The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent letters to three companies this week, warning them against marketing their products as possible treatments or cures for Ebola. The letters, posted online on Wednesday, document multiple claims from the companies or their paid representatives that essential oils and other natural remedies can "help prevent your contracting the Ebola virus" and in at least one instance, "effectively kill the Ebola virus."
There are currently no approved treatments, cures or vaccines for Ebola.
Natural Solutions Foundation, Young Living, and dōTERRA International LLC all produce products that were promoted on the Web as cures for a variety of ailments, all without FDA approval. The products in question, the letters note, are not FDA-approved drugs, yet their marketing makes the sort of claims that only approved drugs may make -- that they can be used to treat, mitigate, prevent and cure diseases.
According to the three letters, those promotions -- either on Web sites owned by the companies or on sites and accounts used by paid "consultants" promoting and selling the products -- included Pinterest messages, Facebook postings and blog posts claiming products such as "CBD Organic Dark Chocolate Bars," "Clary Sage" essential oils and the "Family Protection Pack" can do what has not yet been done: Treat, cure or prevent the deadly Ebola virus.
In one letter, to doTERRA, the FDA outlined the extent of those claims:
"Your consultants promote your above mentioned dōTERRA Essential Oil products for conditions including, but not limited to, viral infections (including ebola), bacterial infections, cancer, brain injury, autism, endometriosis, Grave’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, tumor reduction, ADD/ADHD, and other conditions that are not amenable to self-diagnosis and treatment by individuals who are not medical practitioners. Moreover, your consultants redirect consumers to your website, www.doterra.com, to register as a customer or member (i.e., consultant), and to purchase your dōTERRA Essential Oil products."
According to the FDA, these promotions -- especially ones related to Ebola -- are inaccurate but not unexpected. "Oftentimes with public health incidences, like Ebola or even during H1n1, we see products that are marketed, often online, that claim to treat or cure the disease...without FDA approval," FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao said in an interview, adding that "these sorts of things pop up" in almost any public health crisis.
In August, as the Ebola outbreak was accelerating in West Africa, the agency issued a preemptive warning to consumers, emphasizing that there is no FDA-approved vaccine or drug for the prevention or treatment of Ebola. The letters issued this week are something of a follow-up to that concern, Yao said, based on the results of online monitoring from the agency's health fraud unit. The FDA will continue to monitor for similar claims.
Here is a sample of one such post, which was at the time this article was published available here:
Written by a paid consultant (referred to as a "member") for Young Living, the post goes on to tout the possible benefits of a few oils sold by the company: "The Higley Essential Oil Reference guide mentions that the Ebola Virus can not live in the presence of cinnamon bark (this is in Thieves) nor Oregano. I would definitely add those two oils to whatever I was using."
It adds: "I pray we don’t have to hear about this virus coming to the U.S. but if you travel outside of our country or know someone who goes to Africa or lives in Africa, maybe you could send them a care package of Young Living essential oils!"
In a statement provided to The Washington Post, a spokesman for Young Living said that the company was "cooperating fully with the FDA regarding its inquiry." Young Living "members," the statement continued, "are provided specific instructions on how to promote our products to their customers. In the coming days we will be contacting all our membership to ensure that they understand how to best use our products and remain compliant with regulatory directives.
"We have already contacted each of the Members cited in the FDA letter to help get them into compliance."
A spokesman for doTERRA said in a Thursday statement to The Washington Post that the company "works closely with our distributors to ensure marketing materials are FDA compliant." Spokesman Peter Tidwell added that doTERRA was "already working to correct distributors marketing materials referenced in the FDA letter," and that all of the distributors named in the FDA letter have been contacted, and have "corrected or are working to correct their marketing materials to ensure they are compliant with FDA and company regulations." The company's own marketing materials, Tidwell said, "do not claim our products cure or treat diseases including the Ebola virus or any other disease."
A third company targeted by the FDA, Natural Solutions Foundation, had materials on related Web sites promoting the company's products as cures to several serious diseases and viruses, including Ebola.
On one YouTube video posted to the Natural Solutions Foundation account, the written text complains that the "WHO, FDA, the New York Times, etc., have gone on a rampage of disonformation [sic] to keep you in the dark about natural ways to dispose of dangerous microbes without damaging your beneficial bacteria."
The video features Rima Laibow, the company's medical director, claiming that the Natural Solutions product, Nano Silver, can "inactivate viruses like the HIV Virus, the Hepatitis B and C virus, Influenza viruses like H1N1, and Ebola virus."
Natural Solutions Foundation has not yet responded to a request for comment.
According to the FDA, all three companies have 15 days to respond to the documented violations and notify the agency of any corrective actions. If the companies are unable to correct those violations within 15 days, they're required to explain why and provide a timeline for completion.
If they don't take corrective action, the FDA could take any number of enforcement actions against the companies. Those include seizure, or possible criminal charges.
The agency's three letters are available here.
[This post has been updated]