Ear seeds that ‘cure’ ME, a cacao ‘anti-depressant’ drink and a ‘sleep better’ mouth taping device: The Dragons’ Den pitches from wellness brands accused of peddling ‘extravagant claims’ as scientists slam show for failing to scrutinise products

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A pro-science group has raised concerns about brands featured on Dragons' Den, including Full Power Cacao (FPC) - which sells what it calls 'authentic, powerful, magical, heart opening plant medicine from Venezuela'. Pictured, founder Liam Browne

Dragons’ Den pitches from wellness brands have been accused of peddling ‘extravagant claims’ as scientists slammed the show for failing to scrutinise products.

Ear seeds claimed to ‘cure’ ME, a cacao ‘anti-depressant’ and a ‘sleep better’ mouth taping devices are among the products being touted in the new series.

But a science group has now accused the show of failing to properly scrutinise ‘extravagant’ claims and has written to BBC director-general Tim Davie demanding ‘immediate action’ on the programme’s due diligence. 

The UK-based Good Thinking Society charity, which describes itself as ‘encouraging curious minds and promoting rational enquiry’, slammed the show’s portrayal of wellness businesses.

Their complaint comes after entrepreneur Giselle Boxer was accused of ‘selling snake oil’ by claiming her ear seeds helped ‘cure’ her ME – and later said she was recruited by a researcher for the show.

A pro-science group has raised concerns about brands featured on Dragons’ Den, including Full Power Cacao (FPC) – which sells what it calls ‘authentic, powerful, magical, heart opening plant medicine from Venezuela’. Pictured, founder Liam Browne

Also mentioned was Psychic Sisters, which sells sage, crystals, gemstones and wax melts and was set up by Jayne Wallace (pictured)

Also mentioned was Psychic Sisters, which sells sage, crystals, gemstones and wax melts and was set up by Jayne Wallace (pictured)

Entrepreneur Giselle Boxer (pictured) was accused of 'selling snake oil' by claiming on Dragons' Den that her ear seeds helped 'cure' her ME

Entrepreneur Giselle Boxer (pictured) was accused of ‘selling snake oil’ by claiming on Dragons’ Den that her ear seeds helped ‘cure’ her ME

The new letter highlight two other brands featured on the series, including Full Power Cacao (FPC) which sells what it calls ‘authentic, powerful, magical, heart opening plant medicine from Venezuela’.

The company, founded by Liam Browne, claims to offer a ‘natural anti-depressant’ that can also be beneficial for heart, brain and gut health. 

But UCL’s Sarah Jackson – who worked on a study used by FPC on its website to promote the ingredient – insisted the paper was ‘purely correlational’ and showed no ‘firm conclusions about whether this association is casual’.

The study also focused on the relationship between consuming dark chocolate and depressive symptoms, with Ms Jackson adding there was ‘nothing about ceremonial grade cacao or vibrational energy’.

The campaigning group has also raised concerns about Psychic Sisters, which sells sage, crystals, gemstones and wax melts and was set up by Jayne Wallace, described on its website as an ‘internationally acclaimed clairvoyant’.

The company, which also appeared on the show and impressed Deborah Meaden and Sara Davies enough to get funding – provides readings which can cost up to £150 for a half-hour session.

Both FPC and Psychic Sisters market their Dragons’ Den associations on their websites.

Michael Marshall, project director at the Good Thinking Society, told The Times: ‘Each of these businesses have been allowed to make extravagant claims about the efficacy of their products without facing any real critique or questioning from the show or its producers.

‘Not enough is being done by the producers of Dragon’s Den to uphold that trust, and to ensure it is not lent to businesses that promote misleading and potentially dangerous products, via health claims that target specific and vulnerable patient groups.

‘People with serious conditions may risk their time, money and even turn down proven treatments in favour of these products.’

The letter was also sent to the BBC’s director of editorial policy and standards David Jordan.

A BBC spokesperson said: ‘Dragons’ Den is an entertainment programme which features products created by entrepreneurs but is not an endorsement of them. It does not and has never set out to offer medical advice.

‘It shows real businesses pitching to investors to lift the lid on what happens in the business world. The Dragons’ decision to invest is their own, and the BBC has no involvement or commercial interest in any investments.’

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MailOnline has approached Acu Seeds, Full Power Cacao and Psychic Sisters for comment.

Dragons' Den judges for the current 20th series of the show are, from left to right, Touker Suleyman, Sara Davies, Deborah Meaden, Steven Bartlett, Gary Neville and Peter Jones

Dragons’ Den judges for the current 20th series of the show are, from left to right, Touker Suleyman, Sara Davies, Deborah Meaden, Steven Bartlett, Gary Neville and Peter Jones

Both FPC and Psychic Sisters market their association to Dragon's Den on their website. Pictured, Jayne with investor Sara Davies

Both FPC and Psychic Sisters market their association to Dragon’s Den on their website. Pictured, Jayne with investor Sara Davies

Jayne Wallace, left, and Grace Frost presented the case for Psychic Sisters on Dragons' Den

Jayne Wallace, left, and Grace Frost presented the case for Psychic Sisters on Dragons’ Den

Jayne Wallace and Grace Frost, of Psychic Sisters, convinced Deborah Meaden and Sara Davies to offer funding

Jayne Wallace and Grace Frost, of Psychic Sisters, convinced Deborah Meaden and Sara Davies to offer funding

The new concerns come after entrepreneur Ms Boxer, from Sheffield, was criticised after claiming on Dragons’ Den her ear seeds helped ‘cure’ her ME, in an episode the BBC has since removed from its iPlayer service.

She later told of being recruited by a researcher for the show, while 74-year-old businesswoman Zoe Young, from Checkendon in Oxfordshire, has also since claimed she was approached by the BBC to appear.

It has now emerged next Thursday’s episode is set to feature Patrick McKeown, a ‘breathing guru’ promoting a mouth taping device aimed at children and adults. 

He teaches Buteyko, a breathing control technique that involves taping the mouth closed to force people to breathe through their noses – which supporters say can bring health improvements.

He has written a book called The Breathing Cure and has said Buteyko can ‘influence’ most major diseases while improving control of diabetes and epilepsy and treating depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Meanwhile, an heir to the Cadbury dynasty – who ultimately turned his back on a £75,000 Dragons’ Den deal – said he too was approached to appear on the show with his ethical chocolate brand Love Cocoa in 2018.

James Cadbury said a researcher had tried one of his chocolate bars and ‘loved the story and ethos’ and that after a ‘quick 1-minute audition’ he was on the show within three to four weeks. 

Speaking to FEMAIL, the BBC confirmed that Dragons’ Den does ‘approach businesses’ to appear on the show. 

A spokesperson said Dragons’ Den ‘has always encouraged entrepreneurs to apply to appear on the show’.

They added: ‘Whether we approach businesses or find people via casting call outs every applicant goes through the same rigorous processes before they make it on to the show.’

Those looking for a slot on Dragons’ Den need to apply online and the BBC’s website explains that as ‘part of the normal selection process we may approach entrepreneurs, or they may apply direct’.

It continues: ‘To be considered, all candidates need to submit an application form and these are then subject to the same casting criteria.

‘Once shortlisted for consideration applicants will enter due diligence, but ultimately the final selection for participation will be decided on a number of factors and the producers’ decision is final.’

FPC - founded by Liam Browne - claims to retail a 'natural anti-depressant' that can also be beneficial for heart, brain and gut health

FPC – founded by Liam Browne – claims to retail a ‘natural anti-depressant’ that can also be beneficial for heart, brain and gut health

FPC's Liam Browne appeared on the Dragons' Den episode broadcast on January 18 this year

FPC’s Liam Browne appeared on the Dragons’ Den episode broadcast on January 18 this year

Among those making an offer of investment to Manchester City fan Liam Browne was Manchester United legend Gary Neville, pictured centre in the Dragons' panel

Among those making an offer of investment to Manchester City fan Liam Browne was Manchester United legend Gary Neville, pictured centre in the Dragons’ panel

Describing his experience in a post on his LoveCocoa website, Mr Cadbury wrote: ‘The first stage was to do a quick 1-minute audition in London which was speaking into a camera. 

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‘I had a few attempts at it before finally producing a good one which our researcher liked. This was sent to the production executive to give the thumbs up.

‘With filming having already started for the season, the turnaround was very quick between the audition and the actual pitch with it being only 3-4 weeks.’

In 2022 an alternative brewery Neitiv, based in Swindon, published a blog post detailing their own Dragons’ Den experience in which the founders claimed they were ‘convinced’ to pitch to the dragons by the show’s producers. 

The brand’s founder Vaani Vetriko claimed the business was ‘approached by the show producers’ just one month after their Coconut Flower Beer had been launched.

‘Our initial reaction was pure disbelief, as we [had] not done any marketing at that point,’ she wrote.

‘Our response was, “We are not sure if this is the right time” – we felt it was too early because our business did not have any financial track record to present to the Dragons as that is always the most important factor in seeking investment.

‘However, the producers convinced us to participate.’

Another entrepreneur who appeared on the show revealed he was also approached ‘out of the blue’ by producers, who contacted him via email.

Jacob Thundil, founder of Cocofina, appeared on the programme in 2016 and received a £75,000 cash injection from Nick Jenkins and Sarah Wallingham. – though the deal later fell through because he could not provide essential documents relating to the company’s accounts.

Giselle Boxer, from Sheffield, claimed her 'ear seeds' cured her ME in the January 24 broadcast of Dragons' Den which has since been removed from the BBC's iPlayer service

Giselle Boxer, from Sheffield, claimed her ‘ear seeds’ cured her ME in the January 24 broadcast of Dragons’ Den which has since been removed from the BBC’s iPlayer service

Giselle Boxer, who appeared on last week's episode, told the Dragons she sells £30 gold-plated ear seeds. On the show, Deborah Meaden tried the technique before making an offer

Giselle Boxer, who appeared on last week’s episode, told the Dragons she sells £30 gold-plated ear seeds. On the show, Deborah Meaden tried the technique before making an offer

Deborah Meaden has been one of the Dragons since joining for the show's third series in 2005

Deborah Meaden has been one of the Dragons since joining for the show’s third series in 2005

He told The Sun: ‘When I opened the email I thought it must have been a scam and nearly ignored it. I was waiting for them to ask me for money.

ME Association’s letter to the BBC 

On Thursday January 18th the Dragons Den programme included a presentation from an entrépeneur who has set up a business that is selling a medical product called Acu Seeds.

This product, which costs £3 to produce and is sold for £30, is clearly being aimed a people who have ME/CFS and a number of other specific medical conditions – these are conditions are listed on the Acu Seeds website and Facebook page.

The panel interviews failed to include any questions about whether there was any validity to the scientific basis for the use of Acu Seeds in ME/CFS and whether there was any scientific evidence of safety and efficacy for this product in relation to any of the medical conditions that it is aimed at.

Academic review of the pseudoscience behind Acu Seeds.

The Advertising Standards Authority have very strict guidelines on the advertising of medicinal products and make it clear that therapeutic claims cannot be made unless they are supported by robust evidence of safety and efficacy from placebo controlled clinical trials.

No such clinical trials have been carried out in relation to Acu Seeds and I have therefore referred the therapeutic claims in their promotional material to the ASA.

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The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority also have very clear regulations garding the promotion of medical devices such as this.

People who have ME/CFS are often on very low incomes and in the absence of any effective medical treatment are very vulnerable to these sort of unsubstantiated therapeutic claims.

They are fed up with the way in which unproven and expensive treatments are regularly being promoted to them.

This programme has therefore caused a great deal of upset and anger in the ME/CFS patient community.

I would add that my concerns about the way in why this programme appears to have made without any proper background checks before being used to promote Acu Seeds are also shared by Professor Edzard Ernst.

There appears to have been a serious error of judgement in the way in which Dragons Den failed to carry out the necessary background checks on the ethics of this product and went ahead to provide what was basically an uncritical promotion of an unproven medical product.

These concerns have also been passed to the All Party Parliamentary Group on ME at Westminster.

Yours sincerely

Dr Charles Shepherd

Hon Medical Adviser ME Association

‘I was so cynical that I called up the BBC to find out if it was real.

‘I didn’t believe it because I considered myself normal and thought, “Why would they contact someone like me?”‘

After the furore over her £30 ‘ear seeds’, Ms Boxer told The Mirror: ‘Funnily enough they contacted me and I received an email from a researcher there and I initially thought it was a spam email. 

‘We went through the different stages of the application process and there was so much due diligence and they really looked into every part of my business before I went in to pitch to the Dragons.’

Meanwhile, the ME association has reported Acu Seeds to the Advertising Standards Agency and written to the BBC and chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport committee and chairman of the health and social care committee.

‘People who have ME/CFS are often on very low incomes and in the absence of any effective medical treatment are very vulnerable to these sort of unsubstantiated therapeutic claims.

‘They are fed up with the way in which unproven and expensive treatments are regularly being promoted to them.

‘This programme has therefore caused a great deal of upset and anger in the ME/CFS [Chronic Fatigue Syndrome] patient community,’ the letter reads.

It adds that during Dragons’ Den none of the panel asked any questions about ‘validity Acu Seeds in ME/CFS and whether there was any scientific evidence of safety and efficacy for this product’.  

Dr Charles Shepard, Hon Medical Advisor for the ME Association, said: ‘The way in which Dragons’ Den has been used to promote an unproven treatment for ME/CFS has, not surprisingly, caused a great deal of upset and concern in the ME patient community.

‘People with ME/CFS are fed up with the way in which products like this are regularly being promoted when there is no sound evidence from proper placebo-controlled clinical trials to confirm that they are safe and effective.

‘These sort of expensive commercial products and devices should not be promoted to very vulnerable sick people until they have been properly assessed for safety and efficacy in clinical trials – in exactly the same way that drug treatments are.’

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