Supplement doping

rusty_blackhaw(6a)April 14, 2009

The practice by some supplement companies of adulterating herbal and other products with prescription meds has been discussed previously in this forum.

It has gotten so common that the FDA now has 69 different weight-loss supplements (with names like "7 Day Herbal Slim" and "Phyto Shape") flagged for containing such drugs, which include the prescription weight-loss medication sibutramine, as well as various other drugs including the active ingredient in Dilantin and a potentially cancer-causing dye. The idea behind this adulteration apparently is to "juice up" supplements with effective drugs, but even if effective the consumer has no way of knowing what they're getting, and cannot avoid problems if they have health conditions that are a contraindication to receiving such drugs (or are exposed to side effects due to interactions with other drugs they may be taking).

In one case, a company called Confidence Inc. (how appropriate) was caught marketing apple cider vinegar tablets for weight loss which were adulterated with sibutramine. Then they were nabbed again, this time for spiking a product called "Long Weekend" with the equivalent of Viagra. They're apparently still in business.

More on this disgraceful practice here.

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This doping practice has been found in products manufactured in China that are exported around the world.
? Does anyone know if there are production facilities located in Western countries that have turned out adulterated supplements ?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 8:59PM
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China has been a big part of the problem, but you can't escape adulteration by avoiding Chinese imports. Domestic companies import raw materials that can be contaminated, deliberately or accidentally, and there's likely no indication on the label where they came from (this of course can affect pharmaceutical drugs as well, as in the case of a faulty heparin product that resulted in some deaths not long ago).

Here's an article that summarizes some other cases where supplements have been contaminated (check out the tables that come with the article). One noteworthy quote: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture believes that most bovine organs found in dietary supplements are potentially susceptible to contamination with the agents that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy"

I've seen supplements with bovine organ ingredients for sale in a hospital gift shop.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 9:29PM
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Supplement doping is in the news today, with a report that U.S. pro bicyclist Tyler Hamilton, under investigation for taking an "herbal supplement" containing the hormone DHEA, is retiring from bicycle racing.

Hamilton says he knew the supplement contained DHEA (forbidden for competitive riders), but did it not for an athletic advantage but to combat depression (DHEA's use for this purpose and to improve cognition in dementia remains unproven and controversial, along with concerns about long-term safety).

What I haven't seen in any articles on the Hamilton case is exactly what supplement he took, and whether DHEA appears on the label so that buyers know what they're getting - or whether this component is known only to insiders in sports.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 12:01PM
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It turns out (according to this site) that the supplement Tyler Hamilton was taking was Mitamins Advanced Formula for Depression. The company states openly that DHEA is one of the ingredients (along with St. John's wort and various vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids etc.) and that (nudge nudge wink wink) you should seek a doctor's advice before using it.

Curiously, the Mitamins website finds all of the ingredients in its depression formula to have "contradictory, insufficient or preliminary evidence suggesting a health benefit or minimal benefit". That's some recommendation. Maybe that's the reason for the longest disclaimer I've ever seen a supplement dealer use for its products:

"Claims made online about specific vitamins formulas or individual health supplements on or through this site have not been evaluated by the FDA and Mitamins online custom vitamins, custom multivitamins, herbal supplements and health supplements are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. The content of this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or for prescription of any other treatment. Mitamins custom online vitamins, herbal supplements, custom multivitamins and health supplements should be taken on the advice of a physician. Mitamins custom online vitamins, custom made multivitamins, herbs and health supplements are not intended to replace conventional therapy."

In other words, "We're not claiming that our stuff does any good and you shouldn't try it on your own, but go ahead and buy it!" ;)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2009 at 3:26PM
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I found an interesting article (written from the supplement company perspective) about adulteration of ginkgo extract, and how this problem is threatening to diminish sales of products marketed for enhancement of brain function. Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) is often standardized to specific ratios of supposed active ingredients (flavonoids and terpenes). It turns out that many suppliers are spiking their GBEs with flavonoids from non-ginkgo sources, saving money but providing an inferior product.

" Lee added the rogue GBE suppliers are parasites that feed off of the success of otherÂs investments in a quality product. "They have little investment in the cultivation of the trees, plant and equipment, hiring knowledgeable employees, promoting the science behind the product nor the education of the industry or consumers," he said. "If sales go down due to bad press, then the rogue suppliers simply move on to the next host."

Muelhoff called the adulteration of GBE a global problem, though he noted it is less of a problem in Europe, definitely a problem in the United States, and even more pronounced in some Asian countries. "People who deliberately spike ginkgo extracts with rutin are using some inferior material and make it up to the generally accepted specification," he added. "We consider this as fraud, as this material is definitely less effective and depending on what else might be added it could also be less safe."

What to do about it is another hard-to-answer question. "By the letter of the law, not disclosing the addition of an ingredient is illegal and an adulteration," Upton noted.

However, Muelhoff pointed out regulation is only one side of the medal and law enforcement is the other. "Even in high regulated countries, adulteration can be seen, if it has no consequences not to follow the rules (this factor plays a role especially in Asia)," he said."

So there's a double-barrelled problem for consumers - first, the limited evidence (at best) that ginkgo improves brain function, and then the difficulty in gauging effectiveness on a personal level, when you buy a product whose quality is in severe doubt.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 1:14PM
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Another good column on supplement doping.

And an article about the problem and its relationship with our current ineffective oversight of supplements under DSHEA.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 12:22AM
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This article lists actual Chinese patent medicines (including numerous "herbal" products) found to be adulterated with prescription drugs or contaminated with heavy metals.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 8:26AM
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novice_2009(zone 6b)

Wow. I guess we shouldn't take any supplements, then , huh?
I've been told that herbs are best in their freshest state, like dried and used in an infusion, or a decoction. Even tearing the plant apart to put into teabags lessens its medicinal properties. I don't take "supplements" for this reason. If you have a good and varied diet, there are plenty of ways to get health benefits without using pills.
However, once again, I see you tearing something apart, seems to be your mo.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 2:26PM
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The idea is that it pays to be a smart consumer, to ask questions and look into what you put into your body, and to be especially careful about categories of supplements that are prone to adulteration and contamination (including products from China and herbal mixes known to contain "surprise" ingredients).

Of course, if you'd rather just be trusting and take your chances, that's up to you.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 3:06PM
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