6 On Your Side: Consumer Confidence, Facebook Ads for Dangerous Supplements

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(ABC 6 News) – Facebook users often see ads for supplements that make incredible-sounding health claims. But, some of these ads target vulnerable users with products that can be dangerous and illegal.

With allusions to boosting brain power and curing insomnia, certain Facebook ads caught the attention of Consumer Reports investigative reporter, Kaveh Waddell.

“We found ads and posts that promoted the use of some supplements that are dangerous or even illegal,” says Waddell. “For example, we found a series of posts from a verified Facebook page that promoted the use of Comfrey, which is a dangerous supplement.”

CR’s investigation also found a disturbing trend: some of the supplement ads targeted specific groups of people.

“We found some ads that targeted people who Facebook thought were interested in diabetes awareness and Facebook was allowing marketers to put ads in front of those people that marketed things like a reverse diabetes kit. Now medical experts say that supplements, in general, can’t cure or reverse diabetes,” says Waddell.

New Life USA took down that product listing and its CEO told CR he thinks that people with diabetes should continue to work with their doctors, but he also said they should “wean THEMSELVES off medication.”

CR also found dangerous supplements being sold on Facebook Marketplace, a part of Facebook where users can buy and sell new and used items. Including “kratom,” which the Drug Enforcement Agency lists as a “drug of concern.”

Facebook said the kratom listing violated the platform’s rules, and soon after CR started asking questions, most of the kratom listings disappeared.

But, even if these ads for dangerous supplements are taken down, that might not solve the larger problem.

“So unlike a medication for example, where clinical trials have to be presented to the FDA before something can be approved and be sold, these supplements might end up on the shelves, they might not be going through a filter beforehand,” says Waddell.

In general, check with your doctor before trying new supplements, and be sure to search for information about them in official sources like the NIH’s MedlinePlus.gov.