The potential dangers of “natural” diet pills
Posted: 11 February 2009 07:38 AM   [ Ignore ]
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In the NYTimes yesterday; check it out HERE:

F.D.A. Finds ‘Natural’ Diet Pills Laced With Drugs
By NATASHA SINGER
Published: February 9, 2009

Grady Jackson, a defensive tackle with the Atlanta Falcons, said he used the weight-loss capsules. Kathie Lee Gifford was enthusiastic about them on the “Today” show. Retailers like GNC and the Vitamin Shoppe sold them, no prescription required.

But the Food and Drug Administration now says those weight-loss capsules, called StarCaps and promoted as natural dietary supplements using papaya, could be hazardous to your health. In violation of the law, the agency has found, the capsules also contained a potent pharmaceutical drug called bumetanide which can have serious side effects.

And StarCaps are not the only culprits. ...

Tip of the iceberg, I’m afraid.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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*sigh* And yet, no one seems to have the slightest interest in revisiting the laws governing regulation of this stuff. Bumetanide is a diuretic, related to furosemide (Lasix). It undoubtedly does cause weight loss by making you pee yourself into dehydration. Wonder how many cases of kidney failure they’ve caused, how many people have had inexplicable problems with their heart failure management, and so on from this “safe and natural” substance. Arrrrggggggg!

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Posted: 11 February 2009 11:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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mckenzievmd - 11 February 2009 10:52 AM

It undoubtedly does cause weight loss by making you pee yourself into dehydration.

Do you think they might have then deliberately created the myth about drinking a lot of water to help you lose weight? You know, to try to “help” the people not to get dehydrated.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I doubt “They” are that sophisticated. Just a convergence of mythologies, I would guess.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Its really a crime that these drugs do not have to meet the same rigorous testing standards that other traditional medications do. Diet pills have been around for ages and they all use the same set of tricks. They either contain some form of diuretic, or a medicine related to amphetamines to suppress appetite or they are complete frauds that do absolutely nothing ( ie. “fat burners”). It makes me angry that companies and individuals are allowed to cheat the public like this with impunity because our law makers don’t have the political will or the intelligence to understand why its wrong to treat these products differently from other meds.

The public is just as much to blame. They want something for nothing. They want to lose weight, but don’t want to do the work or deny themselves anything. Add to that their ignorance of the scientific method and you have a group of people who are easy targets for these scams.

[ Edited: 11 February 2009 02:06 PM by macgyver ]
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Posted: 11 February 2009 03:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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macgyver - 11 February 2009 01:57 PM

Its really a crime that these drugs do not have to meet the same rigorous testing standards that other traditional medications do.

Do they not? I thought any purported medication that was used to treat a disease was off limits, at least theoretically. Is obesity not considered a disease?

That said, I’ve heard plenty of other sorts of quack medicines touted on the airways ...

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Posted: 11 February 2009 05:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Shame. I think any “natural remedy” can be sold as long as they slap that warning on that says:

“These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

And as long they are careful with the wording of their claims, if I recall correctly? Although they frequently do ignore the law. Either they think they won’t get caught, or feel any fines they incur will be outweighed by the profits they make.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 07:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Yes, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 allows marketing without FDA approval of almost anything, so long as it is not directly stated to prevent, treat, or cure a disease.  HERE is the QUackwatch summary of the Act and its provisions.

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Posted: 11 February 2009 10:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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dougsmith - 11 February 2009 03:00 PM

Do they not? I thought any purported medication that was used to treat a disease was off limits, at least theoretically. Is obesity not considered a disease?

That said, I’ve heard plenty of other sorts of quack medicines touted on the airways ...

They sell ally in stores and it is an anti-obesity medication. A large number of pharmaceuticals come from nature so should we band people from consuming plants containing the active ingredients? Your spice cabinet is filled with phenomenologically active ingredients. For instance capsaicin in pepper can be used to treat chronic pain, and initial studies show it has cancer fighting ability. Thymol in thyme is GABAergic and has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-helmetic properties. Nutmeg is a hallucinogen. Sage can be used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer disease. Cloves contain eugenol a local anesthetic.

That being said I do think that all claims made by supplement companies should be evaluated by the FDA.

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Posted: 12 February 2009 05:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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danlhinz - 11 February 2009 10:22 PM

They sell ally in stores and it is an anti-obesity medication. A large number of pharmaceuticals come from nature so should we band people from consuming plants containing the active ingredients? Your spice cabinet is filled with phenomenologically active ingredients. For instance capsaicin in pepper can be used to treat chronic pain, and initial studies show it has cancer fighting ability. Thymol in thyme is GABAergic and has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-helmetic properties. Nutmeg is a hallucinogen. Sage can be used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer disease. Cloves contain eugenol a local anesthetic.

The question is not whether they should be sold, but whether it is legal to market them as preventing, treating or curing disease when there is no statistical proof that they do so. This is particularly the case since any potentially bioactive compound may well have dangerous side-effects if taken in quantity. IIRC all proper drugs have to come with information about such potential side effects and dosage. If there is no proof that these things actually work, neither is there any good information about dosage or side-effects.

It’s a recipe for real harm.

danlhinz - 11 February 2009 10:22 PM

That being said I do think that all claims made by supplement companies should be evaluated by the FDA.

Well, claims should be evaluated by the FDA if the supplement is marketed to prevent, treat, or cure a disease. And that includes homeopathy.

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Posted: 12 February 2009 07:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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danlhinz - 11 February 2009 10:22 PM

They sell ally in stores and it is an anti-obesity medication.

I’m not sure what your point is here. While I’m no big fan of Ally, it has at least gone through standard medical trials proving its safety and is FDA approved unlike any of the other diet pills you see advertised. Unfortunately, while it is a marginally effective weight loss drug in the short term it is useless for anyone hoping for long term weight maintainence.

danlhinz - 11 February 2009 10:22 PM

A large number of pharmaceuticals come from nature so should we band people from consuming plants containing the active ingredients? Your spice cabinet is filled with phenomenologically active ingredients. For instance capsaicin in pepper can be used to treat chronic pain, and initial studies show it has cancer fighting ability. Thymol in thyme is GABAergic and has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-helmetic properties. Nutmeg is a hallucinogen. Sage can be used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer disease. Cloves contain eugenol a local anesthetic.

To paraphrase Jerry McGuire “show me the studies”. These claims are made all the time. If you really dig down you will find most of these claims are based on poor studies of small groups of people. Few have been repeatable. Even those that have been confirmed have had their results exaggerated and distorted. Keep in mind that just because these items are in your spice cabinet does not mean they are any safer than the items in your medicine cabinet. They should all have to undergo the same rigorous study before ANY of these claims are promoted to the public.

We don’t need to ban people from consuming these products. What we need to do is ban people from making claims they can’t back up and we need to educate the public about the poor quality of these claims. They need to understand that if they have an infection for example, the shouldn’t risk their lives trying to treat it with Thyme, and they should understand that Sage may not be effective or safe in treating grandma’s Alzheimers disease.

[ Edited: 12 February 2009 10:21 AM by macgyver ]
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Posted: 12 February 2009 04:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Since I buy my vitamins on sale at a local health food store, I always get a bit nauseated when I’m there and listening to some late teen or early twenties clerk who either finished high school or has had a year or two of college in a marketing major give some innocent person a high grade “technical” snow job about the benefits of some herbal or other material.  And, they never mention the caveats written in small print on the bottles.

Occam

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Posted: 12 February 2009 05:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Good point Occam. It just occurred to me that with all the conspiracy theories that supplement fanatics weave about “big pharma”, they never question the fact that traditional medicines are always given to the patient with the list of potential side effects, while makers of herbal remedies and supplements make no effort to give the consumer fair warning about such side effects at all. Does it ever occur to them that there is a bit of an inconsistency in their logic. “Big Pharma” is so bad, yet they tell you up front about the risks while the “good guys” who sell you supplements keep it all secret. Then again logic really never had anything to do with the decisions of people who buy these products.

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Posted: 13 February 2009 12:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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macgyver - 12 February 2009 07:22 AM

To paraphrase Jerry McGuire “show me the studies”. These claims are made all the time. If you really dig down you will find most of these claims are based on poor studies of small groups of people. Few have been repeatable. Even those that have been confirmed have had their results exaggerated and distorted. Keep in mind that just because these items are in your spice cabinet does not mean they are any safer than the items in your medicine cabinet. They should all have to undergo the same rigorous study before ANY of these claims are promoted to the public.

We don’t need to ban people from consuming these products. What we need to do is ban people from making claims they can’t back up and we need to educate the public about the poor quality of these claims. They need to understand that if they have an infection for example, the shouldn’t risk their lives trying to treat it with Thyme, and they should understand that Sage may not be effective or safe in treating grandma’s Alzheimers disease.

I think it is ridiculous to think natural sources are safer or more affective. I agree we should have more rigorous study of these supplements same as pharmaceuticals. Lets say that sage did turn out to be a safe and affective treatment for Alzheimers? Wouldn’t that be nice, not saying it is.

Thymol is the active ingredient in Listerine. I did my own small lab study on it, made 60 agar plates inocculated with E. coli. Exposed them to various concentrations of thymol, a concentration of .8% w/v was enough to kill 90%. I would not recommend ingestion of large quantities of thyme unless you want to die, intestinal bleeding. It makes a great topical treatment for common/benign skin infections. It may also make a novel anesthetic but I don’t see any benefit and the safety is questionable.

My point was more to not dismiss natural treatments because they may have potential. Whats needed is more study. If we are going to continue without national health some of these things might benefit the 50 million without insurance by providing low cost over the counter alternatives.

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Posted: 13 February 2009 05:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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OK, I have a better understanding of what you were getting at and I agree with most of it, however over the counter medications ( like topical antibacterials or anaesthetics )are not particularly expensive so I don’t think the spice cabinet is going to save people a lot of money. If people start using herbal remedies to treat conditions that would normally require prescription meds or a doctors visit that might save them some money but could also be potentially dangerous.

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