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Superfood Scammers – You Know Who You Are!

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Friday, March 8, 2013

Over the years, I have examined various multi-level or network marketing opportunities in the booming health and wellness industry to see if there were any ones that were worth getting involved with, and more importantly, if there were any ones that I, as an herbalist and licensed acupuncturist, could, in good conscience, get involved with.  Sure, the money, and the enviable opportunity to build a hefty residual income, looked good, and was very alluring.  But all too often, I have found significant faults with these multi-level marketing schemes – not so much with their business models and compensation plans, but with the products they were selling, upon which the marketing plans were based.  Basically, my personal experience in evaluating their product lines has shown me that there are two major potential problem areas:

1) They may be selling and promoting products as universal panaceas which are uniformly effective for everyone, when they actually aren’t.  The truth is, when you are mass marketing a product line, you have to design it to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people in your target market, and also take care that, although it may not have the same level of effectiveness for everybody, or may even be ineffective for some, that at least it won’t wind up hurting anyone.  But because network marketing products aren’t personalized, you probably won’t get a product as specifically tailored and targeted to your needs as you would if you went to have a personal consultation with a qualified holistic practitioner or herbalist, often with a corresponding compromise of overall effectiveness.

2)  In order to afford the money to make the generous payouts to the downline sales networks, there is a great temptation to cut corners and skimp on the overall quality, potency and often, on the resulting effectiveness of their products as well.  To compensate for this inherent lack of quality and effectiveness in the products themselves, many network marketing product formulators are then tempted to lace their products with cheap stimulants like caffeine or guarana to keep their sales networks all fired up and ready to sell, sell, sell.  The degree of personal integrity and conscientiousness that network marketing organizations and their product formulators have displayed in this delicate balancing act between product quality and value on the one hand, and the financial bottom line on the other, has spanned the whole gamut, from a genuine desire to give the consumer something truly worthwhile in terms of health and nutritional benefits, to out and out swindling and sacrificing all considerations of quality and value to the almighty dollar.

The first consideration I have outlined above has led many network marketing companies involved in the health and wellness industry to turn to more universal considerations that apply across the board to everyone, like basic nutrition; this is actually a wise and realistic move, since so many people in our modern world are overfed, but undernourished.  The body’s own innate healing wisdom then assimilates these vital nutrients and decides how and where to use them for optimum healing effectiveness.

And the latest buzz word in the health and nutrition industry is superfoods, which are natural botanical or herbal sources of concentrated, potent nutrition.  This idea of superfoods actually isn’t anything new; even Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, working in ancient Greece some four hundred years before the birth of Christ, used superfoods like Fenugreek seed or the Sea Buckthorn berry, which are now being touted by leading health experts like Dr. Oz.  The use of herbal superfoods is even advocated by the book of Genesis in the Bible, in which God tells the first man and woman to eat the fruit of the tree for food, and take the leaf of the tree for medicine.  The important herbal truth contained in this biblical passage is that herbal superfoods span the gap between food and medicine, and can be used as both.  After all, Hippocrates said, “Let your your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.”

I was recently invited by a friend of mine who I had met a few months back to come and get in on yet another multi level marketing opportunity, marketing a line of health and wellness products based on an herbal superfood that has recently been making the headlines.  I was frank and up front with her in our initial phone conversation when I told her that, in light of my past experience with multi level marketing organizations, I would make my decision as to whether or not to become a part of it on the products themselves, and what my conclusions were, as an herbalist and natural healer, as to their overall level of quality, potency and effectiveness.  She offered to give me some samples, and I told her that I would take them for a few days, and report back to her on how I felt.

Before I could meet with her, I decided to make the rounds of local health food stores and see what kinds of deals were out there on this particular herbal superfood, and what regular retail marketers of the stuff were offering in regards to overall quality and value.  I found out that the stuff definitely wasn’t cheap, but when I took out the intensely green capsules and chewed into them, I found that their color, taste and aroma were quite strong, and remarkably similar to that of wheatgrass, another superfood made famous by Ann Wigmore and her Hippocrates Health Institute.  And when I read the nutritional stats of this superfood, I was truly amazed: ounce for ounce, the same calcium as four glasses of milk; the same amount of Potassium as 3 bananas, the vitamin C of 7 oranges, etc…  And the immediate and well-grounded energy boost that I was getting felt like a nutritional blood transfusion; no doubt that this was a truly potent superfood, since I had only taken two little capsules of the stuff – less than a gram’s worth.

Then, later on that afternoon, I met with my friend to receive samples of her company’s product line.  I took out my glasses and started to read the lists of ingredients on the containers she gave me.  I noticed that one of the products contained a large amount of sugar, which I kept quiet about for the time being, although it distressed me.  I then pointed to the substantial levels of caffeine listed on another product, and she assured me that she had checked with her doctor on that one, since she was also sensitive to caffeine, and her doctor had told her that the “natural caffeine” in this product was OK to take.  She also left me with some samples of a couple of capsules which were supposed to be taken in the morning to get you going for the day, and another pair of capsules which were supposed to help you relax and unwind, to get to sleep at night.  She also offered to give me samples of a product to loosen up the bowels if I needed it; I politely declined her offer, thinking to myself, “Boy, they have their reps programmed with products they gotta take all throughout the day, whether they’re coming or going!”

As soon as I got home, I promptly opened one of the packages, from which I was to make a nutritious instant drink, which supposedly featured the superfood.  To my great disappointment, the color of the powder wasn’t anything like the bright green I had seen in the capsules of the superfood I bought at the health food store, but rather, it was basically white, tinged or dusted with flecks of green and grey.  And when I tasted it, it didn’t have the wheatgrass – like flavor I was expecting from the capsules I had taken earlier, but rather, it was insipidly sweet, not unlike instant Koolaid or tropical fruit punch.  Overall, the product’s appearance was remarkably like a white, sweet food staple commonly available at your local supermarket, and its granular texture sure resembled that staple.  In other words, it was mostly granulated white sugar, laced mainly with citric acid and assorted flavors, and only lightly dusted with the highly touted superfood.

The other drink, the energy drink, was similarly white, granular and intensely sweet, but it gave me quite a bit of a buzz, which made it almost impossible to nap afterwards.  And I had only tasted a bit of it!  Yep, it sure went heavy on the caffeine, in addition to the sugar and other cheap, empty stimulants.  I then bit into one of the capsules to be taken at bedtime, and from the taste of it, it seemed to be almost entirely made up of the concentrated extract of a certain relatively cheap Ayurvedic herb which is commonly used to powerfully lower blood sugar.  In other words, after taking those drinks and being high on a sugar rush all day, the sugar levels had to be brought down for bedtime so that one could sleep; and then, upon awaking, take the AM capsules for a kick in the pants to get you going, because there sure as heck wasn’t anything of any nutritional value in the drinks to truly nourish and sustain you throughout the day.

My heart sank when I thought of my friend, and of others in her sales network who felt really jazzed and excited about what they were taking and selling.  I didn’t have the heart, and I didn’t quite know how to break the terrible news to her that at least ninety percent of what she was selling was sugar and empty stimulants like caffeine, supplemented by herbal supplements that would give you a jump start in the morning and wind you down at night.  It was all those nutritionally worthless ingredients in the stuff she was taking, all those cheap, empty stimulants that had her so energetic and jazzed up, and NOT the superfood!  I reflected back on prior experiences I had had, when I was called on board to be part of the product formulation team for a dubious herbal multilevel startup venture:  “Let’s ‘bless it’ with this, let’s ‘bless it’ with that”, they said.  And anyone in my friend’s sales network who was exclusively counting on the products they were selling to fulfill all their nutritional needs, and who had serious hidden or underlying nutritional deficiencies, was doomed to see their health come down, crashing and burning, sooner or later, I realized.

My friend, when I had met her that afternoon, boasted that she was feeling so much energy, and that she had also lost quite a bit of excess weight.  The highly touted superfood, which was, in fact only a minor ingredient in the products she was taking, indeed had a solid reputation as an aid in weight management, from all that I had read about it; and according to the studies conducted, it reduced the superfluous food cravings that led to undue weight gain in a sound and natural manner, by providing concentrated, optimal nutrition.  But this crap she was taking was only working to help her loose weight because the caffeine and other empty stimulants in it are powerful appetite suppressants.  Sooner or later, if she kept this up, she would wind up critically underfed and undernourished, which in many ways, is more dangerous, especially over the short term, than overfed and undernourished.

Heck, I don’t know if it was the caffeine, the sugar, the empty stimulants, or exactly what it was in the stuff she gave me, which I had only tasted, not taken, but I had a hard time getting to bed that night.  I was really worried for my friend, and that she had fallen for this scam.  And for the many like her, who were either so ignorant and unaware of matters pertaining to herbs, nutrition and health; or blinded by the placebo effect and the sugar and empty stimulants; or, totally mesmerized by the financial payoff and under the seductive spell of making a whole kit and caboodle of cold, hard cash.  Or, all of the above.  Phantasmagoric apparitions of many of the heroes and role models I have had, some living, some dead, and some heroic, iconic historical figures, taunted me in my dreams to speak up, so I felt moved to come out and tell the truth in this blog post.

My dear, beloved father, now dearly departed, a diplomat who served his country well, would definitely stand up to this scam if he were me.  When I grew up during the Cold War, and our country was involved in the fight against communism, there was a slogan involved in our national and diplomatic efforts which rings true, regardless of what your conclusions are as to the worthiness of that fight:  “All that is necessary for evil to win in the world is for good people to do nothing.” In other words, I don’t want to be the one who, when the superfood scammers finally came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

Jesus also showed up, telling me, “What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” And I thought of all those who had sacrificed their better judgment and their God-given conscience on the altar of the almighty dollar in the mad, soul-less pursuit of profit.  “The Truth will set you free!”, he proclaimed.  “Let all who have eyes to see, see, and let all who have ears to hear, hear!”, to which I might add, “Let all who have tongues to taste, taste!”

Hippocrates also checked in, with the high ethical and moral standards he set, not just for the medical profession, but for all involved in health and healing, and the health and wellness industry.  “First do no harm!”, he told me, but these nutritionally worthless products being touted as a miracle superfood were definitely harming people nutritionally.  No doubt, Hippocrates is turning over in his grave about this.

The great Lakota Indian chief Sitting Bull came riding in as well, reminding me of what he said about the White Man:  “Love of possession is a disease with them!”  And I thought of all those superfood hucksters who were riding this gravy train for all it was worth, so blinded by their own personal greed and avarice that they were either unable or unwilling to open their eyes and taste buds and do the simple tests that I did, and come to the blatantly obvious conclusion that the emperor was, in fact, wearing no clothes; or because they really didn’t care or give a rat’s derriere about the true worth of what they were selling, cynically seeing it as only a means to an end.

Then came good ole Honest Abe Lincoln, the man whose head is on the penny, who once walked miles through the frontier woods to return to a customer a few pennies that he had overcharged him while working at the country store.  “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”, he reminded me.  But by Jove, how many people have been fooled and taken for a ride by this crooked venture!

And finally, the spirit of Dr. Kim, who exerted a very formative influence on me in acupuncture school, drew near.  Perhaps what left the deepest impression on me regarding all the things he said was that the health and healing knowledge of Oriental Medicine had true value in its own right, and would prove itself worthwhile in the great value and happiness it added to one’s life, even if one didn’t make one red cent with it.  He reminded me of the simple truth that the primary exchange between those providing a health oriented product or service and those on the receiving end was the gift of health and healing, and that all else, and all considerations of profit or loss, were secondary.  These multilevel superfood scammers were definitely putting the cart before the horse, or the cart instead of the horse!

The offenses committed by this latest multilevel scam operation that I have uncovered are by no means unique; however, in my experience, they far exceed, by degree, those of any other multilevel company that I am aware of.  I do not wish to resort to the tiresome and redundant task of naming names here, but I do invite others to open their hearts, minds and senses, as I have done, and examine the evidence with an open mind, as I have outlined for you above.  And if you should find that the shoe fits, don’t wear it – discard it, and renounce any ill-gotten gains that might have been had.  And although I have not named any names, anyone with sufficient intelligence and objectivity can piece together the clues and information that I have given are free to do so, and will probably arrive at the same conclusions as I have.

And so, like Diogenes, I am holding up my lantern and asking if there is any honest man left, if there are indeed any truly honest and worthwhile companies and ventures left in the multilevel health and wellness industry who are truly offering their customers products that are of real value and worth for their hard earned money, and which are truly free of the faults and shortcomings I have cited in this posting. If you are out there, and are conducting your multilevel health and wellness business in a truly honest and ethical manner, and are truly offering something of value to your customers, I would love to hear from you.

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