The Revivo rip-off

There is no good reason to think that Revivo confers any survival benefit to HIV-positive people. Yet, there is a fascinating survival story to tell here - the story of how Revivo's brand of AIDS quackery has survived despite the Advertising Standards Authority ruling against them in 2009.

The alchemist
The alchemist by Carl Spitzweg
Revivo continues to be advertised as an AIDS treatment despite an ASASA ruling against it.

Revivo is a herbal supplement distributed by a company called Aconite Medical Suppliers. A bottle of thirty 500mg capsules sells for 30 dollars (about R200) on their website. They also list about 30 stockists in places across South Africa: from Lenasia and Katlehong to Mafikeng and Nelspruit. Even though this article will focus on their online marketing, their reach clearly goes beyond just online sales.

On the ingredients page of their website they list the following: Arctium Lappa, Coix Seed, Leonurus Herba, Nelumbo Nucifera, Prunella Vulgaris, Zizyphus Jojoba, Viola Yedoensis, Astragalus Root, Codonopsis Pilosulae.

Prunella Vulgaris and Zizyphus Jojoba are claimed to have an effect against HIV. Also my browser displays text instead of images. For each of the images associated with the above ingredients the text replacements have the words “for HIV”.

Like many quack websites, the Revivo site over extrapolates and misrepresents the available research. The Astragalus Root section listed at the top of their “research page” is a good example. Here they reference a study that appeared in the Journal of Immunology in November 2008. This was a basic lab study on the impact of cycloastragenol (an extract from the plant) on telomeres (a region of the DNA). The thinking is that healthier telomere activity would help the body fight HIV. Like hundreds upon hundreds of studies, this study is relatively interesting in a theoretical sense and may or may not warrant further research.

However, this study says nothing about what happens when you give an HIV-positive human being cycloastragenol in a capsule. Many quacks cite test-tube research like this in an attempt to hoodwink people into believing their is scientific evidence for the efficacy of their products in humans. Killing HIV in a laboratory is one thing; many substances can do it but few have ever become successful treatments.

The only way to determine with confidence whether there is a benefit to taking any product is by doing a properly controlled clinical trial. Prescribing cycloastragenol on the basis of anything less is simply mumbo jumbo.

One also wonders on what basis the manufacturers decided on the dosage. Given the scarcity of meaningful evidence, they must have just made it up – as seems to be the case for all the other ingredients of Revivo. At its core, this kind of quackery seems to espouse a reckless view of medicine where you simply take a bit of this, a bit of that, stir, and pretend it treats HIV.

Nonsense surveys

The Revivo website also mentions a recent survey they conducted. They start off their page on the survey by saying that “approximately 914 people responded to the survey”. Whereas not knowing exactly how many respondents your survey had is a problem, the study has more serious flaws, for example its sampling bias.

They say that 78% of respondants were recruited online. It is likely that these online recruits would mostly be people who already had an interest in Revivo. Furthermore, many of the survey findings relate to people who are already choosing to use Revivo. They are clearly positively predisposed to the product. Therefore, when Aconite states that 60.4% of Revivo users say their weight has improved, they are obviously not counting all the people who quit the product because they felt it didn’t work and didn't fill in the survey. Fundamentally flawed surveys like these are nothing but marketing and do not enhance knowledge.

One would hope journalists, especially HIV ones, would see through this kind of nonsense survey, but unfortunately this South African HIV magazine seems to have been taken in by the findings.

The 2009 ASASA ruling

The above is from the Revivo website as of June 2011. Aconite used to make even more extreme claims such as this one: “We have developed Revivo based on extensive research into effective herbs for HIV, as well as the ancient wisdom of Chinese herbal medicine, which has been treating HIV and AIDS successfully even before HIV and AIDS was recognised.”

After a complaint by Patrick Linzer the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in September 2009 that Revivo advertising was in breach of Appendix F of the advertising code. As regular readers of Quackdown will know, Appendix F stipulates that you may only sell a product as a treatment or cure for HIV if it has been registered as a treatment for HIV with the Medicines Control Council. Revivo was not registered and Aconite Medical Supplies was ordered to withdraw the advertisement.

The ASASA ruling resulted in the site being taken down and claims on being changed, but is still online – although the content is now a bit less bluntly misleading than it used to be.

Disclaimer doublethink

Aconite has learned some lessons and the Revivo site now has disclaimers like this one: “Revivo is not a cure or treatment for HIV or AIDS. It is not an alternative to conventional therapy, it is only a complementary herbal dietary supplement.”

However, the site is also filled with testimonials like this one:

“I started using Revivo capsules after I found out I was HIV positive in October last year. In November I bought a bottle.  After 3 bottles of one month supply I did a second test for cd4s and viral loads. In October my cd4 was 185 and viral loads was 68000 but  after the second test my cd4 was 324 and viral loads undetectable.  Revivo is a really booster. I would recommend those who are positive to go for it. With this booster I don't think people should be afraid to die of Aids anymore . It is expensive but it's worth it... Try it and see.....”

So, the proprietors no longer claim directly that Revivo treats HIV, but they publish testimonials on their website that claim this on their behalf. The testimonials contradict the disclaimer. People who are desperately ill will likely prefer to believe the former.

Fortunately the Advertising Code makes provision for this kind of trickery. Section 2, clause 10.3 states:

Testimonials should not contain any claims to efficacy which cannot justifiably be attributed to the use of the product...

Since the claim in the testimonial clearly cannot reasonably be ascribed to Revivo, the advertisement is in breach of this clause. It could also be argued that, despite all the disclaimers, the site is also in breach of Appendix F since many users would understand the site to be promoting Revivo as an AIDS treatment.

Revivo’s Google campaign

Aconite has also started running Revivo adverts through Google’s Adword programme. This is the programme that serves the advertisements you see next to Google searches and on many websites that display Google advertisements next to their content. So, for example, the following advert has appeared on a number of major South African websites:

Are YOU HIV+? These Are The Herbs The Greedy AIDS Industry Doesn't Want You To Know!

It is unclear whether ASASA has jurisdiction over advertisements served through the Google Adword programme and whether their rulings would have any impact on Google. How exactly to deal with these advertisements therefore presents an interesting problem.

A few months ago I called ASASA and was advised to first try approaching Google or any of the sites where these adverts appeared before lodging a consumer complaint with ASASA. I then wrote to Google about the advertisement and got nothing more than an acknowledgement that my complaint was received. Recently Indra de Lanerolle also complained to Google about the advertisement and it seems Google has now finally removed it. Whereas I would encourage anyone to report quack adverts to Google, they unfortunately do not have a great record of removing quack adverts.

Apart from writing to Google, it is also worth writing to local online publishers directly when you find quack adverts on their sites. It doesn’t take more than five minutes for them to log into their Google accounts and block the adverts.

When you write to these local websites about quack adverts it is also worth stating that you believe an advert is in breach of the advertising code. Most major online publishers have also signed up to the Digital Media Marketing Association’s (DMMA) code This code states that “members shall comply with all compulsory advertising standards and regulations ensuring that all advertising is both current and falls within the guidelines of the ASA ...” (Clause 7.2.4.)

Just to be clear though, you may also go straight to ASASA and sites do not have to be DMMA members for ASASA to rule on them.

Either way, the battle to prevent Aconite from making misleading claims about Revivo will continue. Because as long as they place their misleading adverts, sick and desperate people will be duped into buying their products.

Note: I currently have a consumer complaint against Revivo pending with ASASA. According to his blog Indra de Lonerolle also has a complaint pending.

A correction was made to this article on 10 June. The paragraph that read:

To each of these they add the words “for HIV” followed by a short description of the ingredient’s supposed benefits.

was replaced with this:

Prunella Vulgaris and Zizyphus Jojoba are claimed to have an effect against HIV. Also my browser displays text instead of images. For each of the images associated with the above ingredients the text replacements have the words “for HIV”.

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Comments in chronological order (16 comments)

Faizel wrote on 7 June 2011 at 7:07 a.m.:

Great article Marcus. These charlatans are quick to accuse "big-pharma" or the "AIDS industry" of selling medicines at excessive prices, but will themselves sell you their even more expensive quack remedies that do not work. Can't Aconite be financially penalised for endangering people's lives and can the Consumer Protection Act be used against this kind of false advertising? Please keep us posted on the status of your complaint to the ASA.

Kevin Charleston wrote on 7 June 2011 at 10:51 a.m.:

Thanks for the informative article Marcus. Nice to hear there are other channels to which I can address ridiculous on-line adverts.

The biggest irritant for me though is, as you indicate, all we are doing is tackling the advertising and not getting to the root of the quackery. The MCC or DOH appear to be completely toothless or inert in tackling issues like this. We might be able to affect the most ridiculous claims in public - but the products are still marketed.

And perhaps that's the issue which your website is starting to address - education of the public in the quackery. Without a market the quacks would be ineffective.

Perhaps quack-ology should form part of a broader education thrust? Hmmn, I wonder if I can interest a politician in supporting rational education ;-)

siyabonga wrote on 9 June 2011 at 8:29 a.m.:

i gave revivo to my mother for arthritis and since she started using revivo within a week she called saying she feels much better and she also had week kidneys now she suffers no more

Cindy wrote on 9 June 2011 at 9:05 a.m.:

There are many inaccuracies in your article I am afraid, I have gone to the website and the ingredients page does not mention "for HIV" next to each ingredient though it does reference research findings for many of the ingredients where the HIV virus was a part of the research.

I have also checked out poznews and have to say that there article about Revivo is quite fair and unbiased whereas yours sees to be wholly biased against any form of complementary medicine which though you may call it quackery has and is helping many.

Marcus wrote on 9 June 2011 at 11:59 a.m.:

Dear Cindy

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Our browsers seem to display that page a bit differently. If you hold your mouse cursor over the images you will see the words “for HIV” in each case. Anyway, I’ll rephrase to make this clear.

As for the research that they reference, I urge you not to take it at face value and to follow up and to see if they are actually findings from properly designed studies in human beings. In the cases I followed up the evidence was simply not there to support their claims. Don’t you find this disconcerting?

My point in relation to the PozNews article is simply that they fail to appreciate that the Revivo survey is fundamentally flawed. By covering and quoting its findings they are giving it a level of credibility that it does not merit.

As to your accusation of bias… The bottom line is that Revivo makes many direct and indirect claims that they can not substantiate. Pointing this out is not a matter of bias. It is simply a matter of following the evidence - or fact-checking, if you will.

Kelebogile wrote on 9 June 2011 at 2:08 p.m.:

i domt care what you people say about Revivo, I will continue to use it because it is helping me, why do you people want to tell us what we must use and what we mustnt use?, if i know it is helping me why must i stop? You only want us to use drugs when that is killing my people revivo is a god sent, viva revivo, via revivo

Marcus wrote on 9 June 2011 at 3:22 p.m.:

Dear Kelebogile

You are of course free to use Revivo. That is your right.

However, the people who sell Revivo do not have the right to make misleading claims about the efficacy of Revivo.

I understand that you believe in the product, but even so, doesn’t it bother you that the studies they refer to does not back up their claims?

I’m also interested to know how you can know for sure that Revivo is helping you?

Celia wrote on 10 June 2011 at 7:30 a.m.:

I agree with Kelebogile, It has worked wonders for my sister who was diagnosed with thyroid, recently she has done test it is no were to be found , she has gained weight and she sleeps well at night her complexion has come back her body is now functioning normal she is also receiving her period again she was no longer receiving, we have our own choice to use what we want, if your sciense is telling us its not good but we are feeling better who must we believe? i will belive my own body!!

Nathan Geffen wrote on 10 June 2011 at 6:12 p.m.:

A search of HIV on the Revivo site returns 166 results on Google. I have browsed through some of these pages. They are riddled with inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims.

It is fair to say that Revivo is a charlatan company making money off people with HIV.

Faizel wrote on 14 June 2011 at 8:08 a.m.:

You are free to choose whatever "treatment" you believe works for you. Revivo is not free to make unsubstantiated claims about their products. Anecdotal stories do not constitute proof of Revivo's efficacy.

A quick browse of the Revivo site does in fact make several references to treating HIV:

"...has show anti-HIV research results... " "...there is also an effect against the HIV virus..." "...hold the key to an effective treatment for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, better known as AIDS?" "...a Chinese herbal medicine with various biological activities, including inhibition of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)..."

Bernard wrote on 14 June 2011 at 10:06 a.m.:

Dear Marcus You must be a white man,ain't you?All this people who forwarded complaints to you must have been white too.If there is any blacks amongst them I would be ashamed.Am going to hit the nail on the head.You people always want us to die,do you know the ARV side effects causes more death than HIV itself,you should know the side effects considering you being bank rolled by the major pharmaceutical companies on their fight against alternative remedies,I also find it very shameful that you are dragging Poznews to this their article is plain and taking no side,they even mentioned controversial.Now back to the point we blacks don't give a shit about this type of advertisement word to mouth is our weapon .You people are such idiots as long as the pharmaceutical companies are making money and giving you a fat salary to kill us blacks it all good.Revivo has helped my friends and friends friends i also find it very unfortunate that my government that knows the suffering of apartheid would let a white idiot like you bring us down.You should be deported to Europe where you came from.They cant find a cure for HIV so why not give others chances,If they had cures and Revivo was trying to market themselves then i would back this but they have nothing,just life prolonger like Revivo.To Poznews I think you people have enough guts to write such an article considering this murderers are trying to bring you down.I believe you article is not biased and open minded.Give Revivo a chance and if you think its not working why not buy their stock and do you stupid white clinical trials.People like you should be sued for genocide

Kevin wrote on 16 June 2011 at 12:26 p.m.:

Bernard, I'm afraid you do your arguments no justice by immediately stooping to racism, defamation and irrationality.

Science is colour-blind, emotion is not.

People may well feel better after taking Revivo - but unfortunately the manufacturer cannot provide scientifically acceptable substantiation for any claims of efficacy. They cannot then make such a claim in an advert.
Multiple anecdotes do not constitute evidence.

The poznews article immediately suggests support through its headline "The new miracle supplement".

anonymous wrote on 17 June 2011 at 4:48 p.m.:

I honestly agree with Kevin,This Julius Malema attitude should be condoned.On the other hand this guy might have a point.Big pharmaceutical companies using organisations like this to rid off competition.Its very strange how people fight Revivo yet they stay strong.I think quack info is simply on the wrong track.And Marcus we hope you are not being sponsored by this pharmaceuticals .Science Mr Kevin has its place if science was as good as you put it then not so many would have died in japan.Now start thinking like an African.Can't you see the light?Scientific theories will never cure HIV.They have tried for centuries now yet they produce killer drugs.From AZT to the rest.If they were that smart?????????

Nathan Geffen wrote on 17 June 2011 at 5:17 p.m.:


AIDS drugs, including AZT, work very well at giving people with HIV their lives back. Nevertheless AZT has been largely replaced by much better drugs with fewer side effects.

AIDS has only been known about for 30 years, so the search for AIDS drugs has only been going for that long, not centuries.

This website often criticises the pharmaceutical industry. See this article on Aspen.

Marcus works for the TAC which has an excellent track record of fighting the pharmaceutical industry and winning.

anonymous wrote on 17 June 2011 at 5:38 p.m.:

The reasons they have less side effects is simple,more results and more is Revivo.As a matter of fact am not interested in Marcus or where he works,There is only one person who can give your life back..GOD.The only reason you probably criticize Aspen is to fool your readers.By the way i meant decades not centuries.I actually can't believe you saying AZT works well.Am utterly shocked, speechless and I've proven the point.

Kevin wrote on 19 June 2011 at 3:32 p.m.:

@anonymous - it is unclear to me what you mean when you mention Japan. Are you referring to the recent Tsunami? If so I have no idea how that relates to the expectation that a product prove its efficacy through a rational process.

I have also no idea what you mean by 'think like an African'. If you are suggesting I abandon rational thought, then I must decline. Or are you suggesting I lower my standards of what I believe is acceptable evidence? Either suggestion would appear to me to be a repugnant denigration of 'African thought'.

In comparison to Revivo, which appears to have little or no scientific testing of efficacy, AZT has been proved to be beneficial in slowing the spread of HIV.

In denying this you too stoop to irrationality, underscored by your claim of having proven anything.

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