Alzheimer’s disease poses what experts agree is a looming public health crisis. But it also exacts an incalculable personal toll on people living with the condition and the family and friends who love them. The FTC and the Food and Drug Administration just sent warning letters to three companies advertising that their products can treat diseases like Alzheimer’s. It’s a development that merits industry attention.
Like many consumers, the FTC and FDA did some online “shopping” to see what companies are saying about dietary supplements and other remedies advertised for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, dementia, and related illnesses. The FDA found products that appear to be making drug claims without legal approval under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. And the FTC spotted some highly questionable advertising claims, possibly in violation of the FTC Act’s substantiation requirement. The agencies sent joint warning letters to Florida-based Gold Crown Natural Products, South Carolina-based TEK Naturals, and New Mexico-based Pure Nootropics, LLC, giving them 15 working days to address the concerns.
Even if your business isn’t making unproven Alzheimer’s claims – and we hope you’re not – the letters offer insights into marketing practices that raise FTC compliance concerns.
Disease claims demand scrupulous scientific proof. It’s illegal to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure a disease unless you have competent and reliable scientific evidence in hand. For claims about Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other serious conditions, that means well‑controlled human clinical studies.
Products that claim to do it all often do nothing. We’ve spotted an interesting phenomenon in ads for questionable health products. They often position themselves as a panacea for a broad range of diseases. As the FTC and FDA noted in their letters, the advertisers didn’t stop with Alzheimer’s claims. Some companies also said their products would reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, epilepsy, and schizophrenia – to name just a few of the conditions they mentioned in their marketing materials. In our experience, a product advertised as a cure-all often turns out to be a cure-nothing. That’s why ads like that are more likely to attract federal or state law enforcement interest.
Challenging deceptive health claims continues to top our to-do list. Just because a product is available online or sits on a store shelf is no guarantee that its ad claims are true. Why are questionable health representations an FTC priority? Because they inflict a triple whammy on consumers. First, money spent on bogus remedies is money consumers won’t have for reputable care. Second, time spent on spurious “cures” may delay their access to proven treatments. And third, some products on the market may contain risky undisclosed ingredients that could harm rather than help.
For information about substantiating health claims, consult FTC resources for business. To find reliable information about treating diseases, visit MedlinePlus.gov and Healthfinder.gov.
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