Some Supplements Might Also Contain Pharmaceutical Drugs, New Study Finds

by Vanessa Taylor

If you have social media, then you've definitely seen ads for the latest additions to the supplement industry. Supplements are one of the biggest health crazes in the United States. Many people, however, don't stop to consider what, exactly, is in the supplements they're consuming. According to a new study, some supplements might also contain pharmaceutical drugs.

A Journal of Nutrition study published in 2017 found 29 percent of older adults take four or more supplements of any kind. Overall, more than half of Americans take supplements, as reported by a Gallup, and it has become a big part of adult life.

Of all supplements, it seems that diet supplements are some of the most popular among adults. The 2017 CRN Consumer Survey on dietary supplements found that nearly 90 percent of adults have confidence in the quality, safety, and effectiveness of these supplements overall. In addition, the survey found 76 percent of adults trust the dietary supplement industry.

With all of this trust in the supplement industry, it would make sense to assume people know what they're putting into their bodies. Now, though, new research is suggesting that many supplements are hiding some secret ingredients of their own.

It's important to note that the supplement industry isn't well-regulated. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has still released plenty of warnings concerning these products, though. According to a new study published in JAMA Network Open, the FDA has issued warnings about 776 products containing "undeclared, unapproved pharmaceutical ingredients" between 2007 and 2016.

After analyzing the FDA's data, researchers concluded the most common culprits were: sildenafil in sexual enhancement supplements (the generic name for Viagra), sibutramine in weight loss supplements, and synthetic steroids or "steroid-like ingredients" in supplements designed to boost muscle.

The name sibutramine may be familiar. As reported by Live Science in 2010, the weight loss drug was removed from the market after it was linked to potential increased risks of strokes and heart attacks.

These kinds of supplements, being that they're for sexual enhancement, diet and weight loss, and building more muscle, are pretty popular. Researchers were motivated to look into supplements partially because of their popularity and the fact that FDA warnings hadn't received a comprehensive analysis over the years, as noted by the study's abstract.

Dr. Pieter Cohen, MD wrote an editorial to accompany the new study. Cohen noted that number of adulterated products found wasn't surprising. “We’ve known for years that companies have been putting drugs into supplements, and we thought there might be 100 or 200 of those kinds of products," Cohen told People. "As time has gone by, every year more and more products have been seen.”

Though these kinds of supplements were the most likely to contain unapproved ingredients, it's a far-reaching problem. People reported that there were also issues with supplements for sleep problems, joint pain, and more.

The craze surrounding supplements probably isn't going to wane anytime soon, so this study speaks to the need for the market to have better regulation. People may trust the supplement industry, but it's best to proceed with a little more caution in the future.