BODY & BRAIN
Tainted supplements flood the market
Hundreds of dietary products contain potentially harmful drugs
B Y AIMEE CUNNINGHAM
From 2007 to 2016, the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration flagged nearly
800 over-the-counter dietary supplements as tainted with potentially harmful
pharmaceutical drugs, a study shows.
And less than half of those products were
recalled by their makers.
Researchers in California analyzed the
FDA’s public database of tainted supplements, identifying both the type of contaminating ingredients they contained
and how the products were marketed.
Most of these supplements, which are
allowed to contain only dietary ingredients, included drugs such as steroids, the
active ingredient in Viagra and a weight-loss drug banned from the U.S. market.
The products had been marketed pri-
ATOM & COSMOS
Giant spikes of ice
may stud Europa
Spires could complicate plans
to land a probe on the moon
BY JENNIFER LEMAN
Europa’s frozen landscape could be
treacherous territory for future landers.
Jagged spires of ice may stud the
Jovian moon’s equator, scientists report
October 8 in Nature Geoscience. These
structures, called penitentes, could reach
heights of 15 meters and occur roughly
every 7. 5 meters, computer simulations
show, potentially making parts of the
moon hazardous for future missions.
“All kinds of interesting things might
be on the surface” of Europa, says Jeff
Moore, a planetary geologist at NASA’s
Ames Research Center at Moffett Field,
Calif. “You’d want to know about them if
you wanted to send a lander.”
Penitentes on Earth are sculpted
through sublimation, when sunlight
transforms snow or ice in a dry envi-
Icy spires known as penitentes, like these
in Chile’s Chajnantor plain, may circle the
equator on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.
ronment into water vapor without first
melting it. As parts of the snow or ice sublimate more quickly than others, surface
depressions form. Those spots concentrate sunlight, speeding up sublimation
even more and carving the icy blades.
Earth’s icy spires grow at high altitudes in tropical and subtropical latitudes
where conditions are just right: abundant
sunlight but low temperatures.
The structures haven’t been directly
observed on Europa because imagery
resolution is so low. “The best pictures
we have of Europa don’t show things any
smaller than a house,” Moore says. “You
can’t really make out any detail.”
Drawing on data from previous mis-
sions, Moore and colleagues developed
marily for sexual enhancement, weight
loss or muscle building, scientists report
in the October JAMA Network Open.
More than half of U.S. adults have
reported taking dietary supplements,
FDA says it cannot test all
These supplements aren’t
subject to the same regula-
tions, testing and approval
process that are required for pharma-
ceutical drugs. But if the FDA identifies
tainted supplements after they’re on
the market, the agency can issue public
warnings or suggest that the company
voluntarily remove the product.
Whether that approach is effective
raises questions, though, says general
internist Pieter Cohen of Cambridge
Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass., who
was not involved in the new work. Voluntary recalls don’t ensure a product is
completely removed from shelves or that
consumers become aware and stop using
a product, Cohen’s research has found.
Only 360 of the 776 supple-
ments flagged as tainted from
2007 to 2016 were recalled, the
new study found. “What really
jumped out at me,” Cohen says,
is that “when the FDA detects
drugs in supplements, more
than half the time the product
isn’t even recalled.”
Supplement use carries health risks. A
2015 study estimated that 23,000 emer-
gency room visits each year are linked to
supplements. And about 2,100 patients
Portion of tainted
in the United States
from 2007 to 2016
simulations to test how easily penitentes
could form on Europa. The simulations
suggest that proper conditions exist
along the equator to support penitente
growth and that these structures could
stretch as high as a five-story building.
Penitentes could explain odd radar
observations and unusual temperature
readings from the moon. Radar signals
from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto
Rico, for example, hinted at uneven features on Europa. Perhaps the signals
bounced back and forth between deep
crevices and ridges of icy spires before
surging back to their receiver, says study
coauthor Daniel Hobley, a planetary
geologist at Cardiff University in Wales.
And abnormally chilly readings collected