Study: Hundreds of dietary supplements contain unapproved, potentially harmful ingredients

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Some people use dietary supplements to lose weight or build muscle, but those pills may contain unapproved ingredients that may be harmful to the body, according to a new report.

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Researchers from the California Department of Public Health Food and Drug Branch recently conducted a study, published in JAMA Network Open, to explore the ingredients found in dietary supplements commonly marketed for sexual enhancement, weight loss or muscle building.

To do so, they reviewed the Food and Drug Administration's Tainted Products Marketed as Dietary Supplements_CDER database for 2007 through 2016. The information includes "potentially hazardous products with hidden ingredients marketed to consumers on the internet and in retail establishments," FDA's site reads.

After analyzing the results, they found nearly 800 dietary supplements sold over the counter from 2007 through 2016 contained unapproved drug ingredients. In fact, the report reveals more than one unapproved pharmaceutical ingredient was found in 20 percent of those supplements.

Of the unapproved products, nearly 46 percent were marketed for sexual performance, 41 percent for weight loss and 12 percent for building muscle.

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“These products have the potential to cause severe adverse health effects owing to accidental misuse, overuse, or interaction with other medications, underlying health conditions, or other drugs within the same dietary supplement,” the authors wrote in a study.

The most common pharmaceutical ingredient found in the weight loss pills was sibutramine, a drug removed from the United States market in 2010 due to cardiovascular risks. Many of the muscle building products contained anabolic steroids, which can cause mental health problems as well as liver, kidney and heart issues if misused. And the sexual enhancement capsules had active ingredients found in erectile dysfunction medications, which lead to damage to the blood vessels if overused.

While the FDA can notify companies about unapproved ingredients in a product, the agency sometimes "faces several challenges in deterring fraudulent marketing of these types of products," according to CNN.

That’s why the authors believe “it is essential to further address this significant public health issue as the dietary supplement industry continues to grow in the United States,” the wrote.

Want to learn more about the study? Take a look at the full assessment here.

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