SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

October 17, 2012

Our view: On miracle pills, caveat emptor

If those magic weight-loss pills and immune system boosters they’re hawking on late-night TV seem too good to be true, it’s because they often are. And a new government report goes one step further, calling many of the products “potentially dangerous.”

Investigators from the federal Department of Health and Human Services recently bought 127 different weight-loss and immune-boosting concoctions either online or in stores across the country and found the labels 20 percent of those products carried false claims, some — that the product could cure cancer or prevent diabetes — downright fantastical.

When asked to back up their claims with scientific proof, some supplement companies submitted their own news releases, or links to Wikipedia entries as evidence. One company, according to USA Today, submitted a 30-year-old, handwritten college term paper.

The issue would be funny if there wasn’t a risk to the public.

“Consumers rely on a supplement’s claims to determine whether the product will provide a desired effect, such as weight loss or immune support,” the report said. “Supplements that make disease claims could mislead consumers into using them as replacements for prescription drugs or other treatments for medical conditions, with potentially dangerous results.”

One would think consumers would be appropriately skeptical without prompting from the government, but if that were the case, supplements wouldn’t be a $20 billion-a-year, spottily regulated industry.

Once again, the old rule rings true: Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

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