Diet aid dangers are detailed

Weight loss routines can include dietary supplements, but not necessarily safely.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted June 14, 2004

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Washington -- Nearly half of all Americans used a dietary supplement this year, many of them in an attempt to lose weight, said Ken Fujioka, MD, director of nutrition and metabolic research at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, Calif.

But very little is known about the vitamins and minerals, herbals, hormones and food replacement bars and drinks that line the shelves of groceries and pharmacies, said Dr. Fujioka at a May 19 Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus.

Many of those trying to lose weight look to supplements as magic bullets. Often they either aren't aware of or disregard the dangers associated with some of them.

Ephedra, one of the more dangerous herbal products, recently was banned by the Food and Drug Administration, an action applauded by Dr. Fujioka and others, including the AMA.

Even though ephedra combined with caffeine does cause weight loss, it also plays havoc with the heart's electrical system and can cause death. Ephedra was implicated in the death last year of Baltimore Orioles' pitcher Steve Bechler.

Dr. Fujioka found that overweight patients who knew they had high blood pressure and realized they were placing themselves in danger by taking ephedra didn't stop using it. "The bottom line is that people can't be expected to police themselves," he said. "They will take risks to lose weight."

While meal replacements, vitamins and minerals carry little risk if taken at recommended doses, herbals are more problematic. Hormones carry a huge risk and should never be sold over the counter, he added.

Effects from using hormones won't show up for years, he said, pointing to estrogen and breast cancer. "More than likely if you play with the sex hormone for men, you will see prostate cancer down the road. ... Hormones should not be available until studies are conducted."

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External links

Food and Drug Administration on dietary supplements (link)

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