Science and Advertising

Science and Advertising

In general, those that market supplements seem to have a reasonable grasp of science.  Most try to formulate their concoctions with, at least, some consideration of research supporting their ingredients.  I get a lot of junk mail promoting these supplements and one promotion I recently received had me scratching my head.  The marketers seemed to lack any knowledge of science or the scientific method and were unable to connect any science to their claims about the product at all.

The product is Neovita.  It is claimed to:

  • Let you stay young
  • Stop pain
  • Strengthen vital organs
  • Rejuvenate skin

The only ingredient mentioned in the literature I received is “Procyanidolic Oligomers”, although the material doesn’t actually say the product contains any. Procyanidolic Oligomers are created from an extract of grape seeds.  I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of this supplement, but rather address the use of science in the materials promoting Neovita.

Scientific Test Report Evaluation

Included in the mailing was an “Analysis and Staff Report” with a study objective of “Scientific Test Report Evaluation” that outlined the protocol, observations and conclusions from an internal study of the product.  This is were the science got pretty muddled.

scientistThe report says the study involved 272 men and 356 women.  That’s a really good sample size and should show statistically reliable results.  Most studies don’t include nearly that many people simply because of the huge expense involved.  All of the subjects had some level of joint pain “and/or age related health issues.”  That’s also good because we want to see if the product is any good for joint pain.  It’s not so good in that the researchers apparently didn’t identify the specific age related issues or how they were affecting each individual.  Without that information initially,  there is no basis for measuring change during the experiment.

According to the literature,  the researchers gave the subjects a dose of Neovita on February 3, 2011.  One dose.  That’s right, everyone got one dose – no one got a placebo, thus there is no valid way to say whether the product has any more effect than a sugar pill.  Still, this ‘one dose’ idea got me interested.  If one dose does any good, this stuff must be pretty powerful.  The subjects were tested at 30, 60, 90 and 120 days.  Apparently the tests involved questioning the subjects, testing cholesterol levels and subjecting them to X-rays.  This would provide some subjective (from the questionnaire) and some objective (cholesterol levels and x-ray studies) data.

xrayThe reports says “A strict control was imposed on the subjects so they would not have any external contact (nor with each other)(Double blind factor).”  First, let’s  look at the “double blind” claim.  Double blinding, in an experiment like this, means that neither the researcher or the subject knew who was getting a placebo vs the actual product. Here, everyone knew they were getting the product as there was no placebo.  This study was not double blind – although the words show up in the report.  Second,  the point about control has nothing to do with experimental control.  Apparently they were able to keep 628 people from coming in contact with each other.  That took a lot of control, but not the kind of control a valid experiment requires.  Normally the ‘controls’ for an experiment are subjects that aren’t given the product, but are instead given a placebo.  The difference between the controls and the those that received the product is what defines the efficacy of the product. This study was completely uncontrolled.

Given that the experiment had no control,  the observations were totally astounding:

  • 98% saw significantly reduced pain
  • 89% felt the effects of the product after 30 minutes of ingestion.-  I guess that means between 30 minutes and 120 days after ingestion.
  • 88% saw their level of bad cholesterol drop after the first 30 days.  Apparently this means between 30 and 120 days.
  • 91% of X-rays taken demonstrated a positive effect on all organ functions.   X-rays by themselves are not very good at imaging soft tissue, so perhaps they were doing some kind of contrast study using dyes along with X-rays.
  • 85% of male subjects reported radical changes in their sexual energy and capacities (Erectile dysfunction drastically attenuated).  One might assume that the changes in sexual energy were positive changes,  but the report doesn’t say that.
  • 87% saw the appearance of their skin improve with “wrinkles and brown spots gradually disappearing over the 30 day study.”  Oops – this was supposed to be a 120 day study.
  • There were no side effects.

The conclusion adds that all subjects had positive mood change, happiness and overall well-being.  These were directly related to the duration course for each subject “90 days or more = best results observed.”  This is interesting in that the study supposedly involved one dose so the duration was one day and the follow-up took 120 days.

My conclusion is that either the company’s “Director, Science & Technologies” had no knowledge of the study or simply made up the whole thing.  Given the information provided, there is nothing to suggest that Neovita is good for anything.

The Power of Neovita

A flyer included in the mailing includes a column chart depicting “The power of Neovita compared to vitamin C and E.”  The chart shows tiny columns for the vitamins and a tall column for Neovita with a note that if there was enough space, the Neovita column would be 100 feet high. So how does one measure this power?  No way to tell,  there is no scale on the graph and nothing to indicate how power is measured.  There was no explanation as to why vitamins C and E were used in the comparison.  Perhaps they were chosen because they rate low on whatever scale the graph was using.  Actually, the graph is a marketing tool with no meaning at all.

The Story of Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier

The materials make reference to French explorer Jacques Cartier.  In 1534, King Francis I sent Cartier to  North America where he explored Newfoundland and sailed through the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  He is pretty important in the history of North America since he was able to claim Canada for France.  This is accurate.  The material goes on to describe a mysterious sickness among his crew after they had been trapped in ice for several weeks.  This is also true, but it happened on his second voyage in 1535.

Continuing on, the material explains that an Indian had them make tea “from the bark and needles of a large pine tree.”  The advertising says “The remedy was unbelievably powerful! One by one THE ENTIRE CREW (including Carteir) RECOVERED” (emphasis included in the original).  That’s sort of true although 25 of the 112 sailors died that winter.  The “mysterious disease” is what is now known as scurvy.  The treatment for scurvy is vitamin C and improvement is usually seen in 48 hours with a complete cure within two weeks.  It’s clear that the tea had vitamin C in it.  The actual link between scurvy and vitamin C wasn’t discovered until 1932.

The advertising material then leaps to Professor C.K. Moore who, they say, showed that pine tree bark contained procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs) and that grape seed extract contained significantly higher levels of it.  The narrative says C.K. Moore is at the University of Manchester.  I was not able to find a biography of Moore nor link him to research in this area, but I was able to determine that he is not currently on the faculty of the University of Manchester.  Regardless of who discovered PCOs in grapes, it has been shown that they help increase intracellular vitamin C.  In that sense they may be helpful in treating scurvy.

The bottom line here is that there is a connection between PCOs, vitamin C and scurvy, but that has nothing to do with the claims being made for this product.  It does, however, make for an interesting story.

PCOs, Free Radicals and Antioxidants

Research has shown that  PCOs have antioxidant and antimutagenic activities, and a protective effect against cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants fight free radicals that can damage cells.  PCOs and therefore Neovita, which is supposed to contain them, should offer those benefits if quantities are sufficient.


A critical reading of the claims and supporting materials provided for Neovita reveal that there is no connection between the product and the claims. The useless “scientific” study,  the meaningless power graph and the tenuous connection to a 16th century explorer suggest that there really is no support that the manufacturer can offer.  The poor support for its product suggests to me that the company is not familiar with research in general and probably should not be in the business of promoting products in support of human health.

Nonetheless, there are studies that are showing various benefits of PCOs as well as resveratrol that is also in grape seed extract.  Had the marketers thoroughly reviewed that literature they may have made an argument for specific benefits that may be associated with their product.  They didn’t.  Nor did they include a list of ingredients and amounts in the product.  While they talk a lot about PCOs, they don’t say that’s what’s in the product – one can only assume, a dangerous practice.

Hopefully this post will give you some insight on what to look for in the marketing materials that you may receive in the mail.  When you get something and it looks good, read the material carefully to see whether it is direct and clear or merely trying to make you think or assume that the claims and supporting material actually make any sense.  Never forget that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Another hint:  Google is your friend if you include “NIH” in your search terms.  That will bring up abstracts of actual studies complied by the National Institutes of Health.  Not that the results have anything to do with this product, but if you enter “procyanidolic oligomers NIH” into a Google search you will find a lot of studies of that compound.


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