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Justice Department cracks down on dietary supplement makers

As a follow-up to posts we recently wrote about pharmaceutical company marketing practices, we also wanted to warn readers about the dietary supplement industry. Unlike prescription drugs, which are subject to FDA approval before they can go on the market, virtually any product labeled as a “dietary supplement” can be sold without FDA scrutiny.

Supplements that prove to be dangerous and harmful may be recalled, but recalls are only so effective. Moreover, they obviously cannot undo the harm some consumers have already suffered.

Dietary supplements advertising only vitamins and minerals are typically safe (even if, as studies have found, they don’t always contain what they advertise). The problematic supplements are usually those that promise outcomes like weight loss, increased sex drive, more muscle or any other health claims that seems too good to be true.

In many cases, these supplements have been found to contain dangerous or banned chemicals that do not appear on the label. Each year, tens of thousands of Americans go to emergency rooms for medical problems and health scares related to dietary supplements.

According to recent news stories, the industry has gotten so bad that the U.S Department of Justice is bringing criminal charges and civil enforcement actions against more than 100 individuals and companies. The most high-profile target was a company called USPlabs, which manufactures “OxyElite Pro” and “Jack3d,” two workout supplements.

The company apparently advertised that its products were made with “natural plant extracts,” but the key ingredient in at least one of their products is an amphetamine-like stimulant manufactured in a chemical factory in China. Liver injuries and several deaths have been attributed to use of the supplements.

To be sure, there are plenty of supplement manufacturers that make high-quality products that are also accurately labeled. The problem, however, is that lax industry regulation makes it difficult to sort out the true from the false and the good from the bad.

Please be aware that whenever you take a dietary supplement, you can’t necessarily be sure of what you’re ingesting. And as a rule of thumb: If a supplement makes a claim that sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

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