As a pharmacist, it is my responsibility to continue my education. New drugs and new therapies are constantly coming to light. Recently a couple of my colleagues and I attended a Continuing Education (CE) program for Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians. The weekend’s topics ranged from, “How to Save Your Pharmacy Budget through Drug Replacement”, “Diabetes” (necessary enrichment), to “Medical Marijuana” and “Dietary Supplements”.
All topics peaked my interest, but the session on “Dietary Supplements” really got me going. You are probably wondering, “Why didn’t the topic of Medical Marijuana get me going?” Well it did, but that topic is so political and I don’t do well politically, so I have to move on.
So, why is Dietary Supplements such a hot topic these days? It’s hot because a great number of individuals I come in contact with are always asking about (or commenting about) supplements for Body Building, Sexual Enhancement or Weight Loss! This blog will focus on lowering cholesterol and weight loss. Body building, Energy Drinks and Sexual Enhancement will be addressed in a future segment. If you’re reading this, I wonder which category are you? But I digress. I could go on and on about the “air quotes” natural products and how much better they are for you. If you haven’t figured it out already, everything natural isn’t always good for you.
When I first started this blog, my goal was to make others aware of the dangers out there in your neighborhood pharmacies masquerading as nutritional supplements, products advertised on television as a miracle in a bottle and provide my readers with cost saving tips to help out with the ever increasing high cost of medicines.
WHO’s TAKING SUPPLEMENTS?
In the US about 4 out of every 10 adults are taking dietary supplements (and I don’t mean vitamins and minerals). Approximately 1 out of every 3 adults are taking prescription and non-prescription supplements. My focus today is those “non-prescription” supplements. Why you ask? It is because “non-prescription” dietary supplements are not subjected to the rules of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At least until a complaint has been issued.
WHY DO PEOPLE TAKE SUPPLEMENTS?
A survey reported in the American Journal of Medicine Association VOL 173 (No. 1) dated, January 14, 2013 stated: 41% of adults who take supplements take them to feel better. 25.5% take supplements to relieve pain. 18.8% take supplements to reduce the risk and/or prevent disease such as cancer (I don’t know of a supplement that has been proven to reduce the risk of cancer, except by avoiding anything that has carcinogens as a component). Other reasons listed were, weight control, help to fall asleep, help to increase energy level, build muscle, improve athletic performance, slow down the aging process, increase sexual drive, improve sexual performance and treat infertility. There are more reasons, but I’ll stop here.
Let me give you a couple of examples of non-prescription dietary supplements which contain, non-declared prescription drugs (not listed on the label):
RED YEAST RICE (RYR) – There are several brands of this product marketed with the claim of reducing cholesterol. Two bottles of RYR containing 120 capsules (600mg/capsule) manufactured by Sylvan Bioproducts, Inc in Kittanning, PA were analyzed. It was found that the supplement contained:
– A substance called Monacolin K (which when analyzed is known as lovastatin, a statin drug you may know as LIPITOR. No wonder it meets it’s claim of reducing cholesterol! Not very natural is it?)
– The product also contained the following contaminants: Citrinin, Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium and Mercury! And if that isn’t scary enough, Citrinin is a by product of the fermenting process. Simply put, it’s nephrotoxic (poisonous to the kidneys).
QUE SHE Herbal Supplement: Undeclared Drug Ingredient – The FDA warned consumers and healthcare professionals that Que She, which is marketed as an “herbal weight loss supplement” contained unlisted and active pharmaceutical ingredients that could harm consumers. These active pharmaceutical ingredients could interact with other medications and result in a serious adverse event.
QUE SHE was advertised as, “Slimming Factor Capsule” and as an all natural blend of Chinese herbs. The product was distributed via Internet websites such as Bouncing Bear Botanicals and at retail outlets such as Sacred Journey in Lawrence, KS. The FDA analyzed this product and it was found to contain:
– fenfluramine – a stimulant drug used for weight loss, but was pulled from the market in 1997 because it was found to cause serious heart valve damage.
– propranolol – a prescription beta blocker which shouldn’t be consumed by consumers who suffer from bronchial asthma or certain heart conditions.
– sibutramine – a controlled substance and prescription weight loss drug. Sibutramine was the subject of a recent study which found that the association between the use of this drug and increased risk of heart attack and stroke in patients who have a history of heart disease (which has been withdrawn from the market in 2010).
– ephedrine – a stimulant drug legally marketed over-the-counter for temporary relief of asthma but can pose a risk to people who have heart issues.
Yes! You are losing weight and looking good. You get called for a random drug test on your job and after speaking with you, you tell your employers that you don’t do illicit drugs and you lose your job because your urine tested positive for an illicit drug!
WHAT DO I WANT YOU TO DO?
What I want you to take away from this blog is this:
1. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
2. If you must take non-prescription dietary supplements, look for those that have the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) seal. These items have been analyzed and what you see on the label is actually what you get. As stated earlier, dietary supplements are not regulated (on the drug side of the FDA) however the USP is stepping up its game. As of 2001, the USP launched an involuntary verification program but more and more supplements are being released and re-released (under a different name) on the market faster than the FDA can analyze their claims.
3. Buyer Beware – beware of ingredients that state “proprietary blend”. Yes it’s a secret, but many “proprietary blends” contain undeclared prescription drugs, harmful chemicals as well as drugs that have been recalled and/or removed from the market because of dangerous side effects.
4. Make your doctor aware of all dietary supplements and herbals you are currently taking (some natural herbal have serious health consequences and dangerous interactions with certain drugs).