In 2012, researchers published a study claiming that green coffee bean extract could help people lose weight quickly and easily. The product was featured on The Dr. Oz Show, and the popularity of green coffee soared. It turns out the findings of that study were extremely flawed.
Update (10/23/2014): On Tuesday, The Dr. Oz Show released a statement regarding the retraction of the green coffee bean extract study.
"In prior seasons, we covered Green Coffee Extract and its potential as a useful tool for weight loss. Recently the authors of the peer reviewed research paper on which our coverage had been partially based formally retracted their study," the statement read. "While this sometimes happens in scientific research, it indicates that further study is needed regarding any potential benefits of Green Coffee Extract."
According to The Washington Post, the Dr. Oz website "has been entirely scrubbed of almost every mention of the green coffee extract, including the episode touting the product and the 'independent' experiment he and his show conducted to present their own evidence of the substance's weight-loss effects."
Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham, two of the study's authors, have retracted the research because the sponsors of the study "cannot assure the validity of the data."
The study was sponsored by Applied Food Sciences, Inc. (AFS), a Texas-based company that sells a green coffee ingredient used in dietary supplements and foods.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) argued that AFS used the results of this flawed study to sell its green coffee product. According to the FTC, AFS made baseless claims about green coffee bean extract's ability to help people lose weight, and that retailers repeated those claims to sell their products to consumers.
Last month, AFS settled the FTC charges. The company will pay $3.5 million. AFS is also required to have substantial scientific evidence to backup any future claims that its products have weight-loss abilities.
In a September press release, the FTC explained that AFS paid researchers in India to study whether a dietary supplement called Green Coffee Antioxidant (GCA) — which contains green coffee extract — could reduce body weight and body fat in overweight adults.
The FTC claimed that the lead researcher "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 [fake supplement] or GCA during the trial."
This lead researcher was not able to get the study published. So, according to the FTC, AFS hired University of Scranton researchers Vinson and Burnham to rewrite the study. Neither these researchers nor the company tried to verify the data used in the study, the FTC claimed.
"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 FTC explained.
"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 FTC said. "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."