Food agency warns about health risk from herbal mixtures sold online

The Dutch food agency has warned consumers about two herbal preparations with ingredients that could pose a risk to public health.

The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) advised people not to buy or use herbal preparations called Shambala and OPEN UP that came from the United Kingdom and are sold on the internet.

Shambala and OPEN UP contain the Beta-carboline alkaloids harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine.

When exposed to high doses of these substances, officials said nausea, vomiting and serious issues such as hallucinations, disturbed vision and paralysis may occur. With single use, in dosages as stated on the packaging, there could be harmful effects on the central nervous system. This can lead to pupil dilation or low blood pressure.

Potential risk
NVWA has instructed vendors to stop selling the products and to withdraw them from the market and is monitoring this action.

The agency commissioned a study of Shambala and OPEN UP, a herbal mixture with similar ingredients. This was prompted by a report from the National Poisons Information Center (NVIC) about Shambala.

The two products were then sampled by NVWA and analyzed at Wageningen Food Safety Research (WFSR) with a risk assessment by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

Superfoods B.V., one seller of Shambala online, said it would examine findings of the assessment but the ingredients, Caapi and Bobinsana, are legal in the Netherlands.

The product had been sold for almost a year with “thousands of different people” using it and no complaints or reported negative health effects, according to a statement from the company.

Another past warning
In December, the NVWA also warned consumers about an herbal preparation called Sulami.

The product was found to contain a medicine for overweight people and a diuretic used to get rid of excess fluid. These agents were added illegally and are not listed on the packaging.

The NVWA ordered operators to stop selling it and to warn customers who have already purchased the product not to use it.

Sulami is an herbal preparation from Indonesia that, according to the label, contains six herbs. In the Netherlands, it is sold online as a natural herbal weight loss product.

Analysis found it also contained sibutramine and canrenone. These pharmacologically active substances are not permitted in herbal preparations. Sibutramine is a weight loss drug banned in the Netherlands since 2010. Canrenone is a water pill and not allowed.

The Netherlands Pharmacovigilance Centre (Lareb) has received a report about dizziness, hallucinations and insomnia when using Sulami. The National Poison Information Center also recorded a similar report.

Finally, a focus in the NVWA’s 2022 plan is working on balancing the amount of tasks with available resources.

As in other years, the agency will spend almost half and the largest part of available capacity in 2022 on monitoring food safety. This concerns supervision of foodstuffs sold to consumers, but also the use of antibiotics, animal feed, the slaughter process and animal by-products.

Work is also ongoing on a proposal to improve the system of inspection and supervision in the meat supply chain.

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