A team of specialists has been working on a peer-reviewed paper to examine the detection of illegal ingredients in supplements.
Their research found that over-the-counter supplements – commonly advertised to treat obesity and erectile dysfunction problems – are labeled as fully herbal but often include potentially dangerous pharmaceutical ingredients, which are not listed on the label.
“Our review looked at research from right across the globe and questioned the purity of herbal food supplements. We have found that these supplements are often not what customers think they are – they are being deceived into thinking they are getting health benefits from a natural product when actually they are taking a hidden drug, Emeritus Professor Duncan Burns, a forensically experienced analytical chemist from Queen’s University working to advance knowledge in this area explained.
“These products are unlicensed medicines and many people are consuming large quantities without knowing the interactions with other supplements or medicines they may be taking. This is very dangerous and there can be severe side effects.”
The survey raises serious questions about the safety of slimming supplements containing Sibutramine. Sibutramine was licensed as the medicine Reductil until 2010, when it was withdrawn across Europe and the US due to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes associated with the use of the drug.
Tadalfil and sulfoaildenafil were among the most frequently undeclared ingredients in products for erectile dysfunction. When taken with other medicines containing nitrates, they can lower blood pressure drastically and cause serious health problems.
“This is a real issue as people suffering from conditions like diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension are frequently prescribed nitrate containing medicines,” said Burns, explaining that, “If they are also taking a herbal supplement to treat erectile dysfunction they could become very ill.
“People who take these products will not be aware they have taken these substances and so when they visit their doctor they may not declare this and it can be difficult to determine what is causing the side effects. It is a very dangerous situation,” Burns said.
“This work highlights the vital role research and, in particular, techniques like datamining, can play in informing regulators about current trends in supplement contamination, explained fellow researcher Professor Declan Naughton from Kingston University. “ This is very important to ensure effective testing strategies and, ultimately, to help keep the public safe,” says Naughton.
The research team’s third member, Dr. Michael Walker from the Government Chemist Programme at LGC, said the laboratory tests described in their paper could help regulators proactively tackle the problem “to protect consumers and responsible businesses.”