A woman from Steinbach is sounding the alarm after learning that the supplement she thought was helping with her arthritis, was actually doing much more damage than good. And a local pharmacist fears there could be many others in that same boat in Steinbach and area.

Carla Anne Ferguson says earlier this year her health took a turn for the worse while on vacation. Ferguson started to experience shortness of breath as well as some rashes. She initially wrote it off, thinking it was probably connected to the high humidity, or possibly that the food she was eating was not as clean as her body was accustomed to. However, after returning home, the symptoms only got worse. 

According to Ferguson, she began to experience symptoms of having a heart attack. She had chest pains, could not move her left arm, was having cramps in her back, found it difficult to breathe, had a raging headache and blisters on her lips. Ferguson decided to go to Emergency.

At the hospital, an EKG determined that though there was a problem, it was not her heart. It was then that doctors questioned if she was taking cocaine. And, though she made it clear that she was not on cocaine, Ferguson says she could tell that the doctors felt she was hiding the truth.

No diagnosis was determined, and Ferguson eventually returned home. While at home, Ferguson realized that she was almost out of her Umary supplement that she took on a regular basis for arthritis. While trying to order another shipment, Ferguson stumbled upon online forums where people were suggesting that the Umary supplement might actually contain a hidden drug. It was then that she put two and two together and started to wonder if there was a connection between this potentially hidden drug and the doctor accusing her of being on cocaine.

Ferguson ended up talking to RCMP, who referred her to a pharmacist, who then referred her to a drug testing lab. She quickly learned that her supplement did have a hidden drug. And, though the hidden drug is not cocaine, it is diclofenac.

Pharmacist Scott Penner is the owner of Pharmasave in Steinbach. Penner explains that diclofenac is a very potent prescription, anti-inflammatory drug. He notes the only form of diclofenac that you can get over the counter in Canada is in a Voltaren gel. 

Ferguson says her bottle of Umary capsules did not have diclofenac listed on the label. 

UMARYThe Umary supplement, which can be purchased through Amazon, does not list diclofenac on the label.

"Like any product online, if it's bought offshore, you never know what's actually in it," says Penner. "You have to take it at face value, (that) what they say on the label is what's in it."

Ferguson says that according to the drug testing lab, the Umary supplement consistently shows diclofenac present at about 35 to 55 per cent of the sample. Her sample was 40 to 45 per cent. 

According to Penner, if one capsule is made up of that much diclofenac, that means Ferguson was ingesting about 320 milligrams of diclofenac in a single capsule. 

"This is triple the maximum daily dose of diclofenac in Canada right now, what's recommended," says Penner. 

And, Ferguson admits, that she did not always stick to just a single capsule per day. 

"We'd been doing lots of walking on vacation, I would take an extra one at night," she says. "I had taken two for four days and ended up in the hospital."

Ferguson recalls that she first started taking the Umary supplement at the suggestion of others. Not one to take supplements, Ferguson decided to give it a try after hearing from others how much better they felt after trying Umary. After looking over the ingredients and not seeing anything on the label to cause concern, Ferguson took her first capsule and says within 20 minutes she felt amazing and could walk up and down the stairs without pain. 

"It worked like a magic pill," she says. 

Penner refers to diclofenac as a "potent anti-inflammatory," which is why he says people feel great and have more mobility after consuming it. However, he notes there are serious side effects on the stomach, including ulcers. It also causes kidneys to be less efficient, places more strain on the heart, and reduces the effectiveness of the circulatory system. 

Penner says with Ferguson taking at least 600 milligrams of diclofenac in a single day, those are toxic doses. He notes if that is continued for a week or two it could potentially be catastrophic. Penner says it makes perfect sense that Ferguson was experiencing heart attack symptoms. 

Penner admits that since October, he has had people asking him constantly about this Umary supplement. He notes with Steinbach being a tight-knit community, word gets around fast and if someone learns of a pain relief option, the news will spread quickly. Penner says initially, when he looked at the label, there was no reason to be concerned. However, after seeing the results from the drug testing lab, Penner says his opinion has changed entirely.

"Right now, I would say stop taking it," urges Penner. "I have to take the lab test at face value, and it has over 300 milligrams of diclofenac in each capsule, this is dangerous. I would stop taking it right away."

Penner says he would go as far as to recommend that anyone who has consumed this supplement make an appointment to see their doctor and get their blood pressure and heart checked, as well as look for possible signs of internal bleeding. 

Meanwhile, Ferguson says though she is no longer taking the supplement, she still has some of the symptoms she experienced while taking the capsules. Ferguson says she does not know how long the pain will last but realizes it could have been much worse, especially if she was mixing the Umary supplement with heart medication or other drugs to treat high blood pressure or cholesterol.

With files from Corny Rempel