By Robert Preidt
THURSDAY, Oct. 15, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- You may be putting your health at risk if you use imported products such as dietary supplements or nonprescription drugs that are sold at ethnic or international stores, flea markets, swap meets or online.
So says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a warning issued Thursday.
Health product scammers often focus their marketing on people who shop at nontraditional locations. They also target consumers with limited English language skills and poor access to health care services, according to Cariny Nunez, a public health adviser in the FDA's Office of Minority Health.
"These scammers know that ethnic groups who may not speak or read English well, or who hold certain cultural beliefs, can be easy targets," she said in an FDA news release.
Many health product scammers also include the word "natural" on their products because they know it appeals to certain groups of people. But, that doesn't mean such products are safe or don't contain hidden drug ingredients, Gary Coody, national health fraud coordinator for the FDA, said in the news release.
These products may also be contaminated or contain potentially harmful chemicals, the FDA said.
Fraudulent health products are often advertised in ethnic publications and stores, flea markets and swap meets, radio and TV infomercials, and online. They can claim to be from specific countries or regions, such as Latin America or Asia, the FDA noted.
"It's not surprising that people are more comfortable with familiar products that claim to come from their home country or are labeled and marketed in the consumer's native language, whether they buy them at a U.S. market or get them from friends and family who have brought them from home," Nunez said.
In other cases, products that claim to be made in the United States (to reassure consumers) aren't actually made here, the FDA reported.
Under current law, companies that make dietary supplements don't need FDA approval before selling their products to Americans.
"Remember, dietary supplements are not drugs," Coody said. "They are not substitutes for the drugs your health care professional prescribes. And you should let your health care professional know what supplements you are taking, because they may interact in a harmful way with prescribed medications or keep a prescribed drug from working."
There are a number of ways to reduce your risk from fraudulent health products, the FDA said. Be wary of any product that claims to cure a wide range of diseases, or those that make astounding claims such as "lose 30 pounds in 30 days" or "eliminates skin cancer in days."
The FDA cautioned that products touted as a miracle cure are likely fake. Any real cure for a serious disease would be in the news and prescribed by doctors.
Don't believe personal testimonials in ads -- which are easy to make up -- and don't trust "all natural" claims. The FDA has discovered that some of these products contain hidden and dangerously high doses of prescription drug ingredients.
Dietary supplements that claim to be FDA-approved are misleading. Such products do not receive FDA approval, the agency explained.
Always check with your doctor or other health care professional before you buy an unproven product or one with questionable claims, and check the FDA's website to see if the agency has taken action on it.