Warning about weight loss products on the web

30 August 2016

Australia's medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has warned of the dangers of buying weight loss medicines online, particularly from unknown overseas websites.

The TGA's Principal Medical Adviser, A/Professor Tim Greenaway, said today the TGA had received many reports about overseas based websites offering 'herbal' or 'drug free' weight loss products.

"Far from being 'natural', many of these products contain ingredients which may be harmful and are not disclosed on the product label," Professor Greenaway said.

"In Australia, many weight loss products are considered medicines. Because of this they are regulated by the TGA and have to meet quality and safety standards but we have no control over medicines and supplements purchased from overseas by consumers on the web."

"Not only have many of these products not been evaluated for safety by the TGA, some are not approved for supply in Australia."

Dr Greenaway said it is most concerning that analysis of seized products by the TGA Laboratories has found products that contain contaminants such as undisclosed pharmaceutical substances, including:

  • Sibutramine - a prescription-only substance in Australia. Sibutramine was withdrawn from world markets in 2010 due to increased risk of cardiac events (like heart attack) and stroke.
  • Phenolphthalein - was withdrawn from sale on many markets in the late 1990's due to concerns over increased risk of cancer with long term use.

"Both Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein can cause dangerous interactions with other medications which could have serious consequences for your health," Professor Greenaway said.

"We strongly urge Australians to use extreme caution when considering buying weight loss medicines online from unknown websites."

"People should also be suspicious of wild claims. If a website or product seems too good to be true, it probably is. Make sure you're buying from a legitimate Australian pharmacy."

Professor Greenaway said if anyone is concerned about products they may have taken they should consult their pharmacist or GP.

More information is available on the TGA website, including details of where to lodge a complaint, at: Buyer beware when considering weight loss products from overseas websites

Media contact: Kay McNiece, 0412 132 585