Saturday, December 29, 2007

Goji Scam?

Source: Passion for Health
In January 2007, Earl Mindell was lambasted by CBC Marketplace in a fascinating interview and exposé for allegedy taking advantage of sick folks to make huge profits selling goji juice. His business empire is massive. His goji meetings are like religious events with Mindell as “master.” His product—Freelife “Himalayan” Goji Juice is actually made from berries not grown in the Himalayas! His reasoning is that the “unique” polysaccharide profile is the same as the Himalayan sort. Hmmm I don’t like that kind of thing. Either it’s Himalayan or it aint. Mindell claims that only his juice has the exact profile of these “master” molecules “There simply is no other product on the market like it.” He also claims he’s going to close half the hospitals!

To use Freelife (a pyramid marketed product with top sellers making $170,000 - $1,700,000 a year according to freelife), expect to shell out $50 per bottle or about $250 for a months supply. I feel sad. This smacks of exploiting sick people. Can folks not get the benefit of goji berries that doesn’t involve a $250 per month cost? The Marketplace program said that many of his claims are false. In lab tests, his juice contained virtually no B or E vitamins and no beta carotene. The lab tests also found his “unique” product to be similar to other juices. Mindell responded by citing 76 peer reviewed studies that support his health claims. He’s written a book on Goji that lists 34 health benefits—even that it prevents cancer.

Dr. Steven Zegar, who researches natural health products for cancer treatment at McMaster University has reviewed many of the goji studies. He says Mindell has extrapolated bits of these studies and is using them out of context. The polysaccharides could have health benefits but there’s little proof to back up the hype. Dr Bradlow of Hackensack University in New Jersey said “It inhibited the growth of cells in a dish… a little dish like this isn’t the same as a person.”

“There’s absolutely no proof it would have that effect on a human… there’s no justification for encouraging people to take this as an anti-cancer drug… it’s misrepresentation of the facts… it’s unbelievable how many unscrupulous souls there are out there, trying to pedal an unproven product… there’s lots of single studies that turned out to be one shot wonders.”

In Mindell’s defense, I reckon goji berries do have cancer preventing qualities. Plant food in general have been shown in many studies to have anti-cancer properties and antioxidants are known to “mop up” free radicals which can cause DNA damage. Since goji is a highly nutritious berry, it’s fair to say that it has anti-cancer properties. Unfortunately for Mindell, you just can’t say it without proof. Also, his juice is lacking many of the health benefits of the berry itself. Surely if he really wanted the best for people, he would be recommending the berries and not his extremely expensive juice? Also in Mindell’s defense, it’s mainly the polysaccharides that he’s promoting in his juice. But again I have to ask why not just eat the berry and get the other benefits as well at a much reduced cost?

In the Marketplace interview, he urges folks to go to and do a search for “Lycium Barbarum” (the latin name for goji berries). Well I did just that–83 results of studies relating to goji or its extracts (to put this into perspective, I did a search on pubmed for broccoli that came up with 5416 studies). So, a few more have been added since the Marketplace interview. Having a quick flick through, three things sprung to mind. Firstly, not many people will have a clue how to interpret these studies. To pick one purely at random… “Effect of lycium barbarum polysaccharide on human hepatoma QGY7703 cells: inhibition of proliferation and induction of apoptosis.” Brain freeze!!

I’m sure you’re dying to know what the outcome of that particular study was eh? Well, “The study suggests that the induction of cell cycle arrest and the increase of intracellular calcium in apoptotic system may participate in the antiproliferative activity of LBP in QGY7703 cells.” Phew, I’m glad we cleared that up!

Secondly, a lot of these studies are just not relevant to the claims made by Mindell… stuff like “How to extract the polysaccharides” and so on. Thirdly, most of these studies were done in China. Call me a cynic but the Chinese would have a lot to gain from goji acquiring a reputation for healing cancer and other illnesses.

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