Do you take herbal supplements for weight loss? You might not be getting what you pay for and maybe even exposing yourself to potential harm in some cases.
Weight-loss supplements that can harm you
Cheryl Floyd, who ran a home-based business called Floyd Nutrition in Harrisburg, PA, was recently sentenced to 30 months in federal prison over misbranding the weigh-loss supplements she was selling.
Floyd Nutrition was big into ‘all natural’ diet products, according to Consumerist.com. Her arsenal of pills and powders included Slim Trim U, ZXT Slim Bee Pollen, Magic Slim, Lean Body Extreme, Bnew Beauty and Body, and Natural Body Solutions.
However, the diet products actually contained two drugs that had been pulled off the market years before: Sibutramine and phenolphthalein.
Sibutramine (aka Meridian) has been off the market since 2010 over concerns about increased risk of heart attack and strokes in some people. Phenolphthalein, which was pulled in 1999, is known to the FDA as a potential carcinogen.
Supplements at pharmacies are suspect too
Earlier this year, the attorney general of New York State tested a variety of herbal remedies at Walmart, Walgreens, Target and GNC. Four out of five products did not contain *any* of the herbs listed on the labels, according to The New York Times. Instead, they contained other ingredients that could be harmful to some people.
(Each retailer has pledged to cooperate, more or less, with the attorney general in an effort to improve the safety of consumers who take herbal supplements. Walgreens, in particular, was first to remove all the tested products that failed from all stores across the U.S.)
Sadly, these are not isolated results. This is a common problem that’s been detailed again and again. In a 2013 study published in the journal BMC Medicine, Canadian researchers tested 44 bottles of herbal supplements bought in Canada and the United States. A full one-third of the samples tested were adulterated; they did not have any of the key ingredients they promised.
Cheap fillers like rice, soybean, and wheat were used in place of actual ingredients people were paying big money to take, according to The New York Times. That could pose a big threat to someone with a life-threatening allergy to any of those substances! (The study’s authors decided *not* to reveal any product names to avoid singling out a sole company.)
Websites to help steer you right
There’s no foolproof way to protect yourself as a consumer when it comes to this stuff. One thing you can do is buy only USP (United States Pharmacopeia) certified supplements. The USP seal is the mark of the industry’s attempt at self-regulation. Other than that, know it’s buyer beware and you could be buying anything.
Several other websites will also help you sniff out the good from the bad when it comes to herbal supplements:
- ConsumerReportsHealth.org – Compare natural medicines (subscription required). Offers info on optimal doses and safe maximum doses. Also has a list where you can see which of the most popular herbal remedies might have contraindications with traditional meds.
- Nutrition.gov – Info on dietary supplements.
- MayoClinic.com – Herbal supplements: Has a guide titled ‘What to know before you buy.’
Don’t forget to talk to your doctor!
One final word of caution: Be sure to tell your doctor about any dietary supplements you take. That information will help him or her be aware of any possible drug interactions with prescriptions you may be taking.
Pay close attention to this: New data finds one in five liver injuries that show up in hospitals have been from dietary supplements, according to The New York Times. This is triple what it was 10 years ago. Some people recover, some do not. There are two groups most at risk: Teenagers and middle age women. Middle-age women often take dietary supplements to get their weight under control and could end up hospitalized or worse. Many times when someone does live, they live with severe health constraints for the rest of their lives. This is serious stuff!
For more money-saving advice, visit our Health & Health Care section!