Friday, 1 July 2011

Express front page: vitamin supplement has just gone on sale

Another day, another health story on the front page of the Express:

Only yesterday, the Express was claiming there was a 'wonder pill' to 'reverse premature ageing'. This was an article by the paper's health correspondent Jo Willey, which echoed claims made on the front page of the paper two years ago about a compound called rapamycin. But, as with Wednesday's 'cake 'cures' dementia' story, it was jumping to conclusions based on some tests conducted on mice. It ended with a key quote:

Dr Dimitri Krainc, from Massachusetts General Hospital, said: “It should be emphasised that we are not recommending rapamycin as an anti-ageing medicine at this point. Safer versions would have to be developed for such purpose."

Today, there's a new 'wonder pill' for the Express to get over-excited about - and this one claims to be as good as eating five portions of fruit and veg a day. It's Jo Willey bringing us the 'good news' again:

A new pill containing all the goodness of the recommended five-a-day portions of fruit and veg could change the eating habits of millions.

The makers claim each capsule is packed with the vitamins and essential ­nutrients of a kilo of fresh produce.

According to Wikipedia, this product has been around since 1993, so although it only went on sale in the UK yesterday, it's not clear why the Express refers to it as a 'new pill'.

And including the words 'the makers claim' in the second sentence of the article gives the game away: this isn't a premature report about some research on mice. This is an actual product and the Express is doing its best to sell it to its readers:

Each capsule of the supplement Juice Plus+ contains 17 different fruits, vegetables and grains that are juiced and then made into a powder using a special drying process which does not damage the micronutrients.

This isn't front page news. It's a 556-word advert which even includes the crucial information that:

The pills cost £24.75 for a month’s supply and users are supposed to take four a day.

The Daily Mail's Claire Bates received the same press release as Willey. Her article contains several of the same points, mentions the same people who have endorsed it, and includes the same quotes from the UK distributor. The Mail helpfully provides a list of ingredients and RDA information and adds:

A month's supply costs £35.50 and a minimum order is four months.

It's not clear why the two papers have different prices, but it hardly matters.

The Mail does, eventually, recognise there are doubts about the product:

The company points to 16 clinical studies that found the pill supported the immune system, boosted heart health and effectively increased antioxidant nutrients in the body.

However, although the research was published in peer-review journals, most of it was funded by the manufacturer. The company say such sponsored projects are normal practice in the industry.

This claim is also made on Wikipedia, where it is stated (with references, removed from the following extract) that:

Of the published peer-reviewed studies on Juice Plus products, the majority were funded and/or authored by the manufacturer, Natural Alternatives International (NAI);or the main distributor, NSA.; two were funded by individual Juice Plus distributors; and one was conducted independently.

The Mail continues:

Scientists at the University of California Berkeley have also shed doubt on the glowing testimonials for the product.

They said it was impossible to deliver' nutrients of five servings of fruits in several capsules weighing 850mg.

They added in their Wellness Guide to Dietary Supplements: 'No capsules can substitute for fruits and vegetables, which contain the best balance of nutrients and phytochemicals.'

'You cannot "concentrate" significant amounts of them in a capsule.'

They warned that the supplement was distributed through a multi-tiered marketing scheme that gave it an exaggerated value and cost.

In the final three sentences, the Express finally mentions these doubts, quoting nutritionist Angela Dowden, who says:

"I would be dubious of anything claiming to give you your five-a-day in a pill...though this might be a tempting shortcut, it’s not one I would rely on."

Yet this comes at the end of the extended advert, after the supplement has already been called a 'wonder pill' and a 'sensation'.

And this is the front page lead news story of, in its own words, the 'World's Greatest Newspaper'.


  1. In other news (according to the Express) there appears to be some form of creature known as a "Mother-in-law" that is not well liked by a bride's side of the family, and a lady who sadly died 14 years ago is being given a birthday tribute issue.

    The important issues of the day indeed. Public sector pension reforms anyone?

  2. "Antioxidants" is a handy word. Anyone claiming that they're an important part of nutrition is a quack, without exception - but the quacks haven't noticed yet, so they still claim it. (See Ben Goldacre on the subject.)

  3. I like the part where she tells us each pill is packed with the vitamins and nutrients found in a kilo of fresh produce but we need to take 4 pills a day!

    Forgive me if I'm wrong but that amounts to eating 4 kilos of fresh produce a day doesn't it? Are these pills for humans or Brachiosaurus?

  4. Diana at 50!! Well, if she wasn't dead

  5. They're not even trying any more.

  6. "According to Wikipedia, this product has been around since 1993, so although it only went on sale in the UK yesterday,..."

    By the way, Juice Plus was available in the UK during the mid nineties from betterware (they don't seem to sell it anymore though).

    Surely no reason to call it a new pill whatsoever?


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