According to researchers they have discovered fenfluramine, the diet medicine pulled from the market five years ago because it was linked to heart valve problems, in Chinese herbal remedies being sold to help people lose weight. According to reports of this study, there has been serious side effects, such as pulmonary hypertension, among a handful of patients led a group from Southend Hospital on Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex to study whether the supplements these patients had taken contained any suspicious ingredients.Initially, researchers suspected Ephedra or Ma Huang, widely used in the United States and elsewhere in the world for weight loss but also linked to adverse side effects.
Instead, researchers found fenfluramine, a diet pharmaceutical that was part of the popular weight loss cocktail called "Fen-phen." Fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine were pulled from the market by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997 after numerous reports the off-label cocktail combo increased the risk of heart valve damage in the United States and also in the United Kingdom.
Researchers reported that high concentrations of fenfluramine were found in the Chinese supplements, researchers reported, and also in the patients' urine. The Medicines Control Agency, an investigative agency much in the United Kingdom similar to the FDA, is looking into where and when fenfluramine entered the supply chain.
Catherynn Conns, researcher and a biochemist, told that there are several changes needed to protect the public and also to protect reputable herbal practitioners themselves.
Corns said there also is concern over the quality of the ingredients in some Chinese herbs.
Some have been found to be adulterated with steroids and toxic heavy metals (such as lead and mercury) ... some of the pre-packaged pills imported from the Far East have not undergone rigorous quality control checks, and there is no certainty as to the actual contents.
Herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine are usually harvested in the wild and some plants may be accidentally substituted for others (such as happened when Arisolochia was substituted for Stephania, leading to the outbreak of Chinese Herb nephropathy in Belgium), or may be in short supply and substituted or omitted from preparations. We need to ensure that the products sold have undergone the same quality control processes as any other food or over-the-counter medicine," Conns said.
While quality control is a problem, the researchers also said consumers wrongly assume supplements are safe because they contain natural products. "Our recent experience, however, highlights how the public tends to believe, often with great naivety, natural remedies can be abused," they wrote.
Dietary supplements have not been regulated by FDA in the past because they were not considered either a food or a drug. That opinion has changed recently, with critics increasingly calling for some sort of regulations to oversee the supplement industry.
Dr. Alan Gaby, a nutrition professor at Bastyr University, said that this is the first time he has heard of fenfluramine found in Chinese herbs, but not the first time herbal remedies have been found to carry contaminants. Gaby said he would like to see package inserts explaining what the supplement can and cannot do, and added supplement manufacturers that claim a product treats a particular condition could be violating the law.