Feds: 20% Of Weight Loss, Immune System Supplements Making False Claims

It’s not just that the federal government doesn’t want the marketers of dietary supplements to just make up what their products can do for consumers, according to a new study on the prevalence of weight loss and immune system supplement, the Department of Health and Human Services warns that it could actually be harmful to our health to buy in to the hype. The agency just released a new report saying that around 20% of 127 different supplements it investigated made false and illegal claims to cure or treat diseases.

According to the inspector general’s findings, one big problem with these supplements, which are available online and in retail stores around the U.S., is that they just didn’t bother to have actual scientific evidence to back their purported health claims. It seems all these companies care about is getting their slice of the $20 billion pie that is the supplement industry, and not doing the legwork to make sure their products do what they say they do.

Some supplements even state that they can cure or prevent things like diabetes and cancer, or even help people with HIV and AIDS. That is a huge no-no under federal law, and it could be dangerous if someone decides to opt for a supplement instead of an actual medication.

From the Associated Press:

“Consumers rely on a supplement’s claims to determine whether the product will provide a desired effect, such as weight loss or immune support,” the report said. “Supplements that make disease claims could mislead consumers into using them as replacements for prescription drugs or other treatments for medical conditions, with potentially dangerous results.”

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have a chance to go after supplements until after they’re sold to consumers and an issue pops up, because federal law doesn’t require companies to prove their products work before selling them. And when those companies actually did submit scientific evidence to show their products hold water, the investigators found that any evidence provided wasn’t up to snuff with government recommendations.

In a somewhat hilarious note, one company even turned in a 30-year-old college term paper, handwritten (and we’d like to imagine on torn looseleaf paper), to substantiate its claim. Wikipedia and online dictionaries were also popular with companies trying to make their cases.

Now the question is whether or not the FDA should have more oversight and even allow companies to market products with false claims to consumers in the first place. The report brings up the idea of asking Congress for more oversight, in order to review companies’ claims before the items hit the market and are taken by consumers.

In any case, always ask your doctor before taking any supplement that says it will cure you of what ails you, or help you shed pounds. The medical profession knows a lot more about such things than any Google search could provide.

Report: Some dietary supplements illegally labeled [Associated Press]