‘Tis the season for New Years resolutions and one of the most popular ones that people make is to lose weight. Some may adopt diet and exercise regimens, but others may look to diet pills to help shed unwanted pounds. But buyer beware! Many of the weight loss products sold at retail stores and online contain harmful hidden ingredients, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns.
In general, dietary supplements are not approved by the FDA. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, dietary supplement manufacturers do not need FDA approval before marketing their products to consumers. It is the company’s responsibility to make sure its products are safe and that any claims made are true.
When a safety issue is suspected, the FDA must investigate and, if warranted, take steps to have the products removed from the market. The FDA and other government agencies can take legal action against the company, but this doesn’t keep supplement makers from peddling their products.
As part of its investigation, the FDA conducts laboratory testing on dietary supplements of concern. Many diet pills have been found to contain sibutramine, a stimulant that was in the weight loss drug Meridia, which was pulled from the market in 2010 after it was linked to dangerous cardiovascular effects.
Weight loss products are among the more common supplements in which illicit ingredients are found. Products for sexual enhancement and for body building are also often found to contain hidden ingredients.
The FDA cannot test all dietary supplements on the market, only those that raise safety concerns. So it is up to the consumer to use his or her own judgment and look for potential warning signs that a product is tainted. Those warning signs include:
- products claim to be alternatives to FDA-approved drugs or to have effects similar to prescription drugs;
- products claim to be a legal alternative to anabolic steroids;
- products are marketed primarily in a foreign language or are marketed through mass e-mails;
- sexual enhancement products promising rapid effects, such as working in minutes to hours, or long-lasting effects, such as working for 24 to 72 hours;
- product labels warn that you may test positive in performance enhancement drug tests.