Many Supplements Have Banned or Missing Ingredients, Study Finds


A new study has found that many sports supplements contain none of the ingredients listed on the label.

Since 2004, when the Food and Drug Administration banned dietary supplements from using ephedra, companies have explored utilizing other plant compounds which could have a stimulating effect or build muscle. Dr. Pieter Cohen, a primary care physician in Massachusetts, along with his research team analyzed 57 separate supplements claiming to include these compounds.

Cohen was encouraged to begin his research when he began seeing an influx of patients developing panic attacks, chest pain, and kidney failure after using weight-loss supplements. One of the doctor’s patients was terminated from his job after testing positive for amphetamines. It was determined that the weight loss supplement he was taking contained a chemical derivative of that drug.

“The law allows companies to advertise supplements as if they’re good for your health, even if there’s no evidence in humans that that’s the case,” Cohen told Science News in 2018.

Of the supplements studied, only 11 percent contain an accurate amount of the ingredients which are listed on the label. 40 percent of the supplements did not contain a detectable amount of any of the ingredients listed.

34 of the 57 products contained ingredients listed on the package. Six contained the correct listed amount, while 28 supplements contained anywhere from 0.02 percent to 334 percent of the ingredient amount listed.

“I just had to shake my head,” Cohen remarked of his latest study. “It’s incredible that in 40 percent of the products, the manufacturer doesn’t even bother putting any [of the listed ingredients] in.”

Researchers further discovered that seven of the products contained at least one ingredient prohibited by the FDA. These included three drugs also banned in Europe (octodrine, oxilofrine, and deterenol) as well as one (1,4-dimethylamylamine) which is not approved for use in any country. A fifth (omberacetam) is available only in Russia and claims to improve the brain’s health.

“These stimulants are generally suspected to increase pressure on the heart by either increasing blood pressure, increasing muscle contraction of the heart, or increasing heart rate,” Cohen told USA Today.

Dietary supplements are not subject to the same rigorous guidelines as prescription drugs, and the FDA does not hold authority to approve any of these products before they end up on the market. The FDA does, however, require that each ingredient label contains accurate information.

A spokesperson for the FDA told USA Today that they were investigating the results of the study, which they found very disturbing.

Those looking to determine whether or not a dietary supplement is safe can refer to Operation Supplement Safety’s scorecard, which was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. NSF, as well as the Banned Supplements Control Group, can also be helpful in vetting products.


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