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Be Wary of Imported Supplements: FDA

Officials say scammers often target groups that don't speak English, have limited access to health care

WEDNESDAY, March 9, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- You could be putting your health at risk if you buy imported dietary supplements and nonprescription drug products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

Health fraud scammers often sell such products at ethnic or international stores, flea markets, swap meets or online, Cariny Nunez, a public health adviser in the FDA's Office of Minority Health, said in an agency news release. This may be because many people who shop at these places have poor English-language skills and limited access to health care services and information, she suggested.

"These scammers know that ethnic groups who may not speak or read English well, or who hold certain cultural beliefs, can be easy targets," she added.

For example, Native American, Hispanic, Asian and black people may have a long tradition of using herbal -- or so-called "natural" -- products, and many of these advertisers include the word "natural" on product labeling because they know it inspires trust in certain groups, Nunez said.

Gary Coody, the FDA's national health fraud coordinator, warned that just because a product is labeled "natural" doesn't mean that it's safe. These products may contain hidden drug ingredients or be contaminated with potentially harmful chemicals, he said in the news release.

People should be suspicious about dietary supplements and nonprescription drug products that claim they are miracle cures, promise quick fixes or advertise that they can cure a wide range of diseases, the FDA officials said.

Before buying any unproven product or one with questionable claims, talk to a doctor or other health care professional, the experts said. In addition, consumers can check the FDA's website to find out if the agency has taken any action on the product.

"Remember, dietary supplements are not drugs," Coody said. "They are not substitutes for the drugs your health care professional prescribes. And you should let your health care professional know what supplements you are taking, because they may interact in a harmful way with prescribed medications or keep a prescribed drug from working."

If you or someone in your family has a bad reaction after using such a product, you can file a confidential report online at the FDA's MedWatch.

More information

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health offers tips for wise supplement use.

SOURCE: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, news release, March 9, 2016

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