Ineffective and even harmful dietary supplements popular among seniors have been deceptively or questionably marketed as cures and preventive treatments for various diseases, according to a new government report.
Potentially dangerous heavy metals including lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury were found in several dietary supplements, according to a recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office. The contaminants on their own could increase users’ risk of various types of cancer, blindness, deafness and testicular tumors, the report said.
The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t established limits on the levels of heavy metal contamination in dietary supplements, however, the GAO says.
Some supplement makers have promised that their products could prevent or cure potentially fatal illnesses, heart disease and even the very cancers that they may be linked to, the report said, despite federal rules that forbid claims that supplements can be used to treat specific diseases.
Dietary supplement store sales staff even gave advice that could be unsafe, especially among seniors with whom the supplements are fairly popular.
“For example, a seller stated it was not a problem to take ginkgo biloba with aspirin to improve memory; however, FDA warns that combining aspirin and ginkgo biloba can increase a person’s risk of bleeding,” the report said.
Clearing up some of the unsubstantiated claims about supplements, the GAO says Ginkgo biloba is ineffective in treating Alzheimer’s or enhancing memory, there’s no real evidence that ginseng can prevent cancer and heart disease and that garlic hasn’t been proven to be an immune system booster.