If you’re one of those people who believe green coffee pills can do wonders for your health, then I’ve got some bad news for you. Not only do they not work, but the marketer who supported them was given a huge fine for misleading and lying about his product.

Image via Walmart.

Remember the “magic” green coffee pills advertised on Dr. Oz? Scientists have retracted the paper advocating the use of these pills, and Dr. Oz was pretty much discredited for advertising them (as well as other stuff that doesn’t really work). Now, the pills have actually been pulled off the market, and Lindsey Duncan, the man behind the scam, has been fined $9 million.

You can call it justice, but I’d call it setting the science straight. The Federal Trade Commission has basically pulled a product off the shelves because it doesn’t really do anything – not what it claimed to do, anyway. Green coffee extract has been used as a weight-loss supplement and as an ingredient in other weight-loss products; while there is some tentative evidence of benefit, the quality and quantity of evidence is poor. The main study (and only peer reviewed study) to back what the product’s marketers were saying was retracted due to severe flaws. The miracle weight loss pill was not so miraculous after all.

Not a doctor, but plays one on TV

I have to say, Lindsey Duncan is an interesting character. A pretend doctor and “celebrity nutritionist,” he refers to himself as “one of the world’s leading experts on superfoods, herbal medicine, natural remedies and natural health.” He also often wears white labcoats, pretends to have scientific information, and overall just acts like a doctor. For these “misleading” and “deceptive” acts, he has been sued by the attorney general’s office in his home state, Texas.

“Dr.” Lindsey Duncan. Image from Youtube, via Vox.


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He also doesn’t have any degree certifying that he actually is a doctor, except for an alleged degree in naturopathy from the non-accredited, distance-learning college that was “named on a list posted by The Higher Education Coordination Board of ‘Institutions Whose Degrees Are Illegal to Use in Texas.'”

Initially, Duncan had no interest in green coffee – his company didn’t sell it didn’t research it… he had nothing to do with it. But Dr. Oz producers contacted his PR people to ask if he had any knowledge on it.

“We are working on a segment about the weight loss benefits of green coffee bean,” a Dr. Oz producer wrote, “and I was hoping that Lindsey Duncan might be available to be our expert. Has he studied green coffee bean at all? Would he be able to talk about how it works?”

Duncan’s people took advantage and jumped right in – and that’s when the scam started to emerge.

“Awesome! Thanks for reaching out, Dr. Lindsey does have knowledge of the Green Coffee Bean. He loves it!”

After some other discussions and deals, this is how Dr. Oz introduced his “expert”:

“You may think magic is make believe — but this bean (hold coffee bean) has scientists saying . . . they found the magic weight-loss cure for every body type. As a supplement, this miracle pill can burn fat fast! It’s green coffee beans. For those with fat all over and anyone who wants to lose weight — this is very exciting — breaking news!”

The Oz effect

But things got even better for Duncan. After the show, Oz wrote to him, asking if he has any particular brands he recommends. Duncan didn’t reply immediately, but instead emailed his employees:

“This is either a set up or manna from the heavens . . . Please get Green Coffee Bean up on our site immediately!!! I will then recco the PH site!!!!! Let me know when it’s up!”

So he set up a website selling green coffee pills, invested heavily in Google Adwords so anyone searching for products on Google would find his website and used his newfound celebrity to convince retailers such as Walmart to buy his products and sell it further. During his second appearance, Duncan made some mind-blowing statements: the suplements cause major weight loss, including 17 pounds in 12 weeks and 16 percent of body fat — without diet or exercise. He also stated that science supports this, even though there was no evidence to indicate this.

The machinery was set! According to information released at the trial, Oz had no idea of the scan Duncan set in motion, but at least in my view, he is clearly guilty of not respecting his audience and not checking his guest’s claims. Furthermore, this is not an isolated event – Duncan also appeared on Oz to discuss black raspberry as a “top cancer-fighting supplement,” the FTC said.

Vox estimates that in total, the scam brought profits of $50 million, so the fine doesn’t really level the field, but at least the product was retracted from the markets. It won’t give people their money back, but maybe it will prevent future scams from taking place.