Feds crack down on miracle supplements, Georgia product too

Good news:  Green coffee is the key to no-effort weight loss; graying hair will reverse with a product that somehow most haven't noticed (but now you know!); and a decade of elderly mental decline can be undone with a simple pill that is advertised with newspaper spreads assuring "you'll hear your brain say Aaaah!"

The Federal Trade Commission took issue with the marketing for Procera AVH, a pill whose backers claimed it could reverse 10-15 years of cognitive loss.
The Federal Trade Commission took issue with the marketing for Procera AVH, a pill whose backers claimed it could reverse 10-15 years of cognitive loss.

Credit: Ariel Hart

Credit: Ariel Hart

Well, maybe not.

Those claims were actually made in the sometimes murky world of dietary supplements.  The Federal Trade Commission this month announced the latest actions in a year-long "sweep" involving several federal agencies targeting illegal marketing of dietary supplements.  Dietary supplements, such as vitamins, are not drugs per se; and only drugs can claim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent a disease.

Not coincidentally, drugs face much more rigorous testing and rules than dietary supplements do.  So it's not kosher to evade drug testing rules by claiming to be a dietary supplement that happens to do what a drug does.

This month, the FTC settled a claim against a Florida company, Sunrise Nutraceuticals, for making false or unsupported statements.  According to the claim, Sunrise said that its product, Elmidrol, increased the likelihood of overcoming addiction and was "the only opiate withdrawal product guaranteed to work."

Even the well-known Georgia juice company Arden's Garden was called out this summer, for saying lemon juice can be effective in preventing cancer and Beet It Better juice can help reduce heart disease and cancer.

“People looking for a dietary supplement to improve their health have to wade through a swamp of misleading ads,” Jessica Rich, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “Be skeptical of ads for supplements that claim to cure diseases, reverse the signs of aging, or cause weight loss without diet or exercise.”

Some scientists have bemoaned a trend in recent years toward misleading claims and shoddy research, even in apparently respectable work, with special concern for health products.

It's a lucrative field that can prey on people's desperation over their physical well-being.  Sunrise sold an 8 oz. bottle of Elmidrol for $75, according to the federal agency.  The FTC has recently alleged that Florida businessmen sold $20 million of a supposed weight-loss supplement, and that its marketers sued and  threaten to sue customers who tried to share negative experiences online or with the Better Business Bureau.  That case has yet to be decided.

Elsewhere, three other products claimed they actually reversed gray hair, attacking a chemical that causes graying.

The FTC's news release stated that "In fact, their root problem was a lack of evidence for their claims."

Some products have hidden active ingredients that are a threat to consumers, the Food and Drug Administration says. In the past year, it has issued warnings for more than 100 products, many marketed for weight loss, sexual enhancement and body building. Here's a list of some of the products it says are tainted.

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