The following five weight loss supplements were once among the most popular on the U.S. market. But it is all fun and games until someone ends up dead. Found to have deadly side-effects, these supplements were quickly banned or voluntarily withdrawn from the market under the direction of the Food and Drug Administration.
Also known as methylhexanamine, this stimulant was designed and marketed as a nasal decongestant from 1944-1983, and returned to the market in 2006 as an energy-boosting dietary supplement. It has recently been under scrutiny after four U.S. soldiers taking the supplement, including 22-year-old Private Michael Sparling, collapsed and died while exercising. While the military has so far determined that those deaths were not directly caused by DMAA, the findings were not conclusive, and deaths of athletes in other countries have been contributed to the supplement. The FDA ordered products containing methylhexanamine to be removed from shelves in April 2013.
Once widely available over the counter, there is strong suspicion that Ephedra has been responsible for the deaths of multiple people, including well-known professional athletes. Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Belcher, Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer, and Northwestern starting safety Rashidi Wheeler all suffered untimely deaths after taking supplements containing Ephedra. Much to the dismay of companies in the diet supplement industry, the FDA banned Ephedra and all products containing the best-selling stimulant in 2004. After the ban was successfully challenged in 2005, an appellate court upheld the original ban in 2006 and ephedra remains illegal to this day.
Approved by the FDA in 1973 as a diet drug to be taken for a short term to combat obesity, fenfluramine was combined in the 1990s with phentermine (a related drug approved by the FDA in 1959) to create the popular dietary weight-loss supplement Fen-Phen. The popularity of this combo supplement was matched only by the concerns it raised about severe side effects, including deadly pulmonary hypertension. Studies began to reflect a strong correlation between the use of Fen-Phen and damage to the heart valves, culminating with the death of a 30-year-old woman who developed heart problems and died a month later in February 1997. This highly-publicized death and continuing reports of deadly side-effects led the FDA to request the drug be voluntarily pulled from the market. The withdraw of Fen-Phen from the market in September of 1997 was followed by a flurry of lawsuits against American Home Products for heart ailments related to the use of this supplement.
Following the withdraw of Fen-Phen from the market, a new supplement with similar effects, Meridia, was approved by the FDA. Also similar to Fen-Phen, the side effects of Meridia could be deadly. Even at the time it was approved, Meridia was suspected of causing increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Almost 50 people died and over 100 had heart-related events while taking Meridia, according to information gathered by the FDA. Meridia is even suspected of adversely affecting developing fetuses. In September 2010, the majority of an FDA advisory committee voted to recommend Meridia be removed from the U.S. market.
Pai You Guo
A Chinese take on the weight-loss supplement phenomenon came in the form of Pai You Guo, a diet pill (or tea) which was marketed as an all-natural product but actually contains a pair of dangerous pharmaceuticals, phenolphthalein and sibutramine, known to increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and cancer. Pai You Guo is only one of a myriad of dietary supplements produced overseas which contain pharmaceuticals banned by the FDA.
The FDA currently does not have the ability to prevent dangerous products from entering the U.S. market and appearing on store shelves; it can only recall products once they are determined to be dangerous, and this is usually accomplished by encouraging a voluntary recall. The deadly effects of these loosely regulated dietary supplements should be a cautionary tale to any person seeking shortcuts to losing weight. A much safer and effective approach to health is a proper diet and exercise. This is by no means an easy approach, but it is not fraught with the risk and perils of using supplements and stimulants in the hope of quick returns.