UPGRAID combines a new formulation of turmeric (curcumin) with 3 other ingredients. It is said to be more bioavailable and to offer unique advantages. The advertising is bad, and can’t compensate for a lack of evidence.
Does a new formulation of turmeric offer the best bioavailability and efficacy? The evidence is lacking.
I got an email with the subject line “95% of people deal with annoying everyday aches and soreness and UPGRAID is here to help.” I have annoying everyday aches and pains, so I was intrigued. I would like to believe I could take a dietary supplement and get relief. When I opened the email and read it, I was disappointed over and over.
It started off, “95% of 35-55 year olds experience some type of ache or pain throughout their day – everyday”. So the subject line was deceptive: this is not about 95% of people, but only about people age 35-55. What about people younger than 35 and over 55? Do they not get the same aches and pains? Would UPGRAID not help them?
In the first place, is the statement even true? I suspect not. 95%? Throughout the day? Every day? It certainly wasn’t true for me when I was in that age range, and this Healthline article provides a much lower estimate (but maybe for a different kind of pain?): “nearly 1 in 6 working Americans are in pain every day.” But what do they mean by pain? How do they define it? Where did they get the figure of 95%? Self-reports on a questionnaire? If so, how was the question worded? Sure, everyday aches and pains are not uncommon, especially as we get older; but I can’t accept the 95% figure without evidence.
The next sentence says “UPGRAID is a sustainable, science-first and fully organic daily supplement to tackle pain and inflammation made by a former Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline scientist. Its focus is to battle inflammation and chronic health issues.”
- Sustainable sounds good, but what exactly does that mean and are other supplements not sustainable?
- “Science-first”? It quickly becomes obvious that science doesn’t come first for them.
- Fully organic? Organic is a marketing term with no scientific basis; there are inorganic supplements like iodine and iron, and there is no evidence that foods labelled “organic” are better for health.
- “To tackle pain and inflammation”? So they are not just claiming it helps with pain, but also with inflammation. How does it compare to drugs like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) that have been proven to have anti-inflammatory effects?
- “Made by a former Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline scientist.” That tells me nothing. Logical fallacy: appeal to authority? It shouldn’t make any difference whether it was invented by a reputable scientist or by your brother-in-law’s plumber; the only relevant questions are whether the rationale is plausible and whether it has been tested and proven to work.
- “Its focus is to battle inflammation and chronic health issues.” Now another new claim: to battle chronic health issues.
They go on to explain that inflammation is a regular culprit linked to diseases such as heart disease or stroke, COVID-19, and may also lead to autoimmune disorders.
- “Linked to diseases”? “Links” may indicate correlation, but correlation is not causation. Does inflammation cause those diseases, or do the diseases cause inflammation? Or does something else cause both the disease and the signs of inflammation?
- “May lead to auto-immune disorders”? May? Maybe. Or maybe auto-immune disorders cause inflammation.
- Did you notice how they sneaked in the reference to COVID-19? They say inflammation is a regular culprit linked to COVID-19. A culprit? Or maybe just one of the signs of COVID-19 infection? They don’t claim their product is effective against COVID-19; they can’t, because that would be illegal. But they sure would like you to start thinking about it.
It continues: “UPGRAID uses only four, all-organic ingredients”. Is there some advantage to having only four ingredients? As opposed to what? And if it is “all-organic”, are other products only “part” organic? And as I already mentioned, “organic” means nothing to science. They don’t tell us what the four ingredients are, but that was easy enough to learn from their website; more about that later.
Then come the expected celebrity endorsements. They say “supporters already include basketball legend Dikembe Mutombo, soccer great (MLS Rookie of the Year) Julian Gressel, as well as Obama’s chef and Senior Policy Advisor on Nutrition Sam Kass.” Are you impressed? I’m not. Every snake oil salesman and charlatan has supporters and testimonials.
Finally, the email asks, “Would you be interested in talking to UPGRAID co-founder Helene Rutledge about the survey and solution?” What survey? That’s the first mention of a survey. Helene Rutledge has no medical background; her experience is in marketing and management. She has an MBA and a BE in chemical engineering, and for 3 years she worked for GlaxoSmithKline to lead global commercialization for their smoking and weight control products. No, I have no interest in talking to her: I wouldn’t expect to learn what I want to know about her product.
The UPGRAID website identifies the four ingredients as turmeric, ashwagandha, tart cherries, and ginger root. It proudly proclaims that there are “Real Clinical Studies”, (as opposed to “Fake Clinical Studies”?) that the ingredients are combined to work better, and that the product will “promote a healthy response to inflammation, help you recover faster, and feel better every day.” The ingredients are vegan and organic, non-GMO, natural, transparent, clean, dairy-free and gluten-free, and contain no CBD and no allergens. Lots of buzzwords, but not much science, not even in the “See Our Science” section.
OK, here’s the essence of their science: “Curcuminoids are clinically proven to be effective in more than 100 studies to support healthy joint function and a healthy inflammatory response”. No, turmeric has not been clinically proven to be effective. I reviewed the evidence for turmeric in 2014 and found it lacking. In 2017, Steven Novella wrote about Curcumin Hype vs Reality on his Neurologica blog, citing a systematic review that concluded “No double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial of curcumin has been successful.”
Advocates of curcumin claim that that’s only because of its poor bioavailability, and there have been numerous efforts to improve bioavailability. UPGRAID claims to have developed a uniquely bioavailable formulation, TurmiPure GOLD. They claim “300mg TurmiPure GOLD® is found to deliver more curcuminoids in human blood than 1900mg of standard turmeric.” The TurmiPure GOLD website describes a study done in France on 30 subjects to test 5 products. They describe it as “the strongest comparative human pharmacokinetic study to date”. They do not provide a link to a published trial, and no such study is listed in PubMed or Google Scholar.
A review article published in 2020 compared highly bioavailable forms of curcumin. It did not mention TurmiPure GOLD, and it said “the curcumin formulation comprised of liquid droplet nano-micelles containing Gelucire® and polysorbate 20 (BioCurc®) has been shown to have the highest bioavailability with an absorption >400-fold as compared to unformulated curcumin.” There are no studies comparing UPGRAID to those products.
They say the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha has a long history of use and “has been reported” to have several health-promoting effects including “healthy energy, metabolism, stress response, physical performance and joint heath.” They supply it as Sensoril, a trademarked ingredient that they say “showed results in as little as 2 weeks”. But they don’t say what results, and they don’t supply links to any published study.
Tart cherry fruit and ginger root
They added these ingredients because they “have both been used traditionally for generations.” They have been “used” but have they been “effective”? They don’t provide any evidence or links to studies. And they don’t explain why they chose them to add to UPGRAID. Is this mixture of four ingredients superior to TurmiPure GOLD alone? There’s no way to know, since they haven’t been compared in clinical studies.
Irrelevant videos and more
They provide a video showing that UPGRAID instantly dissolves in water, comparing it to an unnamed competitor, a standard “bio-available” turmeric power. Quick solubility in water does not prove it is bioavailable or superior to the other product.
They have a documentary showcasing young healthy individuals who caught Covid-19 in New York and survived. The documentary has nothing to do with UPGRAID; it seems to me to be gratuitous scaremongering to make potential customers worry about their health. They have a blog, with subjects that are not directly relevant to their product.
Conclusion: Vague claims, deceptive marketing, scant science
UPGRAID’s new formulation of turmeric may be effective for…something. But they never specify what clinically significant health benefits to expect, and they don’t provide any evidence that it is superior to other turmeric products or that it is actually effective for anything. I don’t think I’ll be trying it for my annoying everyday aches and pains. I can stand minor discomforts. I can’t stand being fooled by bad advertising.
This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog.