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Editorial: Not the Time to 'Flu' Around

When you’re in business, there is a natural reaction that forces you to consume any piece of news with a business filter evaluating the significance of the piece of information relative to the opportunity it provides your business. Unfortunately for our industry, many of the organizations representing themselves as part of our industry do not have a practical or moral counter-check that stops them from doing public harm and from violating regulations as they take advantage of these stories and another common human failing – gullibility.

Of course I’m speaking about the current fears over the H1N1 flu strain which, I am told, is already indirectly associated with a significant increase in the purchase of wellness products at retail. This is altogether not surprising, and is quite realistic, as there are a lot of things that consumers can do to generally enhance their state of wellness, and that includes consuming some of the products of this industry.

In some cases, the guidance and advice goes a bit further, speaking about the immune system and products and strategies for strengthening it – also a reasonable and practical approach. These strategies include a range of approaches from stress management to dietary habits, from lifestyle changes to energy restoration. Once again, many of these are reasonable and practical considerations, made more important due to both increasing daily challenges to our systems, and now the emerging threat of a major health issue if not pandemic.

An article entitled, “Avoid swine flu by strengthening the immune system” appeared on, advising the following:

“…build up your immune system; there are many foods that are capable of giving you the extra resilience you need. Vegetables such as garlic, all dark green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes and some squash varieties, all are rich in the antioxidants and vitamins needed for a healthy immune system. Fruits such as citrus, strawberries, kiwi, are high in vitamin C, an essential ingredient in warding off disease. Herbs such as ginseng, thyme and ginger, among others, are known to boost immunity. The spice turmeric is known to be a powerful anti-viral, as well, among its many other therapeutic qualities, having been trusted by people in other cultures (mainly India) for centuries.”

Unfortunately, there exists, in our world, that juncture point where reasonableness stops and opportunism emerges and ultimately prevails. We’ve seen it before with bird flu. We see it far too frequently, almost daily, with cancer. It begins with the scientific ‘statement of promise’, either anecdotal or in vitro. This often quickly evolves into a mainstream story that allows consumers to associate products with cures. At the same time, the opportunistic begin to cash in. While reasonable in its own right, the following article, entitled “Simple natural solutions show promise against swine/avian flu” originating from Atlanta, continues and in fact propagates this inevitable course:

“When the first outbreaks of avian and swine flu hit Asia, research was immediate and many Asian cultures seek help among natural remedies and supplements. There has been very promising research that indicates the cytokines that communicate the virus to mutate and spread or not, are the key. Cytokines, according to Wikipedia, are “a category of signaling molecules that are used extensively in cellular communication.” They are critical in immune responses. The trick is to avoid triggering the virus to respond and multiply....Serious research in Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and other areas have shown that the flu is reduced if you take Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Dosages of Vitamin C need to be at 1000mg or better, three times a day (that's 3000+ mg) knocks down the virus and helps prevent it. Vitamin E should be the regular dietary dosage.”

Taken at face value, this could be perceived as a reasonable assessment of the state of science. Where this leads though is all too obvious. And the substantiation for any product or ingredient for H1N1 is totally absent, as it has to be, so how can you say anything about anything?

This fact is easily lost on unscrupulous marketers who through powerful use of association, and ultimately flagrant disregard for the law cause consumers to believe their product are effective. They cannot be – it takes too long to research and develop a product. Can a product help prepare and support an immune system – yes. Can a product at this stage be proven to do anything else – emphatically not.

It is for this reason that FDA and FTC have issued a statement warning of bogus claims. It is for this reason that several industry associations have issued a joint statement entitled “Industry Coalition Advises Against Use of Dietary Supplements as Swine Flu Remedy, Cure” noting and comprehending the dangerous practices of unscrupulous marketers.

This though is our world and reality. Unfortunately, in many minds, these marketers are considered also to be of our world and our reality, making this issue our problem. That’s sad, painful and fundamentally wrong. I guess the synopsis is, be careful what you say, be careful in what you imply, be especially careful with whom you associate and do business with. Are their practices ones you can support?

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