Fraudulent Health Claims: Don't Be Fooled
Consumers waste billions of dollars on unproven, fraudulently marketed, and sometimes useless health care products and treatments. In addition, those with serious medical problems may be wasting valuable time before seeking proper treatment. Worse yet, some of the products they're buying may cause serious harm.
Poison Ivy Is Natural,
It's not hard to be taken in by a promoter's promises, especially when successful treatments have been elusive. But the fact is that when it come to claims for health-related products, a healthy dose of skepticism may turn out to be the most promising prescription.
How to Spot False Claims
Be wary of health care clinics that require patients to travel - and stay - far from home for treatment. While many clinics offer effective treatments, some prescribe untested, unapproved, ineffective, and possibly dangerous "cures." Moreover, physicians who work in such clinics may be unlicensed or lack appropriate credentials. Contact state or local health authorities where the clinic is located before you arrange an appointment.
Why Health Fraud Schemes
Some Medical Problems That Attract Health Fraud Schemes
When you are evaluating cancer-cure claims, keep in mind that no single device, remedy or treatment is capable of treating all types of cancer. Cancer is a name given to a wide range of diseases that require different forms of treatment best determined by a medical doctor.
For more information about cancer, contact the American Cancer Society office listed in your yellow pages. To order free publications on cancer research and treatment, call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-422-6237.
HIV and AIDS
Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision about trying an untested product or treatment. Ask for time to get more information from a knowledgeable physician or health care professional. Legitimate health care providers will not object to your seeking additional information. The U.S. Government has established a toll-free HIV-AIDS Treatment Information Service, 1-800-HIV-0440. This information help line is staffed by health information specialists who are fluent in English and Spanish.
Consumers spend an estimated two billion dollars a year on unproven arthritis remedies. Thousands of dietary and natural "cures" are sold for arthritis - mussel extract, vitamin pills, desiccated liver pills, shark cartilage, and honey and vinegar mixtures. Many supplements marketed as arthritis remedies are not backed by adequate science to determine whether or not they offer any relief. For a free brochure about unproven remedies, call the Arthritis Foundation, toll-free, 1-800-283-7800 (9:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday-Friday), or write: Arthritis Foundation, P.O. Box 19000, Atlanta, Georgia, 30326.
Precautions for Taking
The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) review of the safety and efficacy of these products is significantly less than for drugs and other products it regulates. Be cautious about using any supplement that claims to treat, prevent or cure a serious disease. The FDA has approved only a few claims for labeling, based on a review of the scientific evidence (for example, claims about folic acid and a decreased risk of neural tube defect-affected pregnancies). The FDA allows other disease claims on supplement labels only if they are based on authoritative statements from scientific organizations like the National Academy of Sciences.
Some dietary supplements have documented benefits; the advantages of others are unproven and claims about those products may be false or misleading. For example, claims that you can eat all you want and lose weight effortlessly are not true. To lose weight, you must lower your calorie intake or increase your calorie use through exercise. Most experts recommend doing both. Similarly, no body building product can "tone you up" effortlessly or build muscle mass without exercise. Claims to the contrary are false. Other questionable claims may involve products or treatments advertised as effective in shrinking tumors, curing insomnia, reversing hair loss, relieving stress, curing impotency, preventing memory loss, improving eyesight, and slowing the aging process.
In addition to lacking documented effectiveness, some dietary supplements may be harmful under some conditions. For example, many herbal products and other "natural" supplements have real and powerful pharmacological effects that could cause adverse reactions in some consumers, or cause dangerous interactions with other medicines. It doesn't necessarily follow that supplements marketed as "natural" are safe and without side effects. The FDA monitors reports of adverse reactions to dietary supplements to identify emerging safety issues.
According to the FDA, the following substances in dietary supplements are among those that can raise serious safety issues: chaparral, comfrey, lobelia, germander, willow bark, ephedra (ma huang), L-tryptophan, germanium, magnolia-stephania preparations and dieter's teas. In addition, some vitamins and minerals can cause problems for some people when taken in excessive doses. Finally, a label of "natural" is no guarantee of a product's safety or effectiveness.
If you use dietary supplements, always read product labels to determine the percentage daily value for various nutrients in the product. Also, it's a good idea to seek advice from a health professional before taking dietary supplements, particularly for children, adolescents, older people or those with chronic illnesses, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
For More Information or
To Report a Problem
You can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the Consumer Response Center by phone: toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); TDD: 202-326-2502; by mail: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or through the Internet, using the online complaint form. Although the Commission cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations.