Peter G. Lurie

Quick: What do CVS, an ex-Trump aide, and fertility-supplement manufacturers have in common? Answer: They’re all poster children for why the dietary supplement industry isn’t capable of policing itself.

CVS. In 2016, attorneys at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action’s publisher, sued CVS on behalf of consumers over the misleading marketing of its Algal-900 DHA dietary supplement. Relying on a single industry-conducted study, the company’s ads and labels claimed that the product was “clinically shown” to improve memory.

Not according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which concluded that the study did “not reveal any improvement in working memory.” Apparently not getting the memo, CVS continued its claims for Algal-900 DHA.

The gears of the law, it is well known, grind slowly. But finally, this past September, the case was settled. CVS agreed to provide refunds to consumers and to refrain from making similar memory claims for two years.

Ex-Trump aide. Two years after exiting the White House in August 2017, Sebastian Gorka started touting Relief Factor, a supplement that claims to help you “break free from everyday aches and pains.” TV ads for the pills identified Gorka, who holds a PhD in political science from Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary, as “Dr. Sebastian Gorka.”

Sore back? Don't call "Dr." Gorka.

Not so fast. According to the FTC’s rules, when ads represent, directly or by implication, that a commercial endorser is an expert, the endorser must have actual expertise in a relevant field. A doctor featured in an ad for a hearing aid, for example, would need substantial experience in audiology for the ad to avoid being deceptive.

Being a political scientist—and one whose credentials have been challenged at that—Gorka doesn’t make the cut.

After CSPI pointed out this flagrant violation to the FTC, Gorka’s “doctor” moniker was scrubbed from the ads within weeks.

Fertility supplements. In this issue of Nutrition Action, David Schardt identifies 39 supplements sold on Amazon and other online platforms that made unproven claims about their ability to promote fertility in women.

Some companies went so far as to denigrate FDA-approved fertility drugs, encouraging vulnerable patients to opt for snake oil instead of proven treatments.

When CSPI asked, not one of the companies was able to provide satisfactory evidence to support its claims.

At CSPI, we stand for truth: truth in labeling, truth in advertising, truth in science. With all three evidently in short supply, one is left instead with an industry in desperate need of stronger government action, rules, or laws to protect consumers. Stay tuned.

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH, President
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Photo: Pascal Debrunner/