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Fat-Burning Supplement May Contain Unapproved Stimulant Drug, Says Report

Fat burning and weight loss - food suppliment centimetre on black background copy space

When it comes to weight loss and weight management, there are entire industries devoted to helping people do nothing but shed a few – or more than a few – pounds. Millions of dollars are spent on weight loss programs, metabolism-boosting and fat-burning supplements, dieting books and videos, and more. If those dollars are invested in learning more about balanced and nutritious eating choices or heading to the gym for regular exercise, then it is money well spent. But too often, those dollars are put toward expensive supplements with little to no support for their claims and a slew of potentially dangerous side effects.

For example, there are currently a number of sports supplements on the market that claim to help users burn fat at a higher rate than average or to improve the efficacy of a workout. However, researchers from Harvard Medical School recently published an analysis of one of the main ingredients in these supplements – oxilofrine, methylsynephrine, or p-hydroxyephedrine – finding that this substance, banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, is a stimulant drug that comes with a host of possible health risks.

The drug has some medical benefit, including supporting cardiac function in sedated patients, but it is not, by definition, a “dietary ingredient,” which is a requirement for all ingredients included in a supplement. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to a handful of manufacturers to inform them that the substance should not be included in their supplement products. They reported receiving 47 reports of negative effects caused by use of supplements that contain oxilofrine.

The researchers found that 6 of the 27 supplements tested that listed methylsynephrine as an ingredient had high amounts of the substance. One of them had two times the usual dose for an adult and three times the usual adult for a teenager, according to the findings published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis. The researchers wrote that oxilofrine use can result in:

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Cardiac emergency (especially in high doses)

Unregulated and Unresearched

It is important to note that there is no regulating agency for supplements. Whether or not they actually live up to the claims made by those who make them, if the pills actually contain the substances listed on the bottle or in the claimed amount, and what other effects should or can be expected in the short- or long-term – these things are not monitored. The FDA can only make sure that companies who make supplements do not tack on any medical claims for their use and that the claimed ingredients are all dietary in nature. Beyond that, buyer beware.

This essentially makes taking supplements almost as risky as taking illicit substances sold on the street. Everyone’s brain and body is different, and even if the substance works as claimed, there is no way to know what dosing will be effective or cause devastating medical emergencies. And if the user is taking a combination of supplements, prescription drugs, and/or over-the-counter medications, there is an even greater risk that harm will result.

Why Take the Risk?

Given the untried nature of these supplements, many wonder why someone would use these products. Unfortunately, many mistakenly believe that if the supplements are for sale, they must be safe for use and take them with little thought or consideration. Still others are unconcerned about the potential risks if the rewards are weight loss or an energy boost.

When someone is living with a food behavior disorder, the use of potentially dangerous supplements – and clearly dangerous street drugs like crystal meth or cocaine – is not uncommon. Willing to take any risk in order to limit the retention of calories and potential weight gain, people struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders may take these supplements despite warnings. In fact, many translate warnings as an indication that these drugs “work” to provide weight loss and seek them out or take them in larger doses.

Illicit Substances and Weight Loss

Similarly, many people who struggle with a drive to manage their weight by any means necessary will seek out the street drugs listed above or take prescription stimulant medications like Adderall for the sole purpose of boosting their metabolism and burning calories. Often, this results in:

  • Jitteriness or shakiness
  • Insomnia that can lead to paranoia and hallucinations, especially when it lasts for days on end
  • Malnutrition
  • The development of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders
  • Medical problems, including internal organs and body systems shutting down
  • Addiction

When this occurs, it is important for the person to identify and seek treatment for the substance abuse or addiction issue, for co-occurring mental health disorders that may develop, and for the underlying food behavior disorder.

Treatment for all of these disorders simultaneously is essential to help the person stabilize in recovery. In treatment, the person can:

  • Stop all use of illicit substances safely
  • Receive treatment for all medical issues
  • Learn how to prevent relapse
  • Learn how to eat healthfully
  • Learn how to make lifestyle changes that support wellness in every aspect of life

If someone you love is struggling with a substance abuse issue and/or a mental health disorder, such as an eating disorder, treatment is available. Get help today.

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More