Seniors at Physical, Economic Risk From Alternative Medicines – Brief Article


Home medical equipment providers are always on the lookout for different ways to drive cash sales through their businesses, and an increasing number are finding the alternative medicine market – which includes an array of dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals, and herbal and botanical products – a good way to do just that.

However, coinciding with the increasing popularity of such supplements comes a growing concern over their use by the elderly, according to a new report issued by the General Accounting Office, Health Products for Seniors: Anti-Aging Products Pose Potential for Physical and Economical Harm.

“Seniors are thought to be at particular risk of physical harm because they often take multiple prescription pharmaceuticals, increasing their risk of possibly dangerous supplement-drug interactions,” the GAO reports in a letter to Sen. John Breaux, D-La., chairman of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, who commissioned the report.

Increasing the danger of using such products is that some contain harmful contaminants or much more of an active ingredient than is indicated on the product’s label, according to the GAO’s findings. The report uses as an example aristolochic acid, a known potent carcinogen, and nephrotoxin, which the report says is present in certain traditional herbal remedies and dietary supplements.

Physical harm to seniors isn’t the only potential danger. The GAO says there is also a potential for economic harm through unproven alternative medicines that don’t do what they claim.

“The [Food and Drug Administration] and [Federal Trade Commission] have identified a number of products that make advertising or labeling claims with insufficient substantiation, some costing consumers hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece,” the GAO says.

The FTC estimates in the report that, for 20 companies that were the subject of past law-enforcement activities, the average economic harm to consumers as a whole was about $1.8 million per company. “In addition, tests of selected dietary supplements have found that some contain little or none of the active ingredient claimed on the label, rendering these products virtually worthless.”

In conclusion, the GAO says that while the FTC and FDA have programs in place to protect seniors from harm, states need to do more.

“The states we contacted varied in their efforts to protect consumers from fraudulent or harmful health products, but in general focused little attention on alternative medicine products,” the GAO states.

It also says that while the risk to seniors from alternative health products has not specifically been identified as a top public health priority or leading enforcement target for federal and state regulators, many seniors using such medicines say they “may be at risk” from using them.

For a complete copy of the report, go to

For breaking news, go to, the electronic news service of the home medical equipment industry.

COPYRIGHT 2001 PRIMEDIA Business Magazines & Media Inc. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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