Public Release: 

New editorial in the FASEB Journal raises concerns over dietary supplements

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

As the FDA warns consumers to stop using Hydroxycut products, a new editorial published in the May 2009 issue of The FASEB Journal shows that this FDA warning is not unique. In the editorial, Gerald Weissmann, M.D. Editor-in-Chief of the journal and Research Professor of Medicine and Director of the Biotechnology Study Center at NYU School of Medicine, examines litigation involving StarCaps dietary supplement weight loss capsules to illustrate regulatory loopholes that make it impossible for the FDA to prevent dangerous substances sold with health claims from reaching the market.

"You don't need to be a pharmacologist to suspect that almost anything that really affects the structure or function of the human body might have an unwanted side effect (a.k.a., toxicity)," Weissmann states. "Indeed, a search in PubMed for 'herbal drugs/toxic effects' finds such 460 articles...These range from hepatotoxicity from herbals and weight-loss supplements in the United States to kidney failure as a result of aristolochia, a Chinese herb used worldwide."

In the editorial, Weissmann looks back to the late 1800s to point out that Coca Cola once made medicinal claims fueled by an original recipe that included secret amounts cocaine among other drugs. A 1902 trial where Coca Cola's secret ingredients came to light, ultimately helped lead to the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, provisions of which still guide today's FDA. Then, through the course of his editorial, Weissmann explains how and why the dietary supplement industry is at odds with the FDA's origins and mission, and that these supplements represent little more than unregulated drugs that have tangible personal and professional consequences that go well beyond anything described on their labels.

"If the economy tanked because of subprime mortgages, perhaps the time has come to look at subprime drugs," says Weissmann. "I'd call drugs 'subprime' if they affect bodily functions without having undergone tests of safety and efficacy by the FDA."


The opinions expressed in editorials, essays, letters to the editor, and other articles comprising the Up Front section are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of FASEB or its constituent societies. The FASEB Journal welcomes all points of view and many voices.

Receive monthly highlights from The FASEB Journal by e-mail. Sign up at The FASEB Journal ( is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). The journal has been recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century and is the most cited biology journal worldwide according to the Institute for Scientific Information. FASEB comprises 22 nonprofit societies with more than 80,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. FASEB advances biological science through collaborative advocacy for research policies that promote scientific progress and education and lead to improvements in human health.

Details: Gerald Weissmann. The Atlanta Falcon and Tono-Bungay: Dietary Supplements as Subprime Drugs. FASEB J. 2009 23: 1279�.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.