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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Your Health

"Natural" Supplement Dangers

Lamar Odom's condition raises the question of the safety of "natural" suplements. 

Friends and family of former NBA star Lamar Odom are watching his condition closely. He was found unconscious at a Nevada brothel earlier this week. According to police reports, two employees of the Love Ranch brothel said Odom had consumed both cocaine and sexual enhancement supplements during his stay. 

Dennis Hof, owner of Love Ranch in Las Vegas told the Washington Post that Odom had purchased Reload, which he called “herbal Viagra,” from the brothel.

Lamar Odom (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison)
Lamar Odom (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison)
In 2013, the FDA issued a public notice advising against the use of the product. The back of package warns the consumer against using the product if he is already using nitrates. It directs the user to consult a medical professional before taking the supplement. 

The proprietary herbal blend list, which includes ginseng and maca extract – both known to increase energy, fails to reveal that his product also contains sildenafil – the active ingredient in Viagra. 

“There’s no clear idea or clear delineation of
in each formulation, it can vary lot by lot and bottle by bottle because there’s no standardized formula,” said owner and pharmacist of Eddie’s Pharmacy Sam Mansuri.

So far this year, the FDA released 32 public notices of sexual enhancement drugs or supplements that contain an undisclosed ingredient. FDA laboratory analysis confirmed that 30 of those contained sildenafil. Of the two remaining one contained desmethyl carbodenafil and dapoxetine. Carbodenafil is similar to sildenafil and dapoxetine is used to delay ejaculation. The other contained vardenafil which is the active ingredient in Levitra. 

All 32 of these supplements contains substances that are used to treat erectile dysfunction. 

“You can’t say that it’s a herbal form of Viagra if it contains the same ingredient as Viagra. That’s against the law,” said Associate Professor of USC’s School of Pharmacy James Adams.

Mixing substances that affect the same system, like the cardiovascular system, can have very significant effects. 

“Alcohol and cocaine when taken in combination can potentiate each others’ existence. That is true of a lot of herbal supplements, things like Saint John’s Warts can affect the metabolism of prescription drugs as well other compounds that someone may ingest,” said Mansuri. “Those interactions because they are not filtered through a physician or a pharmacist are often missed.”

“Just because it’s not a prescription, doesn’t mean it’s harmless,” said Mansuri. 

The FDA’s Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program is an online platform in which consumers can report adverse effects to medication, as well as issues with product quality. Consumers can also report issues with foods, beverages and cosmetics. 

Click here to listen to the radio story. 

"Natural" supplements (Annenberg Media / Maria Cavassuto)
"Natural" supplements (Annenberg Media / Maria Cavassuto)

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