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Researchers Identify Illegal Drugs in Herbal Weight-loss Supplements

Researchers Identify Illegal Drugs in Herbal Weight-loss Supplements


Weight loss supplements that claim to contain herbal ingredients may also include chemicals created in the laboratory, some of them dangerous and illegal. A study of hospital patients admitted with symptoms of poisoning turned up anti-depressants and banned substances suspected of causing heart attack, stroke, and cancer.

The study, published in the November issue of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, analyzed the records of 66 patients admitted to Hong Kong's Princess Margaret Hospital between 2004 and 2009, including one who died. Experts say the problem is not unique to Hong Kong, but exists worldwide.

Dr. Pieter Cohen, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said that users of weight-loss supplements in the United States face the same dangers as those in Hong Kong. He said that a special danger is presented by the use of drugs that have been modified in the laboratory and never tested in their new configuration.

The Hong Kong researchers analyzed 81 allegedly herbal weight-loss supplements and found two or more laboratory-made drugs, called pharmaceutical agents, in 61 of the products. Two of the products tested each contained six pharmaceutical agents.

One of the most alarming ingredients found in the study was sibutramine, an anti-obesity drug recently withdrawn from the U.S. market after being linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Another was fenfluramine, the ingredient that caused the 1997 U.S. ban of the Fen-phen diet pill, when it, too, was linked to heart attacks.

Researchers also found evidence of phenolphthalein, used in the U.S. as a laxative, until it was banned because of association with cancer.

Many men and women turn to quick weight loss fixes such as use of diet pills or cosmetic surgery procedures such as liposuction. However, the best way to stay in shape and maintain your health is to exercise regularly and consume a healthy diet.

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