Adverts make false claims about unregistered heart supplement in the Philippines

Facebook posts advertising a heart supplement in the Philippines falsely claim it was developed by a specialist heart hospital and endorsed by a prominent Filipino cardiologist. The posts link to a purported interview with cardiologist Rody Sy on a website that has been mocked up to appear as though it belongs to the Philippine Heart Center. But both the hospital and Dr Sy separately said they were not affiliated with the product, which the archipelago nation's food and drug regulator warned against using in 2020.

"What are pharmacies hiding?" reads a Tagalog-language Facebook post shared more than 100 times after it was published here on October 3, 2022.

The post includes a link to a website featuring a preview image that appears to show a doctor next to a product called "Heart Keep".

Tagalog-language text at the bottom of the image reads: "The cardiologist shared the most effective way to unclog your arteries. To achieve a blood pressure of 120/80, every morning you will need..."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a blood pressure of 120/80 is considered normal for adults. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can significantly increase the risk of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases when left untreated.

Screenshot of false post, captured on February 1, 2023

The link leads to a page that contains the name and logo of the Philippine Heart Center, a specialist heart hospital in Quezon City, and a purported interview with prominent Filipino cardiologist Rody Sy about cardiovascular health.

Towards the end of the purported interview, Dr Sy appears to claim a product called Heart Keep can help to unclog a person's arteries.

"Currently in the Philippines, there's only one drug that can (unclog arteries for old people and patients with hypertension). It is called Heart Keep. It was made in 2015 by the Philippine Heart Center," Dr Sy is quoted as saying.

The article also includes an image of Sy appearing to hold the product.

The picture of Sy used on the website that appears to show him holding the Heart Keep product.

Similar posts touting the heart supplement were shared elsewhere on Facebook here and here.

The product was also being sold on another website that contained the same text of the purported interview with Dr Sy.

Comments on the false posts suggested some users believed the claims.

"Doc, how do I drink this? Before or after eating?" asked one user.

"How to order (it)?" asked another.

The claims, however, are false.

In an advisory issued on July 14, 2020, the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the public "not to purchase and consume" Heart Keep and several other products.

"Since these unregistered food products have not gone through the evaluation process of the FDA, the agency cannot assure its quality and safety," the advisory said.

As of February 10, 2023 searches on the Philippine FDA's database of registered food products did not return any results.

'Completely false'

Gerardo Manzo, the deputy executive director of the Philippine Heart Center, said the claim circulating on social media was "completely false".

"The Philippine Heart Center did not develop and is absolutely not involved in this fraud," he told AFP on January 13.

A representative for Dr Sy also told AFP the endorsement was "false".

"Dr Sy does not promote a particular product. We had issued a disclaimer before when we were made aware of this false ad," the representative said on February 8.

Keyword and reverse image searches on Google led to an interview with Dr Sy that was published on the DOSTv Facebook page on February 18, 2019.

DOSTv is the official television programme for the Philippine Department of Science and Technology that airs on state-run PTV4.

An image of Dr Sy used on the imposter website matches with a frame at the interview's one-minute, 56-second mark, but the picture has been doctored to make it appear that he was holding the advertised product.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the doctored image used on the imposter website (left) and the corresponding frame from the DOSTv interview (right):

A screenshot comparison between the doctored image used on the imposter website (left) and the corresponding frame from the DOSTv interview (right)

"Heart Keep" is neither mentioned nor shown during the six-minute, 50-second video.

'Not backed by research'

Dr Giselle Gervacio, a cardiologist at the Philippine General Hospital, also warned against consuming the product.

"As a cardiologist and a scientist I would like to advise restraint in accepting new products like Heart Keep that have therapeutic claims not backed by research," she told AFP on February 9.

"Warning signs include: lack of FDA approval, exorbitant claims sounding like a cure-all product, spurious use of endorsements from renowned personalities."

AFP has previously debunked social media posts promoting unregistered products here, here, here, here, here and here.

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