Every so often, diet and health-conscious consumers will stumble across a product or ingredient that comes with some truly stunning promises. Instead of the usual claims attached to natural herbs or fruit (such as having antioxidant properties or being a good source of vitamins and minerals), some manufacturers have started to make far bolder claims. From these, perhaps the most eye-catching of all is the promise that was once made by Nature’s Pearl about Muscadine Grape: that their product can actually cure cancer.
Below, we take a look at Nature’s Pearl as a company, and give you the inside scoop as to whether muscadine grape extracts are as miraculous as the manufacturers have claimed.
What is Nature’s Pearl?
Nature’s Pearl was founded in 2005 by Jerry Smith, the founder and CEO of a bottled water company called Le Bleu. Already a successful businessman, Smith has ensured that Nature’s Pearl continues to have the financial muscle to compete in a crowded market by investing in schemes that have generated huge interest in the company.
Every product produced and marketed by Nature’s Pearl is connected in some way with Muscadine Grapes, a larger variant of the grapes you typically find in supermarkets and grocery shops. The company sells an oddly vast range of products containing this key ingredient, from the usual seed extracts and fruit juices, to stranger incarnations such as muscadine grape toothpaste.
Muscadine Grape: The Scientific Evidence
The reason for the company’s enthusiasm for muscadine grapes in particular (beyond the fact that they clearly have access to a profitable source of them) is that muscadine grapes have repeatedly been linked to some pretty impressive health benefits.
Numerous scientific studies have looked into the benefits of consuming muscadine grapes and the results have often been interesting. In a journal called Food and Function, researchers found that oil produced from muscadine grape seeds was particularly high in unsaturated fatty acids, and that the extract contained an unsaturated form of vitamin E. The research team theorised that these compounds could help to reduce fat formation in those who are already obese.
Various other studies have also shown that the high vitamin C content, high fibre content and high antioxidant content of muscadine grapes also help consumers to enjoy a range of minor health benefits. Dieters and health-conscious buyers will probably find a lot to enjoy about the grapes as a general health food.
More recently, other researchers have also begun opening up investigations as to whether these encouraging signs could help in the fight against fatal diseases. This is perhaps due to the repeated discovery that muscadine grapes have been found to contain ellagic acid, which has separately been linked with the inhibition of cancerous cells.
Here is where Nature’s Pearl steps in. Since 2009, the company has openly been funding research into some of the more dramatic effects of taking muscadine grapes. The company has made some huge financial donations to one particular research institution (Wake Forest University and the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre located on the University’s campus). The university have since conducted a number of studies into the health benefits of muscadine grapes. Although these studies make specific links with the grapes and with reducing cancer and cardiovascular problems, we and many others believe that these payments (sometimes reaching up to 20 million dollars) may be influencing the integrity of the results.
In an attempt to find a definitive link with muscadine grapes and the reduction of heart disease, a double blind study was conducted by Dr David Herrington (of Wake Forest University) in 2010 on people with a higher risk of cardiovascular complications. The study unfortunately did not find clear proof that the grapes could reduce cardiovascular disease, although they did find that it could widen a particular artery when resting.
Wake Forest University’s Gallagher and Tallant have also conducted a number of studies that suggest that Muscadine grapes inhibit the growth of human cancer cells (by up to 40–50%), helping to slow the spread of a number of cancers, including lung, colon, breast and more.
If all this is so impressive, then why have muscadine grapes not received wider attention? Because ultimately these studies are made worthless due to the fact that they were commissioned and paid for by a private company looking to make money based on the results.
Trouble With the FDA
With this in mind, the FDA decided to come down hard on Nature’s Pearl and their marketing practices in 2012. In a warning letter addressed and sent to the CEO, the FDA stated that Nature’s Pearl was illegally making false claims as to the medicinal properties of Muscadine grapes without seeking FDA approval. The company was instructed to change their advertising copy immediately or face further charges.
As of 2016, it is clear that this still hasn’t entirely happened. As Nature’s Pearl is largely marketed by an army of independent distributors running blogs and YouTube channels, dramatic health claims are still regularly made. One distributor even went as far as to acknowledge that he was not permitted to make specific health claims about Nature’s Pearl products, before spending the rest of his video failing to follow his own advice! The company does not sell medicines to treat actual diseases, and yet many of their distributors keep alluding to this. The most frustrating part of this is that the information about these studies quite likely came from the parent company, when training their new distributors.
The Multi-Level Marketing Connection
These independent distributors are part of a specific strategy employed by Nature’s Pearl and its current parent company, Youngevity. As multi-level marketing companies, these groups encourage ordinary members of the public to register as ‘distributors’, promising that they will make huge sums per week selling products on behalf of the company. As has been discussed numerous times on this site, this arrangement is often regarded as a scam due to its similarity to basic ‘pyramid schemes’; almost all distributors fail to make back the money they spend on stock and often devote significant portions of their lives to selling products to their friends and family.
The parent company, Youngevity, purchased Nature’s Pearl in 2016, and has suffered from controversy for most of its existence. The company has also been accused of shilling worthless products, before trying to back up their credentials with phoney scientific studies (their research team of choice can be found in Clemson University).
Youngevity has also been accused of overpricing their products, making provably false claims (including that their vitamin supplements were more easily ‘absorbed’ than competitors), and exploiting their distributors. The CEO of Youngevity, a veterinarian called Dr Joel Wallach, has also attracted controversy in the past by making bogus and bizarre claims that all Americans are seriously mineral deficient, which was said to be a leading cause of death in general. The solution, of course, was his own brand of mineral water.
The Nature’s Pearl Product Range
It is hard to find information on the Nature’s Pearl product range, as they can only be purchased through the Youngevity system. The product section on the website can only be accessed via a Youngevity distributor, and even when accessed, Nature’s Pearl does not offer important information on ingredient quantities, directions for use or the nutritional value of their juices.
The actual product range is fairly straightforward. Customers can buy grape seed extract in both capsule and liquid form and can drink muscadine grapes in the form of a fruit juice mix (although some customers have complained that buyers run the risk of encountering a ‘bad’ or rotten batch!)
Other products mix the muscadine grape ingredient with others for some variety. Customers looking for an energy boost can grab the energy shots (which are mainly muscadine grape mixed with green coffee bean) and slimmers can find the NP Pro Trim Body Shake (which mixes grape extract with a general superfood blend that can be mixed into a shake drink).
Nature’s Pearl also has a number of other innovative uses for muscadine grapes, mixing it into their own brands of skin lotion, shampoo, conditioner, lip balm, toothpaste and others.
The cost of these products is somewhat high, but by no means the highest we’ve seen from similar retailers. A bottle of shampoo or conditioner will cost $18 each, and a bundle of three skincare products will cost $96 altogether. The cost of the raw extract varies hugely by volume, with a single tub costing $30 all in all.
Nature’s Pearl could well be selling an interesting product, but we feel that they have hugely compromised their own integrity and the existing scientific literature by their attempts to financially influence researchers. As it stands, it seems like the FDA’s decision to try and halt the company from making bold (and possibly incorrect) claims about the grape’s medicinal properties was wise, although we would still like to point out that many independent distributors still haven’t got the memo.
We generally advise readers to stay well away from MLMs at the best of times, as these companies aim to sucker in potential customers and turn them into exploitable distributors. Even if you are interested in the potential health benefits of muscadine grapes, we would still advise you to pick another retailer, and try not to get too caught up in the hype. If you’re suffering with a serious illness, solutions like this should never replace the advice and treatment given by fully qualified medical professionals.
Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.