updated 11/2/2004 10:44:36 PM ET 2004-11-03T03:44:36

Pro-Erex. Big Daddy. Suregasm. There is little doubt what these supplements are promising, but the evidence that they actually can enlarge a man’s penis or enhance sexual performance falls short, consumer advocates said on Wednesday.

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest, best known for taking the fun out of Chinese take-out and ice cream by revealing how unhealthy such treats are, is now taking on the nonprescription sex supplement industry.

The CSPI filed a complaint on Wednesday with the Federal Trade Commission saying one company, Cincinnati-based Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, had crossed the line in television ads touting its supplement Enzyte.

“We urge the Federal Trade Commission to immediately enjoin the national television advertisements of Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, for the herbal supplement Enzyte,” the complaint, faxed to the FTC, reads.

“The FTC requires that advertising claims for dietary supplements, including those based on testimonials of users, ’be backed by sound, scientific evidence.’ Berkeley, however, has conceded that it has no scientific studies of Enzyte substantiating any of Berkeley’s claims.”

A spokesman for Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals was not immediately available.

Under U.S. law, supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the way prescription drugs are, and makers have much leeway in designing products and in writing vaguely worded claims about what they do.

They may not, however, lie outright, without risking FTC action, although in reality the agency cannot check on every product.

Limp evidence
The CSPI says Enzyte, while unusual in its relatively innocuous choice of name, is a fairly typical example of sexual enhancement supplements.

“It contains tiny amounts of 16 ingredients including familiar herbs like ginkgo and ginseng, the minerals copper and zinc, ... a vitamin (niacin), and an amino acid (arginine),” the CSPI said.

According to the company’s Web site, it also contains horny goat weed extract and saw palmetto, the latter usually sold as a prostate supplement.

The CSPI says tests show that some of the ingredients may or may not work to enhance sexual performance.

“One study suggests that 5,000 mg daily of arginine may lead to a subjective improvement in sexual function,” it said.

“However, as Enzyte’s label says each tablet contains 1,494 mg of its proprietary blend (all ingredients other than niacin, zinc, and copper), it is not possible that Enzyte contains the amounts of those ingredients that may be necessary to increase libido or sexual performance, if, indeed, those ingredients provide a benefit at any dose,” the complaint adds.

“The Food and Drug Administration and the FTC have been lax when it comes to policing these so-called sex supplements,” said David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the nonprofit CSPI.

“Until they act, consumers are best advised to drag any unsolicited e-mails from ’Mr. Gigantic’ or ’Mr. Thick’ from the inbox to the trash.”

CSPI spokesman Jeff Cronin said despite the limp evidence that such supplements work, people apparently are buying them.

“There’s a lot of advertising out there. Advertising is expensive so they must be selling enough to make the ads profitable,” he said.

Many of the ads appear on late-night talk shows that command premium rates.

“Enzyte is more successful subtracting from the male wallet than it is adding to the male organ,” Schardt said.

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