As the media saturates our households with advertisements displaying tall, thin women, and six-pack flaunting men, it's natural for many American's to feel the desire to achieve an almost unattainable body. Many turn to dietary supplements, which seem to promise eternal beauty. Promoted by seductive models who guarantee your immediate transformation, these so-called magic pills, often not regulated by the FDA, contain harmful ingredients that consumers need to be aware of.
Metabolife Recalled - Linked to Heart Attack and Death
May of 2001 proved to be a sad day for many consumers, as the popular diet drug Metabolife was recalled after many individuals complained of serious health problems associated with their prolonged usage of the drug. Metabolife is an herbal supplement taken to increase weight loss by burning fat and increasing energy levels, by increasing an individual's metabolism. It contained a substance called ephedra, which is a plant-based substance that serves as a stimulant; constricting blood vessels and increasing heart rate. To date, there have been more than 100 deaths amongst Metabolife users, and over 800 heart attacks. Due to these deaths, ephedra was banned by the FDA in 2004.
In more recent news, the popular weight loss pill Hydroxycut, was recalled in 2009, after twenty three incidents of serious liver damage and one death were reported to the FDA. The death occurred in 2007 and was only reported to the FDA at the end of March 2009. Hydroxycut is advertised as an all-natural product and accounts for about 90 percent of the market for weight loss supplements, with sales of about 1 million bottles a year.
FDA Provides Little Oversight Over Dietary Supplements and Herbal Products
Although there is an abundance of evidence that proves that Metabolife and Hydroxycut, amongst other dietary supplements are potentially harmful, they are still sold because the FDA provides little oversight over herbal products, due to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act.
According to the FDA, under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, "the dietary supplement manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement is safe before it is marketed. FDA is responsible for taking action against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market. Generally, manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements." Protection under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act has increased the herbal industry's growth because supplement makers can spend millions of dollars on marketing instead of investing this money into research. Dr. Gerald Weissmann, a New York University biochemist, says little has changed since the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 exempted a wide range of plants, oils, enzymes and vitamins from the kind of government oversight applied to drugs. "These aren't dietary supplements; they are drugs," Weissmann says. Unless these often-potent substances are brought under stricter controls, he adds, "people can get hurt."
With the negative connotation that has been recently attached to diet pills, the FDA released a March warning to consumers, stating that it had found 72 over-the-counter pills that could put consumers' health at serious risk. An FDA analysis of the ingredients in these products showed that they contained undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients, including the controlled substances sibutramine, rimonabant, bumetanide, phenolphthalein, and phenytoin. These are appetite suppressants, antiseizure treatments, and diuretics. The FDA's crackdown on weight-loss pills is continuing, says Michael Levy, director of the agency's division of new drugs and labeling compliance. "We have ramped up our investigation of these types of products as a result of initial positive samples," he says. "I think a large percentage of these products are tainted."