Supplement maker gene renewal claims unsubstantiated, says Commish

A Humble Metaphor

Think for a minute about your shoelaces.

Many, if not most, of them come equipped with aglets – the familiar, sometimes transparent plastic sheaths that cover the ends of shoelaces. Aglets (for a while, at least) keep the main cord of the shoelace from fraying at the ends and eventually unraveling the whole lace. 

Telomeres are the aglets of the human chromosome.

Telomeres are pieces of dummy genetic information that sit at the ends of the chromosome. When cells divide, as they are wont to do, the telomeres take the brunt of the shortening that creates two new cells. Because cell division takes place over a lifetime, the older we get, the shorter telomeres become. Shortened telomeres are therefore associated with aging, as well as diseases associated with aging and cellular degeneration. Some even think short telomeres cause aging.

To the Rescue…?

Companies are taking notice of the importance of telomeres and marketing telomerase products. Consider TA-65MD, a supplement available from manufacturer Telomerase Activation Sciences (TAS) in capsule or powder form. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), TAS claimed that the active ingredient in TA-65MD and related products activates telomerase. TAS claimed that its products were clinically proven to “reverse aging, repair DNA damage, restore aging immune systems, and increase bone density.”

TAS pushed TA-65 products in a multilayered marketing blitz, including television ads, websites and trade shows. The products commanded as much as $2,200 for a three-month supply of one product, justifying the large marketing expense to companies in the space. Health professionals, including doctors, were recruited for its licensee program. Suzanne Somers took a break from the Regal Beagle to interview the TAS founder and CEO.

The Takeaway

And … that’s where the FTC comes in.

On Feb. 21, 2018, the FTC hit TAS and its founder with a number of charges, including false or unsubstantiated efficacy claims, false establishment claims, deceptive format – specifically that a Suzanne Somers show appearance was a paid advertisement presented as an independent educational program – and deceptive failure to disclose material connections with endorsers.

TAS settled the complaint immediately by agreeing to support future claims with reliable scientific evidence and agreeing to cease misrepresenting paid commercial advertising as independent programming and misrepresenting endorsers as independent. The consent order also trickles down to the company’s fleet of licensees, prohibiting TAS from helping any other person or business misrepresent its products’ effects, mandating that the company notify its licensees of the settlement agreement, and requiring TAS to monitor the advertisements of licensees – and to cut loose any licensee that violates the order.

So we have another health benefits claims substantiation case. Aging and diet claims are a favorite target of the FTC, with many staff lawyers publicly stating that they consider an appeal to body consciousness insecurities to be targeting of a vulnerable population. Here we also have another FTC enforcement favorite – failure to accurately disclose a material connection between an advertiser and seemingly objective consumers, experts and celebrities who are in fact paid by or receive other benefits from the advertiser in exchange for an endorsement.