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Wondernut: ARB Ruling - CAMcheck

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Wondernut: ARB Ruling

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Posted 28 March 2022

A consumer laid a complaint with the Advertising Regulatory Board against the claims being made for Wondernut arguing that there is no robust evidence to support the claims being made for this product.

The product claims, inter alia:

  • May Lose centimetres
  • May Improve Muscle tone, May Increase weight loss and detoxifies your system.
  • May Maintains Energy levels
  • May Enhances skin – Making it soft and shiny May increase your skin elasticity
  • Transform food into energy instead of fat

After a thorough consideration, the ARB agreed and ruled against the claims being made for this product.

Decision of the ADVERTISING REGULATORY BOARD

Complainant: Dr Harris Steinman
Advertiser: Wondernut (Pty) Ltd
Consumer/Competitor: Consumer
File reference: 1936 – Wondernut – Steinman
Outcome: Upheld

Date: 28 March 2022

The Directorate of the Advertising Regulatory Board has been called upon to consider claims made by the Advertiser for its “Wondernut Capsule” product sold on www.takealot.com.

Description of the Advertising

The listing at https://www.takealot.com/wondernut-capsule/PLID55537886 shows an image of the product packaging, and features, inter alia, the following claims in the description:

“It’s 100 % safe to use and will benefit you the same as the Nut and Tea Bag. It is very effective and may maintain your Energy levels. No stimulants present as it is an organic seed, it may also control your Appetite. The powder is 100 % Organic, and may reduce centimetres and might help with weight loss”.

After listing several possible adverse effects from taking this product, it states: “Wondernut Capsule Benefits:

May Lose centimetres

May Improve Muscle tone, May Increase weight loss and detoxifies your system.

May Maintains Energy levels

May Enhances skin – Making it soft and shiny May increase your skin elasticity

Transform food into energy instead of fat”.

Complaint

The Complainant made reference to a statement issued by the South Africa Medicines Control Council (MCC) noting that there have been no clinical trials done to prove the efficacy of Indian Walnut (Aleurites moluccanus), that the action of this nut appears to be intended to induce vomiting or diarrhoea, and that there is no evidence to support its use as a weight loss agent.

Dealing with the requirements for substantiation as outlined in the ARB Code of Advertising Practice, the Complainant noted there was no evidence to support any of the claims made by the Advertiser. He added that there was nothing to show that the product has since been registered with the MCC, and that the Advertiser does not provide adequate warning about the risks associated with consuming this product.

Response

The Advertiser submitted a document titled “FEEBDACK – WONDERNUT COMPLAINT – 09/03/2022”. The document is authored by Dr Heinrich Niemöller, an orthopaedic surgeon. In his submissions, Dr Niemöller repeatedly questions the medical and research experience of the Complainant, insisting that the evidence on which the Complaint and the MCC statement is based should be provided.

It also references a YouTube video uploaded by Dr Niemöller at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFHVKLSKub8, titled “Wondernut – in a ‘nutshell’.” This 43-minute video features Dr Niemöller expressing his opinion on the product after having researched it and used it for a period of one month. He concludes, inter alia, that “… biochemically, and clinically, Wondernut is safe and I can safely say that it will do no harm …”

While not necessarily significant for the purpose of this decision, the Directorate notes that Dr Niemöller’s written submissions state that he used the product for six months, whereas his YouTube video claims that he used it for one month.

Application of the Code of Advertising Practice

The Complainant identified Clause 4.1 of Section II (Substantiation) as relevant.

Decision

Having considered all the material before it, the Directorate of the ARB issues the following finding.

It should be noted that the ARB is not empowered to enforce decisions or opinions of the appropriate regulatory authorities. The Medicines Control Council (MCC) has since been relaunched as the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and is at liberty to pursue any issues it has with irregular and unsafe use of medicinal or complementary products. Accordingly, the ARB cannot comment on this matter insofar as it relates to the opinion of the MCC as submitted by the Complainant.

The ARB can only determine whether claims made in the advertisement comply with the provisions of the ARB Code. The Complainant submitted that there was no evidence to support any of the efficacy claims made for this product.

Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code requires advertisers to hold verification to support any direct and/or implied claims made. It further stipulates that this verification must come from an independent and credible expert in the field to which the claims relate.

In this regard, the Directorate notes that Dr Niemöller appears to be an orthopaedic surgeon who has been in clinical practice since 2012 and in private practice since 2018. His written submissions and YouTube video emphasise the fact that he has published one article in the South African Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery.

The Directorate must determine two things:

  1. Whether Dr Niemöller constitutes an independent and credible expert in the field to which the claims relate, and
  2. Whether Dr Niemöller’s submissions verify the claims made by the Advertiser to the extent required by the Code.

It is firstly noted that there are two of Dr Niemöller’s YouTube videos embedded on the Advertiser’s homepage www.wondernut.co.za, as demonstrated below. The video on the left (which is also accessible via https://youtu.be/rEcldg12xmk) merely promotes his surgery to dramatic music, while the one on the right is the same “Wondernut – In a nutshell” video referenced in his response to the complaint.

This appears to be part of the Advertiser’s marketing material, and is clearly intended to convince interested buyers that the product is worth the purchase, on the strength of Dr Niemöller’s opinion. It therefore serves as advertising, which arguably negates Dr Niemöller’s independence for the purpose of Clause 4.1 of Section II. It would also appear that Dr Niemöller has been granted free advertising space for his own practice on the Advertiser’s website. This further undermines his independence vis-à-vis this matter.

The Code requires an opinion from an independent expert to ensure that opinions of fact are expressed by entities who are not biased or compromised in a manner that dissuades them from expressing an honest opinion based on facts.

As an individual who appears to actively promote this product, it is doubtful whether Dr Niemöller would publicly contradict his own opinion even when faced with evidence to the contrary. This means that his opinion on the matter does not constitute an independent opinion as much as it does a testimonial. On this basis alone, the Directorate is not able to accept Dr Niemöller as an independent expert for the purposes of this ruling.

Turning to Dr Niemöller’s submissions, the Directorate wishes to note the following, even if only for the Advertiser’s benefit.

The product in question is promoted as a weight loss product able to, inter alia, control one’s appetite, cause centimetre loss, improve muscle tone, detoxify the body, maintain energy levels, enhance one’s skin appearance and elasticity and transform food into energy rather than fat.

According to online sources, however, orthopaedic surgeons treat orthopaedic problems relating to human bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Dr Niemöller’s 43- minute “Wondernut – In a nutshell” YouTube video also features him operating on a patient with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, as does the other video embedded on the Advertiser’s website. No reference is made to having experience in, or actually treating people for weight loss, skin elasticity, muscle mass retention or any of the other claims made. While it is accepted that a qualified orthopaedic surgeon would be a highly trained medical professional, it is unclear what experience Dr Niemöller has that would qualify him as an expert in the field of weight loss, muscle mass, skin elasticity and food metabolism, which appears to be the field to which the claims relate. Neither the Advertiser nor Dr Niemöller has submitted any arguments on this issue.

Turning to the research articles referenced by Dr Niemöller, the Directorate notes that summaries, and in many instances full copies of these articles, are accessible online. Every article referenced appears to relate to studies done on mice or rats and at least one (Aleurites Moluccana (L.) Willd. Leaves: Mechanical Antinociceptive Properties of a Standardized Dried Extract and its Chemical Markers) appears to relate to the substance’s impact on pain receptor functioning. Dr Niemöller submissions do not explain how (if at all) this necessarily relates to human consumption for weight loss, appetite control, skin elasticity improvement or any of the other benefits claimed, or whether these findings can automatically be assumed to apply to humans.

The Directorate is not in a position to simply assume that the product composition or dosage levels used in these animal studies translate to the same composition and dosage as present in this product, or that the findings from these studies automatically apply to humans.

Turning to Dr Niemöller’s “Wondernut – In a nutshell” YouTube video, the Directorate notes, inter alia, that it provides images of an “InBody Body Water” measurement report conducted prior to using the product (in a test dated 13 September 2021), and after one month of use (in a test dated 21 October 2021). This report appears to have taken several body measurements of Dr Niemöller and appears to have served the purpose of creating a standardised means of measuring progress.

At approximately 38:23 into the YouTube video, he starts scrolling through his “before” report which, inter alia, lists his weight as “80,2kg” and his Body Mass Index (BMI) as “25,6kg/m2”. The relevant information is circled in the screenshot below:

However, his “after” measurement report (shown at roughly 38:49 into the video) shows a weight of “81,1kg” and a Body Mass Index (BMI) of “25,9kg/m2”. The relevant portion is circled in the screenshot below:

These measurements appear to contradict any claim that the product assists with weight loss, as both Dr Niemöller’s weight and BMI appear to have increased after using the product for a month.

The Directorate also notes that neither Dr Niemöller’s written submissions, nor his YouTube video make any reference to skin tone or elasticity or elevated energy levels, which are also listed as benefits of consuming this product.

In addition, it would appear that the only test done on the advertised product as sold to consumers was Dr Niemöller’s own test on himself as documented in the YouTube video. The Directorate cannot accept this as anything more than anecdotal and remains unconvinced that sufficient evidence was provided to show that the product, as sold and consumed by consumers, has been appropriately tested and has been proven capable of delivering on the advertised claims.

Finally, the Directorate notes that the advertised claims are all prefaced with the word “may”. Dr Niemöller also emphasised that the claims do not imply universal efficacy.

While true that this perhaps alerts interested customers to the fact that the product might be of no use to them, the overall tone of the advertisement appears to lean more towards a suggestion that the product is likely to result in weight and centimetre loss, improve skin tone and elasticity, improve muscle tone etc. The product description notes, inter alia, that

“It is very effective …” and that it is “Easy and quick to use without any required diet”. Even the notice “CLIENTS HAVE HAD AMAZING RESULTS BUT THESE NATURAL TABLETS ARE TAKEN AT YOUR OWN RISK” implies that positive results are fairly likely.

Given that Dr Niemöller cannot be regarded as “independent” and given the unanswered discrepancies and concerns highlighted above, the Directorate cannot accept his submissions as substantiation for the purpose of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.

As such, the Directorate is not convinced, at this time, that the advertised claims have been substantiated within the meaning of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.

Sanction

In light of the adverse finding, the Advertiser is requested to withdraw this advertisement with immediate effect and within the deadlines stipulated in Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide. Members are also requested not to accept advertising from the Advertiser where the claims listed above are made.

The Advertiser’s attention is also drawn to the provisions of Clause 15.5 of the Procedural Guide, which requires advertisers to withdraw offending advertising from all media in which they appear.

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