Beware of dodgy health claims

2014-05-06 00:00

PURVEYORS of complementary health products have a captive R8 billion market that sadly includes many people desperate for cures and quick fixes, otherwise companies wouldn’t risk repeating unproven claims in their adverts, and being rapped over the knuckles for them.

The Medicines Control Council (MCC) is now aiming to curb misleading claims with the introduction of amended regulations under the Medicines and Related Substances Act, that will require complementary and alternative medicines to be registered and manufacturers to provide scientific evidence that their health claims are true.

Producers of complementary medicines for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and HIV/Aids will have to submit evidence of safety to the MCC by May 15, while slimming products and those that claim to improve sexual performance must comply by November 2015.

But unfortunately, until then and perhaps even beyond as the MCC drags all into its net, it’s business as usual.

Platinum Lifestyle Products, trading as Body Detox, a company that markets “Miracle Magnesium”, was last week heavily sanctioned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for ignoring three earlier rulings, mostly breached previously too, to stop making unsubstantiated health claims.

But owner of Platinum Lifestyle Products Marcelle du Plessis yesterday lashed back, complaining she had not made any unproven claims, and that the ASA was “biased” toward the complaint as she had initially provided evidence of the health benefits of magnesium two years ago, which the ASA had rejected.

Rhodes University head of Pharmacology Roy Jobson complained to the ASA about the company’s advert that appeared in Vrouekeur magazine last March. The ASA then ruled against the advert for making unsubstantiated claims, when the company did not respond to requests for evidence.

Headed “Miracle Magnesium van die Dooie See” (Miracle Magnesium from the Dead Sea), the advert proposed people with diabetes may have lower magnesium levels and that magnesium was vital for regulating blood sugar and prevention of calcification of blood vessels.

The advert listed several medical conditions with ticks next to them, as well as testimonials claiming the product had resulted in lower blood pressure and a shrunken tumour.

But when Jobson saw a similar advert for the product in March, he again complained to the ASA, asking for it to impose a heavy sanction on the company for ignoring the earlier ruling.

According to the ASA ruling, the company again did not respond to requests for evidence substantiating the health claims. “The advertisement still created an overwhelming impression that the product is able to treat or alleviate a host of conditions and ailments … there is nothing to show that the testimonials relied on in the advertising are legitimate.

“The respondent continues unabated to make unproven claims, enticing consumers to purchase products that have no proof of efficacy. Similarly, the respondent has shown contempt for the sanctions imposed and it appears it has no desire to comply,” the ASA said.

The ASA ordered the company to print full-page statements in Rapport, Vrouekeur and You magazine, which had also carried the adverts, highlighting the ruling and the fact that the company had not provided evidence of the efficacy claims or that testimonials were real.

However, Du Plessis hit back yesterday saying she did not intend to print the adverts but would provide evidence to the ASA.

“I have done tests with the SABS showing that my products contain magnesium and there is thousands of research showing that it is good for osteoporosis and cholesterol. When it comes to minerals there are enough clinical evidence,” Du Plessis said.

“I don’t claim anywhere that the product cures anything. There is a disclaimer, which says that Platinum Lifestyle makes no claim that this product is a cure or that medication should be discontinued. It is a supplement. If you are sick, consult your health professional.”

However, Jobson cautioned consumers not to believe all advertising claims.

“Avoid unregistered medicines, mainly because you cannot be sure what is or is not in them. No regulatory authority has verified the composition of Miracle Magnesium and its variations. They could contain toxic substances,” Jobson said.

“Even more powerful is ‘word-of-mouth’ and testimonials. Don’t believe what your friend, family member, radio talk show host says about a medicine. It could be dangerous.

“The complementary medicines industry has had more than 12 years to get their house in order. They have not. The industry has profited enormously from selling untested medicines. They are now complaining about the new regulations.

“It is not in the public interest to let untested complementary medicines — which could literally contain ‘anything’ — to continue to be sold to the public without proper regulation,” Jobson said.

• Send your consumer issues to Lyse Comins at

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