Asparagus might be good for you, but there is no firm evidence to suggest it can prevent cancer. And yet, the website for wellness company BioStar Organix listed it among multiple products that do just that. “Asparagus should be taken by everyone for heart, cancer prevention,” the website read. It can also treat leukemia, breast cancer, cervical cancer and help with heart arrhythmia. Not bad for a mere $45 per bottle.
BioStar Organix is one among 14 companies that the FDA is cracking down on for illegally selling more than 65 pills, creams, ointments, oils and other products that fraudulently claim to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure cancer in humans and pets.
In an announcement made Tuesday, the agency said that those companies violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by selling products that claim to affect health outcomes without first proving to the FDA that they are safe and effective. In warning letters to the companies, the agency demanded that they correct the violations—or else.
Among the violators was a company selling skin cancer “treatment” in the form of a lotion, an herbal blend that fights cancer, hepatitis and AIDS, and a pill that can undo the effects of alcohol on the body. (For a full list of the companies and products the FDA is cracking down on, see here.)
Over the past decade, the agency has issued 90 such warning letters. A major hurdle in stopping companies like this is that once they garner the attention of the feds, they often just move their illegal claims to new websites, making for a never-ending game of regulatory Whack-A-Mole.
What’s especially dangerous about products that make wild, cancer-curing health claims is that they are often rooted in some amount of scientific evidence, making it hard for consumers to tell whether a product is legitimate or total bunk. Take asparagus. Some evidence has suggested that the health benefits of asparagus may include preventing or fighting cancer. But there is not nearly enough evidence to prove its effectiveness—not to mention how much, or in what form, a supplement of asparagus might be effective.
It’s not just that plopping down $45 for 120 capsules of pseudoscience is a waste of money. Sometimes these products also come with serious risks. Patients might, for example, opt for “natural” treatments over seeking out medical help. And combining some supplements, or taking too much of them, can be outright dangerous.
So, next time a health treatment you see on the internet sounds like it’s too good to be true, be sure to remember that it probably is.