Some Supplements Are Basically Drugs

Some Supplements Are Basically Drugs

Natural, herbal over-the-counter supplements seem like they should be safe — but they can contain as much active ingredient as some prescription drugs.

Photo by Ano Lobb

That’s the case for some yohimbe supplements, according to a new study published in Drug Testing and Analysis. Yohimbe is an African tree, and supplements made with its bark are sold as a natural (but not necessarily effective) fat-burner and aphrodisiac.

But the active ingredient, yohimbine, also exists as a prescription drug for erectile dysfunction. It’s not used very often, in part because of side effects including irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and anxiety. So researchers were concerned when they found as much yohimbine in some supplements as in a typical dose of the drug — especially since the yohimbine appeared to be either synthesized or purified.

In other words, the makers may have been dumping prescription-strength drugs into their product. Meanwhile, other brands of the supplements contained no yohimbine at all.

Unlike drugs, which have to be proven safe and effective before they are sold, supplements can make it to market with minimal safety checks. That’s why it’s good to skip supplements or be extremely cautious about using them — and why these findings were sad but not surprising.

[Drug Testing and Analysis via Medical Daily]


  • That’s why yohimbine is banned in Australia like a lot of other supplements freely available in the US.

      • Remember the good old days when ephedra and DMAA was available in pre workouts and fat burners, now those were “supplements” LOL

      • As long as you buy it from a local (online or otherwise) retailer. Bringing it into the country from outside will get you in trouble with customs.

  • As a pharmacologist, all supplements should be treated as drugs. When anyone asks you if you are taking any medications, include supplements in your answer. Many of them use the same elimination pathways as pharmaceuticals. This is important.

  • Not a very well argued point, as it assumes that drugs are inherently safer than natural remedies – ie: stuff we’ve been taking for the last few centuries vs synthetic replacement.
    Whilst there are certainly safeguards around the distribution of drugs, you could fill a weighty book with the amount of people who have suffered ill effects after taking prescription drugs, so declaring them unilaterally safe is both illogical and untrue.

    The other easily obtainable fact that seems to have been ignored, is that drug manufacturers will use natural over synthetic if it is cheaper and more potent.
    Thus, it is a case of drugs mimicking natural supplements, not the other way around.

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