Study warns that over-the-counter weight-reducing products can cause harm and may even kill

October 14, 2010

The desire for a quick-fix for obesity fuels a lucrative market in so-called natural remedies. But a study of medical records in Hong Kong revealed 66 cases where people were suspected to have been poisoned by a "natural" slimming therapy. In eight cases the people became severely ill, and in one case the person died. The study is published today in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

The researchers looked at the ingredients in the 81 slimming products that these people had taken. They found 12 different agents that fell into five categories: undeclared weight-loss drugs; drug analogues (unlicensed chemical derivatives of licensed drugs); banned drugs; drugs used for an inappropriate indication; and hormones.

"People like the idea of using a natural remedy because they think that if it is natural, it will be safe. There are two problems here. Firstly not all natural agents are harmless, and secondly the remedies also contain potentially harmful manufactured drugs," says Dr Magdalene Tang, who works at the Toxicology Reference Laboratory at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong.

She believes that fewer people would use these products if they were more aware of the potential risks involved.

While the research concentrated on cases in Hong Kong, the work raises worldwide concerns. These slimming products are widely available over the counter not only in Hong Kong, but in other countries where drug regulation is relatively non-comprehensive. In addition, anyone can buy them over the internet even if you do live in regions with tighter regulatory control.

"The only way to tackle this is if people stop buying these products, and governments take prompt, appropriate law-making and surveillance actions," says Dr Tang.

Dr Tang is particularly keen that doctors ask patients about their use of over the counter slimming products if they come into a clinic with strange symptoms. "The active participation of front line medical staff together with laboratories is a crucial element in the long-term effort to eradicate this problem," says Dr Tang.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Drug for spinal muscular atrophy prompts ethical dilemmas, bioethicists say

December 11, 2017
When the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug for people with spinal muscular atrophy a year ago, clinicians finally had hope for improving the lives of patients with the rare debilitating muscular disease. ...

FDA's program to speed up drug approval shaved nearly a year off the process

December 7, 2017
Speeding the pace at which potentially lifesaving drugs are brought to market was a rallying cry for Donald Trump as a candidate, and is a stated priority of his Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb. ...

Dangers of commonly prescribed painkillers highlighted in study

December 6, 2017
Commonly prescribed painkillers need to be given for shorter periods of time to reduce the risk of obesity and sleep deprivation, a new study has revealed.

Viagra goes generic: Pfizer to launch own little white pill

December 6, 2017
The little blue pill that's helped millions of men in the bedroom is turning white. Drugmaker Pfizer is launching its own cheaper generic version of Viagra rather than lose most sales when the impotence pill gets its first ...

Surgery-related opioid doses can drop dramatically without affecting patients' pain

December 6, 2017
Some surgeons might be able to prescribe a third of opioid painkiller pills that they currently give patients, and not affect their level of post-surgery pain control, a new study suggests.

Four-fold jump in deaths in opioid-driven hospitalizations

December 4, 2017
People who end up in the hospital due to an opioid-related condition are four times more likely to die now than they were in 2000, according to research led by Harvard Medical School and published in the December issue of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.