Adverse events of herbal food supplements for body weight reduction: systematic review*
Summary Herbal weight-loss supplements are marketed with claims of effectiveness. Our earlier systematic review identified data from double-blind, randomized controlled trials for a number of herbal supplements. The aim of this systematic review was to assess all clinical evidence of adverse events of herbal food supplements for body weight reduction for which effectiveness data from rigorous clinical trials exist. We assessed Ephedra sinica, Garcinia cambogia, Paullinia cupana, guar gum, Plantago psyllium, Ilex paraguariensis and Pausinystalia yohimbe. Literature searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, Amed and The Cochrane Library. Data were also requested from the spontaneous reporting scheme of the World Health Organization. We hand-searched relevant medical journals and our own files. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. The results show that adverse events including hepatic injury and death have been reported with the use of some herbal food supplements. For herbal ephedra and ephedrine-containing food supplements an increased risk of psychiatric, autonomic or gastrointestinal adverse events and heart palpitations has been reported. In conclusion, adverse events are reported for a number of herbal food supplements, which are used for reducing body weight. Although the quality of the data does not justify definitive attribution of causality in most cases, the reported risks are sufficient to shift the risk–benefit balance against the use of most of the reviewed herbal weight-loss supplements. Exceptions are Garcinia cambogia and yerba mate, which merit further investigation.