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Is FRAUD the New Business Model for (Some) Weight Loss Supplement Manufacturers?

Back in January I wrote about a growing problem—more and more weight loss supplements being found to include illegal drugs. The trend hasn’t let up, and the U.S. Department of Justice announced last week it was taking sweeping legal action:

As part of a nationwide sweep, the Department of Justice and its federal partners have pursued civil and criminal cases against more than 100 makers and marketers of dietary supplements. The actions discussed today resulted from a year-long effort, beginning in November 2014, to focus enforcement resources in an area of the dietary supplement market that is causing increasing concern among health officials nationwide. 

The supplement categories the FDA is consistently finding problems with are mainly weight loss, fat loss, and body building products. The primary illegal ingredient often found in weight loss products is Sibutramine. Sibutramine was originally marketed as a FDA-approved pharmaceutical under the brand name “Merida.” Merida however was removed from the market in 2010 from FDA pressure on Abbott Laboratories due to “concerns over minimal efficacy coupled with increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events.”

Meridia was also removed from the market (most also in 2010)  in Australia, Canada, China, the EU, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand and the UK.

One question I haven’t seen anyone ask—and would like to hear the answer to—is who is producing the Sibutramine that is showing up in OTC weight loss supplements? And then how are supplement manufacturers obtaining it?

This problem with the supplement industry is a complex one. The common view is that the law (DSHEA - The Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act) is wishy washy. While I don’t disagree that DSHEA has serious weaknesses, I think an equal or bigger problem is that the FDA has long been significantly underfunded making it nearly impossible to enforce DSHEA. It’s frustrating, because the minority of companies that are “bad-actors” are unlikely to stop breaking the law even if the law is tightened up. When dealing with lawsuits, fines, and hassles still results in a fat bottom line what incentive do they really have to stop?

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that none of these products have to prove that they are effective before (or after) they go on the market.

Furthermore, after 22 years in this field I'm more confident than ever that weight loss will never come in a bottle! 

Needles to say, your best bet is to save your money (and protect your health) by skipping supplements touting weight loss, fat loss or body building benefits, and advise your friends and family to do the same!

All the best,


Also see:
DSHEA – read the law
Sibrutramine – Safety concerns, interactions, side-effects
Diet Industry Watch (my list of FDA's recalls and warnings)