"Natural" Weight Loss Products Pose Danger

Study of poisoning cases in Hong Kong reveals numerous illicit ingredients in OTC products
By Jeff Muise
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Oct. 15 (HealthDay News) -- An examination of poisoning cases in Hong Kong linked to over-the-counter (OTC) weight loss products often advertised to contain only "natural" ingredients" revealed the products to be laced with multiple illicit ingredients with toxicities that can cause illness or even death, according to a report published online Oct. 13 in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Magdalene H.Y. Tang, of Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong, and colleagues reviewed the findings and clinical details of 66 poisoning cases that occurred in Hong Kong between 2004 and 2009 and included eight cases of serious illness and one death. The researchers analyzed 81 weight loss products implicated in the poisonings. The products were widely available over-the-counter or on the Internet.

The product analysis revealed 12 different illicit ingredients in the OTC products, including undeclared weight-loss drugs (sibutramine and mazindol), unlicensed chemical derivatives of licensed drugs (N-desmethylsibutramine, N-bisdesmethylsibutramine, and N-nitrosofenfluramine), banned drugs (fenfluramine and phenolphthalein), drugs used for an inappropriate indication (anthraquinones, bisacodyl, spironolactone, and hydrochlorothiazide), and animal thyroid hormones.

"Alarmingly, the current study revealed the presence of multiple (up to six) illicit ingredients in a single slimming product, a phenomenon that could potentially lead to life-threatening drug-drug and herb-drug interactions. Furthermore, the potential toxicity may increase exponentially in patients who ingest multiple slimming products, which are each compounded from a range of active ingredients," the authors write.

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