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Herbalife Review

Herbalife Review
5.3 Total Score
Reading Time: 8 minutesCorrect me if I’m wrong, but I believe Wachters Organic Sea Products, founded in 1932, is the oldest multi-level marketing (MLM) company in the country. And though it wasn’t the first to tap into Mother Earth for nutrients, it was the first to make it a business through direct sales and a pyramid-like distribution model. [1]  So it was nutritional diet supplements got the MLM business rolling, and this train has been moving along at a clip since, with household names like Shaklee, Amway, and Avon—all successful MLM models. But of all those, you’ll only find Herbalife, founded in 1956, on this Top 10 list. [2]   Herbalife, obvious from its name, too is all about nutrition, specifically weight management, athletic nutrition and skin care and other body care products. [3]

Herbalife Claims

The Herbalife product line includes weight management, targeted nutrition, energy, fitness and skin and other body care, its site says. This review of Herbalife is focused on weight loss, or as the company prefers, “weight management.”   So the big question is, does Herbalife work in weight loss? Herbalife says if you’ve been unsuccessful in your battle with your weight, its products are for you. “Combining cutting-edge science with delicious shakes and snacks, Herbalife’s Weight Management products can help you lose those unwanted pounds.” [4]  So there it is: its shakes, snacks and supplements can help you lose weight. At least that’s what it claims. But how, exactly?   Herbalife weight management products—especially Herbalife shakes, known as Formula 1 meal replacements—are among the “core products” needed for weight loss, the company says, which also includes Formula 2 Multivitamin Complex and supplement Cell Activator, which the Herbalife claims will “maximize your health and fitness goals.” [5]  But the idea is to purchase additional products as well: “…these products are the core of your program, but you can add in other products that address your specific health goals.”   Herbalife says its meal replacement shakes are easy to make, come in many flavors and contain 21 essential vitamins and minerals. Herbalife says each Formula 1 shake contains 9 grams of protein and fiber which “help support weight management.” (A quick note about flavors; it will run you $29.10 for vanilla, and up to $46 for shakes with non-genetically modified ingredients.) Formula 1 shakes include protein, fiber and essential nutrients that can help support metabolic function at the cellular level, Herbalife says. And pay attention here: to lose weight, Herbalife says to replace two meals per day with their shakes and have a third “nutritious” meal. There’s 30-day money back guarantee, but only through Herbalife distributors. [6]  So twice a day you blend 2 scoops of Formula 1 powder with ice and 8 fluid ounces of nonfat milk or soy milk, and you may add fresh fruits. This meal replacement shake has directions for kids from age 4 and up, though it says it’s “not intended to be used for weight management for kids.” Still.   I won’t wait to share my bottom line to let you know this is a big “no way” for me and should be, in my opinion, a potential red flag for you. Why? For starters, don’t replace your child’s meals with some so-called nutritional shake; just feed them the best food you can afford. And secondly, the ingredients. But we’ll get to that shortly.  The second core product for weight loss is the Herbalife Formula 2 multivitamin, which contains 21 essential micronutrients including: antioxidant Vitamins A (as beta-carotene), C and E; folic acid, calcium and iron; antioxidant Vitamin (C, E and beta carotene), which supports your immune system; and overall, the vitamin promotes healthy bones, skin and hair, Herbalife says.  None of these claims have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Herbalife says responsibly. (It hasn’t always been so responsible, as you’ll soon read.) This supplement runs $25 for a one-month supply.   The Formula 3 Cell Activator supplement supports normal mitochondrial function with alpha-lipoic acid, and may help the body’s absorption of micronutrients with aloe vera. Alpha-lipoic acid helps regenerate antioxidant activity within the cells and is known to combat oxidative damage by free radicals on mitochondria by recycling other antioxidants within the cell. Mitochondria are known as the “powerhouse” of the cell. They produce energy for numerous biological processes. [7]  One other product—though not listed in its core products for weight loss—is Prolessa Duo, to add to one of your meal replacement shakes if “snacking or overeating may be a challenge.” Prolessa Duo is a “unique formula that helps to significantly reduce caloric intake, promote body fat loss and create a feeling of fullness.” A 30-day is $106 (or $87.99 on Amazon). [8]

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Herbalife Weight Management Ingredients

The Herbalife Formula 1 shake mix has some 45 ingredients. That’s a lot.   The biggest complaint about its ingredients is that most are genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but also that there’s a laundry list of other stuff that just doesn’t sound like a good mix with the word “nutrition”—including MSG, fructose, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors and colors. And the caffeine question naturally rears its head, but caffeine is found in you-name-it weight-loss products so we’ll assume that as a given.   The emulsifier carrageenan, in miniscule doses, may damage cell-mediated immunity and cause tumor growth. Herbalife used to contain the dreaded ephedra, but no longer. It does contain lead, although like many supplement manufacturers it claims the very small amounts are found in naturally-occurring compounds.   Most people know if they are allergic to shellfish, which is found in some products, but in the spring of 2017 Herbalife recalled protein bars that contained a fish allergen the company had neglected to mention on the label—that kind of science is worrisome. [9]

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The Business of Herbalife

Many people sign on as company distributors, in part to earn extra income, but many get on board with product rather than cash as compensation. If one truly believes in a product, believes that it works and so tries to sell and bring others on board, that says something good about the company, doesn’t it?   Well, with more than three million distributors of Herbalife products in almost 100 countries around the globe, I suppose the answer is yes. A few—and I mean like one percent or thereabouts—make any real money. If you consider $400 a month real money. Some reports say of the 3.3 million-plus distributors, only around 1,300 (.002%) of them earned $50,000 in a year. So the bottom line is the distributor earns nothing, except for maybe products themselves, if that. Though apparently that’s good enough for millions of people. But Herbalife has come under serious legal scrutiny.   A wealthy hedge fund manager (a hedge fund is a group of investors willing to take a chance on high risk investments—often not even with their own money—to shoot for a big payoff) came after Herbalife, alleging it ran an illegal pyramid scheme.   Bill Ackman, then of Pershing Capital, investigated the company and claimed it was a fraudulent pyramid operation. In an effort to not get labeled as such by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—which had started an investigation in 2014—Herbalife paid millions, and promised to change the way it does business. Immediately after, Herbalife stock shot up, with billionaire Carl Icahn grabbing more than third of the company stock.   This is a complicated case, but it boils down to this: Herbalife had to make a “fundamental change” in the way it ran its business and instead of rewarding distributors of its products for bringing on new distributors, it had to reward them for selling product instead; it wasn’t fair or right, it was argued, to just bring more to the pyramid so the tiny top have all the dough and the bottom have, well, shakes, snacks and supplements. [10] [11] [12] Betting on Zero is a documentary film focused Ackman and his case against on Herbalife. The film was lauded at several film festivals in 2016. The movie zeroes in on how the company allegedly “deliberately targets low-income and immigrant communities and robs them of their life savings.” [13]   Not surprisingly, Herbalife criticized the film and even created a website using the name of the film as its domain name: BettingOnZero.com. There it lashes out at Ackman and alleges the film is an attack:

“The film is merely an attempt to manipulate the stock price of direct selling companies so investors can profit… (and is) part of a long list of one-sided depictions of Herbalife Nutrition, many of which have been funded by a Wall Street short seller.” [14]

Nonetheless, Betting On Zero received a lot of media attention and critical acclaim: [15]

“Mr. Ackman comes across as sincere in his outrage and cogent in his presentations. Even more valuable is the opportunity to meet and learn about Herbalife’s purported victims, from Queens to Chicago to Oklahoma,” says The New York Times reviewer Ben Kenigsberg. [16]

And the popular film site IMDb says,

“Writer/director Ted Braun follows controversial hedge fund titan Bill Ackman as he puts a billion dollars on the line in his crusade to expose Herbalife as the largest pyramid scheme in history.” [17]

In a separate incident, in 2014 the FDA ordered the company to stop running video ads that claimed the FDA approved its products; the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. Curiously—or perhaps not—in 2010 a former FDA official joined Herbalife as a high-ranking executive and it’s he who states in the video:

When I was director of dietary supplements at the FDA, I oversaw nutritional supplements, making sure they were safe and effective for use.”

The FDA wasn’t happy saying it had made “no such determination.” [18]  Finally, as I mentioned, Herbalife hired a former FDA official for big bucks. Well, it also hired one, possibly two, former FTC officials as well. Smart but smarmy, maybe? It’s not a surprise to me that civil servants would join the ranks of the private sector for whopping paychecks, which Herbalife could certainly afford. Bringing on board employees from the very agencies that have either criticized or regulated Herbalife gives the company a certain credibility, and those employees likely never earned in the public sector what they’re paid in the private sector by Herbalife.

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The Science (or Lack Thereof) Behind Herbalife

This section would have to focus on ingredients rather than a scientific review of the company’s nutraceuticals as a whole, as I have been unable to find such a comprehensive, overall study (and believe me, I searched and searched). So much of the description on Herbalife on its website and product labels sounds very scientific. Herbalife says it devotes tremendous resources to research and development of its products, but there are reports that may not be the case at all. [19]  But recently—perhaps to combat negative press and to comply with the federal settlement order to change the way it does business, or just in an effort to actually do more science on its product development—Herbalife opened another research and development facility—this one, like their manufacturing facilities, in India. [20]  And allegedly, an Herbalife plant in India was recently raided and product seized. The report is from an Indian daily newspaper, but I was unable to find any US-based reference. That said, Herbalife’s manufacturing plant is in Nagpur, India. It’s unclear what product was seized and why. (I’ll follow this.) [21] [22]

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Word on the Street about Herbalife

Sold on Amazon.com by authorized distributors, Herbalife reviews generally run fairly positive overall. The problem for me is that there’s no way to know if the 4- and 5-star reviews are legit; in other words, arent posted by Herbalife distributors.   For example, of the most recent 5-star reviews, more than a dozen have the exact same headline: “Five Stars!” I found that odd. And one other note: Of the 1-star reviews, of which there were just 25, most complained of problems with the product and listed side effects—a few agreed, included hair loss! Check out the Amazon reviews for Prolessa Duo I located to see more. [23]   I suppose one could argue that with multi-millions of people in 95 countries using, or at least buying, Herbalife products, the company must be doing something right. Then again, the $60 billion weight-loss industry includes Herbalife, which had an operating income of more than $650 million in 2015, making it a big chunk of the weight-loss pie. And there’s a lot to go around. [24]  I went to Consumer Affairs, which is not only reputable but often includes verified and candid assessments. What I found was that of 183 reviews, the company earned a rating of 2 stars out of 5. More than 30 people said it’s a 5-star company, but 91 people gave it 1 star—and though it seems like a good number of those complaints have to do with the business model and how people feel ripped off, there are a number related to product that were alarming. And this one especially, since it comes from a distributor named Katarina.   I became a member in March, or end of February, I’m not sure. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it as a business or just stay a VIP client, my mentor, as they call themselves, tricked me into getting into business. I most definitely spent $500 dollars, more or less, in 4 months. I did see progress, but that was because of healthier diet, not the shake. I started getting hungry, they told me to get proteins to add to the shake, so I did. It tasted sweet, now it started tasting like it got bad. Then they told me to get aloe, I did and added it to my tea, I couldn’t drink tea without aloe anymore. I doubt it’s a healthy product, and I tell you this as a distributor, as it contains artificial sugars which have a bad impact of your brain from what I know. [25]  But check the reviews out for yourself.

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The Bottom Line: Is Herbalife Worth a Try?

Definitely not.   I have several reasons for this opinion, not the least of which is I think we’re all much better off spending our hard-earned money on healthy foods full of nutrients. And, add in a brisk 30-minute walk or similar most days of the week, and slowly but surely the weight will come off. Trust me on this. I have been overweight my whole life, and I know that works.   Second, the idea that Herbalife suggests its meal replacements shakes (and other products) are appropriate for children—little kids 4 and up—is a huge, “Are you kidding?” I would never have given any of these products to my kids; just saying.   Thirdly, it’s a business that makes some people very, very rich, but most just lose big time. I’m not a fan of MLM’s, but to each his own. That said, this scheme is—for me—just that: a scheme. And it’s not like this is an uninformed opinion; I have spent days researching Herbalife.   Lastly, it’s not like you just try Herbalife; you have to join: “Join Herbalife! Your journey to a healthy, active life starts here. Apply here!” it says on The MyHerbalife web page. [26]   My advice? Don’t do it.

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5.3 Total Score
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