FDA Issues Warnings for Weight-Loss Diet Supplements

On May 1, 2009, the FDA issued a warning for consumers to immediately stop using dietary supplements containing Hydroxycut, which has been linked to dozens of serious health problems including jaundice and liver damage. The dietary supplement is also responsible for one death from liver failure. Other reported health problems include seizures, muscle damage and cardiovascular disorders.

Patients who reported health problems were taking recommended dosage of Hydroxycut products, dietary supplements for weight loss. Therefore, the FDA urges consumers to stop taking Hydroxycut products immediately to avoid risks, many of which can involve permanent damage to your health.

The agency also advises consumers to consult a doctor if they experience these symptoms: jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes), brown urine, nausea, vomiting, light-colored stools, excessive fatigue, weakness, stomach or abdominal pain, itching and loss of appetite.

Manufacturer of the dietary supplement, Iovate Health Sciences of Ontario, agreed to recall the products.

Diet supplements are promoted for their health benefits. Their “natural” ingredients are supposedly safer for a host of benefits like losing weight and gaining energy. The truth is that for most supplements, the benefits are unproven and untested, and the safety of these products is questionable.

Under federal law, diet supplements, unlike drugs, do not have to prove their safety and effectiveness before being sold to consumers. The supplement manufacturers are supposed to keep track of their own safety with very little government oversight until tragedy strikes.

Ironically, though, the diet supplements contain ingredients that mimic the actions of drugs and in some cases even contain actual prescription drug ingredients. Spiking a supplement with any prescription drug is illegal, and the FDA has been on a campaign to identify these products. Since December 2008, it has listed 70 brands of supplements that contained hidden and potentially dangerous drugs.

Another problem is that once reports start coming in of consumers sickened or injured after taking a supplement, it is often hard for safety officials to pin down what ingredient of the supplement was the culprit. Hydroxycut, for example, has a blend of a number of substances, the formula of which has changed over time. And for any of these products, because they are derived from plant materials, the strength can vary from batch to batch.

The best advice for consumers: Don’t be fooled by “natural.” When you’re taking a diet supplement, you are really ingesting a bunch of pharmacologically active substances, some of which won’t hurt you but won’t necessarily help you either. And sometimes, as with Hydroxycut, you can be hurt.

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