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Subscriber's Corner: Juice Plus+

Juice Plus+

Claims, Benefits: Boosts the immune system, provides antioxidants, contains all the nutrients in seven to ten fruits and vegetables.

Bottom Line: No capsules can substitute for fruits and vegetables, which contain the best balance of nutrients and phytochemicals.

Full article, Wellness Letter, June 2005:

Juiced Up and Dried Out

If you are trying to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, but you can’t quite make it to the recommended five servings a day, let alone the nine a day in the latest government guidelines, you’ll find plenty of supplements on the market that claim they can fill the gap. Juice Plus+ products are perhaps the most prominent. Remember when futurologists predicted that pills would replace foods on the modern table? That’s where Juice Plus+ comes in.

Sold as capsules, chewables, wafers, and even gummies for kids, these supplements claim to offer the benefits of whole fruits and vegetables. Orchard Blend, according to the company website, is a mixture of seven freeze-dried fruits; four capsules are supposed to contain the vitamin C of four oranges. Garden Blend is a combination of ten vegetables; a day’s dose supposedly provides the beta carotene of three carrots and more vitamin E than several cups of spinach or broccoli. The Vineyard Blend offers seven types of berries and grapes, along with green tea extract, coenzyme Q-10, and a list of other compounds. The health claims and testimonials in the ads used to be astonishing, but these have been removed in recent years. For instance, a decade ago O.J. Simpson promoted Juice Plus+, claiming it had cured his arthritis (but then used his “crippling arthritis” as a defense at his trial).

One statement from Juice Plus+ cannot be disputed—that scientists now know that diets high in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. But then comes the large leap of faith: that the concentrates are the equivalent of foods—or even better. Of course, many supplement companies make similar claims. What sets Juice Plus+ apart from the others, according to the website, is “a large and growing body of independent research.”

How independent is the research? How good?

The studies are funded by Natural Alternatives International, which manufactures Juice Plus+. (Whether researchers are free to publish negative findings is not clear.) One study in the Journal of Nutrition in 2003 by Australian researchers found that Juice Plus+ capsules increased blood levels of antioxidants in 32 people over 15 weeks, and lowered levels of homocysteine (high blood levels of this amino acid are associated with heart-attack risk). But German researchers writing in the same journal dismissed the findings. The study never mentioned that the capsules had been spiked with additional beta carotene, vitamins C and E, and folic acid (known to lower blood levels of homocysteine). Thus the benefits, if any, may well have come from these added vitamins, not the fruit and vegetable concentrates. How did they know this? Because it’s claimed that the vegetable mix in the capsules contains high concentrations of lycopene (a carotenoid, like beta carotene)—but lycopene levels in the blood of the subjects did not increase. That suggests that the substances in the concentrates didn’t get through, or were not there in the first place. “Overall,” said the German researchers, “the conclusions . . . mislead the reader.”

To take one more example of “independent research” that the company says is conclusive, a study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology claimed that Juice Plus+ capsules can reduce the immediate adverse effects of a high-fat meal. Just one heavy high-fat meal can reduce the ability of blood vessels to dilate, thus increasing the risk of a heart attack. However, in an editorial in the same issue, a truly independent researcher, Dr. Jane Freedman, shot down that idea and said that the study was not “clinically relevant.” If you feel like eating a high-fat meal, you’d be better off to include a colorful salad than to take Juice Plus+ supplements. No supplement or nutritional concentrate is “the solution for high-fat, low-fiber, low-nutrient diets.” Juice Plus+ cannot compensate for poor eating habits.

More to come

The Juice Plus+ website, of course, does not mention those criticisms. Other studies are said to be underway: one on Juice Plus+ in ovarian cancer survivors; another involving patients with head and neck cancer; and yet another will evaluate whether Juice Plus+ can affect the progression of heart disease. A “Juice Plus+ Children’s Research Foundation” claims to be tracking the effects of the supplements in children, but this simply involves give-aways of the products to kids, and subjective tracking by parents. A cute marketing gimmick, but it isn’t science.

As for the possible uses of Juice Plus+ for cancer patients or cancer survivors, the website of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York has this to say: “No studies exist to compare the physiologic effects of supplementation with Juice Plus+ and eating whole fresh fruits and vegetables. Juice Plus+ is distributed through a multi-tiered marketing scheme with exaggerated value and cost.” Such marketing schemes feature distributors who make money not only from their own sales, but also from the sales of people they recruit.

There is no substitute for fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You cannot “concentrate” significant amounts of them in a capsule, a chewable, or a gummy. You cannot turn a blueberry or an orange into a magic bullet in a pill. Stick with the real thing.

UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, June 2005



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