In late 2013, there were 45 cases of acute liver failure (ALF) in Hawaii, and 29 of those people reported taking OxyELITE Pro (an herbal dietary supplement marketed for weight reduction and “fat-burning”) 60 days before illness onset. Of 8 initial cases, 2 patients needed urgent liver transplants, one died, and 5 eventually recovered.1 The manufacturer of OxyELITE Pro voluntarily recalled the product after receiving a warning letter from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
One way to prevent situations like this from occurring might be to ban the sale of weight loss or sports enhancement supplements unless they are rigorously tested and approved by the FDA. Voluntary reporting to the FDA is time-consuming and it takes time for the FDA to follow up on these reports.
As primary care physicians, we need to consistently ask patients about their use of supplements, educate them about the potential dangers, and identify those who are experiencing adverse reactions. While we can’t put a stop to the harm that some herbal dietary supplements might inflict on a public eager to embrace quick fixes for weight loss and improved strength, we can be the best first responders.
Linda L. Wong, MD