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Unsafe Imported Dietary Supplements are Targeting Ethnic Groups

Tim Boyer's picture
FDA warns ethnic supplement shoppers

A recent press release from the FDA warns buyers of supplements that just because the labeling claims or appears to show that the supplement was made in your home country, it may in reality be just another labeling lie.


The FDA recently reminded consumers―especially those who are from other countries―that that supplement you bought from an ethnic or international store, flea market, swap meet or online, could be lying to you when it’s labeling is scripted in your native tongue.

According to Cariny Nunez, M.P.H., a public health advisor in the Office of Minority Health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), health scammers often target advertising to people who prefer to shop at nontraditional places, especially those who have limited English proficiency and limited access to health care services and information.

“These scammers know that ethnic groups who may not speak or read English well, or who hold certain cultural beliefs, can be easy targets,” says Nunez in the FDA press release that states that many advertisers put the word “natural” somewhere on the package of a product, knowing it inspires trust in certain ethnic groups such as Native Americans, Latinos, Asians and Africans who traditionally seek herbal or so-called “natural” remedies.

In addition, it’s not just the labels you have to be skeptical about, but also in advertisements marketed in ethnic newspapers, magazines, online, infomercials on radio and TV stations or in ethnic stores that claim their supplements came from their home country.

“It’s not surprising that people are more comfortable with familiar products that claim to come from their home country or are labeled and marketed in the consumer’s native language, whether they buy them at a U.S. market or get them from friends and family who have brought them from home,” Nunez says.

Furthermore, the release likewise points out that those products with the claim “Made in the USA” may not be made in the U.S. either.

And even if you know for sure that the supplement did come from your country of preference, many may still be unsafe such as some Ayurveda Medicine and Supplements that were found to have hidden dangers.

So How Do You Know if a Supplement is Fraudulent or Not?

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Figuring out what’s the real thing and what isn’t can be daunting even for a health professional attempting to track down not only the manufacturer of the supplement, but the sources and quality control of each ingredient--which can come from multiple countries--that goes into the supplement.

However, as a general guideline, the FDA provides the following claims that should be red flags for all consumers:

• One product does it all. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases.

• Personal testimonials. Success stories such as “It cured my diabetes,” or “My tumors are gone,” are easy to make up and are not a substitution for scientific evidence.

• Quick fixes. Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, even with legitimate products. Beware of language such as “lose 30 pounds in 30 days,” or “eliminates skin cancer in days.”

• “All natural.” Some plants found in nature can kill if you eat them. Plus, FDA has found products promoted as “all natural” that contain hidden and dangerously high doses of prescription drug ingredients.

• Miracle cure. Alarms should go off when you see this claim or others like it such as “new discovery” or “scientific breakthrough.” A real cure for a serious disease would be all over the media and prescribed by doctors—not buried in print ads, TV infomercials, or on Internet sites.

• FDA-Approved. Domestic or imported dietary supplements are not approved by FDA.

For an FDA warning focused on women in particular, here is an informative one about how the abuse or misuse of Skin Numbing Agents can result in life-threatening side effects.

Reference: FDA press release “Some Imported Dietary Supplements and Nonprescription Drug Products May Harm You