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September 1, 2014

Some Online Stores Make Shoppers Buy Vitamins Blindly

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:57 am

 A few months ago we stressed the importance of reading the ingredients statement on vitamin bottles because some store brands that claim to be comparable to the name brand simply are not. (See our CVS vs. Bausch + Lomb story.)

While it is relatively easy to compare bottle labels in a store aisle, the same cannot always be said about shopping online for vitamins. A review by Consumer World and Mouse Print* of major online retailers that sell vitamins reveals that several of the biggest companies publish little or no information about the ingredients in their products.

EquateFor example, Walmart sells the Equate brand as their store brand. If you were interested in getting their version of Centrum Silver because it is $10 a bottle cheaper, you would find it impossible to know in advance whether it really was equivalent because Walmart does not publish the ingredients listing. All Walmart says on their website with respect to ingredients for Equate Multivitamin Active Adult 50+ is (*MOUSE PRINT:) “This multivitamin supplement contains vitamin D, K, B12, as well as calcium.” The real Centrum Silver has about 30 vitamins and minerals. While the Equate version may or may not have all the vitamins in the same amounts as Centrum Silver, you would have to make a trip to store to find out.

And even if they published the so-called “Supplement Facts” for Equate — the box on the back of vitamin bottles showing each vitamin, the amount in each pill, and what percentage of the daily requirement was provided — you couldn’t compare it to the list for Centrum Silver because Walmart’s website doesn’t disclose that brand’s contents either.

Walmart is not alone in failing to publish these ingredients lists. A brief review of Target’s website and that of Rite Aid reveals they are missing complete vitamin ingredients labels in many cases too.

For example, Target’s Up & Up store brand of Gummy Prenatal Multivitamins claims to be comparable to Vitafusion Prenatal. All it says in the description is that it “Contains 800 mg of Folic Acid as well as 50 mg of DHA per serving.” Target’s website does not disclose the ingredients in the brand name either other than to say it contains folic acid and DHA. The real Vitafusion Prenatal product has these ingredients according to the company’s own website:

*MOUSE PRINT:

supplement facts

Some other vitamins on Target’s website, like the Up & Up version of Centrum Silver, seemingly lists all the ingredients, but only for three of the over 30 ingredients does it disclose how much of that particular vitamin or mineral is contained in each pill.

Moving onto the big three drug chains in the United States, while both CVS and Walgreens disclose all the “supplement facts” for their vitamins, Rite Aid does not. Their store brand of Centrum does not disclose even one of the vitamins in the bottle, but it does disclose all the inactive ingredients/fillers:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Microcrystalline Cellulose, Gelatin, Croscarmellose Sodium, Stearic Acid, Polyvinyl Alcohol, Titanium Dioxide, Polyethylene Glycol, Magnesium Stearate, Silicon Dioxide, FD&C Yellow 6 Lake.

For Centrum itself, Rite Aid’s website offers this helpful information:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Centrum

We asked Walmart, Target, and Rite Aid why they don’t always disclose the content of vitamins they sell online, and whether they would begin doing so to help shoppers know what they are buying and enable them to compare one product to another.

Walmart responded:

[paraphrasing] Suppliers did not always provide the ingredients to us, but our company is committed to getting complete ingredient information on the website. — Walmart.com spokesperson

Target responded (in disappointing, non-apologetic PR speak):

“At Target, we strive to comply with all applicable regulations. We continually evaluate and make enhancements to the product assortment and information provided on Target.com.” — Target spokesperson

Rite Aid responded:

“Improved product descriptions, including ingredient listing, is a section of our website that we have already identified as an area for improvement. We are currently in the process of developing additional solutions, which we expect to launch in the near future, that will provide more product details to our online shoppers, enhancing their shopping experience and allowing them to make informed purchases.” — Rite Aid spokesperson

The Food and Drug Administration does not require “supplement facts” disclosures on websites, saying, “The FDA does not generally specify how online sellers of dietary supplements should display information about dietary ingredients in their products on websites.”

When examples of online sites failing to make full disclosure of vitamin contents were shown to the FDA, their spokesperson indicated it would probably take an act of Congress to get the agency to require ingredients listings online.

Let’s hope that online companies will recognize the inexplicable disservice they are currently offering and that they all begin making full ingredient disclosures to shoppers voluntarily.

• • •

June 30, 2014

Don’t Assume the Store Brand is Comparable

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:30 am

 Many savvy shoppers automatically grab the store brand even when it comes to health products.

In fact, the store brand often says that it is comparable to XYZ name brand right on the package. For example, this package of CVS “Advanced Eye Health” sits right next to Bausch + Lomb’s PreserVision AREDS 2 Formula on store shelves and says in large letters “comparable to ongoing study formula in AREDS 2.”

PreserVision vs. CVS

PreserVision AREDS 2 formula contains all the ingredients from the second of two studies that were shown to be effective in slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a very serious eye condition leading to partial blindness. This particular combination of vitamins and minerals resulted from years of testing sponsored by the federal government through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “AREDS 2″ refers to this second and the most recent completed five-year study reported on in May 2013. So, it is very important for any product that is promoted to be a comparable product to mirror the list of ingredients that has proven successful in these tests.

A review of the two ingredients panels reveals some big surprises:

*MOUSE PRINT:

ingredients comparison

Keep in mind that the Bausch + Lomb product on the left has the exact ingredients that were found to be the most effective in the most recent study. The formula is patented.

The CVS product on the right has only two of the six ingredients that were judged most effective in the most recent study, plus omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids were in fact tested in the AREDS 2 study, but deemed not to improve the efficacy of the product. Bausch + Lomb removed the omega-3 from the current formula because the study found that “Omega-3 fatty acids … clearly do not reduce the risk of progression to advanced AMD.” CVS did not remove it.

So one really has to wonder with only two of the six ingredients that were found to have any effect, what value is there in taking the CVS product? Consumers are likely grabbing this product to save money based on the label claim, and not realizing the formulation is different. In so doing, they are likely under the mistaken belief that it will help slow the progression of macular degeneration.

We asked CVS to comment on the stark differences between PreserVision and the CVS brand. We wanted to know how they could call it “comparable” to the AREDS 2 formulation, since it only had two of the six ingredients found to work.

The packaging of our CVS/pharmacy Advanced Eye Health states that it is comparable to the “ongoing study formula in AREDS2.” No comparison is made to the national brand product.

When this product was launched in July 2012, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) was ongoing. CVS/pharmacy Advanced Eye Health dietary supplement was formulated with the same nutrients as used in one of the study arms. The “comparable to” claim was designed to invite consumers to compare the product to the study arm while noting the ongoing nature of the clinical trial. The packaging also notes that there were other formulations being studied.

We are in the process of removing this statement from the product packaging now that the results of the AREDS2 study have been released. — CVS Director of Public Relations

CVS is correct that they don’t compare their product to PreserVision directly and their claim refers to the “ongoing” tests. But the tests referred to are long over. And, the Bausch + Lomb product is the final AREDS 2 formulation as found in the AREDS 2 study. It says “AREDS 2″ on the label, and it sits right next to the CVS version on store shelves. Given that, consumers will inevitably make the comparison to PreserVision and assume the CVS version is the same. They are not likely to go off and do medical research to read the full study to understand what was being tested and how it compared to the CVS product.

CVS, however, appears to be incorrect when it says that the ingredients in its product are “the same nutrients as used in one of the study arms.” The study was very complex, but basically it took the original AREDS formulation of vitamins and minerals and tested ADDING things to it. In one part of the test, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3s were added to the basic AREDS formula. The CVS product however, ONLY has those three added ingredients and none of the original proven AREDS ingredients. To analogize, imagine if CVS was coming out with a new detergent plus bleach product. It added bleach to the detergent bottle, but did not put in the main ingredient, the actual detergent.

Lastly, while it is good that CVS has agreed to remove the comparability claim from its packaging, they should have done that a year ago when the AREDS 2 study was finished and released. And they probably should remove the current product from store shelves pending the revision of the packaging claims.

Should CVS continue to market this product with its current formulation either expressly or impliedly as being comparable to either the AREDS 2 formula or to Bausch + Lomb’s PreserVision, you have to understand that it has not been proven to slow the progression of a disease that could rob you of your vision.

If you purchased CVS Advanced Eye Health, please post a comment indicating what your experience was, what you believed you were buying, and how you feel about the revelation that it is not the equivalent of the AREDS 2 formula.

• • •

June 23, 2014

Corn Oil Lowers Cholesterol More Than Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:51 am

  A full page ad from Mazola Oil in a recent Sunday coupon insert, made an astounding claim:

Mazola

What? Corn oil is better for you than olive oil? There is a block of almost unreadable fine print at the bottom of the page. It reads in part:

*MOUSE PRINT:

“…Very limited and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1 tbsp (16 grams) of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in corn oil. FDA concludes there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim. To achieve this possible benefit, corn oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”

How limited was the test? According to a summary of the results, the theory was only tested on 54 people.

Two other points:

  • Mazola seems to be claiming that eating just one tablespoon of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease. Yet, the test they conducted required subjects to eat FOUR tablespoons a day.
  • Mazola shared the cost of this study, and it does not appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

    The question becomes whether it is fair to tout this health claim in big headlines with such a limited test? We asked the makers of Mazola to comment on this and the discrepancy in the amount of oil needed to achieve the claimed benefits, but they failed to respond.

  • • • •

    June 16, 2014

    Drinkable Sunscreen?

    Filed under: Health,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:59 am

    Harmonized Water  Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to slather oily sunscreen all of your body when you go to the beach?

    Sensing a business opportunity, a company called Osmosis Skincare and its founder Dr. Ben Johnson, created “Harmonized Water.” You are directed to add 2 ml. of this specially infused water to two ounces of regular water, and drink it an hour before going out in the sun.

    The makers claim:

    “Achieve UV protection before the sun even hits you with our innovative new technology that isolates the precise frequencies needed to neutralize UVA and UVB.”

    “Allows for increased sun exposure (30x more than normal)”

    How exactly does this work?

    “It helps to balance tissue disharmonies by delivering beneficial radio frequencies to the cells using water as a carrier. The frequencies we use have been determined by a proprietary math formula that allows us to reverse engineer most substances to determine their actual vibrational rate. We then imprint these frequencies on water molecules by forming standing waves (waves that pulse from rest). We can communicate to the cell with a language that is better recognized and more specific than the frequencies of commonly used remedies.”

    Did you follow all that mumbo-jumbo?

    According to scores of testimonials on the company’s website, the product really works (surprise)! However, the American Academy of Dermatology felt compelled to issue a public warning about this product last month:

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    Recently, there has been media coverage about “drinkable sunscreen” that claims to provide sun protection through the ingestion of water that allegedly has been infused with electromagnetic waves.

    The American Academy of Dermatology (Academy) wants to alert consumers that this drink should not be used as a replacement for sunscreen or sun-protective clothing. There is currently no scientific evidence that this “drinkable sunscreen” product provides any protection from the sun’s damaging UV rays.

    Sunscreen is the only form of sun protection that is regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 has been scientifically proven to prevent sunburn and reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging caused by the sun. The Academy continues to recommends that you still seek shade, wear sun-protective clothing and wide-brimmed hat, and apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. For more sun protection tips, visit www.SpotSkinCancer.org.

    So, save your $30 for three ounces of this suntan miracle.

    • • •

    May 12, 2014

    Blue Buffalo: “Never has Chicken/Poultry By-Product Meals” ?

    Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:32 am

      Blue Buffalo, a maker of premium pet food, proclaims in advertising that meat is “always” the first ingredients in its products and it “never” has chicken/poultry by-product meals. It even invites consumers to compare their favorite brand to Blue Buffalo.

    Blue Buffalo

    Never say never, just in case a competitor like Purina decides to have your products tested to see if the claims are true. And that is exactly what Purina did, using an independent lab to test Blue Buffalo products.

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    Blue Buffalo

    And after getting the results, Purina filed sued (see complaint) last week against Blue Buffalo for false advertising and product disparagement. And they set up a website to tell the world about it.

    While Purina says they tested Blue Buffalo products purchased from retail stores on the East and West coasts, they didn’t say how many products were tested in total. On the issue of whether Blue Buffalo contained any chicken by-products in the kibble itself, Purina seems to have only found three bags that did.

    We asked Purina how many bags they actually purchased and tested, but their PR person did not return our call.

    For its part, the founder of Blue Buffalo said, “We categorically deny all of these false allegations and will aggressively defend the integrity of our brand and our products.”

    Thanks to Richard G. for the tip about this story.

    • • •
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