MonaVie and Other "Superfruit" Juices

Are superfruit juices anything more than super ripoffs?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Consumer Ripoffs, Fads, Health

Skeptoid #86
February 5, 2008
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Have a seat and pour yourself a glass of the newest anti-aging megafad, superfruit juice. What is it? What does it claim to do for your body? How does it work? Is it really worth up to $50 per one-week supply?

One day I was logged into my Facebook account and noticed one of my friends had blogged on her page that she was sick, and she was "sure the reason was because she had run out of MonaVie". You can probably guess that this caught my skeptical eye. After all, these superfruit juices have only been available for a few years, and it's not like everybody was always sick throughout human history until they came on the market. Plus this was right around the new year, the height of the cold and flu season, and lots of people were sick. I wanted to know if it was really true that simply changing your morning beverage was the miracle cure to the common cold.

There are many of these superfruit juices for sale, and lots of them (like MonaVie) are sold through Amway-style multilevel marketing schemes. You've probably heard the question asked if you can make a better hamburger than McDonald's. Yes, of course you can. But: Can you build a better business than McDonald's? No. It's not about the hamburgers. McDonald's is not in the food business; they are in the real estate business. This same concept, at least at face value, appears to apply to MonaVie and its ilk. They are not in the fruit juice business; they are in the multilevel marketing business. Their product, like the Big Mac, is secondary to their business model. But let us not make a leap of logic and conclude that superfruit juices are the Chicken McNugget of fruit juice. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt, and listen to their specific claims.

Superfruit juices all build their claims about their product on the same central idea. They contain large amounts of antioxidants, which fight the free radicals that cause aging. This is Skeptoid, so we're not going to blindly accept that without analysis. First, what really does cause aging? What the heck is a free radical? How is it affected by an antioxidant, and what the heck is an antioxidant? And, significantly: Do superfruit juices really contain beneficial levels of antioxidants? (With apologies to my Facebook friend, I didn't find any claims that these superfruit juices protect you from catching a cold — so save your $40-50/week if that's your goal.)

Free radicals are complicated. The 25¢ definition is a molecule with an unpaired electron that allows it to easily form a covalent bond with one of your good molecules, thus oxidizing it. This is one way that cells can be attacked, and this effect can and does lead to a number of age-related diseases.

At first glance, this makes the role of antioxidants obvious. Eliminate those oxidizing molecules, and help prevent age-related diseases. Right? Well, I'm sorry to say, not so fast. Human biochemistry is not as simple as the linguistic dichotomy of oxidation vs. antioxidant. It's extraordinarily complex. The oxidation from free radicals also has important benefits to the body: Converting fat into energy and attacking bacteria, just for a start.

Fighting disease consumes a huge portion of the scientific and medical budgets in the world, so a tremendous amount of research has been done into antioxidants. What these tests have found, overall, is that a certain amount of antioxidants is good, but too much is bad; but more significantly, the source of the antioxidants seems to have more importance than the amount. The primary phytochemicals that deliver antioxidants to the body are vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. For the superfruit juices to fulfill their claims, they must therefore contain large amounts of these vitamins. The American Heart Association evaluated five studies of such superfruit juices for their efficacy in preventing cardiovascular disease, which is the main health claim about antioxidants. Of the five, two showed no effects, and three showed negative effects.

Dr. Stephen Barrett sums it up quite aptly in an article about antioxidants (which also lists this and many other clinical trials if you want to see for yourself):

"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."

So now let's move on to our final question: Do these superfruit juices really contain significant amounts of antioxidants? They better, because they base their entire marketing campaign around this claim specifically.

Choice, the publication of the Australian Consumers Association, undertook a major study to answer this question in 2007. They bought virtually every superfruit juice that's commercially available. In their labs, they tested all of them for their total antioxidant capacity using the oxygen radical absorbance capacity assay test, laying out their methodology in detail — which you'll notice the promoters of these products never do.

As a baseline, Choice measured the total antioxidant capacity, or TAC, of a common apple — a Red Delicious Apple, to be precise — and got a reading of 5900. This number was then compared to the TAC measured from a daily serving of each superfruit juice.

Choice also added several more common fruits to the mix. A single navel orange was found to have a TAC of 2,540. A cup of strawberries has 5,938. A cup of raspberries has a TAC of 6,058. And the overall winner was a cup of cultivated blueberries, with a total antioxidant capacity of 9,019.

But how can this be? Choice magazine found that the marketing literature says that goji berries have ten times, and açai berries six times, the antioxidant capacity of blueberries. Well, this might well be true. The difference is due to the fact that you're drinking a juice made from the fruit, you're not eating the whole fruit itself. For example, the mangosteen fruit has a huge amount of antioxidants and other nutrients. However, it's all contained within the inedible rind. The edible pulp of the fruit has only a negligible amount of either. This is how it's possible for the marketing claim to be, well, accurate if misleading; but the product itself to be devoid of the claimed benefits.

Superfruit juices may be good sources of antioxidants compared to, say, spaghetti or a cheeseburger; but if you want antioxidants, you'll get far more of them for about 1/100th the price by simply eating common fruit from the supermarket.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

There's one final concern that critical minds should have with these superfruit juices, and with those who recommend them; and that's the conflict of interest inherent in a multi-level marketing scheme. Superfruit juices are available from many alternative practitioners (like chiropractors and naturopaths) who are not bound by any professional ethics, and even from some medical doctors who are. Each of them earns income on these sales through a multi-level marketing pyramid. When you read an article in a wellness newsletter touting the benefits of superfruits, the author makes money if you buy. When your friend recommends MonaVie to you, your friend makes money; and I bet your friend even tried to sell you on becoming a distributor — "because if you do, you can get it at a discount." Even your trusted personal trainer at the gym who makes vague anecdotal claims about superfruit's power is part of the pyramid. Be skeptical. Superfruit juices are a business model first; a salable product second; and a well-evidenced health product a distant third.

If you're truly curious about superfruit 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.

Now the default comment that I'm going to hear is the accusation that I'm on the payroll of Big Pharma, who are mortified that consumers will learn they can replace medical treatment and drugs with these ponzi-pyramid juice drinks. Of course this makes no sense, since $40 a bottle is far more than it costs to buy apples for a week or simply eat a healthy diet like your doctor recommends; and if profit was their motivation, Big Pharma would be the first ones selling superfruit juices. But go ahead and make the comment anyway on the Skeptoid.com web site. Difference of opinion is what makes the world go around (this comment not supported by scientific data).

Brian Dunning

© 2008 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Barrett, Stephen. "Antioxidants and Other Phytochemicals: Current Scientific Perspective." Quackwatch. Stephen Barrett, M.D., 3 Jun. 2005. Web. 15 Jan. 2008. <http://www.quackwatch.org/03HealthPromotion/antioxidants.html>

Carroll, Robert Todd. The Skeptics Dictionary. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003. 235.

FDA. "FDA Warning Letter." Cyber Letters 2007: July 6, 2007. US Department of Health and Human Services, 5 Oct. 2007. Web. 1 Nov. 2007. <http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/EnforcementActivitiesbyFDA/CyberLetters/ucm056937.pdf>

Jarvis, William T. "Both Buyers and Sellers Should Be Wary of Multilevel Marketing." MLM Watch. Stephen Barrett, M.D., 2 Jul. 2006. Web. 15 Jan. 2008. <http://www.mlmwatch.org/13Victims/wary.html>

Novella, S. "Have You Had Your Antioxidants Today?" The Science of Medicine. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 1 Mar. 2012. <http://www.csicop.org/si/show/have_you_had_your_antioxidants_today>

Seeram N.P., Aviram M., Zhang Y., Henning S.M., Feng L., Dreher M., Heber D. "Comparison of antioxidant potency of commonly consumed polyphenol-rich beverages in the United States." Jounal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 26 Jan. 2008, Volume 56, Number 4: 1415-1422.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "MonaVie and Other "Superfruit" Juices." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 5 Feb 2008. Web. 25 Oct 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4086>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 1132 comments

Jack:
I guess that if you cannot take criticism, then you are the one the should move. If you do not like the fact that we have countered your claims, sop posting here.

The first amendment protects your freedom of speech. It does not protect you from criticism. You have the right to say whatever you want. That is your constitutionally given right. But we are within our rights to tell you why we think you are wrong. You do not get to play this whole get the hell out of you do not like the free country thing because it is clear that you do not live this country, Jack. You do not want us to have the freedom to express our opinions about your bottle of woo.

That is what v8 is better. It does not claim to heal the world. It does not cost an arm and a leg. All it ever wants to be is juice and it will not get in trouble with anyone.

If v8 jacked up the price of vfusion to 45 dollars a bottle, as many websites like http://www.acai-healthstore.com/ tell you a bottle of monavie is, then I would hate it too.

Joseph Furguson, Brawley, Ca
May 5, 2009 9:05am

http://www.realhealthanswers.com/news/local_6_WKMG.htm
Emory University, says cholesterol levels were lowered

http://www.realhealthanswers.com/news/FOX29-Philly-Feb-2009.htm

Dr. Mike Cirigliano for University of Penn, says it got high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols etc.

http://www.realhealthanswers.com/news/Dr_Pennington_fox_news.htm
Dr. Andrea Pennington believes its life in a bottle

http://www.realhealthanswers.com/news/NBC%202.htm
Dr. Fred Lebowitz, shares it with patients for pain management

Jack, Florida
May 5, 2009 1:43pm

Jack, I didn't ask for evidence that some BS podunk news reporter said that Emory did a study. I want to see the damn study. It doesn't seem to exist. Prove otherwise. Where is the study? Where is the data? Where is the statmanet form Emory saying that they did a study? Who conducted the study?

We all know that there is no study, but I'm game to let you prove me wrong.

Mendel, San Diego, CA
May 5, 2009 1:56pm

http://www.realhealthanswers.com/news/abc_wcpo_news_antioxidant_level.htm Dr. Gupta states that many of her patients have had positive results.

http://www.realhealthanswers.com/news/KATC_channel_3.htm
Dr. David Miller is amazed at how many things can be on one bottle.

All of you have asked for Dr.'s that recommend the product to patients. I can keep them coming if you like. The thing I like a bout a video, it isn't hear say. You actaully can see the Dr. making the endorsement. Video footage doesn't lie or manipulate like articles and writers can do.

Mendel, you should call the Fox news station that ran that clip and ask them how to obtain a copy. I'm not going to, because i believe it to be true. You go do the waisteful work to prove it wrong. Then you will find out you have wasted your time.

Isn't this realhealthanswers website awesome. It a 1 stop shop, for acai and Mona Vie.

Jack, Florida
May 5, 2009 2:19pm

First of all, the 50-second Monavie segment on WKMG-6 (a CBS affiliate in Orlando), which aired in November 2007, claimed that “"Emory University researchers tested the fruit drink, they found that the cholesterol claims are actually true.”

However, when they make this statement about the cholesterol claims, they zoomed in on and then quickly panned away from the text on the back of a bottle of Monavie Active, and it lists no claims whatsoever about cholesterol. Monavie NEVER made official claims about the juice having any effect on cholesterol until September 2008 when Monavie Pulse (which contains added sterols) was launched.

How could Emory possibly prove the truth of claims that did not exist? Notice also that no one from Emory is quoted in the report; it was just the announcer making the claim. He also claimed that “Todd Romero is a big fan” of Monavie. Todd, one the announcers in the segment, is WKMG’s sports anchor and a former pro wrestling announcer, so he knows a thing or two about BSing.

A through Google search reveals no evidence from Emory that they have ever conducted a study of any kind on Monavie. I’m still waiting for the evidnce Jack/Carl. If you want us to believe that Emory did a study on Monavie and cholesterol, you’re going to have to do better than quoting Todd Romero et al.

Mendel, San Diego, CA
May 5, 2009 2:51pm

Dr. Pennington, Dr. Liebowitz, Dr. Miller, Dr. Gupta, Dr. Cirigliano.

heres a few more for you to discredit. 4 of which have M.D. behind their name.

Are you still in school Mendel? Or are you out now?

Who represented your state in the Miss America pagent? Talk about overlooking questions. those have been asked of you about 4 times now.
Adam and Eve or Steve?

Jack, Florida
May 5, 2009 3:02pm

Jack/Carl, this crap you are posting is useless:

“Dr. David Miller is amazed at how many things can be on one bottle.”

That’s certainly insightful isn’t it? It tells us absolutely NOTHING about the product. You also neglected to mention a couple of important details -- like the fact that Dr. Dave is a Monavie DISTRIBUTOR, and he’s not an MD, he’s a freakin’ CHIROPRACTOR!
http://onthemove.monavievo.com/fieldleaders.asp
http://www.realhealthanswers.com/news/KATC_channel_3.htm

“Dr. Gupta states that many of her patients have had positive results.”

That’s pretty vague, even coming from a Monavie distributor like Salini Gupta. Her upline sponsor is distributor Kathy Haberer.

“All of you have asked for Dr.'s that recommend the product to patients.”

Uh, nobody here has EVER asked for these vague idiotic one-sentence testimonials from MVs paid shills. We’re looking for insightful fact-based commentary from reputable INDEPENDENT sources. And try posting something recent instead of these stale old promo pieces from 2007, back when no one was wise to the scam. The more recent reports on TV are kicking Monavie’s ass.
http://www.fox13now.com/kstu-fox13investigatesmonavie-7834974,0,1683317.story

“I can keep them coming if you like.”

Yeah keep em coming, meat, and I’ll keep swatting them out the park.

Mendel, San Diego, CA
May 5, 2009 3:51pm

Energy drink $2.75 all natural. Blind folded taste test of 50 people. 12 different energy drinks, ALL 50 chose Mona Vie Energy, and 46 of the 50 said, it bursted energy more than the others and no side affects (jitters).

Just received an email from a Heavy Hitter with Mona Vie. Clinical trials are getting SMASHING result from the Pulse Blend. Dr.'s are joining in MASSES to be able to recommend this to their patients. Drastically reducing cholesterol levels in just a few months time.

Jack, Florida
May 5, 2009 4:04pm

Wow, a MV distributor making wildly implausible claims in a desperate bid to recover his foolish investment. Will the miracles never cease?

Eric Schulman, Corona, CA
May 5, 2009 4:33pm

great work- thanks for making the research on this subject so quick- easy and convenient

larry ship shape, highland beach florida
September 7, 2014 2:23pm

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