I’m often asked, ‘Hey Mike, what should I take for my cold?’ While I wish I could answer that question, legally I can’t. And now that famed author and natural health advocate Dr. Andrew Weil has received a “cease and desist” from the FDA regarding a claim on his website, I guess a Harvard educated medical doctor can’t either.
About a week ago I heard that Dr. Weil had received a “cease and desist” and was quite surprised. First, Weil is considered by many to be one of the most knowledgeable around on natural health, and secondly he’s a Harvard trained medical doctor. Given his reputation and legitimacy, I found an FDA warning intriguing. But even more perplexing is that many in the industry feel that Weil has become quite a bit more conservative in his recommendations over the last few years. With all this said, what could he have said to warrant an FDA cease and desist?
Well, a quick google search answered my question. It seems Dr. Weil went too far in his recommendation for the herb astragulas. (Click here to read the FDA’s warning letter)
If you’ve read any of Weil‘s stuff you’ve probably noticed his affection for astragalus and his belief in it’s potential to boost immunity. However, he made the big mistake of recommending it’s use (in addition to a specific supplement made by his company) for combating a disease state. Here’s, in part, what he said -
[from the FDA's warning letter] On a webpage entitled, “The Swine Flu – H1N1 ,” with the subtitle “Swine Flu and You”:
“[D]uring the flu season, I suggest taking a daily antioxidant, multivitamin-mineral supplement, as well as astragalus , a well-known immune-boosting herb that can help ward off colds and flu. You might also consider. .. the Weil Immune Support Formula[,] which contains both astragalus and immune-supportive polypore mushrooms ….”
I’m not a lawyer (or a doctor for that matter!) but I believe the issue here is that the FDA considers both the common cold and influenza to be disease states. Thus, the big no-no here was Weil said astragalus can “help ward off colds and flu”.
Okay, so here’s the point of this entire post – I understand that consumers need to be protected from those who wish to prey on our fears by making unsubstantiated claims about natural “cures”, however, I’m also concerned that in an attempt to protect us, the FDA will stifle legitimate folks looking to help others with time tested (but not FDA approved) claims. I’d like to think there’s a difference between telling someone astragulas can help ward off a cold and telling someone that [special product x] can cure cancer.
I guess I’m a little edgy because I’m afraid the lines between legal natural health education and illegal product promotion may be getting a bit blurred and it leaves me unsure about what questions I can and can’t answer. For example, I was recently warned by an industry executive to avoid using the term virus when discussing anything – even clinical research completely unrelated to any product! While she acknowledged there is nothing wrong with telling a customer about current research evaluating elderberry’s ability to affect viral replication, she warned that doing so in a store setting could prove costly. She said the FDA and FTC are really on the lookout for those making disease claims about natural products, and thus even discussing test tube research on flu viruses could warrant a warning similar to Dr. Weil’s.
With all this said, I think we can still talk quite a bit about the health benefits of foods, herbs and mushrooms. We’ll just need to be sure not to get too carried away like that radical voo-doo guy Dr. Weil with his dangerous claims. (Okay, maybe I’m being just a little sarcastic here. )