US federal regulators have filed complaints against the makers of POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice, saying there's no science to support claims that the products treat or prevent diseases such as prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.
The Federal Trade Commission says POM Wonderful, its parent company Roll International Corp, its creators and an executive violated federal law by making false and deceptive claims about disease prevention and treatment.
The agency's complaint names POM Wonderful president Matthew Tupper and company founders Stewart and Lynda Resnick, a billionaire California couple whose holdings also include florist retailer Teleflora, Fiji Water and companies that produce Wonderful Pistachios and Cuties clementines.
POM Wonderful is seen as starting the pomegranate craze that has spread to everything from tea to smoothies, hitting ice cream, martinis and salad dressings on the way. The company's health claims are a hallmark of its advertising.
POM Wonderful says on its website it has spent more than $US34 million to support scientific research on POM products since 1998. Study topics include muscle recovery, diabetes, antioxidant potency, heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.
Regulators say the ads mislead in saying the research shows the juice or related pomegranate supplements prevent or treat certain diseases. "Any consumer who sees POM Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled," David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said on Monday. He said companies using scientific research in their advertising must have research that supports the claims.
The FTC will hold a hearing within eight months before an administrative law judge. The FTC cited advertisements in national publications including The New York Times and Prevention, on internet sites run by the company including pomwonderful.com and pompills.com, and elsewhere.
Regulators question the scientific methods used and said some studies cited did not show POM Juice to be effective against the diseases. The claims in POM ads that the FTC cites include - "New research offers further proof of the heart-healthy benefits of POM wonderful juice. 30 per cent decrease in arterial plaque ... 17 per cent improved blood flow ... promotes healthy blood vessels...."
- "Clinical studies prove that POM Juice and POMx prevent, reduce the risk of, and treat prostate cancer, including by prolonging prostate-specific antigen doubling time."
- "You have a 50 per cent chance of getting (prostate cancer). Listen to me. It is the one thing that will keep your (prostate-specific antigens) normal. You have to drink pomegranate juice. There is nothing else we know of that will keep your PSA in check.... It's also 40 per cent as effective as Viagra."
The complaint asks that future claims about pomegranate-based products comply with Food and Drug Administration regulations, although that is not typically required for compliance with trade laws. Having the FDA approve claims would give the company more guidance, the FTC said.
The agency also wants to prevent POM and its parents, founders and the executive "from making any other health claim about any food, drug, or dietary supplement without competent and reliable scientific evidence".
Millions of people who take daily vitamin pills could be putting themselves at risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer. Research has revealed that supplements containing antioxidants and minerals appear to increase the chances of developing a malignant melanoma.
Volunteers given pills containing vitamin E, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc were four times more likely to get cancer than those who took dummy pills.
The findings come from a follow-up study to one in 2007, which revealed the risks to vitamin-pill poppers. The results of that research, by French scientists, showed that out of 13,000 adults, those who took daily supplements to stay healthy were at much higher risk of skin cancer.
To double-check their findings, the same team monitored patients for several more years. These results, published in the latest European Journal of Cancer Prevention, confirm that the increased risk virtually disappeared once patients stopped daily supplements.
Now scientists behind the research, carried out at the National Centre for Rare Skin Diseases in Bordeaux, are calling for those most at risk of skin cancer – fair-skinned types or those with a history of excessive sun exposure – to steer clear of supplements.
Women may be more at risk than men, possibly because they have more fat around the skin, where antioxidants and vitamins are mainly stored.
Malignant melanomas kill around 1,700 a year in the UK and are the third most common cancer in those aged 15 to 39. Over-exposure to the sun’s rays is the biggest cause and since the mid-1990s there has been a 24 per cent increase in cases.
So far, the only proven way of reducing risk is to use high-protection creams and wearing suitable clothing. But it had been widely assumed that taking antioxidants would reduce the risk, since supplements theoretically protect the skin against damage from the sun’s rays. The latest study, however, suggests supplements have the opposite effect.
Scientists do not think taking vitamins actually causes malignant melanoma, rather it somehow speeds up the development of a tumour.
The findings are likely to heighten concerns about over-use of vitamins. Earlier this year, Swedish researchers found that taking daily multi-vitamin pills raised the risk of breast cancer in women by almost 20 per cent. They said supplements could increase the density of breast tissue, a known risk factor for cancer.
It is estimated that nearly a quarter of all adults in the UK take antioxidant supplements or multi-vitamins on a regular basis. The market is worth around £500million a year.
Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health Supplements Information Service, which represents supplement suppliers, said other studies had found no link between vitamins and skin cancer. She added the low number of skin cancer cases in the French research also cast doubt on the results.
Cancer Research UK stressed that vitamins and minerals found in foods did not appear to harm skin in the same way. A spokesman said: ‘The best way to reduce the risk is to avoid sunburn.’