By Leslee Champion
It’s that time of year again, you know, New Years resolutions. For most, the New Year is dedicated to shedding those holiday pounds and making promises for a healthier year ahead. If you are like me and dread the sight of a gym, you may be tempted to try dietary supplements. If Quick Trim can make the Kardashians skinny, it’s got to be legit right? Before you run to the nearest GNC there are a few things that might surprise you about these diet miracle makers. Did you know that dietary supplements are not approved by the government for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed? Unlike prescription drugs, which are heavily tested and regulated by the Federal Food and Drug Administration, dietary supplements (including vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes) are self-regulated by their own manufacturers and distributors. That’s right. Legally, the very same people selling the substance are responsible for testing its safety and effectiveness.
Because these products are not subject to regulation, you are at the mercy of the manufacturer. That means you likely may purchase a product that doesn’t even work. More concerning, many dietary supplements contain active ingredients that have strong biological effects in the body. The use of these products can cause serious injury or even death. Gary Coody, R.Ph., FDA’s national health fraud coordinator warns that “products sometimes contain hidden drug ingredients that can be harmful when unknowingly taken by consumers.” In the past few years, FDA laboratories have found more than 100 weight-loss products, illegally marketed as dietary supplements that contained sibutramine, the active ingredient in the prescription weight-loss drug Meridia. In 2010, Meridia was withdrawn from the U.S. market after studies showed that it was associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
The FDA is permitted to ban a substance after it is proven to be unsafe. However, that doesn’t guarantee the product will stay off the shelves. Many manufacturers “reformulate” the same product with lesser amounts of the same harmful substance. So what can you do to protect yourself? Be suspicious of the “miracle product” that claims to be a quick fix. It’s unlikely that you are going to lose “30 pounds in 30 days.” Be aware that the term natural doesn’t always mean safe. And always ask your health-care provider for help in distinguishing between reliable and questionable information.