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No, Your MLM Health Product Doesn’t “Work.”

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This is an improved version of an article that I originally published on Feb 16, 2013. The article received the attention of a group of doctors, scientists, and researchers at the American Institute for Technology and Science Education (AITSE) and they asked if they could republish it on their website. I agreed and you read that original version here. One commenter suggested that I bring this article back every year. Unfortunately, it's been more than a year.

I write today's article in response to the thousands and thousands of comments that I've gotten from multi-level marketing (MLM) distributors for various products such as MonaVie, Youngevity, Jusuru, Asea and others that make the claim that their products helped with such and such medical condition.

As Dr. Jonny Bowden has written:

"New Rules: No More Claiming Mona Vie Cures Cancer!

Nor, for that matter, AIDS. Nor lupus, GERD, acne, age spots, arthritis, a balding scalp or sagging libido.

Nope. Sorry.

And lest you think I'm picking on poor MonaVie, the same is true of Xango, Mangosteen, Xocai, Tahitian Noni, and all the other ridiculously overpriced and oversold juices promoted by scientifically illiterate multi-level marketing 'distributors' who repeat these claims with the sincerity and earnestness of a Kucinich volunteer."

Dr. Bowden isn't alone in citing that these testimonials are bunk. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, perhaps best known for the popular Cosmos show, says such testimonials are "the worst form of evidence that you could possibly bring forth." The key quote begins around the 1:50 mark, but you should invest the 6 minutes to watch the whole video.

Having received thousands of testimonials like Dr. Bowden mentioned and documented them on this site, I think it is safe to say that the people making these claims are typically those who are scientifically illiterate. They don't offer up the clinical trials that measure the efficacy of the products. The companies themselves never put together large-scale clinical trails to prove their products are safe and effective. They rely on the "worst form of evidence", testimonies, because the scientific process in place would expose the products as ineffective.

Dr. Bowden wrote that article before the aforementioned Jusuru and Asea were around.

When you include the products that Bowden mentioned, we have 8 products that are all reportedly able to cure or aid with almost every condition known to mankind. I'll add Xowii, Zrii, and Nopalea to round out to an even dozen. Though some of them have overlapping exotic ingredients like acai, there is no single ingredient common to all of them that could provide a reasonable explanation of healing benefits. Additionally other products with the same exotic ingredients such as Sambazon (which has organic acai) that are sold through traditional retailers have no reported healing benefits. These 12 products only have three things in common (that I can see): they are digested, they are all sold via MLM, they are all extremely expensive. In addition, each company (I think) has hired a doctor (or a scientific advisory board) to endorse their product, which is something you don't find with Ocean Spray (a juice like MonaVie, Jusuru) or your standard multi-vitamin (similar to some Youngevity products).

Clearly the only logical conclusion is that selling a product via MLM bestows some magical properties allowing it to cure nearly anything or everything. Wait that isn't logical, is it? Well I can't think of any other reasons for the claims... or can I?

What's Behind All These MLM Health Claims

There are a number of factors at play with these claims:

  • The Placebo Effect - This provides the most obvious answer as to why people feel these products help them. The American Cancer Society says that placebos have an effect in 1 of 3 people. Here's a great 3-minute video illustrating The Strange Powers of the Placebo Effect. This alone explains why people report a product with no known therapeutic value "works":

    Need a little more convincing? Here's Dove's Real Beauty Patches campaign that has 20 million views:

    While the product seemed to be effective to the women using it, it had no therapeutic ingredients at all. There's not really a difference between an MLM miracle cure and this Dove patch. Both have testimonials of people swearing that it works. Neither has the large-scale clinical trials to convince the FDA that the product has a therapeutic effect.

    In Time's review of the campaign, the author says: "I just can’t believe the thinly-veiled marketing ruse that there is a patch that can make us more beautiful. It makes women seem too gullible, too desperate, and overall helpless against the all-knowing master manipulators at Unilever."

    Imagine what happens when the product is a juice or a pill and pitched for some internal medical condition. It's much more believable than Dove's patch, which gives you an understanding of the master manipulators of MLM.

  • Spontaneous Improvement Regardless of Intervention - Sometimes things get better over time even without intervention. Many distributors are subject to drawing a causation between taking a product and the condition getting better when no such causation exists. The Latin for this fallacy is Post hoc ergo propter hoc, which means "after this, therefore because of this." This is sometimes referred to as the "Rooster Syndrome"; "believing that the rooster's crowing causes the sun to rise."
  • Observer-Expectancy Effect - Since the products are usually pitched with the health claims, one taking the product may have this expectation.
  • Conscious Deception - Let's call a spade a spade. It's very difficult to convince people to buy $40 bottles of juice when they are used to spending $3 for juice. One of the easiest ways to close this gap is to pitch the product as an alternative to costlier medicines. I'm not saying that every MLM distributor is dishonest, but let's agree that some are. What percentage? It's impossible to say.
  • Price-Placebo Effect - As the Washington Post reported, people who were able to buy identical energy drinks at different prices showed very significant differences in unscrambling words. Even though the researchers made clear that the drinks were identical, those paying more had better performance. The researchers concluded, "The price-placebo effect comes from the fact that you form this global belief that low price equals low quality." The article also showed, "A wine connoisseur who pays extra feels different from someone who pays less for the same bottle of wine, because the larger financial investment increases the motivation to be satisfied."

    So when I show that Youngevity products' prices are 4 times Amazon's for nearly equivalent nutrition, I get a response from distributors that they "feel" the difference. Let's go back to the placebo video above (this one). It notes that paying more for a product makes the placebo effect stronger. That's proof positive that there's an additive effect to these points.

  • GroupThink - Unless you've taken a psychology class or two, you may never have heard this term before. Wikipedia explains it:
    "Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

    Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the 'ingroup' produces an 'illusion of invulnerability' (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the 'ingroup' significantly overrates their own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of their opponents (the 'outgroup')."

    In addition Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, puts Belongingness amongst his 8 basic needs of humans.

    Both of these dynamics come into play with MLM as GroupThink inhibits the ability to analyze the opportunity. In fact, MLM proponents often suggest that people can "plug into the system" removing all individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking. MonaVie has used GroupThink to send its distributors a message of "you are either with us or against us" and tell them to unfriend distributors from social networks who have moved on to other companies.

    I'm reminded of the Funny or Die demonstration of how students tricked into drinking nonalcoholic beer exhibited drunk behavior:

    Groupthink at its finest, right?

  • Social Proof From a Trusted Friend - Many of these products are introduced by a friend or family, who are often quite zealous about the product and the "business opportunity." This enthusiasm coming from a trusted source creates an obvious motivation for wanting the product to "work."
  • Cognitive dissonance - Cognitive dissonance can be thought of a person altering reality to fit his/her perception. Specifically, the Wikipedia article claims, "After someone has performed dissonant behavior, they may find external consonant elements. A snake oil salesman may find a justification for promoting falsehoods (e.g. large personal gain), but may otherwise need to change his views about the falsehoods themselves."

    This is the same kind of phenomenon that is found in those predicting the world is going to end, except at least with those people there is a clear expiration on their erroneous belief... when the world doesn't end. Unfortunately, with MLM health products, there is no clear and obvious end-result that can be pointed to.

Any of the above by themselves would explain the testimonials. However, when you combine them all together, the result of the testimonials is little surprise. We humans in general are an optimistic bunch and we all want to believe that these products are the solution to our health and financial security for not only us, but our friends (by sharing the "opportunity" with them). To use the Washington Post's words, "our motivation to be satisfied" is significantly increased by the business opportunity and our desire to help our loved ones.

Let's run some numbers. If the placebo effect is responsible for 1 in 3 people making a claim the MLM products work, what about all the above additional factors layered onto that? I'm going to speculate that pushes it to 60%, perhaps even higher. I admit this is speculation, but I don't have a research lab and wouldn't know how to really conduct an accurate experiment combining all these factors. If an MLM gets 10,000 people to try the product, that's 6,000 people who are going to come away with a positive experience. The other 4,000 will move on with their lives and probably never mention the product again. A good percentage of the 6,000 will join the MLM to make money and spread the word that the products "work." They explain away the 4,000 by saying something to the effect of "Everyone's different and nothing works on everyone." In actuality, the products haven't been shown to work for anyone.

(And if my speculation of 60% (due to the factors above) is off, the placebo effect alone still counts for 3,333 people thinking it worked and another 6,667 that continued on with their life never thinking about the product again.)

Nonetheless that's where you get thousands of testimonials for any number of unrelated medical conditions across any number of unrelated products that are all sold via the same MLM distribution method. Maybe it's just me, but I find it a better explanation than, "Whenever a product is delivered via MLM the product gets bestowed with magical healing powers."

For these reasons, it really is best to avoid the "Just Try Our 'Product X!'" pitch when it comes to MLM products. You don't have the time or the money to try all the health products in the world anyway.

It's easy for distributors to ignore the fact that if any the products worked as promised, the companies would get their products approved as treatments for such medical conditions and make billions of dollars. Many MLM distributors falsely say that such claims can't be about supplements, but when supplements work, the FDA allows claims to be made. You don't have to look any further than calcium and vitamin D which have been shown to help with osteoporosis.

The Appeal to Good Health

Each of the companies that I mentioned makes an appeal that it will make you healthier. Since everyone has a vested interested in their own good health, it is an easy sales pitch to make. There are plenty of news reports citing promising supplement studies, which makes some of the products seem credible. The news rarely reports on the subsequent studies that show that the supplements don't work. Something "not" working isn't news and doesn't bring in high ratings by giving people hope. This NY Times article covers this phenomenon well.

It turns out that there's extensive evidence in studies involving millions of people that you shouldn't waste your money on supplements. If you think this article is thorough, I implore you to read that one as I think it is just as thorough.

Still people seem to ignore it and go with anecdotal evidence instead. That kind of evidence can go both ways though. Here's a Slate article from someone who grew up doing all the healthy things, but didn't get vaccinated. The result was that she was sick all the time. The article even makes the point that it is anecdotal and decisions shouldn't be based on it, yet that's what people are doing with these MLM products all the time. If you took away the anecdotes from all the reasons above, you'd have a product that no one would buy at the exorbitant price points... unless as part of some kind of misleading business opportunity such as the MLM ones that the FTC describe here.

What is "working"?

You may have noticed I put "working" in quotes throughout this article. That's because that's the magic word distributors use when leaving comments on my site. "MonaVie works" and "Youngevity works", etc. The interesting thing is that there is no consistent definition of what constitutes "working" with these products. I often ask them what clinical effectiveness research is behind the product, because as PubMed says:

"Clinical effectiveness research finds answers to the question 'What works?' in medical and health care."

None of the products that I've mentioned have the clinical effectiveness research to say that it "works" for any medical condition.

But As Long As People Feel Better It's All Good, Right?

A first glance this appears to make sense. Many supporters of MLMs have said, "Who cares as long as people feel better?"

There are at least three things wrong with this line of thinking:

  • The Economics - What about the people who are paying an expensive price who don't experience anything special? They might be thinking that they are doing their health a great service, but aren't. That money could be used for proven health improvements like healthier food or maybe a gym membership. What about the people who actually believe that the product represents a legitimate health breakthrough and invest a significant portion of their life savings in a "business opportunity" where it is extensively shown that 99% of people lose money.
  • Placebos are Dangerous - That article make the point pretty clear.
  • Self-Licensing Causes An Overall Decrease in Health - This Wikipedia article makes a point about study involving supplements:

    "A 2011 study published by researchers in Taiwan indicated that people who take multivitamin pills, especially those who believe that they are receiving significant health benefits from supplement use, are more prone to subsequently engage in unhealthy activities. Participants in the study were divided into two groups, both of which were given placebo pills; one group was correctly informed that the pills contained no active ingredients and the other group was told that the pills were multivitamin supplements. Survey results showed that participants who thought that they had received a multivitamin were predisposed to smoking more cigarettes and more likely to believe that they were invulnerable to harm, injury, and disease... Participants who believed they were given a multivitamin were also less likely to exercise and to choose healthier food, and had a higher desire to engage in 'hedonic activities that involve instant gratification but pose long-term health hazards', such as casual sex, sunbathing, wild parties, and excessive drinking... In the ‘multivitamin’ group, the more supplements a participant used, the less likely they were to exercise, and smoking was highest among participants who expressed a conscious belief that multivitamins increased health."

In my MonaVie article, distributors had erroneously claimed that 2 ounces of MonaVie was equal to eating 13 fruits. They then said that this justified the $40 price for the bottle. As a result these people were making bad health decisions due to misinformation. That doesn't even factor self-licensing in.

Are These Claims Even Legal?

It doesn't seem as if they are. MLM distributors are typically not educated by the companies to follow the FTC guidelines on endorsements. That article states:

"Advertisers still must have adequate substantiation to support claims made through endorsements in the same way they’re required to if they had made the representation directly. In other words, advertisers may not convey through testimonials claims they could not otherwise prove with competent and reliable evidence. But one key revision of particular interest to electronic retailers is the new standard for endorsements that don’t represent the experience buyers can expect from using the advertised product themselves.

...

Despite the unequivocal requirement that the disclosures must be clear and conspicuous, some advertisers flouted this directive by cherry-picking their best case scenario, touting those results in banner headlines, and dropping an all-but-invisible footnote with the cryptic statement, 'Results not typical' or 'Individual results may vary.'

No more. As the revised guidelines make clear, testimonials reporting specific results achieved by using the product or service generally will be interpreted to mean that the endorser’s experience is what others typically can expect to achieve. That leaves advertisers with two choices: 1) Have adequate proof to back up that claim, or 2) 'Clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected performance in the depicted circumstances.'"

MLM distributors endorsing the products simply aren't allowed to give a testimonial that they believe that the product helped with their arthritis... unless the MLM company has demonstrated significant scientific proof. As mentioned above, no MLM company has met the requirement to show the FDA that it works. I don't know of an MLM company that has even tried.

Not only are these claims a violation of the FTC endorsement guidelines, they are a violation of The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) where supplements can't make claims to help with medical conditions with the notable exception of these well-studied claims such as vitamin D and calcium helping with osteoporosis.

As MonaVie CEO said to Newsweek in 2008 about keeping its million distributors (at the time) compliant with these laws, "It's next to impossible, like herding cats." Unfortunately, Newsweek didn't pose the logical follow-up questions to him, "Why did you unleash the cats in the first place? Why don't you just solve the problem by distributing through traditional means where there are no false claims?" The solution to the problem that MonaVie caused is obvious, it just doesn't help sell $40 bottles of juice.

I've found that most often MLM companies will cover their ass in public with a blog post saying all the right things, but in private they coach distributors to use these illegal medical claims.

It's not just a few bad eggs either. It's commonplace. How common? Truth in Advertising extensively show as many as 97% of nutritional companies have these claims. Here are are some of their findings:

"TINA.org’s investigation found that out of 62 member companies selling nutritional supplements, 60 have distributors who are making (or have made) claims that their products can diagnose, treat, cure, prevent, alleviate the symptoms of, and/or reduce the risk of developing a multitude of diseases, which means they are making illegal disease-treatment claims.

TINA.org has catalogued well over a thousand such inappropriate health claims, ranging from cancer cures to disappearing gangrene.

...

TINA.org’s investigation found that out of 62 member companies selling nutritional supplements, 60 have distributors who are making (or have made) claims that their products can diagnose, treat, cure, prevent, alleviate the symptoms of, and/or reduce the risk of developing a multitude of diseases, which means they are making illegal disease-treatment claims.

TINA.org has catalogued well over a thousand such inappropriate health claims, ranging from cancer cures to disappearing gangrene.

Or as I like to put it, "How else are you going to sell $40 bottles of juice?" Perhaps that the reason why MonaVie collapsed. It was never the juice which was outed to be nothing more than "expensive flavored water" by its inventor.

What About Weight Loss Shakes?

A number of MLMs such as Herbalife, One 24, ViSalus and MonaVie sell some kind of weight-loss shake. These products "work" as expected. That is to say that their nutritional label is likely to be accurate. Beyond the label, there's nothing that special. You can save a lot of money by going with Slim Fast or Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials that has essentially the equivalent nutritional content at usually less than a 1/3rd the price.

Picking one weight loss shake over another isn't going to make or break a diet. It's everything else, eating well and exercising, that has been shown time and time again to work. People normally don't stay on shakes their whole lives. Without a change of underlying diet and/or exercise habits the weight comes back. For this reason, I'm not a huge of fan of meal replacement shakes.

Final Thought

I'll let you in on a little secret. When I create Lazymandium, a mix of garlic, tumeric, cacao, and chili powder, and sell it via MLM at a price of 30 pills for $50, it doesn't "work." I'm simply using known psychology to exploit you and make your wallet a little lighter for my own benefit.

Last updated on November 17, 2016.

This post deals with: ... and focuses on:

MLM

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45 Responses to “No, Your MLM Health Product Doesn’t “Work.””

  1. Cassi says:

    Hmmm, really long yet interesting post. I really don’t like when companies misrepresent their products to gain more money. I haven’t heard of these companies before, but I hope they stop swaying people to buy a product that does nothing.

    • Sylvan Moir says:

      Price-Placebo Effect – As the Washington Post reported, people who were able to buy identical energy drinks at different prices showed very significant differences in unscrambling words. Even though the researchers made clear that the drinks were identical, those paying more had better performance. The researchers concluded, “The price-placebo effect comes from the fact that you form this global belief that low price equals low quality.” The article also showed, “A wine connoisseur who pays extra feels different from someone who pays less for the same bottle of wine, because the larger financial investment increases the motivation to be satisfied.”

      Well how about a very expensive, long, thorough, gruelling education in science to induct you into a connoiseur group of group-think?

      One of the main articles of faith of this group is that, contrary to the entire experience of every civilizaion that has ever existed – so-called “Anecdotal” evidence is worthless and to be laughed at. One needs numbers, measurement, rigorous definition stating exacctly what is being tested with inherent consequent repeatability, and preferably a laboratory and maybe white coats.
      Sorry this is just YOUR article of faith – and you particular (very new) religious paraphenalia of belief.
      There is nothing BUT “anecdote”. It is ALL anecdote,- in the end. The construction of the HADRON COLLIDER IS for one purpose only : to provide an anecdote at the en of it (i.e. somebody reads a dial or looks at a computer read-out etc – with their eyes – i.e. an anecdote) . If there was no such anecdote there would be no meaning to the whole procedure. In pure maths there are (arguably) no anecdotes. But then to have the maths actually impinge on the world – or vice versa – you require the importation of the irreducibly ineluctably anecdotal . Godel seems to have gone somewhat nuts struggling with realizations of that kind.
      Afurther oint is that it is only crazy science-as-religion types who are disoposed to dismiss a certain strength of “anecdotal” support for – eg. a remedy etc. In practice we would not survive a week if we did not learn from the merely “anecdotal” how to conduct our lives.
      The caveats about miracle cures and snake-oil sales practices are well founded, but are here taken much too far – as anybody who has learnt to sift mere “anecdotal” information and thus survived long enough to read this for starters should know (if they haven’t been too badly infected by the modern relgion of science).

  2. lalkb32 says:

    Slimfast, has no where near the same nutritional value as VI-Shakes. Slimfast has more sugar in it than a piece of chocalate cake. Get your facts right to whoever wrote this. And Cassi, do you believe everything someone write?? Who is this guy that wrote this article?? He is not a reliable source.

    • Lazy Man says:

      I’ve addressed Vi-shakes in another post putting together something for 1/3rd the cost that has the same nutritional value as Vi-shakes. Others have done the same.

  3. The human race needs this post at least once a year, and it should be expanded to include other overpriced products as well. When recruiters tell you that traditional retailing is inefficient and they cite the markups of up to 100%, they never tell you all the markups MLM products go through — 2 to 3 times as much as those nasty retailers.

    But… they are living proof that P.T. Barnum knew what he was talking about when he said there’s one born every minute!

    • Lazy Man says:

      Thanks Mr. Cowie,

      You are correct that I should expand it to cover other products. I’ve already got a number of edits slated to go for it. I might recycle it in a month or so, especially because I released it late on a Friday the first time.

  4. Humiliated says:

    Excellent article Lazy.

    lalkb32 if you had take the time to actually do a little research on the articles that Lazyman has written, you will see that he is actually an incredibly reliable source and his goal is to help people from getting scammed. He has written extensively about the Visalus scam and it sounds like you should really educate yourself more on the product you are flogging on your poor friends and family. Educating yourself doesn’t mean just listening to the company propaganda, but digging deeper and hopefully discovering the truth.

    The recent investigation into FTHM is proof that the general public has had it with these Pyramid schemes and we need articles like this to help keep the public aware of the damage these scams do.

    Thanks again for all your hard work Lazy and keep fighting the fight for all of the single parents and elderly people that get sucked into these horrific schemes. You are their voice.

  5. […] Lazy Man and Money talks about the ineffectiveness of MLM health products. […]

  6. I really feel for MLM reps and salesmen. I feel like they have somewhat of an entreprenuer spirit but get sucked into the scammy MLM products, then get discouraged and never attempt another venture. I agree with you on Monavie, if it was so great why aren’t the big corporations selling it.

  7. I believe that an effective product can market and promote itself, and there is no need for aggressive marketers to convince us everyday that their product will work for us. Your post is really interesting and comprehensive. Thanks for all the research you put on this.

  8. Charles4Truth says:

    FYI People – If Pharmaceutical companies can legally take a drug that lost it paten and tweak the ingredients and then apply and get a new 10 year paten; what makes you think they are going to stop these companies for scamming you?

    In case you don’t understand what I am saying. Think Generic V/S Tier drugs.. There can’t be a generic while there is a patent.

    This is why Doctors always try to prescribe the newest drug on the market even when they know it is basically the same thing that just went generic.

  9. Kristan says:

    Hi Lazy Man, what are your thoughts on Beachbody’s shake product Shakeology?

    • Lazy Man says:

      I would group it into the note I put at the end about weight loss shakes. You can lose weight with them in the same way that gas will make your car go. However, there is typically very little difference between products and the prices vary widely. I looked into Shakeology briefly more than 6 months ago as a high school friend of mine was promoting it on Facebook. I was shocked to see it was even more expensive than ViSalus, which is something that I’ve written is extremely expensive.

      When I say expensive, I don’t mean just a little bit like say 20% or even 50% more than competing products… it’s usually 300% to 1000% more expensive. That’s like buying $12 gas or $30 gas being told that it’s better.

  10. NotImpressed says:

    Drug companies with legal drugs aren’t scamming us, they are killing us. I think I’d rather be scammed than put to a slow death. As a matter of fact, yes, my MLM health product DOES work and I’ve seen it work for hundreds of people. Even if the effect is a placebo, as you may think, it’s worth it to the people it has helped.
    If you want to make money with MLM, you have to treat it like a job. If you have a 9-5 job and don’t show up to work, you aren’t going to get paid. Same applies here. If you are looking to get rich quick, MLM is not for you. The experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the growth I’ve had as a person is unlike any I have experienced with any job.
    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you are probably a lonely, unhappy, single man. You complain about every little thing and find joy in tearing down other people’s livelihoods. I recommend you get on one of these health products, find yourself a woman, and start finding the positive in things instead of the negative.

    • Lazy Man says:

      Drug companies are not killing us. In the cases that they are found to be harmful (Fen/Phen, Vioxx) they are pulled off the market. Still, those products were extensively clinically tested, which is far more than any MLM product I’ve seen done.

      What is your MLM health product and can you prove in clinical trials that it works? Sorry, but your biased eyes carry no value…. Dr. Bowden showed it years ago by exposing how distributors make all sorts ridiculous and impossible claims.

      As for the placebo effect, it was addressed in the article. It’s potentially very harmful. Not only that, but you and I don’t get to make the decision of “what is worth it” when it comes to illegal promoting products. The FDA and FTC play roles in it.

      As for making money in MLM, it is a terrible business and it isn’t a matter of effort.

      You don’t need to go out on a limb guessing if I’m a lonely, unhappy, single man…. read my blog and you’ll find that I’ve been happily married for almost 6 years now and have a newborn baby. I really don’t complain about much, and I have a 7 year blogging history of trying to help people with their livelihoods.

      You are a classic example of what’s wrong with MLM, providing not proven scientific data, misrepresenting the business opportunity, and then attacking a critic with a bunch of false conjecture that could have been corrected with 30 seconds of searching.

      NotImpressed indeed.

  11. Lorien says:

    So, I have noticed there is one MLM health company you have not mentioned. Have you ever investigated Shaklee? How can Visalus shakes be healthy when they claim their shakes are meal replacements, last time I looked it said their shakes are 90 calories. I am sorry 90 calories is not a meal. That is starvation. Yes you will loose weight at first, but at the expense of your muscle mass. That weight will just come right back when you are done using their system. That is what they want. It means more money for them.

  12. Lorien says:

    Kristan, I have know quite a few people who got real sick drinking Shakeology. I tried it since and it was soooo disgusting. They list so many weird ingredients, who knows if they are healthy. Plus it cost 120 bucks a month just for 1 shake a day.

    • Lazy Man says:

      Lorien,

      There are a lot more than one MLM health that I did not mention. I simply don’t have the space to go into them all. As I said in the article, “A number of MLMs such as Herbalife, One 24, ViSalus and MonaVie sell some kind of weight-loss shake.” That includes Shaklee. When I said, “These products “work” as expected. That is to say that their nutrition information is accurate. However, you can save a lot of money by going with Slim Fast or Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials that has nearly the equivalent nutritional content at usually less than a 1/3rd the price.” I mean that to include Shaklee as well.

      If you read my article and comments on Visalus (which is linked to here) I have repeatedly tore them apart for billing their 90 calorie shake as a meal replacement.

  13. allan says:

    well written.well researched,thanks for effort exposing these Charlestons and sociopathic parasites with there false and misleading claims ,i would like to see a shame/accountability file listing all these criminals/crimes against humanity,maybe sometime in the future put them on trial,thats the problem not accountable for the harm they do to others.

  14. Denise Ray says:

    An interesting and informative article about the falsehoods of MLM marketing strategies and the bogus and unsubstantiated claims they make about their products benefits.
    I have never attempted MLM as I’m the world’s weakest and most inept salesperson. (If I hawk a product and the person says ‘No Thanks’, I have a tendency to say ‘O.K.’ and leave them alone!)
    Your article addressed mindsets I had previously adopted while thinking myself mostly immune to what I call ‘The Cow Mentality’.
    Have you ever been on a dairy farm at or near milking time? The cows all get in a line and head toward the feedlot. But, if that line should stall for any reason the cows will not get out of the line, move forward, and perhaps find out what the holdup is or maybe even bypass it. They will invaribly choose to stand in their place in the line, (sometimes in identical order), and wait for the line to begin to move again! Variations of this type of thinking lies at the heart of all us poor dupes just waiting to be scammed.
    But this time I got out of the line, moved up to the front, and decided to do a little fact finding of my own. Hence, our communication.
    The placebo effect is very powerful and there is no shortage of studies made on the subject. I know I’m not immune to the placebo effect. But I am very, very in tune with my body’s rhythms. Almost obsessively so. I will notice any changes. I’m not a doctor but I have a familiarity with medical terminology and access to high-speed internet for more fact-finding.
    My point is that I recently purchased a bottle of Protandim from a neighbor who is an ate-up-in-the-head-convert,( No, I’m not even going to try to talk him out of it, but I will be enough of a friend to steer him to this article), and I’m going to make a determination for myself if this product brings any real benefits to me or if it’s just another example of the ‘Ray Charles Is God’ mindset. (God is love/Love is blind/Ray Charles is blind/Therefore, Ray Charles is God).
    I would never try to distribute, (you think you’re lazy!), but I am going to give this product the same chance to convince me of its benefits that I gave Lexapro. Which, by the way, was very effective.
    Lazyman, I know that you know that the entity I refer to as “Big Pharmaceutical” is also capable of lying, bribery, presenting slanted, duped studies as fact, false claims of benefit, concealing any evidence of deaths or bodily harm, and committing egregious acts of conflict-of-interest. What’s more, not only do they have millions of dollars invested in R&D/Production, they have a deadline to meet if they want to be the first to make application to receive a patent and thereby any return of investment on their product. In other words, they have the very same primary motivating factor of all the MLM programs: Money.
    I personally think ‘Big Pharmaceutical’ is just as full of it as the MLM companies and the lawsuits that have resulted from deaths and damages, exorbitant prices, as well as the many product recalls are proof of this. Reasonably Well-Informed, I Hope.

    • Lazy Man says:

      I love the Ray Charles is God logic. I would have got with the Smashing Pumpkins’ Zero lyrics, “Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness, and cleanliness is godliness, and god is empty just like me”, simply because I hear it more often on the radio.

      I touch on the FDA is corrupt in this article: Should You Be Buying Supplements? Most of the medicines that are FDA approved do not death and damages.

      I compare it cars. They work and get us from point A to point B and are extremely useful. However, they are also a source of lawsuits and death… and that’s not to touch the environmental implications. The good that we get from having automobile transportation far outweighs the bad. If you didn’t know any better and just watched the evening news, you might only hear of the negative that happens in 0.000001% of cases (or whatever the small number it is).

      Americans will consume probably 10 billion (or more) prescription pills this year. They aren’t all dying. In many of the cases, it might not even be the fault of the medication, but the human error of the person prescribing it.

      This isn’t to say that the FDA is free of corruption. I don’t know if anything industry can say that. However, it is to show that MLMs pitching to be health cures are 99% corrupt and FDA approved medicine (especially having gone through rigorous clinical trials) is closer to 1% corrupt. These aren’t exact numbers, but you get the idea – they are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

  15. Linda J says:

    I purchased Protandim for 2 years from a lady I had previously worked with. I paid $50 a month for it. She said it would help my arthritis and help me sleep at night…both of which I welcomed help for. She kept telling me how it was helping her so much that both she and her husband were taking it and selling it. She would occasionally call me and give me a pep talk as to why I should keep taking it. She said it takes a while to build up in your body. I felt absolutely no difference whatsoever in my arthritis or my sleep disorder so finally I stopped taking it. (I am retired and really could have used the money on something else!
    Having said that I have just received my first order of products from Youngevity. I paid a whole lot more than $50 for 1 months supply. I have heard Dr. Wallach speak, and read his book. According to him, my arthritis should be gone in about 3 months. I have decided to put off an extensive foot surgery and see if there is any improvement in 3 months. I am drawing the money out of my retirement fund (which is not very big) I thank you for your article and will be reading up more on this product. I amazes me that Dr. Wallach would actually make personal appearances on shows and promise so much if none of it were true! Call me naive!!!

    • Lazy Man says:

      Linda J,

      I recommend you read this research article as well: http://business.pages.tcnj.edu/files/2014/02/Keep-and-Vander-Nat_MLM-and-Pyramid-Schemes_Final.pdf. MLM companies have been making claims about their special vitamins since the 50s (bottom page 5):

      The rapidly growing Nutrilite encountered a problem not uncommon in traditional direct selling “the tendency of some salespeople to over-sell by making false product claims. Concerned that such claims were more than isolated cases, in 1951 the Food and Drug Administration obtained an injunction “prohibiting 15,000 door – to – door salesmen from making ‘extravagant therapeutic claims’ for Nutrilite” ( The New York Times , 1951). The company agreed, “not to make certain therapeutic claims,” but did not admit fault or guilt (Changing Times, 1952). The issue persisted. In 1957 the FDA began “an educational campaign against door-to-door selling of various food additives and vitamin preparations” designed to counter “a violent campaign… designed to convince the American that he has some peculiar ‘deficiency’” (The New York Times, 1957).

      You can read about Money Magazine reporting it in 1987 here: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/moneymag_archive/1987/06/01/83883/index.htm:

      “Stephen Barrett, editor of the monthly newsletter Nutrition Forum and recipient of a 1984 award from the FDA for exposing nutritional quackery, says: ‘I’ve told the FDA of 300 illegally marketed products, many of them from multilevel companies, but the agency has taken no action on them.’ An FDA spokesman responds: ‘A good number of nutritional products fall into the area of puffery claims, rather than representing a direct health threat. While these products may be in technical violation of the law, we won’t spend our resources to challenge the claims.'”

      I don’t see what Wallach else Wallach would do other than make personal appearances. Promoting the scheme pays him a lot better being a veterinarian.

  16. […] In their third Nerium article, Bare Faced Truth covers the "mania" of its distributors saying that Nerium AD really does work. It touches on a few of the factors that I've covered in-depth at No, Your MLM Health Product Does Not Work. […]

  17. Star says:

    Comparing Shakeology to Slim Fast or Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials is laughable. Those two drinks are filled with GMOs and crap. That’s how they are so cheap. Shakeology is expensive because of all the vitamins, real foods and nutrients that go into it.

    • Lazy Man says:

      It’s not laughable, all the products are shakes that can and have been popularly used for weight loss.

      Vitamins are cheap. The discussion here seems to show that Shakeology does contain GMOs (it doesn’t have a non-GMO label according to the discussion).

      There’s also a helpful, unbiased, independent chart comparing many products here.

      I haven’t found an MLM product that isn’t absurdly expensive. Every MLMer will say that is because the product is of a certain quality. Yet, every MLM product that I’ve investigated didn’t seem to stand-up to that promise. I’m not saying that Slim Fast or Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials do either, but at least you aren’t paying the MLM mark-up.

      As I’ve written in many articles, this mark-up seems exclusive to MLM. Since the salesforce is most often required (in very rare cases this requirement can be met in other ways) to buy product as a price of admission to run the business (qualify for checks), the companies can price gouge distributors with expensive product. As Harper’s Magazine put it (I’m paraphrasing), MLMs make money by exploiting their distributors and don’t make their lives better.

  18. Vogel says:

    It is in fact perfectly reasonable to compare Snakoilogy with well established non-MLM products by SlimFast and Carnation.
    https://www.carnationbreakfastessentials.com/Products/Powder/Rich-Milk-Chocolate/Nutrition.aspx
    http://www.slimfast.com/products/shake-mixes/milk-chocolate.aspx

    The most abundant ingredient in Snakeoilogy is ordinary cheap whey protein.
    http://images.beachbody.com/tbb/shakeology/PDFs/Chocolate/shakeology_supplement_facts_chocolate.pdf

    According to an article in HuffPo:

    “There are insignificant amounts of multiple plant products mixed in with the protein, none of which come anywhere close to duplicating the health benefits of whole plants.”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michele-redmon/diet-and-nutrition_b_4547979.html

    It’s basically a multivitamin mixed with cheap protein and trace amounts of esoteric ingredients with negligible value.

    As for GMOs, the nutritional info on Snakeoilogy’s website indicates that the only non-GMO ingredient is fructose, and that certainly does not justify a premium price.

    with respect to price, it looks like Snakeoilogy sells for roughly 10 times more than comparable products by Carnation and SlimFast. What does that premium price get you? BS and hype, like the comment from Star; nothing more.

  19. […] to the product. The price placebo effect plays right into your hands. Consumer advocates may expose why your product doesn't 'work'. Let's hope they don't read […]

  20. […] just like how MLM relies on psychological tricks to make it seem juices work, the same can be true of skin creams. In fact, the FTC use to warn of MLM lotions (creams) and […]

  21. […] to make illegal health claims. Once again we can apply the logic and science that shows No, the MLM Health Product Does Not Work. I invite doTERRA to prove me and Dr. Harriet Hall wrong by getting the products approved by the […]

  22. […] What is the real story about essential oils and multi-level marketing? As our friend Lazy Man has said: No, Your MLM Health Product Doesn’t “Work.” […]

  23. Mike says:

    I would rather take something with some kind of nutritional value than take chemo if I had cancer.
    Someone explain to me how, if I have cancer I can put something like chemo, something that is toxic into a toxic environment (cancer)in my body and get positive results. How does the medical field brainwash you sheeple into believing this.
    My body is based on nutrition. With nutrition he body will heal itself. That is my observation. Big pharm only cares about your money, not you.

    • Lazy Man says:

      This isn’t a discussion of chemo. However, the idea of how chemo helps isn’t too hard to understand. I think a 2nd grader could pick it up. The idea is to focus on killing the cancer cells and damage as few of the good cells as possible.

      Your logic is like asking why we’d do something toxic to a fire burning down our house. By drowning and/or suffocating the fire we achieve the positive result of saving the house.

      The “body heals itself” is red flag of quackery. It might be able to heal from a cut, but cancer is very, very different and most certainly has never been been showed to be healed with nutrition.

      How do you get brainwashed into believing something that in millions and millions of cases has never been to work?

  24. Seth Bridges says:

    Have you heard of Kyani? and if so? good or bad? please elaborate. Thanks for your time and opinion.
    P.s- Great comments!

  25. […] in the scheme is buying it anyway, in an attempt to make money. Excellent analysis here from Lazyman on exactly why the product won’t […]

  26. Mommy-Brained says:

    I appreciate all the information you post. I’m currently investigating Young Living Essential Oils after being with them for a year. I did fall for the hype because I’m an entrepreneur/dreamer, and was looking for a way to make money independently. Now I’m laughing at myself for buying NingXia Red, and expensive juice drink blend that is designed to heal every ailment under the sun when I can actually just buy all the ingredients at Sprouts and Amazon for $100 and make 4X-5X the amount of the same juice for a fraction of the cost (2 25 ounce bottles of NingXia Red are a mere $71 WHOLESALE).

    What I will say, though, is that some of the things seem to work because the body is probably receiving nutrition it wasn’t getting before. A lot of the juices in NingXia Red, for example, are considered “superfruits,” and have known benefits. And I think that’s why a lot of these things seem to work: the nutrition in them. I wasn’t drinking these juices prior, nor was I making smoothies. After using them and making smoothies, of course I felt better. My body was getting nutrients it wouldn’t otherwise get! Of course, I laugh at myself because prior to spending a fortune on NingXia Red, I shunned the idea of paying $6-$8 on a 64 ounce bottle of Naked Juice! *Facepalm* So, yes, that’s why I think they “work”: Because people otherwise eating unhealthy are suddenly getting nutrients they weren’t receiving before.

    Naturally, none of that changes the facts that these MLM drinks are severely overpriced, non organic, contain preservatives and can be purchased for fair prices at the local health food store or through mom & pop vendors/farmers at the local farmer’s market.

    Again, I love your articles and enjoy reading them! Thanks for posting!

    • Lazy Man says:

      Thanks Mommy-brained.

      As for the nutrition thing, it’s pretty well established that that fruit juice isn’t healthy… and that eating fruit is the real deal. Scientists say that the good stuff is in the skin and the pulp that gets thrown away when juiced. There’s not a lot of research on these MLM juices, but I think it’s worth questioning whether they really provide any significant nutrition. They’d likely be much, much better off by eating an apple. Yet no one jumps up and down claiming that an apple cured this or that.

      Thank you for reading and if you really liked the article, do me a favor and send it to 5 friends… and tell them to share it with 5 friends… and well, you get the idea.

  27. Vogel says:

    Mommy-Brained said: “Now I’m laughing at myself for buying NingXia Red, and expensive juice drink blend that is designed to heal every ailment under the sun when I can actually just buy all the ingredients at Sprouts and Amazon for $100 and make 4X-5X the amount of the same juice for a fraction of the cost…What I will say, though, is that some of the things seem to work because the body is probably receiving nutrition it wasn’t getting before. A lot of the juices in NingXia Red, for example, are considered “superfruits,” and have known benefits. And I think that’s why a lot of these things seem to work: the nutrition in them. I wasn’t drinking these juices prior, nor was I making smoothies. After using them and making smoothies, of course I felt better. My body was getting nutrients it wouldn’t otherwise get!…So, yes, that’s why I think they “work”: Because people otherwise eating unhealthy are suddenly getting nutrients they weren’t receiving before. Naturally, none of that changes the facts that these MLM drinks are severely overpriced, non organic, contain preservatives and can be purchased for fair prices at the local health food store or through mom & pop vendors/farmers at the local farmer’s market.”

    Interesting subject! Here’s the thing…these MLM super juices don’t pack the nutritional punch they’re hyped to have. A classic case study example is Monavie juice, an acai berry-based concoction that was covertly touted as a miracle cure by its distributors. Despite BS claims that it was loaded with nutrition and contained exclusively-sourced, freshly picked, ultra-high quality acai berries, it turned out that they were using low-grade preserved acai sludge shipped by commercial bulk suppliers in Brazil to the US on slow freighters, which was then combined and bottled with the nasty preservative sodium benzoate to produce a mundane Franken-cocktail (with an outrageously long one-year shelf life) that the alleged inventor Ralph Carson eventually confessed was “nothing more than expensive flavored water.” There’s no reason to think that any other MLM juice is any better, or even as good.

    To make up for the lack of intrinsic nutrients in these MLM juices, the manufacturers typically spike them with ordinary vitamins/minerals. Sometimes the even produce research designed to mislead the public into believing that the juices have beneficial biochemical properties, when in fact any properties that they report are attributable solely to the known effects of the added nutrients (e.g., in vitro studies that reproduce the known antioxidant effects of vitamin C).

    In the best case scenario, MLM snakeoil juices provide as much nutritional value as maybe a few ounces of frozen concentrated OJ, or some other comparably mundane juice, and/or a few of the vitamins/minerals that would be found in a 7-cent multivitamin. We know that someone drinking a shot-glass of OJ a day and/or taking an occasional vitamin pill wouldn’t go around raving that a week of their regimen cured cancer or lupus or any of the other diseases/symptoms that MLM distributors refer to in their ridiculous testimonials.

    Since we can safely conclude that MLM juices are BS nutritionally, and that drinking a few glasses of juice and taking a few multivitamins doesn’t cure or heal anything, it must be assumed that people (namely self-interested distributors) who make fanciful claims are either lying outright or are deluded. There is plentiful evidence that these MLMs are dishonest to the core, so there’s no reason to not suspect that all or at least the vast majority of these claims are outright lies; even less so when people vehemently defend such claims even after being shown ironclad contradictory evidence. Those presumably rare instances that are not outright lies can be attributed to delusion and the placebo effect, which is powerful in its own right but even more so when its likelihood is magnified by hucksters who set unrealistically high expectations, and when people have a vested financial interest in believing that MLM juices cure diseases.

    There’s no secret medical miracle lurking among the plethora of fraudulent MLM super-juices that have come and gone over time (Royal Tongan Limu, Tahitian Noni, Xango, Monavie, etc…all with moronic names and stupidly inflated prices). None have ever been remotely proven to do anything other than insult people’s intelligence and lighten their wallets.

    For those seeking the nutritional benefits of fruits, the obvious path is to eat fruit, and if anyone finds putting a few pieces of fresh fruit into a blender and making a smoothie too difficult then they simply lack sufficient commitment. Skepticism would also be justified if someone claimed to have had a medical miracle after a week or two of drinking fresh fruit smoothies, aside from potential indirect benefits due to weight loss or omitting certain types of foods (and maybe food allergens) from the diet. That scenario could be attributed purely to placebo effect rather than outright lying, since there isn’t really a financial motive, unless perhaps the claimant is in the blender business.

    • Mommy-Brained says:

      Hey Vogel!

      Great explanation! I actually traced the NingXia Red gogi berry puree that Young Living uses to a supplier in China, so I’m not surprised about the preservatives, the watering down, and the fact that the rest of the blends are juices from concentrate (i.e, watered-down).

      I could easily make this stuff from fresh, organic pureed fruit at home for a fraction of the cost (love homemade smoothies!) and get real nutrition without the hefty price tag.

      You should see the devotion to this drink that is endemic to the Young Living cult. Before being called NingXia Red, it was called “Berry Young Juice,” and the story the founder gave to introduce the product was insane, to say the least. The hype hasn’t changed since it’s introduction, and more products under the NingXia name have since popped up.

  28. […] Lazy Man and Money explains why MLM health products don’t work. […]

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