What's New -- CSPI Press
For Release August 21, 1997
For more information:
Tricks And Misleading Labels
Fool Dietary Supplement Shoppers
Consumer Activists Expose Market Practices
They "improve your memory." They're "essential in the production of energy." They "improve
the ratio of lean muscle to fat."
They're a lot of hogwash.
Some claims on supplement labels are honest. Many others -- while truthful -- are misleading.
And you can't depend on the pills' manufacturers or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to
tell you which are which.
"In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act," said David
Schardt, an associate nutritionist with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). "But
many of the claims the law permits aren't educational unless the class is Marketing 101."
CSPI exposed some of the tricks of the supplement trade in the September issue of its Nutrition
Action Healthletter. "It doesn't matter," said CSPI nutrition director Bonnie Liebman, "whether
or not the claims come with a disclaimer saying that the FDA hasn't evaluated them."
Six examples of misleading claims that were highlighted in the Nutrition Action article:
- Pharmaton's Ginkoba is a "Mental Alertness Dietary Supplement" that "improves memory &
concentration" and "enhances mental focus." The label "affirms that the statements presented
on this package are supported by well-controlled clinical studies." No good studies, however,
have tested ginkgo biloba on healthy people's ability to remember or concentrate. "There is no
sound scientific evidence to support the use of ginkgo," says Thomas Crook, a former chief of
the Geriatric Psychopharmacology Program at the National Institute of Mental Health who is
familiar with studies on ginkgo.
- KAL Chromium Picolinate 200 is "clinically shown to improve the ratio of lean muscle to fat,"
according to the label. Clinically shown in lousy studies, that is. The best studies found no
effect on muscle or fat. Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission got Nutrition 21,
which makes chromium picolinate, to stop claiming that it causes long-term weight-loss,
lowers blood cholesterol, or treats or prevents diabetes. But other companies like KAL can
continue to make the same unsubstantiated claims...until the FTC acts.
- Twinlab makes StressMates and Lederle makes Stresstabs. These and other companies cash
in on a stressed-out society by slapping the word "stress" on B-complex-&-vitamin-C
supplements. There is no good evidence that the supplements will either replenish nutrients
lost during emotional stress or actually reduce stress. In 1986, New York State stopped ads
for Stresstabs that showed a man working late at the office. "There is no scientifically
recognized need for stress vitamins to relieve everyday stress," said then-Attorney General
- Nature's Plus Pedi-Active A.D.D. has the words "Advanced Dietary Delivery System" on the
label, but in smaller print. To most people "ADD" stands for "attention deficit disorder."
Nutrition Action asked Nature's Plus if it had evidence that its combination of
phosphatidylserine and other substances found in the brain helps kids with ADD. So far: no
answer. "Frankly, we were very interested in learning about the supporting science," says
Lucas Meyer, the company that supplies Nature's Plus with its phosphatides. "We've asked for
it, but have not yet received any information."
- Jarrow Formulas L-Carnitine 250 states on the label that "carnitine is an essential cofactor in
the production of energy from fat (lipids)." True. But don't expect the recommended one to
six capsules a day to burn away unwanted body fat or make you feel more energetic. "The
healthy body already has all the carnitine it can use," says exercise physiologist David Costill of
Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. "The extra is simply excreted away."
CSPI, a nonprofit health-advocacy organization, was founded in 1971. CSPI accepts no
government or industry funding. It is supported largely by the 900,000 subscribers to its
Nutrition Action Healthletter. The organization is well known for obtaining nutrition labeling
on all packaged foods and for its nutritional studies of restaurant foods.
- Nature's Resource Cranberry says "research indicates Cranberry fruit may help maintain a
healthy urinary tract by preventing the adhesion of bacteria (E. coli) to the bladder." In 1994,
Jerry Avorn and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School found that drinking ten ounces of
cranberry juice cocktail a day can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in older women.
There's only one catch. "We don't know what the active ingredient in cranberry juice beverage
is," says Avorn. "And we don't know whether it survives drying and scrunching." Nature's
Resource Cranberry claims that two capsules equal one ounce of cranberry juice cocktail. So,
even if what's in Nature's Resource is active, you'd need 20 capsules a day to equal the ten
ounces used in the original study.
[What's New Index] [CSPI Home Page]