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Read Original Story

A bowlful of ‘super berry’ claims backed by zero evidence

Rating

2 Star

Categories

'Super' berry may help boost memory, heart health

Our Review Summary

medicine hunterThis story is part profile of an entrepreneur and part promotion for the schisandra berry, a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) botanical supplements that’s being cultivated in Massachusetts.

The reporting is from ethnobotanist and self-proclaimed “Medicine Hunter” Chris Kilham. And like another Kilham segment on Fox News highlighted previously on HealthNewsReview.org — that one on the psychoactive ayahuasca — this new story is strong on astonishing claims and absent one lick of evidence.

 

Why This Matters

The nutritional supplement market is one of the fastest growing sectors, with Americans spending $25 billion on supplements in 2014 and the global market reaching $90 billion, according to The Economist and Euromonitor, a market-research firm. The health effects, safety and expense of questionable supplements gained significant media attention earlier this year following a New York attorney general’s office investigation that found many dietary supplements sold in some of our largest drug store and supplement chains were mislabeled, lacked active ingredients, and were made under inferior manufacturing processes. The FDA does not evaluate supplement-related claims before these products go on sale, so it has fallen to the media (and their watchdogs) to alert the public about the potential risks and other downsides of dietary supplements. Sadly, neither Fox’s Dr. Manny nor “the Medicine Hunter” served the public good with their one-sided promotion of this dietary supplement component. The story is little more than a string of wild claims accompanied by little if any context.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No costs are mentioned. The story positions the Massachusetts producer of schisandra profiled in the story as a pioneer. One gets the impression the company is a sole provider. However, a quick web search yielded dozens of U.S. schisandra berry vendors. The costs range from $3.69 for 100 – 580 mg capsules to $38 for 2 ounces of freeze-dried schisandra berries.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

According to the many claims in the story and the accompanying video, the berry can help you live longer, sharpen your mind, give you energy and improve your sex life. Some examples of claimed benefits:

  • “prolong life, retarding the aging process, increasing energy, as a fatigue-fighter, and as a sexual tonic”
  • “longevity promoting”
  • “possesses significant protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity”
  • “one of the most highly protective of all medicinal plants”
  • “for improving energy and mental health”
  • “improves concentration, coordination and endurance”
  • “helps to prevent mental fatigue and increases accuracy and quality of work”
  • “superior mind-sharpening powers”
  • “first-rate liver-protective benefits”
  • “helps in the treatment of hepatitis”

Not one piece of data is provided or source named. The story alludes to “cases” and studies but without references such allusions should be considered suspect at best.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No mention is made of the harms documented with the schisandra berry. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (consumer version via WebMD), schisandra can cause heartburn, upset stomach, decreased appetite, stomach pain, skin rash, and itching. It’s not recommended for people who are pregnant or breast-feeding, people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcers, epilepsy, or high intracranial (brain) pressure. Because the FDA has not studied its safety, it is unknown whether it conflicts with other medications. Some natural supplements, such as St. John’s Wort, are known to be dangerous for people on certain types of anti-depressants.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

Again, not one iota of evidence was provided to let a potential consumer judge whether schisandra berry would be an effective treatment for them. There have been some published studies, primarily in Chinese medical journals involving a small number of volunteers. In addition, there have been several schisandra berry studies published in Western medical journals but these have predominantly been animal studies.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There is no evidence of disease-mongering.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

There are no independent sources. The only source is Chris Kilham, who teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and whose field work is funded by Naturex of Avignon, France, a dietary supplement manufacturer. In light of its other weaknesses, the story should have included an interview with the expert grower profiled. An independent health expert should also have been brought in to discuss the evidence on schisandra.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The article doesn’t compare the berry with any other supplements or pharmaceuticals that might confer the benefits described in this story.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story notes that the cultivator profiled has been selling the berries since the 1990s.  We can assume that the berry is available at stores that sell dietary supplements.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

There’s no novelty hook to the story. It’s a profile of a grower and a list of proposed benefits of the schisandra berry. Why is this news?

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

We found no related news release. And since the embedded news segment shows Kilham on location at what appears to be a berry farm, we can assume that some independent reporting was done.

Total Score: 3 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments (2)

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Chris Kilham

September 29, 2015 at 7:57 am

Hi
This is surprising to me, in that the studies to which I refer are published and available. You have to ignore a lot of good clinical evidence to ignore it all! If you ever wish to get into the actual facts, please let me know. Happy trails- Chris Kilham, author of the article and on camera.

Reply

    Kevin Lomangino

    September 29, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Chris,

    What we’re looking for in stories like yours is for you to actually discuss the evidence that supposedly supports the claims you make. It’s not enough to make the claims and say that the product has been “extensively studied.” That’s not good enough. We want some discussion and analysis of that evidence because that’s what we think readers want and need in stories like yours. Don’t send the studies to us — put them in the story itself so that everyone can be informed.

    Kevin Lomangino
    Managing Editor

    Reply