FDA, FTC issue seven warning letters to companies promoting OTC HCG products

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday issued seven warning letters to companies marketing over-the counter human chorionic gonadotropin products that are labeled as "homeopathic" for weight loss. The letters warn the companies that they are violating federal law by selling drugs that have not been approved and by making unsupported claims for the substances. There are no FDA-approved HCG drug products for weight loss.

HCG is a hormone produced by the human placenta and found in the urine of pregnant women. HCG is FDA-approved as an injectable prescription drug for the treatment of some cases of female infertility and other medical conditions. The FDA produced a video, featuring Elizabeth Miller — pharmacist and acting director of FDA’s Division of Non-Prescription Drugs and Health Fraud — warning consumers of the consequences of taking HCG and following the recommended 500-calorie-a-day diet. To view that video, click here

The joint action is the first step in keeping the unproven and potentially unsafe products from being marketed online and in retail outlets as oral drops, pellets and sprays.

The labeling for the "homeopathic" HCG products states that each product should be taken in conjunction with a very low calorie diet. There is no substantial evidence HCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from the recommended caloric restriction. Consumers on a very low-calorie diet are at increased risk for side effects, including gallstone formation, electrolyte imbalance and heart arrhythmias.

"These HCG products marketed over-the-counter are unproven to help with weight loss and are potentially dangerous even if taken as directed," stated Ilisa Bernstein, acting director of the Office of Compliance in FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "And a very low calorie diet should only be used under proper medical supervision."

"Deceptive advertising about weight-loss products is one of the most prevalent types of fraud," added David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Any advertiser who makes health claims about a product is required by federal law to back them up with competent and reliable scientific evidence, so consumers have the accurate information they need to make good decisions."

According to the warning letters, the companies have 15 days to notify the FDA of the steps they have taken to correct the violations cited. Failure to do so may result in legal action, including seizure and injunction or criminal prosecution.


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