Medical researchers in the United Kingdom have discovered that some common, over-the-counter herbal supplements contain significant amounts of pharmaceutical ingredients.
The group is led by Duncan Burns, Emeritus Professor at the Institute for Global Food Security, located at the Queen’s University in Belfast. Declan Naughton, a professor from Kingston University and Dr. Michael Walker of the Government Chemist Programme, LGC are also part of the team. The team of experts conducted research on the detection of contaminated ingredients in herbal food supplements. The team is currently collaborating on a paper to be submitted for peer review.
During their research, Dr. Burn’s team examined the ingredients of supplements used to treat obesity and erectile dysfunction. The labels of these products list natural, herbal ingredients. However, when analyzed, chemists discovered that many of the products contained significant amounts of pharmaceutical drugs.
One of the drugs was identified as Sibutramine. It was sold as a weight loss supplement, and marketed under the name brand Reductil. Sibutramine was pulled from markets in 2010, when it’s usage was linked to an increase in strokes and heart attacks. This drug is known to interact with MAOIs, a common class of prescription drugs. Taking Sibutramine with these, opioids, or certain drugs used to treat migraines increase the risk of serotonin syndrome, a rare but severe condition.
The supplements meant to treat erectile dysfunction contained large amounts of the drugs Tadalfil and Sulfoaildenafil. These popular drugs are commonly prescribed under the name brands Cialis and Viagra. These drugs are known to lower blood pressure, which can be a life-threatening side effect for those with certain medical conditions. Angina patients are cautioned against taking organic nitrates to relieve pain within 48 hours of consuming these drugs. Taking these drugs together can cause a severe drop in blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack.
Dr. Burns argues that these supplements are dangerous for people who suffer from conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia. These conditions are commonly treated with medications containing nitrates. Patients often do not report the use of over-the-counter herbal remedies and supplements to their doctors. Without full disclosure of ingredients, doctors cannot warn patients against potentially harmful drug interactions.
Professor Naughton concluded that more research, and the use of techniques like datamining, is needed. The information will help food and drug regulators protect the public safety, and responsible supplement manufacturers, by helping them track contamination issues.