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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

Too good to be true   (December 23, 2008)

On December 22, the FDA announced that they were alerting consumers not to purchase or consume more than 25 different products marketed for weight loss because they contain undeclared, active pharmaceutical ingredients that may put consumers' health at risk. A list of the products is at the FDA website, at FDA Warns Consumers About Tainted Weight Loss Pills - Agency seeks recall of products that pose serious health risks.

The FDA pointed out that some of these products are marketed as "dietary supplements," or claim to be "natural" or to contain only "herbal" ingredients, but actually contain potentially harmful ingredients not listed on the product labels or in promotional advertisements. FDA analyses found that the undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients include sibutramine (brand name, Meridia, a prescription weight-loss drug), rimonabant (brand name, Acomplia, a prescription drug for obesity that has been taken off the market in Europe because of safety concerns, and was never approved for sale in the US), phenytoin (brand name, Dilantin a prescription anti-epilepsy medication), and phenolphthalein (a chemical which has been used for over a century as a laxative, but is a suspected carcinogen). The FDA commented that the amounts of active pharmaceutical ingredients sometimes "far exceeded" recommended levels.

The FDA advises consumers who have used any of the products to stop taking them and consult their healthcare professional immediately. More information is available at the FDA website, at Consumer Directed Questions and Answers about FDA's Initiative Against Contaminated Weight Loss Products.

The FDA points out that other products tainted with prescription drugs, including drugs for erectile dysfunction, diabetes, and obesity, have been finding their way into the U.S. marketplace, many mislabeled as dietary supplements or supplements. But as they point out, it is not possible for the FDA to test and identify all tainted products. They advise that you consult with your health care professional before taking dietary supplements to treat obesity or other diseases, and point out that all consumers should be familiar with the following signs of health fraud:

* Promises of an "easy" fix for problems like excess weight, hair loss, or impotency.
* Claims such as "scientific breakthrough," "miraculous cure," "secret ingredient," and "ancient remedy."
* Impressive-sounding terms, such as "hunger stimulation point" and "thermogenesis" for a weight loss product.
* Claims that the product is safe because it is "natural."
* Undocumented case histories or personal testimonials by consumers or doctors claiming amazing results.
* Promises of no-risk, money-back guarantees.

Another example, not listed at the FDA website, has been promoted heavily in radio ads recently, claiming that you can "Lose the Waste. Lose the Weight." According to their ads, it "breaks down rotten waste trapped in the colon," "sweeps away bad bacteria replenishing with friendly pathogens," and provides "colon support and maintenance." Their website states the product contains several varieties of bacteria, water-soluble dietary fiber, and a few other odds'n'ends. Well, maybe it doesn't contain prescription drugs, but then, the FDA noted that other products mislabel what they contain, so who knows?

The simplest way to avoid harm? Don't waste your money based on claims that sound too good to be true.

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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

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