Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Watch out for some PR about "Nuratrim" - wonder where the evidence is

Updated: 22 August 2012
I have just noticed that Nuropharm Ltd (trading as http://www.nuratrim.com the parent company of Nuratrim), has been added to the Advertising Standards Authority's list of 'non-compliant  online advertisers'.

"[The compliance team] has contacted Nuropharm Ltd several times about removing claims that Nutratrim is scientifically proven to assist weight loss, burn fat, reduce cholesterol, increase metabolism and reduce appetite." More details here.

Although this particular post gets most of its hits from people Googling for Nuratrim (along with other relevant keywords) this blog post has actually only received around 2,500 hits in total which is a bit pathetic really. I doubt Nuropharm's citation on the ASA's website will stop people sending money to buy a product for which there doesn't appear to be any good evidence though. As always, they win ;)

For independent reviews of the product I recommend having a look at its page on Amazon.



Occasionally I take a look at the MoreNiche affiliate forum (see 'further reading' below) to see what new pills, potions or salves their members are flogging. Affiliates do this by setting up websites to promote a product and then linking these sites to a separate site that sells it. Each affiliate adds a piece of code to their promotional pages and if their site routes more customers to the selling site and secures a sale, then they receive a payment. Naturally people are trying ways of making their site more prominent so that people will find theirs and be routed through to the payment site.

Based on the evidence of last Christmas there seems to be a reasonably strong correlation between what's being discussed on the forums and what gets plugged in the Daily Mail post-Christmas relating to weight loss. The MoreNiche people don't deal just in weight loss pills, teas or patches though they also have stuff to flog for people with acne or erectile problems. 

Something called Nuratrim has apparently joined the MoreNiche family and we're to expect some post-festive PR for it.

The affiliates have already registered some websites which will be used to promote it - I've tried to avoid giving them any Google juice by deliberately not making these active links.
buynuratrim.net
nuratrimreviews.com
nuratrimreview.net 
nuratrimreview.org and others a bit like this

and the main website for the product is here http://www.nuratrim.com /

It seems to be a herbal supplement containing the usual suspects and there are some claims made on the "Why Nuratrim works" page that I think are quite amusing. For one it says that the product "contains a blend of leading edge scientifically proven weight loss ingredients" - oh no it doesn't. These ingredients have cropped up in plenty of other products so I think that's just flannel. 

I'm really not sure about this "scientifically proven" bit - typically with these products a list of ingredients, and the evidence for them as individual ingredients, is given, rather than the evidence for the product. I don't know if anyone has done any testing on Nuratrim (a combination of four ingredients: glucomannan, licorice extract, green tea and capsicum extract) as a product rather than reporting information about the evidence for items individually. 
Interestingly the information given for capsicum refers to 'capsiplex' which is also another MoreNiche product.

Anyway, no evidence is given for Nuratrim, only for individual ingredients and none of that seems unusually impressive - certainly not enough to pin the sale of a product to, it all looks more like pilot studies.

No evidence at all offered for glucomannan, just information about what it is. Licorice extract is backed up with an 8 week study in 84 people - I'm not saying it's a bad study, more "steady on there, let's not sell products based on small short studies". There's actually a full reference given for the green coffee one (which looks interesting) so that might be worth looking at and finally I think there's enough information in the paragraphs on capsicum / capsiplex to find the study to which they refer, but again it seems like it might be a small study.

Last year the Mail was advertising products from Roduve (slimweight patch and Tava tea) but it looks like there were a lot of dissatisfied affiliates who didn't get payments in good time...

By the way, anyone can set up a website about this product ;-)
https://sites.google.com/site/nuratrimweightloss/



Here's how the story has unfolded... this is a kind of bloggytracker (idea pinched from The Guardian's Storytracker)

26 December 2011: because of the publication (well, less 'publication', more 'blurting') of a press release about this product in a newspaper today I wrote a brief follow-up post appealing to anyone writing about diet pills and patches to check the name of the product against the MoreNiche affiliate site. I think it's a safe bet that if it features there then the evidence might still be *cough* being gathered...

28 December 2011: yesterday (27 December 2011) I saw that the Daily Mail had written about the story and also checked the whois information for nuratrim.com and didn't find much (because I think they've made it private, which is fair enough) but did spot that Newstel Media Ltd had a mention there and from that company's own website it's conceivable that they are behind the PR and / or providing the telephone answering service for people to ring in to buy the product.

According to the cached version of the 'terms and conditions' the page used to say "We accept Credit Card, Debit Card payments via our secure on-line payment processing system, provided by Sage Pay and supported by Newstel Media Ltd." and now says "We accept Credit Card, Debit Card payments via our secure on-line payment processing system, provided by Sage Pay and supported by Advanced Health Ltd.". Advanced Health Ltd also have an Amazon store where they offer quite a range of products including Meratol, Capsiplex and things to grow eyelashes (!)

I added this story to the PRlapses blog (News that isn't).
Today (28 Dec) I spotted that the MoreNiche forum posse have clocked my blog posts (and page three) about their activity and have now made some posts on the forum private, including the ones I mentioned here. I've linked to the cached version of the forum post and of course I have a permanent copy (the cache will eventually disappear). A couple of the affiliates are also selling on their Nuratrim sites.

29 December 2011 
I re-read the Daily Mail article (Google suggests it was updated within the last 23 hours) and saw this line that I'd missed before, or it had been added. Quite cheering really "However, requests for the clinical evidence from the company has yet to be returned."  The Daily Mail doesn't seem to be that amenable to checking the cached pages so it may have been there all along and I just missed it, or they've added it in. I also hadn't seen the name of the company - Nuropharm Ltd which is behind the product, that info is available at Nuratrim's site but I hadn't noticed it.


30 December 2011
I caught wind of a new product - Capsiplex Plus - which is going to be advertised in the Daily Express (or probably the Sunday Express) on New Year's Day. Yet again evidence is offered for the individual ingredients yet the tiny pilot studies of the combined / complete product are mentioned but I failed to spot any publication details for these. 

31 December 2011
There's a member on the MoreNiche forum who seems to be of a skeptical mindset (no it's not me in disguise, honest!) and who has published several posts expressing concern about some of the marketing for Nuratrim (in particular the claims that it had been previously launched in the US). Today I spotted that he or she was concerned about fake nutritionists and doctors being used to lend credibility on websites, but according to the others commenting on his / her post they're real. No reason why they shouldn't be of course.


Results of a Google search for the text in bold


















7 December 2012
After indirectly getting in touch with The Telegraph to ask them to sort out their unwitting advert for Nuratrim they've now removed it (although at the time of writing the URL still indicates what might have been there http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wirecopy/8977974/Weight-loss-pill-which-burns-calories-of-40-minute-jog-goes-on-sale.html). This isn't much of a victory in retrospect as the mere fact that it was published at all is what allows MoreNiche affiliates to write stuff like "The Telegraph is a reputable and popular media source and now it has published a full-fledged article on Nuratrim."

This was not a 'full-fledged' article by any stretch, it was 'wire copy' which is a press release sent by the company or its PR agency, ie written by someone who wants to sell a product in the hope that a newspaper will write about it. The MoreNiche affiliate's website implies a degree of journalistic appraisal rather than straightforward churnalism - hopefully all this sort of nonsense will be magically sorted out by the Leveson inquiry, one can hope ;)   

You can easily tell if an "independent review site" really is by clicking on the 'buy' link which will undoubtedly be there. You'll have to keep your wits about you and also have View / Taskbar enabled but, if you don't blink, once you've clicked 'buy' and the company's page loads you should see the tell-tale sign of track.moreniche.com appearing in the taskbar, see pic below.


The taskbar usually appears in the left hand side of the window... sometimes on the right hand side ;)




16 January 2012
From the King's Fund weekly email alert on health policy...
Food supplements: guidance and FAQs
The responsibility for legislation on food supplements in England transferred from the Food Standards Agency to the Department Health on 1 October 2010.  Guidance and summary documents have been updated to reflect this change and update references.
19 January 2012
On further investigation it appears that Nuropharm formulate the pills and print labels for them "Nuropharm can handle basic design and vitamin label printing as well as more complicated requests" and may well distribute them as well. A commenter below has highlighted that Amazon has stopped selling Nuratrim - presumably that makes it a bit easier for the affiliates to do so instead.

3 June 2012
http://www.prlog.org/11854449-ex-hollyoaks-actress-has-revealed-that-she-uses-nuratrim-to-stay-in-shape.html - my favourite line is "The product has been mentioned in so many popular publications like The Daily Mail and The Telegraph" although it was actually removed, fairly promptly, from the Telegraph after another blogger (no, not me) got in touch with them about it.

22 August 2012
I have just noticed that Nuropharm Ltd (trading as http://www.nuratrim.com the parent company of Nuratrim), has been added to the Advertising Standards Authority's list of 'non-compliant  online advertisers'. More details here.

26 August 2012
Despite the 'advertorial' in The Telegraph for this product* was online for less than a week it seems to have done its work. I've had a look in the Amazon reviews (vastly negative) for the product and spotted a few references to the product being advertised in both the Tele and the Daily Mail. I've also found several copies of the Telegraph article (made available by MoreNiche as a banner) in use on a number of affiliates pages, for example this one.

* it was nothing more than a copy/pasted press release and the 'author' of the story was given as 'wire copy' which I believe means it wasn't written by anyone on the paper

Further reading
I discovered the MoreNiche forum at the end of December 2010 and wrote about a particular product that had been promoted in the Daily Mail. There's also a lot of information in there on how they use various forms of search engine optimisation (SEO) to flood Google with pages that lead anyone looking for these products to affiliate sites first of all. It's here that I learned about article spinning sites - Google doesn't tend to index identical content so by changing a few words here and there you can turn one article into tens, hundreds and increase your indexing and page rankings (all the pages link back to each other).

I noticed that a photograph I'd taken of an advert in Holland & Barrett for a tea had been picked up and used in sites that were trying to sell it. I also noticed that the comments I'd left below the photo on my own Flickr page were also picked up. This gave me the idea that if I created free images and added comments to them then these might be picked up as well - in this way I hoped to Trojan horse my way into scam sites by linking to something sensible and pointing out that there's no evidence for the product. It's been only mildly successful (in terms of stuff getting picked up) but I've honestly no idea if anyone's decided against buying something because they've seen one of my images and comments).


19 comments:

  1. It's coming up to Jan 1, peak time for miracle weight loss scams. Expect to see every quack and crook under the sun attempting to cash in on new year's resolution fever, because in the end the one thing that does not change is human nature. The secret of weight loss is to eat less and exercise more, and since eating is pleasurable and exercise is hard work people will always look for a way to avoid the necessary.

    My top tip for weight loss is: make as many journeys as you can without using a car. Bike, walk, bus and train all involve more physical activity than car travel.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I went on Nuratrim web page and complain that the pils don't seem to do anything for me despite the fact that I've been taking them for 3 weeks....and guess what?!
    My complaint has been removed within minutes!
    Now, I went back and did it again...again the same story!
    Go and have a look for yourselfs and see that all the comments are nice and praising the product...just because the bad, honest ones are always being removed.
    I would like to approach a paper to look into this scam called NURATRIM....and I will soon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi I too have taken it for last 2 weeks and it has had no affect what's so ever other than £39 down in my bank!

      Delete
  3. Thanks for your comment. To be fair though, just because a product doesn't work for you doesn't mean it wouldn't work for someone else - it comes down to the same problem, reliance on testimonials. We can't rely on someone's sayso that the product worked for them but equally it's not fair to rely on the opposite claim. We need proper evidence to go on.

    Until Nuropharm or Advanced Health or whoever it is that's responsible provides a reasonable quality of evidence for their claims then there is always going to be doubt about the product.

    I've been monitoring the MoreNiche affiliate forum (and affiliate websites) for some time and I think I'm getting to the point where I have enough information to send to the MHRA and the Advertising Standards Authority, as well as Trading Standards (as many, though not all, of the bridging pages are based in the UK). If you are having difficulty in getting a refund on your pills I would recommend contacting Trading Standards via your local Consumer Direct.

    If your comment appears on the page and is taken off later you can use Freezepage to make a copy of the page as proof that your comment was there and then has been removed. If it's that it hasn't been approved, so never showed up, then it's a bit harder. I suspect that most websites talking about Nuratrim are referral pages which are sending customers to the main selling page, so they are unlikely to host comments that paint the product in a negative light.

    Interestingly a number of these sites pre-empt the language of complaint by using words like fake and scam in the bridging sites themselves - I wrote about that here http://brodiesnotes.blogspot.com/2012/01/phen375-weight-loss-pills-reviewed.html

    Good luck with approaching a paper. Indirectly I raised it with The Telegraph who had published the PR story on their site and they removed it but by then it was too late.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for your help.
      Much appreciated!

      Delete
  4. Well guys, wanted to inform you that NURATRIM has been taken out from Amazon!
    Having managed to score only 1 STAR ....
    First step done!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Gosh... so it has! I don't really mind Amazon selling it or any other product - I just want them to be very clear about the claims made for their products and the evidence behind them.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I totally agree with you Jo!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Tony: Feb 25th... Onto my second batch of nuratrim... 6 weeks now and have lost a stone! Cannot say for sure it's the tablets as I have reduced by daily intake and been avoiding any fatty foods.... But normally my metabolism adjusts and weight loss stops... I appear to still be losing now at 1.5lbs a week and can't say I'm hungry at any time.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Interesting, and commendable - well done on your weight loss but, as you've already acknowledged, this anecdote can tell us nothing about any role that Nuratrim may or may not have played ;)

    I suppose what's really needed is to re-run your life for the last six weeks but with you taking inert pills as that might give us something to compare with. Obviously this is slightly impossible until we invent time-machines so what's usually done is to compare (simultaneously) people taking the real pill and people taking a dummy pill and see if there's any difference, all other things being equal (both groups follow the same diet and are gender / age matched etc).

    Without something like that we don't have a fair trial of the pills and can't draw much of a conclusion.

    At the moment we've no idea if these pills do anything or are safe (I presume they aren't dangerous given the ingredients list, but it's possible that the ingredients may interfere with other prescription medications. In other cases pills bought from the internet actually contain (illegal) real prescription medications - though that's not the case here.

    Thus far this page has only had 1,300 hits mostly from Google searches but some from Twitter. I'm under no illusion that I'm fighting a losing battle in keeping anyone informed about the insufficient evidence provided for this product ;)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Jo this is FANTASTIC research. MoreNiche is making money by conning consumers so OFT will be interested. ASA too! MHRA because these products are illegal.... Me just read Phen375, sounds like a drug to me and that forum is full of stories about more new con products?!

    Why don't you report them to:

    OFT: enquiries@oft.gsi.gov.uk (I rang them, they said e-mail here)

    ASA: http://www.asa.org.uk/Complaints/How-to-complain/Online-Form/Step1.aspx

    MHRA: info@mhra.gsi.gov.uk (rang and they said send here).

    I am sure there are more places to report but you have done an AWESOME job - you know your stuff - you know stuff so they will listen to u.

    In fact everyone should do this!

    These buys must be pretty desperate to work for such a scam company!!! http://www.moreniche.com/support/who-are-moreniche

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks very much Mar 29th Anonymous - to answer your suggestion... yes ;)

    My feeling is that the people who work for these types of organisations or who are affiliates genuinely believe in the products - not all of them do of course, it's clear that some of the MoreNiche forum members just see dollar signs, but many really seem to believe that repeat custom, glossy PR or high sales means that the product works.

    They're awfully easily pleased with a very small portion of evidence.

    Even if everyone's complaints shut an affiliate's or parent organisation's website down (unlikely to be honest) there are plenty more to fill the gap.

    Far better than relying on complaints is to blog about it and increase the information that people find when they search. Interesting as the information that I've posted here might be it's on page 2 when you search on Google for Nuratrim. Only a small percentage will see it.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Bert says:

    "MoreNiche talk about transparency and ethics, yet advanced health, newstel and a few other names are interlinked, look on ebay/amazon at the products, I just recently joined MN as an affiliate because I believe a few of their products work, from feedback from friends, family and the use of Proactol myself, I am not a great internet marketeer just want to make some extra money, so I advertise on my website [redacted] the 3 which with honest feedback appear to work/help with weight loss. Since joining as an affiliate I have noticed many of these products advertised for sale on ebay/amazon and the sellers are actually the merchant and they have sold a lot of product with repeat orders, so maybe just maybe more of the products do work for people than we think, anyway I am diversing from my main gripe which is all these products are actuall sold under the umbrealla of advanced health, so be wary if your thinking of becoming an affiliate, evrytime I post on the... [the comment finished there, Jo]"

    Unfortunately I couldn't post this comment directly as Bert's name linked to a website selling these products and I'm afraid I'm avoiding linking to them. The body of the comment also contained a link, although that won't show up as an active link in the comment anyway I'm not giving any further advertising.

    ReplyDelete
  12. There are a few things occupying my time at the moment but one, on the back burner, is investigating where physiological or medical claims are made (eg 'fat burning'). This isn't really for the Advertising Standards Authority or even Trading Standards, but the MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare Regulatory Authority). I don't know enough about the way the MHRA works so I'm getting a bit of help on this first. It will take time.

    It is impossible to judge a product from repeat orders - if someone is following a healthier diet and taking more exercise they will probably lose weight. It's entirely up to them if they happen to think that the pills they've also been taking make a difference.

    Equally we can't say the pills don't work because, as far as I can tell (feel free to correct me) no proper clinical trial has been done that actually tests this by comparing them with dummy pills.

    If the pills themselves don't make a difference then both groups would be expected to lose about the same amount of weight (assuming they're following the same diet / exercise plan - and in a fair trial you'd need to ensure they do).

    If the pills really work then we'd expect only the people taking the real pills to lose weight.

    To guard against only heavier people being given the real pills and slimmer ones getting the dummy pills you'd also need to randomise the trial participants.

    Giving pills to some people and finding that they lose weight a few weeks later tells you nothing at all about the pills I'm afraid.

    I strongly, strongly recommend reading Ben Goldacre's Bad Science and / or Mark Henderson's Geek Manifesto. While neither will make anyone rich both highlight the way in which an awful lot of money can be lost and wasted by people who don't know how to ask the right questions.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Poor fat Jo, why dont you try eating less cake and getting a life. Your blog is utter shit and nobody cares about your pictures of glittered tulips. I have honestly never seen such a sad excuse of a woman than you, you ugly fucker!
    The OFT won't save your fat ass.... keep safe

    ReplyDelete
  14. Bit harsh ;)

    If I was sufficiently skinny to pass whatever threshold you've set would you actually enagage with the arguments I've set out? By all means point out the flaws in my arguments or point me to better evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hey Anonymous of Friday 25th May,
    Sorry love but you're the one who's a sad F....r, actually there are people genuinly interested in Jo's comments and if you're not I suggest your time could be better spent probably playing benile nasty video games just like nasty types like you do!! Jo I think you've done a great job, I've had the pills twice now, watched my diet and guess what NADA! nothing Zilch! thank you for your research, I was going to give them a last go but naagh, I'm gonna save my money. By the way Anonymous- I'm not fat, right weight for my size but need to loose a bit more for a sponsored marathon to make it a bit easier!!! xox

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks Anonymous :) Good luck with your marathon-ing.

    I'm always a bit puzzled by unkind comments - they rarely put forward a good argument, but that in itself is quite telling so I don't like to censor them too much ;)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Gary writes:

    "Hi Jo,

    I'm an affiliate and use More Niche to advertise some of their products on my websites. I can understand your distaste for these sort of products as many of them don't work for everybody.

    I am very transparent on my sites when promoting these types of slimming aids. My sites are focused on eating a more healthy diet and leading an ACTIVE lifestyle.

    There is no miracle pill that will drop pounds off the user just by taking them.

    What some of these 'slimming aids' will do is benefit and help a serious dieter to lose weight IF they, themselves, are prepared to eat a sensible diet AND partake in some sort of fitness program, be it walking, swimming, cycling etc.

    The diet pills will help with appetite suppression, and may help burn fat by boosting your metabolism. Any kind of help when trying to lose weight, however small, is of benefit to the dieter.

    The sales pitch on a lot of More Niche affiliate websites is just too silly to be believed and I can understand how folk can be misled into believing some of the hype.

    But the fact of the matter is, no-one will lose weight by just taking a pill. You need to eat properly and exercise and then nature will allow you to lose weight. Taking a slimming aid such as those advertised by More Niche MAY benefit the dieter in suppressing appetite, or curb cravings, but the potential purchaser must realize they have to also change their lifestyle too.

    I also sell herbal products that are basically the same thing and produce the same results but because these products are not looked upon as miracle cures, they sell better and are seen and accepted as beneficial to the user.

    I agree with you that More Niche Advanced Health products are over hyped and some affiliates are economical with the facts...shame on them, but some of the blame for expecting miracles must lye with the potential purchaser.

    Do people still believe by simply taking a pill they will lose weight?

    Use a slimming aid ONLY if you are eating sensibly and exercising every day and are struggling with cravings and want a more suppressed appetite...and then you MAY find a benefit in using such slimming aids.

    Kind Regards "

    ReplyDelete

Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).