Many seniors take dietary supplements in an effort to improve their health. Some supplements have medical value. But many are worthless, even dangerous. Seniors can be at risk for health fraud by scammers who target people who are at their most vulnerable. These crooks prey on the hopes of those who are experiencing ill health, pain and fear. The companies spend a bundle on infomercials and ads in the back of magazines—often more than they spend on the ingredients that go into their products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reminds consumers that supplements are not FDA-approved. Consumers should be wary of products that promise fast, easy weight loss or a miracle cure for diseases and conditions such as arthritis, cancer or HIV/AIDS. They should be aware of red flag terms such as “male enhancement,” “anti-aging” and “scientific breakthrough.” Consumer protection experts also warn of pyramid schemes that recruit seniors to invest in worthless supplement products and sales materials.
The hit to your pocketbook isn’t the top danger of these products. Some supplements can endanger your health. It’s important to know that, for the most part, supplements are not regulated, and the FDA only steps in if a safety issue is suspected. Many supplements are produced in unregulated plants, often out of the U.S., with no safety standards or inspections. Some contain substances that have not been tested on humans, as well as pharmaceutical ingredients that should not be available over the counter or have been banned entirely. For example, “all-natural muscle builder” products have been found to contain steroids. Some “Chinese herbal” weight loss pills actually contained sibutramine, a dangerous and banned drug. A recent study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that even when the FDA orders a recall of supplements containing banned ingredients, manufacturers and dealers regularly ignore the order and these products continue to be sold.
The study authors, from Harvard Medical School, analyzed recalled supplements and found that many remained on store shelves over a year after the recall. Dr. Pieter A. Cohen and his colleagues said, “Action from the FDA has not been completely effective in eliminating all potentially dangerous adulterated supplements from the U.S. marketplace. More aggressive enforcement of the law, changes to the law to increase the FDA’s enforcement powers, or both, will be required if sales of these products is to be prevented in the future.”
For now, it is largely up to consumers to protect themselves. Read up on supplement safety on the FDA website http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm246742.htm. Speak to your doctor before you spend your money on supplements. Following the advice of a trained, licensed healthcare provider is the wisest choice when it comes to making healthcare decisions. Scam artists take advantage of our hopes. But the best source of a sense of well-being comes from knowing we have made educated choices.
Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2014, with excerpt from the Journal of the American Medical Association.