Juice Plus+: Good Marketing, Not Good Science

Juice Plus+ is a multilevel marketing company selling fruits and vegetables that they have reduced to a powder and put into capsules. It’s clever marketing using deceptive advertising. There is no scientific evidence that it benefits health.

Juice Plus+ reduces fruits and vegetables like these to a powder, puts it in capsules, and sells it through multilevel marketing.

Juice Plus+ has been around for a long time. It was introduced in 1993 and has its own Wikipedia page. That page explains that it is sold via multi-level marketing and says,

Studies of Juice Plus’ effects have generated conflicting and controversial results. Although Juice Plus claims its products’ efficacy is backed by research, multiple critics have argued that there is no scientific proof that Juice Plus offers significant health benefits and that deceptive claims are used in the product’s marketing information. Many marketing claims made about Juice Plus products are false or misleading.

What is it?

There are various Juice Plus+ products containing 30 fruits, vegetables, and grains which have been reduced to a powder and put into capsules. Supplemental vitamins and other nutrients are added, which may be responsible for any observed effects.

The rationale

We know that a healthy diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables. We know that not everyone eats enough fruits and vegetables to guarantee they are getting all the nutrients they need. We worry. We take multivitamins and dietary supplements as insurance. The company is capitalizing on our worries and selling a convenient capsule without any real evidence that it will benefit us. Their advertising clearly says, “Juice Plus+ is not a substitute for eating fruits and vegetables” and “it is the next best thing to eating fruits and vegetables.” Why settle for “the next best thing” when you could have “the best thing?” They claim that it is absorbed by the body, reduces oxidative stress, promotes cardiovascular wellness, supports a healthy immune system, and helps protect DNA. The available published research doesn’t bear that out.

The research

They list more than 20 journals that have published studies on Juice Plus+, but those studies don’t amount to much. They are mainly pilot studies or small studies that show changes in some laboratory value but don’t show clinically meaningful changes in actual health outcomes. They compare Juice Plus+ to inert placebo pills rather than to a more meaningful control like other nutritional supplements or a diet with more fruits and vegetables. The studies were mostly funded and carried out by the manufacturer and distributors.

They cite a Family Health Study Survey that supposedly shows striking health benefits: 60% were missing fewer days of school, 66% were visiting the doctor less, 71% were consuming less fast food and soft drinks, etc. But this is meaningless data collected from self-reports by their customers, with no control group for comparison. Customers are obviously health-conscious, or they wouldn’t be taking the product; there’s no reason to think the product itself makes them any more health-conscious. In an article on MLM Watch, Stephen Barrett explains why the “research” of the Juice Plus Children’s Research Foundation is not valid.

A video on their website describes a study at the University of Newcastle in Australia of 56 overweight adults. It found that subjects who took the product for 8 weeks had a 3.5% reduction in cholesterol levels compared to subjects who took an identical-appearing placebo. They said that was equivalent to a 9-pound weight loss and a 9% reduction in cardiovascular risk, but this was an unwarranted assumption. They had no evidence that those subjects were actually less likely to suffer a cardiovascular event. And they had no evidence that Juice Plus+ was in any way superior to other ways of providing nutrients.

Testimonials from health professionals and O.J. Simpson

On the company website, there is a page of Juice Plus+ reviews with 27 videos of doctors and other health professionals who allegedly recommend Juice Plus+. But do they really recommend that product? From the blurbs accompanying the videos, they seem to be about the general importance of good nutrition for health, from fruits and vegetables in the diet, not from supplements. I would have liked to know more about what they said, but every video I clicked on said “video unavailable”.

O.J. Simpson was a highly paid celebrity endorser of Juice Plus+, claiming that it had cured his arthritis, improved his golf game, and allowed him to stop his anti-arthritis medications. The truth of his testimonials came into question during his notorious trial for murder, where he said he was still taking drugs for arthritis and claimed to have been too incapacitated by arthritis to have murdered anyone.

Criticisms

Many scientists and skeptics have asked questions that have not been satisfactorily answered. Does the product contain enough fruit and vegetable powder to produce clinical benefits? Are the nutrients all bioavailable and well-absorbed? Is the labeling accurate? Chemical analyses have found that the amounts of ingredients differ from what the label says. Complaints have been filed with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the FDA for misleading advertising, and Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Association found the advertising to be in breach of their advertising code.

The claims of antioxidant activity are supported by a few small, poor-quality studies that were not placebo-controlled or blinded; better quality studies found no antioxidant activity. Juice Plus+ is marketed to cancer patients, but experts have warned the potential risks of antioxidants outweigh the benefits when taken during cancer treatment. For that matter, antioxidants may not have the health benefits they are claimed to have, and antioxidants can become pro-oxidants in some situations.

The claims for improved cardiovascular health and improved immune function are similarly plagued by poor-quality research and contradictory results.

In “Juice Plus: A Critical Look,” Stephen Barrett says the company would like you to believe everyone should take Juice Plus+, even if their diet contains adequate amounts of the nutrients in the product, and he gives a cogent, well-referenced explanation of why he disagrees.

The fiber in fruits and vegetables has protective effects; the fiber has been removed from Juice Plus+. It is not a complete nutritional supplement; it lacks the vitamin B12 and mineral content that are present in most multivitamin supplements. And the actual amounts of its components are not disclosed. It contains added beta-carotene, which has been associated with increased risk of cancer; The Medical Letter reviewed the evidence and concluded “no one should take beta-carotene supplements”.

The company claims that the “natural food enzymes” in Juice Plus+ provide additional benefit, but they are digested once eaten and don’t act as enzymes in the body.

Dr. Barrett explains:

the Juice Plus+ recipe for success is very simple: Fruits and vegetables are good for us. Capture their goodness in convenient products. Add endorsements, testimonials, a pinch of fear, a scientific veneer, and several dollops of deception. And harness the power of multilevel marketing (MLM) to spread the word.

That’s a recipe for marketing success, but it says nothing about the effectiveness or safety of the product.

The University of California, Berkeley’s Wellness Letter questioned the various claims in detail, concluding “No capsule can substitute for fruits and vegetables“.

Conclusion: reassurance and “insurance” for the worried well; no proven health benefit

Potential purchasers might want to ask:

  • Am I actually deficient in some nutrients? How could I find out? (Blood tests? Evaluation by a dietitian?)
  • Is this product the best way to correct nutrient deficiencies (clearly not!).
  • If nutrients are good, wouldn’t more nutrients be better? (NO. If you already have adequate levels, additional vitamins will be excreted and will provide no benefit; it will only result in expensive pee.)
  • Are any multivitamin or nutritional supplements worthwhile? A lot of people take them, often for bogus reasons like “increased energy” or “soil depletion,” but experts agree that most people don’t benefit from them, and some ingredients can be harmful.
  • Is it worth the money? (In my opinion, it is not.)
  • Is there any evidence that it will make me healthier? (No, only testimonials and marketing propaganda.)
  • If I become a distributor, will I make a lot of money? (Don’t count on it. 99% of MLM distributors lose money.)

Juice Plus+ may reassure scientifically naïve customers so they won’t have to worry about their diet. At a cost of around $500 a year, I don’t think it’s a prudent investment. It makes much more sense to invest that money in improving your diet. We know diet works. We can’t know if Juice Plus+ works unless large, randomized, double-blind, properly controlled studies provide credible evidence. I’m not holding my breath.

This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog.

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.