Fewer rules plus big growth equals even bigger celeb backup for nutraceuticals

Hilary Duff's Instagram spot for herbal supplement Lyfe Tea.

The business of nutraceuticals is booming, with Big Pharma players, biotech startups and even Swiss food giant Nestlé angling for a piece of the market. That makes the field an increasingly competitive landscape--and with the FDA cracking down on subpar products and outlandish marketing claims, companies that can color between the lines have an advantage.

Plus, nutraceuticals companies have more leeway to hawk their products. Not only do supplements and nutraceuticals avoid the same approval process as pharma drugs, but the marketing rules also give them free rein, as long as they don't make claims regarding diagnosis, treatment or prevention.

What does that translate into? Lots of celeb endorsements. Stars can endorse nutraceuticals without the same regulatory scrutiny, Stat reports.

"The bar for entering the industry is very low," David Schardt, a senior nutritionist at the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the publication. "You and I could set up a business and in a few days, we could be selling our own brand of supplements."

Take Flex Pharma, for example. The Boston-based company in January raised $86.4 million in an IPO priced above its expected range to develop its leg cramp treatment. Flex ($FLKS) has already signed on its first celebrity spokesperson, world-class triathlete Craig Alexander, to talk up its product, according to the Stat story.

Obviously, Flex's treatment, which contains extracts of ginger, cinnamon, and capsicum from a type of pepper, does not require FDA approval or a prescription. The company has only tested its muscle cramp product on a few hundred endurance athletes. And while feedback from athletes in the trial was largely positive, Flex's investors aren't exactly convinced about the supplement's merits. The data "is not what you would call definitive proof. It's a little hard to prove anything," Bill Sahlman, an independent investor in Flex and Harvard Business School professor, told the news website.

Still, those concerns don't seem to be weighing on the minds of celebs promoting the products on social media. Earlier this year, former tween actress Hilary Duff took to Instagram to promote herbal supplement Lyfe Tea, which is made with lemon peel, ginger and a flowering African plant and does a "teatox" on the body by (allegedly) removing toxins from the digestive tract.

Kim Kardashian is promoting Duchesnay's morning sickness drug, Diclegis, on Instagram.

Reality TV star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi has also posted on Instagram to support Protein World's Slender Blend nutritional supplement. "Squats make a booty good. @proteinworld Slender Blend makes a booty even better! Toning up with the best nutritional supplements out there:)," Snooki said in a caption under a photo of her measuring some of the product, which is made from whey protein, green tea extract and extracts from the caffeinated seeds of an Amazonian shrub.

Neither would face the kind of fallout that Kim Kardashian experienced after her infamous Instagram post for Canadian pharma Duchesnay's morning sickness med, Diclegis. Back in August, the FDA sent Duchesnay and Kardashian a letter to take down the ad, calling the post "false and misleading." The post, which featured Kardashian holding a bottle of Diclegis and a caption plugging the med, did not mention any of the risks associated with the drug or give its full indication. Kardashian and Duchesnay complied with the FDA's request, but a week later Kardashian uploaded the same ad, this time with label warnings.

- here's the Stat story