test your knowledge
How the world got lost on
the road to an anti-aging pill
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March 31, 2009: by Bill Sardi
It’s too enticing to resist. The offer has just arrived in your email — a free trial sample of a red wine pill that promises to extend human life, a pill that was endorsed by “Dr. Oz,” seen on Oprah and CBS’ 60 Minutes, and researched by leading universities and shown to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, control weight and eradicate wrinkles. And it’s free!
The cunning marketing program for ResV has overtaken every other brand of red wine resveratrol (rez-vair-aw-trawl) on the market. It’s an overnight sensation. Bloggers have piled on to gain affiliate fees and generate Google click fees so now there is an internet army of spammers and bloggers generating millions of dollars of sales per month, and more piling on daily.
The cunning originator of this whole scam appears to be Jason Popko of Ontario, California, a website entrepreneur of sorts who first cut his teeth marketing a cosmetic product called Caracol Cream. He then used his model for selling Caracol Cream to sell ResV.
The promotion for Caracol Cream was sleazy. After many complaints submitted to the Better Business Bureau, Popko was forced to clean up his Caracrol Cream website and offer refunds to consumers after the website published recommendations from fake doctors and a phony award for Caracrol Cream as the “best anti-aging cream voted by the American Anti-Aging Association.” The whole fiasco is documented here: http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/caracol-cream-c105544.html You can read more here: http://pokedandprodded.health.com/2008/09/29/dont-get-slimed-the-slippery-web-promotion-of-an-anti-aging-breakthrough/3/
But Popko apparently hasn’t found religion. He only schemed more carefully in designing the marketing of ResV.
Popko appears to have set up shop just outside the U.S. border, in Canada, beyond the reach of the Federeal Trade Commission and Food & Drug Administration. His websites are on multiple servers in case any legal action would cause a server to pull the plug on any of his sties.
Other resveratrol pill companies are also working outside the country, beyond the reach of authorities. One affiliate contract is with a company located on the Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. Virtually all of these sites make unsubstantiated claims for their resveratrol products.
The profits from this venture have already left the country and are beyond the legal action by States Attorneys General. The telephone room is also in Canada.
Popko has many domain names reserved to sell his ResV pills. His websites offer re-plays of 60 Minutes and Oprah shows that pretend to claim ResV was shown on these TV programs. All the marketing materials used by ResV are borrowed or swiped to give the false impression of credibility. The many affiliate websites serve as front men for Popko’s network.
Yes, it’s true, resveratrol has been extolled on Oprah and by Dr. Oz, and was a topic on a recent 60 Minutes program, but none of these programs endorsed any particular brand of product. Nor has any university conducted a study of ResV as online advertising makes it appear. Nor can claims that ResV cures cancer or any disease lawfully be made.
None of this appears to be of concern to thousands of naïve consumers. Take a hint of truth and make it “free,” and it’s too irresistible for Americans not to call and order the modern-day fountain of youth that Ponce de Leon had hoped to find.
What online buyers are unaware of is the “terms of sale” in small type at the bottom of all the website home pages offering ResV. Click on “terms” and you will read that if you don’t call the company within 14 days after receiving your free trial sample (you pay only $3.95 shipping and handling), ResV will start billing your credit card up to $87 a month as you have unwittingly consented to a monthly auto-ship program. This is where the millions of dollars in sales are being generated.
There is no “supplement facts” box or ingredients and dosage information provided at these websites, so consumers have no way to compare products. To confuse consumers even more, ResV pretends to offer websites where different brands of resveratrol pills are evaluated, however all of them are ResV packaged under a different name and sold at a different price. So pick A, B or C, you still get ResV. There is nondescript contact information provided at most of the websites. So if you have a beef, or are even trying to call and cancel autoshipments after you discover an unwanted billing on your credit card statement, you are left with the chore of tracking down telephone numbers to call. Usually all you can find is a P.O. box.
Self appointed authorities, the bloggers, generally roam through other online sources of information and often repeat inaccuracies, such as advice that consumers only obtain resveratrol from Japanese Giant Knotweed (botanical name Polygonum multiflorum) which provides no resveratrol; or that organic resveratrol is preferred (but Giant Knotweed is a wild plant that requires no pesticides and there is no need for organic sources), or that pure sources of resveratrol (synthetics) are better. Most resveratrol used in dietary supplements is extracted from Chinese Giant Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).
How consumers evaluate products like resveratrol is of great interest. A plethora of positive scientific studies have been published in scientific journals and translated into news stories over the past six years. The hoopla started in late 2003 when researchers at Harvard showed yeast cells lived longer when given resveratrol and correlated this with the super-longevity of the red wine-drinking French. Over the past six years there have been short spurts of consumers buying resveratrol pills with the release of each scientific study.
But it wasn’t till the spammers and bloggers begain re-airing the Oprah and 60 Minutes shows that the public began to believe it was time for them to add resveratrol pills to their daily health regimen in a similar way many Americans take a daily aspirin tablet. The endorsement by Dr. Oz and Winfrey labs was like the public was saying we’re not going to take resveratrol pills till Oprah says so. The question is, will this be the new paradigm for marketing dietary supplements, or personal health products in general?
So far the only brand of resveratrol that has undergone any testing is Longevinex®, a product that was known to be taken personally by Harvard lab researchers, has undergone a human pilot study showing it produced a significant anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effect among endurance athletes, and activated a broader (9-fold greater) effect over the genome (altered 1711 genes compared to just 225 for plain resveratrol) in an animal study. [Experimental Gerontology 2008 Sep; 43(9):859-66]
A university-based researcher who was interviewed by Morley Safer for the 60 Minutes TV program had conducted the study showing Longevinex® had exerted a far greater biologic effect than even a limited calorie diet at a far lower (and safer) dose than reported previously, but for unexplained reasons this researcher failed to tell Morley Safer of CBS’ 60 Minutes of this fact. So the best-tested resveratrol pill went unmentioned on national TV to be supplanted by ResV which has not undergone any animal or clinical testing.
Ironically, none of this consumer fraud takes away from the miracle of resveratrol, widely hailed by researchers as a true molecular wonder. And yes, some research reports say it may one day be shown to prevent cancer, reverse or delay Alzheimer’s disease, and prolong healthy years of life beyond imagination, and more broadly, replace practically every known prescription drug. In numerous studies resveratrol has been shown to exhibit potent anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-depressant, anti-Alzheimer’s, anti-diabetic, anti-blood clotting, anti-cancer action.
And it may not be too early to start taking resveratrol pills as it may take over a decade to complete human clinical trials for diseases that modern medicine has no good answers for today. The irony would be that Americans would start taking resveratrol pills en masse and experience significant improvement in overall health, led there by the many unscrupulous companies that hawk these pills today.
Unfortunately, the FTC and FDA are late in responding to this consumer scheme. Any action by the FTC on behalf of consumers would be of unprecedented scope. It’s likely the FTC would have to chase down over 100 website operators.
Evidence for the effectiveness of resveratrol shown by online spammers and bloggers are video replays of the Oprah and 60 Minutes programs which refer to a 2006 study which showed that resveratrol prolonged the life of laboratory mice that were placed on a supra-high-fat diet (60% fat calories). But two years later when lab mice were placed on a standard calorie diet (25% fat calories), which is more like what humans consume, mega-dose resveratrol actually shortened the life of laboratory mice. Online bloggers, bent on generating income from their websites, and only pretending to be authorities on the subject, haven’t a clue as to proper dosage, shelf-life, or even potential side effects of resveratrol.
University of Connecticut researchers show that doses of resveratrol in the range of 175-350 milligrams are appropriate for healthy individuals in regard to heart and cardiovascular disease prevention, whereas higher doses would be potentially deleterious, weakening tissues in the heart and elsewhere.
It’s obvious, self interest and money making rather than science are now driving the public’s interest in resveratrol pills. This is the latest get-rich-quick-scheme with easier entry than multilevel marketing. Betcha most online bloggers and spammers hyping resveratrol pill don’t even take the product themselves. The financially desperate and the unemployed will continue to jump to participate in schemes like this.
For individual consumers, the “as seen on TV” sales pitch and “Harvard Medical School” and endorsed by “Dr. Oz” are too compelling not to believe. Unless States Attorneys General begin to fashion some plan to stop these unscrupulous marketing companies, the public will continue to get scammed.
Copyright 2009 Bill Sardi