One feared dead in France from slimming pills

26th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 26, 2006 (AFP) - One person is believed to have died and five others were in intensive care in French hospitals Wednesday after taking slimming pills containing the thyroid glands of pigs, health officials said.

PARIS, April 26, 2006 (AFP) - One person is believed to have died and five others were in intensive care in French hospitals Wednesday after taking slimming pills containing the thyroid glands of pigs, health officials said.

Authorities were trying to contact more than 70 people who are thought to have taken the capsules, all prepared by a single pharmacist in the 17th arrondissement, or district, of Paris.

The use of animal thyroid extract in slimming pills is banned in the French medical profession's code of ethics, but it is not against the law.

Normally prescribed to help patients with over-active thyroid glands or diabetes, the treatment is supposed to boost metabolism and limit the body's absorption of fats and sugars.

Analysis of the suspect capsules showed that they contain accepted amounts of dried pig thyroid extract, but also large amounts of "another substance of thyroid origin which was not part of the prescribed preparation," the health ministry said.

Further tests were under way to determine the nature of this substance.

The alarm was raised after a person -- whose name and sex have not been made public -- died in a Paris hospital on April 18.

Since then 16 people have been hospitalised after experiencing symptoms including palpitations, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The five in intensive care are either in a coma or suffering from "neurological difficulties," according to Didier Houssin, director-general at the health ministry.

A judicial investigation has been opened, and the Order of Doctors -- the medical profession's official body -- has also launched an enquiry. The pharmacy where the capsules were prepared has been provisionally closed.

The affair has focussed critical attention on the fashion for quick-fix weight cures, many accessible via the Internet, and prompted calls for more effective regulation.

Those who took the white-and-blue capsules were all prescribed them by an endocrinologist -- a gland and hormone specialist -- as an effective way of losing weight.

"In normal doses this treatment is not at all dangerous. Of course if there are 20 times the correct amounts of thyroid extract, it will act as a poison. But I prescribed a normal treatment," the specialist -- named only Olivier C. -- told Le Parisien newspaper.

But senior health officials said unscrupulous doctors were making money out of a treatment that should be confined to genuine medical disorders.

"This affair shows how some doctors are prepared to take leave of the rules and do whatever they like. ... It is revolting behaviour," said Patrick Pelloux, president of the Association of Emergency Hospital Doctors.

"Many women fall victim to these practices because they are ruled by the slimming dictatorship. But these irregular weight treatments are extremely dangerous for the health, and now we have the startling proof. We urgently need tighter controls," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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