Multilevel dietary supplement marketing

Even when I’m not blogging (like this week, for example), I tend to be doing things behind the scenes related to the blog such as responding to reader mail. In looking for sources to respond to a reader about herbal multilevel marketing firms, I came across an interesting site that tracks media stories and legal actions related to two of the best-known companies.
Rick A. Ross runs an expansive site from his institute in Jersey City, NJ, that is well-regarded for tracking “destructive cults, controversial groups, and movements.” Ross remains somewhat controversial among anti-cult experts but that is not the purpose of this post. Instead, I found rotating among his top 10 topics of interest have been the supplement firms, Herbalife and Mannatech.
Of interest to readers here, I’ve sampled stories tracked by the Rick Ross Institute that involve how these two companies have used the expertise of Nobel laureates, one with their approval and the other without:


From 2004: Nobel Prize Winner Didn’t Disclose His Herbalife Contract (Bloomberg News)

Louis Ignarro, who won a Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1998, endorsed a diet supplement for the heart sold by Herbalife International Inc. in exchange for royalties and then touted the ingredients in a scientific journal, without disclosing his financial interest to the publication. Ignarro’s consulting company received at least $1 million as its share of sales of Herbalife’s Niteworks between June 2003 and September 2004, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The bottles sell for $90 each for a month’s supply and display Dr. Ignarro’s signature and Nobel Laureate status on the label.

From 2006: Nobel Prize winners say sites falsely cite research (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Three Nobel Prize-winning scientists have complained to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that Web sites are falsely tying their research to the dietary supplements of Mannatech Inc.
The Nobel laureates, members of the faculty at The Rockefeller University in New York, complained early this year after a cease-and-desist letter written to Mannatech on behalf of one of them, G√ľnter Blobel, failed to get results, according to Harriet Rabb, the university’s vice president and general counsel.
“Dr. Blobel was the one most vexed by this, because [the use of his name] has gone on the longest and been the most explicit,” she said. Blobel was awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1999. The other scientists who signed off on the complaint, Paul Greengard and Paul Nurse, won in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

I had known in general of these two cases in the past but it is valuable to peruse Rick Ross’ site to learn of many aggregated stories about Mannatech and Herbalife. The comment threads are particularly enlightening regarding individual experiences with serving as a distributor for such companies.
If you are researching the legal actions against either of these companies and the veracity of their claims, the Rick A. Ross Institute is a great place to start.

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4 comments

  1. Sadly, Louis Ignarro has gone far along the path trod by Linus Pauling and fallen deep into woo. I blogged about a talk by him that I attended about a year ago.
    Speaking of HerbaLife, I didn’t mention this before, but the hotel that I was staying at for the AACR Meeting earlier this week (the Sheraton Downtown Los Angeles), by a quirk of fate, was hosting a conference for HerbaLife marketers.
    Ugh.

  2. If you go, and look at what Gunter Blobel won his award for, and then look at how Mannatech’s products work, you’ll see why people tie the two together. Its not identical, but its the same cell communicating science.

  3. Mannatech are jerks. their Optimal cosmetic line uses BS ultra pure water – that is neither pure nor super – but they claim alleviates the need for preservatives in their “preservative-free” products that include 4 or 5 preservatives. Their GMP’s were so poor they had to recall the INITIAL production because it was contaminated with bacteria – read spoiled. And this was one of only 2 or 3 so far this year in that industry.
    From the FDA enforcement site:
    PRODUCT
    Mannatech Optimal Restoring Serum, 1.7 oz. (50mL), Product #20201; Recall # F-282-7
    CODE
    Lot # 703182
    RECALLING FIRM/MANUFACTURER
    Recalling Firm: Mannatech Incorporated, Coppell, TX, by letter on May 2/3, 2007.
    Manufacturer: DPT Lakewood, Inc, Lakewood, NJ. Firm initiated recall is ongoing.
    REASON
    Initial shipment of product was found on stability testing to be contaminated with Enterobacter gergoviae and Enterobacter cloacae.
    VOLUME OF PRODUCT IN COMMERCE
    7,076 bottles
    DISTRIBUTION
    Nationwide

  4. “Ross remains somewhat controversial among anti-cult experts”

    I wouldn’t even say that’s the case, from the entry you posted. Perhaps among Scientology run frontgroups he might be controversial, but I don’t see anything too out of sorts from Ross.

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