Johns Hopkins: Online Ephedra Retailers Put Consumers at Risk

September 15, 2003

2 Min Read
Johns Hopkins: Online Ephedra Retailers Put Consumers at Risk

Johns Hopkins: Online Ephedra Retailers Put Consumers at Risk

BALTIMORE, Md.If ephedra-containing dietary supplements continue to be marketed and sold via cyberspace, substantial reform in advertising regulation and enforcement is warranted, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Their Web-based investigation of ephedracontaining supplementswhich were identified by labels mentioning ephedra, epitonin, ma huang or Sida cordifoliawas published in the August issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (78, 8:944-6, 2003) (

Between July 7 and July 18, 2002, researchers conducted several searches using herbal weight loss on four search engines: Excite, Google, HotBot and Lycos. They uncovered 32 sites and evaluated them according to truth-inadvertising standards, as set forth by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Of the 32 sites, 17 were missing recommended dosage information and 13 failed to disclose potential adverse effects or contraindications. Even more troublesome to the researchers was that 11 sites contained incorrect or misleading statements, some of which could cause serious harm to consumers. Researchers noted ads claiming products had no possible adverse effects were most common, although incorrect comparisons between ephedra and sinus medications were also frequently identified.

Our results show that a substantial portion of Web sites fail to adequately disclose potential adverse effects or contraindications for use, the authors wrote. Representatives of the supplement industry may suggest that the FTC guidelines are not a strict mandate and that infractions must be evaluated on the basis of an individual product. However, it is in the publics best interest that consumers be informed of any potential for pronounced toxicity.

Researchers pinpointed inaccurate and misleading claims as the most troublesome aspect of online marketing in regard to weightloss supplements. However, researchers targeted the entire supplement industry in their conclusions, saying, Perhaps more specific advertising standards should be developed regarding the marketing of dietary supplements since they are uniquely designed to promote health and may be associated with pronounced adverse effects. ... [P]hysicians should be aware of the potential dangers of ephedra and the presence of inaccurate advertising that may pose serious risks to their patients.

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