An investigation into the efficacy of over-the-counter dietary supplements revealed the products did not even contain the herbs that were listed on the labels. This prompted the New York state attorney general’s office to order four major retailers – Walgreens, Target, GNC and Wal-Mart – to yank their store-branded supplements from shelves.
The good news is most of what those products did contain was reportedly “filler,” which is mostly to say the substances were generally harmless (beans, carrots, powdered rice, peas,etc.), though there were some that contained possible allergens not listed on the labels (peanuts and soybeans).
The bad news is, there is a strong potential that many other supplements from other brands remain on shelves without clear accountability of what is contained therein. Plus, these brands use carefully-worded promotional ads to tout uses that are unproven and unapproved. In some cases, they can be very harmful.
For instance, green tea extract can result in severe liver damage so serious that some have required liver transplant. In fact, The New York Times reports 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries can be directly linked to dietary supplements. Ten years ago, that figures was just 7 percent.
While many patients recover, some do not. In same cases, the damage has proven fatal. The Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network found that between 2004 and 2012, there were at least 845 patients who suffered severe, liver-induced damage as a result of consuming dietary supplements. Many of these were young men who were consuming bodybuilding supplements.
One doctor referred to the shelves on which these products are contained as “the Wild West,” because people rarely know what they’re getting. Yet, it’s a $32-billion-a-year industry, with manufacturers promising everything from weight loss to muscle building to suppression of colds and chronic illnesses.
Our product liability attorneys recognize the rise in dietary supplement injuries is alarming, and the move by the New York attorney general’s office should have everyone proceeding with caution.
This is especially important because the supplement industry is largely unregulated. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 bars the U.S. Food & Drug Administration from evaluating or approving most supplements prior to sale. In most cases, the agency has to wait until consumers are harmed before it can remove those items from store shelves. Largely, the industry operates on an “honor system,” but that often means the products are not correctly labeled, packaged in proper doses or thoroughly studied for safety.
In fact, the FDA postulates some 70 percent of dietary supplement manufacturers don’t follow the baseline quality control standards that would help to prevent adulteration of supplements. In fact, of the 55,000 different supplements that are marketed and sold in the U.S. only about 0.3 percent are studied well enough to know their side effects with relative certainty.
The New York Attorney General’s findings just further underscore that point.
Industry representatives have long argued the primary problem is with a fringe set bucking acceptable, safe practices. However, when four major retailers are found to be selling products that aren’t what they appear, that’s a serious violation of trust, and consumers are right to be wary.
The Ferraro Law Firm handles claims resulting from defective medical products or dangerous pharmaceuticals. Call 1-800-275-3332 for a free and confidential consultation. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.
New York Attorney General Targets Supplements at Major Retailers, Feb. 3, 2015, By Anahad O’Connor, The New York Times
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