How dangerous drugs can make their way into your supplements

It’s no secret that the FDA is no friend to the natural supplement industry.

The Agency is still going to great lengths to squeeze your natural supplements right off the market, passing and manipulating laws that favor the sale of more dangerous drugs.

Not only that: the FDA manipulates those laws so that drugs known to carry very real dangers are “fast-tracked” for approval, getting them to us before any possible dangers can be properly examined.

But when mold, glass and cancer-causing chemicals somehow make their way into medications, they suddenly become powerless and seemingly unable to recall these products.

Isn’t that their job?

What’s scary, though, is that some of the most dangerous drugs have somehow found their way into some natural supplements.

That’s right… you could be taking a prescription drug without knowing it…

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Recalled drugs hiding in your supplements

In his commentary on a recent study, Dr. Pieter Cohen of the Cambridge Health Alliance in Somerville, Massachusetts, had this to say:

“The agency’s failure to aggressively use all available tools to remove pharmaceutically adulterated supplements from commerce leaves consumers at health risk.”

Translation: the FDA knows that there are supplement brands, including those for weight loss, sexual performance, and muscle building, that are laced with prescription drugs.

Dr. Cohen doesn’t mince words. He calls this a “dereliction of duty” by the FDA.

The 2018 review, conducted by officials from the Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Public Health, found that more than 750 supplement brands have been tainted with at least one, and sometimes more than one, hidden pharmaceutical ingredient.

In fact, the FDA itself has a database of these products, including the prescription drug they are laced with, and the possible consequences of taking it.

Weight loss supplements feature highly on this list.

For example, a Chinese supplement called Pai You Guo continues to be sold, even though it contains two recalled drugs: sibutramine, which increases risk of heart attack and stroke, and phenolphthalein, found to be a possible carcinogen.

So essentially, unapproved pharmaceuticals are being sold right under the FDA’s nose. And they would have us believe they are powerless to stop it.

Trying to shift the blame

But if a “natural” supplement were found to cause harm, the FDA would be all over it.

A 2015 study found that dietary supplements are connected with 23,000 emergency room visits and 2,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. each year. But knowing what we now know about drugs tainting supplements, you have to ask yourself how many of those events were due to the dangerous drugs that people were taking without knowing it.

We’ll never know, though, because the FDA itself doesn’t even know the extent of the problem.

From their document entitled “Tainted Products Marketed as Dietary Supplements”:

“FDA is unable to test and identify all products marketed as dietary supplements on the market that have potentially harmful hidden ingredients. Even if a product is not included in this list, consumers should exercise caution before using certain products”

How you can protect yourself

As hard as it sounds to protect yourself from this invisible danger, there are some steps you can take.

Practice an extra level of caution regarding supplements for weight loss, male potency, or muscle building — these tend to be the most suspect. Most of the tainted supplements have been weight loss products. So whenever possible, turn to natural methods for losing weight first.

If you choose to begin taking a supplement, Dr. Cohen recommends opting for “single-ingredient” supplements, rather than mixtures.

Also, look for products manufactured in the United States. Check labeling for badges that ensures stringent testing and quality control procedures, such as:

  • Clean Label badge
  • Non-GMO badge
  • Certified Organic badge

In addition, contact manufacturers, or check their website, for information that indicates their product is manufactured in an FDA Registered and Inspected Facility. Ask if any manufacturing partners are NSF® certified, which means each facility is regularly and independently inspected by NSF® International to ensure all FDA cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practice) requirements are met on a continuous basis.


  1. The FDA Found Hundreds of Supplement Brands Tainted with Rx Drugs. Most Weren’t Recalled — Live Science
  2. Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary SupplementsThe New England Journal of Medicine
  3. The FDA and Adulterated Supplements—Dereliction of DutyJAMA Network Open
  4. Tainted Products Marketed as Dietary Supplements — U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  5. Pai You Guo: A No Go — The Doctor Will See You Now
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.