Watching Your Weight — Chromatography Analyses Brazilian Supplements

Aug 10 2017 Read 946 Times

Dietary supplements are big business — with close on £400 million per year spent in the UK. Vitamins, minerals, botanicals and amino acids are just some of the pills and potions that can be found in supermarkets and health food shops. Over one third of adults regularly take a supplement despite most people not really needing anything other than a healthy balanced diet.

Pills for weight loss

One of the main supplement types are those marketed to aid weight loss. A recent study on supplements seized by the police in Brazil has suggested that some of the supplements contained significantly more caffeine than the amount stated on the labels and even some drugs were detected — including laxatives. The researchers’ aim was to validate a chromatography method, but the work highlights some of the risks that people face when they take unregulated supplements.

The research, published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology — Determination of caffeine and identification of undeclared substances in dietary supplements and caffeine dietary exposure assessment — analysed supplements seized by the Brazilian police between 2010 and 2016 — as being products not allowed to be sold in Brazil — and focused on weight loss supplements.

Chromatography investigates

One of the aims of the work was to validate a GC-MS method for the quantitation of caffeine and identification of other substances in supplements, mainly weight loss products, and to estimate the caffeine intake by consumers.’ The team used a simple sample preparation method that included extraction with chloroform and water, centrifugation and then analysis of the organic layer.

Of course, chromatography can be used for many different aspects of food analysis — including contamination as discussed in the article, How Safe is Safe? Analytical Tools for Tracing Contaminants in Food, or making better chocolate as discussed in the article, Rapid Screening of Volatile and Semi-Volatile Organic Components in Cocoa Beans and Chocolate Products Using a Portable GC/MS System.

Do you know what you’re taking?

The researchers’ aim was to validate a chromatography method, but the work highlights some of the risks that people face when they take unregulated supplements. Out of 213 samples tested — from 52 different products — almost 27% of the samples contained more than 120% of the caffeine levels stated on the labels.

The researchers argue that by considering the maximum recommended dose on the product labels, several of the samples could lead to people taking a dose of caffeine above the recommended daily allowance of 400mg.

Equally worrying, in 28 of the samples the researchers identified undeclared drugs including drugs banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency — particularly troubling for any athletes taking one of these supplements.

The work highlights that you must be careful what you take. Can you trust the manufacturer of the supplement? Regulations on labelling vary around the world — and the internet means you can shop anywhere. Be careful.

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