Monday, December 07, 2009

Can Magical Fruit Juices Cure King Henry's Syphilis?

Everyone wants to be healthy, and many people want to be more than they are now. For that reason, I often hear about “great business opportunities” involving magical fruit juices. I don’t use the word “magical” lightly. Nearly all of these super-juices are sold through Amway-style mlm schemes. Before you even think about buying from one of these companies, remember that they are not in the fruit juice business; they are in the multilevel marketing business. There is a big difference.

Since most of these juices are a rip off for all the same reasons, let’s get The Skinny on one of the more popular juices. The principles involved here apply to all similar products.
MonaVie was founded by a guy named Daillin Larsen. He was an old pro at direct selling, and supposedly wanted to share the benefits of acai berries with other people. However, after the company grew to 70,000 distributors he left the company to do something else.

The Price of MonaVie and similar juices
It's $40 a bottle with a bottle lasting only around one week. That means you can expect to pay around $175 a month for this juice. For many people, that's a significant car payment. The company also doesn't publish how much of the acai berry is each bottle, so you don’t even know what you are paying for.

I am pretty sure MonaVie means “The juice that transfers money from your wallet to mine” in Latin. The juice has 19 different fruits in it, and people who sell it claim it does everything from curing cancer to shrinking nasal warts. Of course, the company itself never actually makes any claims, but the distributors claim the juice treats all sorts of medical problems. (I have been personally told that it will cure joint pain. Oh! the solution to joint pain is fruit! I feel so stupid...) If this juice does half of what it claims, I ought to be drinking it by the gallon, right?

My guess is that 99% of the people selling acai (or other special juices) have done none of their own research into the product. That’s just human nature. But let’s be honest. If someone says, “Doctors have shown”, we will believe almost anything they say.

According to the company website, the juice’s power to heal, and prevent aging is due to its being high in antioxidants: (read this in your most nasally voice)

“Through an exclusive freeze-drying process, MonaVie is able to capture the vital nutrients found in [acai berries]. MonaVie's freeze-dried acai powder boasts an ORAC score (antioxidant power) higher than any other fruit or vegetable tested to date, on a gram-for-gram basis.”

Super-juices all build their claims on the same idea. They claim to have a lot of antioxidants, which fight free radicals that “cause” aging. To understand if these juices will fulfill their claims of health, we have to know what a free radical is and if the juice really has a lot of anti-oxidants to stop those pesky free radicals.

What’s a Free Radical? (The non-nerdy version)

Imagine you are grilling some hot dogs (or soy patties, or whatever you want) over a campfire. As the wood burns, it puts out smoke as a byproduct, right? Free Radicals are like the “smoke” your body makes as it burns energy, moves and lives. Now imagine that your cousin Leonard (who wears underwear over his blue jeans) gets a face-full of smoke as he walks by and he pukes on Aunt Cindy’s poodle, who is thrown into the lake by Uncle Sherman to wash her off… Where was I? Oh. Just like smoke, if too many free radicals get together, they can damage your cells. This is one reason that people who eat adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants have a lower rate of cardiovascular disease, cancers, and cataracts. But all we know is that fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants; we don’t actually know for sure what factors are making people more healthy when they eat their veggies.

Despite what people tell you, free radicals are not all bad. Besides being a good band name, free radicals promote processes that help you make energy from fat and kill bacterial invaders. For obvious reasons, getting rid of all free radicals can do very bad things to you. Anyone who tells you that you need massive amounts of anti-oxidants is forgetting this fact.

Does Mona Vie (and other juices) have a lot of antioxidants?

The main phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that deliver antioxidants to the body are vitamins C, E and beta-carotene. For the super-fruit juices to fulfill their claims, they obviously would need to have large amounts of these vitamins.

How much do they have?
Since companies like Mona Vie base their entire marketing campaign around the claim that they are high in antioxidants… they better deliver.

The Australian Consumers Association did a major study to answer this question in 2007. They bought virtually every super-juice that's commercially available. They tested all of them and measured TAC (aka how antioxidant is in there). They also went on for pages and pages about how they did all the steps and why. You may have noticed the promoters of these products never do that. They just tell you “studies have shown” and then hope you don’t ask questions.

So they had something to compare the “magical” juices to, they measured the total antioxidant capacity (TAC) of an apple and got 5900. This number was then compared to the TAC in a daily serving of each super-juice.

1. Goji berry? A berry from Asia also known as “wolfberry”. Samples measured a TAC from 570 to 2,025 for a 100% purée of the berry.
2. Mangosteen fruit? Some people claim Mangosteen has double the antioxidants of goji. The results? 1,020 to 1,710 TAC per serving
3. Noni Juice? They tested to brands of this Polynesian fruit. The two brands measured 540 and 525, only 9% the TAC of a common apple! Brian Dunning helps us put this in perspective: “In other words, a $7 cup of noni juice contains as much antioxidants as a thin 5¢ slice of apple.”
4. Açai Berry? Acai is the touted ingredient in Mona Vie, but since they don’t advertise it, we don’t actually know how much acai is in their juice. The açai is a purple berry from the Amazon, and Oprah says it is the “#1 food for anti-aging.” Of course, Oprah also takes medical advice from Jenny McCarthy so I ranked the quality of her advice to be down there with snufalupagus. Anyway. The results of the test? A 14% açai pulp had a TAC of 1,800, or about 31% as much as a apple.
5. An orange? 2,540 TAC
6. A cup of strawberries? 5,938
7. A cup of raspberries? 6,058 TAC
8. A cup of Blueberries? 9,019 TAC

What’s the bottom line? Nearly every fruit has far more antioxidants than these “magical” super juices.

I know what you’re thinking: “But their marketing literature says that the berries have 6 times, 10 times or 20 times the antioxidants!” Here’s where they’ve tricked you. The fruit might have 10 times the antioxidants, but they aren’t selling you the fruit… they are selling you a drink that contains SOME of the juice. The mangosteen fruit has a tons of antioxidants, but it's all in the inedible rind.

So Super-fruit juices may be good sources of antioxidants… if you have been getting your anti-oxidants from Papa John.

But do they work?
The American Heart Association reviewed five studies of super-juices for their efficacy in preventing cardiovascular disease, which is the main health claim about antioxidants. Of the five studies, two showed no effects, and three showed negative effects. Conclusion: These juices don’t actually do what many people claim. Are they good tasting fruit juices? Sure. Can they be used to treat medical conditions? NO! NO! NO!

There is widespread scientific agreement that eating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables can help lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. With respect to antioxidants and other phytochemicals, the key question is whether supplementation has been proven to do more good than harm. So far, the answer is no, which is why the FDA will not permit any of these substances to be labeled or marketed with claims that they can prevent disease.

If you're truly curious about super-fruit juices and want the truth, ask a source who has no financial interest in the product. Ask your medical doctor. You may find that he knows nothing about it; products like MonaVie that have no proven health value rarely find their way into medical or nutritional literature.

Let’s face it. The most compelling reason to believe their magical claims that the juice creates health is that their Aunt’s Nephew’s Cousin’s dog walker used it to cure her bunions. Let’s not forget that people lie. And other people believe those lies. And those people tell other people. That’s why we can’t make medical conclusions based on anecdotal stories.

Another point: these superfruit juices have been available for years, and no one has been reporting a decrease in the various diseases that some have claimed to be curing.
It should be mentioned that many "concentrates" of fruits or vegetables are being marketed, but it’s not possible to condense large amounts of plants into a pill without losing fiber, nutrients, and many other phytochemicals (plant chemicals) You might as well just eat a salad.

If you've got $175 dollars month to spend on Mona Vie, you've got enough for a gym membership and a daily dose of fresh fruit.


Danny said...

I asked my doctor about juices sold on the shelf versus juices sold cold in the fridge. She said that room temperature juices are nothing more than sugar water because all the nutrients are lost. Chilled juices are a little better. The magical juices in discussed in your blog are all sold at room temperature...

Very well done. Now move on to the MLM's that sell these miracle juices.

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