Field of Science

Fish oil salesmen

Well, they’re not quite the modern-day equivalent of snake-oil salesmen, but the parallels are irresistible. In the 19th century, snake oil was promoted as a cure for joint pain and other ills, and the figure of the snake-oil salesman was widely ridiculed. (Ironically, snake oil is still used as a treatment in China today, despite the lack of any evidence for its efficacy.)

Today we have a new figure: the fish oil salesman. This modern figure, though, is no joke: he is a polished, sophisticated figure with the full weight of the FDA behind him. Should we buy his product?

Last week, while watching a major sports event, I was treated to a new commercial for a product called Lovaza, which I learned “helps to lower very high triglycerides in adult patients.” It’s a beautiful commercial, with an actor in a lab coat (am I supposed to think he’s a scientist?), carrying a clipboard and walking through a lab surrounded by blue aquariums. (Apparently the lab is under water.) You can see the ad here.

Deceptive marketing of dietary supplements

Without any fanfare, Congress held a hearing recently on how supplements are marketed to the elderly. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study of 40 different herbal supplements, looking at what the supplements actually contained as well as how they were being sold, both in stores and online. Not surprisingly, the GAO found that companies have been making deceptive, inaccurate claims about many of the most popular supplements sold in the U.S. (I’m shocked, shocked!)

As reported in last week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, the report was requested by Senator Herb Kohl. The report states that some of the companies involved have been referred to the FDA and FTC for appropriate action. But for some mysterious reason, it fails to provide any specific information about who these snake-oil purveyors are. That’s right: not a single company or website is named. Why not?

Well, thanks to the Internet, I can name a few of them - keep reading.