October 21st, 2014

Study Behind the Green Coffee Bean Diet Craze Retracted

The “scientific” paper that helped ignite the green coffee bean diet craze has been retracted. The details of the retraction and the full background of the story were fully reported by Ivan Oransky on Retraction Watch.

The paper, published in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy, purported to report the substantial weight loss findings of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of green coffee bean extract. The article has been viewed or downloaded by more than three-quarters of a million people since its publication in January 2012.

Following the paper’s publication, Dr. Oz featured the product on his television show.  According to Scott Gavura, writing in the Science-Based Medicine blog, Oz  used the terms “magic,” “staggering,” “unprecedented,” “cure,” and “miracle pill” to describe the product, which then became an international bestseller.

The statement of retraction provides few details:

The sponsors of the study cannot assure the validity of the data so we, Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham [two of the three authors], are retracting the paper.

Vinson and Burnham are a chemist and a psychologist at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. But more details about the affair are provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which last month  reached a $3.5 million settlement with Applied Food Sciences, Inc. (AFS), the company that sponsored the study and that markets the extract.

In its press release, the FTC said that “the study was so hopelessly flawed that no reliable conclusions could be drawn from it.” According to the FTC, AFS hired researchers in India to perform the clinical trial. AFS “knew or should have known that this botched study didn’t prove anything. In publicizing the results, it helped fuel the green coffee phenomenon.”

According to the FTC:

…the study’s lead investigator repeatedly altered the weights and other key measurements of the subjects, changed the length of the trial, and misstated which subjects were taking the placebo or GCA [Green Coffee Antioxidant] during the trial. When the lead investigator was unable to get the study published, the FTC says that AFS hired researchers Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham at the University of Scranton to rewrite it. Despite receiving conflicting data, Vinson, Burnham, and AFS never verified the authenticity of the information used in the study, according to the complaint.

Despite the study’s flaws, AFS used it to falsely claim that GCA caused consumers to lose 17.7 pounds, 10.5 percent of body weight, and 16 percent of body fat with or without diet and exercise, in 22 weeks, the complaint alleges.

Although AFS played no part in featuring its study on The Dr. Oz Show, it took advantage of the publicity afterwards by issuing a press release highlighting the show. The release claimed that study subjects lost weight “without diet or exercise,” even though subjects in the study were instructed to restrict their diet and increase their exercise, the FTC contends.

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