Making fun of CAM claims

To the (pseudo)skeptics who like to make fun of dietary supplement claims (e.g. “immune support”): do you not realize that these claims are “regulated by the FDA”: (Check paragraph (f) and following.) Just asking. It’s ridiculous to make fun of claims that are so covered by regulation.

Oh, you don’t think this has any meaning? It does when you get warning letters from the FDA or, worse yet, inspectors.


2 Responses

  1. I would estimate that 99% of Americans likely do not know about the regulations surrounding claims. As a “CAM marketer” myself, I can tell you that explaining what your products are supposed to be good for (ie. “claims”) is the hardest and most frustrating part of this business.

    The Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) that supposedly regulates this industry is much more gray than it is black and white. The FDA interprets it one way, marketers interpret it another way.

    And for the most part, marketers play the (illegal) game of “we’re going to cross the line and be as over the top as much as we can and as quickly as we can so that we build up a customer base and an impression in the mind of the marketplace that Product X = Lowering Cholesterol, or Stopping Hair Loss, or Burning Fat, or whatever” everyday.

    When the FDA catches up to them a few years later, they slap them on the wrist with a “you are making drug claims” letter, and the company usually backs off and/or gets fined. (Sometimes it doesn’t stop there and the FTC get involved. The FTC does not follow due process by the way. What they want, they take. You get to figure the rest out later.)

    But the CAM marketer usually has successfully seeded their message into the mind of the marketplace, and that’s all the momentum they really need. This is even worse in the case of MLM nutritional supplement companies (which I mostly hate!). They can’t control what their thousands of distributors are saying in one-on-one meetings, so they spread the “this cures cancer” message to the founding distributors who then spread this message to their downline, who spread it to their downline, etc. It’s a wildfire effect.

    But it’s getting worse and the FDA seems to be way over-stepping their bounds. Pat recently blogged about the FDA declaring that companies making claims for cherries inferred that cherries were now considered a drug. What?!?

    Without a doubt, respectable companies in this space — and I like to think that Jigsaw Health is one of those — do actually want SOME regulation. For instance, label regulation. ALL the ingredients you say are, or are not, in there damn well should be exactly what is in the bottle! Anything else is outright lying!

    But we also need to make amendments to DSHEA that allow for CAM marketers to talk about scientific evidence surrounding ingredients. Some evidence is merely suggestive, but there is plenty of double-blind, placebo controlled studies that have been done on natural products. (Dr. Steven Bratman M.D. has written several volumes on the subject.) This is actually what is being proposed in US Congress under HR 4282. More here.

    Funny enough, I have friends read articles related to symptoms and ask me, “Ok, so what should I take?” The reason they have to ask is that we can’t really say on the web site, or we’re practicing medicine.

    So until we get some changes, all most companies can rely on are anecdotal customer testimonials. (Which, oh by the way, the FDA counts as drug claims, too, according to their letters.)

  2. Glad to hear your comments on this. Most people don’t understand the regulations on health claims, and comments on drug commercials and supplement claims betray this lack of understanding.

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