Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Critique of Isagenix

The following article has been submitted by Dr Harriet Hall.

A friend inquired about a product, Isagenix (actually a whole family of products) that is being pushed by the leader of her weight loss group, claiming that "The Isagenix cleanse is unique because it not only removes impurities at the cellular level, it builds the body up with incredible nutrition. Besides detoxing the body, Isagenix teaches people a wonderful lesson that they don't need to eat as much as they are accustom to and eating healthy choices are really important and also a lot of the food we are eating is nutritionally bankrupt."

I went through the website (
http://www.isagenix.com/) and watched the promotional videos. There is so much to criticize that I hardly know where to start. It's all misinformation, unsupported claims, testimonials, and money-making ploys.

I couldn't find a critique of Isagenix on the Web, but that's not surprising. No serious medical scientist would take it seriously enough to bother about it. And it's basically all been done before; it's just a slightly new wrinkle on an old scam. You will find some information on related products at:

You can also go to the quackwatch.org homepage and type in cleansing or type in detoxification.

The claims on the Isagenix website are a mishmash of pseudoscience, myth, misrepresentation, and outright lies. For example:

Americans are sicker than ever before.

Toxicity accounts for most diseases.

The body protects itself from toxins by coating them with fat, causing obesity. [The truth: some toxins are soluble in fat and can be taken into existing fat cells, but no new fat cells are created.]

The internal organs become clogged and deteriorate if you don't cleanse. Nutrients that cleanse, revitalize, rejuvenate - what does this even mean? The human body needs cleansing like air conditioners that need their filters changed and car engines that need oil changes. [This is nonsense: the human body cannot be compared to a machine: it is a living, self-regulating organism that does its own maintenance.]

They engage in scare-mongering about toxins, but provide no data to show that the tiny amounts we ingest lead to any significant adverse health effects. They also provide no evidence that their treatment actually removes any toxins from the body. Or that doing so would have any significant impact on health. There have been no properly controlled scientific studies of their "cleansing" treatments, only testimonials of the sort that abound on the Internet for hundreds of other ineffective products.

There is absolutely no rationale for the particular combination of ingredients in their products. They have LOTS of different products, and have included just about every nutrient and herbal remedy in existence: 242 of them! Some of these we know to be useless, some are potentially harmful, and we have no idea how the particular ingredients in the mixtures might interact for better or for worse.

They offer "ionic" minerals from "ancient plant deposits." Minerals are the same thing wherever they come from, and all "ionic" means is that it is in a form that can be absorbed - i.e. magnesium as milk of magnesia rather than as a lump of elemental magnesium metal.

They advertise "no caffeine added" for a product that contains green tea; green tea contains caffeine. They repeat the tired old myth that our food isn't as nutritious as in the "good old days." They put digestive enzymes in their products to help you assimilate them, not realizing that orally ingested digestive enzymes are themselves digested in the stomach before they can do anything. They say that their electrolytes "ignite the body's electrical system" - I have no idea what this means, and it certainly is not scientific terminology.

Their antioxidant mixture contains 15,000 IU of vitamin A as beta carotene plus 5000 IU as palmitate. The Medical Letter recently reviewed vitamin A and warned that no one should take high-dose beta carotene supplements, and that women should not take vitamin A supplements at all during pregnancy or after menopause. Among other things, they said: Vitamin A may also have pro-oxidant effects in vivo. A high intake of vitamin A from supplements and food has been associated with an increased risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women and with teratogenicity when taken during early pregnancy. A placebo-controlled intervention trial in Finnish smokers found that 20 mg/day of a beta carotene supplement increased the incidence of lung cancer by 18%, which was statistically significant. Another large double blind intervention trial in smokers and asbestos exposed workers, terminated early because no benefit was demonstrated, found that combined therapy with 30 mg of beta carotene and 25,000 IU of vitamin A daily was associated with an increase in the incidence of lung cancer, cardiovascular mortality and total mortality.

The Medical Letter concluded: "A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables may be safer than taking vitamin supplements. No biologically active substance taken for a long term can be assumed to be free of risk."

Isagenix claims to promote weight loss. All treatments for weight loss work the same way: they get people to ingest fewer calories than they expend. There is no reason to think that a person who restricts calorie intake and exercises will lose any more weight if they add Isagenix products. Diuretic and laxative effects, psychological factors, and enthusiasm for a new method may initially fool people into thinking they have benefited.

Their medical advisor, Becky Natrajan, MD, tells us on a video presentation that she is "excited about results" but she does not say what those results are or why she thinks the results are due to the product rather than to diet, exercise and other factors. Perhaps her funniest argument is that the $5 a day Isagenix costs you is less expensive than open heart surgery. As if it were a simple choice between the two!

She tells you to contact the person who told you about Isagenix. And one of the headings on the website is "Wealth." There you will find out how you can sell products from your home and become an associate, a consultant or an executive with increasing levels of financial return. This sounds like a typical multilevel marketing scheme, typical of products that can't be marketed effectively based purely on their merits.

In short, Isagenix is a slick marketing enterprise that lines the promoters' pockets by selling baseless hope. There is a disclaimer on the website that should be taken very seriously: "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."

Harriet Hall, M.D.