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Sunrider Not Trustworthy

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

The Sunrider International, a multilevel marketing corporation located in Orem, Utah since 1982 with headquarters in California since 1987, has been the subject of investigations, product seizures, and legal actions. "The Sunrider Story" is that ancient Chinese priests who were developers of the martial arts discovered special herbs that would increase endurance, mental alertness, energy, and healing. Company founder Tei Fu Chen claimed to be the inheritor of this legacy. Chen claimed to be a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, to have a degree in pharmacology, and to be a licensed pharmacist in California.

Revelations of Sunrider's misrepresentations began in February, 1988, when Salt Lakes City's KSL-TV did a feature story exposing false claims. Chen claimed to have "conducted biochemical research and taught a Brigham Young University (BYU)," but BYU has no record that Chen ever did any research and says that he only taught judo and karate in the physical education department. Chen is not a pharmacist in California as had been claimed at Sunrider seminars, and Chen admitted that he is not a doctor by American standards. In a deposition given in connection with a lawsuit against Sunrider Chen's father testified that Chen's fanciful story about having a grandfather who was an herbal master who taught, and bequeathed, him ancient herbal manuscripts, that the family possessed the alleged ancient manuscripts, that Chen was a sickly child, and that chen was a Taiwanese National Judo and Kung Fu Champion were all untrue. As a result of that case, Sunrider was found guilty of racketeering in 1992 by an Arizona jury [1].

Problems associated with Sunrider products include that in 1983 the FDA ordered the company to stop claiming that Nutrien was effective to "produce energy, long life, and lasting health." In 1984, the FDA obtained an injunction prohibiting Sunrider from marketing an unapproved sweetener extracted from the herb Stevia rebaudiana. In April, 1988, Nutrien and Vitalite were recalled due to Salmonella contamination, and in 1989 Sunrider paid a $173,000 fine to the State of California for falsely advertising that Nutrien contained "vitamin B-8" (a substance that does not exist), and that Nutrien and other products have an beneficial effect upon heart disease, pneumonia, and high blood pressure [2]. Sunrider exhibits all of the undesirable attributes of multilevel marketing firms selling health products that NCAHF identifies in its warning that "buyers and sellers alike need to beware of multilevel marketed health products" (See additional Available Resource Materials). Distributors are prone to even more exaggerations than the company itself. In 1989, Longevity magazine published an account of abuse by Sunrider distributors:

Four-year-old Chelsea Tingey was dying from an inoperable brain tumor in the winter of 1986 when a Sunrider distributor showed up at her parents house. Many people, the distributor told them, had been cured of cancer after taking Sunrider herbal products. The $900-a-month regimen of pills, teas and powders made Chelsea's parents balk, but then the distributor asked "How important is you daughter's life?" The Tingeys agreed to buy. A few weeks later, the distributor began pushing the Tingeys to sell Sunrider products themselves. The woman brought out pictures of motor homes the Tingeys could win by signing up with Sunrider, and she talked about the easy extra income they could make. The tumor went into remission--following radiation treatments. Then the phone started ringing. Families of other patients with tumors told by distributors that the herbs were responsible for the remission, were calling for testimonials. Astonished, Sherri told callers the claims were false; her daughter was still ill. Hoping desperately that the herbs would somehow strengthen Chelsea, she fed them to her until the last few days, when the child was no longer able to swallow. In July, 1987, Chelsea Tingey died. They still received calls from families of cancer patients asking about Chelsea's "cure." [2]

It is NCAHF's view that Sunrider's history makes it unwise to trust the company with one's physical health or financial well-being.


  1. Sunrider and the law (Barrett) Priorities Fall, 1992.
  2. Sunrider warnings issued Nutrition Forum April, 1988.
  3. The stay-young hucksters (Krajick) Longevity August, 1989.

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© 1994, National Council Against Health Fraud.
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This article was posted on January 15, 2001.