By Jon Hood

June 29, 2010
A class action lawsuit accuses Chattem, Inc., the manufacturer of Garlique, of falsely claiming the supplement reduces cholesterol levels, and demands that the company issue a mea culpa.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, says the plaintiffs would not have bought Garlique -- or, at least, they wouldn't have paid as much -- were it not for Chattem's misleading statements. The suit says that Chattem is liable to the class for millions of dollars in damages.

According to the complaint, Chattem is clinging to a report from an October 2000 finding that "garlic slightly lowered cholesterol levels when taken for one to three months," although that same report "concluded that garlic had no effect on cholesterol when taken for six months or more."

The suit also notes that "numerous studies, including a study released by the Archives of Internal Medicine on February 26, 2007, have concluded that garlic does not provide the benefits of cholesterol reduction and maintenance" that Chattem claims it does.

The suit points to several allegedly misleading quotes from Chattem's website, including the company's assertions that "[o]ne Garlique tablet each day, preferably with a meal, provides support for cardiovascular health," and that "[g]arlic has long been used for its healthful benefits as well as a flavorful ingredient in recipes around the world." Of this second statement, the complaint says, "Apparently recognizing that this statement is inaccurate, Defendant recently removed it from its website."

The suit also points out that the Better Business Bureau asked Chattem to either discontinue or change ads in which Larry King endorses Garlique. That request was apparently because King's claim that "garlic has been clinically shown to maintain healthy cholesterol levels" was not based on research specifically involving Garlique.

The 2000 report used to justify Chattem's claims was performed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and was based on 37 randomized trials using garlic in three different forms -- fresh, cooked, and as a supplement. The report noted that "most [of the 37] trials had significant methodological flaws," drawing the reliability of their findings into question.

A subsequent article, compiled by the Archives of Internal Medicine, examined 45 randomized trials and 73 other studies and found the data "compatible with the hypothesis that garlic supplementation may produce mild short-term benefits on the levels of total cholesterol," but ultimately pronounced the data "inconclusive." That article also pointed to potential flaws in the trials it discussed.

The suit goes on to note that at least five studies "have concluded that garlic preparations have no effect on cholesterol levels, even in the short-term."

The suit seeks damages and a permanent injunction barring Chattem from further misleading advertisements. The class also wants Chattem to issue "corrective advertising" renouncing its allegedly misleading statements. The complaint charges Chattem with intentional misrepresentation and unjust enrichment.