Fake Clinical Trials
How supplement companies use clever packaging and misleading statements to get your money.
Have you ever participated in a clinical trial? In a clinical study or protocol, people are recruited to try out new treatments and medications. There are very strict rules about who can join, what information participants are given and how the trial is conducted. Typically they'll be monitored by the National Institutes of Health or the United States Food and Drug Administration.
The benefits are obvious. Participants may be the first to get a new treatment or medicine and the costs are all covered by the researchers. Of course the drawbacks can be significant as well. You may be one of the people getting a placebo (the fake pill) or the treatment may make you sicker. In the worst case scenario, the medicine you get in a clinical trial might even kill you.
One of the core principals of any clinical trial is this. The company doing the research always pays for the treatment. That's why I was surprised when a friend told me about a clinical trial for a product on television. He said the product was free, he just had to pay shipping and handling. Then he asked what I knew about the product.
The product is called "Colon Flow" and it's just one of many supplements now being advertised that are designed to look like real medicines. Colon Flow claims it has the ability to, "reduce foul toxic waste buildup that can lead to constipation, impaction, hemorrhoids, digestive issues, bad breath, parasites, bloating, gas, weight gain from extra fecal matter, irritable bowel, sluggishness, fuzzy thinking, headaches, tummy bulge, sleep disturbances, and more!"
Of course Colon Flow has never undergone double-blind clinical trials to prove that it can do any of those things. Plus there's a disclaimer the manufacturer posts that says, this product has "not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and [is] not approved to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease."
But what I found most interesting, is the wording of the Colon Flow advertisement. Here's what they said.
"We're looking for participants to receive a FREE 30 day trial so call immediately." The announcer goes on to say, "Colon Flow is being released to the general public and YOUR AREA has been selected to try it right now for FREE. Call immediately to find out how to receive your FREE 30 day trial."
By using phrases like, "We're looking for participants" and "your area has been selected" the commercial leaves watchers with the impression that the company is engaged in some sort of product testing. My friend thought he had signed up for a clinical trial and he was surprised no medical questions were included with the bottle.
The reality is this. The general public has become more and more distrustful of wildly untrue marketing claims made by supplement companies. So what they've done is rebrand their goods to make them appear more legitimate. Worthless supplements are put inside packaging that looks more like the bottles prescription medicines come in. No more bright colored boxes, just basic white with clean lines.
The wording in commercials has also been tweaked to use phrases that say one thing, but mean another. When viewers hear "scientifically formulated" they think "scientifically tested." But it doesn't mean that at all. Since there is no legal definition of what makes something "scientifically formulated," supplement companies can use that phrase without any kind of testing whatsoever.
When viewers hear the word "trial" they think "clinical trial." In fact, what the supplement company means is, "we're going through a marketing trial to see how many units this commercial sells."
Here's how you can protect yourself. When you see ads for supplements that claim to be undergoing a "trial," hang onto your money. If it's a real clinical trial, you won't be expected to pay a thing. If you're being asked to cover costs like "shipping and handling," it's nothing more than an advertisement trying to take your cash.
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