Germany highlights contaminated Chinese weight loss herbs

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Medicine

Seventeen people have been poisoned by a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the German cities of Freiburg and Göttingen since 2005, according to a German report.

Writing in the current edition of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International​, pharmacologist Dieter Müller, Wolfgang Weinmann and Maren Hermanns-Clausen, said the product contained twice the permitted amount of the controlled substance, sibutramine, in Germany.

It has been on-sale over the internet.

Sibutramine is an amphetamine-like substance that inhibits the re-uptake of serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain.

It typically goes by the name, Reductil in Europe, and was recently found to have contaminated a herbal Viagra product that has been recalled by the medicines regulator in the UK.

That product, Jia Yi Jian was marketed as being “100% herbal”,​ yet​each tablet contained 68.1mg of sibutramine and 50.06mg of tadalafil when respective levels of only 15mg and 20mg are permitted in the UK.

In the German case, lead author, Müller, did not name the product in question but noted one adverse effect saw a 14-year old girl who had taken the slimming capsules along with atomoxetine and methylphenidate admitted to hospital for psychiatric treatment for agitation and severe confusion.

Of the 17 people effected in the two German cities between 2005 and 2008, 15 were women. Most cases involved the botanical being used in combination with drugs.

Müller said many more cases were likely but because of the non-pharma status of the herbal product, they often went undetected.

“As a consequence, the symptoms reported by the patients were often not regarded as side effects from an overdose or as severe interactions with previously administered psychotherapeutics,”​ he wrote.

“Administration of the same Chinese slimming pill was only identified in all 17 cases after a specific medical history had been taken, including food supplements.”

The report can be found here​.

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