USP raises awareness of adulterated products marketed as dietary supplements


Offers advice on how to spot them

The growing trend in dietary supplements intentionally adulterated with pharmaceuticals represents an alarming risk to public health and as a result the United States Pharmacopoeial Convention (USP) is offering advice on how to spot them.

These products can be bought in stores and increasingly via the Internet. Some are marketed as an ‘alternative’ to improve overall health, including alleviating symptoms that would be better treated by a doctor with appropriate medical care.

'The threat to consumers is significant, as adulterated products are used outside the conventional medical practice, and may not only contain toxic ingredients, but also interact with prescription drugs,' said Nandakumara Sarma, Director of Dietary Supplements at the USP.

'Many consumers may not realise that dietary supplements are not regulated as medicines in the US. They have not been tested with the same rigour for efficacy and safety, and their quality varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.'

The FDA has alerted consumers about more than 180 cases of adulterated products containing pharmaceuticals that may be harmful to consumers. Categories of illegal products marketed as dietary supplements that tend to be the most frequently adulterated involve sexual enhancement, weight loss and bodybuilding supplements.

USP is raising awareness of the problem and offers some quick tips on how to avoid adulterated products marketed as dietary supplements.

  • Look for the USP Verified mark on the label of the dietary supplements. USP tests dietary supplement ingredients and products from manufacturers to verify the quality of their products. The USP Verified mark means that what you see on the label is what is inside the bottle.
  • Talk to your health care provider about the dietary supplements that you consume. Some dietary supplements may adversely interfere or interact with your prescription medicines leading to undesired effects, especially if they are adulterated with unknown pharmaceutical substances.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many adulterated products sold as dietary supplements that promise to cure diseases may contain drugs that are, at best, prescription medicines, but they could also be pharmaceuticals that have been discontinued or withdrawn due to unsatisfactory safety records. Purported dietary supplements may even be adulterated with multiple pharmaceuticals, in dangerous combinations and in excessive dosages.
  • Beware of products that claim they are an alternative to prescription drugs and anabolic steroids. Also think twice before buying products that promise rapid and long lasting health effects.
  • Visit FDA’s Consumer Updates page on dietary supplements for recent recalls, warnings and explanations. Also be aware that adulterators try to be one step ahead of the people trying to catch them. By the time some of these adulterated products are tested and recalled, the adulterator has changed the product formula or substituted another product in its place.
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