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 U.S. The brand's 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.

In this article we'll review the ingredients in some of Herbalife's most popular products based on medical studies to give our take on whether they're actually healthy or not, and whether we believe the health claims (such as weight loss) are likely to be accurate.

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

We’ll also highlight Herbalife's failure to publish important nutritional information on their website, and a $200 million settlement the company made to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S. for misleading claims. 

Herbalife Shakes Review

Herbalife Cookies n' Cream shake ingredients

One of the most popular categories of products Herbalife sells are "nutritional shakes" which are branded as meal replacement options.

We strongly disagree with the characterization of this as a "meal replacement" shake, given that it only provides 90 calories per serving. Even someone dieting will typically be consuming a minimum of 500 calories per meal.

The main ingredient in this shake formulation is soy protein isolate, which we consider an effective choice. It's a complete protein (meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids) that's a good option for vegetarians and vegans.

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

The first is added sugar. We know from medical research that consumption of added sugar is associated with increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. The 4 grams (g) of added sugar per serving in this shake is relatively low, but we still recommend avoiding added sugar entirely, and consider it illogical for an expensive "nutritional" shake to contain added sugar.

This shake also contains artificial flavor, which is a category of food additives that may be toxic based on animal studies. The linked study, published in the Brazilian Journal of Biology, found all six artificial flavoring agents analyzed to be toxic to animals.

Herbalife nutritional shakes also contain a blend of added vitamins and minerals. A wellness brand called Isagenix had to recall their shakes from the market in early 2022 due to the added vitamins causing toxicity in some customers. We recommend avoiding supplements with added vitamins and minerals, and getting vitamins from whole foods.

Overall we would not recommend Herbalife shakes because of the questionable additive ingredients. 

We would recommend Naked Nutrition Grass-Fed Whey Powder as our top protein product because it has one simple ingredient: whey protein sourced from grass-fed animals. It's free of any questionable additives.

Herbalife Formula 1 shakes cost $50.90 at the time of updating this article and provide 22 servings, equating to a cost per serving of $2.31. Naked Nutrition whey protein powder costs $94.99 and provides 76 servings, equating to a cost per serving of $1.25. Interested consumers can check our Naked Nutrition Grass-Fed Whey Powder at this link.

A YouTube creator called "Ashley Elliott" published a real user review of Herbalife shakes where she reviewed the taste, the pros and cons, and explained whether the shakes caused weight loss:

Herbalife Tea Review

Herbalife herbal tea concentrate ingredients

Herbalife sells a number of tea concentrates which the brand implies may help with weight loss, given that they're categorized on the Herbalife website in a category called "Weight Loss Enhancers." The above ingredient list is from Herbalife's Raspberry Herbal Tea Concentrate.

Caffeine is associated with weight loss based on a 2019 medical review, but there is no caffeine dose published either on the ingredient list or on Herbalife's website. We consider this to be a consumer safety issue because caffeine at high doses can cause symptoms like transient high blood pressure and anxiety. We strongly recommend that consumers avoid any food or supplement containing caffeine without a clearly listed dose.

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

This tea also contains natural flavor, which we recommend avoiding. As we explained in our Smart Sweets reviews article, this term is a broad classification which doesn't explain the specific chemical compounds used to create the flavor. Without this critical information, neither consumers nor researchers like us can verify that the flavoring compounds are safe.

We consider Herbalife tea potentially effective for weight loss due to the inclusion of caffeine and green tea extract, but we do not recommend it overall because the dose for these ingredients is unlisted, and because we recommend avoiding green tea extract and "natural flavor" entirely.

We recommend Pique Japanese Sencha Green Tea as our top weight loss tea option, because it contains one single ingredient: organic green tea. It's free of natural flavor and added caffeine.  

Both green tea and green tea extract are associated with weight loss in medical studies, but we consider green tea to be safer. Interested consumers can check out Pique Japanese Sencha Green Tea at this link.

Herbalife Liftoff Review

Herbalife Liftoff active ingredients

Herbalife recently launched an energy supplement called "Liftoff." It's an effervescent tablet that's mixed into water.

Liftoff contains caffeine at a 75 milligram (mg) dose, which is slightly less than one cup of coffee. This is an effective dose for energy and cognitive function, based on a medical review from 2017.

Liftoff also contains panax ginseng, which 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 reviewed on this compound uses panax ginseng extract, which is a more potent version.

Herbalife Liftoff other ingredients

While Herbalife Liftoff has some effective active ingredients for energy and alertness, it also has some additive ingredients we recommend avoiding. The first of these is citric acid, which is a preservative and flavor enhancer.

A medical review we often cite on Illuminate Health found that citric acid can in rare cases cause whole-body inflammatory reactions. Since this ingredient has no nutritive value, we recommend avoiding it. This reaction to citric acid is not common, but it seems logical to avoid the compound in light of this information.

This product also contains corn syrup, which is a processed sweetener associated with obesity and unfavorable health outcomes in medical research. There's a relatively low amount of added sugar in this product but we recommend avoiding added sugar and corn syrup at any dose.

Liftoff also contains natural flavors, an artificial sweetener (sucralose) and a preservative (sodium benzoate); all ingredients we recommend avoiding.

Sucralose in particular we would consider a strange ingredient inclusion for an energy supplement, given that its consumption has been associated in a clinical trial with decreased cognitive function.

We manufacture a panax ginseng supplement called Illuminate Labs Panax Ginseng Extract that we recommend for energy. It's free of questionable additive ingredients and panax ginseng has been shown to improve both physical and mental energy in clinical trials (links to the trials on our product page). 

Herbalife Liftoff costs $246.55 for 100 tablets, which equates to a per-serving cost of $2.47. Illuminate Labs Panax Ginseng Extract costs only $15 on a subscription basis and contains 60 servings, which equates to a per-serving cost of $0.25. Interested consumers can check out Illuminate Labs Panax Ginseng Extract at this link.

Below is a real user review of Herbalife Liftoff from a channel called "Jessie Change" that's less than four minutes long and appears unsponsored:

Herbalife Protein Powder Review

Herbalife protein powder ingredients

Herbalife sells a variety of protein powders. The ingredients list above is from their Protein Drink mix. 

This product has a similar formulation to the Herbalife shake reviewed previously, but contains slightly more calories (110) and protein (15 g).

We typically recommend protein powders that provide a protein dose at or above 20 g, because this appears to be the effective dose range for maximizing hypertrophy (muscle-building) based on published medical research.

The majority of ingredients in this formulation are added vitamins and minerals, which we recommend avoiding for reasons listed above.

Herbalife protein powder contains natural and artificial flavors, corn syrup, and the artificial sweetener sucralose.

Herbalife protein powder is significantly more expensive than Herbalife shakes. The protein powder listed above costs $62.35 at our local distributor, and only provides 22 servings. This is a $2.83 per-serving cost.

Similar to our recommendation in the shake section, we would recommend Naked Nutrition Grass-Fed Whey Powder over Herbalife protein powder, as it's free of questionable additive ingredients and only costs $1.25 per serving.

Herbalife Collagen Review

Herbalife collagen active ingredients

Herbalife sells a collagen product called "SKIN," which the brand claims can reduce wrinkles when orally supplemented. We know from medical research that collagen can reduce wrinkles and improve skin elasticity and hydration, however we don't find Herbalife's product to be particularly well-formulated.

Herbalife SKIN provides 2.5 g collagen per serving, which is an effective dose but appears to be the minimum effective dose based on the above-linked research review. 10 g appears to be the maximally-effective dose, and this is the dose we recommend.

Herbalife collagen other ingredients

This supplement also contains a number of ingredients we recommend avoiding, such as vitamins and mineralscitric acid and natural flavor.

We recommend Bulletproof collagen powder to consumers interested in using collagen to improve facial skin appearance. It has one single ingredient: collagen peptides sourced from pastured animals. There are no questionable additives.

Herbalife SKIN costs $58.65 and contains 30 servings of 2.5 g collagen, which equates to a per-serving cost of $1.96. Bulletproof collagen powder costs $39.95 and contains 50 servings of 10 g collagen, which equates to a per-serving cost of $0.80 while providing 4x the collagen per serving. Interested consumers can check out Bulletproof collagen powder at this link.

Herbalife Pre-Workout Review

Herbalife pre-workout ingredients

A pre-workout powder called “Prepare” is sold by Herbalife, and appears to be decently formulated. It includes amino acids l-arginine and l-citrulline as nitric oxide (NO) precursors. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and can improve exercise endurance, so this is a performance benefit. 

While these ingredients both do increase nitric oxide production, we prefer pre-workout mixes containing citrulline alone. Arginine isn’t as effective as an NO precursor as citrulline.

The Herbalife pre workout also includes 2.1 g of creatine, which we would consider an effective dose according to medical studies. Creatine can increase power and exercise performance.

Herbalife Prepare is NSF-Certified for Sport, and we commend the brand for undergoing that process. NSF tests label accuracy and contaminant levels, and ensures that a sports nutrition supplement is free of any banned substances like steroids.

Prepare also contains 100 mg of caffeine which is an effective dose.

Overall we would consider this to be an effective formulation which is likely to improve workout performance and focus. We would not recommend this pre-workout overall due to the added vitamins and minerals, but we consider it to be the best-formulated Herbalife product that we've reviewed.

Herbalife Lawsuits

Herbalife has dealt with a significant amount of legal trouble since its inception.

As we documented in the intro to this article, Herbalife settled with the FTC for $200 million in 2016. The FTC ordered Herbalife to pay the $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.

Failure to Publish Ingredient Labels on Website

At the time of updating this article, Herbalife does not publish Supplement Facts or Nutrition Facts labels for the majority of products sold on their website. We consider this to be a highly questionable business practice, and a consumer safety issue.

All of the ingredients lists used in this review were sourced from third-party websites, such as local Herbalife distributors, rather than Herbalife's website.

Consumers can’t make educated choices about their health without the full set of information. How are you supposed to know if a pre-workout will be effective if you can’t even see the formulation?

We urge Herbalife to transparently share the ingredients in their products on their website, and we recommend that consumers always avoid purchasing supplements from manufacturers that fail to publish full ingredient lists.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

Herbalife has some decently-formulated products, but we don't recommend any of their products due to the inclusion of questionable additive ingredients like artificial flavor, corn syrup, preservatives and citric acid.

We consider Herbalife's pre-workout to be the brand's best formulation, because it provides effective doses of active ingredients like caffeine and creatine that should both improve mental focus and workout performance.

We urge Herbalife to publish ingredients labels on their website, because this information is important for consumer safety.

Herbalife has been the subject of a number of lawsuits in the past, both initiated by independent parties and by the U.S. government, which we consider to be a red flag about the brand as a whole.




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