Sunday, October 18, 2015

Amazon Reviews and Reviewers

News that made my day to read: "Amazon to sue fake reviewers".

I've been meaning for weeks to write a short post on this topic because it's gotten ridiculous. The issues are multi-faceted:

First off are the fake reviews, the paid reviews, and the review of products that were provided as free goods in exchange for a review. I'm not going to sugar-coat it- It's all bullshit. The reviews are garbage pulled out of thin air and some (Many?) people are such sheep they read them as gospel and reinforce the scam by supporting the businesses with their purchases. The nutritional supplement reviews on Amazon are rife with this crap.

Secondly is the increasing barrage of contacts made to me by so-called professional Amazon Reviewers. It's become an epidemic. These folks attempt/purport to analyze the value-proposition of a product and compare it to other similar products. It's not 100% BS here, a small handful of these folks are well-intentioned, fair, objective and serve as a healthy unbiased check/balance in regards to disclosure and claims and for that I'm appreciative as it can help sort out the good from the bad.

A big challenge for me and my customers is when a reviewer presents a "cost per dose/serving" calculation. I'll excerpt a response in part of a email discussion with a ("good") reviewer:

 "Now, let's get to the complexity part of my reply. I'm especially sensitive to the issue of cost/dose. In fact, the past few days I've been having quite a row with a popular and well-followed "Amazon Reviewer" who provides these calculations in his reviews. The problem, the fatal problem with these calculations, is the fact the calculation is not corrected for product purity or form (as the specific case may be). 

For example, EgCG. I use a raw material which is amazing. Standardized to level of purity and strength that exceeds any other product that I am aware of. A consumer gets a high level of catechins and polyphenols in a relatively small mg dose that is exceptionally well tolerated.

Another example is R-Lipoic acid, specifically the Na-R-ALA form which is bound to a sodium salt as a (necessary) carrier and stabiliser. I correct for the Na content and my 100mg dose is actually a 125mg capsule fill of raw, and I disclose that on the label. Not to mention that R-lipoic is 100% bioavailable vs only 50% of Alpha-lipoic (racemic molecule, S-form is not bioavailable, only R-form).

Another example is my Bacopa product, like the EgCG, standardized to the highest percentage of purity of any product I know of. It requires much less mg fill, yet is an astronomically expensive raw. If a correction is not applied to cost/dose to recognize this then the calculation is flawed and my product can appear to be "overpriced."
I'll also note that in regards to the EgCG and Bacopa for example, the high quality and lower overall mgs fill necessary to offer a very-high active content provide the added benefit to consumers of excellent tolerability compared to other suppliers products. Both materials (if from other manufacturers) frequently result in gastrointestinal upset for people, my products almost never do. That is critical informational input to an overall value-proposition consideration, yet not captured in a cost/dose calculation.

Another example which is particularly frustrating for me is K2, both MK4 and MK7. On this material, one must know the percent of "Cis-Form" of the material used by the manufacturer so as to apply a correction factor, because Cis-form (vs the active and bioavailable Trans-form) is not bioavailable (active) to humans. Think of it as sawdust added to your oatmeal, or saline added to a persons insulin injection. No one discloses it, but I will be the first and only (to my knowledge?) to disclose it on my new K2 product labels.
Ditto with my Lutein, Advanced Hexose Correlated Compound, CurcuWin, Lion's Mane (hericium), they are all very unique raw materials and formulations. I could go on but we both have limited time and I think I made my point with

The fact is- low purity raw materials are plentiful and dirt cheap, ergo, manufacturers are driven (by their equity-partners, board members, shareholders) to use them because of the effect on their bottom lines and offer no disclosures in many (most?) cases of the garbage that's in the capsule. To not take that into consideration when attempting a value calculation is going to net a flawed result. For the average consumer doing their best to determine value, it's near impossible (because of lack of disclosure, it's not required by law) to take into consideration the critical variables."

Unfortunately, the "reviewers" also include some epic fails, people asking me the most offensive and ridiculous questions, with no qualms to waste my time for no good reason. Almost 100% of them include no personal information about themselves, to which I ask, who the hell are you and what are your qualifications to think you can judge my business? To you I say- I have a track record of public communication, quality products and very happy customers going back a decade, I don't need or want to deal with you. My business and product reputation is well established.

I could go on for a while but I think this captures the essence of the challenges posed to nutritional supplement manufacturers (me) and "Amazon Reviewers". A complicated relationship.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Customer pushback on McCaskill Picamilon/Vinpocetine BAN: "What is Senator Claire McCaskill thinking! (regarding classification of Vinpocetine & Picamilon)"

Letter sent to their state Senators by one of my customers:

Dear Senator xxxxxxx,
Two supplements, Vinpocetine and Picamilon, which many
people like myself take, soon may be classified as prescription
drugs and become expensive, if Senator Claire McCaskill has
her way.
At a time when policy makers worry publicly about the rising
cost of health care, those of us who are responsibly taking
care of ourselves with effective products made from naturally
occuring substances find it hard to believe that an effective
ingredient like Picamilon developed years ago may only be
available at much higher prescription prices.  Will the next
breed of apple require a prescription?
Other countries have be pressured to classify Picamalon’s combination
of the neurotransmitter GABA and Vitamin D3 as a prescription drug.
The reason for taking GABA and Niacin in this combination is because
GABA supplements are incapable of crossing the brain barrier when
taken orally.  When linked with Niacin, GABA can cross the brain barrier
where they both can stimulate the brain according to their typical pathways. 
Let’s use independent judgement and keep this ingredient developed
in 1969 by Russian scientists available at moderate cost in our country.

Either fight the "Nanny State" or it will destroy your freedoms and life. Despicable action by McCaskill.

Clare McCaskill Wants to BAN Your Picamilon. Order NOW

"Picamilon is a safe, effective product that has been sold across the counter in the US for many years, perhaps a decade. I have never had a single customer adverse reaction report about it. Out of the blue Sen. Clare McCaskill of MO determined that she wants it pulled from shelves and banned!

You can form your own opinion about what's going on here, I know what mine is- big government and big pharma conspiring to take away your freedom of choice and steal your money.

**There is no way to predict what is going to happen here but there is a very real possibility that I will be forced to stop selling this safe and effective product to you. Stock up NOW if you know you need this product. Do not wait.**


By the way, for those who read the actual test report she references, it looks like the Relentless Improvement product is #17/ID 17022, page 7. As my product is pharma-grade material, it tested out to 135mg active per capsule vs label claim of 100mg active per capsule. So if you are unhappy that we under-promise and over-deliver, don't order the RI product!

Thank you for your trust and support.
Pete Hitesman - Owner"

Just sent that email blast to my picamilon customers of the past year.

Look, my position on safe, effective materials, labeling disclosure and meeting or exceeding label claims is well established and clear from nearly a decade of blog posts and happy customers. If someone is selling a supplement and it does not contain any active material, that seller needs to experience a severe enforcement action, and the FDA has ALWAYS had the power to do that. If the product contains no active vinpocetine, it needs to be pulled and that supplier penalized.

The happily surprising test results (in general) of the picamilon products also clearly and inarguably show that self-policing can work.

Hopefully the FDA recognizes her letter as the grandstanding and pandering for MORE government control and for big pharma that it is, and lets it fade into oblivion. There are SO MANY far worse, egregious problems she could spend her time on than harassing supplement users by banning products that she does not like