Alzheimer’s and Snake Oil Salesmen

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took definitive action in February 2019 when they filed warning letters against companies making false claims about their products’ ability to treat dementia.  This move on behalf of federal officials was meant to prevent patients from using supplementary drugs that might interact in harmful ways with their FDA-approved medication.  Dietary supplements claiming to possess medical benefits have become a problem in the drug marketplace, particularly as consumers forego their doctor-prescribed medication in favor of supplements that do not work.

In the case of products that were being marketed as valid treatments for Alzheimer’s, there was one particular company called Gold Crown Natural Products which was a repeat offender—it was issued multiple warning letters for fraudulently claiming that melatonin and colostrum supplements provided benefits to those dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.  The primary issue with products like those being produced by Gold Crown is that dietary supplements cannot market themselves as a cure or treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s.

What Can Federal Authorities Do?

Although it seems that the FDA should be able to put a stop to the spread of this kind of supplement, it is not as easy as it sounds.  This is because the FDA over the manufacturing and labeling of the products.  These dietary supplements are also often sold online through platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and these online transactions make the sale of the products hard to trace and regulate for federal authorities.  Despite the difficulties involved in regulating these supplements, the FDA managed to issue up to 40 warning letters in the past five years to companies placing these products on the market.

Why Does it Matter?

Many people seem to be under the impression that dietary supplements are harmless. However, if taken in conjunction with medication, they may cause harmful side effects.  Additionally, some patients also decide to take supplements in place of FDA-approved medication, and therefore risk regressing in their treatment plan. The spread of these dietary supplements can also lead to false hope among patients, and risks harming the bond between clinician and patient.   

These types of false claims are not only harmful for the people who buy into them, but also for the advertising and sales industry as a whole, because they reduce overall trust in the system.  If people are unable to trust the claims that companies make about their products—particularly the claims made by smaller companies—then they are less inclined to buy the products being marketed.  There must be an attempt made by advertising companies to find some solid basis for their claims, otherwise consumers will remain wary about their products’ efficacy.