The weight-loss product we created carries on its label (shown below) several statements often found on actual supplement labels. It’s important to understand the meaning and limitations of those claims.

1. Proprietary Blend
This means that the manufacturer has mixed several ingredients into a special blend. They must be listed in order of the amount the product contains, but the manufacturer doesn’t need to state how much of each ingredient is included. As a result, blends may contain dangerously high amounts of certain ingredients. Ours, for example, has a hefty dose of guarana, a powerful stimulant.

2. “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
This disclaimer is required on labels for supplements sold with claims about how they affect the body’s “structure or function.” It means that claims on the label haven’t been approved by the FDA.

3. FDA-Approved Facility
This isn’t a meaningful claim because the FDA doesn’t “approve” facilities that make supplements. It does provide guidelines for manufacturers outlining how they should, for example, keep equipment clean and prevent contamination. But the agency inspects only a fraction of supplement manufacturers, and there’s no official seal indicating that those rules have been followed.

4. Supports Metabolism and Boosts Energy
The FDA forbids supplement manufacturers from making claims about a product’s ability to prevent or treat disease. Only companies that make prescription and over-the-counter drugs can do that. And they have to back up those claims with clinical evidence proving their drugs are safe and effective. But supplement manufacturers don’t have to provide any evidence for claims related to a product’s ability to improve the body’s structure or function. That’s why labels for their products often have claims about the ability to “support,” “promote,” or “boost” metabolism and energy or bone health. They rarely have claims about a product’s ability to cure or prevent colds, cancer, or heart disease.

5. All Natural
This doesn’t mean “organic,” “free of genetically modified organisms,” or “no artificial ingredients,” or that a product is safe to take. Instead, it can mean whatever a manufacturer wants it to mean—or nothing at all.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the September 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.