these products contain hidden and totally illegal drugs that are either supposed to be available only by prescription or, in some cases, are banned or experimental. What's worse, because these products are "flying under the radar" they are subject to absolutely no regulation or quality control and that means that the dosages of of these hidden drugs may be far higher than safe and that there may be toxic chemical contaminants mixed in. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is well aware of the problem and is doing an admirable job of trying to catch and ban these products before they harm or kill people. Unfortunately, and by the FDA's own admission, they cannot check every supplement brand on the market and so, inevitably, these toxic pills, capsules and shakes end up being consumed by Americans who have no idea how dangerous they may be. The FDA has reported a number of deaths from contaminated weight loss products in the US.
Nearly all of these dangerous supplements are made overseas in nations that either lack regulation or where the existing regulations are simply not enforced. Unfortunately the US's biggest trading partner, China, appears to be among the prime culprits.
Because of money. The main drug found added to contaminated weight loss products is called sibutramine and it does indeed cause weight loss. Sibutramine was legally marketed in the US until 2010 under the trade name of Meridia. At any rate, adding cheaply made sibutramine to a weight loss product does generally render the product effective and that means it can fetch higher prices and volume. In other words, these supplements are being deliberately contaminated in order to make their manufacturers in China wealthy.
First, not all of the added drugs are legitimate. Some are experimental designer drugs. And even in the case of say sibutramine which USED TO BE a legitimate prescription weight loss drug in the US---even then--- the spiked supplements are far from safe for three very important reasons:
Answer: By every route you can imagine. Some are mailed. Some come by boat in cargo containers, some by air or even in cars crossing the US border from Mexico and Canada.
Prescription drugs in the US have a "pedigree". They have been inspected by the FDA at every step in their manufacture from raw ingredients all the way through pill-stamping, distribution to doctors and pharmacies and right onto every bottle of every prescription dispensed in the US. Take a moment to look at any prescription vial. You will always find several critical pieces of information: manufacturer, expiration date, NDC number and lot number. This information is part of the drug's pedigree and guarantees that it contains exactly what the label says.
Not so for supplements. Yes, supplements may have a manufacturer's name, expiration date and a lot number but there is no guarantee that this information means very much. Why? Because by law in the US, supplements are barely regulated at all. In fact, the FDA is not allowed to test supplements for purity or safety. The law specifically forbids that. Instead the law says that it is the job of the supplement manufacturer to guarantee safety. In other words, the law has the fox guarding the hen-house. The only time that the FDA can step in to ban a supplement is when there is clear evidence that it may be dangerous and that usually doesn't happen until somebody has already been harmed by it.
The simple solution is don't take any over-the-counter supplements for weight loss. Remember too that we are talking about supplements that are specifically advertised for weight loss, not ordinary vitamins and minerals. Generally vitamin and mineral supplements from large US manufacturers are safe and contain only what they say. The danger lies with weight loss supplements that often have very high prices. You can see a number of examples below.
Several years ago a new weight loss supplement became very, very popular here in Albuquerque and in a number of cities in the southwest US. The name of this brand was "Healthy People" and the products were sold via "multi-level" marketing where satisfied "customers" could buy their ways into becoming distributors and then recruit other distributors from whom they in turn made a profit. Think "AmWay" or "Herbalife" or, if you are more sceptical, think "pyramid scheme". At any rate, Healthy People quickly became very popular and distributors who got in early were, in some cases, making thousands of dollars per month from Healthy People.
One of my patients later told me about her personal experience as a Healthy People distributor.
"I had never made so much money in my life" she said. "I bought a new BMW after my first year selling Healthy People. I had 24 people in my downline (distributors from who's sales she made a profit). It was nuts."
She also revealed a darker side to the whole operation. "I knew there was something funny about the product. I mean it really worked but when I took it I felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. One of my customers had to go to the emergency room because her heart beat got irregular."
She also described the sales operation as rather unsavory. "Usually I met customers in parking lots at night. I don't know why but it was always in parking lots. It was kinda scary and to tell the truth I felt like a drug dealer."
By February, 2012, the FDA had learned enough about Healthy People to decide to test it in their laboratories. Sure enough, it was loaded with Sibutramine and immediately recalled. The company that marketed Healthy People in the US claimed that they had no idea it contained sibutramine and lacking evidence, the FDA took no further action. But the damage was done (so to speak). The "Healthy People" quickly released a new series of supplements that did NOT contain sibutramine but customers quickly realized they didn't have the same effects and quickly jumped ship. Today Healthy People still exists as a product line but as a shadow of its former dangerous self. Even today, in the summer of 2013, hardly a week goes by that I don't meet a patient who was swept-up in the healthy people fiasco. It is a cautionary tale indeed.
Please note that this list is NOT exhaustive. Just because a weight loss supplement is not shown here does NOT mean that the supplement is safe. We post here supplements that the FDA has acted upon, but AFTER such notice has been taken.
Albuquerque, New Mexico Special Alert: Healthy People Company Has Been Selling Dangerous Drugs Labelled as Supplements
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