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Supplements like the "herbal Viagra" Lamar Odom allegedly took are barely regulated by the FDA

The NBA champion was rushed to the hospital after being found unconscious in a Las Vegas–area brothel.

Basketball star Lamar Odom and ex-wife Khloé Kardashian.
Basketball star Lamar Odom and ex-wife Khloé Kardashian.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Lamar Odom, the two-time NBA champion and ex-husband of Khloé Kardashian, is fighting for his life in a Nevada hospital after being found unconscious on Wednesday.

According to the 911 call from the Los Angeles–area brothel where Odom was discovered, he had reportedly been using cocaine and 10 "herbal Viagra" tablets over several days.

It's not yet clear what led to Odom's hospitalization, but the situation has drawn attention to the sexual enhancement supplement he favored, called Reload. Most people understandably assume that these "natural" pills are safe. But that's not always the case.

The FDA lists hundreds of supplements as tainted, including Reload

Reload, available in natural food shops and online, is one of hundreds of supplements on the Food and Drug Administration's tainted supplements list because it contains hidden ingredients that can be deadly.

According to the FDA, lab analyses confirmed that Reload is laced with sildenafil, the active ingredient in the prescription erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.

The FDA has warned that sildenafil "may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs such as nitroglycerin and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease often take nitrates." But because this ingredient isn't disclosed on Reload's packaging, consumers would have no idea about the risks and potential interactions.

The FDA regulates supplements very, very loosely

Reload is just part of what the FDA calls "a growing trend of dietary supplements or conventional foods with hidden drugs and chemicals."

Supplements are only loosely regulated. The FDA treats them like food under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, and there's no requirements to prove they're safe and effective, list the amounts of specific ingredients on packaging, or warn consumers about potential side effects.

There's also little oversight of the manufacturing processes, so Reload is one of many examples where potent drugs have been found in herbals unbeknownst to consumers.

According to the LA Times, the agency has already issued 20 public warnings this year on similar sex-drive boosters with names like "Weekend Warrior" and "King of Romance."

A 2013 commentary in JAMA Internal Medicine reported, "The quantity of adulterated sex supplements sold in the United States is staggering." As an example, the researchers pointed to a single manufacturer in Utah, which, as of 2011, produced a million capsules per month of sexual enhancement supplements that were tainted with prescription-strength drugs.

This week, a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that supplements cause 23,000 emergency department visits nationwide every year. Of those cases, more than 2,000 are serious enough to warrant hospitalization. The study has caught the attention of critics, since supplements are regulated in a way that presumes safety, unlike pharmaceuticals.

Read more about supplement regulations and their potential dangers.