Buyer Beware: FDA Cracks Down on False Claims About Coronavirus “Cures”
As of right now, there is no drug, no treatment and no supplement that can "cure" the new coronavirus. Like all viruses, the only way to fight it is by having a strong immune system. Your body reacts to the invader by creating antibodies, which work to neutralize and eventually defeat the rival, beating down this virus as it would the common cold.
So when the US government stepped in Monday to crack down on false claims by seven companies claiming their products will "cure," "fight" or "protect" against the coronavirus, it was with swift and unusual action that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to fight the false claims just as an antibody would fight a virus of another kind: Engulfing and neutralizing companies that make their money by duping the public and putting people at financial and health risk.
Why Crack Down On False Claims? Because The Products Can Be Harmful
What danger is it to sell a supplement or to take one that has health benefits? Beyond getting worried consumers to part with the cost of the elixir or pills and spend money on waste-of-time supplements there is a more sinister reality: The worst that could happen is you put something into your body that actually causes it harm.
One of the companies cracked down on was Vital Silver, a seller of silver supplements and lotions, long believed to be a home remedy for ailments of all sorts. The danger is that when taken in extreme amounts or rubbed onto skin, colloidal silver can leave skin oddly and permanently blue-toned -- and cause a condition called argyria -- characterized by a permanent pigment change to blue-gray, creating an irreversible color that makes the person look more Smurf-like than healthy. The FDA has issued warnings that colloidal silver can cause this irreversible condition, among other serious side effects including neurological and kidney damage as well as the bluish-gray discoloration of the skin, eyes and body. Argyria is not treatable or reversible.
Famously, the blue-skin-induced argyria condition was revealed to the country in 2008 when a 57-year-old man named Paul Karason, from the Pacific Northwest, agreed to appear on the Today show. He was blue all over from head to toe and explained that he had been taking silver by the glassful, ever since he had seen an ad touting it as a revitalizing elixir.
The New York Times reported on the government crackdown of the seven companies and contacted each one to elicit a response, and only a handful of the offenders answered and said they had corrected the false claims and taken them down off their websites and social media.
According to a statement by the US Government: The companies were asked to describe within 48 hours what they had done to correct the violations, or be subjected to legal action such as seizures or injunctions. A task force had already worked with retailers and online marketplaces “to remove more than three dozen listings of fraudulent COVID-19 products,” the statement from the FDA and FTC added.
The companies that received the warning letters from the agencies were Vital Silver; Quinessence Aromatherapy; Xephyr (N-Ergetics); GuruNanda; Vivify Holistic Clinic; Herbal Amy; and The Jim Bakker Show, a joint statement said. The offending products were teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver.
Here is an excerpt of the letter to the Vital Silver company: It quotes them as posting to Facebook the following claims:
“So it’s actually widely acknowledged in both science and the medical industry that ionic silver kills coronaviruses. And it’s now known that the Chinese are employing ionic silver in their fight against the spread of the coronavirus.” [from a February 17, 2020 post on their Facebook page]
The US Government letter also quotes the silver-selling company as stating:
“It is always good to go on the offense – taking a teaspoon or two twice daily of Structured Silver Advanced Formula helps fight the pathogens we are exposed to on a daily basis. The structured silver circulating in your blood attaches to bacteria, yeast, and viruses rendering them ineffective and boosting your immune system . . . It’s important to note that although there are increasing numbers of cases being reported of coronavirus, most of the fatalities are from older and younger folks with compromised immune systems.” [from February 6, 2020 comments that you made on a post on your Facebook website http://www.facebook.com/purevitalsilver]
So Who Can You Trust for Reliable Info on How to React to Coronavirus Spread?
In contrast, reliable sources like Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN tell us that prevention is more actionable than a "cure." We can wash our hands and keep a safe distance apart, and we can be mindful of our immune system, our hygiene and our habits (like coughing into our bent elbow) and not shaking hands. Clearly, doctors tell us, there is no treatment or cure as of right now. Yet it hasn't stopped companies from selling proverbial snake oil to the masses who are anxious for any advantage against a disease that has ravaged cities, old peoples' homes and now our collective psyche.
The Food and Drug Administration (which regulates what we put in our bodies) and the Federal Trade Commission (which oversees the messages that get into our brains by marketers, specious and dependable) is cracking down on companies that prey on a panicked public and overly promise cures and defenses that are simply not available at this time. A vaccine is at least 12 to 18 months out, and until then, the best bet is to stay healthy, keep a social distance from others and wash up on a regular basis -- and not touch our faces. The statement by the agencies makes it clear that they will take false claims seriously.
The Government Statement Cracks Down on False Claims on Social Media and Sites.
“The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to the public health. We have an aggressive surveillance program that routinely monitors online sources for health fraud products, especially during a significant public health issue such as this one,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “We understand consumers are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and urge them to talk to their health care providers, as well as follow advice from other federal agencies about how to prevent the spread of this illness. We will continue to aggressively pursue those that place the public health at risk and hold bad actors accountable.”
“There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims. These warning letters are just the first step. We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.”
So What Does Work to Stay Healthy? Other than Washing Your Hands?
As The Beet has reported, you can boost your immune system by getting sleep, eating vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables and de-stressing and staying calm. (Green tea is always a good idea, for instance.) We have done three major stories to help you learn what does work:
- The 13 Best Foods to Boost Your Immune System.
- The 7 Best Supplements to Take to Boost Your Immunity
- The Best Foods to Eat to Ease Your Anxiety
None of those foods or supplements directly works against any single virus, coronavirus included, but your body is able to fight off everything from inflammation to allergies, sinusitis, and colds, cases of flu and run of the mill fatigue when it's fed the best that Mother Nature has to offer. And of course, we always suggest that eating a diet of whole foods that are mostly plant-based is the way to be your healthiest.