You have to be careful when purchasing dietary supplements from flea markets, swap meets, online, ethnic stores and international stores because some of these products are nothing more than health fraud scams. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) representative Cariny Nunez (Public Health Advisory in the Office of Minority Health) warns us that health scams tend to lurk in nontraditional shopping locations and are highly attractive to non-English native speakers and people in remote locations where health care facilities and information are few in number or nonexistent.
“Natural” Does Not Automatically Equal “Safe”
According to FDA representative Dr. Gary Coody (National Health Fraud Coordinator), products marketed as natural are not always safe. Some products marketed as natural can contain other medical ingredients that are not only unnatural, but they are also unsafe to consume.
Also, harmful (and often unlisted) chemical ingredients and contamination may also be present in these products.
For instance, a substance in the FDA-approved drug Meridia called Sibutramine may still be present in some of these natural weight loss products. The problem with this is Sibutramine caused Meridia to be banned in 2010 because of the potential for the chemical to cause strokes and heart conditions.
Coody also warns us that FDA-approved ingredients can prove to be still unsafe if the prescription dosage or ingredient portion is in unsafe proportions. As Nunez already mentioned, health scams tend to target nontraditional populations like ethnic societies and people with persistent health issues like obesity, cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS because these populations are often seeking more affordable and convenient ways to treat their conditions. However, when people in these populations use these questionable products, they often experience a setback in real medical treatment for their conditions.
How Can You Determine if a Marketed Health Product is a Potential Scam?
Be alert for claims like these:
- FDA-Approved. There are no imported or domestic or imported dietary supplements that are FDA-approved.
- “All natural.” As stated earlier, some natural products have other additives that are unsafe to consume. Also, not all plants are safe to consume even if they are found in a supplement.
- Quick fixes. There just aren’t any products out there that can treat a serious illness or condition quickly—no matter if it’s FDA-approved or not. So anything promising drastic results for a condition like obesity or cancer in a short period of time (like days or weeks) should be treated with extreme caution.
- Personal testimonials. Just because someone says the product works doesn’t mean you should ignore the fact there is no scientific verification of these claims.
- Miracle cure. Buzz words like “scientific breakthrough” or “new discovery” are often signs of an exaggerated claim. Our common sense should tell us that if this supplement provided the real cure for a serious condition, the media would already have this supplement featured on the radio, TV, internet or print publications.
- One product does all. Always be cautious about products claiming to cure a host of health conditions.
Finally, consult your physician if you are still considering a drug that has questionable claims or is not FDA-approved. To determine if a product is already banned by the FDA, just go to their website to see if there are any existing legal issues concerning the product.