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Published on May 03, 2012

Beware of Fraudulent Weight-Loss "Dietary Supplements"

May 3, 2012 

dietary supplement on dinner plateMagic diet pill!
Melt your fat away!
Diet and exercise not required!

Messages like these on weight-loss products taunt consumers looking for a quick and easy way to shed pounds.

But these products don’t live up to their claims. Even worse, they can cause serious harm, say federal regulators, who have found dozens of products being touted as dietary supplements that actually contain hidden prescription drugs or compounds that have not been adequately studied in humans.

These products are not legal dietary supplements. They are actually very powerful drugs masquerading as ‘all-natural’ or ‘herbal’ supplements, and they carry significant risks to unsuspecting consumers. There have been deaths associated with these weight-loss products. Make no mistake—they can kill you. Generally, if you are using or considering using any product marketed as a dietary supplement, FDA suggests that you:

  • check with your health care professional or a registered dietitian about any nutrients you may need in addition to your regular diet
  • ask your health care professional for help distinguishing between reliable and questionable information
  • ask yourself if it sounds too good to be true
  • be cautious if the claims for the produce seem exaggerated or unrealistic
  • watch out for extreme claims such as “quick and effective” or “totally safe.”
  • be skeptical about anecdotal information from personal “testimonials” about incredible benefits or results obtained from using a product.

If you suspect a dietary supplement sold online may be illegal, FDA urges you to report that information online. You or your health care professional can also report an illness or injury you believe to be related to the use of a dietary supplement by calling 1-800-FDA-1088 or online at www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/HowToReport/ucm053074.htm.

Dietary Supplements and FDA

Dietary supplements, in general, are not FDA-approved. Under the law (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994), dietary supplement firms do not need FDA approval prior to marketing their products. It is the company’s responsibility to make sure its products are safe and that any claims are true.

Just because you see a supplement product on a store shelf does NOT mean it is safe or effective. When safety issues are suspected, FDA must investigate and, when warranted, take steps to have the product removed from the market. However, it is much easier for a firm to get a product on the market than it is for FDA to take a product off the market.

FDA has recalled more than 40 products marketed for weight loss with potentially harmful ingredients, and has issued consumer alerts about dozens more. The agency also has issued warning letters, seized products, and criminally prosecuted people responsible for these illegal diet products.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, (accessed March 23, 2012)

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