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Let’s Squeeze the Hype Out of Juice Plus

Despite the hype, the evidence for Juice Plus is pretty watered down.

I first heard about Juice Plus back in 1994, from of all people, O.J. Simpson. I suppose he was a natural to promote these dehydrated juice capsules since, after all, the nickname of the former football star was “The Juice.” His association with National Safety Associates (NSA), the company that launched Juice Plus in 1993, didn’t last long. Just a few months after he had signed a multi-year six-figure endorsement contract, Simpson was arrested for the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. NSA of course recognized that association with an accused murderer would not be good for business and therefore severed all ties with Simpson. During the months he had acted as a spokesperson for the company, Simpson was on record for claiming the product cured his arthritis. Yet, at his trial, he maintained that he could not have committed the murders because he was too incapacitated by arthritis.

The claims about the wonders of Juice Plus did not stop with Simpson’s silence. Over the years I have often been asked about this product, and now my interest was revitalized when a family member was urged to take the capsules every day for their energizing effect as well as for various other health benefits. The product’s advocate was also selling it. That always raises a red flag.

The company itself makes no claim other than “delivering concentrated plant-based nutrition that helps you bridge the gap between what you should eat, and what you do eat every day.” That’s sort of a nebulous, meaningless statement, but Juice Plus is sold through a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme and individual distributors have been known to make outlandish claims when it comes to recruiting customers and prospective distributors. The MLM business is all about recruiting distributors since the recruiter profits from the sales made by those who were enticed to join the organization. When it comes to multi-level marketing, the actual product being sold is almost irrelevant. What is really being sold is a chance to make money! And some distributors do make tidy profits, especially if they are adept at spinning fanciful yarns about the item they are selling.

In the case of Juice Plus, that item is a capsule filled with a powder produced by evaporating water from the juice of some thirty fruits, vegetables and grains. This residue is then fortified with vitamins A, C, E and folate to make up for losses in the “proprietary” dehydration process. The official party line is that fruits and vegetables are healthy, but many people do not eat enough, and so Juice Plus fills in the nutritional gaps. That sounds reasonable, but while the juice residue does contain many of the compounds that are thought to make fruits and vegetables “healthy,” a major health component is missing. Fiber! There is now a wealth of information about the important role that this indigestible component of foods plays in maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in our gut. An imbalance in the “microbiome” has been associated with chronic diseases ranging from gastrointestinal inflammatory conditions to neurological, cardiovascular, and respiratory illnesses. Fruits and vegetables deliver fiber, Juice Plus does not.

When it comes to recommending an increased intake of plant-based products, we are on firm scientific footing. The epidemiological evidence is compelling. For example, in the early 2000s, author Dan Buettner became interested in areas of the world where people are particularly healthy and have increased longevity. He drew blue circles on a map around prospective places which led to the coining of the term, “Blue Zones.” Based on statistics, Buettner identified the Greek island of Icaria, the Ogliastra region of Sardinia, the Japanese island of Okinawa, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica and Seventh Day Adventist communities in Loma Linda, California as “Blue Zones.” These populations were genetically diverse but they did have some common features. Most noteworthy was that the diet in all these regions is roughly 95% plant-based! Legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables make up most of the diet.

As another example, the Nurses Health Study, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study in the U.S. monitored the diet and health outcomes of some 60,000 women and 40,000 men over a thirty-year period. The data collected revealed a 10-20% lower mortality in subjects who consumed five combined portions of fruits and vegetables a day versus those eating only two. It should be noted that potatoes or fruit juices were not associated with any benefit!

There is certainly nothing dangerous about Juice Plus as far as its ingredients go. Rather, the concern is about the extravagant, baseless claims made on its behalf by individual distributors as they try to snare customers. “Reduce your risk of arthritis!” “Lower your cholesterol!” “Cure osteoporosis!” “Improve your dental health!” “Fight inflammation!” “Boost immunity!” “Protect yourself from cancer!” I’ve heard them all. I’ve even been directed to a host of videos that feature physicians and dietitians who endorse Juice Plus. While they mostly shy away from preposterous claims, and limit their comments to extolling the known virtues of consuming fruits and vegetables, they do end up subtly implying that Juice Plus has the same benefits as eating produce.

Sometimes the terrifying term “cancer” is woven into the discussion with a veiled suggestion that components such as bioflavonoids or antioxidants found in the capsules can fight the dreaded disease. This message has become widespread enough for the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to feel a need to put out a statement that Juice Plus doesn’t prevent or treat cancer and its antioxidant effects may actually interfere with therapy. It should be remembered that the doctors who appear in the Juice Plus promotional videos have been paid for their endorsement. That should always prompt a degree of skepticism.

Is there any scientific evidence for the benefits of Juice Plus? According to the company, there is a massive amount of published research. That is true. Actually, a surprising amount. But none of it proves that people who have bought into the regimen have better health outcomes. Some of the studies do show antioxidant effects in the test tube, but the results are not impressive. Two capsules of Juice Plus have the antioxidant power of about two to three bites of an apple. In any case, the human body is not a giant test tube.

Much is made of studies that show positive changes in some aspects of blood chemistry, be it cholesterol, immune cells, vitamin levels or markers of inflammation. However, the changes noted are in comparison with a placebo. At the very least, the comparison should be with a standard, multi-vitamin-multi-mineral supplement. More realistically, the assessment should be based on popping Juice Plus capsules versus consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. No such studies have been carried out.

There is no way to know how the recommended intake of Juice Plus compares with five servings of fruits and vegetables given that the label offers no information about ingredients other than listing the added vitamins and calcium, which are less than found in a regular vitamin supplement. As far as the hundreds of compounds found in fruits and vegetables go, we have no idea of their fate after processing into Juice Plus, or to what extent they are actually absorbed into the bloodstream. In general, the studies referenced are of poor quality, are mostly funded by the manufacturer, and do not demonstrate health outcomes. Curiously, many of the people who swallow the hype about Juice Plus are also the ones who try to stay away from processed foods. Well, Juice Plus is about as processed as any food can get.

The bottom line is that the hype for Juice Plus is not supported by scientific evidence. Claims of preventing or curing disease, often made by independent distributors, are totally unjustified and border on criminal. Consumers would be better off spending the daily cost of the capsules, roughly three dollars, on fresh produce.


@JoeSchwarcz

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