A dietary supplement aimed at children with speech delays is being deceptively marketed by NourishLife, LLC, and may be hazardous to children’s health, according to findings by truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org). TINA.org, a nonprofit based in Madison, CT, has alerted the company and is filing complaints with federal and state regulators.
The supplement, SpeechNutrients speak™ (“Speak”), is nationally marketed as a “patented nutritional formula” that “mounting clinical evidence” shows supports healthy speech development in children with speech delays as a result of conditions such as autism and apraxia. But there are two problems with these assertions: (1) there is no patent for the formula, which, according to NourishLife, was invented by Dr. Claudia Morris, who was employed by Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland (CHRCO), and (2) there are no competent or reliable scientific studies supporting the speech improvement claims. In addition, the supplement contains extremely elevated levels of vitamin E, which medical studies have associated with hemorrhaging and an overall increase in the risk of death. Some parents have even reported that their speech-delayed children experienced seizure-like behavior and regression after taking Speak.
“There are as many as six million children in the U.S. with speech delays. To deceptively market a potentially dangerous supplement to the parents of children with disabilities is shameful,’’ said Bonnie Patten, executive director of TINA.org. “This deception has to stop and we need to get the word out to parents.”
In researching the marketing of Speak, TINA.org also found that all but one of the “family” photos associated with the testimonials regarding the effectiveness of Speak posted on the company’s website – www.speechnutrients.com – are professional photos purchased from iStockphoto.com. Further, the website on which Speak is sold refers parents to another allegedly independent website for more information on childhood speech delays – ApraxiaResearch.com. However, this apraxia website is actually owned by NourishLife and is just another marketing tool used to sell Speak.
In a March 19, 2013 letter to NourishLife’s president and founder, Mark Nottoli, TINA.org requested that the company fully correct the deceptive marketing of the supplement and alert its Speak customers of the misleading claims. After receiving the correspondence, Mr. Nottoli contacted TINA.org and said he isn’t always aware of the company’s wording regarding the patent (even though, since 2008, the company has consistently stated that the formula is patented). Nottoli then confirmed that patents “have not issued” for the formula, saying, “I would agree that perhaps it is more appropriate to use the term ‘patent pending.’”
However, Nottoli took the position that the testimonials are not misleading (though, he did not deny that a majority of the photos accompanying the testimonials are stock images), and that there is “competent and scientific evidence” supporting the company’s claims. Despite Mr. Nottoli’s response to TINA.org’s letter, NourishLife did not comply with TINA.org’s requests to stop the deceptive marketing claims and alert its customers. Accordingly, the advocacy group is sending complaint letters to the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Illinois Attorney General. In addition, TINA.org will send letters to Dr. Morris and CHRCO, as well as the Better Business Bureau, which NourishLife advertises gave it the BBB Complaint Free Award, requesting the BBB reevaluate its ratings of the supplement company.
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