Pharmaceuticals Found in Many Over-the-Counter Dietary Supplements

 In Naturopathic News

Node Smith, ND

It is estimated that more than half of the adult population of the United States uses dietary supplements. This includes vitamins and mineral supplements, isolated plant constituents such as lecithin, resveratrol, antioxidants, as well as combination products that are marketed for weight loss, sexual enhancement, cognitive function, or muscle building.

More than half of the adult population of the United States uses dietary supplements

Many of these combination products that are marketed for specific effects may be adulterated with pharmaceuticals, says a recent report from the Journal of the American Medical Association. This is an issue that the FDA has known about, and does investigate. This published report is from a study on data that has been compiled by the FDA from 2007 through 2016 of over 700 over-the-counter dietary supplements.

Results of the study

The results of the study showed 776 dietary supplement products to contain unapproved pharmaceutical ingredients, with 20 percent of these having more than one unapproved ingredient and 28 products being named specifically in two or three warnings issued by the FDA.

Study shows some interesting trends

The study shows some interesting trends that are very relevant for the consumer, as well as health providers. Most of the products identified in the study were marketed for sexual enhancement, weight loss or muscle building.

Sexual Enhancement Supplements

45.5% of the 776 identified products were intended for sexual enhancement, and 81.3% were found to be adulterated with Sildenifil (Viagra) or a similar analogue.

Weight Loss Supplements

40.9% of the 776 identified products were intended for weight loss, and 84.9% contained Sibutramine, a banned weight loss drug.

Muscle building Supplements

11.9% of the 776 identified products were intended for muscle building and 89.1% contained anabolic steroids.

Authors of the report acknowledge a few limitations of the study

The authors of the report acknowledge a few limitations of the study, including lack of FDA involvement with the study, and a lack of knowledge of the number of products in total that the FDA tests each year. The findings being limited to drugs for which the FDA tested is also a limitation. Despite these limitations, the data do clearly show a trend towards supplements that are marketed toward known demographics. This is important information to keep in mind when questioning patients regarding current supplement use.


Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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