200 million Americans take dietary supplements and the industry generates more than 35 billion dollars annually in the U.S. alone. In this special report, The Doctors look at how a bogus product can get on the shelves.
The Doctors’ producer Leslie takes on supplements that promise to give users a better booty – with no weight gain or side-effects, all results permanent. “These claims are very impressive, but I’m super-skeptical about these products,” she concludes – and adds, “How hard would it be for me to start my own company and get pills on the market?”
With a quick online search, Leslie finds hundreds of pill manufacturers – and one was happy to talk her through the whole process. In a very short time, She was able to create her own line of booty supplements, Build a Booty. Leslie’s bottles are loaded with claims. She learns that it’s even legal to put the FDA logo on the bottle if the manufacturing facility is an FDA approved facility! And as for the pills inside? According to Leslie, the manufacturer told her to just take a list of ingredients from a competing product and he’d duplicate the formula for her.
“You’re taking these supplements that have some data, maybe for something else, completely out of context and then making these claims about them that are completely unsubstantiated,” Dermatologist Dr. Sonia Batra says. “We should be scared, guys!” adds Urologist Dr. Jennifer Berman.
“And speaking of claims,” Leslie continues, “they are so alluring, these claims!” Many supplement websites feature thousands of reviews and before-and-after pics of supposed users. Leslie made a Build a Booty Instagram page, full of wild claims and “before and after” pictures of behinds. Leslie spoke to the Federal Trade Commission about her discoveries. “The FTC is not going to come after this,” she reports. “Booty supplements aren’t even on their radar. There are about 85,000 supplements on the marketplace – they told me they go after 20 to 30 a year.”
“So there’s very little regulation, and you don’t have to prove your product works,” concludes ER Physician Dr. Travis Stork. He introduces Pediatrician Dr. Paul Offitt, author of “Do You Believe in Magic?” Also on hand is Naturopath Dr. Duffy Mackay, a representative of the supplement industry trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition.
“Although the FDA technically has the legal capacity to regulate whether she meets a labeling or manufacturing standard,” Dr. Offitt explains that Leslie would be in the clear if she decided to sell her booty pills to the public. “She doesn’t have to meet an FTC standard, she doesn’t have to meet a safety standard – and the FDA does not have the manpower to really regulate this industry.”
Dr. Offitt says that this lack of oversight means that consumer can’t know what’s really in supplement products and whether the ingredients listed on the label are included at all. Less than one percent of supplement products on the market carry the “USP verified” label, which means that they’ve been tested by the United States Pharmacopeia. He notes that supplements are marketed as having a physiological effect, so for all intents and purposes they should be treated by the same regulations as drugs.
Dr. Stork asks, “How come the industry isn’t regulating itself a little bit better?” And he notes that these claims can do real damage to real people.
Dr. Mackay says that FDA does regulate dietary supplements. “Facilities are registered to manufacture the products, and FDA inspects those facilities.” He also claims that the discussion is unfair because it focuses on “outlier products,” not on most supplements.
“How do we get to a point where we don’t have to go into the store and worry about poisoning ourselves?” wonders Dr. Stork. “Fake Spot is a great tool,” says Leslie. The site can use review data to indicate whether online reviews are legitimate.
For more important supplement information, check out Consumer Reports' list of 15 Supplement Ingredients to Always Avoid. Also, check out the USP infographic, "How to Read a Supplement Label" and visit uspverified.org to see a list of USP-verified products.