Dangerous slimming products


Swissmedic has analysed 61 illegally imported slimming products to establish their contents. The outcome is perturbing: Over three quarters of the products contained undeclared active ingredients. Over half contained the active ingredient sibutramine, which was withdrawn from the global market worldwide in 2010 because of the health risks it presents.

Experience has shown that demand for slimming aids increases in the spring. Many people order such preparations on the Internet without knowing what they are actually going to receive. The Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products has therefore conducted a laboratory analysis of 61 slimming aids originating primarily in the Far East. The results show that the consumption of imported weight-loss preparations involves substantial risks.

A striking finding was the increasing frequency with which drinks such as coffee – some of which have harmful quantities of banned substances added to them – are offered as slimming aids.

  • 41 products claimed to be "natural" or "herbal". In fact, 35 of these products contained dangerous chemical ingredients
  • Ten products were coffee-based drinks. Eight of these contained synthetic ingredients. One coffee bag contained 45mg of sibutramine, i.e. a life-threatening quantity equivalent to three times the (former) maximum daily dosage
  • Four products were bags containing fruit juice powder, three of which contained undeclared harmful ingredients
  • Four products were capsules containing sibutramine as a declared ingredient. One of these contained the stated quantity, two an incorrect quantity, and one product did not even contain any active ingredient
  • Other undeclared active ingredients found in products included painkillers (paracetamol), anti-inflammatories (diclofenac) and antidepressants (fluoxetine), none of which were declared.

The results of these analyses show that products advertised as "slimming aids" or medicines from uncontrolled sources can represent a huge health risk. For example, Swissmedic is aware of reports from other countries in which consumers had to be admitted to hospital after taking products containing sibutramine. The authorisation of medicines containing sibutramine was suspended in March 2010 due to the possible risk of serious side effects.

Swissmedic urges people not to buy and consume medicines or nutritional supplements from dubious suppliers on the Internet. Swissmedic also reminds private individuals that it is illegal for them to import substantial quantities of medicines into Switzerland.

Swissmedic monitors medicine imports and works closely with the customs authorities to control the illegal importing of medicines. The Agency receives and reviews reports on illegal products, activities and unauthorised distribution, and initiates measures where necessary. It works with national and international authorities to prevent the spread of counterfeit medicines.

Around 90 % of the suppliers who claim to be "reputable" Internet pharmacies operate illegally and without official approval or monitoring. Almost all the products come from production facilities in Asia and are imported into Europe via international distribution channels.