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Hook, line, and cheerios: when labels and ads don't quite add up.

Lose those extra pounds. Watch your cholesterol fall. Keep your mind sharp. Laugh at infections.

Deceptive ads come in all stripes--out and out lies, half truths, and exaggerations. Some of the products in these ads are worthless, while others are worth less than their ads would have you believe.

Three Cheerios?

The hook: "I lowered my cholesterol," the annoying characters tell startled strangers in the TV ads for Cheerios.

The truth: Cheerios doesn't lower cholesterol very much.

Based largely on studies of oatmeal, in 1997 the Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim that the soluble fiber in oats can help lower cholesterol. (That's the claim you'll see on Cheerios boxes.) Are there any studies on the cereal itself?

In a General-Mills-sponsored study published in 1998, people with high cholesterol levels were told to follow an American Heart Association diet (which is low in saturated fat) for six weeks. Those who were assigned to eat three cups of Cheerios a day lowered their cholesterol more than those who ate three cups of cornflakes.

But the average LDL ("bad") cholesterol of the Cheerios eaters fell by only 7 points (from 160 to 153). To look at the ecstatic people in the Cheerios ad, you'd think their LDL had tumbled all the way down to the recommended level (100 or below).

In fact, a 7-point fall would be a decent drop from just one food, but it was actually three servings of one food. On average, participants ate 450 calories' worth of cereal a day (3 cups of Cheerios plus 1 1/2 cups of fat-free milk). That's a big chunk of the average American's 2,200-calorie diet, especially for such a modest payoff.

And it would take even more than 450 calories to get the same LDL drop from Honey Nut or Berry Burst Cheerios (both of which contain less soluble fiber and more sugar than regular Cheerios).

There's nothing wrong with people who have high cholesterol eating a bowl of Cheerios every morning. There's everything wrong with General Mills trying to make consumers think that Cheerios is the key to a healthy heart.

(1) Nutrition in Clinical Care 1: 6, 1998.


Garlique Guile

The hook: Garlique brand garlic powder is "Cholesterol's Natural Enemy."

The truth: Most companies have gotten the message by now: you can't claim that garlic lowers cholesterol.

Since the early 1990s, the vast majority of studies have found that garlic has little or no impact on cholesterol levels. The quasi-governmental German Commission E, which is an authority on botanical claims, disavowed the garlic-cholesterol link years ago.

Looks like the news hasn't yet reached Tennessee. Chattanooga-based Chattem Inc. continues to make the cholesterol claim in TV ads for its Garlique pills.

The company cites a 2001 meta-analysis that pooled data from 37 studies and found that garlic slightly lowered high cholesterol levels when taken for three months. (1) What

Chattem doesn't tell its customers is that garlic had no effect on cholesterol when taken for six months or more, according Health* to a follow-up analysis by the same researchers. (2)

Nor does Chattem acknowledge that when a national panel of experts, including many experts on herbs, examined the two meta-analyses, they concluded that garlic's impact on cholesterol was "unclear." (2)

Guess "Cholesterol's Unclear Enemy" doesn't have quite the same bite to it.

(1) Archives of Internal Medicine 161: 813,2001.

(2) Evidence Report Technology Assessment (Summ.) 20:1,2000 (



The hook: "Wouldn't you just love to have your brain performing at its peak? Our exclusive scientific formulations found in Natrol brainSpeed can help to do just that." How do you know it's working? Try the free online "brainSpeedOmeter" ("a tool for consumers to verify results on an individual basis").

The truth: BrainSpeed has no more scientific evidence than any of the other supplements that prey on baby boomers' fear of losing their mental edge.

The three brainSpeed products (Attention, Memory, and Perform) all have the same core blend of five ingredients--three B-vitamins (thiamin, niacin, and pantothenic acid), an amino acid derivative (DMAE), and a plant extract (huperzine A). Natrol claims that taking brainSpeed increases levels of acetylcholine, a chemical that carries signals between brain cells.

Yet there's not a single published study in healthy people showing that any of the five ingredients never mind the combination--increases acetylcholine levels or mental performance. Natrol says that it has conducted its own unpublished "pilot" study of the blend, but won't say what it found.

Natrol adds the amino acid theanine to brainSpeed Attention (for "an alert mental state"), theanine plus vitamins B-6 and B-12 and folic acid to brainSpeed Memory (to "promote recall and maintain memory"), and the herb rhodolia to Perform (helps "increase work productivity"). The company doesn't profess to have any good evidence--pilot or otherwise that the three products actually do any of that.

Not to worry. You can tell if they're working, says Natrol, by testing yourself weekly with the brainSpeedOmeter at (Natrol gives away a free two-month membership, after that it's $10 or more per month.)

If you follow Natrol's advice, don't be surprised if you actually do better each week. Just don't chalk it up to brainSpeed. As any teenager prepping for the SAT can tell you, the more often you take a test, the better you're likely to do.

To figure out if brainSpeed is working, you'd have to compare repeated test results from people taking the supplement to repeated results from people taking a placebo. Of course, there's zero evidence that the brainSpeedOmeter is capable of detecting changes in the cognitive skills of healthy people anyway.


Estrin Deception

The hook: "The only diet pill designed to help menopausal and perimenopausal women lose weight."

The truth: Estrin D has never been tested.

There's nothing to suggest that Estrin D's "core ingredients"--the South American herbs yerba mate, guarana, and damiana--are particularly helpful for middle-aged women. In fact, in the only published study on the subject, menopausal women taking the three herbs (not Estrin D) lost less weight than similar women who took a placebo. (1)

That should come as no surprise to anyone who notices that Estrin D is produced by an outfit called Klein Becker. It's one of a group of closely related Utah companies that are in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission for peddling weight-loss supplements with exaggerated claims.

Klein Becker adds vitamin B-6 and magnesium to Estrin D, and claims that they elevate mood and stabilize hormonal fluctuations in menopausal women* The company's evidence?

In a small study of premenopausal young women (average age: 32), those who took B-6 and magnesium for one menstrual cycle reported less nervous tension, irritability, and anxiety and milder mood swings than those who were given a placebo. (2)

But the study's authors called their results a "modest effect," and cautioned that "further studies are needed before making general recommendations for the treatment of premenstrual symptoms." That's an understatement, even if premenstrual symptoms in 32-year-olds were equivalent to menopausal symptoms in 52-year-olds.

The company also claims that Estrin D boosts metabolic rate and energy levels. No surprise there. The recommended dosage, six pills a day, contains more than 900 mg of caffeine--the equivalent of some nine cups of coffee. If women lose any weight with Estrin D, it's probably because they're too jittery to eat.

(1) Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 14: 243, 2001.

(2)Journal of Women's Health & Gender-Based Medicine 9:131, 2000.


Money Bacteria Guarantee

The hook: Take the DanActive challenge, says Dannon, referring to its dairy drink that's fortified with three kinds of "friendly bacteria." "Simply give our product a try by consuming one bottle per day, for up to one month, and you will see that DANACTIVE works!" If it doesn't, Dannon says that it will refund your money.

The truth: Works how? "DanActive has been clinically proven in multiple studies to help naturally strengthen your body's defense system," says the company. And what, exactly, does that mean? "Something unique to everyone" is all the company can offer.

Multiple studies? In the one small, preliminary study that looked at DanActive's impact on illness in people, older volunteers who drank DanActive for three weeks during the winter didn't suffer any fewer infections than those who drank plain milk. But when the volunteers did get colds or GI infections, they lasted an average of 8.7 days in the milk drinkers and 7 days in the DanActive drinkers. (1) Interesting, but it's far too early to conclude that DanActive is an effective infection buster (the results "warrant further investigation on a larger scale," say the researchers).

L. Casei defensis, one of the three bacteria in DanActive, has been used successfully to treat diarrhea in children in the Third World. But it didn't prevent or alleviate diarrhea in a large study of Israeli soldiers. (2)

Dannon says that "new scientific studies currently underway are designed to provide additional information" about the effects of DanActive. Sounds like the money side at Dannon got out in front of the science side.

(1) Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging 7: 75, 2003.

(2) American Journal of Infection Control 33: 122, 2005.


Omega Madness

The hook: Iceland Health Maximum Strength Omega-3 fish oil is recommended by the American Heart Association, and studies have proven that it prevents heart attacks and strokes, cleans out arterial plaque, and prevents blood from clotting in the heart, according to the ad in USA Today

The truth: Maximum Strength Omega-3 isn't recommended by the Heart Association, and it hasn't been tested in any scientific studies.

How does a company persuade consumers to pay 10 times more than comparable brands for its fish oil pills? By naming its product "Omega-3" and trying to make it look like all the excitement over omega-3 fatty acids is really about its own Omega-3. And, of course, by exaggerating what fish oil can do.

The two main omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), appear to

reduce the risk of dying from sudden cardiac arrest by about 30 percent. Beyond that, there's no good evidence that they clean out arterial plaque, prevent strokes, or stop blood from clotting in the heart. Ditto for conferring more energy, better sleep, or improved memory.

The American Heart Association does suggest that heart patients discuss with their physicians taking fish oil pills if they can't eat fatty fish regularly. But the AHA doesn't recommend Iceland Health's oil. The company, in its USA Today ad, even doctored a quote from the Archives of Internal Medicine, making it look like the prestigious medical journal was talking about Iceland Health's product, when it was only referring to fish oils in general.

The only thing that's "Maximum Strength" about Iceland Health fish pills is its price. The dosage recommended on the bottle--500 milligrams of DHA and EPA combined is only about half of what experts recommend to protect the heart. Yet a month's supply costs $50, plus $10 shipping and handling. A comparable amount of Natrol Omega-3 purified fish oil, for example, costs about $4.

Fish oil may be good for your heart, but you can throw Iceland Health back overboard.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Center for Science in the Public Interest
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:LABEL WATCH
Author:Schardt, David
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Previous Article:No better memor-E.
Next Article:Squash season.

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