Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


5 Comments

Herbalife part 2

HerbaLife_logo.svg

I received quite the response to my Herbalife post last week (thanks guys!). A number of comments on both the post and facebook made me think that I should do a brief follow-up. I got so caught-up in exploring the sketchy dynamic of the company itself that I spent very little time looking at the products they’re peddling.

Naturally, it’s always best to get your nutrition from whole foods. While many supplements and protein snacks are generally benign, there are some supplements that can actually cause considerable harm. We know that the supplement industry is not well regulated and there have been a number of exposes in the past few years of supplements containing ingredients other than those listed in the package. Well, it turns out that Herbalife supplements may also warrant closer scrutiny.

A reader was kind enough to send me the titles to some articles in the Journal of Hepatology to read. One of these, from 2007 was entitled: Slimming at all costs : Herbalife-induced liver injury. This article shares a number of cases in which severe liver injury was determined to have resulted from the use of Herbalife products. Unfortunately, because the users were taking anywhere from 3 to 17 different Herbalife products, investigators were unable to attribute the injury to a particular product. While a paper “revisiting” these claims against Herbalife was published in the World Journal of Hepatology in 2011, it’s hard not to be suspicious of their conclusion that the Herbalife products could not be linked to the cases of liver toxicity as the authors were all affiliated with Herbalife.

It’s difficult for me to properly assess the ingredients in Heralife products as their website lacks nutrition and ingredient information and I lack a lab to analyze the composition of the supplements (and the desire to use my money to purchase them). However, just looking at some of them from the website raises some questions. There’s a “herbal tea concentrate” listed under weight management. Yet, the description states “A delicious tea blend of green tea and orange pekoe…”. Green tea and orange pekoe tea are not herbal teas. Green tea supplements have also been linked to liver failure so I find this product concerning. There’s also a mysterious product called “Total Control”, “Liftoff” which is essentially Redbull in effervescent tablet form, “Herbalife24” which supposedly restores through antioxidants (which research is showing may cause more harm than good in supplement form) and vitamin A (which can be toxic in high supplemental doses).

These are just a few Herbalife products. They may be perfectly harmless, although it’s extremely unlikely that they’re actually beneficial. However, without knowing what’s actually in them I would never take the risk of purchasing and ingesting them. Save your money and your health and don’t buy risky supplements.


23 Comments

The science behind Herbalife

HerbaLife_logo.svg

A while ago I received a request to blog about supplements, in particular Herbalife. I’ve procrastinated on it for a little while because I figure you’ve read about one weight loss supplement scam, you’ve read about them all. Plus, I wasn’t all that familiar with Herbalife and the products they sell and I knew it would take me a little time to look at all of them.

The product lines include: core products, weight management, targeted nutrition, energy and fitness, and outer nutrition. They include everything from soy nuts to protein shakes to canola oil capsule. Yep, canola oil in a capsule. Why anyone would ever want to pay for capsules when you can buy a lovely jug of canola oil at the grocery store for what I’m sure is a much more reasonable price (prices aren’t listed on the Herbalife site) and can actually use to cook with is beyond me. It takes all kinds I suppose.

Herbalife even has a little tab at the top of their website entitled “science“. Which would be awesome if it actually linked to science to support the use of the products their selling. Sadly, no, this is what you get:

“Herbalife products are made from beneficial ingredients and developed using world-class scientific technology and research. Our protein shakes and snacks, vitamins and dietary supplements, energy and fitness drinks, and skin and hair care products, combined with healthy eating and exercise, can help you enjoy a lifetime of good health.”

They then provide a link to a PDF where you can “learn more”. This is a one pager, with plenty of images, that says:

“Herbalife products are formulated by our team of scientists and Ph.D.s for consumer benefits. They also ensure that the science behind our products is substantiated through scientific literature and clinical trials. We share knowledge and best practices through our key partnerships with the most advanced and established ingredient suppliers in the world.”

They name their chairman of the board, David Heber MD, PhD. Naturally, I looked him up. At first glance he appears quite reputable (aside from his willingness to peddle questionable nutritional supplements). He’s a professor at the UCLA school of medicine, an endocrinologist, nutrition specialist… But wait, if you just add “quack” after his name in google you get some much more interesting results; such as, this blog post about his authorship of several questionable diet books, his promotional video for pistachio nuts, and his research (funded by POM Wonderful) you guessed it, extolling the wonders of pomegranate juice. One blog not enough for you? How about a listing on Quack Watch linking to the article Herbalife Cozies Up With UCLA? Which outlines the financial benefits Heber receives from Herbalife in exchange for his promotion of their products? Or this post on Science-Based Medicine detailing the tangled web of Heber’s nutritional genomics research, funding, and chairmanship of the Herbalife board?

This is their credible scientist. A man who is receiving substantial profit from the sale of Herbalife supplements as well as funding for his research. No conflict of interest there. Nope.

Making Herbalife an even more questionable business is the fact that it appears to be a pyramid scheme. You can become an Herbalife distributor and make money selling Herbalife products to others. Despite this sales technique, a judge dismissed a case accusing Herbalife of being a pyramid scheme in July of this year.

The Herbalife website entices you to “get your Herbalife Coach today”. This coach will help you with your goals, product selection, and provide you with solutions and support during your journey to health. Who are these wellness coaches? People who sign-up to be Herbalife distributors through people who signed-up to be Herbalife distributors through people who signed-up to be Herbalife distributors. You get the idea. Apparently there’s some online training that you can take. I’m sure that’s pretty much like being a dietitian. I was hoping to find a disgruntled former Herbalife coach online who would reveal what the coach “training” entailed, but all I turned-up was this article about a woman who lost a large sum of money as a Herbalife distributor. And this blog post by a woman who was angered by her experience with an Herbalife Health and Wellness Coach. Essentially, as a Herbalife coach you’re a glorified sales person.

So, to sum it all up: Herbalife is a company with a dubious sales model, selling questionable products (I’m being generous here) that’s run by a doctor with a clear lack of integrity. If you want soy nuts, go to the Bulk Barn. Don’t waste your money supporting a despicable company like Herbalife.


Leave a comment

Vitamin A and Iron Absorption

photo

And this is a prime example of why 140 characters are not enough to provide nutrition counselling. It does appear that lower doses of vitamin A (such as the quantities you might obtain from eating the foods listed above) may increase absorption of non-heme iron (i.e. plant sources of iron). However, the increase seems to be minimal in comparison to consuming an iron supplement alone. In addition, when vitamin A supplements of 1, 800 µg were consumed with iron supplements they actually deceased iron absorption (1). Vitamin C, however, has been proven to increase iron absorption (2).

Lessons here:

1. Do your own research. It’s difficult for a 140 character tweet to convey sufficient information for you to make an informed dietary decision.

2. Try to get most of your nutrients from food, rather than supplements. While consuming foods that contain vitamin A may aid in iron absorption, consuming vitamin A supplements may actually decrease iron absorption.