Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission alerted the public to be wary of Internet sites and other promotions for CAM products that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu). Such products have not been tested for safety and efficacy. Currently, the only approved medications for this flu virus are Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir).
This latest advisory reinforces the need for consumers to educate themselves and be wary of unsupported health claims. All too often, we see claims being made for unproven products, seeking to take advantage of people who are simply trying to protect the health and wellness of themselves and their loved ones. If a claim seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you are thinking about using a CAM product to prevent the flu or “boost your immune system,” first get information on it from reliable sources. The NCCAM Web site offers information about many CAM products, as does the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements and MedlinePlus. Talk to your health care provider about your use of dietary supplements or other forms of complementary and alternative medicine. This will help ensure safe and coordinated care. Only by fully discussing everything you do for your health can you be an effective manager of your health care. (For tips about talking with your health care providers about CAM, see NCCAM's Time to Talk campaign.)
Keep in mind that although many CAM products (and some prescription drugs) come from natural sources, “natural” does not always mean “safe.” And be aware that an herbal supplement may contain dozens of compounds and that its active ingredients may not be known. (See our fact sheet for more tips on Using Dietary Supplements Wisely.)