By Heather VanBlarcom
General Counsel and Senior Regulatory Specialist for Dietary Supplements
It’s been no secret that obesity in the United States has been on the rise, largely due, in this author’s opinion, to the over-consumption of cheap, refined carbohydrates and sugary treats and beverages. Consumers are bombarded from many varied sources, from the First Lady Michelle Obama to television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, that weight loss is necessary to live healthier, happier lives. However, as long as the problem persists, there are going to be efforts, some good and some bad, by the government, Big Pharma, and the natural products manufacturers to combat this problem.
An example of such action is the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent approval of Arena Pharmaceuticals’ anti-obesity drug Belviq. It has been more than 13 years since the FDA last approved a prescription drug for long-term weight loss. That drug was Xenical from Roche, which is now seldom prescribed due to unpleasant digestive side effects and modest efficacy. Belviq also appears to not be without its own risks which include depression, migraine and memory lapses.
As an alternative to prescription drugs, many people turn to natural supplements when attempting to lose weight. Dietary supplements can be extremely beneficial in helping people lose weight and should be recommended for use in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise. But be careful as almost nothing puts more manufacturers and sellers of dietary supplements on the government’s radar than improper weight loss claims. The FDA considers obesity to be a disease meaning that dietary supplements cannot be advertised or sold to treat it. Don’t promise rapid weight loss or targeted weight loss or permanent weight loss. For example, claiming your product specifically targets belly fat is a gilded invitation to government action. We all know there is no “magic pill” for weight loss. Be sure you know the appropriate claims you can make for supplements, be sure you can substantiate those claims, and be sure your products are manufactured at a facility in compliance with the current good manufacturing practices set forth in 21 CFR 111.
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