhancement supplements and unscrupulous people take advantage of suckers who fall for the promises.

    I’m the last to talk: I buy lotto tickets!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wonder how many people on the right who have been burned by any nasty side effects of supplements change their minds when it comes to oversight! Clearly not enough. It costs money to follow the rules but having a heart attack because a company sidesteps them and increases its profits at the same time is a travesty.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    I take vitamins, some or all of which have received varying reviews over time. I’ve submitted lists upon request and have had no negative feedback from either doctors or dentists.

    Pundits are a nuisance. I stopped listening (let alone taking action) after some luminary announced that cranberry sauce caused cancer. Emile Zola wrote about a man who followed advice from advertisers. The reader may well profit from the horrifying but predictable results.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I had to look up your Zola reference. Here’s a link to a reference to his short story, Death by Advertising (Une Victime de la Réclame)–

    Mom took a Chinese supplement that had dramatic, positive impact on her high blood pressure. {I don’t recall what she took it for but it wasn’t related to blood pressure.} As a result her doctor took her off blood pressure medicine. But for those who don’t routinely get checkups, this kind of side effect, if unrecognized, could be detrimental.

Leave a Reply

Clicky Web Analytics