Herbalife Reviewed by a Doctor: Are the Shakes Healthy?

Herbalife Reviewed by a Doctor: Are the Shakes Healthy?


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Herbalife is one of the most popular health and nutrition brands in the US. Herbalife products are typically sold by independent distributors, and there are a wide variety of Herbalife wellness products such as shakes, teas, weight loss products, protein powders and more.

But do Herbalife supplements contain research-backed ingredients for supporting optimal health? Do they contain any unhealthy additives? Why was the company sued over its business practices? And how do real Herbalife customers rate and describe the effects of the products?

In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more, as we analyze the ingredients in popular Herbalife products based on clinical studies, to give our take on whether or not they're healthy and worth the money.

We'll review Herbalife shakes, Herbalife tea, Herbalife Liftoff (their energy supplement), Herbalife protein powder, Herbalife collagen and Herbalife pre-workout.

We’ll also explain why the company was sued and why the company settled with the Justice Department, and feature real customer reviews.

Herbalife Shakes Review

Herbalife Creamy Chocolate Shake ingredients

The ingredients in Herbalife's Creamy Chocolate shake are shown above.

Shakes are arguably the most popular health product sold by Herbalife.

We question the positioning of this product as a "Meal Replacement" shake, given that it only provides 180 calories per serving.

Soy protein isolate is an effective choice for the core active ingredient.

Soy protein is a complete protein (meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids), and this shake provides 20 grams (g) of protein per serving, which is clinically shown to be a dose that optimizes post-workout muscle synthesis.

There are a number of ingredients in this formulation we would recommend avoiding for health reasons.

Artificial flavor may be toxic based on animal studies.

The above-linked study, published in the Brazilian Journal of Biology, found that all six artificial flavoring agents analyzed were toxic to animals.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that's clinically shown to worsen insulin function in healthy adults, as we documented in our Six Star Whey Protein reviews article.

Calcium phosphate and potassium phosphate may be best avoided, given that a 2012 medical review described phosphate additives in food as "a health risk."

Zinc oxide and folic acid are part of a blend of vitamin and mineral additives that compose the majority of the ingredients. We haven't come across any clinical evidence that added vitamins and minerals from fortified foods improve health in individuals without vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

Overall, we would not recommend Herbalife shakes due to the additive ingredients described above.

A YouTube creator named Ashley Elliott reviewed Herbalife shakes after one week of use, and explains if the drinks caused weight loss:

Herbalife Settles With Justice Department

Herbalife has dealt with some legal and regulatory issues since its inception.

In 2016, Herbalife settled with the FTC for $200 million.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered Herbalife to pay $200 million back to its brand representatives, claiming that the company had advertised "misleading moneymaking claims" that had caused financial harm to individuals.

According to a Barron's exposé, Herbalife paid $123 million to the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over charges the company was attempting to bribe Chinese regulators.

Herbalife also settled a class-action lawsuit for $15 million over claims that the company is a pyramid scheme that makes it challenging for independent distributors to profit.

We would certainly recommend against becoming an Herbalife brand ambassador in light of this information.

Herbalife products were also described as causing liver damage in some customers in a medical review published in the LiverTox journal:

"The liver injury attributed to Herbalife products remains unexplained."

Herbalife Tea Review

Herbalife Raspberry Tea Concentrate ingredients

The above ingredient list is from Herbalife's Raspberry Herbal Tea Concentrate, which is categorized on Herbalife's website as a "Weight Loss Enhancer." 

Caffeine is associated with weight loss according to a 2019 medical review, although the caffeine dose in this supplement is only 85 milligrams (mg), which is less than that in one standard cup of coffee.

We haven't come across clinical evidence that caffeine at this low of a dose supports weight loss.

Green tea extract may be effective for weight loss, but it's an ingredient we recommend consumers avoid due to the potential for liver damage.

A review published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology described green tea extract as a "potential cause of acute liver failure" and Health Canada has issued similar warnings.

Natural raspberry flavor is a broad categorical term that fails to describe the specific chemical compounds used, as we explained in our Smart Sweets reviews article on another brand that uses natural flavors.

Overall, we're unconvinced that this product will support weight loss, and we don't currently recommend it due to the inclusion of natural flavor and green tea extract.

Pique Japanese Sencha Green Tea is our top weight loss tea pick, because green tea has "favorable anti-obesity effects" according to a 2021 medical review, and this product has no added flavoring agents.

Herbalife Liftoff Review

Herbalife Liftoff active ingredients

The active ingredients in Herbalife Liftoff, which is an energy supplement, are shown above.

Caffeine is included at a 75 mg dose, which is slightly less than one cup of coffee. This is an effective dose for energy and cognitive function, according to a 2017 medical review.

Panax ginseng is an herbal supplement that can promote energy and mental alertness.

However, Herbalife uses raw Panax ginseng root, while most of the medical research that we've come across on this compound uses Panax ginseng extract, which is more concentrated.

Guarana extract is clinically shown to have a synergistic effect with caffeine, meaning the two ingredients combined promote energy better than either alone, as we documented in our are Celsius drinks bad for you article.

The inactive ingredients in Liftoff are shown below:

Herbalife Liftoff inactive ingredients

Citric acid is a preservative and flavor enhancer that's clinically shown to cause whole-body inflammation in some individuals. 

Sucralose and natural flavor are included in this formulation, and we explained in previous sections of this article why we recommend avoiding these ingredients.

Overall, we consider Herbalife Liftoff likely to increase energy, and from an efficacy perspective this is the best Herbalife supplement we've reviewed so far in this article.

We don't currently recommend this supplement due to the inactive ingredients discussed above.

We manufacture a panax ginseng supplement called Illuminate Labs Panax Ginseng Extract that is free of citric acid and artificial sweeteners.

A YouTube creator named "Jessie Change" reviewed the pomegranate flavor of Liftoff:

Herbalife Protein Powder Review

Herbalife Chocolate Protein Drink Mix ingredients

The ingredients in the Chocolate flavor of Herbalife Protein Drink Mix are shown above. 

This product only provides 15 g of protein per serving, which is below the optimal threshold for muscle building based on the clinical trial we cited in the Herbalife Shakes review section above.

Natural and artificial flavors, phosphates, sucralose and added vitamins and minerals are all ingredients we recommend avoiding, for reasons explained in previous sections of this article.

Overall, we don't currently recommend Herbalife Protein Drink Mix because it provides a protein dose that's below our preferred threshold of 20 g, and it contains a range of questionable additive ingredients.

Herbalife Collagen Review

Herbalife collagen active ingredients

The ingredients in Herbalife SKIN, a collagen supplement, are shown above.

Collagen hydrolysate is the core active ingredient in this formulation, and is effectively dosed for skin health and wrinkle reduction at a 2.5 g dose, according to a medical review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.

Like most Herbalife products, this formulation contains a large blend of added vitamins and minerals. We're not sure why, because we haven't come across any clinical evidence that taking supplemental vitamins and minerals improves skin quality.

The inactive ingredients in SKIN are shown below:

Herbalife SKIN inactive ingredients

Citric acid, natural flavor and phosphates are ingredients we recommend avoiding, for reasons described previously in this article.

Overall, we consider Herbalife SKIN likely to improve skin quality given its effective collagen dose. However, we don't currently recommend this product due to the inactive ingredients.

Momentous Collagen Powder is our top collagen pick because it's sourced from pastured animals and has no additives we consider to be unhealthy.

Herbalife Pre-Workout Review

Herbalife Prepare active ingredients

The active ingredients in Herbalife Prepare, which is a pre-workout supplement, are shown above.

L-arginine and l-citrulline are amino acids that can support optimal blood flow and increase exercise endurance.

However, we don't consider either ingredient effectively dosed in this supplement.

We've never come across a clinical trial showing citrulline to have ergogenic (exercise-enhancing) effects at a dose below 1,000 mg.

L-arginine is clinically shown to improve exercise endurance at a 6,000 mg dose, but we can't find evidence that it improves exercise endurance at the 3,000 mg dose in Herbalife Prepare.

Creatine has been shown in research studies to support muscle building, as we documented in our Ryse Pre-Workout reviews article.

Caffeine is effectively dosed for both focus and increased power in this supplement.

Herbalife Prepare is NSF-Certified for Sport, which ensures that the supplement is accurately labeled and contaminant-free.

The inactive ingredients in Herbalife Prepare are shown below:

Herbalife Prepare inactive ingredients

Citric acid and natural flavors are ingredients we recommend avoiding from a health perspective, for reasons described previously in this article.

Overall, we consider this to be one of Herbalife's better formulations, and we consider it likely to be effective for both promoting energy and focus, and improving exercise performance.

We don't currently recommend this supplement due to the inclusion of citric acid and natural flavors.

Real Customers Review Herbalife

Amazon is a better resource for honest customer reviews than a brand's website in our opinion.

Herbalife Meal Replacement Shake is the brand's most-reviewed product on Amazon at the time of updating this article, with over 22,000 reviews and an average customer review rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars.

The top positive review from a verified purchaser comes from a user named "Liz K" who gives the product a 5/5 star rating, and who claims it tasted good and caused weight loss:

" I have been buying this flavor for a few years, because it’s simply delicious...it tastes like a Wendy’s chocolate frosty to me!...I’ve been able to keep the weight off and I feel healthier at 36 than I did in my 20s! They’re satisfying and delicious."

The top negative review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named "LK in Florida" who gives the product a 1/5 star rating and disliked its mixability:

"I have tried many different ways to mix the shake mix with water because I cannot drink milk. I have tried shaking it in different containers, tried shaker balls and even tried mixing it with hot water and I still ended up with undissolved chunks. I am very disappointed"

Herbalife currently has an average review rating of 1.8 out of 5 stars on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website, but there are only five total reviews, which is a small sample size.

The brand responds to the majority of customer complaints, which is a good sign of brand quality.

Pros and Cons of Herbalife

Here are the pros and cons of Herbalife in our opinion:

Pros:

  • Nutrition information now clearly accessible on website
  • Shakes have effective protein dose
  • SKIN should reduce wrinkles
  • Prepare should increase energy and improve gym performance
  • Positive customer reviews on Amazon

Cons:

  • Multi-level-marketing (MLM) business
  • Company settled with FTC over allegations of misleading claims
  • Company settled with SEC over allegations of bribery
  • Company settled class-action lawsuit
  • Expensive supplements
  • Most supplements reviewed contain synthetic vitamins and minerals
  • Some supplements contain artificial flavors
  • Some supplements contain citric acid
  • Some supplements contain artificial sweeteners
  • Tea concentrate contains green tea extract
  • Meal replacement shake has low calories
  • Herbalife has been associated with liver injury in some customers
Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

In this article we analyzed six different Herbalife formulations, and we don't currently recommend any of them.

While some of the products we reviewed should be effective for the intended outcome based on their active ingredients, all Herbalife supplements we reviewed contained inactive ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy.

Prepare (the brand's pre-workout) is the best formulation we reviewed, because it's third-party tested and contains multiple effectively-dosed active ingredients.

Herbalife has settled with multiple regulators, which concerns us about the company's business practices.

We would recommend that individuals exercise extreme caution and speak with a financial advisor before considering taking part in an Herbalife business opportunity.

Since we initially published this article, Herbalife has significantly improved the usability and transparency of their website, and we give the brand credit for that.

When we initially published this review, Herbalife failed to clearly publish ingredient lists and Supplement Facts labels on their website. 

Today, both elements are clearly accessible on product pages, which is important for consumer safety.

We like to think that we may have had an influence in that regard, given that this article has been highly-trafficked.

Herbalife's most popular product has a relatively high average Amazon rating.