The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said “dangerous diet pills” were “not the answer”.
Senior policy advisor Lynda Scammell said the internet had opened up access to a vast number of websites selling products marketed as ‘slimming’ or ‘diet’ pills.
“Many make attractive claims and offer ‘quick-fix’ solutions but be aware that ‘natural’ does not mean ‘safe’.”
She added: “There is no miracle cure. The reality is that many of these pills are not authorised medicines and therefore their contents are unknown.
“Chances are they simply will not work and may contain dangerous unknown ingredients. The consequences can be devastating.”
During 2015 alone MHRA enforcement officers seized over 240,000 doses of pills boasting slimming properties.
However “a number” of these products marketed as ‘natural’ herbals actually contained the synthetic medicine sibutramine, which was withdrawn across Europe and the US in 2010 after it was associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
“Since 2005, MHRA officials have found hundreds of examples of medicines claiming to contain herbal ingredients but after analysis were found to be adulterated with pharmaceutical ingredients,” it wrote in its New Year warning.
The MHRA urged consumers to look for products with the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) logo and a THR/PL number, which means the products have been assessed by the MHRA for quality and safety.
To apply for THR - which only covers medicine used for minor health conditions where medical supervision is not required like colds - a company must submit:
- a technical dossier covering the quality of herbal ingredients
- a review of safety with an expert report including clinical and non-clinical safety areas carried out by either a registered doctor, pharmacist, a herbal practitioner who is a member of a professional body or a scientifically qualified individual like a toxicologist
- a draft summary of product characteristics according to the European Commission’s guidelines
- a mock up label and patient information leaflet, according to the best practice guidelines
Under UK and European law manufacturers should have the appropriate product license from the MHRA in order to legally sell herbal medicines.
Companies with products targeting more serious conditions must seek a Marketing Authorisation (MA) license.
The European Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) – in place since May 2011 – requires each EU member state to set up a traditional herbal registration scheme for manufactured traditional herbal medicines suitable for use without medical supervision.
It also urged consumers looking to lose weight to consult a doctor or pharmacist before buying slimming pills online.
“Be safe and put your health first. It’s just not worth the risk,” Scammell said.
According to a survey of 580 Americans by research firm Nielsen, the top New Year’s resolutions for last year were to ‘stay fit and healthy’ (37%) and ‘lose weight’ (32%).
This was followed by ‘enjoy life to the fullest’ (28%), ‘spend less, save more’ (25%) and ‘spend more time with family and friends’ (19%).