MLM Alert: Don’t Buy Dependency

by Steven Carney on November 20, 2013

This post is #97 on the site (how MLM companies sell dependency). The site is a collection of breakthrough articles and resources at your fingertips! Feel free to browse the information here. Whether you have health, life or prosperity and business challenges, I can help you have the life you desire! I offer a unique mix of coaching, training and experience based on multiple certifications and overcoming my own significant life challenges.

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I attended a local health fair recently. The organizers were really nice and I appreciate their hard work to organize the fair. They were able to bring many licensed professionals (chiropractors, massage therapists, psychologists, and other health and nutrition experts). Unfortunately, a batch of MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) reps also exhibited.

These MLM reps were typical, with little formal education, training or certifications in the business they represented, mostly for nutrition, supplements and weight loss. They were there to sell and sign people up ASAP! Several used the typical MLM style of aggressive sales. I’ve encountered reps like this too often, using tactics to manipulate prospects for their benefit (think of a telemarketer you try to get rid of who has snappy comebacks for every objection and concern you raise).

These MLM company reps are often eager to sign people up so they can build their downline. They want us to buy their over hyped and over priced products. I seem to encounter many who sell supplements, weight loss or other food/beverage-oriented products, each claiming to offer amazing results based on clinical research (something I will debunk shortly). No doubt, you have encountered these MLM reps too. They are like a cancer on our society for a number of reasons:

1. Their model is built on dependency

Unlike the professional coaching services I offer (and other true professionals at the fair), the MLM reps use a model of dependency: they want to sign you up and keep you buying month after month! After you pay the costs and fees to join, they will pressure you to keep buying (plus some companies require monthly purchases to remain active). Either way, you’re on the hook for their system of dependency, one which copies the drug industry with a quick pill that never cures, but keeps the cash flowing from your pocket to the MLM (or drug company’s) coffers.

This is a deeply flawed model which favors the rep and their company, not you! They use lots of hype, slogans and biased, often unreliable research paid for by the company. Many will claim they have clinical trials but the low level of science is more hype than real.

That’s because most rely on more basic research, such as in vitro (lab studies) using tests on cell cultures. Those studies look at basic science, but lab studies rarely carry over to human subjects (maybe 10-20% of the time). They do not constitute proof but are used as leverage to impress gullible prospects who don’t understand critical details of research methods, bias, and the scientific process overall.

Many MLM companies also rely on small animal studies (rats and mice). Those can be interesting and a somewhat higher level of research, but those rarely work in humans either, maybe 20-30% of the time. That means they don’t work about 70 or 80% of the time! So again, these types of studies do not constitute credible proof that a formula or supplement works effectively in the human body. And again, reps will brag about their “clinical trials” or “clinical research” to sound like their products are proven when they are not!

2. The reps have minimal expertise

Many of these reps have little or no background, education, training or experience in nutrition, anatomy, digestion, metabolism, hormones, etc., yet they use aggressive tactics to sell products for human consumption. It’s unprofessional and demonstrates how little integrity the rep’s and the companies have. Again, money comes first, even if we cut corners to make it!

Why are they allowed to do this? And why do people buy from these inexperienced reps (I know part of the sales pitch is that you can also make extra money because “everyone needs these products” but most reps fail in the MLM industry).

In fact, most companies are a revolving door because only a small percent of reps survive over a year (most have under a 5% success rate for their reps long term). The rest quit and need to be replaced annually. Many go to a few rah-rah meetings sales-type and start selling, without any substantial base of knowledge or experience in the products, subject area or competitors. They seem fine with this as long as they can make money and build their downline.

Another problem is that many reps routinely present exaggerated claims that violate government regulations against medical claims. Supplements are only allowed to use what are called Structure/Function claims, such as “supports heart health” or “helps maintain healthy digestion” or “supports healthy immune function.”

Many reps go way beyond those rules to claim that their supplements will prevent or treat chronic conditions or diseases. Many also use testimonials that make these same claims. None of these are legal. The FDA and FTC both have extensive guidelines that prohibit any disease-oriented claims either by the company, their marketing, labeling and sales, or using testimonials which make those claims. These agencies now look at social media sites where many of these sales practices occur.

When it comes to credible research, a minimal standard for MLM products is multiple studies done through independent researchers, each using hundreds of human subjects, tested and verified again by other researchers, without influence or design from the MLM or drug company. That’s how science is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, the media often reports every study like its ground breaking but single studies are not considered proof of anything! The scientific process requires multiple replications by independent researchers who don’t owe the company any favors and don’t depend on them for grants! Yet this rarely happens. The lab and rat studies are relatively cheap. Any human studies are often too small (called Pilot Studies), usually with a handful or a few dozen subjects. Again, interesting and early indications of effectiveness but not actual proof!

Based on a minimal standard of multiple human studies (and hundreds of subjects each time) handled by independent researchers, I don’t know of a single MLM company that has gone that far and created that level of validity. So what you are told is hype and marketing, not science! Period!

3. MLM products often cost more than those you can buy yourself

The MLM model is also flawed because there are often equally effective and cheaper alternatives available. But if you are buying these products from a friend or colleague, you might feel guilty so you order and keep buying. That’s a reason they use your friendship or family connection. They know you won’t want to offend so you will keep buying. You’re doing yourself a disservice, both in terms of overall health and cost. Plus, these companies are very good at marketing hype, manipulation, and push a religious-type fanaticism to sell their wares. That’s not science.

Take the whole area of research I mentioned earlier. I have yet to meet anyone selling MLM supplements, weight loss, food or beverage products who have any outside education in scientific research, methods, research types, or how to spot bias. Yet they constantly brag about their product’s clinical trials or peer-reviewed research, having little idea of what those terms actually mean!

As mentioned above, their research is mostly preliminary and often not applicable to their products (such as general studies on vitamins or minerals that don’t match dosage, form, bioavailability or their combination). Plus, research can take many forms and methods and those rarely offer direct proof or true effectiveness. Also beware of older studies from before the 2000s as older studies may not be scientifically valid or unbiased, including methodology, who paid for the study, etc.

No matter! These reps believe the hype and will tell me how wrong I am when I debunk their weak, biased research. I’ve rebutted them many times but they still “believe!”

Examples from the fair

As I mentioned, the fair had quite a few legitimate professionals like massage therapists and chiropractors, all well-educated and licensed to practice. But of the MLM reps, 2 stood out the most.

The first was Nu Skin (the company that uses that scanner to check for carotenoids in your hand), a questionable approach. I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth even since an overly zealous rep I met a few years ago pursued me by e-mail and phone for weeks, trying to get me to promote the scanner and supplements. Like many reps for MLM companies, these people “believe” the myths of their products and can’t wait to sign people up/sell supplements! I’m convinced they see us all with a big, green $ sign on our foreheads!

I didn’t want to engage these people (I found out the female rep is actually a resource person for an IT company with no background in nutrition, health or metabolism shown anywhere), and I didn’t want to use the scanner. I eat lots of veggies and fruits, and I take a broad range of supplements during an average day. I’m active, fit and look/feel younger than my age.

I was with a friend who I thought was going to get scanned. He said he wanted me to go first. So to get the scan over with, I quickly pinched the scanner with my fingers but the palm wasn’t tight to the laser. I wasn’t really interested, knowing I would get roped into the sales pitch they would present.

The “score” was lower than I expected but the rep’s were immediately excited to sell me their supplement (in a link below, another rep was tricked by a doctor doing a blind test. The rep thought they were testing 6 people behind a door but one person got scanned 3 times and they got wildly different scores, showing how unreliable that scanner can be).

The two reps pressured me to buy the Life Pak combo (she lifted it off its pedestal and pointed to it, saying I needed their supplements because what I was taking wasn’t working (she didn’t really know, no matter, it must be crap). Plus, my diet must be inadequate too so I need their pills. Never mind that I’ve been into a healthy lifestyle for 20 + years! They didn’t care about what I needed or wanted, it was only about selling me their expensive vitamins!

A quick note about these scanners is that they were originally designed to measure carotenoids in the macula, an area in back of the eye where we have a high concentration of carotenoids. And many of the studies Nu Skin points to for their hand scanner used a different laser to look into test subjects eyes, but the palm is really different. Hello?

Many other studies are based on blue or green lasers (this one was orange at the fair). Other studies indicated the research showed promise (but not proof), or had really small numbers of subjects (one they touted had skin samples from only 6 subjects, a number so small it proves little beyond those 6 people)!

And what about vitamin C, E, K2, minerals, and antioxidants like polyphenols, catechins, anthocyanins, catalase, glutathione, etc? It’s simply assumed that these all follow carotenoids in terms of intake or levels, even though they are all from different sources (I use a wide variety of foods, spices and supplements daily).

No matter, the reps wanted me to buy their supplements, claiming my score was too low. I also knew my palm wasn’t tight to the laser but no matter, I should buy their supplements, which cost about $150/month with shipping! That’s a steep price compared to the supplements I take already (USP independently tested and approved for potency and bioavailability. Most nutrients are 100% of the RDA or more).

After the fair, I did a thorough review of their Life Pak labels online and the amounts of vitamins and minerals are okay in a single packet, although they have very high levels of vitamin A and beta carotene, which will help to raise your score if you get scanned again. (See? It works because we pumped you up with lots of vitamin A and beta carotene!). If you take the recommended 2 packs/day, you do get somewhat more compared to my morning multi for basic vitamins and minerals.

But I also take fish oil, Co-Q10, kelp, extra vitamin C, vitamin K2 (which they don’t include), calcium, magnesium, resveratrol and other supplements in amounts that work for me. Many of those additional elements in their pak are way below what I take. In fact, the amounts for some of their add-ons are low-dosages. It’s one thing to mention an ingredient but if the amount is too low, what have you really gained but hype?

I also have a great diet (lean proteins, 50% veggies with lunch and dinner, plus real fruits, nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, little sugar and no wheat/processed foods, moderate dairy, green and white tea, etc.). I also have a slim build and I work out daily. But no matter! They are clearly after one thing and one thing only: moving pills to make money and using the scanner to pressure people into buying their supplements.

The bottom line is that putting these scanners in the hands of amateurs without a true health education, assessment or professional health skills is not scientific! It’s designed to sell pills (in fact, information in a past Nu skin annual report made an obvious connection between using the scanner and their expectation to sell more supplements). Wow, there’s a shock!

I give this entire process and experience with Nu skin a failing grade! The process is pseudo scientific and the reps were unprofessional, using guilt to pressure sales. All of my encounters with their reps have been unprofessional and I will never recommend this company to anyone, nor will I ever buy their products! I suggest you avoid these high-priced pills too!

Also at the fair were reps for ASEA water, another name I’ve run into before. This “magic” water has all the same problems: sketchy research using lab and small mammal (mice) studies, plus a few small (pilot) study on athletes. None of their claims are credible or ring true. They also pray on gullible people who are willing to pay several dollars/day for their water! Apparently, it doesn’t taste very good at all (see links below).

Again, if your get a good level of micronutrients and antioxidants through food, supplements and a healthy lifestyle, I don’t think this water will add anything to your health. And again, they were there to sell! They pressured me to try it and I needed to test it out, etc. I quickly saw some of their weak research and debunked it on the spot! They didn’t like that much!

So MLM’s have a continuing problem: a dependency model to keep you hooked, reps with poor training and a lack of expertise, and finally, over-priced products you can often find on your own (or with help at reasonable cost).

If you have any questions or comments, drop me a line at:

Helpful links:

Links about Nu Skin and ASEA:

© 2013 by Steve Carney/End Sickness Now

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