As if we needed even more scandal tacked onto the wellness market, a new herbal supplement, billing itself as a natural treatment for teens with anxiety, is under federal investigation over its advertising claims.
Veeva is a range of pills … mostly. It offers a small collection of products, including essential oil blends, oil mists, and aromatherapy roll-ons. But for the most part, it sells capsules. Each product — “Sleep Formula,” “Stress Formula,” “Anxiety Formula” — hinges on the idea that you don’t need prescription medication to improve your mental health.
And its new product, Veeva Teen, allegedly alleviates “nervousness and agitation due to mental stress in teens,” without the side effects you might get from taking what the doctor prescribes. (CBC News notes that Veeva Teen removed several references to “anxiety” from its website after a reporter contacted the founder).
“Many parents are hesitant to fill prescriptions that doctors write so very quickly,” Veeva Inc.’s Founder and President Alain Roy said in an August news release. The “media topics” emphasized by a spokesperson who e-mailed the release included “botanicals, minerals and vitamins that fight anxiety.”
The special “Teen Formula” uses linden flower extract, passionflower extract, lemon balm, magnesium, and zinc, among other things, to “promote healthy bones, skin, hair and nails,” maintain proper tissue formation, support immune function, and relieve nervousness and agitation, “all without any scary side effects.”
There’s a big difference between marketing for nervousness and anxiety
The problem, according to Health Canada, is the claim it can treat anxiety. When Veeva Teens was approved for sale back in April, it was allegedly approved as a treatment for “nervousness and/or restlessness” — not as a treatment for anxiety disorders, according to CBC News.
“Health Canada has opened a case into the advertising of the Veeva Inc. ‘Teen’ product and is working to verify compliance of the advertising with regulatory requirements. The case opened for the product ‘Teen’ includes the assessment of the advertising of all health products listed on the company’s website,” a Health Canada spokesperson told HuffPost Canada in an emailed statement.
“Health Canada takes the safety of health products on the Canadian market very seriously. The Department is committed to ensuring that information used in health product advertisements is not false, misleading or deceptive to Canadians. Companies cannot advertise or promote their health products for indications for use that have not been authorized by Health Canada.”
Since 2004, all natural health supplements in Canada are regulated as a subset of drugs under Health Canada’s Food and Drugs Act. To be approved, proper safety and efficacy evidence must be provided. But, as the Canadian Health Food Association notes, “the level of evidence required by Health Canada to support a proposed health claim on an NHP is dependent upon the nature of the claim being made, the risk associated with the claim, and the condition correlated to the claim.”
Should teens even be taking supplements?
The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) cautions parents to remember that just because something is marketed as “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe. Some can be harmful if you take too much, CPS notes on its website, or can cause side effects and allergic reactions.
“It’s also important to remember that even if a product is safe for adults, it may not be safe for children. Children are still growing and developing, and their bodies may respond differently to a product or medicine than an adult’s body.”
Roy told CBC News that the language used on the bottle now is identical to what was on the licence approved by Health Canada.
He also said that, while news releases for Veeva Teens products specifically referenced anxiety studies (there’s a mention of one that suggests almost 40 per cent of students experience psychological distress) the public should be able to distinguish between the terms “nervousness” and “anxiety” without an explicit disclosure.
Approved treatments for teens with anxiety
Of course, there is a difference between feeling nervous and having an anxiety disorder — but sometimes it can be hard to make the distinction.
Most people will experience anxiety at some point in their lives, maybe before an exam or a public speaking event. Maybe you get anxious before you go to a party. Usually, these feelings of nervousness, however intense they might be, are fleeting and temporary.
When it comes to anxiety disorders, though, those feelings are usually sustained, and might last well beyond a single moment.
People who experience anxiety disorders often describe physical pain, insomnia, dizziness, catastrophic worries, and more. There are several kinds of anxiety disorders, and in 2013, an estimated three million Canadians over the age of 18 reported having one.
WATCH: Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Canada. Story continues below.
There are approved ways to treat anxiety, and there’s no shame in consulting a licensed professional who might be able to talk you through the steps. If there’s one thing that anxiety disorders have in common, it’s that they are highly treatable, and many of them do respond well to prescription medication.
The most common medications prescribed for anxiety are antidepressants, like Zoloft, Lexapro and Prozac. While these medications don’t work for everyone, and aren’t a be-all-end-all solution, they do help ease intense periods of anxiety for some, and are often used in combination with therapy.
Which brings us to that: cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, has been proven effective in treating anxiety. That’s the short-term kind of psychotherapy that tries to focus on the problems that emerge in everyday life. It involves dealing with the symptoms you’re presently struggling with, rather than the underlying cause of the problem.
The catch, though, is that therapy is often cost-prohibitive, and many people either can’t afford it or can’t access it at all. In the event that you need therapy but just can’t swing it, we also have a comprehensive guide here on what to do if you can’t afford a therapist.
On its website, Veeva Teen markets its products with a wide-eyed, exclamatory tone, like if “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” and an Instagram post for Flat Tummy Tea had a kid in the shape of a capsule bottle. “FINALLY, A FORMULA FOR YOUR TEEN’S MENTAL WELL-BEING,” the products page proclaims.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Instagram and Facebook both opted to impose age restrictions on those familiar ads promoting products that make “miracle” claims about what they can do for your body.
If you follow even one Instagram influencer, or have ever glanced at a Kardashian page, you might have seen those “appetite suppressant lollipops” and “detox teas.” It’s exactly this brand of weight loss product the apps are targeting, and will be hiding from users who are under the age of 18.
“Facebook and Instagram taking a stand to protect the physical and mental health of people online sends an important message out to the world,” Jameela Jamil, actress and founder of the Instagram movement iWeigh, said in an interview with ELLE.
“I’m thrilled to have been able to work towards this with them, alongside a host of other experts who shed light on the danger of these products.”
- with files from Natalie Stechyson