Bad News for Bogus Weight Loss Products

Bogus weight loss products and other dietary supplements — unfettered by regulatory approval for safety and efficacy — have been linked to a spike in liver injuries. And more trouble lies ahead for dietary supplement makers. On Tuesday the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will unveil a new effort to shut down deceptive advertising for bogus weight loss products.

Such dietary supplements are responsible for nearly 20% of liver injuries reported to the Drug Induced Liver Injury Network. Victor Navarro presented these data in November during the Presidential Plenary of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. The rate has nearly tripled from 7% in 2005. Even more troubling, death or a liver transplant resulted twice as often in cases of liver injuries tied to dietary supplements than in cases tied to FDA regulated medicines.

Convincing evidence for efficacy and safety of dietary supplements in weight loss is lacking. An example of one such type of product, pyruvate, was analyzed in the new issue of Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. The authors found no convincing evidence for the efficacy of these products and little evidence for their safety.

Yet another recent publication found a disturbingly high rate of catechins present in dietary supplements. Catechins, like green tea extract, have been implicated in liver toxicity, but their presence in dietary supplements is not always labeled. Navarro et al found catechins in 40% of 73 dietary supplements that did not identify any such ingredients on their label. For weight loss supplements, the rate was even higher, 57%.

Sadly, FDA has limited authority to regulate these bogus weight loss products. Essentially the agency has to wait until patients die or suffer some other serious harm before it can act.

FTC has more authority, but finite resources, for going after the numerous bad actors in this market. We’re eager to hear more about their enforcement action this week.

Click here to read more in the New York Times, here to for the study of liver injuries, here for the study of pyruvate, here for the study of catechins, and here to read more about the FTC initiative.

Hoods Pills Cure Liver Ills, image © Boston Public Library / flickr

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