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Notes on Starlight International's Products

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Starlight International is a multilevel marketing company that claims to be based upon a "holistic approach to wellness." However, its product literature denigrates the concepts of eating a balanced diet, and aggressively promotes the idea that supplements--especially its own brand--are necessary for good health. Following are assessments of claims, products, and ingredients. Starlight International is located at 80 Garden Court, Ste l00, Monterey, CA, 93940.

ALERT! Vitalizing Formula.

A company handout provided by a distributor, in a paragraph headed "Managing Our Energy Needs," wrongly states that sugar in candy has a stimulating effect on the body. This is a pop-nutrition myth. Sugar has no stimulating effect. In fact, the opposite is true. Sugar provides glucose for the brain. This results in a protein-sparing effect that enables the brain to produce more neurotransmitters. The effect is a calming effect -- even to the point of sleepiness. Sugar provides caloric energy only, and calories are not a central nervous system stimulant.

The pamphlet also wrongly calls caffeine a nutrient. Caffeine is a stimulant, not a nutrient. It does not "step up the rate of conversion of already stored food in our body to produce...energy" as the pamphlet claims. The caffeine stimulates our nervous system by blocking the antagonist to norepinephrine the body's natural stimulant. We humans do not "manage our energy needs...unconsciously every day" as the pamphlet proclaims. The whole energy production cycle proceeds without our conscious or unconscious help. Certainly this whole, normal physical process of energy production and utilization cannot "pose serious threats to our overall health," as the pamphlet states. Nutrients, in themselves, do not stimulate the production of energy. Our basic metabolic needs (breathing, heart beat, organ functions), and our activity (conscious movement of muscles as we work or exercise) are the only users and producers of energy.

In paragraph 2, the pamphlet claims that the effects of eating the wrong types of food are seldom "obvious," except in the case of obesity, and that people do not need to worry about the replacing of nutrients used in energy production. The normal physiological process which acts to replace nutrients is called appetite. A high percentage of Americans should be more physically active to use the excessive calories they ingest. A supplement made up of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and hormones -- such as Alert! -- is not required to replace the nutrients used in energy production. For those who worry that they may not be getting sufficient nutrients from food, a one-a-day vitamin and mineral pill containing no more than l00% of the RDA's is ample "insurance."

Contrary to the information given under the heading, "Alert!TM Your Vitalizing Formula--Your Answer To Balancing The Equation," developing a formulation to sustain peak performance through the day is not necessary. The body does this without pills or tonics. The idea of "depleting the body's stores of vital nutrients" proclaimed by the pamphlet sounds dramatic, but will not happen if one is eating normally. Starlight has not developed a formula of "high energy compounds," but one of herbal stimulants, and other substances, which do not "strengthen and rebuild your body's energy-producing system" as claimed. Proteins, carbohydrates and fats do that, with help from vitamins and minerals--all from food. Starlight provides no protein, carbohydrate, fat or food.

The claim that Starlight's International Product Research Council developed a formula "Through months of exacting research, using the latest findings in nutrient science," appears to be self-serving promotionalism. Starlight does not provide any of the references of the alleged research upon which it bases its formula. Although it is a basic principle of pharmacology that the dose of a substance is most important in determining its action. Tiny amounts of may be inactive, while an optimum dose is helpful and a large dose dangerous or lethal. Starlight provides no figures on dosage in Alert!.

Ingredient Assessments.

Schisandra Berry - Although schisandra has been claimed to be effective for about 25 illnesses [1], in reality it has been found only to be an effective stimulant in low doses, and the reverse with large doses. Also, there appears to be a liver protective effect from some of its constituents. However, some schisandra lignans were toxic to the liver when administered in large doses over a long period of time. Therefore, more research on schisandra is justified to determine its protective value as a drug, and to establish which parts of it may be safe and effective and at what dose levels. Conclusion: popping schisandra pills at this time may prove toxic to the liver.

Chinese White Ginseng

All oriental ginseng has been used for centuries as a panacea, similar to the way vitamins are used in the west. Ginseng is intensively sought in the United States, it has been declared an endangered specie and quality root retails at more than $20 an ounce. In one study quoted by Tyler, an analysis of 53 ginseng products showed that 60% of those analyzed were worthless and 25% contained no ginseng at all. This lack of quality control and high cost have resulted in products of extreme variability in many areas of the health food industry.

Siberian Ginseng

Tyler says the "The designation, Siberian ginseng, is a most unfortunate one because the plant does not even belong to the same genus as the true ginsengs. The name was apparently coined by commercial interests to give an expensive mystique to a relatively cheap drug." This plant has other names in foreign countries, but should be referred to as eleuthero. Tyler states that the same stimulant and tonic effects attributed to ginseng are also claimed for eleuthero. Also, the same cautions noted for the ginseng family also apply to eleuthero. The best documented side effects of these are insomnia, diarrhea and skin eruptions, although Tyler say that, in general, prolonged or excessive use of ginseng appears to involve relatively low risk. Lack of standardization of active principles and insufficiently tested clinical effects in human beings speak against the indiscriminate use of any of these saponin-containing herbs. In one area ginseng's purported beneficial effects remain unsubstantiated. There is no scientific evidence of enhanced sexual experience or potency resulting from the use of ginseng or its substitutes.

Guarana

Guarana is a paste made chiefly from the crushed seed of Spindaceae, a climbing shrub native to Brazil and Uruguay. Guarana has a relatively high caffeine content, ranging from 2.5% to 5% and averaging about 3.5%.

Adrenal Concentrate

The only people who need an adrenal concentrate are people who have adrenal insufficiency. Barrett and Herbert state that years ago the FDA banned adrenal gland extract because it was too weak to treat the actual disease [1]. Persons who suffer from adrenal gland insufficiency need prescription strength drugs. An "adrenal gland concentrate" in a dietary supplement will not benefit them. Adrenal gland concentrate does nothing for normal people.

Potassium Glycero-Phosphate

"Glycero-phosphate" is the form of potassium used in Alert!; it is a nutrient form which is easily absorbed and beyond that is unimportant in this discussion. The essential mineral, potassium, is very plentiful in all food groups, occurring in many items in each group. A "strong feeling of sustained energy" is not created by potassium, whether obtained from food or pills. Potassium is not a stimulant, and does not provide that false high that is obtained through caffeine or other herbal forms of stimulants. More curious is the claim that a feeling of sustained energy "is achieved without any negative depletion side effects from this highly-regarded nutrient." There are no "negative, depletion side effects" from any nutrient forms of potassium. Even the phrase, "highly-regarded nutrient" is puffery. All essential nutrients are "highly regarded."

Coenzyme Q10

Ubiquinones, especially Q-l0, have been widely used in foreign countries for various conditions. Preliminary research indicates that Q-l0 may have genuine value for some purposes, and toxicity appears to be low. However, no doses have been scientifically established for this compound. More investigation into its uses in disease states is warranted [3]. No discussion is presented for its use in normal individuals. William Jarvis, PhD., president of the National Council Against Health Fraud has stated," Even if Coenzyme Q-10 turns out to have value for several conditions, this does not warrant its indiscriminate use. Biologically active substances even with low animal toxicity may be harmful to humans suffering from certain health problems. The promotion of substances for conditions other than what they have been proven safe and effective for is quackery." [4]

Spirulina

Spirulina is a form of blue-green algae (the substance that floats on ponds) which is food for fish, and some people in areas where other foods are scarce. Spirulina contains vitamins and minerals, but they are not "concentrated," as the pamphlet claims, and there is nothing in spirulina that is not also present in the foods humans eat. Dr. Victor Herbert, an internationally renowned vitamin B12 researcher says of spirulina, says although it is represented by promoters that spirulina contains large amounts of vitamin B12, in fact, up to 80% of the B12 in spirulina is in "analogue" form and is unusable by humans [5]. The 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health included spirulina as a diet aid on its list of "fraudulent products and services can be very costly yet are promoted as having nutritional or health benefits that have not been substantiated in the scientific literature." [6]Starlight's spirulina product is a combination of herbs, which are not essential nutrients, an adrenal concentrate of dubious value, a mineral, potassium, which is abundantly present in many foods, an enzyme which is already found in every cell in the body and is not recognized as an essential nutrient, and a super fish food. Many extravagant claims are made about these substances and their "synergistic blend." The National Council Against Health Fraud is concerned about reports of toxicity associated with the use of spirulina supplements (see NCAHF Consumer Information Statement on Blue-Green Algae).

References

  1. Tyler V. The Honest Herbal - A Sensible Guide to The Use of Herbs and Related Remedies, Third Edition, Haworth, l993.
  2. Barrett S, Herbert V. The Vitamin Pushers, Prometheus Books, l995, p 239.
  3. Lawrence Review of Natural Products, May, l988.
  4. National Council Against Health Fraud Newsletter, Vol. l2, No. 1, l989.
  5. Herbert V. J Amer Diet Assoc, Vol.248, No.26, p.3096-7.
  6. The Surgeon General General's Report on Nutrition and Health. US Dept of HHS, Publ No.88-50210, 1988, pp. 705-6.

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© 1996 National Council Against Health Fraud. With proper citation, this article may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes

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This article was posted on December 29, 2000.