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That bottle of weight loss supplements could be lying to us. A new report from the Department of Health and Human Service’s Inspector General found the multi-billion dollar dietary supplement industry might be claiming some false health benefits. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

The U.S. dietary supplement industry pulls in more than $20 billion in revenue per year, a total likely to increase over the next decade. The report, release October 2, looked at more than 100 common immune and weight loss supplements that contained structure/function claims — statements claiming a supplement does “X” — on the label for accuracy. It turns out nearly a fifth of those labels contained misinformation or false claims.

Basically, supplements can claim to help bodily functions, but they cannot claim to prevent disease. For example, a dieting pill can claim to “curb appetite” but it cannot claim to “decrease obesity.” The manufacturers are obligated to report these claims within 30 days after a product is released. Unfortunately, they’re not all doing that.

The report from the Department of Health suggests the FDA has no reliable method of keeping track of which companies actually comply and whether the health claims on supplements are actually accurate.

Fewer than half the reviewed products were backed by human studies, and none met the FDA recommendations for competent and reliable scientific evidence. Even scarier, 20 percent of reviewed supplements (illegally) claimed to treat and prevent diseases including cancer, herpes, influenza, and HIV.

The report is a scary snapshot of the supplement industry. While the sample of 119 supplements is not exhaustive, it does indicate supplement manufacturers and regulators are both at fault for misleading consumers. What’s worse, it looks like the government is playing catch up due to lax regulations and a disorganized system. While the Department’s report outlines suggestions for fixing an impotent regulation system, it’s impossible to predict exactly when — or if — change will occur. Until then, it’s still up to consumers to decide what’s safe to put in their bodies. When it comes to today’s supplements, that could be a risky proposition.

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