Some Notes on Jeffrey Bland and Metagenics

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Jeffrey S. Bland, Ph.D., of Gig Harbor, Washington, has been one of the health-food industry's most prolific interpreters of nutrition-related scientific developments. His interpretations consistently favor the use of supplements. A former chemistry professor, he has appeared frequently at trade shows [1], written and edited publications, produced audio and video tapes, and conducted seminars for health professionals. He has also been a research associate at the Linus Pauling Institute of Medicine and has directed its nutrient analysis laboratory.

In 1991, the FTC charged that Bland and two of his corporations (HealthComm and Nu-Day Enterprises) had falsely claimed that their diet program could cause weight loss by changing consumers' metabolism and cause them to lose weight without exercising so that fat is lost as body heat instead of being stored. The Nu-Day Diet Program, which cost about $30 per week, included instructional materials, a meal-replacement formula, and a fiber-containing formula said to be a "natural appetite suppressant." The Nu-Day program was promoted with a 30-minute television program entitled "The Perfect Diet," which offered "amazing true stories of people like yourself losing 20, 30, 50 pounds or more, safely, quickly and naturally." Although the television program appeared to be an independent consumer news show that used interviews to report on its discovery of the Nu-Day Diet, it was actually a paid ad. The program identified Bland as "one of the nation's leading nutritional biochemists." The case was settled with a consent agreement in which Bland agreed to pay $30,000 for redress and to refrain from making the claims that had been challenged. The consent order also requires future programs of 15 minutes or longer to display messages identifying them as paid ads for the products offered [2].

In 1995, the FTC charged Bland and his companies with violating the consent order by making unsubstantiated weight-loss claims for several products. In addition, their UltraClear dietary program had been falsely claimed to reduce the incidence and severity of symptoms associated with gastrointestinal problems, inflammatory or immunologic problems, fatigue, food allergies, mercury exposure, kidney disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis. The settlement agreement included a $45,000 civil penalty [3].

In 1996, Natural Foods Merchandiser reported that HealthComm had acquired a minority interest in Keats Publishing of New Canaan, Connecticut, and that Bland had joined its board of directors. Keats has probably been America's most prolific publisher of questionable information about health, nutrition, and "alternative" health methods. Established in 1971, it has issued more than 400 books, of which over 200 are still in print. It has also published more than 100 "Good Health Guides," most of which promote the types of products sold through health-food stores. In 1999, HealthComm sold its interest in Keats publishing to the Chicago Sun-Times [4].

In 1993, Bland founded the Institute for Functional Medicine, a HealthComm division that oversaw the company's web site, develops educational products, and sponsors an annual International Symposium on Functional Medicine. In 1997, he invited practitioners to join him on the Functional Medicine Section of CompuServe's Natural Medicine Forum, which HealthComm co-sponsored. Brochures accompanying the invitation stated that the company's UltraClear Plus "provides nutritional support for pathological or imbalanced detoxifiers and may be suitable for patients with" chronic fatigue syndrome; chemical and environmental sensitivity; alcohol and chemical dependency; food allergy; "management of endo- and exotoxicity"; and arthralgia and myalgia. The UltraBalance Web site has carried similar claims that I consider improper.

In 1999, Healthshop.com, a company that sold supplements, herbs, and homeopathic remedies, stated:

Our experts have designed a survey to get to the heart of your health issues. Your answers will help us create a health and nutritional program tailored to your unique needs. In five easy steps and five minutes, you'll be reading detailed, scientifically accurate and doctor-designed recommendations for your health conditions. . . .

Healthshop.com has partnered with HealthComm International, Inc, to bring you the most accurate and informative health program available. HealthComm's CEO is Jeffrey S. Bland, PhD, a biochemist specializing in nutritional and preventive medicine. His staff includes medical doctors, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, a doctor of chiropractic medicine, a registered nurse, biochemists and registered dietitians. that it had "partnered with HealthComm International, Inc, to bring you the most accurate and informative health program available." [5]

In 1999, Bland was also listed as a member of Healthshop.com'smedical advisory board. The site included a search box for finding products for many conditions and a "personalized health planner" section which stated: "Your answers will help us create a health and nutritional program tailored to your unique needs. Five easy steps in five minutes and you'll be reading detailed, scientifically accurate, doctor-designed recommendations for you." The process is programmed to recommend products for everyone. When the survey was completed, the results advised which "key nutrients" were supposedly needed and which lifestyle, dietary and nutritional recommendations "can improve your health and happiness." When I completed the survey using my own situation, my supplement checklist contained 27 "key nutrients," none of which I needed. I was also given lifestyle recommendations that were not relevant to my needs. When I completed the survey as a 25- to 35-year-old woman with no health concerns and a maximally healthful diet and lifestyle, I was advised to take 30 (unnecessary) nutrients! Metagenics' corporate counsel has informed me that Bland terminated his association with Healthshop.com in 1999 [4]. However, Bland's name appeared on the personalized health planner's page throughout most of 2000.

In 2000, HealthComm and Metagenics, Inc., announced that they had merged and that their combined company would have an annual revenue of $66 million. Under their agreement: (a) Metagenics headquarters would remain in San Clemente and handle marketing sales and customer support; (b) HealthComm would remain in Gig Harbor where it would focus on clinical research, product development, educational services, and manufacturing; and (c) Bland will hold the title of president and chief science officer for Metagenics [6].

Metagenics (doing business as Ethical Nutrients) has also faced regulatory action. In 1997, it settled FTC charges with a consent agreement prohibits the company from making unsubstantiated claims for calcium products [7].

In October 2003, the FDA ordered Metagenics to stop making claims that certain HealthComm products are "medical foods" that are effective against various medical conditions. The letter stated:

Your products UltraClear®, UltraMeal®, UltraInflamX™, and UltraGlycemX™ are not medical foods because the diseases and conditions described in the product labels do not have distinct nutritional requirements and because the products do not have any unique impact on the dietary management of those diseases and conditions beyond that which could be achieved by modification of the normal diet alone.

Because UltraClear, UltraMeal, UltraInflamX, and UltraGlycemX do not meet the definition of a medical food, they are not subject to the exemption from nutrition labeling afforded medical foods. Therefore, your products are misbranded . . . because the labels do not bear nutrition labeling in the appropriate format. . . . . In addition, your products bear label claims suggesting that they are useful in the treatment of various diseases. These claims include:

The presence of the above referenced claims indicates that the products are intended to treat, cure, or mitigate diseases. Such claims are evidence that the products are intended for use as drugs within the meaning of Section 201(g)(1)(B) of the [Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic] Act. The products are new drugs under section 201(p) of the Act because there is no evidence that these products are generally recognized as safe and effective for their intended uses [8].

The letter advised Metagenics to tell the FDA within 15 days what steps it planned to take to correct the situation. When I checked in December 2, 2003, however, claims to which the FDA objected remained in the company's online catalog [9]. The 2003 description for UltraClear, for example, stated:

UltraClear®
For Support of Metabolic Detoxification

UltraClear is a naturally pure, patented medical food designed for patients suffering from symptoms and conditions associated with toxicity such as:

—Alcohol/chemical dependency
—Atopic disorders
—Chemical sensitivity
—Chronic fatigue syndrome
—Fibromyalgia
—Food allergy
—Generalized arthralgias
—Migraine headaches
  • Supplies vitamins, minerals, and accessory nutrients to support both Phase I and Phase II detoxification
    Generally recommended for the "slow detoxifier" and can be used on a long-term basis for individuals with chronic exposure to toxins.
  • Supplies low-allergy-potential rice protein concentrate with added limiting essential amino acids L-lysine and L-threonine to increase the biological value of the protein.
  • Rich in the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene, which may help protect against oxygen free radicals generated during the detoxification process.
  • Provides high-molecular-weight rice dextrins as the carbohydrate source and medium-chain triglycerides as a source of readily absorbed and metabolized lipids.
  • Comes with a Quick-Start Guide or a more comprehensive Patient Guide for complete program guidelines.

I know of no scientific evidence that the conditions named above are caused by "toxicity" that UltraClear can fix.

"Detoxification" has also been promoted through seminars presented by Bland's Institute for Functional Medicine. A brochure for a 2006 seminar even claimed that "no patient is free of the need for effective detoxification." [10]

In 2013, the FDA sent Metagenics another regulatory letter ordering it to stop making medical claims for UltraClear®, UltraClear® Plus, UltraClear® Plus pH, UltraClear RENEW™, GI Sustain, UltraMeal® Plus, UltraMeal® Plus 360, UltraInflamX®, UltraInflamX® Plus 360, UltraGlycemX®, GlycemX™ 360, Ultracare for Kids®, BariatrX Essentials Bariatric Meal, and ArginCor.

Both Bland and Metagenics maintain strong ties to the naturopathic community, A 2003 news release stated that Bland co-founded the largest naturopathy school (Bastyr University) and that Metagenics contributed $100,000 in 2003 alone to support the California Association of Naturopathic Physicians' successful drive for a naturopathic licensing law [11].

References

  1. Fanning O. Training" for health food retailers. Nutrition Forum 3:33-38, 1986.
  2. FTC charges diet company's "infomercials" contained false and unsubstantiated claims about its diet program; Consent agreement settles charges. FTC News Release, Oct 30, 1991.
  3. Defendants in a previous FTC lawsuit agree to pay $45,000 civil penalty to settle charges. FTC News Release, Jan 19, 1995.
  4. Khalsa Gs (Metagenics corporate counsel). Letter to Dr. Stephen Barrett, April 13, 2004.
  5. Create a personal health program tailored to your unique needs. Healthshop.com Web site, archived March 1, 2000.
  6. Metagenics and HealthComm International announce merger. Metagenics news release, July 10, 2000.
  7. Metagenics and FTC settle deceptive advertising charges. FTC news release, April 22, 1997.
  8. Cruse AE. Warning letter to Jeffrey J. Katke, Oct 1, 2003.
  9. Online catalog—medical foods. Metagenics Web site, accessed Dec 2, 2003 and April 19, 2004. On January 14, 2007, I noted that migraine and alcohol/chemical dependency were no longer mentioned. Later in 2007, the entire list was removed except for chronic fatigue syndrome.
  10. Brochure for the 13th International Symposium on Functional Medicine: "Managing biotransformation: The metabolic, genomic, and detoxification balance points." Scheduled for April 19-22, 2006, Tampa, Florida.
  11. Corcoran CM. Warning letter to John P. Troup, Ph.D ., Aug 13, 2013.
  12. Metagenics helps lead the charge towards naturopathic doctor licensing, Metagenics news release, Oct 8, 2003.

This article was revised on September 11, 2013.

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