Magazine article Drug Topics

Stop the Insanity

Magazine article Drug Topics

Stop the Insanity

Article excerpt

Frantic for a cure, people turn to herbal weightloss products

While dieters try to whittle away extra pounds by experimenting with herbal

weight-loss products, experts question whether or not these patients are reducing only the weight of their wallets. The market has been booming, but that growth may soon come to an end.

The Food & Drug Administration recently issued a warning against herbal fen-phen products, calling them "unapproved drugs because their names reflect that they are intended for the same use as the antiobesity drugs fenfluramine and phentermine." The FDA is telling consumers that these unapproved drugs "have not been shown to be safe or effective and may contain ingredients that have been associated with injuries."

Herbal fen-phen became popular after the prescription drugs Redux (dexfenfluramine) and Pondimin (fenfluramine, the "fen" of fen-phen) were removed from the market because of safety concerns. While herbal fen-phen products contain none of these prescription drugs, their safety is still questionable, according to the FDA. The agency has voiced concern over several of the ingredients commonly used to prepare these herbal weight-loss formulas.

Herbal fen-phen products vary widely in their composition, but most contain at least one of the dreaded ingredients on the FDA's hit list. Some try to mimic the action of prescription fen-phen by using herbs that they believe act similarly upon the brain and body. For instance, the powerful stimulant ephedra (or Mahuang) is usually included in these products to mimic the action of phentermine. This herbal amphetamine-like compound has been associated with more than 800 reports of adverse events, ranging from headaches to death, since 1994. Many states have banned Herbal Ecstasy products, which also contain ephedra.

Several months ago, the FDA had proposed that dietary supplements containing ephedrine not be allowed to make weight-loss claims. The American Academy of Pediatrics supported the FDA's proposed rule, saying that "children and adolescents represent a particularly vulnerable segment of the population with regard to these compounds" because "obesity has become an epidemic within pediatric age groups, prompting parents and caregivers to explore new modes of treatment beyond traditional diet and exercise. …

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