Day 115: Encyclopedia Brown And The Case Of The Magic Berry Pills

originally published April 24, 2012

If only the secrets of eternal health and karmic balance could be obtained in a single pill. Well, look no further than your local random internet page’s pop-up ad or splashy banner. Not only does that magical pill exist, but you can try it for FREE! That’s right, a limited-time, act-now, knock-your-grandmother-over-as-you-race-for-your-credit-card, once-in-a-lifetime deal.

Or is it?

You have probably heard of the açaí berry, the alleged super-fruit that provides so many anti-oxidants, if you eat one, no oxidant will be legally permitted within ten blocks of you. Maybe your local smoothie place has blended some up for you, leaving you with that warm placebo glow of self-satisfaction, as though you had just consumed some tasty health food. Not quite as tasty as a 180-Octane orange slush from Fat Tuesday’s on the Vegas Strip, but not half bad.

But you can’t run to a smoothie place every day (unless you work in a mall, I guess). And smoothies cost four to six bucks. Also, winter happens – who wants a cold smoothie in the winter? How about doing the modern thing and just taking a pill?

Notice the claims being made here. “Higher anti-oxidants than Pomegranate and Green Tea.” A trio of studies were done to check out the anti-oxidant claims of açaí juice, and it did technically rate higher than the tea used in the studies. However it was out-performed by Concord grape juice, blueberry juice, red wine, and yes, pomegranate.

Okay, that was the juice. Maybe they get the essence of the açaí more purely contained within the powdered pill-guts of this bottle. The other claims look so believable! “Flush POUNDS and POUNDS without heavy dieting.” “Slims your stomach.” This is the secret to making a million dollars, people: promise weight loss in a pill.

Unfortunately, there is no pill that will svelte you down with no real diet or exercise. At least not yet – I’m working on something. When it’s ready, I’ll announce it here, and you’ll all get first dibs on THE PILL THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

The last two claims in this ad, completely vague and unquestionably fake, don’t even warrant a mention.

So who could stoop so low as to rake in untold gazillions from the desperate and overweight? A company called FWM Laboratories, that’s who. I’m not certain what FWM stands for (“Fuck With Mankind” maybe?), but these people have no soul.

A Google search for a company tends to provide that company’s main website as the first hit. A search for “FWM” brings us first to a site called, detailing the story of a guy named Gregg from Phoenix who paid the $3.95 in shipping and got more than he wanted.

FWM operates with something called negative option billing. This means you give them your credit card, they charge you the shipping, then if you don’t cancel before your 14-day “trial offer” is up, they’ll bill you for a full supply (between $65 and $95) and send you more. And they’ll do this over and over again, no doubt laughing maniacally and lighting two simultaneous cigars with burning $100 bills.

Sometimes you’ll find these guys pretending to be a blog: somebody’s personal story of triumph over massive weight, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, rickets, and termite infestation, using only those sweet, wonderful FWM Labs superpills.

But blogs can be faked (note: not this one – this isn’t a blog, it’s a Project. Projects can’t be faked). In fact, some of these fake blogs will use their internet sorcery to find out where you are located, and they’ll plunk in your city as their origin point. So now it looks like you’re reading a testimonial from someone who might be your neighbor, maybe your mailman, maybe your grocer (do people still have grocers?).

But it’s still fake. Just look at their legal track record.

Oprah Winfrey launched a massive lawsuit against fifty sellers of FWM products because of their blatant use of her image and the image of her medical henchman, Dr. Mehmet Oz. Neither Oprah nor Dr. Oz have ever endorsed an FWM product; they may have had a show where they talked about the potential benefits of the açaí berry (I have no idea, nor do I feel like checking), but somebody’s clearly crossing the line into assholulism here.

The lady in that photo is Jennifer Eisenbarth, a contestant on NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Her image was also used in an FWM ad without her consent. According to ABC’s Nightline, the company has settled the lawsuits and paid out millions of dollars in refunds.

These ads aren’t going away; if it isn’t FWM hocking magic pills, it’s somebody else, trying to take advantage of the public’s concern over self-image and lack of desire to get off the couch.

The poor little açaí berry is being touted as a means of cancer prevention, diabetes deletion, and the secret to enhancing one’s penis size. Except that there are no scientifically controlled studies that will confirm any health benefits from eating or drinking açaí. Not a single açaí product has been evaluated by the FDA.

These products are all crap.

That’s not to say that this misunderstood little berry is useless. It does contain antioxidant properties, and a study done on rats that were being fed a high cholesterol diet showed that supplemental doses of açaí pulp did show some improvement in their cholesterol count. So if it comes down to a choice between a bag of pork rinds and a handful of açaí berries, you’d probably benefit more from the latter.

It’s a fine offering for a fruit, and a tasty complement to a smoothie. That said, check out the complete nutritional content at your local smoothie place – often you’re getting a meal’s-worth of calories and carbohydrates in a liquid snack-like vessel.

And for the sweet love of all things fuck, please stop looking for a magic weight-loss cure in a pill. That may be too much to ask for a society that still occasionally falls for the Nigerian Prince scam, and routinely purchases magazines that feature Kim Kardashian on the front cover.

If a deal looks too magical to be true, trust your instincts. Or do some research – the internet is more than just a vast repository of pornography (apparently). When a company has 6215 complaints registered against it with the Better Business Bureau, with 4183 that they haven’t even responded to, that’s probably a red flag.

But don’t worry. My magic weight-loss pills will be the real thing. You can trust me, I’m Canadian.

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