Herbalife Review Herbalife Scam

History and Background Information: 

Herbalife is a health supplement MLM (multi-level marketing) company with a weight loss emphasis. It was founded in 1980 by 24-year-old Mark Hughes. Net sales in 2006 were over $1.9 Billion dollars with over a million distributors worldwide. It was created—by a ninth grade dropout and juvenile delinquent —who decided to create his own MLM after being a distributor for two other weight loss MLM companies that went out of business.  

According to a 1985 issue of the Herbalife Journal, Hughes started Herbalife because his own mother was 30 pounds overweight and died (when he was only 19 years old) by overdosing on diet pills and unwise dieting practices. Her death left him with a “fervent desire to find a product that would enhance and build health while allowing an individual to take weight off sensibly and safely…”

In actuality, the autopsy report shows that Hughes’ mother died of an overdose of Darvon, a narcotic. Although 5-foot-6-inches tall, she was a mere 105 pounds at death—hardly 30 pounds overweight.

There are reports that Hughes traveled to China to study herbal medicine although he had no formal medical or nutrition training. According to the Herbalife literature:

During [Hughes] search, he had met Richard Marconi, PhD, with whom he shared his dream …. After a lot of research and testing, Herbalife Slim and Trim was born.

Actually the truth is only after he met Richard Marconi and formed the company did Marconi sign up for a mail order PhD program to add more credibility to the company. The many statements Herbalife representatives have made about extensive testing and research have been shown to be false in later court trials.

Hughes started the company by selling Herbalife products out of the trunk of his car because he couldn’t afford a storefront. According to one former Herbalife employee, Hughes was able to make the company immensely successful because of his incredible charisma; he was loved and admired by his distributors.

He led hundreds of sales rallies -- resembling religious evangelical gatherings -- drawing people both to the products and the prospect of getting rich selling them. His pitches are still broadcast on Herbalife's Web site.

Troubled Past For Herbalife

In 1982, the FDA sent Herbalife a Notice of Adverse Findings, which rebuked Herbalife for labeling claims that their products were effective for treating many diseases, dissolving and removing tumors, rejuvenating, increasing circulation, and producing mental alertness.

Safety Concerns

A 1984, FDA Talk Paper notes that the FDA had received many complaints about side effects that had occurred during the use of Herbalife products and had stopped when use of the products was stopped. Company literature given to Herbalife distributors at the time stated that “up to 25% of product users will have adverse effects” but claims that this is evidence of the body's improving itself.

Several suits were filed by people who alleged that the products had harmed them. Some of these suits were settled out of court with substantial payment, but the amounts have not been disclosed, and the case records are sealed.

The hearing also brought to light a study done by Herbalife of 428 users of its products. About 40% had experienced headache, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, lightheadedness, palpitations, and/or other transient symptoms that might be attributable to Herbalife products. The occurrence of side effects came as no surprise, because several ingredients in Herbalife products were potent laxatives and one product (N.R.G.) contained guarana, which is high in caffeine.  

Research and Testing

By 1985, Senate hearings grilled Hughes about the "research and testing" done prior to marketing Herbalife's products. Hughes said, "We have a lot of scientific data on the herbs," but it was ascertained that no actual testing of Herbalife products had taken place. Marconi told a CNN interviewer, "We employed hundreds … even thousands of PhDs in the research program for our products." But when asked who they were, he replied, "Why, the research papers that are published and printed that we have access to on our computer."

In March 1985, the California Attorney General had charged Herbalife with:

1)  Violating California's consumer protection laws.

2) Making illegal claims in the company handbook that various herbal ingredients were effective against more than 70 diseases and conditions.

3) The suit also charged that Herbalife had been operating an illegal pyramid scheme.

The case was settled in 1986 when Hughes and the company agreed to pay $850,000 and to abide by a long list of court-ordered restrictions on claims and marketing practices.

Questionable Ingredients

Concern about the side effects of Herbalife weight loss products has grown, however, after the FDA attributed a 1998 cardiac arrest suffered by a 28- year-old woman to a Herbalife ephedrine product, Original Green. Ephedrine, a chemical cousin of amphetamines that increases blood pressure and heart rate, has been linked by the FDA to hundreds of adverse reactions and dozens of deaths.

Ephedrine, (also known as Ephedra, Ma Huang) was a key ingredient that made the Herbalife products so successful for weight loss. Ephedrine is essentially speed and will shut off your appetite completely—allowing you to subsist on one meal a day. But it shuts down your appetite at a price:

Possible Side Effects of Ephedra

  • nausea
  • headache; dizziness
  • irritation of the stomach; diarrhea
  • anxiety; psychosis
  • kidney stones
  • tremors
  • dry mouth
  • irregular or rapid heart rhythms; heart damage
  • high blood pressure
  • restlessness; nervousness; sleeping problems
  • decreased appetite
  • flushing; sweating
  • increased urination

Use of ephedra has also been associated with stroke, seizures, psychosis and death.

Due to legal pressures and FDA scrutiny, Herbalife products have been ephedra-free since 2002. However there are still questionable ingredients used in some of their products.

Herbalife Shake Reviews (Beware of These Ingredients)

Soy Protein: The problem with soy is that it can cause harmful effect on your endocrine system and also most soy is now genetically modified which can have a wide range of negative effects including DNA damage.

Fructose: The second ingredient in this product is fructose which means that the shake is mostly sugar. Fructose is worse than sucrose (table sugar) because it does not make you feel full like table sugar so you end up consuming more, and it causes increased risk of weight gain and bad cholesterol.

Ferrous fumarate: This is iron and should not be taken by men or post-menopausal women as it can result in above normal levels and have a toxic effect.

Vegetable oil preparation: Sunflower oil tends to be highly processed which can caused it to go rancid easily unless special care is taken in the processing and it is kept in the dark and refrigerated. It is also high in omega-6 fatty acids which most people get far too much of.

Sucralose (Splenda) and Acesufame-k: I wrote an entire book on the dangers of artificial sweeteners called Sweet Deception. The biggest scam with artificial sweeteners is that they actually cause you to be hungrier and cause weight gain instead of weight loss.

Splenda has been shown to have harmful effects in lab animals and in humans from spontaneous abortions, rashes, pain, to digestive disturbances. Avoid at all costs. Ace-k is a cousin of Aspartame (Nutrasweet), a notorious neurotoxin.

On the other hand, many of the other Herbalife products we looked at did not contain any ingredients that appeared to be harmful although we cannot comment on their efficacy.

Mark Hughes Herbalife Health Evangelist Dies of Alcohol Abuse

Unfortunately in 2000, Mark Hughes died at the tender age of 44. Herbalife reported Hughes had an “accidental death from mixing anti-depressants with an alcohol overdose.”

But the autopsy report showed that Hughes died after a 4-day drinking binge combined with an anti-depressant and possible a narcotic overdose. In addition to alcohol abuse, Hughes smoked 6-8 cigars a day. 

My Comments on the Company History:

My intention in including this history is not to gossip. But I do have concerns about the mistruths that have been told about Herbalife’s history, research, testing, and credentials. If someone owns a health company, s/he better be a health expert or have a team of health experts from the beginning. S/he also needs to walk his talk and set an example of being healthy which includes living a healthy lifestyle and being addiction free.

As far as Herbalife’s trouble for making health claims, it seems Herbalife in the early years was out of line with many of their claims (curing cancer and dissolving tumors are big FDA no-nos). However, I also think it’s a crime that the FDA has a gag order in effect and that no supplements are allowed to make health claims—only pharmaceutical drugs can make health claims.

In my opinion, any natural product should be able to make a claim as long as there is double blind research that can prove the claim and if the company offers a money back guarantee to mitigate consumer risk.

About the Herbalife Diet Program

The diet program involves asking you to drink two protein drinks and to eat only one actual meal per day. The shakes are only 180 calories and a typical meal is 400-600 calories so we feel that the program is too low in calories to be considered healthy.

The World Health Organization considers any caloric intake below 2,200 calories to be starvation. Low calorie diets usually result in rebound and binge eating as your body tries to compensate for the starvation. Low calorie diets will also slow down your metabolism—the rate at which you burn calories and fat.

There is quite a strong emphasis on exercise within some of the written materials. The exercise emphasis has increased since the arrival of CEO Michael O. Johnson in 2003. He came from a 17-year career at Disney, and is a triathlete.

 Its company spreadsheet reports nearly zero dollars in research and development, meaning that there is little done to affirm that the items in the supplements actually do what they’re supposed to do.  Almost all of its manufacturing is outsourced, including to a factory in China.  Its advisory board consists of paid physicians and no nutritionists (allopathic physicians receive very little nutrition training in medical school, as they are too busy memorizing drugs). 

The dietary recommendations are to eat one balanced meal per day with lots of phytonutrient-rich vegetables and fruits. You can also customize your protein intake to suit your individual needs. The rest of your meals are protein drinks. Dieters must take “activator” capsules and a multivitamin with each meal. 

Praise For The Herbalife Weight Loss Program

There are hundreds of thousands of zealous distributors who rave about Herbalife products and who can attest to how Herbalife has helped them lose weight or get healthier. Furthermore, Herbalife provides a potentially lucrative business opportunity to those who want a home based business in the trillion dollar health industry.

As with any MLM, only a small fraction of the distributors develop the know-how and diligence to become successful.  For the pros and cons of being a distributor click here http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=302284

Criticism of the Herbalife Weight Loss Program

This diet does nothing to mimic what real life is like and relies heavily on the use of supplements and protein powders at a cost of up to five dollars a day.  Once you achieve your ideal weight, Herbalife recommends maintenance, which consists of one shake a day. This just isn’t realistic, and you will likely gain the weight right back again as soon as you stop the diet. 

The diet is very expensive and is much too low in fat and carbohydrates unless you load up on the fat and carbs during your one meal per day. Two scoops (or 25 grams) of the protein shake contain only 1 gram of fat and 13 grams of carbohydrates. If you need to snack, the program will be happy to sell you their own version of a protein bar, which is also very expensive.

Other Herbalife Supplements

The other part of the program includes supplements such as Total Control which contains green tea and cacao, both of which “stimulate your metabolism” basically through a high caffeine intake.  You can get the same thing out of a cup of tea or coffee for a lot less.  Total Control costs $27 for 90 capsules. 

The Cell Activator supplement claims to contain antioxidants and lists ingredients including inositol, chorella, Shitake mushrooms, L-glutamine, Cayenne pepper, Dried Rhodiola root, dried Reishi mushroom extract, and dried pine bark extract. 

It also contains many of the acids found in the Krebs cycle—an energy cycle found in every cell.  Inositol is a B vitamin, while Chorella is a blue-green algae.  It is supposed to “support” your cells as you lose weight.  Cell Activator costs around $34 for 90 capsules. 

While many of these ingredients are high in antioxidants and may be helpful from an overall health perspective, antioxidants have not been shown to have a strong impact on weight loss. If you are going to spend money on a supplement, we suggest investing in an antioxidant-rich multi-vitamin, as vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to food cravings and overeating.

There are also other supplements you can add to the regimen, including Cell-U-Loss, which is supposed to reduce the appearance of dimpled skin and help with water weight gain.  Cell-U-Loss contains couch grass, hydrangea, short bushu extract, dried corn silk and dried uva ursi extracts. The company does not guarantee that the products have been manufactured without animal testing.


Herbalife is one of the most successful multi-level marketing companies of all time. Its weight loss program does not emphasize natural lifestyle changes but sells protein shakes and supplements as a solution for weight loss. There are ingredients in the protein shakes that are unhealthy and should be avoided.

Does the program work? Millions of distributors and customers claim it does. There is something to be said for this. Unfortunately, when people go off the Herbalife program, it seems inevitable that weight gain will follow when they resume their old ways of eating.

About the Author:
Dr. Kendra Pearsall, N.M.D. is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor specializing in natural weight loss and food addiction. She created Enlita.com to help millions of people achieve optimal health, natural weight loss and life success with her free weekly e-newsletter (sign up at the top of this page.)