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I-Team: Dangerous Diet Supplements

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BOSTON (CBS) — What could be better than a two-day diet?

That is what a supplement imported from Japan promises hopeful dieters. There are dozens of similar products imported from Asia that make similar claims.

Some even say they are 100 percent natural with slimming power. But there could be something else in these capsules, something the package won’t tell you. “There are some dangerous compounds in these that can kill people,” warned University of California doctor, Liz Applegate.

These supplements are dangerous and illegal, but the I-Team found them for sale in a small shop in Chinatown. They are also available online.

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports.

So what’s so bad about these pills?

The FDA banned dozens of brands of diet pills, many imported from Asia. The agency tested the pills and found them laced with chemicals and a powerful drug called sibutramine. “It does suppress your appetite and that’s motivating for people,” Dr. Applegate said.

Subutramine was sold by prescription here in the United States under the name Meridia. Just this past October, the manufacturer voluntarily pulled the plug on Meridia because studies found it was linked to cardiovascular problems.

The real danger with these supplements, according to Dr. Applegate, is there is no list of these ingredients on the label. “People aren’t aware that they have a banned substance that’s known to cause heart trouble and arrhythmias and high blood pressure,” she said.

Federal agents are trying to stop these black market pills from getting in the country. “We intercept millions,” said customs and border patrol agent Ed Low who works at the San Francisco airport mail facility.

Sophisticated machinery scans each package coming in to look for illegal substances. Agents seize box after box of these supplements. “When something comes from a foreign country, you just don’t know what’s going to be in it,” Low said.

The FDA says it is impossible to test every diet supplement on the market. But the agency did publish a list of more than 70 different products that tested positive for prescription drugs and chemicals, nearly all of them contained sibutramine.

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