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foru Offers Personalized Supplementation, Faces Predictable Hurdles

Article-foru Offers Personalized Supplementation, Faces Predictable Hurdles

foru Offers Personalized Supplementation, Faces Predictable Hurdles
<p>foru International offers personalized supplements based on a DNA test, which shows innovation in the growing trend of individual nutrition. However, the company ran into FTC issues regarding disease claims.</p>

Personalized nutrition is a growing trend in health care, with consumers interested in testing themselves to see which nutrients are lacking (and thus, which should be included in a supplement regime).

As predicted by Jay Udani, M.D., founder and CEO of Medicus Research at SupplySide West last year, a supplement company has partnered with a genetic testing lab to offer personalized nutrition.

foru International’s Core+ is created using a base of vitamin, minerals and superfruits, and then additional nutrients (or SNPs [single nucleotide polymorphisms] ,as the company calls them) are added based on a genetic test. According to a press release issued by the company, Each Core+ formula is designed based on the results of 12 genetic variants, resulting in 500,000 possible combinations.

Consumers first get a DNA assessment using an at-home kit that swabs the inside of the cheek. Then, along with their results, they get a personalized combination of ingredients to address their nutritional needs.

foru said the 12 SNPs are connected to “biochemical processes that matter for healthy living, and they are actionable—meaning there are nutritional ingredients that can compensate or mitigate for what we find."

The whole-food supplements are sold using the multi-level marketing (MLM) business model, and come in a daily dose of 10 capsules (five in the morning and five at night).

“To be competitive, you have to be relevant, and to be relevant, you’ve got to be connected to leading science and a personalized approach," Sharon Tahaney, president of foru International, told me in an interview. “Instead of guessing, you’re assessing. Your assessment is your recipe for what the blended solution needs to be. It’s made one at a time specifically based on your assessments."

Core+ is limited to adults eighteen and over because the genetic test requires adult consent, according to Tahaney.

Udani, when he wrote about personalized nutrition for INSIDER, also noted that companies that enter this genetic testing place need to ensure they aren’t making disease claims. This was an issue that foru ran into last year. Although, foru said the issue was due to its MLM approach (a distributor that was making illegal claims) rather than the genetic testing.  

In January 2014, foru and its former parent company GeneLink agreed to settle FTC charges of deceptive advertising for claims that their products treated diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, insomnia and other ailments. According to an FTC press release, foru and GeneLink approved marketing materials with “claims that the customized nutritional supplements could compensate for an individual’s genetic disadvantages," and “the companies also claimed through testimonials that the customized nutritional supplements could treat serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and insomnia."

The settlement, which was finalized in May 2014, prohibited Foru from claiming that their products would treat, prevent, mitigate or reduce the risk of diseases by modulating the effect of genes or based on a genetic assessment. FTC noted that such claims could be made if foru could show they were supported by at least two adequate and well-controlled studies.

“One of our independent distributors inadvertently made a product claim about our product which was noticed by the FTC and opened a case for investigation," Tahaney said. “The investigation has since been settled entering into a consent agreement with the Commission. We abide by the stringent guidelines given by the FTC in matters of security, privacy and messaging.  We have a compliance officer and a dedicated resource monitoring messaging of distributors online."

In the settlement, FTC also said foru and GeneLink didn’t take reasonable and appropriate security measures to safeguard and maintain personal information, including genetic information, social security numbers, bank account information and credit card numbers. Therefore, settlement required the companies to establish and maintain comprehensive information security programs and submit to security audits by independent auditors every other year for 20 years. 

This brings up another issue of personalized nutrition that I hadn’t thought of before: security. Companies that are collecting or using personalized data to address nutrition need to ensure they’ve established a system that keeps consumer information secure, which requires a level of IT expertise that other brands don’t necessarily need.

The growing trend of personalized nutrition needs to find its way to stay legal for supplement sales because it’s not going anywhere, and a company that can do it right will certainly reap rewards. foru may be that company if it can ensure its legal troubles are behind it.

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