Web sites promoting products supposedly containing the antioxidant resveratrol and antioxidant-rich acai berry juice have been springing up across the Internet. Some vendors are offering free trials that end up costing consumers their hard-earned cash. And some are sending annoying pop-up ads hawking their products as well as advertising on Google search results. They can even be found on www.webmd.com.
Our advice on these sites, and these products, is: Buyer beware.
On May 24th, “60 Minutes” re-aired its January report on the possible life-extending properties of resveratrol—a substance mostly found in grapes, red wine, and purple grape juice. Last year, Oprah Winfrey’s medical expert, Mehmet Oz, M.D., mentioned resveratrol and acai berries on his anti-aging checklist.
One site that’s pushing a resveratrol product actually has video from the "60 Minutes" report and a photo of Dr. Oz. Some sites even use the doctor’s name in their Web address. But the Oprah Web site has issued a notice that neither Oprah nor Dr. Oz has endorsed any product containing resveratrol or acai berry.
At www.droz-resveratrol-trial.com, you’ll find “Dr OZ’s – Perfect Match Tool” that you can use to enter your age and weight to find the “perfect free trial” for resveratrol. Navigate to the “Terms” page, and you’ll read that the site “is in no way affiliated wit Dr. Oz,” including the misspelling of “with.” As with other sites we checked, an annoying popup window prevented us from navigating elsewhere unless we confirmed that we wanted to leave.
In January, the Better Business Bureau issued its own warning about Web sites using “misleading sales and marketing practices” to promote acai berry products. Consumer complaints to the BBB alleged unauthorized charges to credit cards and bank accounts and difficulty contacting the companies and cancelling subscriptions.
We’ve also noticed numerous posts on Web-based message boards, including the one on Oprah’s Web site, alleging similar problems in connection with the marketing and sales of these types of products, some in recent days. One of our staffers reported receiving annoying pop-up ads on her computer from companies hawking resveratrol products.
In a twist, some sites with official-sounding names display warnings about ineffective resveratrol products and then go on to list products they’ve supposedly approved. We’ve seen this trick used before with other marketing efforts, including on sites advertising opportunities for mystery shoppers.
In January, Consumer Reports said that evidence on the health benefits of acai berries is scant. In 2008, we blogged about promising study findings on the heart-healthy benefits of red and white wine; however, it was not clear that resveratrol was the beneficial component. In 2007, we reported on research findings that resveratrol helped mice live longer. It is not clear whether concentrated resveratrol is effective and safe in humans.
But even if these substances are beneficial, there’s no guarantee that they’re in any of the products being marketed as containing resveratrol, especially from Web sites using misleading and annoying tactics. Dietary supplements aren’t subjected to the same government scrutiny as prescription drugs, even though some promoters insinuate curative properties.
The bottom line
CU’s medical consultants advise consumers to be wary of formulations of resveratrol or acai berries being marketed on the Web and in health food stores. While the encouraging test tube and experimental animal research, with purified resveratrol, has yielded some beneficial results, any extrapolation to humans leaves much to be desired – not the least of which are quantitative and safety aspects of its use. For now, let’s raise a glass of red wine or grape juice to current skepticism and future enlightenment.—Anthony Giorgianni