The rise in diabetes worldwide and the high cost of diabetes drugs have brought an increase in fraudulent treatments. Consumers need to beware of companies that sell illegal products that claim to prevent, treat, or cure diabetes.

Warning letters have now been sent to 15 companies in the US and abroad for selling bogus products that are in violation of federal law. The Food and Drug Administration has turned up the heat on companies that sell these potentially dangerous “treatments.”

The products are sold in retail stores and online, and according to the FDA’s website, include:

  • Products sold as “natural” treatments for diabetes, but containing undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients in unknown quantities that could cause harm or complicate medical conditions;
  • Dietary supplements and ayurvedic products (medicine of the healing arts that originated in India) with claims to treat, cure, and/or prevent diabetes;
  • Unapproved drugs sold over-the-counter, including some homeopathic products, intended to treat complications associated with diabetes, which include relieving symptoms caused by nerve damage in the arms and legs (also called peripheral neuropathy);
  • Prescription drugs for diabetes sold by online pharmacies without a prescription.

False claims like “Lower your blood sugar naturally!” or “Replaces your diabetes medicine!” which appear on the illegal products can seem legitimate to unsuspecting consumers, but potentially may cause them to delay or discontinue approved treatments and thereby put themselves at risk of developing serious health complications.

The FDA is also advising consumers not to use such products because of harmful ingredients, safety issues, or the possibility that prescription drugs could be posing as over-the-counter products. Consumers should only use FDA-approved diabetes treatments that have been prescribed by licensed health care professionals.

“Diabetes is a serious chronic condition that should be properly managed using safe and effective FDA-approved treatments,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “Consumers who buy violative products that claim to be treatments are not only putting themselves at risk but also may not be seeking necessary medical attention, which could affect their diabetes management.”

The FDA has not received any reports of serious adverse events associated with the use of these products, but Howard Sklamberg, director of the Office of Compliance in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, says there is no way of knowing how many people with diabetes may have used them.

Diabetes affects nearly 26 million people in the United States, or 8.3 percent of the population. It is the leading cause of kidney failure, lower-limb amputations, and blindness among adults, a major cause of heart disease and stroke, and the seventh leading cause of death.