As you contemplate New Year's resolutions to get into shape, avoid pills and potions that promise short cuts.
The New York Times reported Saturday that dietary supplements are landing otherwise healthy people in hospitals.
Roughly 4,000 companies market 85,000 dietary supplements in a $32 billion industry. Some probably do some good. Many do nothing. More than a few have led to serious health problems.
One of the latest problems involves OxyElite Pro, a product marketed by a Texas company, USPLabs. In September, Hawaii state health officials learned that seven otherwise healthy patients suffered sudden liver damage after taking the product, which supposedly helps with weight loss and muscle building.
By the end of October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration counted 56 cases of acute liver failure or hepatitis linked to OxyElite Pro — 43 in Hawaii. Authorities said some patients required liver transplants and one died. By November, Hawaii authorities persuaded island retailers to turn over their stock of the product, and the FDA pushed for a national recall.
Now come the product liability lawsuits. USPLabs seeks to give itself immunity from any liability, claiming in capital letters on its website:
"IN NO EVENT OR CIRCUMSTANCE WILL USPLABS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES AS A RESULT OF OR DUE TO THE USE OF THE WEBSITE OR PRODUCT(S)."
A company's unwillingness to stand by its products ought to give consumers pause.
In addition, The Times reported that "new research found that many of the products implicated in liver injuries were bodybuilding supplements spiked with unlisted steroids, and herbal pills and powders promising to increase energy and help consumers lose weight."
Duffy MacKay, a spokesman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry trade group, told The Times: "There unfortunately are criminals that feel it's a business opportunity to spike some products. It's the fringe of the industry, but as you can see, it is affecting some consumers."
More popular supplements like vitamins, minerals, probiotics and fish oil have not been linked to "patterns of adverse effects," MacKay said.
Congress should give the FDA more authority to test dietary supplements before they go to market, but there's little chance that will happen. The industry makes shrewd use of lobbying and campaign contributions, and is protected by a 1994 law that equates dietary supplements with food.
To remove a supplement from the market, the FDA must prove it is unsafe, which isn't easy. The feds removed products containing the stimulant ephedra in 2004, only after it was linked to more than 30 deaths.
In recent years, the FDA has become more aggressive. On Tuesday, the FDA issued its latest warning, urging consumers to stop taking a product called, ironically enough, Mass Destruction, after a previously healthy 28-year-old North Carolina man needed a liver transplant.
Back to those resolutions. Walk. Run. Bike. Eat well. Beware of the lightly regulated dietary supplement industry's pills and potions.
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