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FTC to Consumers: Dietary Supplements Don’t Treat Diseases

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by Josh Long -

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC or Commission) reminded consumers that dietary supplements aren’t intended to treat diseases, despite products that promote supplements for various serious conditions including arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and obesity.

Colleen Tressler, an FTC consumer education specialist, noted FDA doesn’t evaluate dietary supplements for effectiveness and safety.

“Be skeptical about amazing health claims," Tressler warned in a Nov. 30 blog. “Dietary supplements aren’t meant to treat, prevent or cure diseases, so avoid any product that says it can."

The FTC employee acknowledged some supplements have proven benefits, but she noted others don’t.

Tressler recommended consumers consult a health professional before taking a new dietary supplement and ask about such things as potential side effects and how the supplement will interact with medications.

Tressler also referenced a proposed court settlement to highlight her employer’s role in cracking down on deceptive advertising claims by supplement marketers.

Last month, the Commission and State of Maine announced a proposed settlement with Health Research Laboratories LLC and its owner, Kramer Duhon. The defendants deceived consumers with promises that their supplements could treat various conditions ranging from arthritis to memory loss, state and federal authorities alleged in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine.

Among the various allegations: The defendants made false and unsubstantiated claims that NeuroPlus, a brain supplement, could protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, reverse memory loss, and improve cognitive performance and memory.

Another product subject to the complaint, BioTherapex, is a supplement that purportedly targets the liver to address various ailments, the Commission said.

Under the proposed order, the defendants are prohibited from engaging in business practices that state and federal authorities alleged caused financial harm to consumers, according to an FTC news release. The order also imposes a judgment of US$3.7 million, which the Commission said will be suspended upon the payment of $800,000.

“Health Research Labs prides itself on offering its customers high-quality scientifically-backed products," Andrew B. Lustigman, an attorney in New York representing the defendants," said in an emailed statement.

Added Lustigman, a partner with the law firm Olshan Frome Wolosky LLP: “The company fully cooperated with the government throughout its three-year investigation. While we dispute the government’s allegations, my clients chose to resolve the matter in order to avoid the further cost and distractions of litigation, and instead focus their attention on continuing to provide their customers with innovative products."

However, Health Research Labs’ dispute with the Commission is not the only time the company has attracted the attention of the federal government. In October 2014, FDA wrote a letter to Duhon, advising him that certain websites promoted products for conditions that caused them to be drugs. Products subject to the letter included AtheChel Advanced, Betarol, BioTherapex, RejuvaLifeRx, Ultimate Health Formula and Omega-3 Cardio Plus.

“Omega-3 Cardio Plus is a must have in your arsenal against heart disease and high cholesterol," FDA quoted one of the websites. “It helps to eradicate decades worth of dangerous plaque buildup in your arteries, enables ideal blood pressure levels and even reduces the likelihood of terrifying chest pains or heart palpitations."

FTC’s investigation, which commenced in December 2014, raised, in part, the same issues addressed by FDA in its warning letter, noted Lustigman, who chairs his law firm's Advertising, Marketing and Promotion's Group.

“My client addressed those concerns years ago," he said.

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