New Rules: No More Claiming Mona Vie Cures Cancer!

06/11/2008 02:55 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Nor, for that matter, AIDS. Nor lupus, GERD, acne, age spots, arthritis, a balding scalp or sagging libido.

Nope. Sorry.

And lest you think I'm picking on poor MonaVie, the same is true of Xango, Mangosteen, Xocai, Tahitian Noni, and all the other ridiculously overpriced and oversold juices promoted by scientifically illiterate multi-level marketing "distributors" who repeat these claims with the sincerity and earnestness of a Kucinich volunteer.

Much of the hype about this stuff is based on mysterious numbers that are purported to represent the product's ORAC value with the clear implication that the higher the ORAC value, the better the product (more on this in a moment). The argument between the various distributors about whose ORAC value is higher has more in common with a shouting match between slightly buzzed Lakers and Celtic fans than it does any real academic discussion. And of course, since no one participating in (or listening to) these silly arguments actually knows what they're talking about, a little pseudo science goes a long way towards convincing gullible potential "distributors" to come aboard and make a fortune, and can even sound pretty impressive in a Professor Irwin Corey kind of way.

So here's the deal:

Antioxidants are good. That's a given. I take a million of them myself and try to eat foods that are teeming with them. Though studies on specific isolated antioxidants have sometimes (though not always) been disappointing, the longest lived and healthiest folks in the world get tons of antioxidants (as well as all kinds of phytochemicals, phenols, flavonoids and other members of the botanical universe) in their daily diet.

ORAC (you don't even want to know what it stands for, trust me) is a scientifically valid test that measures how antioxidants work as a team. (Think: "Exit on Main Street" vs. any Mick Jagger solo album.) ORAC tests for commercial products are generally done by Brunswick Labs (or their licensees), and products that have been actually tested by Brunswick have a Brunswick Labs Certified Seal (none of the multi-levels except for a little known product called ViaViente actually have that seal). There's a ton of published studies in the National Institute of Medicine database on ORAC values for all kinds of fruits and vegetables, and the ones that tend to be the highest are the usual suspects- blueberries, raspberries, kale, spinach, prunes.

None of which cost $37 a pop, by the way.

But I digress.

Problem number one in the pseudo-comparison sweepstakes is that you can base an ORAC value on one fluid ounce, 100 grams, one liter, "per serving" or "per cup", resulting in ridiculous comparisons of apples to wheelbarrows. The companies rarely if ever tell you what quantity they used to get their measurement. One guy even hawks a home shopping network product claiming "A million ORAC Value!" without saying how much is needed to produce that value (by some estimates a warehouse the size of Waco Texas).

Problem number two is that there's no evidence that higher and higher values actually translate into any clinical benefits. High ORAC fruits and vegetables are great, but according to noted cancer investigator Ralph Moss, PhD, "there is an upper limit to the benefit that can be derived from antioxidants. Taking in 25,000 ORAC units at one time.... would be no more beneficial than taking in a fifth of that amount."

Problem number three: if you're eating a crummy diet and barely exercising- something I've noticed in an awful lot of the people promoting these juices- drinking one to two ounces of expensive juice isn't going to do much for you. These folks seem never to understand how to prioritize their health battles. They'll debate you endlessly on some esoteric and unproven "alkaline" water while scarfing down a Big Mac and apple pie.

Problem number four is that while many of these products base their ambiguous health claims on one of the "star" juices in the formula (mangosteen in Xango, for example), no one tells you how much of the product comes from the superstar fruit and how much is pure filler. Investigative health reporter Mike Adams recently did a piece on the expensive, Deepak Chopra approved Zrri (another multi-level overpriced juice albeit in gorgeous new age packaging). Zrri doesn't list its contents in a "nutrition facts" label, and contains regular old apple juice, pear juice and pomegranate juice. It's priced north of $30 a bottle, largely on the strength of it's own superstar ingredient amalaki (a well known Ayruvedic remedy).

"But are we talking 99% apple and pear juice and 1% of the botanicals?" Adams asks.

Answer: No one friggin' knows, thank you very much.

Hey, these juices and blends aren't bad for you. (Full disclosure: I had some nice things to say about Noni juice in my book, "The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth", and there is some promising science behind the fruit it's made from.) But cure cancer? Grow hair? Change your life? Melt pounds from your middle?

Come on.

Bottom line- go to Trader Joe's and buy yourself a nice little assortment of some unsweetened, pure juices like blueberry, cranberry, pomegranate, black cherry and the like. Or better yet, make your own juice, or just eat a bunch of vegetables. For about 1/10 the price (and no annoying talk of Diamond Distributorships and Up With People narratives) you'll get all the antioxidant power you need.