Report: Dietary Supplements Could Be Adulterated, Counterfeited and Hiding Prescription Drugs

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August 1, 2016

In recent years, the intake of dietary supplements has increased across the United States. They have been heavily advertised and due to easy availability, consumers have increased their consumption of supplements. A new investigation by Consumer Reports could push you think twice before reaching out for any dietary supplements. Certain ingredients in popular supplements have been found by Consumer Reports that can carry major health risks, including heart palpitations, allergic reactions and pain.

Dietary supplements that include vitamins, probiotics and weight-loss pills, do not go through U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as drug products to prove that they are safe and effective. Lisa Gill, deputy content editor at Consumer Reports, said that there is a high possibility that people might consider it safe just because it is not prescription, but such is not the case.

Gill said that dietary supplements could be adulterated, counterfeited and having some hidden prescription drugs. For the report, Consumer Reports has worked with independent doctors and dietary experts and came to know about 15 ingredients that need to be always avoided by consumers.

These ingredients include Kava that claim to lessen anxiety level and red yeast rice in supplements that claim to reduce cholesterol. "They are known to have very specific harms. In some cases they can cause seizures or they can cause liver or kidney damage, there have been deaths associated with each of these," affirmed Gill.

All the 15 ingredients are available in supplements online or in major retail shops. The Council for Responsible Nutrition that represents the supplement industry said that dietary supplements are absolutely safe. Over 150 million Americans take dietary supplements each year.

On the other hand, Dr. Pieter Cohen from Harvard Medical School said that consumers should be aware of the fact that they cannot trust anything that is sold as a supplement and that might turn out to be listed on the label.

"It's what you don't know—I think that's the thing that we're most concerned about," said Lisa Gill, deputy content editor at Consumer Reports. "Just because it's not prescription, you say, 'oh, it's safe,' but that's not necessarily true." "What is the biggest misconception about supplements?" Jacobson asked. "Oh, that they're safe. A manufacturer doesn't have to prove to the FDA before it gets put on the shelves—that what's in those tablets, is what they say is there," according to a news report published by CBS News.

Consumer Reports worked with independent doctors and dietary experts to identify 15 ingredients they say consumers should always avoid. They include caffeine powder found in some weight-loss supplements - like Kava, which claims to reduce anxiety and red yeast rice in supplements, which claims to reduce cholesterol.

According to a story published on the topic by KIMA TV News, Supplements are easier to get than prescription drugs and they carry an aura of being more natural and thus safer. A Consumer Reports survey finds 50 percent of Americans believe that supplement makers test their products for effectiveness. And 38 percent believe that supplements are tested for safety by the Food and Drug Administration.

For the most part, supplement makers don't have to prove that their products are safe or that they work as advertised. And they don't have to prove that packages contain what the labels say they do. Because the regulations are so weak, dietary supplements can be contaminated, ineffective or spiked with illegal or prescription drugs, and they can cause harmful side effects.

A report published in ABC News revealed, Supplements can have side effects, and retailers and pharmacists may not understand how supplements can interact with a person's medication, the report said. Additionally, since supplements are regulated as food, the ingredients do not have to be proved safe and effective in the same manner prescription drugs are by the FDA.

"Supplements have labels that don't necessarily tell you what they are good for, how they are going to work, whether they will work," she said. "You can't trust that they're going to work or that they will be safe just by looking at the label." Consumer Reports found that an estimated 23,000 people every year end up in emergency rooms after taking supplements. Dr. Marvin Lipman, Consumer Reports' chief medical adviser, pointed out that worried consumers can look for the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) label that means a company has verified what is on the label.

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