As of May 1, the FDA has ordered a nation wide recall of several Hydroxycut dietary aid products, due to reports of severe liver injury.

In all, there have been 23 cases of liver injury reported, occurring in persons between 21-51 years of age. The liver injury reported ranged from mild to severe, and resulted in one death of a 19 year old man. In the majority of cases, no preexisting medical condition that would predispose the individual to liver injury was identified. In some cases, discontinuation of Hydroxycut usage resulted in recovery of liver function, but some sustained permanent damage. Although the liver damage appears to be relatively rare, FDA believes consumers should not be exposed to unnecessary risk.

Products recalled include Hydroxycut Regular Rapid-Release Capsules, Hydroxycut Hardcore Liquid Caplets, Hydroxycut Caffeine-Free Drink Packets, and Hydroxycut Carb Control, amongst others. Check out the FDA website link for the complete list.

The learning point in this unfortunate turn of events is that herbal products are not necessarily safe just because they are ‘natural’. These products are not regulated in the strict fashion that prescription medications are. Prescription meds must go through extremely rigorous testing before they are permitted on the marketplace; therefore, we know a lot about their side effect potential before we start using them. It may sometimes seem like herbal remedies are safer, only because the research had not been done to understand how they work, or what their side effects may be. Remember that cocaine is derived from a natural product; then again, so is digoxin, a medication we use to treat heart arrythmias. My point is not that all herbal based treatments are bad; my point, rather, is that taking a herb or drug that does not have a known risk vs benefit profile is… well…. a risky business, indeed.

With regard to the struggle to get that extra weight off, there are some people for which treatment with prescription medications such as sibutramine (Meridia) and orlistat (Xenical) can certainly be appropriate and helpful. If you are looking for help to lose weight, or to treat any other condition for that matter, please, please, seek your physician for help, rather than the unknown domain of inadequately researched herbal remedies.

Dr. Sue © 2009