A health risk for consumers: the presence of adulterated food supplements in the Netherlands
The use of food supplements is increasing. They are marketed as beneficial for health, well-being, physical or mental condition and performance, or to prevent diseases. Producers add synthetic compounds or illicit herbal material to food supplements to claim desired effects. Claims made to support marketing without scientific evidence are, however, illegal. Intake of adulterated food supplements may lead to serious adverse effects. The aim of this paper is to report the results of analyses of (adulterated) food supplements conducted by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority between October 2013 and October 2018. In total, 416 supplements were analysed of which 264 (64%) contained one or more pharmacological active substances or plant toxins, such as caffeine, synephrine, sildenafil, icariin, sibutramine, higenamine, hordenine, phenethylamine, methylsynephrine, DMAA, phenolphthalein, octopamine and ephedrine. When compared to dose levels that are considered safe, daily doses of the substances in the food supplements were sometimes much higher, causing a risk for consumers who are unaware of the presence of these pharmacologically active substances. In many cases, neither food nor medicines legislation (easily) enables enforcement actions. This means that some products containing pharmacologically active substances (i.e. synthetic medicines and their illicit analogues), stay available on the market. An undesirable situation because for many of these substances no detailed toxicity data are available.