Supplements: discovered potentially dangerous active ingredients not present on the label, the list

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Elia Tabuenca García
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Many dietary supplements commonly purchased in the United States are contaminated with pharmacological active ingredients. A new study shows that this problem mainly affects supplements for sexual dysfunction but also those for weight loss

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The study carried out by Dr Michael White, pharmacist, and published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology was conducted by analyzing the Food and Drug Administration database of products in which health fraud has occurred.





There is talk of 1068 food supplements marketed between 2007 and 2021 that contained active ingredients of prescription drugs or other substances considered dangerous to be used by people.

Of the contaminated dietary supplements identified from the analysis of these data, 54% were for sexual dysfunction and 35% for weight loss.

While several contaminated supplements are routinely detected and recalled by the FDA, some manage to make their way onto the market. And that's a big deal, considering supplements are used by 58% of adults in the United States, and consumers here generally have some level of confidence in the quality and safety of these products.

Trust that should be reviewed, at least according to the data reported in the study, which show how numerous food supplements contain unlabeled synthetic active ingredients.

©Journal of Clinical Pharmacology

What are the active ingredients?

For example of the sibutramine, lurking in many weight loss supplements tainted results. The FDA has recommended removing it from the ingredient list after studies have shown that it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Another substance is the phenolphthalina, an ingredient that the FDA says can damage people's DNA and increase the risk of cancer.

The study also found ingredients approved exclusively for use in prescription drugs in supplements. These include sildenafil and tadalafil, which are used in FDA approved erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra and Cialis.

Such inadvertent uses can be dangerous, as the active ingredients in these drugs carry risks such as vision loss or priapism.


But Dr. White also points out another risk, linked to the involuntary, or rather unconscious, ingestion of some active ingredients:


Another reason hidden active ingredients are problematic is that they pose the risk of serious drug interactions. When the active ingredients in erectile dysfunction medications are used with hypertension or with prostate medications such as nitrates and alpha-1 blockers, life-threatening drops in blood pressure can occur. (…) Pharmacists check for this type of drug interactions before dispensing prescription drugs. However, if undisclosed ingredients are hidden in food supplements, it is impossible to prevent unwanted drug interactions.

We do not know if similar contaminations can also be found in supplements sold in our country, however, the advice is always valid, before taking any product, to consult your doctor and avoid doing it yourself.

The list of dangerous active ingredients found in supplements

  •  sibutramine
  • phenolphthalein
  •  sildenafil
  • tadalafil
  •  flibanserina

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Fonte: Science Alert / Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 

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