Last week Chicago Customs officers seized more than three million imported diet pills containing an unlisted potentially deadly ingredient called sibutramine, a potent drug that requires a doctor's prescription. It's been linked to the risk of heart attack and stroke and the side effects include anxiety, dry mouth, nausea, strange taste in the mouth, upset stomach, constipation, trouble sleeping, dizziness, drowsiness, abdominal cramps, headache and joint or muscle pain. The list of drugs and medical conditions it may interact with is also a mile long.
This isn't the first time a hidden additive has been found in over the counter diet pills. Last year the FDA discovered that dozens of diet pills (69 in all) were tainted with ingredients not listed on the label. In many cases the extras are stimulants, which can up blood pressure to dangerously high levels, even in healthy young adults, or diuretics, which can lead to an imbalance of electrolytes, including potassium, which regulates heart rhythm.
In one investigation, a diet pill from Brazil was found to contain untested amphetamines as well as tranquilizers, anti-depressants, diuretics and laxatives - all in the same pill!
The FDA continues to warn consumers, but diet pills aren't illegal and new varieties keep sprouting up like dandelions. Here are 4 facts you need to know:
1) Dietary supplements aren't regulated in the same ways as prescription drugs. They're not required to be tested for safety and effectiveness before they can be sold to the public.
2) There is no guarantee that the ingredients listed on the label or the amounts stated are accurate.
3) Supplement makers aren't required to include warning labels about ingredients that are stated on the label, even when they've been linked to risky side effects. When you take a supplement, you're taking it at your own risk.
4) By law, drug companies are required to inform the FDA about any drug-related side effects that they receive from any source. The FDA compiles that info and can take action if they see a pattern. In contrast, reporting adverse events related to dietary supplements is voluntary. The FDA estimates it receives less than 1 percent of the reports related to dietary supplement side effects.
I'm not anti-supplement. I believe there are a lot of very useful supplements and manufacturers with integrity, and I do recommend some supplements to my private practice clients, but diet pills aren't among them.
When a product sounds too good to be true, it's really important to do your homework. Before spending your money and putting anything into your body, do some checking online and ask a health professional for his or her opinion - someone who is familiar with the product, its ingredients and the claims. Just be sure it's someone with no financial or vested interest in the company.
What's your take on this topic? Do you or have you ever used diet pills? Were you aware of the four facts above? Please share your thoughts!