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Is Noni or Mangosteen Juice Safe?

April 24, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 0 Comments

Is Noni or Mangosteen Juice Safe?

There is now another case report of acute toxicity linked to noni juice ingestion, this time in a 14 year old. At least his liver didn’t fail completely like in two of the earlier cases. What do we expect from a product also known as “vomit fruit”? The multi-level marketing company that sells noni products blamed the aloe vera juice that the boy had also consumed, which is indeed something else I’d encourage folks not to drink. But what about all the scientific studies promoting these types of products bandied about on commercial websites?

Recently, a public health researcher published a review on the “Science in Liquid Dietary Supplement Promotion,” evidently a $23 billion dollar market. The review describes how “Central to the marketing of many such products is the citation of ’scientific studies’ supporting the product’s health claims. While these studies seem deliberately created for marketing purposes, their findings and quality are generally presented in a manner that appears designed to mislead potential consumers.”

The researcher uses the case of mangosteen juice—another product I’ve warned about in the past—as an “example of how widely marketed and consumed liquid dietary supplements use exaggeration and pseudoscience to bolster their web promotions of product effectiveness and safety.”

The multilevel marketing company that sells mangosteen cited a study they paid for to support its assertion that their product is “shown to be safe at all dosages tested” and indeed “safe for everyone.” The study, profiled in my video, Safety of Noni and Mangosteen Juice, involved exposing just 30 people to their product, with another ten given placebo. With so few people exposed, the stuff could kill 1 or 2% of people and you’d never even know.

For more on these two liquid supplements, check out my videos Is Noni Juice Good for You? and Is Mangosteen Juice Good for You?

Noni and mangosteen juice aren’t the only supplements “proven safe” by dubious research. A study of the multi-level marketing supplement Metabolife had 35 people on the stuff and they seemed to do just fine.  Later, though, it had to be withdrawn from the market after being linked to 18 heart attacks, 26 strokes, 43 seizures and five deaths. Oops.

Hydroxycut was studied on 40 people. No serious adverse effects in the study, but later the same thing: withdrawn after dozens of cases of organ damage including massive hepatic necrosis requiring liver transplants and death.

And often times, in the multilevel marketing study researchers don’t disclose their funding sources, pretending to be objective scientists, but a little detective work exposed a whole web of financial conflicts of interest, “at best reducing the face-validity of findings, and at worst [they] represent deception.”

Other beverages that might be good to avoid include alcohol (Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much Is Safe?), soft drinks (Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful?), yerba maté (Update on Yerba Maté), and kombucha (Is Kombucha Tea Good for You?).

I prefer water (Does a Drink of Water Make Children Smarter?), white tea (Antimutagenic Activity of Green Versus White Tea), and hibiscus tea (Better Than Green Tea?).

Other cautionary tales about supplements can be found in:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: shankar s. / Flickr

Should Carrageenan Be Avoided?

April 22, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 19 Comments

Is Carrageenan Safe?

Six hundred years ago, people living along the coast of Carragheen County Ireland started using a red algae, which came to be known as Irish moss, to make a jellied dessert. This moss is now the source of carrageenan, a fat substitute (perhaps most famously used in the failed McLean Deluxe) and a food additive used as a thickener in dairy and nondairy products.

In 2008 I raised a concern about carrageenan. We had known for decades that it had harmful effects on laboratory animals, but in 2008 the first study on human cells to “suggest that carrageenan exposure may have a role in development of human intestinal pathology” was conducted. This was all five years ago, though. What’s the update? (See Is Carrageenan Safe?)

After the activation of inflammatory pathways was demonstrated in actual human colon tissue samples, Europe pulled it from infant formula, concerned that infants might be getting too much at such a vulnerable age. The latest suggests carrageenan consumption could possibly lead to a leaky gut by disrupting the integrity of the tight junctions that form around the cells lining our intestine—the barrier between our bloodstream and the outside world. This was just an in vitro study, though, done in a Petri dish. We still don’t know what effects, if any, occur in whole human beings. Some researchers advise consumers to select food products without carrageenan, accusing the FDA of “ignoring [its] harmful potential.”

Personally, after having reviewed the available evidence, I continue to view carrageenan the way I view acrylamide, another potential, but unproven hazard. Acrylamide is a chemical formed by cooking carbohydrates at high temperatures. So should we avoid eating such foods, like the EPA suggests? Well, “Food safety concerns must also be considered [in the context of dietary] consequences.” Where’s it found the most? Foods that are already unhealthy.

So sure, we can use our concern about the probable carcinogen,acrylamide as yet another reason to avoid potato chips and French fries, but until we know more I wouldn’t cut out healthful foods like whole grain bread. (For more on Acrylamide, see my video Acrylamide in French Fries).

Similarly, I’d use potential concerns about carrageenan as additional motivation to avoid unhealthy foods like cream cheese, but I wouldn’t cut out healthful foods until we know more. I would, however, suggest that those with inflammatory bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal problems try cutting out carrageenan at least temporarily to see if symptoms improve.

Titanium dioxide is another additive used in nondairy substitutes. See Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease for the latest on its safety.

Other videos on food additives include:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: cafemama / Flickr

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