MHRA head of operations, Danny Lee-Frost, said the MHRA moved in to halt the operation after becoming aware of the manufacture of the products that had undergone no quality control measures.
Lee-Frost said the manufacturer, David Green, failed to respond to warnings that he was marketing the banned herbal extract ephedrine – derived from the ephedra plant
Mr Green continued to sell the illegal products from his website www.wholesalefx.co.uk as well as via online auction sites.
MHRA said its investigators seized “several hundred bottles of the capsules” of Thermoslimmer capsules [3.5mg] and Inch Aid capsules [4mg] that MHRA testing confirmed contained ephedrine.
“This is yet another example of the danger of buying any type of drug from an unregulated source,” Lee-Frost said. “You simply don’t know what you are taking, the dosage, the conditions it was made in or most importantly, the effect it might have on your health.”
In 2008, the Danish Medicines Agency issued a public warning against an illegal ephedrine-containing supplement called Therma Power Red that was linked with several adverse event reports and one death.
Symptoms included increased blood pressure and blood clotting - similar to those in the US that led to the substance being banned there in 2004.
"You can't stop this kind of trade - it is like narcotics - all we can do is try and control it and educate the public as much as possible about the dangers of using these kinds of products," the director of DMA's inspection, laboratory and enforcement division, Anne-Marie Vangsted, told NutraIngredients.com at the time.
"The problem is that one distributor is shut down and then another opens. Some operate outide Europe. It is very difficult to control. Other countries have tried to crack down on these kind of players yet still they exist."
The DMA responded to the incident by instigating a public education programme that included information leaflets placed at relevant outlets such as sports and fitness clubs.
Ephedrine, a stimulant and thermogenic, is a constituent of Ma Huang, is banned as a food or supplement ingredient in the European Union as it is in most international jurisdictions. It is, however, still legally obtainable in the UK as it is present naturally in Sida Cordifolia.
Ephedra supplements have been used by sportspeople and those in training environments because its 'herbal speed' associations are thought to boost performance. Its ability to raise metabolism also made it a favourite in the weight loss sector.
The 2004 US ban was preceded by the death of a professional baseball player who was found to have toxic levels of ephedrine in his system.
EU herbal directive
The Health Food Manufacturer’s Association (HFMA) noted at its Spring Seminar that those herbal products not in compliance with the EU Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) byApril 30 2011 will be committing a criminal offence.
Natural Products News reported that a member of the MHRA’s borderline section, David Carter, told the meeting there was “no place to hide” from new laws on herbal medicines.
“We are currently identifying products that will require registration or authorisation and contacting the suppliers to inform them of this. The message here is simple: It is not going to be possible to do nothing, and we will be taking compliance and enforcement action against companies who do not comply with medicines legislation.”
Carter added: “If we find that a company is illegally placing a product on the market we will issue a formal notice to stop — and we will let the company or individual concerned that they are committing a criminal offence. We will judge each case on a case-by-case basis, but we will prosecute if necessary.”