Federal regulators continue to warn consumers about tainted, dangerous products that are marketed as dietary supplements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found nearly 300 fraudulent products — promoted mainly for weight loss, sexual enhancement and bodybuilding — that contain hidden or deceptively labeled ingredients. Numerous reports of harm have been associated with the use of these products, including stroke, liver injury, kidney failure, heart palpitations and death.
Dietary supplements are not necessarily FDA-approved. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, dietary supplement firms do not need FDA approval prior to marketing their products.
The FDA advises consumers to look for potential warning signs of tainted products marketed as dietary supplements, such as:
- products claiming to be alternatives to FDA-approved drugs or to have effects similar to prescription drugs
- products claiming to be a legal alternative to anabolic steroids
- products that are marketed primarily in a foreign language or those that are marketed through mass e-mails
- sexual enhancement products promising rapid effects, such as working in minutes to hours, or long-lasting effects, such as working for 24 to 72 hours
- product labels warning that you may test positive in performance enhancement drug tests
Just because you see a supplement product on a store shelf does not mean it is safe or effective. When safety issues are suspected, the FDA must investigate and, when warranted, take steps to have the product removed from the market. It is much easier for a firm to get a product on the market than it is for FDA to take a product off the market.
If you are using or considering using any product marketed as a dietary supplement, the FDA suggests the following tips:
- Check with your health care professional or a registered dietitian about any nutrients you may need in addition to your regular diet.
- Ask your health care professional for help distinguishing between reliable and questionable information.
- Ask yourself if it sounds too good to be true.
- Be cautious if the claims for the product seem exaggerated or unrealistic.
- Watch out for extreme claims — for example, “quick and effective,” “cure-all,” “can treat or cure diseases” or “totally safe.”
- Be skeptical about anecdotal information from personal “testimonials” about incredible benefits or results obtained from using a product.
Visit the FDA’s website for more information.