The coronavirus pandemic has brought the usual charlatans out of the woodwork.
Purveyors of unproven dietary supplements are bilking people who are desperately searching for some way to ward off Covid-19. At the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action's publisher, we're doing our best to stop them.
We've already spurred the Food and Drug Administration to stop televangelist Jim Bakker from selling a phony colloidal "Silver Solution" cure.
But the implications of the FDA's action seem to have been lost on dozens of other outfits hawking unproven supplements that make implicit antiviral claims.
Ironically, the FDA anticipated these scams almost two decades ago.
In 2002, the agency explained its approach to structure-function claims, so named because they describe how a food or supplement affects the body's structure (say, the skeleton) or its function (digestion, for example).
These are claims like "builds strong bones," as opposed to "prevents osteoporosis." To the FDA, the latter is a disease claim because, like a drug, it promises to "diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent" a health problem.
The distinction is critical. A disease claim means that the FDA can regulate the supplement as an unapproved drug and has the legal authority--rarely used--to seize it from warehouses.
When the FDA put together its 2002 guidance, it offered sample claims. "Supports the immune system," for example, was an acceptable structure-function claim. "Supports the body's antiviral capabilities," on the other hand, was a disease claim.
Apparently, dozens of supplement manufacturers never got the memo.
When CSPI conducted a market scan on Amazon in late May, we identified 46 products that made antiviral claims. All are clear violations of the FDA's guidance.
* "Help your immune system fight viruses and bacteria in sinus, throat and respiratory tract." (Biotica Immune Support Capsules)
* "Help fight bacteria, viruses, and disease." (KaraMD Total Immunity)
* "Fend off viruses." (Bellisso Turmeric Curcumin)
In June, CSPI urged the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to take action against the manufacturers. We also asked Amazon to stop selling the products.
We don't expect these to be the last illegal claims in this pandemic. But rest assured that we do fully intend to alert the feds to the most egregious ones.
And you can help. If you see something that looks sketchy, drop me an email at email@example.com.
Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH, President Center for Science in the Public Interest
Caption: "Naturally strengthens the immune system against viruses" is an illegal disease claim.