The Internet is saturated with weight-loss ads for acai (pronounced "ah-sigh-ee"), a Brazilian berry that is turned into pills and juices. Sellers promise these supplements will melt fat and detoxify your body, in some cases implying that the products are endorsed by celebrities like Rachael Ray or Oprah Winfrey. Usually, they promise a free trial. There are so many of these products on the market that we're not covering all of them; rather, we're discussing acai berry as an ingredient in what's now hundreds of products.
You can find plenty of reviews for acai berry products, often linked to what appears to be somebody's personal weight-loss blog. However, experts say these purported reviews for acai berry weight-loss products are usually bougs. Furthermore, nutrition and health advocates say the supplements are ineffective, and many people complain of having been bilked by the "free" trials -- sometimes for hundreds of dollars.
Reliable research has shown that the berry does contain antioxidants. However, so do lots of ordinary fruits and experts say there is no proof that acai berries can improve health in any way or contribute to weight loss. Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray have both added disclaimers to their websites saying they don't endorse any specific acai berry products, even though they have both had guests on their TV programs discussing the health benefits of acai berries.
Thousands of people who have purchased acai berry weight-loss products have complained about Internet sellers to the Better Business Bureau. Most of them either have had trouble canceling their "free" trial (complaints include calling the toll-free number repeatedly and being automatically disconnected every time, finding the number out of order or being placed on hold for up to 75 minutes) or have been charged despite canceling their orders. Some consumers say they had to cancel credit cards and close bank accounts before the charges stopped, according to the BBB.
If you go looking for online reviews of acai berry products or acai sellers, be wary. Experts say many reviews, blog comments and entire blogs are staged by the companies themselves. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) credits a watchdog blog, WafflesAtNoon.com, for discovering that several weight-loss blogs -- supposedly belonging to ordinary women who lost weight with acai -- show the same fake before-and-after photos. At least 75 blogs show the same easily obtainable stock photo of a German model named Julia who has nothing to do with acai or any of the companies, CSPI says.
If you decide to try acai berry supplements or juices, buy them in a retail store so you're not sucked into a scam. Although there's no scientific evidence that acai berry products will help you lose weight, you might like the taste of the juices just as you would other fruit juices.
Government and nonprofit agencies -- including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Better Business Bureau and Connecticut attorney general's office -- have investigated allegations of acai-related online sales fraud. Both ABC News and The New York Times have reported on sellers' questionable claims. The blog WafflesAtNoon.com maintains a list of what the blogger says are fraudulent acai berry websites. DietsInReview.com says acai berry can have some positive health benefits, but is critical of the many impostor products out there. Both Oprah.com and RachaelRay.com deny any affiliation with specific acai products, although some doctors on Oprah.com recommend acai berry supplements in general, and Ray's site includes several recipes made with a specific brand of acai liqueur.
1. Center for Science in the Public Interest
This fraud alert by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest debunks acai berry's health claims, as well as the questionable Internet marketing practices used to sell it. Many online reviews of acai are fake, reporter David Schardt says.
Review: Web Self-Defense: How to Protect Yourself Against Internet Scams, David Schardt, April 2009
2. Good Morning America
This written report and accompanying video clip from ABC's "Good Morning America" outline the full-fledged scam that some researchers say is being perpetrated by some acai supplement companies. The reporter quotes experts from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Better Business Bureau, and she interviews a woman says she who lost nearly $200 in a "free" trial of acai.
Review: Warnings on Acai Berry Online Offers Amplify, Susan Donaldson James, March 23, 2009
3. The New York Times
This report concentrates on acai's health claims. Although acai berries do contain antioxidants, there is no reliable research to prove that they help with wrinkles, weight loss or detoxification. Reporter Abby Ellin also discusses consumer complaints about online sales of acai berry products.
Review: Skin Deep -- Pressing Acai for Answers, Abby Ellin, March 11, 2009
4. Better Business Bureau
The Better Business Bureau warns consumers to "be wary" of acai berry ads on the Internet. This report discusses the many consumer complaints lodged against two acai companies: FX Supplements.com (which sells Acai Berry Maxx) and Central Coast Nutraceuticals.
Review: Weight-loss Berry Claiming Oprah Endorsement Makes Wallets Slim and Consumers Angry Warns BBB, Editors of Better Business Bureau, Jan. 5, 2009
The Center for Science in the Public Interest credits this blog -- which CSPI says is "written by an ad-industry insider" -- for first uncovering the fake weight-loss blogs used to tout acai. The blogger lists more than 120 acai review and blog sites that he or she believes to be phony, along with a brief synopsis of each site and a list of the various acai and detoxification products that are advertised. It looks like the list of fake sites is updated roughly every year.
Review: Acai-Cleanse Scams -- Update, Jan. 14, 2010
6. Connecticut Attorney General's Office
Internet-based acai supplement sellers have improperly charged customers up to $89 during their free trials, according to this press release from the Connecticut attorney general's office. The press release also calls acai's health claims "deceptive."
Review: Attorney General Announces Acai Berry Investigation Involving Improper Credit Card Charges, Weight Loss Claims, Richard Blumenthal, March 23, 2009
Acai is the No. 1 food on this list attributed to celebrity dermatologist Nicholas Perricone. He recommends unsweetened acai pulp to "combat aging" and promote a healthy heart, muscles and digestion. However, both Perricone and Oprah Winfrey have said they do not endorse any specific acai products.
Review: Dr. Perricone's No. 1 Superfood: Acai, Editors of Oprah.com, July 15, 2010
Celebrity doctor David Katz says acai contains antioxidants, but it's unclear whether drinking acai berry juice can help prevent heart disease and cancer. He adds that less expensive, less exotic fruits probably deliver the same amount of antioxidants.
Review: The Truth About Drinking Acai Berry Juice, Dr. David Katz, Feb. 2008
Yet another celebrity doctor on Oprah.com, Mehmet Oz, includes acai as one of the antioxidant-rich foods on his anti-aging checklist. Oz says acai has "twice the antioxidant content as a blueberry."
Review: Dr. Oz's Anti-Aging Checklist, Dr. Mehmet Oz, March 14, 2008
A RachaelRay.com spokeswoman -- identified here only by her blog name -- says chef and TV host Rachel Ray does not endorse any acai berry products, and any use of Ray's name or photo to sell acai products is unauthorized. The post is followed by more than 170 comments, many from people who bought an acai product because they thought Ray endorsed it.
Review: Rachael Ray Does Not Endorse Acai Berry Products, "Last minute lady", Jan. 29, 2009
DietsInReview.com takes a balanced look at various diet plans, including acai berry. They cite "The Oprah Winfrey Show" guest Nicholas Perricone's list of super foods, which includes Acai berries, and say that the berry does contain antioxidants. They note, however, that there are many impostors and that the product is expensive. Hundreds of comments by contributors are a mixed bag, but many say acai berry diet products did nothing for them.
Review: Acai: an Organic Super Food from Brazil Packing a Healthy Dose of Nutrients., Editors of DietsInReview.com
The Pitch: "Freedom from hangovers"
April 2009. Chaser's pitch is simple: take two of these tablets when you start drinking, then two more periodically throughout the night, either after a certain number of hours or a certain number of drinks. According to the website, "specially processed calcium carbonate and charcoal" absorbs the impurities that cause hangovers. The website also claims that elaborate clinical trials have been conducted, but details are lacking.
Opinions of Chaser's effectiveness vary widely. There's no shortage of willing self-experimenters (mostly college students) who write about their experiences of going on drinking binges while taking the prescribed amount of tablets. Some say the pills work, while others complain they still woke up with hangovers. An amusing video on YouTube shows one willing guinea pig guzzling 10 beers and a margarita while taking Chaser; the next morning he says he feels fine, though he complains of mild side effects (including a "buzzing" sensation). Most of the Chaser reviews on Drugstore.com are very positive, with users stressing that you need to take the pills while, and not after, you're drinking.
What explains these wildly different experiences? An article on HowStuffWorks.com, "How Hangovers Work," suggests that Chaser (and other anti-hangover pills) is meant to be taken with liberal amounts of water -- a full glass with the first dose, a full glass with the second dose, a full glass when going to bed and waking up, etc. Drinking copious amounts of water has long been known to mitigate the dehydrating effects of alcohol, so the effectiveness of pills like Chaser may have more to do with the water than the ingredients.
1. The Badger Herald
In this article from the official student newspaper of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, reporter Molly Webb describes how she and her friend took Chaser pills while on an all-night drinking adventure. No luck: they both woke up the next morning with "horrible" hangovers.
Review: Hangover Pill Catastrophe, Molly Webb, Oct. 15, 2004
John Watson works his way through a 12-pack of Killian's Red while taking the prescribed amount of Chaser tablets; he says the pills work as intended, and ascribes his "dry mouth" to not drinking enough water the night before.
Review: Chaser -- Hangover Cure in Pill Form, John Watson, Aug. 24, 2007
In the section of her article devoted to OTC hangover remedies, Perry points out that the effectiveness of pills like Chaser may have more to do with the full glasses of water you're supposed to swallow them with. She allows that Chaser may be slightly more effective than other pills because it contains activated carbon, which can filter out certain impurities. However, there is no indication that the article has been reviewed by a medical review board, and there is no indication that Perry has medical or scientific credentials.
Review: How Hangovers Work, Lacy Perry
In this (somewhat) amusing clip, the anonymous 30-something reviewer downs 10 beers and one giant margarita in the course of a night, all while taking the prescribed dose of Chaser pills. He reports feeling fine the next morning, though he does say (later on in the day) that he feels slightly queasy and "buzzy."
Review: Testing Chaser Hangover Pills, "txitalian", May 31, 2006
Most of the 20 or so users posting to this site have overwhelmingly positive things to say about Chaser; they stress that it's important to follow the directions on the bottle and take the pills while, and not after, you're drinking. A handful of users say they experienced no benefit from taking the Chaser, however, and awoke with hangovers anyway.
Review: Chaser Freedom from Hangover, Caplets, Contributors to Drugstore.com
Zerosmoke consists of a pair of 24-karat gold-plated magnets that attach to your ear, promising to cure you of the desire to smoke. The magnets, which are meant to be worn for two to four hours a day, supposedly trigger acupuncture pressure points on the outer ear to eliminate cigarette cravings by activating neurotransmitters in the brain.
It's hard to find credible, independent evaluations of this product, although the Zerosmoke website contains several glowing reviews. We did find some interesting posts on Amazon.com, where a handful of users give Zerosmoke the lowest possible rating. One user says "the only people this product is going to help are the hopelessly suggestive and the predators that profit from selling to the suggestive."
An unscientific test by TV station KVBC gets mixed results: One couple says they quit smoking for the week they wore Zerosmoke, while another test subject says the magnets were too painful to wear (a complaint echoed by other users). Some reviewers posting at ComplaintsBoard.com say the advertised 14-day free trial is deceptive, complaining that they were charged the full amount before their trial period expired.
1. KVBC (Las Vegas)
In this piece, a Las Vegas reporter asks smokers to try out Zerosmoke. One couple says they stopped smoking for the week they wore the product, while another test subject says "it was just too painful to keep on for the recommended amount of time." The article goes on to compare Zerosmoke to Chantix, a federally approved drug that has been shown to be effective in clinical trials.
Review: Two Stop Smoking Aids Put to the HealthLine 3 Test, Nov. 16, 2007
As you can guess from the name of this site, not many of the Zerosmoke users posting here are satisfied with the product. One user suggests people "contact the FTC and review the files on hand. There is NO medical or other actual case studies that show there is any evidence what so ever for this to work." Others complain about deceptive marketing practices, with users being charged the full $39.95 before the two-week trial period has expired.
Review: Zerosmoke Complaints, Contributors to ComplaintsBoard.com
Of the 10 reviews posted here, seven have the lowest possible rating (1 star), while the others are 5-star raves. One user says "the only people this product is going to help are the hopelessly suggestive and the predators that profit from selling to the suggestive." More practically, he adds that the magnets are "incredibly light, small, hard to see, and very easy to lose."
Review: Zerosmoke Smoking Cessation Product, Contributors to Amazon.com