Questioning the Magic at Herbal Magic
"When they're selling you, you're just concentrating on how awesome you're going to look, and how it's going to change your life," says Edgar. "And then they write all the numbers down, but they don't give you a breakdown of the cost."
Herbal Magic clients sign a one-year contract with a base price of about $1,000, which includes weekly weigh-ins, a low-cal diet and counselling. But the biggest cost to customers? Two mandatory herbal supplements, called WM-2000 and Chromagic -- about an extra $250 per month.
And how do those two supplements help? When we visited stores with hidden cameras, staff told us the supplements were important for weight loss. "You will lose more weight with the supplements, than you would without," said one employee. And we were handed glossy brochures that explain how the supplements are key to losing weight.
So we asked Natural Standard in Boston -- a leading research institute that assesses the science on the safety and efficacy of natural health products -- to examine the ingredients and the claims.
It determined, when it comes to the mandatory supplements, there was insufficient evidence to make claims for weight loss.
We took our findings to Herbal Magic president Fraser Clarke and asked him what scientific evidence the company has to back up claims for those two mandatory supplements. "Each of our products contains ingredients that have clinical studies to support any claims that we make about those," he said.
But many of those studies don't directly relate to weight loss. Others had small sample sizes, poor control groups, included other ingredients in the study, or were only done on mice. A handful of studies showed potentially encouraging results for particular ingredients, but more study would be needed to draw any conclusions.
Obesity experts like Dr. Yoni Freedhoff say the diet industry should be regulated so claims can't be made without evidence. "To have products that are being sold to people that don't have enough basis for efficacy ... I think should be illegal."
Edgar has now gained back the weight she lost, and is out of pocket more than $3,000. "I felt selfish that I spent that money. And in the end, it was for nothing," says Edgar. "It's probably the worst experience of my life."
Meantime, Herbal Magic tells us it's phasing out those supplements we put under the microscope. New formulations will hit store shelves by fall.
Watch a preview of Marketplace's "Magic in a Bottle?"