Monday, July 18, 2016

Bogus claims of nutritional supplements

$37 billion worth of nutritional supplements are bought by Americans every year. They range from memory enhancers, vitamins and minerals, sleep aids, muscle powders and self-proclaimed disease cures. Supplements are regulated by the United States government as food, not medicine as prescription or over-the-counter medicines are. This means before coming to market, manufacturers do not need to prove to regulators that their products are safe or effective. There are supplements that ease or safely help prevent health issues. Some claims on manufacturer's labels are false and sometimes dangerous. The product marketing is often the problem. Supplement manufacturers are prohibited from making misleading or false claims by regulators. The industry is not actively policed and action is usually taken only after complaints from consumers. Advocates say tens of millions of dollars are spent on ineffective or dangerous supplements. Users of these products, in some cases, are using supplements in high-risk combinations with prescription drugs, taking them with life-threatening ingredients or even missing out on approved treatments or remedies. Even though mainstream science has yet to discover a cure for Alzheimer's disease, some new products claim to boost memory and some suggest they can reverse or head off the disease. These claims are starting to get attention from lawmakers and regulators. The ranking member of the US Senate Special Committee on Aging, Sen. Claire McCaskill(D-Mo.) sent letters last year to 15 retailers asking for information on their policies and procedures for marketing supplements. This was after she learned about a supplement called Brain Armor. Brain Armor was advertised as being "protection" against dementia, Alzheimer's and strokes. A nationwide sweep of more than 100 makers and marketers of supplements was announced last November by the Justice Department. The companies were accused of making false claims. Charges were recently settled against a California firm by the Federal Trade Commission. The firm claimed one of its supplements relieved symptoms of menopause including hot flashes and weight gain. Also, the agency settled charges against two other supplement marketers for claiming their product could prevent gray hair or restore its natural color. In some cases criminal activity is charged by Federal prosecutors. One case is a Dallas-based company that marketed a supplement called OxyElite Pro. The weight-loss product was linked to an outbreak of hepatitis and liver disease. According to some consumer advocates regulatory and legal action only comes after a large number of people have been ripped off or injured. Supplement makers are often allowed to continue to sell even after settling charges against one of their products. This is partly due to the 1994 law the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which rules anything labeled as a dietary supplement is assumed to be safe until proven otherwise. The Food and Drug Administration monitors the industry for false and misleading advertising and is supposed to police supplements that contain harmful ingredients. These agencies are out manned. There are between 50,000 and 100,000 dietary supplements now sold on-line and in retail stores. Just because a supplement is widely sold, a consumer should not believe it is automatically safe. These products do not need approval and only a very small amount of products do get looked at. Senator Claire McCaskill has replied, "The current environment for these companies is such that the scientific and safety hurdles are almost non existent, and that has to change". Information provided by Rick Schmitt

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