As a physician and researcher for many years, I have, on numerous occasions, been paid by pharmaceutical companies to present information relative to FDA approved drugs. In the process, however, I was never pressured to directly promote any of their products. I merely was asked to present the science supporting the rationale for using these products, and allowed my fellow physicians to make their own judgments about where they may—or many not—fit into their own practices. Moreover, never would I have considered discussing unproven products, often mislabeled “supplements,” for promoting health or fighting disease.
During a recent GOP presidential debate in Boulder, Colorado, CNBC moderator Carl Quintanilla asked Ben Carson, a leading GOP contender and an accomplished pediatric neurosurgeon, about his relationship with a controversial nutritional-supplement company:
“There’s a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a ten-year relationship,” Quintanilla asked. “They offered claims that they could cure autism and cancer. They paid $7 million to settle a deceptive-marketing lawsuit in Texas and yet your involvement continued. Why?”
Initially responding, Dr. Carson denied such a relationship, stating “Well, it’s easy to answer. I didn’t have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda and this is what happens in our society.” Later, however, he stated “I did a couple of speeches for them. I did speeches for other people, they were paid speeches.” But then he switched back to a full denial. Flip-flopping a bit later, however, he sheepishly stated “Do I take the product? Yes, I think it’s a good product.”
Really! No involvement and a good product? Let’s look a bit closer at this statement.
Carson first spoke out in favor of Mannatech products over a decade ago when he claimed that the Texas-based company’s “glyconutritional supplements,” which included larch-tree bark and aloe vera extract, helped him overcome prostate cancer. The company doctor, presumably from Mannatech, “prescribed a regimen of supplements,” Carson told its sales associates in a 2004 speech. “Within about three weeks my symptoms went away, and I was really quite amazed,” he said to loud applause, according to a YouTube video of the event. Today, Carson is allegedly cancer-free after surgery, telling associates of Mannatech that he initially considered forgoing surgery and treating the cancer with supplements only. Sadly, statements such as this reflect either a bad doctor or an outright liar! Take your pick.
As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, Carson’s relationship with the company deepened over time, including “four paid speeches at Mannatech gatherings, most recently one in 2013 for which he was paid $42,000, according to the company.” The company disputes that Carson was a “paid endorser or spokesperson,” according to the Journal, and claims his financial compensation went to charity.
National Review also highlighted Carson’s connections to Mannatech in January this year and how Carson’s team went to great lengths to distance themselves from the company. Some of his video appearances have been removed from the Internet, but those that remain appear to show a deeper affiliation than Carson claimed during Wednesday’s debate.
But what about Mannatech’s products? Are they safe and effective, as the company claims? Nobody can answer this question, for they are all considered dietary supplements and not drugs, and as such, they need not comply with the FDA’s rigorous requirements to be marketed as drugs. I have reviewed this company’s illustrious list of products and find no credible scientific evidence that any of them are effective—and most troubling—safe. Many of us may not be aware that, recently, numerous serious deleterious health effects have been encountered in people taking various supplements that have evaded scrutiny prior to their infliction on the public.
Mannatech supposedly made $415 million in the last 12 months selling pills and powders made from larch bark and aloe, known as glyconutrients, marketed under the trade name of Ambrotose, a so called “nutritional supplement that helps the cells in one’s body communicate with one another”. The product is shipped directly from the company to customers, with sales “associates” getting a cut of the profits. .
A three-month “20/20” hidden camera investigation found outlandish claims being made by some Mannatech sales associates around the country, extolling what they say are the extraordinary powers of Ambrotose, which, unsurprisingly, costs at least $200 a month.
In one video for Mannatech last year that remains online, Carson discusses his experiences with nutritional supplements while seated next to the company’s logo. “The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel,” Carson explained. “And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food… Basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health.” Carson stopped short of making substantive medical claims about Mannatech’s products. “You know, I can’t say that that’s the reason I feel so healthy,” he said. “But I can say it made me feel different and that’s why I continue to use it more than ten years later.” His apparent hesitation is understandable. Seven years before Carson appeared in that video, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who was elected governor of Texas last year, sued Mannatech for running a illegal marketing scheme under the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Abbott claimed that the Dallas-based company and its sales representatives repeatedly exaggerated the medical efficacy of their products.
So, you be the judge: Is he a bad doctor, a liar, or simply a “hired gun”? More importantly, do you want him as your president?