The latest volley deals with a homeopathic remedy that has been around since 1954: the HCG diet, or human chorionic gonadotropin to be precise. Fifty-seven years later the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), together with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), were issuing warning letters to producers of these products to cease and desist. The agencies are also warning consumers to steer clear of such claims that promise dramatic weight loss in a matter of days or weeks.
Homeopathy lawsuits often result, after consumers spend their hard-earned dollars and put their hope in something that proves to be little more than hype.
And yet, the homeopathic market is booming and continues to grow, putting the homeopathic camp at loggerheads with traditional medicine. Akin to the divergence of the PC v. the Mac in the computer world, believers in the homeopathic community are fiercely loyal.
There is no shortage of marketing out there to maintain that loyalty, and the homeopathic scam is alive and well.
"These products are marketed with incredible claims, and people think that if they're losing weight, HCG must be working," says Elizabeth Miller, acting director of FDA's Division of Non-Prescription Drugs and Health Fraud, in comments published December 11 in the Palm Beach Post. "But the data simply does not support this; any loss is from severe calorie restriction. Not from the HCG."
HCG actually carries FDA approval for the treatment of female infertility and other medical conditions. In fact, Human Chorionic Gonadotropin is a hormone produced by the human placenta and found in the urine of pregnant women.
However, the purveyors of HCG have found a willing audience of obese and chronically overweight Americans who buy into claims that regular use of HCG in tandem with a severe restriction of calories (500 a day is the limit) will shed pounds.
Of course it will. On 500 calories a day you're going to lose weight dramatically—and you don't need HCG for that. But such a severe caloric restriction is not healthy, doctors say, leading to all sorts of problems, including the emergence of gallstones, an electrolyte imbalance that can affect the body's muscles and nerves, and even produce an irregular heartbeat.
The FDA and FTC have sent letters to seven companies vending the homeopathic remedy, accusing them of homeopathic fraud and imploring them to stop their marketing.
"These HCG products marketed over the counter are unproven to help with weight loss and are potentially dangerous even if taken as directed," said Ilisa Bernstein, acting director of the Office of Compliance in FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in comments published in the Post. "And a very low calorie diet should only be used under proper medical supervision."
Homeopathic remedies fall into a regulatory grey area. The FDA, for example, carries no jurisdiction for homeopathic products—although it should be noted that some products that meet certain criteria are legitimized in the FDA's eyes and can be marketed. But those are few and far between, leaving manufacturers of the homeopathic remedy a wide berth to make stunning (and often false) claims to an audience pining for the latest miracle product.
What they're getting, more often than not, is homeopathic fraud. The FDA and FTC sent warning letters to seven manufacturers:
READ MORE HOMEOPATHIC REMEDY FRAUD LEGAL NEWS
The communiqués warn that recipients are violating federal law by selling unapproved drugs and making unsupported claims akin to a homeopathic scam.
The battle of the bulge remains a never-ending fight for millions of Americans, all searching for the elusive answer to their weight woes. The sad reality of paying good money for a product that allegedly does not work is not just a financial loss (and to some, a financial hardship), but also a huge moral and emotional defeat.
That's when the homeopathy fraud lawsuit comes in.