The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) said it had detected seven cases this year of slimming and erectile dysfunction food supplements laced with sibutramine, sildenafil and tadalafil, or their analogues.
These compounds are typically used in sexual performance drugs like Viagra or weight loss products but are not authorised for use in food supplements. Sibutramine in 2010 was banned in slimming pharmaceuticals in Germany due to its potential to raise blood pressure.
In the same year, the European Medicines Agency recommended its market removal.
Sildenafil and tadalafil have been linked to heart attacks and even death.
“It is a difficult problem to control”
The problem of spiking was on the rise, with a proliferation of websites selling such products along with sex shops, and contaminated products being confiscated at major transport hubs like Frankfurt airport, a BfR spokesperson told NutraIngredients this morning.
“It is a difficult problem to control because the products are often coming in from outside the country,” said BfR food safety department head of nutritional risk, allergies and novel foods, Diana Rubin.
“We have seen contaminated products from France, Denmark, Hong Kong, China, the UK and the US and more. These products are not safe under German food law and are being removed from market. The problem is getting worse.”
“There are more and more products like that on the market, more reports from the labs, and some complaints from consumers.”
In 2011, there were 22 alerts with the same compounds of their analogues like hydroxyhomosildenafil, hydroxythiohomosildenafil and sulfoaildenafil.
The manufacturers-marketers of those products were similarly contacted by the relevant agency – the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL).
“They have a special project at the BVL to tackle internet selling,” Rubin relayed.
"We advise consumers to exercise caution with drugs which are marketed as food supplements for enhancing sexual pleasure or for losing weight," said BfR president, Dr Andreas Hensel.
"In some cases, consumers are misled about the true contents of the products and their properties, including their health risks."
The BfR said even when the substances were taken at recommended dosage as drugs, “severe unwanted effects (e.g. stroke, heart attack) may occur in rare cases.”
“Such products too are mainly distributed via the Internet and are often advertised as ‘natural’ or ‘100% plant-based’ food supplements.”
The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in August 2011 warned consumers off products like ‘Instant Slim’, ‘Acai Berry ABC’ and ‘Sport Burner’ it said testing had revealed traces of sibutramine.
In issuing the consumer alert, the MHRA advised consumers to look out for products that were approved under the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) as a means to avoid products that may contain controlled substances.
The warning follows others issued by regulators in Denmark, Australia, the US, Hong Kong, Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada.