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For Immediate
April 27, 1999

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May 1999

  Health Advocates Urge FTC/FDA to Halt Deceptive Statements on Ginseng Labels and Ads

WASHINGTON - Ginseng dietary supplements are often labeled and advertised with deceptive statements about the herb’s supposed benefits, according to complaints filed with the federal government by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI evaluated studies conducted on ginseng over the past 20 years and has published a review in the May 1999 issue of the organization’s Nutrition Action Healthletter. Based on that review, the Washington-based health-advocacy group is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to halt phony claims.

Ginseng is sold in the form of tablets and capsules, as well as an ingredient in teas, juice drinks, snack bars, and other products. Many brands of ginseng products assert that the herb can improve mood or boost energy. For example, Ginsana, the best-selling brand of ginseng supplement, claims it “enhances physical endurance” and “improves oxygen utilization.” Centrum’s brand of ginseng claims to “help your body generate the energy it needs and may enhance physical performance.” And Celestial Seasonings ginseng tea “helps your body cope with the fatigue and the hurried pace of day to day life.”

“Numerous controlled clinical studies conducted over the past two decades have not found that ginseng offers any significant benefit. Panax ginseng, the most commonly available type, does not boost energy levels, mood, or memory and doesn’t reduce stress,” says CSPI nutritionist David Schardt. “What is most striking about ginseng is the amount of misinformation in ads and on packages.”

Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, added, “With the supplement industry burgeoning, it is important to both consumers and responsible companies that claims be truthful. Deceptive claims will undermine public confidence in the whole field of supplements, some of which provide real benefits.”

According to the Nutrition Action article, “Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on ginseng in pills, tinctures, teas, chewing gum, snack chips, and ‘smart drinks.’ And while the herb has been used for thousands of years in Asia as a ‘tonic,’ studies in humans have failed to turn up convincing evidence of any benefit.”

Today, CSPI has sent complaints to the FDA and FTC urging those agencies to investigate the labeling and advertising of ginseng products and to halt false or misleading claims.