Mar 11 2009

Duchy Originals Detox Tincture

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Comments: 31

If I tried to invent a product name that evoked the sense of patent-medicine snake oil from the 19th century I don’t think I could have done a better job. Duchy Originals detox tincture is just one more of thousands of snake oil products being marketed to the public with dubious health claims. Except this one is backed by the Prince of Wales.

The con is an old one – virtually random ingredients are put into a pill, elixir, tincture, or salve and sold with incredible hype but no science. So-called snake oil marketers have a long tradition of knowing their marks and the market. Claims are designed to appeal to the broadest market, to have maximal allure, and to be just vague enough to evade any pesky regulations that may be in effect. Claims also tend to follow recent fads, using the buzz-words that are hot, and often try to wrap cutting-edge sciency terms in the cloak of ancient wisdom.

Oh, and celebrity or pseudoauthoritarian endorsements help, too.

The company is marketing their product as a detoxifier. This is the latest buzz word for snake-oil. The claim is that such products help the body eliminate toxins. Of course, the specific toxins are typically not named, and no plausible mechanism for removing the unnamed toxins can be given. The body’s own detoxification processes, such as the liver and kidneys, do just fine without any help in most circumstances. When a real toxin cannot be handled by the body then real disease is usually the result, and treatments, when available, are specific. Vague references to toxins and detoxification, however, are pure nonsense.

Edzard Ernst, as reported by the BBC, is very critical of the claims made for their detox tincture by Duch Originals, and supported by Prince Charles. He says:

“Nothing would, of course, be easier than to demonstrate that detox products work. All one needed to do is to take a few blood samples from volunteers and test whether this or that toxin is eliminated from the body faster than normal.

“But where are the studies that demonstrate efficacy? They do not exist, and the reason is simple: these products have no real detoxification effects.”

Quite true. Ernst is an interesting character. He is the UK’s first professor of complementary medicine. He started out quite fond of the notion of complementary and alternative medicine and set out to study CAM modalities scientifically. What he found, however, is that no so-called CAM modality has been established by adequate scientific evidence, and many have already been disproven. He wrote the book Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, with Simon Singh – a harsh criticism of CAM.

So despite his ideological leanings he was intellectually honest enough to listen to the evidence.  I think Prince Charles could use of dose of Professor Ernst’s Miraculous Elixir of Honesty. If only such a product existed.

31 responses so far

31 thoughts on “Duchy Originals Detox Tincture”

  1. CKava says:

    I think the simple reason detox vendors don’t bother with tests for their products efficacy is A) they know the results of such tests would be negative and B) there products sell perfectly well without any evidence.

    This article reminds me of Ben Goldacre’s recent run in with the ‘detox in a box’ woman. She didn’t even recognise the claims made on the products website for what the product she was promoting was actually supposed to do!

  2. Daniel Gete says:

    “celebrity or pseudoauthoritarian endorsements help, too.”

    Prince of Wales’ pseudoauthoritarian endorsment. Indeed. No surprise, though. The monarchy itself is essencially a form of superstition! A *useful superstition*, as the sofisticated defence would go, in a similarly pesimistic view of humanity as that of thologians, of the keep-the-bastards-honest and filling their bellies like beasts sort.

    This, by the way, reminds me of “the Divine Touch” of kings, which used to be so essential to their authority, and am wondering whether Their Royal Highnesses are not trying to find a substitute.

  3. catgirl says:

    I could become rich by selling tap water as a detox agent. The label would say “Works with your kidneys to naturally detoxify your body!” Too bad I’m not that dishonest.

  4. MarkW says:

    Of course any complementary or alternative medicine that was actually established by adequate scientific evidence would just be…

    (wait for it)


  5. PaulJ says:

    “He wrote the book Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, with Simon Singh – a harsh criticism of CAM.”

    …and the book is dedicated to HRH the Prince of Wales 😉

  6. Steve Page says:

    Trick or Treatment is an excellent book. For those who aren’t aware, Simon Singh is being sued at the moment by the British Chiropractic Association, purely because he had the temerity to point out that they are a bunch of quacks with no evidence to support their fanciful claims. There is a facebook group for those who wish to keep up to date with the case, or for those who merely wish to pass on their best wishes to Simon.

  7. TsuDhoNimh says:

    Ernst said: “Nothing would, of course, be easier than to demonstrate that detox products work. All one needed to do is to take a few blood samples from volunteers and test whether this or that toxin is eliminated from the body faster than normal.”

    First they have to declare WHICH toxins they are talking about … they have this vague idea that toxins are in there, like body thetans or demons, but can’t explain which measurable chemicals they mean.

  8. DarwynJackson says:

    The claim that tap water “Works with your kidneys to naturally detoxify your body!” isn’t really dishonest. By simply following Ernst’s testing protocol, you could “take a few blood samples from volunteers and test whether this or that toxin is eliminated” after using your tap water detoxifier.

    The blood concentrations of both BUN & Creatinine should be lower after use. Technically, your detox would be more effective than 99.99% of products on the market.

  9. HHC says:

    Recently, I was invited to talk at the office of a team chiropractor for AVP. The name of the talk was “Are You Toxic.” He went through the standard list of toxic products, cleaning agents, paints, and also babbled about vaccines and molds. He tried to get his audience to purchase Neurocleanse for $64 because this would clean the toxins from the cells. When I asked him what the active ingredient was in the product he was selling, he said he did not know. I asked him if he carried the product in his office, and he said he would be glad to order it. Just another example of the sham detox scam perpetrated by a chiropractor.

  10. delaneypa says:


    Great post thanks. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the FDA over the past 2-3 years has begun forcing some old, grandfathered drugs off the market…or at least some specific preparations. Some recent examples include quinine for leg cramps, hydrocodone for cough, some OTC drugs for colds in children, epinephrine inhalers, and most recently propoxyphene.

    It would seem that the FDA could apply the same logic to homeopathic remedies. Of course, that would slow nothing down, quacks only use “homeopathic” as a marketing term and would quickly replace it with another word.

  11. halincoh says:


    IT’S hard to ignore the hype over açaí, the purple berry that dangles from 60-foot trees in the Brazilian rain forest and has found its way into “detox” beverages and anti-aging creams. Just browse through your e-mail messages or advertisements on Facebook and you’ll get the gist of the claims: “Lose weight with Oprah’s favorite diet secret!” “Eat the berry that Dr. Oz calls the ‘No. 1’ superfood!”

    The berry has become a popular ingredient in a wide variety of products.

    Fifty-three new food and drink products containing açaí (pronounced ah-cye-EE) were introduced in the United States in 2008, up from four in 2004. Sales of products with açaí as the main ingredient exceeded $106 million in the year ending Jan. 24, according to Spins, a market researcher specializing in natural products.

    Naked (which is owned by Pepsi) and 180 Blue (Anheuser-Busch) offer açaí beverages. Dr. Nicholas Perricone, the celebrity dermatologist, sells an açaí supplement, and the cosmetics maker Fresh has a Sugar Açaí Age-Delay Body Cream for $65.

    The virtues of an açaí-based beverage from a company called MonaVie have been extolled by the media mogul Sumner Redstone, who told Fortune magazine in 2007 that he hoped the juice, at about $40 a bottle, would help him live another 50 years. (He’s now 85.)

    Despite the attention, there is little to back up the extravagant claims made on behalf of açaí. While the berry does contain antioxidants — molecules that can slow damage caused by the oxidation of other substances in the body — there are no long-term studies proving that açaí removes wrinkles or, as the various detoxification products claim, cleanses the body of toxins. Nor is there evidence to support dieters’ hopes for a magic fruit.

    “There is currently no scientific research to support a weight loss claim for açai fruit,” said Stephen T. Talcott, associate professor of food chemistry at Texas A&M University, who has published several studies on the berry. “Some companies are capitalizing on the fact that the açai berry is still mostly unknown to the broader public, and is sold as a miracle curative fruit from the deep, dark Amazonian jungle. It is doing nothing more than playing on consumer ignorance.”

    While most of the companies are careful about how they market their products, others are employing questionable means. Oprah Winfrey, who has information on her Web site about açaí attributed to Dr. Perricone and Dr. Mehmet Oz, is so concerned that her name has been misused to promote products across the Internet that a disclaimer was added to her Web site last month: “Consumers should be aware that Oprah Winfrey is not associated with nor does she endorse any açaí berry product or online solicitation of such products.”

    Consumers apparently misled by the use of Ms. Winfrey’s name complained to her representatives, who handed them off to the Attorney General of Illinois, Lisa Madigan. A spokeswoman for Ms. Madigan said the office is looking into whether any companies have engaged in deceptive marketing.

    The Web site of Rachael Ray, whose name also pops up on Internet advertisements, includes this disclaimer: “The use of her name or photo in connection with these solicitations is unauthorized.”

    And Dr. Perricone said his lawyer is looking into claims made by companies using his image to market products he does not endorse. “I certainly think açaí, the fruit, has great health benefits,” he said in an interview. “I would call it a superfood, but I’ve always spoken generically.”

    Many customers are also annoyed. According to Alison Southwick, a spokeswoman for the Council of Better Business Bureaus in Arlington, Va., said it has received more than 2,000 complaints from consumers who thought they were signing up for a free trial of açai weight loss products; in the end, the free trial cost them, month after month. In January, the bureau issued a warning telling consumers to be wary of online ads relying on celebrity endorsements of açaí-related weight loss products. FX, a business in Arlington, Tex., that sells things like Açaí Berry Maxx, and Central Coast Nutraceuticals, which is in Phoenix, are two of those companies. Both offer what they call risk-free trials of their products. But if consumers don’t cancel within the trial period, they receive additional bottles every month and are billed as much as $85.90. This reporter tried three times to contact both companies and was unsuccessful.

    In December, Jamie Nelson, of Wylie, Tex., filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau of Utah against a company there that was promoting what it called a free trial of açaí weight-loss products online. Ms. Nelson said the supplement did not help her lose weight and that she was charged after she had canceled her order.

    “They have a third-party company handling their ‘customer service calls’ so they do not have to answer to anyone,” she said. After the Better Business Bureau intervened, the company eventually refunded $78, half of what she said she was owed.

    Açaí was little known in the United States until 2001. Two Americans, Ryan Black and Ed Nichols, learned about the berry while traveling in Brazil. They recruited Ryan’s brother, Jeremy, mixed açaí pulp and guarana syrup into a juice, bottled it and called their new company Sambazon. Today they offer 20 products, including juices, energy drinks and supplements that are sold in about 15,000 stores across the United States.

    MonaVie, another successful açaí venture, sells a juice through distributors that contains açaí and “18 other body-beneficial fruits.”

    “Four ounces of MonaVie feature an antioxidant capacity equivalent to 13 servings of common fruits and vegetables,” the marketing materials claim.

    They do not mention, however, that the company has received more than three dozen complaints, mostly from customers and distributors requesting a refund, said Jane Driggs, the president of the Better Business Bureau in Salt Lake City, where MonaVie is located. The bureau asked for substantiation on MonaVie’s claims that its products are rich in “antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, phytonutrients, trace minerals” and that it contains “glucosamine to help maintain healthy joints.”

    Julie Jenkins, a spokeswoman for MonaVie, said: “We are working with the Better Business Bureau to provide the requested substantiation.” (Ms. Driggs acknowledged that MonaVie is “good” about refunding money and said the company has responded to every complaint.)

    To date, though, there have only been a few small studies of the berry on humans, two of which were published in the September 2008 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The first involved 12 volunteers who consumed a single serving of açaí juice or pulp. The study showed a short-term increase in the antioxidant capacity of the volunteers’ blood.

    “It’s got good antioxidants,” said Dr. Talcott, one of the researchers on the study. “We know antioxidants are probably good for us. But we need more studies.”

    In the other report, Dr. Alexander Schauss, a senior director at Aibmr Life Sciences, a nutraceutical research firm in Puyallup, Wash., wrote that MonaVie demonstrated “significant antioxidant protection” in 12 healthy adults.

    Dr. Schauss conceded that the sample size in the study was small but said he believed it was significant. Others are skeptical. While the former study shows that the antioxidants in açaí can be absorbed, “it only looked at the immediate effects of consuming açaí pulp and juice,” said Lilian Cheung, a lecturer in nutrition at the School of Public Health at Harvard University. “Its results did not demonstrate that consuming açaí pulp lead to any health outcomes, let alone weight loss.”

    But some people swear by it. About a year ago, Sarah Taylor, 32, a massage therapist in Portland, Ore., began using Sambazon’s açaí powder. After the first day, she said she noticed a spike in her energy level and has been using it ever since. She even suggested her older clients drink it. “It is so exciting to watch people react to something so well,” she said.

    >> The one disappointment I had with this article is that it ended with a positive statement. If they ended it one paragraph earlier, it would have led the facts of the few small studies better speak for itself.>>

  12. halincoh says:

    The beginning of my comment was lost. The above article was presented in the 3/12/09 New York Times. My introductory sentence stated that this contribution, though related to the above, was an aside.

  13. HHC says:

    halincoh, I believe I enjoyed a few samples of the MonaVie juice when the local hospital fitness center had a wellness fair. I think they wanted to sell it at a price of $45 per bottle, more than a decent wine.

  14. Parrot says:

    What’s the difference between a tincture and an elixir? (it’s true, I often get caught up in the really small details)

  15. PaulG says:

    >> pseudoauthoritarian endorsement

    … is right. The Royal Family, and Prince Charles in particular, have long been an embarrassment to much of the UK public.

    Charles has had a history of talking complete bollocks with regard to a lot of subjects, about which he knows less than your average moron (architecture, education, science, religion, politics).

    To be brutally honest, the Royal Family are only marginally better than a tourist attraction these days. They have no real relevance to the lives of most of us in the UK.

    Except of course, that now one of them is openly trying to con us, instead of doing it the usual way, via being paid by the state.

    Sadly, as usual, too few people are going to see the con. Happily, Prince Charles’ Duchy products are usually so expensive that only the truly rich and idiotic ever bother buying them anyway.

  16. _Arthur says:

    A tincture is often 50% ethanol: its users can testify that it has immediate benefits and that it packs quite a wallop !

  17. HHC says:

    Are princely endorsements paid for by the supplement industry in Britain? Is Prince Charles supporting the product by simply discussing information with reporters? Or is did he financially assist in the develop and promotion of the alcohol based tincture?

  18. PaulJ says:

    “Is Prince Charles supporting the product by simply discussing information with reporters? Or is did he financially assist in the develop and promotion of the alcohol based tincture?”

    I’m not sure of the details, but my understanding is that the Prince of Wales does not receive tax-payers’ money in the same way as other members of the royal family – including the Queen – indeed do. His income is from the Duchy of Cornwall, and I would imagine “Duchy Originals” is owned by the Duchy.

  19. HHC says:

    Paul], How is the Duchy of Cornwall’s income allocated? Is Prince Charles receiving monies from the estate of the Duchy of Cornwall? Does the estate own “Duchy Originals”?
    Also, why are the Brits complaining about a purchase of 10 pounds for a 50ml bottle of 50 proof? That would be $14.00 American.

  20. HHC says:

    Thanks for the link.

  21. PaulG says:

    The Duchy of Cornwall is Prince Charles’ estate, the product isn’t just endorsed by him, it’s being marketed by his organisation.

    A stunning indictment of what he thinks of the subjects he should be serving.

    Lastly, to the best of my knowledge, which isn’t great on this topic, Charles also receives monies from what is known as The Civil List…

    So the old con-artist is not exactly “short of a few quid” (American cousins, read “bucks” for “quid”). He shouldn’t really have to resort to conning the UK public.

    But what the Hell, it’s not like the Royal Family have any real talents they can market in these times of economic tribulation… “Hey old boy, would anybody like to buy an unfeasibly large, diamond encrusted, hat?” (I can just hear Jay saying it).

  22. PaulJ says:

    From Wikipedia:

    “The Duchy of Cornwall is, with the Duchy of Lancaster, one of the two Royal duchies in the United Kingdom. The eldest son of the reigning British monarch inherits the duchy and title of Duke of Cornwall at the time of his birth (if the monarch has no son the estates of the Duchy are held by the Crown and there is no Duke). The current Duke is Charles, the Prince of Wales.”

    My understanding is that Prince Charles does not receive income from the civil list.

  23. PaulJ says:

    Oops, forgot to close italics… 🙁

  24. PaulG says:

    Okay – said I didn’t know much about this, but where do you get your information that the Duke of Cornwall receives nothing from the Civil List?

    Can’t say I’ve actually bothered to look much, but Wikipedia was a little unclear, and I’m not sure how much I’d trust it anyway.

    So, if we take it that poor old Charles doesn’t get any cash from the Civil List, that means he has to depend upon his own wiles to earn his daily bread. I suppose that would explain why he feels the need to con a populace who, on average, earn less than 1/500 of his estimated annual income (£15m)…

    My heart go’s out to him, I do hope he can afford to pay his fuel bills this year… a good few of his elderly “subjects” won’t be able to.

  25. HHC says:

    Thanks for the information and links to the Telegraph. Apparently, the Duchy of Cornwall is one of the largest and oldest in Great Britain. It was created in 1337 by Edward III for his son. The estate includes farmland, housing and commercial properties and a portfolio of investments, shares and bonds.The Cornwall properties have exemptions from the 1967 Leasehold Reform Act, so that the estate will not be forceably divided. Prince Charles does not own the assets. He lives on dividends on shares and rents. He voluntarily pays taxes on his income. He has a personal household and 100 staff to maintain.

  26. HHC says:

    The Queen costs each person in Britain 66 p a year or 93 cents American.

  27. PaulG says:

    >> HHC

    Yeah, great shame he’s so poor and has such onerous responsibilities.

    The next time he’s deciding whether to pay his credit card bills or buy his kids a new pair of shoes I’ll remind myself to let my heart bleed for him.

  28. PaulG says:

    Some excellent news…

    On the 20th March 2009, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) upheld a complaint that contrary to the advertising the products had not been assessed for efficacy. A MHRA spokesman said: “Nelsons, the registration holder, on behalf of Duchy Originals agreed they would amend their advertising and remove claims of efficacy from their website and all future advertising.”


    Just thought I’d let people know.

  29. HHC says:

    Thanks for the update, Paul G. I am sure Prince Charles thought Nelson pharmaceuticals was an excellent investment, but the greater good of British consumers has to be considered given his sponsorship. Homeopathy is not good pharmacy.

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