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The Healthy Skeptic: The Government Fines Bayer, TrimSpa, CortiSlim and Xenadrine for False Advertising

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Last week the Federal and Trade Commission announced that they were fining several diet supplement marketers and manufacturers — including German drug titan Bayer — a total of $25 million for making false and misleading advertising claims in the advertising of their products. In a perfect world these products would be banned — after all the government has banned trans fat — so that people could be truly protected from predatory business practices of the unscrupulous.

The most important thing that consumers should learn from this case is that the FTC has ruled, “Testimonials from individuals are not a substitute for science.” Deborah Platt Majoras Chairman of the FTC has been clear on this point and went on to say that “the marketers are required to back up their claims with science, and if they can’t do that they can’t make the claim.”

I’ve been railing about this for years, so it’s good to see that the government is using their power in an appropriate manner.

What this means is that anecdotal evidence provided by consumers who have enjoyed positive results cannot be used in advertisements as the basis to make claims of a product’s efficacy. In other words, just because Jane Doe says she lost 30 pounds in 8 weeks doesn’t mean that a company can say that YOU will do the same, small print disclaimer or not.

There’s that little thing called science that companies will need to use in order to back up their claims.

The biggest offender — at least judging by the size of the fines — is RTC Research & Development, marketers of the ersatz weight loss product Xenadrine EFX. RTC will pay anywhere from $9 million and $12.8 million. The company that manufacturers Xenadrine, Nutriquest, is owned by Robert Chinery who also owns RTC.

Nutriquest used to be known as Cytodyne Technologies and has been in bankruptcy proceedings as a result of a massive suit filed by those who were damaged or killed by Xenadrine’s herbal, ephedra-based formula a few years ago. Baltimore Oriole pitcher Steve Bechler died in 2003 and Xenadrine was blamed as being partially responsible; his death served as the tipping point in the debate to ban ephedra and helped to launch this lawsuit.

Nutriquest was in bankruptcy from paying an $18 million judgment from this class-action suit, and the 140 plaintiffs will also split almost $35 million that comes from Nutriquest’s bankruptcy settlement.

Nutriquest wasn’t named in the FTC complaint, and Chinery and other parties involved in the sale of Xenadrine haven’t admitted to any wrongdoing in this case, but settled “to avoid the uncertainties and costs of litigation.”

However, it’s important to remember that this FTC complaint deals with the advertisements for the new Xenadrine formulation that is ephedra-free and not the old ephedra-laden Xenadrine.  Would you buy any supplement made and marketed by this guy?

The bottom line with Xenadrine is to stay away from it.

The seven companies involved with the sale and marketing of CortiSlim and CortiStress will have to pony up at least $12 million in cash and assets for making ludicrous claims about their products. These people reached new lows with their marketing tactics for their products and not only made false weight-loss claims about CortiSlim but also claimed that CortiStress could reduce everything from the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s to preventing cancer.

Since CortiSlim was the best selling diet supplement on the market for years the CortiSlim creeps have been at this game for quite a long time and surely must be laughing their way to the bank, as $12 million spread out over seven companies is a drop in the bucket compared to how much money they have raked in during the past 5 years.

Goen Technologies, the company that makes TrimSpa, the weight-loss supplement made famous by Anna Nicole Smith, was fined $1.5 million for claims made in the advertisements in which she was featured.

Goen exhibited the type of humility that you would expect from a company that makes false and unsubstantiated claims, and blamed the media for their problems. According to Goen TrimSpa was “put under the microscope after Anna Nicole Smith’s 69-pound weight loss with TrimSpa X32 was widely reported in the media.”

Yet apparently, according to Goen, all of this attention had nothing to do with TrimSpa’s media blitz advertising campaign and nothing to do with TrimSpa’s suspect ingredient list. Such chutzpah!

The way One-A-Day WeightSmart vitamins were marketed is what got Bayer in trouble to the tune of $3.2 million, although these big boys seems to be a bit miffed about being included in this rogue’s gallery of diet pill hucksters.

From up on their high horse Bayer dismissed this blow to their reputation in the way a supermodel might deal with an unsightly blemish. Bayer says that they “stand behind its One-A-Day WeightSmart multivitamin and fully believes that all claims made in the marketing of the product are well substantiated and supported,” and that “WeightSmart provides safe and effective nutritional support to those who are watching their weight.”

This is nonsense. If you look at the One-A-Day WeightSmart ingredient list you’ll be hard pressed to find anything that would make you think this supplement offers unique benefits to people who are trying to lose weight. And if Bayer’s advertisements had simply said their product provided “nutritional support” to people trying to lose weight they probably wouldn’t have gotten themselves into hot water.

The bottom line here is that when it comes to weight-loss supplements you just can’t trust anybody, whether it’s Bayer or one of the denizens of the underbelly of the supplement world. So keep your money in your pocket.

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About Sal Marinello

  • Steve Brecher

    “Baltimore Oriole pitcher Steve Bechler died in 2003 and Xenadrine was blamed as being partially responsible.” Skepticism should cut both ways, should it not? As far as I know, the blame was due to this statement from a Florida medical examiner: “It is my professional opinion that the toxicity of ephedra played a significant role in the death of Mr. Bechler, although it’s impossible to define mathematically the contribution of each one of the risk factors.”

    It was reported that “Perper said he couldn’t say whether Bechler would have died if he hadn’t been taking ephedra.”

    In the absence of any supporting evidence from the ME, it seems safe to substitute “scientifically” for “mathematically” in his statement.

    Continuing the quote of Sal, “[H]is death served as the tipping point in the debate to ban ephedra and helped to launch this lawsuit.” Debate, or hysteria? Where’s the science?

    (I have no connection with ephedrine/ephedra or similar substances either commercially or as a consumer.)

  • sal m

    with regard to the bechler situation i made no judgment as to whether it was fair or not, science-based or hysteria driven, i merely made a mention that this situation pushed things forwards. i didn’t say that banning ephedra was justified, or that in fact ephedra did kill bechler or that i thought that it did.

    for what it’s worth, i think banning ephedra was silly and NOT science based. but that doesn’t mean i agree with the ridiculous claims made by the hucksters that contained this stuff.

  • http://www.lifepriority.com Greg Pryor

    I was a MLB player for 9 years. I also sold an ephedra herb tea for many years legally.

    Had Bechler been an athlete that respected his body and his obligation to himself, his family, and his employer, he would be alive today.

    It is not news that his own players called him the most out of conditioned athlete on the team. His family health history is not good. He could not complete his running regemin the day before in the Oriole spring training. He died of heat stroke and, to save face, the Orioles brought out damage control so that they would not have to accept the blame.

    When the gov’t seized on Bechlers death to ban ephedra illegally, it was a huge blow to the freedom of all Americans. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case and now the FDA has the right to ban what it wants, when it wants. If you do not know that the FDA broke the law to ban ephedra then you do not have any right to discuss the issue.

    Aspirin, nicotine, and alcohol have been killing Americans for many years. Do you really think that the illegal ban of ma huang was done to protect Americans? If so, you are mistaken.

  • Brunelleschi

    If Cortislim/Cortistress actually does what is intended (which is technically different than what is claimed), they may be right, and a victim of greedy lawyers that only need to convince a court of some bullshit to get rich.

    I really don’t know either way, but I have personal experience with cortisol problems so I want to share the details, and a link to some reading. I wouldn’t be so quick as to label the situation “ludicrous.” It’s complex for sure, and you will find a lot of skeptics. But then again, a lot of experts and drs don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground on this either.

    Before going on, note that Cortislim, etc is a stress reducer, not a direct cortisol cleanup. You might be better off smoking pot and forgetting your problems!

    Here’s a really good starting point to catch up on cortisol the hormone and Cortislim the product by the popular patient advocate Mary Shomon…

    Will CortiSlim Help You Lose Weight?

    Brief Summary-

    Cortisol is a hormone that you need in your bloodstream. Your adrenals make a little each day. It surges when you experience the “fight or flight” response to danger. You may over-produce it under stress (very common with the modern lifestyle) and get a round hard belly that people jokingly refer to as a “beer belly.”

    Sorry beer drinkers-That’s probably a cortisol belly. Its very unhealthy and can lead to a long list of hard-to-solve hormone and weight problems.

    You may stop producing it under chronic stress when the adrenals shut down, leading to numerous health problems that medicine is not going to help you figure out. I know from experience!

    “Medical Tests-Garbage In, Garbage Out”-

    I’ll skip the boring details (years of searching for help on this) and start with the doctor that figured my case out and what he told me-

    If you live under stress all the time and don’t do anything about it, cortisol builds up. You get the beer belly.

    If this goes on long enough for the adrenals to fail, you can stop producing it. Now the problems really pile on. This can throw off what your dr thinks is wrong with you, and your chances of getting the right diagnosis are slim.

    Cortisol is a hormone and a strong one. Your endocrine system is not just one gland or pair of glands. Its a system that includes the thyroid, pancreas, pituitary, thymus, and the adrenals, and these glands work together like a complex chemical computer.

    In addition, other glands contribute to this complicated mix, like testosterone/progesterone (depending on your sex) and melatonin, from the pineal gland, which needs to work right for restful sleep. This is just scratching the surface.

    Suppose all this happens and you see an endocrinologist that only knows to look at TSH to check your thyroid. Their tests are unreliable. Things will be too far out of balance and they won’t check cortisol. I know because when my thyroid AND adrenals were knocked out, I was told that chances of having cortisol/other problems were so rare, that I needed to spend months taking something else for it first. That turned out the exact wrong thing to do.

    Suppose you see someone for suspected diabetes. Same problem. Their tests can be unreliable and you may get put on the wrong program and never get off of it. They don’t know where else to look or refuse to.

    I guess you can’t blame them. Tampering with cortisol is beyond the capabilities of pill pushers and specialists, unless they are specialists in looking at the WHOLE system together. Plus, they have those lawyers scaring them from even trying.

    In summary, chronic stress can lead to adrenal failure, and send you into medical hell. Preventing it, however it’s done, can prevent numerous problems that you may never solve. An effective stress reducer can make all the “ludicrous” claims it wants to, and they may in fact be right!

    A Bad Trip-

    I made a mistake with my cortisol once and learned the hard way how strong this hormone is. My own program includes 5mg of cortisol a day, since the dr that figured my own mess out found mine to be missing, along with some other things Again, the complexity is why no one else ever figured this out.

    I stick to my program to the letter, so I was freaking when my meds were sent to the wrong address and I missed about a week. After so many years of hell, I wasn’t going to let that happen again. When I got the meds, I thought (foolishly) that since I’m trying to get my levels back up, a little catch-up won’t hurt. I took three in the space of 24 hrs, and it scared the hell out of me! My belly grew out a few inches and I became sick, and had to spend a day worrying and sleeping it off. Strong stuff!

    I gained a new respect for how careful you have to be with this stuff.

    Back to the Topic-

    If Cortisol/Cortislim does reduce stress, they can claim what they want. They are probably more accurate than a lot of ignorant drs, and lawyers don’t know anything but greed.

    Then again, if you catch it in time, you might be better off smoking a joint and listening to reggae.

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