Junkfood Science: “Supports total healthy lifestyles” — The FTC was on to them, but are consumers?

February 06, 2008

“Supports total healthy lifestyles” — The FTC was on to them, but are consumers?

The FTC has obtained a $2.5 million federal court judgment against Sili Neutraceuticals LLC and Brian McDaid for making false advertising claims and sending illegal e-mail spam for its supplements, including hoodia and “natural” human growth hormone products. The FTC charged them with making false and unsubstantiated claims about hoodia for weight loss and human growth hormone for anti-aging.

In a public statement, the FTC reported that the defendants were falsely claiming that hoodia causes rapid, substantial and permanent weight loss; and that its natural human growth hormone products increased hormone levels and will turn back or reverse the aging process.

According to the FTC’s complaint filed last August, the company claimed its natural growth hormone products would [take a deep breath]: lower blood pressure, decrease cellulite, make you look and feel 20 years younger, immediately boost energy, improve vision, reduce wrinkles and sagging skin by increasing collagen and elastin, revitalize hair and nail growth, increase sexual function and vigor, “refresh” your memory and mental energy, cause sounder sleep, eliminate stress and fatigue, eliminate depression, speed injury recovery, relieve chronic pain, increase muscle mass, and cause loss of fat and weight. Plus, customers were told “HGH is Being Compared to the Eternal Fountain of Youth!”

Wouldn’t it be nice if a pill could do all that?

While HGH injections are used in the treatment of very specific medical problems, primarily in children and HIV-positive patients, the Mayo Clinic explains that there is no evidence adults benefit from it, but there are considerable risks of using it when you don’t need it, such as high blood pressure, arthritis-like pain, swelling in arms and legs, headaches, muscle pain, diabetes, abnormal growth of bones and internal organs and heart disease. Most importantly, “some websites claim to sell a pill form of HGH” or “human growth hormone releasers,” but these claims are unsubstantiated, they explain. “In fact, if you were to swallow human growth hormone, it would like be digested by your stomach acids and not absorbed into your body.”

The Sili Neutraceuticals' websites in the FTC complaint also promised Hoodia gordonii, a cactus plant from Southern Africa, was a new miracle supplement for safe, effective weight loss. “Scientists have recently isolated several compounds in this amazing plant that are responsible for dramatic weight loss,” they stated. “This all-natural appetite suppressant is also being applauded for containing no dangerous stimulants that caused adverse side effects associated with weight loss products of the last decade.” Among its purported advantages were: curbs your appetite, causes fast weight loss, boosts energy, regulates blood sugar, “supports total healthy lifestyles” and “improves self esteeem and confidence.”

In truth and fact, according to the FTC, per the scientific evidence, Hoodia products do not cause the weight loss claimed. Nor does the scientific evidence support the claims made for the company's human growth hormone products. The defendants had no reasonable basis to substantiate its product claims, charged the FTC.

The FTC also issued a Consumer Alert on natural Human Growth Hormone hype, found here.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health even cautions “there is no reliable scientific evidence to support hoodia's use. No studies of the herb in people have been published.” Nor is hoodia’s safety been proven and there are no studies of its risks, side effects, and interactions with medicines.

Also in court documents filed by the FTC, the company’s spam included a form of web hijacking, an especially insidious form of spamming. Among the 85,000 spam messages in the FTC’s database, were misleading subject headings that deceptively appeared to come from the victim Website operator’s mail server. The spam had no functioning return email address, no way to opt-out, failed to include a physical address for the company, and took traffic to its website. According to the FTC, this was all in violation of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 “CAN-SPAM Act.” This is the largest penalty to date of the CAN-SPAM Act.

According to the FTC: “Consumers in the United States and beyond have suffered, and continue to suffer, loss and other injury as a result of Defendants' unlawful acts or practices. In addition, Defendants have been unjustly enriched as a result of their unlawful practices.”

Will consumers heed the FTC’s actions?

Apparently, a lot of natural foods and supplement companies are counting on consumers not to. There are currently 13.6 million websites on hoodia, most promoting it, as well as television shows, such as CBS 60 Minutes. Nearly 1.5 million websites, alone, are touting it for weight loss. You really can't believe everything you read on the internet.

Bookmark and Share