If the FDA recalls a dietary supplement because it contains dangerous chemicals, you won't be able to buy it, right?
Wrong. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that the products returned to shelves months after they were recalled — and still contained the illegal ingredients, some of which have been linked to heart attack and stroke.
The FDA recalled 274 dietary supplements between 2009 and 2012. Researchers from the Cambridge Health Alliance, a health care network affiliated with Harvard University, analyzed 27 of these products that were still being sold in stores and found that two-thirds of the products still had the substances for which they'd been recalled.
What's even more disturbing is that the researchers didn't even get to the products that had altered their packaging and/or brand name — they only focused on products that were being sold under the same name as the recalled versions.
The FDA told NPR that they have pursued civil and criminal prosecution against those who try to market these products, but that it's extremely difficult to win: "The supply chain for these products is extremely fragmented. One product manufactured by an unknown company overseas may be sold by dozens of different distributors in the United States."
So, what can you do to avoid ingesting unsafe ingredients? As NPR reports, your best bet is to avoid all weight-loss supplements.
Given the uncertainty, Candy Tsourounis, a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco, says her advice is to steer clear of all weight-loss supplements.
"I think what's most striking about [the findings of the study] is that these supplements pose a significant health risk," Tsourounis says.
And even when weight loss products don't contain banned substances, she says, they're unlikely to help.
"None of these supplements," Tsourounis says, "has been adequately tested to demonstrate that it will work" to help sustain weight loss over time.
Just because a store sells a dietary supplement doesn't mean it's approved by the FDA, and just because the FDA approves of another dietary supplement doesn't mean it's effective.
So why take the risk?
If you're interested in losing weight, the best advice is probably what you already know: take it slow, eat whole foods, and be kind to yourself.
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