UK warns of liver damage from weight loss supplements

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Medicine Food standards agency

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued a warning against Hydroxycut weight loss supplements, a full six weeks after the products were recalled from the US market for a suspected connection with serious liver damage.

The recall in North America, where nine million units of Hydroxycut products were sold in 2008 alone, prompted a massive media backlash against the dietary supplements industry in general, which was accused of being unregulated and allowing unsafe products onto the market.

Hydroxycut products, manufactured by the Canadian firm Iovate Health Sciences, were recalled in the US on May 1, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received 23 reports of serious health problems related to liver damage. One death was reported, as well as six patients diagnosed with serious liver disease and two requiring liver transplant. Other health problems reported included seizures; cardiovascular disorders; and rhabdomyolysis, a type of muscle damage that can lead to other serious health problems such as kidney failure.

Different formulas

The specific ingredient responsible for the adverse effects has not as yet been identified.

Both US and UK formulas of the Hydroxycut products are sold in the UK. The US formulas are primarily available over the internet, while the UK formula is sold via the distributor Tropicana Health & Fitness. The products are marketed for weight loss under the brands Iovate and MuscleTech.

Earlier this month, had contacted Tropicana, requesting information on the safety of the Hydroxycut products sold in the UK, in light of the recent safety alerts across the Atlantic. The company did not respond.

However, after FSA’s warning published on Friday, Tropicana said it was “in discussions”​ with Iovate.

“At this time there are no further details available, however, Tropicana have voluntarily agreed to suspend sales of the Hydroxycut brand until further notice. Although Tropicana only sell UK versions of these products we understand that the US versions are readily available in the UK marketplace and are similarly packaged which could lead to customer confusion,”​ wrote the firm in an e-mail.

Tropicana said the volume of Hydroxycut products it sold in the UK in 2008 was “in the low thousands across the different sizes”.

Why the delay?

Holland & Barratt, which is one of the leading retailers for the Hydroxycut products in the UK, said it had notified FSA of the potential safety problems after the US health warning in May.

“We were told that the formula was completely different,”​ said a company spokesperson.

FSA told this morning that the delay in issuing a warning in the UK was a result of the agency’s investigations into the two different formulas.

"The FSA was alerted to the UK formula issue by Holland and Barrett and then a formal news notification on 21 May (through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed - RASFF) concerning risks associated with the product was received by Finnish authorities,"​ said an FSA spokesperson.

"We considered whether the UK formula posed a risk and asked for further information from the manufacturer and Canadian authorities. As the specific problematic ingredient has not been highlighted and the UK formula shares common ingredients to the US version, we decided a precautionary approach was appropriate, advising consumers not to take the supplement and advising retailers to withdraw the product from sale."

In total, FSA has warned against the consumption of 14 products in the Hydroxycut line, which are the same 14 products that have been recalled in the US.

Hydroxycut products have also been withdrawn from sale in Finland and Canada. Ireland has also advised retailers to withdraw the product and consumers to discontinue use of the products.

For more information from our US site, click here​.

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