The FDA keeps a public list of tainted supplements, but the products they investigate only touch the tip of the iceberg. Most adulterated supplements are marketed for sexual enhancement, weight loss, or muscle building, and it turns out, many contain active medications not identified on their labels. This matters because these may cause side effects and drug interactions. In any case, you should know what you’re taking.
Here are the most common pharmaceuticals that sneak into supplements.
1) Sildenafil (Viagra)
Sildenafil, or brand-name Viagra, is the most common, undeclared pharmaceutical found in supplements, especially those marketed for sexual enhancement. Ever since Pfizer’s patent for Viagra expired in 2012, sildenafil has become more easily available and therefore, increasingly used in dietary supplements to exaggerate how effective the products can be.
Sibutramine, a weight loss drug already pulled from the market by the FDA, is still found in over-the-counter weight loss supplements to this day. Sibutramine has the potential to substantially increase blood pressure and heart rate. In fact, this medication was pulled from the market because it was found to raise the risk of major cardiovascular events like heart attacks, strokes, and even deaths by 16%. Yep, so there’s that.
3) Warfarin (Coumadin)
Warfarin (Coumadin) is a popular blood thinner used to treat deep vein thrombosis, a condition of blood clots in the leg, and atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat—and it’s possible for supplements to contain this potent drug. A supplement used for prostate cancer called PC-SPES, is an example. It was recalled when the FDA discovered that it secretly contained warfarin. Dangerous.
4) Thyroid hormone
Multiple brands of supplements marketed for “adrenal support” have been found to contain prescription thyroid hormone medications like Synthroid, Cytomel, and levothyroxine. These medications can cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat, a faster metabolism, sweating, and irritability.
5) Fluoxetine (Prozac)
Fluoxetine (Prozac), a popular antidepressant, has snuck its way into many weight loss supplements. Though it may not be immediately dangerous, it can cause severe drug interactions and is associated with an increased risk of suicidal thinking—so it’s not something you want hidden in an over-the-counter supplement.
6) Breast cancer drugs
Breast cancer drugs known as aromatase inhibitors have been discovered in muscle-building supplements. These medications include brand names like Arimidex, Aromasin, and Femara. Aromatase inhibitors are used to treat certain kinds of breast cancers by lowering estrogen levels in the blood. This same effect can boost testosterone levels, which is what interests muscle builders. But, low estrogen levels can also lead to thinning bones and infertility—essentially, what you see with menopause. You wouldn’t want that surprise in your muscle-building supplement.
7) Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
The anti-inflammatory drugs, diclofenac and indomethacin, have been found in many supplements marketed for joint and muscle pain or “bone health.” As you know, NSAIDs taken long term can increase your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney problems. You need to know if you are taking them.
8) Dexamethasone (Decadron)
Dexamethasone (Decadron) is a corticosteroid commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions, and many supplements marketed to treat arthritis, muscle pain, osteoporosis, and bone cancer have been found to contain this drug. Long-term use of dexamethasone can lead to cataracts and glaucoma, and may impair your own natural production of corticosteroids. Beware of this in supplements.
To sum it up: Potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals continue to be identified in over-the-counter dietary supplements. Know this.
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