Today, there are about 80,000 dietary supplement products on the market, up from 4,000 25 years ago. Of those, some 500 are memory supplement products. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) tested three of the most popular memory supplement products to determine whether they contained the ingredients listed on their labels. It found that two of the three did not and warns that they could be dangerous for older adults. Avoid memory supplements as they might contain unsafe ingredients.
For two of the three memory supplement products the GAO tested, the GAO found they did not contain Ginkgo biloba, even though it was listed as an ingredient on their labels, or the product contained far less than its label indicated. Rather, both memory supplement products contained an unknown substitute, and the GAO could not therefore vouch for the products’ safety. The third memory supplement product tested contained the fish oil and other ingredients listed on its label.
The GAO warns that heavy-metal contaminants in supplements, such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury, can be dangerous to people’s health. They may cause cancer. Indeed there are many ingredients in supplements that can cause harm.
Notwithstanding the fact that supplements are largely unregulated, and they may contain ingredients that are dangerous to people’s health, supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry. Memory supplements, which are a tiny share of the supplement market, generated $643 million in sales in 2015.
Curiously, the government claims that it does not allow importation of prescription drugs because they may be unsafe, yet it allows the unfettered sale of supplements, which are likely to be more unsafe than drugs bought from verified pharmacies abroad. Moreover, though the FDA has authority to regulate dietary supplements, generally the FDA tends not to do so and, when it does, it is only after they go to market. The FTC has authority to regulate advertising of supplements but does precious little in that regard to ensure truth in advertising.
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