Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Quack of the week: A wolfberry in sheep's clothing

The goji or wolfberry (Lycium barbarum) are rich in vitamin and nutritional content and have been the subject of numerous medical claims. One of the most vocal supporters of this 'miracle berry' is Earl Mindell, a nutritionist and author of several nutrition books. Mindell is also involved with a company, FreeLife International, pushing 'Himalayan Goji Juice' as a 'powerful anti-aging food.' Bottles of the juice can run up to $50 for 1 litre, but when tested in the lab by CBC Marketplace, contained few of the nutrients found in the berry itself (in fact the label of the bottle avoids making vitamin claims). Instead the product relies on 4 'master molecules' - polysaccharides in the juice - having a unique 'spectral signature' not found in other goji products.

One of the several health claims made my "Dr." Mindell (Mindell holds a Ph.D from Pacific Western, an uaccredited unversity) is the cancer-fighting properties of goji juice. He claims that a study out of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre shows that goji berry extract inhibits growth of hormone-responsive breast cancer cells - a claim that Sloan-Kettering has distanced itself from. The berry extract has show this property in vitro, but safety and efficacy hasn't been tested in humans. Even the author of the study being used to promote the product says his research does not show that goji juice has anti-cancer properties. If goji extract is able to inhibit cancer growth, it certainly hasn't been demonstrated beyond a tissue culture dish or using Mindell's vitamin-depleted version.

On top of the dubious health claims made about Himalayan Goji Juice, the whole company reeks of a pyramid scheme. New customers must be referred by a 'Freelife Marketing Executive' for the privilege of shelling out $500 a month on goji. You can become a 'marketing executive' for just a small fee ($40 US) and earn money for recruiting new customers to the goji craze. In addition, you get a small percentage for each successive level of recruitment in their multi-level marketing system.

So lets review:
1) stands to make a large amount of money from sick/desperate people
2) exaggerated medical claims
3) claims based on single, non-comprehensive, in vitro studies
4) reliance on testimonials, rather than scientific evidence to back claims
5) pyramid-scheme like marketing system

How does the saying go? If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck.... quack, quack, quack.

Watch the CBC Marketplace report on Mindell and Himalayan Goji Juice here.


Anonymous said...

Grad students usually do research, and not just believe the hype.

Stay in school, boys.

kamel said...

Hmmm... well it's hard to do the research when there are so few papers out there supporting the goji claims.

That said, the onus is on Mindell to do the research to show the product is effective, not on anybody else to prove otherwise. And no, testamonials do not count as "research".

Dave said...

Here is what I can't understand. If there is no research that proves the juice helps people, why don't you conduct your own personal research? After all I know they have a 90 money back guarantee.

Go to the doctors and get a checkup. Run some blood work; get you blood pressure / cholesterol checked. Then do not change anything about your lifestyle for 2 months, except drink Goji. And find out for yourself if it works.
If it doesn't send it all back. What have you got to lose?

Anonymous Coward said...

Well you have money to lose for starters. The catch of these multilevel marketing schemes is that in order to buy one bottle, you must sell some. Inevitably you end up losing a lot of money, except for a handful of people at the top. And if the juice is indistinguishable from say, cranberry juice, why bother putting your money and health on the line. Let the people making the claim do the testing. It's too easy to make stuff up like this, and prey on desperate people...

Bayman said...

Dave asks,
Here is what I can't understand. If there is no research that proves the juice helps people, why don't you conduct your own personal research?

Because a proper scientific study requires more than one sample. It requires a big enough sample size to achieve statistically significant results and comparison to control groups that don't get treated. Otherwise there's no way to know whether someone getting better really has anything to do with the treatment.

Kathleen B. said...

Kudos to you. Yes, desperate people take desperate measures. If I have one more person try to peddle Noni juice as a cure-all I'm going to scream. Try what you want if you can afford it, but please make certain -absolute certain that it will cause no harmful effect - and tell your doctor before you start.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if any herb is really good for cancer. But the latest thing seems to be DBP-MAF which activates macrophages. Likely a herbal version can be created. Problem of cause is Nagalase which reduces DBP. But the reduction is only in 25% of cancer patients. That would leave 75% success rate in putting cancer into remission. One may want to start off with shark liver oil adding Lactase enzyme along with Immu-25. Which would most likely improve the immune system. Whether you can create something similar to DBP is an interesting problem that I have not figured out yet although there is a patent which does something like that.
Any of things herb articles on cancer could come under the heading of quack, quack. Does mean that there isn't cure. And for making money? That should not be the object. Solving a problem should like Doctor House on T.V.. So find out how to make a similar DBP as this is the problem. Quack, Quack, Quack!

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