Vitamins are supposed to be good for you. But if recent research is a clue, expensive pills and powders may offer more health risk than a nutritional increase.
From vitamins to specialized supplements to improve focus and weight loss, several formulations have been linked to abnormal heart rhythms, worsening asthma symptoms and even death.
So starting this week, federal regulators will take a more proactive role in overseeing the industry of more than $ 40 billion, which has continued to flourish in recent months with the entry of new companies.
On Monday, Scott Gottlieb, head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), announced a series of steps his agency would take in the coming months to crack down on manufacturers that promote the ability of their formulas to do everything from increasing energy to cure cancer. Of particular concern, he said in a statement, are pills that claim to treat Alzheimer's, a serious brain disease that hinders memory and has no cure.
Dietary supplements "can not pretend to prevent, treat or cure diseases such as Alzheimer's," Gottlieb wrote. "Such claims can harm patients."
On Monday, the FDA said it sent warnings or advisory letters to 17 companies for illegally selling products claiming to treat Alzheimer's disease.
According to a recent Business Insider review of dozens of "wellness" formulations that include multivitamins, weight loss pills and energy formulas, other niche supplements can be equally risky.
Read more: The $ 37 billion supplement industry is barely regulated, and is allowing dangerous products to slip through the cracks
The review found that the vast majority of supplements and vitamins have little or no solid science behind them. However, every few months there seems to be a new company that sells the pills.
A new generation of supplements is emerging in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley
When supplements were introduced in the 1930s, they were presented as a way to address serious nutritional deficiencies that caused diseases such as rickets and scurvy.
But in recent years, a new generation of supplements has emerged. Most of them are being initiated by a handful of California startups in areas that include Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. The ads of the companies overflow with recent buzzwords such as minimalism ("Everything you need and nothing you do not need!"), Bright colors, "clean feed" and personalization. They often target specific demographic data, such as people who are considered overweight and, sometimes, vulnerable populations, such as older people at risk of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
There is little or no evidence that any of these pills or gummies actually improve your health. Last month, the authors of a new article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that most supplements that purport to help prevent Alzheimer's disease or improve memory do nothing of the sort.
Read more: New evidence suggests that most vitamins are useless. Here are the only ones you should take.
"No known dietary supplement prevents cognitive decline or dementia; however, supplements advertised as such are widely available and appear to gain legitimacy when sold by major retailers in the United States," they wrote.
The authors of a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that supplements, especially those advertised to lose weight, can send about 23,000 people to emergency rooms each year. And between 2000 and 2012, the annual rate of negative reactions to supplements increased by 166%, they found.
The researchers behind another recent supplement study found that in the same 12-year period, 34 people died after using pills and powders to lose weight and have sexual performance. Six of the deaths resulted from the ephedra of the prohibited weight loss supplement, and one person died after using yohimbe, an herbal supplement used for weight loss and erectile dysfunction.
How the FDA is taking strong measures
With any multivitamin or supplement, experts advise caution because none of these products has been approved as a drug by the FDA. Your risks can include allergic reactions, changes in normal heart rhythms, and even an increased risk of serious diseases, such as cancer. Its potential benefits, such as increased energy and better digestion, may not be worth it.
This week, the FDA said it sent a series of warning letters to companies that are illegally selling about 60 products. Many of them are sold as unapproved or mislabeled drugs that claim to treat or cure diseases.
"These products, which are often sold on websites and social media platforms, have not been reviewed by the FDA and have not proven to be safe and effective in treating the diseases and health conditions they claim to treat," Gottlieb wrote. in a separate statement on Monday. .
The articles include tablets, capsules and oils, and are manufactured by companies such as Pure Nootropics, DK Vitamins and TEK Naturals, according to the charts published on the FDA website.
Pure Nootropics said it is developing a plan to solve the problems posed by the FDA.
"We will act quickly to update our website to comply with all applicable rules and regulations," the company said in an email.
TEK Naturals said it is in contact with the FDA and is "committed to meeting all legal requirements."
Companies must respond to the FDA within 15 days by describing their plans to address the problems cited in the letters. If they do not, the products can be seized, Gottlieb said.
"Health fraud scams take advantage of vulnerable populations, waste money and often delay adequate medical care, and we will continue to take steps to protect patients and caregivers from unproven and misleading products," said Gottlieb.