The US Food and Drug Administration created the Tainted Dietary Supplement Database in 2007 to identify dietary supplements adulterated with active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). This article compared API adulterations in dietary supplements from the 10-year time period of 2007 through 2016 to the most recent 5-year period of 2017 through 2021. Its findings are alarming:
- From 2007 through 2021, 1068 unique products were found to be adulterated with APIs.
- Sexual enhancement and weight-loss dietary supplements are the most common products adulterated with APIs.
- Phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors are commonly included in sexual enhancement dietary supplements.
- A single product can include up to 5 APIs.
- Sibutramine, a drug removed from the market due to cardiovascular adverse events, is the most included adulterant API in weight loss products.
- Sibutramine analogues, phenolphthalein (which was removed from the US market because of cancer risk), and fluoxetine were also included.
- Muscle-building dietary supplements were commonly adulterated before 2016, but since 2017 no additional adulterated products have been identified.
The authors concluded that the lack of disclosure of APIs in dietary supplements, circumventing the normal procedure with clinician oversight of prescription drug use, and the use of APIs that are banned by the Food and Drug Administration or used in combinations that were never studied are important health risks for consumers.
The problem of adulterated supplements is by no means new. A similar review published 4 years ago already warned that “active pharmaceuticals continue to be identified in dietary supplements, especially those marketed for sexual enhancement or weight loss, even after FDA warnings. The drug ingredients in these dietary supplements have the potential to cause serious adverse health effects owing to accidental misuse, overuse, or interaction with other medications, underlying health conditions, or other pharmaceuticals within the supplement.”
These papers relate to the US where supplement use is highly prevalent. The harm done by adulterated products is thus huge. If we focus on Chinese or Ayurvedic supplements, the problem might even be more serious. In 2002, my own review concluded that adulteration of Chinese herbal medicines with synthetic drugs is a potentially serious problem which needs to be addressed by adequate regulatory measures. Twenty years later, we seem to be still waiting for effective regulations that protect the consumer.
Progress in medicine, they say, is made funeral by funeral!