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Unapproved Prescription Drugs Sold in Supplements

Unapproved Prescription Drugs Sold in Supplements

When major league baseball suspended Alex Rodriguez for using performance-enhancing steroids, they also cleaned up clubhouses across the country. Too bad the FDA hasn’t done the same for some general nutrition and major vitamin stores by clearing dangerous body-building and weight-loss supplements off their shelves.

Vinpocetine and picamilon are drugs prescribed in several countries to treat cerebrovascular disorders and cognitive impairment, but in the U.S. they’ve never presented adequate data to be approved for prescription drug sales. Instead drug manufacturers market them as botanical supplements (that don’t need FDA approval) to promote weight loss and as brain and performance enhancers.

Researchers, including Harvard’s Pieter Cohen, M.D., who’s appeared on the Dr. Oz show, have discovered vinpocetine in around 300 nonprescription products and picamilon in 31 supplements, all available for sale directly to consumers.

Writing in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Dr. Cohen explains that, “The FDA may have assumed that vinpocetine was a botanical extract, but it is not… to my knowledge, vinpocetine itself has never been identified in lesser periwinkle or any other plant.” And to make matters worse, in the various supplements the researchers tested, doses of both the drugs were all over the place -- from nonexistent to far too much -- and rarely reflected what the label said was provided. So we suggest that you avoid these two ingredients and if you want to lose weight, think more clearly or have more athletic zip, upgrade your diet by ditching the Five Food Felons and get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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