Another reason to stay away from weight loss supplements

OxyELITE Pro Super Thermogenic is laced with Prozac, warns FDA

Published: March 03, 2015 02:30 PM

Taking a dietary supplement to lose weight is not only unnecessary, but also risky. Why? Weight loss supplements are often tainted with prescription or experimental drugs. The latest example: OxyELITE Pro Super Thermogenic, a weight loss supplement that contains the prescription drug fluoxetine, commonly sold as Prozac, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA said it discovered the tainted supplements while examining an international shipment.

Reports like this might make you think that the FDA does a good job guarding your safety. And you wouldn’t be alone: a recent survey of 3,000 Americans from the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that about 20 percent of respondents wrongly believe that supplements are tested for safety and effectiveness by the FDA.

That is exactly what supplement makers want consumers to believe. “The labels on weight-loss supplements look like those on over-the-counter medications, and the Supplement Facts are organized like Nutrition Facts labels,” says Pieter Cohen, M.D., a physician at Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance who studies supplements. “It gives you the sense the products are being scrutinized by the FDA.” But the truth is that the FDA doesn’t inspect or test supplements before they go on the market and often only examines products once the public reports adverse reactions.

Read why you should skip weight loss drugs, too, and what's wrong with herbal remedies.

According to Cohen, the FDA’s strategy is putting consumers at risk. “What’s absurd about how supplements are regulated in the U.S. is that we wait until consumers are exposed to dangerous, spiked products before the FDA does anything about it,” Cohen says. “Until there's a paradigm shift in the regulation of supplements, consumers will continue to be exposed to supplements that place their health at risk.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of supplements have been found to contain prescription drugs, experimental drugs, or illegal drugs—all of which can lead to dire consequences. In the case of OxyELITE Pro Super Thermogenic, the FDA found fluoxetine, which is prescribed for conditions including anxiety, depression, bulimia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The drug can cause side effects including headaches, stomach upset, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and decreased sex drive. And, Cohen says, “It’s important to remember that this is not pharmaceutically produced Prozac—these are illegal adulterants made by shady manufacturers, and could contain other dangerous chemicals and contaminants as well.”

Another worry is that taking supplements that contain prescription drugs can lead to dangerous interactions. For example, fluoxetine can interact with many drugs commonly used to treat depression and Parkinson’s disease, such as isocarboxazid, phenelzine, rasagiline, selegiline, tranylcypromine, and thioridazine. There’s also a chance that consumers could already be taking a similar drug, and adding this additional "hidden" version could lead to an overdose.  

This isn’t the first time that USPLabs, maker of OxyELITE Pro Super Thermogenic, has been accused of distributing potentially dangerous products. In 2013, the FDA linked USPLabs’ previous OxyElite Pro supplements to dozens of cases of acute liver failure and hepatitis. And earlier that year, another version of OxyELITE Pro was found to include DMAA, or dimethylamylamine, a stimulant that has been linked to strokes and sudden death. “It’s beyond belief that the FDA has permitted this company to yet again introduce a new version of OxyELITE Pro, given its history,” says Cohen.

—Lauren Cooper

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