Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.

August 10, 2001 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357


Baltimore - In this month's issue of his Consumer's Edge newsletter, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. advises consumers to check out dietary supplements and herbal products before purchasing or consuming them.

"Dietary supplements today are marketed to cure almost every known ailment," Curran said. "Consumers should know that some of those products may be a waste of money, and can have dangerous side effects or can interfere with medicines you take."

Curran says that consumers may not be aware that dietary supplements do not have to be tested or approved by any government agency before they are sold. Since 1994, dietary supplements have been able to put their products on the market without getting prior approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Curran says consumers should consider that:

Many supplements may have no proof that they can actually do what they claim. Glowing testimonials from people who claim the product changed their lives may be exaggerated or untrue.

Supplements can be dangerous, even deadly. After reports of liver and kidney damage, heart attacks and strokes, the FDA warned consumers to avoid products containing the herb comfrey, "fat burner" supplements containing tiratricol, Chinese herbal products containing aristolochic acid, and products containing ephedra, or ma huang, among others.

Supplements can interfere with prescription or over-the-counter medicines. For example, garlic and gingko biloba supplements can be hazardous for people who take medicines that thin the blood. St. John's wort products can interfere with drugs used for HIV, heart disease, depression, and certain cancers.

Just because a product is "natural" does not mean it is safe. A natural product can cause allergic reactions or be toxic in large doses.

Curran said that consumers should steer clear of products marketed as "miracle cures" for cancer, AIDS, arthritis or other serious conditions. He said the treatments are ineffective, can have serious side effects and can cause the consumer to avoid legitimate treatment that could help.

"Those products are usually nothing more than scams designed to cheat desperately ill consumers out of their money," Curran said.

The Attorney General recommended that consumers tell their doctor about any dietary supplements or herbal products they take, in case they might interfere with other medicines or conditions; educate themselves about the ingredients in supplements; and check the FDA website ( for information about recalls or warnings about supplements.

Curran's office distributes The Consumer's Edge free to more than 900 businesses, agencies, schools and community associations. Groups interested in receiving a monthly issue should call 410-576-6956. Issues of the newsletter are also available at the Attorney General's website at