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Beware of unregulated dietary supplements

Consumer Reports News: May 19, 2011 09:08 AM

No, Amoxilina is not the antibiotic amoxicillin. It’s a dietary supplement marketed mainly to Hispanics. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration said that four children in Texas were hospitalized after parents mistakenly gave the supplement to their children. While the product has now been recalled, the experience highlights the lax regulation that plagues the supplement industry in this country—and why you need to be vigilant when buying dietary supplements.

This particular product was marketed mostly to consumers in California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, the FDA said. The product made it onto the market mainly because, unlike prescription drugs, supplements sold in this country aren’t carefully regulated by any government agency. Instead, the FDA typically gets involved only after problems emerge, such as in the Texas case.

That leaves you at substantial risk when purchasing dietary supplements. We recently reported on supplements that can threaten your heart, as well as 12 dangerous supplements that can cause cardiovascular, liver, and kidney problems. And there have been several cases of supplements adulterated with prescription drugs, particularly the erectile-dysfunction drugs sildenafil (Viagra) and cildenafil (Cialis). Such contamination is risky, since those medications can cause side effects and interact with other drugs and supplements.

At the same time, I believe some supplements can help some people. So what advice do I give my patients? Stick with supplements that have solid evidence for safety and effectiveness (see our report Supplements to Consider). But even then, make sure you really can’t get enough through diet alone, which is always preferable. And if you do opt for a supplement, look for one with the "USP Verified" mark on the label, which indicates that the manufacturer has voluntarily asked U.S. Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit, private standard-setting authority, to verify the quality, purity and potency of its raw ingredients or finished products.

Finally, consider seeing a doctor trained in Integrative Medicine; such physicians combine conventional medical treatments with proven alternative ones, including dietary supplements. You can find a list of such physicians at the website for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.

For more advice on dietary supplements, see our reviews of common dietary supplements.

Multi-Mex Distributor Inc. Dietary Supplements: Recall - Product Packaging Mimics OTC Antibiotics [FDA]

Joseph Mosquera, M.D.


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