Banned Drugs Still Found in Weight-Loss Supplements

By Paul Gaita 10/29/14

A new study shows that banned drugs and even anabolic steroids are still found in dietary supplements and sexual enhancement aids.

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Twenty-seven dietary supplements that had been recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for containing dangerous drugs continue to be sold to consumers and still contain those banned substances.

Those are the findings in a recent study published by researchers from the Cambridge Health Alliance in the October 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Previous studies have shown that while recalled drugs can still be purchased in the United States—even through major online retailers like (3)—the JAMA report is the first to investigate whether these recalled supplements still contain the substances that led to their removal from the marketplace.

To determine this, the researchers obtained a list of 274 dietary supplements recalled by the FDA between 2009 and 2013. From that group, they analyzed the contents of 27 different brands of supplements, including those sold for sports enhancement, weight loss, and sexual enhancement.

They discovered that about two-thirds of the products still contained the ingredients that led to their initial ban, or in some cases additional substances. Among the drugs found in the supplements were sibutramine (or Meridia), a diet drug linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke; sildenafil, which is the active ingredient in Viagra; the antidepressant fluoxetine, or Prozac; and an array of anabolic steroids.

Though researchers were unable to accurately determine if the supplements had been manufactured before or after the FDA recall, they did note that the expiration dates for all of these items were more than a year after the recall date, which suggested that these were new drugs.

The FDA has stated that it is difficult to prevent supplements such as these from entering the United States because many are made and distributed by foreign manufacturers. But as the study showed, 13 out of the 20 supplements made by U.S. companies also contained pharmaceutical drugs after the recall. 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.