Your Complete Guide To Supplement Scams
We Discuss The Most Common, Harmful & Pernicious Scams Today
What is the biggest problem with the supplement industry today?
Is it manufacturers spreading misinformation? Well, that’s quite a serious issue, and it is definitely the most pernicious. But it probably isn’t the most immediately harmful problem.
What about misleading ads? They are an issue, particularly in the nootropics industry. Lots of supplements promise miracles, and innocent, naive people fall for it. But they still don’t cause serious harm. After all, what industry doesn’t rely on hyperbole and insinuation?
No, in our opinion, the main problem in the supplement industry right now – and probably in the future too – are outright scams.
By scams, we mean products that are total rip-offs by design.
We’re talking about fake doctors, bogus science, and phony testimonials.
We’re talking repeated billing, hidden charges, and unfair terms & conditions.
We mean synthetic brain drugs and powerful stimulants smuggled into the formula.
You know exactly the kind of thing we’re talking about. You’ve seen them plenty of times before. You might have even fallen victim to a scam supplement before; we know a lot of our readers have, if some of the comments we get are anything to go by.
We hate this aspect of the nootropics industry. It really hurts us to see people – innocent, well-meaning, vulnerable people – being ripped off by greedy supplement manufacturers. It not only hurts the individual in the short-term, but it causes damage to the reputation of the industry that is very difficult to fix.
This article is our way of making sure this doesn’t happen to you in the future. We’re going to go through the most common forms of supplement scams. We’ll explain what the scams are, how they work, and how you can spot them from a mile away.
We’re going to keep things general. Covering every individual iteration of these scams would be impossible. They all have their own unique spin. What we’ll outline is the general principle behind the scam; in other words, we’ll explain how it makes the manufacturer rich and leaves you worse off.
We intend to grow this article all the time. We wish we had limited material to work with, but there are almost as many different scams out there as there are legitimate products. If you’ve come across a rip-off supplement and you think it isn’t covered here, let us know in the comments!
Anyway, that’s enough small talk.
Let’s get right into it!
This is perhaps the most harmful, most ridiculous, and most disgusting tactic used to get people to part with their money.
Dozens of supplements out there claim to be “physician recommended”. Their websites show pictures of smiling doctors in white coats, the implication being that these doctors thoroughly endorse the product.
They might even have text boxes next to their picture supposedly showing their resounding endorsement.
Newer brands have even gone as far as to feature video testimonials from doctors on their websites.
More often than not, the people in these images aren’t doctors at all.
Sometimes they are doctors, but if you do a little digging, you’ll find that they’re chiropractors, or acupuncture therapists, or whatever.
They sometimes turn out to be quacks who aren’t taken seriously by their peers.
In the worst cases, they’re hired actors.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
This guy is used by DietsInReview(dot)com on a regular basis, or at least he used to be. He featured in several videos on their YouTube channel:
Clearly, he is posing as a doctor; he has a white coat, a little name badge, he even has glasses resting on the table!
He must be so smart!
The only snag is that HE ISN’T A DOCTOR.
He is an actor who sells his services through Fiverr:
As discussed in our Memotenz review, this is completely unforgivable. Memotenz will be well aware that Diets In Review are doing this; they’re probably getting a fee for referrals. They obviously don’t have a problem with it anyway – they had our page taken down by Google, but they haven’t made the same efforts with this outright lie.
If you visit Fiverr, you’ll see how common this tactic is, given the sheer number of people offering to pose as doctors for video testimonials:
Those are just two examples taken from one gig site. There are lots of other vendors, and lots of other sites out there.
Now let’s take a look at the other type of fake doctor scam: the quack posing as a neuroscience expert.
For example, Vitality Now Youthful Brain has been partly formulated by Dr. Sam. In this video, Dr. Sam explains that he is a naturopathic doctor, not a medical doctor (i.e he is an NMD, not an MD). He was trained primarily in things like acupuncture and ayurvedic medicine. Dr. Sam’s mantra is apparently “prevention is the cure”. Imagine trying to cure lung cancer by quitting smoking!
Another big offender that springs to mind is Cebria. This product is the ‘brain child’ of Dr. Marcus Laux. This guy presents himself as an illustrious clinician. In reality, he holds a degree in Naturopathic Medicine from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) in Portland. In other words, he isn’t a physician as you usually understand that word; he’s a loon who tries to treat illnesses with candles and dream catchers.
The makers of Cebria clearly try to present these guys as real doctors. They know that people will be impressed by something formulated by an actual, qualified medical doctor, so they dress it up to appear that way. But in reality, they are basically shamans.
It is really common for people to make grand claims about their scientific credentials without ever backing them up. For example, the guy behind Neuro67 claims to be a NASA scientist. Aside from a Forbes article, we’ve never seen any evidence supporting this claim. He and his partner claim to have decades of research experience between them, and to be experts in the field of neuro-biology.
Just because you’ve researched something for years doesn’t mean you know a lot about it; you can be a poor researcher. Nor does it mean that you can now create a good value nootropic supplement.
What To Look Out For
Whenever you see a man in a lab coat on a supplement merchant site, look for some information on their background and credentials. Watch out for:
- Fictional doctors/stock images
- Hired actors from gig sites
- Quacks and “naturopathic physicians”
- Vague credentials – “has researched X topic for 10 years”
- Lack of citations
- Doctors with websites pushing dozens of different supplements
It should only take a few minutes of Googling to find the credentials of a real doctor. But even if the guy on the website is a qualified MD, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have produced a good product. Doctors can be bought (especially in the US), they can make bad decisions, and they can be greedy.
Just because you’ve researched something doesn’t mean you have any intention of making a good product!
Bogus Stats & Phony Studies
This one is a bit of a relic nowadays, but it is still our favorite tactic for making a fast buck.
It is the laziest, most pessimistic, sleaziest marketing tactic used by supplement brands.
It was used by all of the old nootropics; the first brain supplements to come on the market were invariably scams. This is usually the case with all supplement categories – people try to jump the gun and gain market share before the industry has matured.
The tactic we’re talking about is the use of phony scientific data.
If you look at any of the nootropics that were popular about 5-10 years ago, you’ll see that their websites are absolutely replete with meaningless tables, made-up graphs, and unsubstantiated figures.
Here is a classic example:
The spokesperson for the Nottingham Clinical Trials Unit actually responded to this flagrant misuse of their name: “The unit did not conduct this trial and knows nothing about it”.
The big red flag here though is the image. You’ve probably seen this exact brain scan somewhere before. It is often co-opted to further pseudo-scientific claims and to sell products. But in reality it has absolutely nothing to do with any brain supplement.
This brain scan is variously claimed to show the difference between depressed and non-depressed brains, the difference in brain activity after chronic alcohol abuse, and much more:
So which is the real origin of the brain scan?
We have no idea. We’ve tried to keep peeling back the layers of lies here, but there’s just so much fog out there it’s very difficult to do.
One thing is for certain though; it has nothing to do with Brain Storm Elite!
If you Google the same image, you’ll see that it’s been used by Geniux, Synapsyl, and a load of other low quality nootropic supplements. They all claim that these two brain scans show the effectiveness of their supplement. They each just Photoshop in their brand name to gain easy credibility without doing any of the work (among gullible people at least).
Another common trick you’ll come across is the use of completely fictitious facts and figures. These bogus stats are usually presented in graphs with no citations given.
You’ll often see things like this:
Whenever you see an unsubstantiated graph like this, walk away. Any legitimate supplement would give you the citation for where this graph came from. They would not just mock up a graph with arbitrary figures and slap it on the top of their landing pages.
What To Look Out For
Always check for citations when you see a scientific claim being made. Every good manufacturer will provide references for all of their quantitative claims. Watch out for:
- Vague graphs
- Figures given without references
- Simple brain scans presented as proof
If you actively look for proof of every claim, you’ll very quickly be able to tell the lies from the truth. You should never be expected to take anyone’s word at face value, least of all a supplement manufacturer’s!
This one is gets easier to spot the more time you spend looking at nootropic supplements online.
Lots of manufacturers use stock images or hired actors to create fake user testimonials on their websites.
A classic example of can be seen with Brain Plus IQ; easily one of the biggest scams in the nootropics world even today.
Here is a video testimonial promoting this product:
And here is this woman’s gig advertised on Fiverr:
If you ever see a video supposedly from a normal user like yourself, always do a little digging to make sure they aren’t paid stooges. Try reverse searching the profile image, do a quick double check on some of the popular gigging websites, and read some professional product reviews before you buy!
As said above, another common tactic is the use of stock images to create fake user testimonials.
Here is a classic example. This is a user testimonial shown on the OptiMind merchant site:
And here is an image taken from the Addium merchant site (we aren’t sure if this is still up and running or not):
We can’t if this woman is really Allison Gathof, Allison Joyce, someone else, or if she even knows she is being used to promote either of these products.
We’re sure these aren’t the only examples of her face being used to promote nootropics. She certainly isn’t the only person to fall foul of this underhand marketing tactic.
What To Look Out For
When you’re browsing through a supplement’s merchant site, look very closely at the user testimonials the manufacturer has chosen to display. Ask yourself:
- Have they used a first and last name?
- Are they actually holding the product?
- Does it look like a stock image?
- Is their face hidden or distorted?
Do a reverse Google image search and see what comes up. Be sure to read some professional-quality product reviews and see what kind of things have been turned up by someone doing proper research.
Fake News Reports – “As Seen On CNN!”
We doubt anyone actually falls for this one anymore, but it has definitely worked in the past. We don’t know who the first person to use this tactic to sell nootropics, but whoever it was really started a trend.
It’s an easy one to explain.
Basically, some supplement brands took a page template from the likes of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and then simply photo-shopped in a news story about how their product is “baffling scientists”, is being used by the likes of Stephen Hawking, or was the secret inspiration for the movie Limitless.
It’s incredibly stupid, but it was an incredibly popular tactic about 10 years ago.
Here are few fine examples:
BrainPlus IQ even followed up their fake news stories with a photo-shopped tweet from Bradley Cooper:
But they aren’t the only ones to try this method. In fact, they’re not even the first scammers to use these exact templates!
Here are a few other examples where the names have simply been swapped out for different brands:
The laziness here is off the charts! Yet some manufacturers are even lazier. They can’t even be bothered to insert their product’s name into fake news story templates. Instead, they just display real news stories beneath their product’s name to imply that they are related.
All of these bogus stories are backed up with completely fictitious news coverage designed to create a sense of excitement and secrecy about the product:
This is a rather disgusting misuse of a great man’s name and legacy. It is immensely disrespectful.
It’s incredibly stupid too, but sadly it does work on some people. Usually, these kind of tactics are aimed predominantly at older people, since they are more easily tricked by digital image manipulation than younger people. This just makes the whole thing even more atrocious.
Never believe screenshots you see of news coverage. If the story exists, you will be able to easily and quickly find it for yourself on the website.
What To Look Out For
There are a few things tat should always make you suspicious:
- Screenshots instead of links to articles
- News articles mentioning particular products by name in the title
- Fantastical claims
- Strange endorsements from notable figures
You should really be wary of any supplement that plays its celebrity endorsements too hard. Quality nootropics have endorsements from scientific journals, and when they have testimonials from notable figures, they’ll usually have a video of them talking about it – not some obviously altered image.
Silencing Bad Reviews
We’ve had some first-hand experience with this one, as our regular readers will know. Manufacturers will go to great lengths to stop people seeing negative reviews of their products. They hate the fact that independent reviewers like us will take a proper look at their products and tell people the truth. They want to wipe all trace of dissent and criticism from the internet.
Sadly, they have a lot of tools at their disposal to make this happen.
One way they often go about this through simple legal intimidation.
Some of the stupider supplement manufacturers will send people like us emails demanding that we remove our reviews “or else”. This was the tactic taken by Ryan Michael Ballow, the veritable genius and start-up guru behind Cortex Generation 1. You can see his comments on the review and on our Twitter – they’re pretty incredible.
Most of the shady companies employing this tactic do so with a little more composure than Mr. Ballow.
People like Medmark LLC, the crooks behind Provasil, certainly operate that way. After we published our review – which was fair but ultimately critical – they sent us emails demanding that we take down the post in its entirety. They insisted that they were in a legal position to dictate what we do with our website: the phrase “you have 24 hours” came up repeatedly.
When that tactic failed, they turned to another, one that many supplement manufacturers are now using: scaring hosts into removing the pages.
Manufacturers will use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as leverage over hosting providers. They will claim that a certain page is mis-using their copyrighted material. This is almost never the case – product reviews fall under fair use. Nobody is ever trying to pretend to be the manufacturer, as is often claimed.
However, the manufacturers know that hosting providers don’t want any kind of legal problems on their hands. They’re in a volume business, so it’s not worth having lawyers pestering you just for the sake of one customer.
So they send a DMCA takedown notice to the host, who in turn messages the website operator telling them to remove the “offending content” within 48 hours or their service will be suspended.
This is an incredibly common tactic. Who knows how many honest, cutting reviews have been published and removed over the years?
Google’s policy on DMCAs is particularly worrying.
They remove pages from search results without checking to see if the complaints are valid; it is guilty until proven innocent. If you want to challenge the accusation, you need to give a bunch of dirt-bags your name and address. Worse still, you need to consent to US jurisdiction, despite being nowhere near the US.
You can imagine what an impossible pill that is to swallow for non-US citizens.
You can see how serious this problem is by checking out the Lumen database. This is a catalog of all the DMCA notices submitted to Google for action. If you do some digging you’ll see that the makers of Provasil and Memotenz in particular are prolific issuers of DMCA notices.
We’ve spent a while on this database, and there are literally thousands of pages that have been removed by disgruntled supplement manufacturers purely because they wanted to keep bad press out of the sight of potential buyers. The reviews weren’t inaccurate or misleading – they were just honest.
The makers of terrible products can’t be allowed to just silence all criticisms of their products with impunity. Sadly, there’s not much we can do here but check to see if a manufacturer has a history of censoring negative reviews. If they do, you have to ask yourself why – what have they got to hide?!
White Label/Private Label Scams
This one is usually the hardest for people to grasp right away, but with a little explanation it should become obvious why this is such a problem. It is currently the most prevalent scam we’re aware of; Amazon is absolutely plagued with this one. So while it isn’t as egregious as some of the others, we think it is probably causing just as much harm.
A white/private label product is a product that you can purchase in bulk and then apply your own branding to.
Put another way, it is an off-the-rack formula made by somebody else that you can legally dress up as your own custom, unique, premium nootropic.
For example, if you visit StockNutra(dot)com, you’ll see that you can purchase a ready-made formula right off-the-rack:
Here is the formula:
The site does have the option of playing around with the exact formula composition, but the basic formula will remain the same.
There are a variety of bottling and lid options to help make your own brand look as unique as possible.
All you have to do is purchase an order (minimum order 750 units), and provide them with a PDF of your label. This can take about an hour on Photoshop if you know what you’re doing. Many private label manufacturers will actually help you design your logo; some even have in-house design teams to help you design your label!
Say you wanted to make a fast buck, and you hear that the nootropics industry is really taking off. If you wanted to follow the Amazon Method – a popular scheme which utilizes white label products – then you might go about it like this:
- Find a wholesaler offering a private label product
- Put in an initial order of around 500 units, which might cost you about $3,000 (at the more expensive end)
- Come up with a brand and design a label on Photoshop
- Send the label to the wholesaler and tell them to start production
- Set up an Amazon store
- Have the shipment delivered to an Amazon warehouse, and set up “fulfilled by Amazon”
- Set up an automatic re-order from the wholesaler when your 500 units have sold out
- Rinse and repeat
This requires pretty much no work.
The traffic that Amazon gets practically guarantees sales.
Using ‘Fulfilled by Amazon’ means you don’t have to invest anything in the company – you just take lower profits but with significantly lower risk.
Plenty of wholesalers offer white label products. Many actually specialize in them. It’s really a great way for them to do business; they can get rid of a load of excess ingredients in one go, and they don’t have to bother with marketing or brand work.
They can just sell you a thousand bottles of a blend comprised of their leftovers, slap your label on as they roll off the production line, and get paid.
The benefit for the buyers is that they get a product made and shipped to an Amazon warehouse without having to spend a dime on research and development.
Clearly, lots of people are putting this scheme into practice.
Here is a private label product offered by by a company literally called Private Label Supplements:
We have seen this formula – or one suspiciously similar – dozens of times now on Amazon. All of the products using this formula make themselves out to be distinct, unique, specially-formulated nootropics.
Let’s go through some of the most notable examples.
Here is the Neuro Factor formula:
Here is the VitaStrength Neuromax formula:
And here is the Organix Labs FocusPower formula:
Unfortunately, we could go on, and on, and on. There are so many of these products currently on sale that it’s practically impossible for us to keep up with them! More hit the shelves every week. We do our best, but they just keep appearing. They are incredibly easy products to get to market because all the hard work is done for you!
So what’s the big problem here?
The problem is that someone is always left holding the bag, and in this case it’s you, the customer (what a surprise).
Do you think that wholesalers are really going to offer their best formulas for private label purchase?
Would they put a lot of effort into developing an effective, safe, market-leading cognitive enhancer only to have random individuals buying it in bulk and dressing it up as their own creation?
Would they really create a nootropic that offers good value for money and then let the first person to offer them a few grand associate it with their brand?
Of course they wouldn’t.
If some kid can sit on a beach in Thailand making thousands of dollars a month without doing any work whatsoever, do you think they can really be selling anything legit?
We’ve written about this popular get-rich quick scheme in great detail in a separate article, so we wont spend too long on it here. We strongly recommend checking that article out; if you educate yourself on this topic, you wont fall victim to this scam in the future.
What To Look Out For
You don’t need to familiarize yourself with every private label supplement manufacturer out there to avoid this one. The smallest amount of research will steer you clear.
- Avoid buying nootropics from places like Amazon and eBay
- Always look at several different products in the “similar” or “recommended” section to make sure they’re not all using the same formula
- Check the user reviews for suspicious activity (e.g thousands of positive reviews for a new product)
- Check the company name on the label and see if they make other supplements
- Check if the registered company address is the same for other, similar products
- Be wary of formulas with basic ingredients and mid-range doses
- Read some professional product reviews
Some people don’t seem to mind buying these products. We don’t really understand that mentality, because you’re just enriching some kid sitting on a beach in Thailand and landing yourself with a product that is by definition cheap, generic, and low quality.
If you want to avoid scams altogether, go with a trusted brand that values their reputation and takes pride in their product.
Quick Name Swaps After Brand Collapses
The thing about the Amazon Method described above is that it is a volume game. The product you put on the market is a cheap, generic, poor quality nootropic. As such, it’s never going to last long. You’re going to see sales at first; no doubt about that. Amazon receives so many visitors each day that you’re practically guaranteed a few sales. The slice of the pie will be small, of course, but Amazon’s pie is extremely large.
But it is inevitable – sooner or later, you’ll stop getting clicks, and Amazon’s algorithm will put you right to the back of the search results. You’ll accumulate more and more bad reviews, and people like us will try to expose you for what you are: a scammer!
So what do you do when this happens?
For a couple of individuals, the answer is simple: you just change the product name an re-launch it on Amazon.
Take a look at these products. The first image is the original, and the second is how it was re-branded after sales dried up for the first one:
If you think you’ve seen a product before, then you probably have! Be sure to reverse image search the product bottle to see if it has existed before under a different name. If it has, try to figure out why. If the company just needed a re-brand, or they wanted to shake up the formula, then that’s fine.
But more often than not we find that the people behind the product are just trying to stimulate sales in the laziest way possible – by just slapping a new label on their product and calling it a brand new nootropic.
Launches always get some traction. It takes a good product to capitalize on that traction and to stick around after the hype has worn off.
Some people don’t want a good product though. They don’t care about their brand. Websites and labels are cheap, and they want fast money. So they run a ‘churn and burn’ model, dumping brands when the hype runs out and just setting up another one – all it takes is a website and label change.
Repeated Billing & Fake “Trials”
This might be the most harmful of all the common scam tactics we see being used in the nootropics industry today.
Fake doctors put peoples’ health at risk, and fake testimonials breed trust where none is due.
But repeated, unwanted billing has the potential to cause immediate, devastating and irreparable harm to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
We have had several reports of unwanted billing reported to us on this site. We refer to this as the ‘Free Trial Scam’ or sometimes just as “theft”, which is what it is.
One of the main offenders seems to be Apollo Mental Clarity. If you look at the comments posted on our review, you’ll see stuff like this:
We’ve also seen complaints about several other products relating to continued, unsanctioned billing after a free trial period has ended:
The free trial scam is extremely common.
It’s pretty obvious how it works, although not all of them work in exactly the same way.
Basically, a manufacturer will lure you in with a free 30 or 60 day trial. The idea is that you try the product for a month, and if you cancel the trial before it’s over, you don’t get charged any more (or for the bottle you tried).
However, if you don’t cancel in time, then you get automatically signed up for a subscription. The subscription will be extremely expensive, and you’ll find yourself signed up for 3-6 months minimum.
Getting out of these trials can prove EXTREMELY DIFFICULT.
Sometimes the trial will come with conditions – either written in the fine print or explicitly on the order page – that make ti very difficult for anybody to cancel in time. They will either tell you that you need to do it before a certain date, by letter, or something similarly inane.
They might require that you return the unfinished product, which is a little ridiculous given the fact that you’re supposed to be trialing it!
Often, it isn’t obvious that you are assenting to the subscription if you don’t cancel the trial. The website will not make that clear at all. All of the emphasis is put on the fact that it is a free, no obligation trial. There might be a small terms and conditions link somewhere, but it’s usually invisible unless you’re looking for it. The copywriters will purposefully use language that suggests – but doesn’t explicitly say – that you will never be charged: “no obligation”, “you won’t be charged unless you sign up”, etc.
These are true statements of course; they’re just not accurate. They are purposefully misleading.
In a few cases, the company will make things obvious, and they say they will allow you to cancel the trial. In this case, they will simply not respond to calls or emails and keep billing you until you change your credit card.
This might strike you as ridiculously brazen, akin to stealing a purse on the street. Well, that’s because it is. We have no idea how these people get away with this sort of behavior for so long before they’re stopped. It is theft, plain and simple.
It is really important that you avoid these scams. It is not unheard of for people to get billed 5 or 6 times for product they don’t want before they can finally cancel their cards and move on with their lives. By that point, you could have easily given $300 to some total sum buckets.
Be careful, always read the fine print, and remember – there’s no such thing as a free lunch! If a product is free, then you are the product.
Quality supplements aren’t given away for nothing. Many have a money back guarantee if you don’t like the product, but they wont just send bottles out for free. There’s no real talk of subscription, and no complicated sales pages; you pay your money, you get your product. That’s how business is done!
What To Look Out For
We think this is one that people really need to look out for. We recommend avoiding free trials altogether, because no business model could possibly work that relied on active sign-ups following free trials. It is almost always the case that a failure to cancel will result in continued billing.
In the case of things like Amazon Prime or Netflix, this isn’t an issue. They’re easy services to cancel, you know you have a number to call to complain, and chances are, you’re going to like the service anyway!
It’s different with shady supplement companies though. Here are some tips to help you avoid this pitfall:
- Always look for hidden terms and conditions
- Read the offer carefully several times and have someone else check it for you too
- Never enter your credit card details on a site that is unsecured
- Never enter your credit card details on a shady-looking site
- Use trusted brands with proven customer-service records and fixed addresses – not just a unit in a random industrial park
- Use PayPal or a debit card with fixed overdraft rather than a credit card
- Try to avoid free trials altogether – just buy a supplement outright if it looks good
- Look for money back guarantees rather than repeated billing subscriptions
- Ensure subscriptions are fixed term if you are going to use one
Generally speaking, we think free trials are often a bad sign in the nootropics world. Be careful exploiting them. As we said, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Scientific Name Swapping
This guide wouldn’t be remotely complete if we didn’t give a mention to this brazen scam.
Sadly, this one is common across all supplement categories, not just nootropics. It is prevalent among sports supplements, energy stacks, and general health products.
Put simply, this is when you give commonplace, everyday substances an exotic-sounding name to make them seem more impressive.
For example, you might see some supplements with 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine listed on the label.
Sounds like some kind of research chemical, right?
That’s why it is so often found on the label of sports supplements.
Well, what most people wont realize is that 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine is just a more formal, chemical name for caffeine.
Plain old, regular caffeine.
There are lots of variants of this scam.
Some manufacturers will actually go a step further and be even more devious.
They will take a group of ingredients and dress them up as an exciting compound or new research chemical.
In some instances, the compound is purely fictitious; it is just a proprietary blend created and named by the manufacturers.
In some cases though, a manufacturer will take an existing compound and present their formula as the same thing, even though it isn’t.
Once again, we turn to Cebria.
Cebria’s claims about reversing cognitive decline and enhancing brain power all stem from the maker’s claims about the efficacy of a peptide called Cerebrolysin.
This peptide has indeed been found in some studies to help with cognitive function, particularly in older people. The science is definitely shaky, and studies are extremely limited. We wouldn’t call this stuff a proven nootropic agent – not by any means.
But it is still an interesting peptide to look at from a research point of view.
All of that is irrelevant to Cebria though, because Cebria doesn’t really contain Cerebrolysin!
Cebria simply contains a bunch of amino acids, not a peptide.
A peptide is a group of specific amino acids arranged in a very particular way. The structure of the molecule affects its properties just as much as its composition. As such, a group of amino acids is not a peptide. A peptide is not equivalent to the sum of its parts; how it is joined together matters.
So everything you hear about Cerebrolysin on the Cebria website is meaningless, because Cebria doesn’t contain Cerebrolysin.
The manufacturer is just making liberal use of the name Cerebrolysin to trick people into buying it.
This is just one example taken from our site, but we promise you that this happens a lot.
It happens in every supplement category in numerous different ways: manufacturers will use formal names when they aren’t necessary; they’ll use compound names when the ingredients don’t really make a compound; they’ll even make up a scientific-sounding name for their proprietary blends and present them as exciting research chemicals.
The only way to really avoid this one is to do thorough research about every product you intend to buy.
Read the studies presented to you carefully and make sure that the substance being studied is actually the substance being used!
Misrepresenting Study Results
Of all the supplement scams out there, none have the ability to irritate us like the blatant misrepresentation of scientific studies.
You’d be surprised not only how often people get away with this, but also with how easily they are able to get away with it.
The example that springs to mind here is Apoaequorin.
This ingredient first came to our attention through Prevagen; the popular memory supplement that also happens to be completely ineffective.
The makers of Prevagen claim that apoaequorin supplementation was shown to significantly improve memory function within 90 days in a robust clinical trial. They very helpfully provide links to the study on their website (although the publication is also hosted on their website, as it was funded by the makers).
Yet if we look at the study, we see that it didn’t show improvements at all!
Here is the table showing memory test scores before and after supplementation:
As you can see, 90 days of apoaequorin supplementation did practically nothing for memory function.
In fact, some peoples’ memory test scores DECREASED over the 90 days!
So how can the makers of Prevagen make these claims?
Basically, they deployed some creative post-hoc analysis.
If you look at the study they cite, you’ll see that the conclusion reads as follows: “While no statistically significant results were observed over the entire study population, there were statistically significant results in the AD8 0-1 and AD8 0-2 subgroups. These subgroups contain individuals with either minimal or no cognitive impairment, and are the appropriate population for a dietary supplement intended to support people with mild memory loss associated with aging.”
Post-hoc reasoning is bad science. It is when you go back and try to pull a conclusion out of existing data. We don’t need to tell you that if you actively go looking for a correlation, you’ll find one!
For example, if we’d been really desperate to show some benefit of apoaequorin supplementation, we might have gone back and looked at hair color, or exercise habits, or diet, and found something like “memory was improved in people who ate almonds twice per week”.
We don’t need to explain to you why this would be ludicrously poor science, but we apparently do need to explain it to Prevagen!
It is tempting to assume that there would be some kind of penalty for misrepresenting science in such an obviously predatory way.
After all, they aren’t just looking at some results in a particular way. They are taking results and completely misreading them to fit their agenda. They aren’t just offering a different but equally feasible conclusion; they’re just lying to sell product.
But there’s no penalty for posing as a doctor online to sell supplements, so we shouldn’t be so naive. As far as we can tell, companies that do this face practically no consequences: no fines, no bans, no calls for an apology.
The worst that happens is that they are “discouraged” from making the claims, and they lose in the court of public opinion.
By that point though, the makers have already made their fortunes and they’ve probably moved on to the next scam.
We think companies that purposefully misinterpret scientific results – or in some cases, lie about them – should be liable for legal punishment.
What To Watch Out For
Always look at the papers cited by a manufacturer in support of their ingredients. This is especially important when you’re dealing with a new, relatively unknown substance that someone is presenting as a miracle cure.
- Make sure the study exists
- Check the results tables and the conclusion to make sure it was actually found to work
- Check author information
- Check funding information
- Look at the date to make sure the study is still relevant
- See if the study has been replicated elsewhere
- Read some professional reviews/user forums before you proceed
This is one of the more difficult scams to counter, as it takes some genuine hard work and diligent research. You also need to know the difference between good scientific reasoning and sloppy conclusion drawing. If you put in the work though, you’ll be much better off in the long-run.
Be sure to read lots of independent reviews before buying as well, sticking to reliable, scientifically literate sources of course. For example, this Prevagen review on IJEST makes the same case put forward on this site; that the makers of Prevagen are purposefully misrepresenting data to sell their shoddy product.
As you’ll see in the comments, one of our readers put us onto this dastardly scam!
Believe it or not, but some people purposefully buy subreddits in order to control discussion.
This can be either the manufacturers themselves, affiliates, or simply individuals looking for cash payments from manufacturers to allow them to push their products on the subreddit.
You can see a prime example of this if you look at some of the posts on r/Nootropics through Snew – a site which allows you to see censored comments. The best examples are always the threads where people are asking for product or supplier recommendations.
Here is a classic example:
The other posts were removed for merely mentioning a manufacturer. However, the two shown at the bottom were clearly not a problem.
Either the moderators are just very inconsistent, or they’re fundamentally biased towards certain suppliers, brands, and posters. We think the latter is much more likely than the former; some people have posts removed from r/Nootropics and other subs within seconds of posting – clearly there are some brands on a blacklist!
What To Look Out For
There are a few clear signs that a thread – or even an entire sub – is being manipulated for financial gain. These include:
- Repeated mention of one manufacturer, supplier or brand
- Total lack of criticism of said brand
- Lots of deleted comments, or replies that look out of place
If you think it’s possible that a sub might have been commandeered by affiliates or supplement manufacturers, check Snew!
Final Words Of Warning
If nothing else, we hope this article has taught you that it’s a dangerous world out there. Shopping online is usually safe, but when you’re dealing with supplements, things can get a little sketchy. There are lots of different ways that people try to get you to part with your money.
Some of them cook up bogus celebrity endorsements, others make false scientific claims.
Some use misleading wording and hired actors to create a sense of reliability and legitimacy.
A small number of crooks get vulnerable, gullible people to sign up to free trials and then hit them with huge bills every month.
Make sure you do your research before buying any supplements online. Ideally, read a few professional product reviews from reliable websites before you part with any cash. Avoid free trials at all costs, and try not to have any dealings with sketchy brands that lack transparency.
If you’ve been hurt by a scam supplement, then please share your experiences with us. Comment below, or if you don’t want to share so publicly, send us an email. We’ll hear you out and if ti sounds like something that our readers need to be aware of, we’ll add it to this article.
Sadly, this page will be growing all the time. Scammers are fast learners, and it’s hard to keep up with them.
We’ll do our best, and with your help, we might be able to turn the tide!
Luke is our Editor in Chief. He is the main driving force behind NaturalNootropic.com, and he creates most of our most important content. He is extremely passionate about enhancing human cognition; he has experimented with many different nootropic substances over the years, sometimes with negative results. He wants to help people get more out of performance-enhancing supplements, and he is fascinated by recent advances in longevity research. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.