Health Products for Seniors: Potential Harm From 'Anti-Aging' Products

GAO-01-1139T Published: Sep 10, 2001. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2001.
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Dietary supplements marketed as anti-aging therapies may pose a potential for physical harm to senior citizens. Evidence from the medical literature shows that a variety of frequently used dietary supplements can have serious health consequences for seniors. Particularly risky are products that may be used by seniors who have underlying diseases or health conditions that make the use of the product medically inadvisable or supplements that interact with medications that are being taken concurrently. Studies have also found that these products sometimes contain harmful contaminants or much more of an active ingredient than is indicated on the label. Although GAO was unable to find any recent, reliable estimates of the overall economic harm to seniors from these products, it did uncover several examples that illustrate the risk of economic harm. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have identified several products that make advertising or labeling claims with insufficient substantiation, some costing consumers hundreds or thousands of dollars apiece. The potential for harm to senior citizens from health products making questionable claims has been a concern for public health and law enforcement officials. FDA and FTC sponsor programs and provide educational materials for senior citizens to help them avoid health fraud. At the state level, agencies are working to protect consumers of health products by enforcing state consumer protection and public health laws, although anti-aging and alternative products are receiving limited attention. This testimony summarized a September report (GAO-01-1129).

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