Moringa claims – ASA ruling

Posted 15 October 2015

Moringa is a food supplement making a number of claims:

“Moringa is used for ‘tired blood’ (anemia) [sic]; arthritis and other joint pain (rheumatism); asthma; cancer; constipation; diabetes; diarrhea [sic]; epilepsy; stomach pain; stomach and intestinal ulcers; intestinal spasms; headache; heart problems; high blood pressure; kidney stones; fluid retention; thyroid disorders; and bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections as well as muscle recovery”.

“Moringa is also used to reduce swelling, increase sex drive (as an aphrodisiac), boost the immune system, increase breast milk production and reduce inflammation. Some people use it as a nutritional supplement or tonic that assists with mental alertness and improves attention deficit”.

A consumer laid a complaint with the ASA arguing that there is no proof that these claims are valid. The ASA requested that the company supply proof, received a large pile of documents, but according to the ASA assessment, the documents supplied were insufficient to substantiate the claims.

Although Moringa trees are used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers, i.e., there is evidence that Moringa has beneficial nutritional qualities, that evidence for the therapeutic claims are in fact few to absent.

More on Moringa in Wikipedia 

FIELD OF DREAMS MORINGA / J VAN ZYL / 2015-1728F

  • Ruling of the: ASA Directorate
  • In the matter between:
  • MR JANNIE VAN ZYL Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
  • 99 PROJECTS (PTY) LTD T/A FIELD OF DREAMS Respondent

06 October 2015

http://www.asasa.org.za/rulings/field-of_dreamers_moringa-jvanzyl-2015-1728f

Mr van Zyl lodged a consumer complaint against claims made on the respondent’s website www.fodcenturycity.co.za. The website promotes a product called “Moringa” in various forms, including capsules, powder and different types of tonics. On a page titled “Benefits”, it includes the following claims as highlighted by the complainant:
  • “Moringa is used for ‘tired blood’ (anemia) [sic]; arthritis and other joint pain (rheumatism); asthma; cancer; constipation; diabetes; diarrhea [sic]; epilepsy; stomach pain; stomach and intestinal ulcers; intestinal spasms; headache; heart problems; high blood pressure; kidney stones; fluid retention; thyroid disorders; and bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections as well as muscle recovery”.
  • “Moringa is also used to reduce swelling, increase sex drive (as an aphrodisiac), boost the immune system, increase breast milk production and reduce inflammation. Some people use it as a nutritional supplement or tonic that assists with mental alertness and improves attention deficit”.
  • “Moringa leaves contain all the essential amino acids to build strong healthy bodies”.
  • “Moringa leaf boosts your energy in a natural manner, and is a remarkable source of nutrition. This energy promotion does not happen because of sugar, so it is lasts for a long time. Individuals ingesting it say that their ulcers are healed, tumors [sic] restricted, there are reduction [sic] in the arthritis pains and inflammations, controlled blood pressure, the skin problems are restored, and finally they have stronger defences [sic] against diseases”.
It further includes benefits such as “Nourishes The Immune System”, “Promotes Healthy Circulation”, “Supports Normal Glucose Levels”, “Natural Anti-Aging Benefits”, “Provides Anti-Inflammatory Support”, “Promotes Healthy Digestion”, “Promotes Heightened Mental Clarity”, “Boosts Energy Without Caffeine”, “Encourages Balanced Metabolism”, “Promotes Softer Skin”, “Provides Relief From Acne”, “Supports Normal Hormone Levels”.
Under a heading “Here are the benefits of continuous intake of Moringa” it states:
  1. “Increases the Natural Defenses [sic] of the body”
  2. “Provides nourishment to the eyes and the brain”.
  3. “Promotes metabolism with bio-available ingredients”.3
  4. “Promotes the Cell structure of the body”
  5. “Promotes natural Serum cholesterol”.
  6. “Promotes the normal functioning of the liver and the kidney”.
  7. “Promotes energy”.
  8. “Promotes proper digestion”.
  9. “Acts as an antioxidant”.
  10. “Takes care of the immune system of the body”.
  11. “Promotes healthy circulatory system”.
  12. “It is an anti-inflammatory”.
  13. “Gives a feeling of general wellness”.
  14. “Supports the normal sugar levels of the body”.
  15. “Promotes good sleep”.

COMPLAINT

The complainant submitted that extensive research has been done on this product, and it has been proven that these claims are not only false, but potentially dangerous. He added that the US FDA has listed Moringa as a poisonous plant, and issued an Enforcement Report instructing resellers to withdraw claims similar to those listed above.
The complainant also referred to other posts on Facebook, which promote Moringa using similar claims. However, as these do not ex facie have any association with the respondent’s website, the Directorate did not include these posts in the current ruling.

RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE

Given the nature of the complaint, the Directorate considered the following provisions of the Code to be relevant:
  • Section II, Clause 4.1 – Substantiation
  • Section II, Clause 4.2.1 – Misleading claims
  • Section II, Clause 13 – Safety

RESPONSE

The respondent submitted a substantial document containing references to research done on this plant, its origins, its various biological and colloquial names and traditional uses. The response also listed entities “… working to maximise the beneficial properties and commercial uses of the Moringa tree”.
The respondent further noted that the World Health Organisation has been studying and using the plant for the last forty years as a low cost health enhancer in the poorest countries around the world. It added that Moringa is probably “… one of the most researched plants on earth”, and listed 140 studies purported to have been published in various journals and other publications.

ASA DIRECTORATE RULING

The ASA Directorate considered all relevant information submitted by the respective parties.
Clause 4.1 of Section II states that advertisers must hold independent and objective verification for any and all claims capable of objective substantiation. There can be no dispute that the claims listed above are capable of objective verification.
While the respondent has not replied to the allegations of potential safety risks made by the complainant, its submissions suggest that the references provided are intended to satisfy the Code’s requirement for evidence of its efficacy claims.
It is trite that the ASA is not a technical or medical expert, and cannot interpret scientific literature and/or raw data to extrapolate findings in a manner that such experts would be able to. For this reason, Clause 4.1.4 stipulates that “Documentary evidence, other than survey data, shall emanate from or be evaluated by a person/entity, which is independent, credible, and an expert in the field to which the claims relate and be acceptable to the ASA”.
The Directorate is presently unable to determine whether the research and references relied on by the respondent justify its advertising claims. While the documentation submitted appears rather comprehensive, the Directorate notes, inter alia, that a large part of the response deals with the effects, uses, and potential complications of Moringa when consumed by animals, such as ruminants, rabbits, poultry and fish in limited quantities. Other references relate to how it can assist in the purification of water. It is unclear how, if at all, this could or would extend to Moringa consumption by humans.
The reason this is significant is because the efficacy claims objected to by the complainant are listed on a page titled “Benefits”, which suggests to a hypothetical reasonable person that consuming this product will, as a matter of fact, deliver the claimed benefits. The page even goes so far as to claim that “… the benefits of continuous intake of Moringa …” would deliver specific results. As a non-technical and non-medical body, the Directorate cannot simply assume that any benefits associated with Moringa consumption by animals would automatically translate to similar benefits when the plant is consumed by humans.
Under a heading “Medicinal uses” the respondent noted as follows:
“Moringa seeds contain terygospermin, a potent antibiotic and fungicide effective against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Due to their high iron content, moringa leaves are used in the treatment of aenemia [sic] in the Philippines. Moringa roots and bark are used in cardiac and circulatory problems (Orwa et al., 2009). Uses in ethnomedicine are numerous and beyond the scope of this datasheet”.
The problem this poses for the Directorate is “ethnomedicine” and traditional use does not automatically equate to scientifically proven efficacy as required by the Code. At best, these would be anecdotal in nature.
While the “Orwa et. Al., 2009” study referenced by the respondent linked to a website called Feedipedia.org, the Directorate notes that this website appears to be a dedicated “Animal feed resources information system”. The homepage also describes this website as “an on-line encyclopedia [sic] of animal feeds”, and explains that “Feedipedia is an open access information system on animal feed resources that provides information on nature, occurrence, chemical composition, nutritional value and safe use of nearly 1400 worldwide livestock feeds”.
Nothing in the response suggests that such an entity would constitute a suitable independent and credible expert on all the human medical conditions listed in the advertisement. Attempts to source the actual study (cited as “Orwa, C; Mutua, A; Kindt, R; Jamnadass, R; Anthony, S, 2009. Agroforestree Database: a tree reference and selection guide version 4.0. World Agroforestry Centre, Kenya” on the www.feedipedia.org website) proved unsuccessful.
The respondent also devoted a substantial section of its response to the “chemical composition and nutritional value” of this plant. This too is of no value to the Directorate, as it does not ex facie speak to the efficacy claims made.
Similarly, the lengthy discussion under the heading “Datasheet citation” in the response outlines the significance or value of, inter alia, Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B7, C, D, E and K, as well as various Amino Acids and Enzymes. The respondent does not, however, explain what relevance this has to its product claims, if at all.
Lastly, the Directorate notes that many of the references cited at the end of the response relate either to studies done on rats or mice, or deal with the product when used as a cheap or convenient substitute for vegetables, or relate to its use as a flocculent agent. More importantly, all links provided by the respondent access a Facebook post which simply reads “Sorry, this content isn’t available at the moment”.
Aside from the obvious problem with not being able to access the referenced articles, there is nothing before the Directorate to show that these would even be applicable to Moringa consumption in humans, more specifically, to the respondent’s Moringa product when consumed by humans.
It is exactly for this reason that the Code requires advertisers to submit unequivocal verification from an independent and credible expert in the field to which the claims relate. In doing so, the “guess work” is removed, because such an expert would be able to clarify and presumably confirm with no ambiguity that the respondent’s claims are true, and would materialise when the respondent’s product is consumed at the recommended dose. No such verification was submitted.
Accordingly, the respondent’s marketing claims as listed above are currently unsubstantiated and in contravention of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.
  1. Withdraw the advertising that gave rise to the dispute,
  2. Ensure that the withdrawal is actioned with immediate effect upon receipt of this ruling,
  3. Ensure that the withdrawal is completed within the deadline stipulated in Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide (in the case of online advertising, a two week period is permitted),
  4. Refrain from using this advertisement again in its current format in future until the respondent has submitted, and the ASA has accepted evidence for the claims at issue.
The complaint is upheld, and it is therefore not necessary to consider the other clauses at this time.

One Response to Moringa claims – ASA ruling

  1. Alan Preston 28 May, 2018 at 9:44 am #

    It seems strange to me that our MCC or their newest replacement body cannot give teeth to complaints from interested parties regarding the quackery/snake oil industry that seems to be thriving in our country.
    It is my considered opinion that the large-scale sale of products of little/no/dubious medicinal value came to life when non-pharmacists became legally involved in the pharmacy profession. How this was achieved is a matter of conjecture, but I suspect that it was not a squeaky-clean occurrence.
    Still, with respect to medicines, the pharmacist is either a professional, advising and dispensing medication according to his/her knowledge, or a commercially-motivated individual, selling a hodge-podge or weird and wonderful remedies for profit and profit alone. To maintain a balance between professionalism and commercialism is not easy. One particular commercially-motivated phenomenon is the use of so-called “treatment packs”. While this approach is not wrong per se, when specific products are being promoted as components of such packs, then we have a drift away from professionalism to commercialism. In addition, this latter approach actually removes a large degree of freedom of choice both from the patient and the professional.
    By anyone’s standards, this is unethical.
    Still, we as humans labour under an economic system that is, in it’s essence, in need of a massive overhaul, and thus the ingress of commercialism into the professional field is going to be virtually impossible to control.
    Or we can hide behind the old adage of caveat emptor, as true today as it was all those generations ago, and practice commercialism under the guise of professionalism. If someone wants to buy, for instance, a transdermal magnesium product then they should be free to do so, BUT such a product should be certified as safe, but not necessarily efficacious, by a competent authority. This will give the consumer freedom to choose; use, or not use.

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