If you’ve been reading Old Man Fitness for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to refer to the Fitness game as a “racket.” For the most part, I use the term as a bit of wordplay, intended to poke fun at the way we all tend to invest more of ourselves into  fitness than we could ever get back: it doesn’t matter how many glasses of water you drink per day or how many laps you run at your local track, on a long enough timeline, our efforts to achieve strength-based immortality will end in failure.

But there are some parts of the Fitness world that the word “racket” is actually the appropriate term for, like the vast array of nutrition and supplement sales pyramid-like schemes none of us are able to avoid on social media these days. The most prominent one of these “totally not a pyramid scheme” multi-level marketing systems is probably Thrive, a brand produced by a company named Lev-El that promises to make you fit and rich by taking their supplements and selling them to your friends and family.

Thrive’s products, like all supplements, don’t undergo any kind of mandatory testing to support their marketing claims – the FDA simply isn’t in the business of refuting the miracles promised on every bottle and box sold at your local GNC, and as a result, brands like Thrive have been able to market inane products like weight loss and “general wellness” patches – stickers – that you simply slap on your skin and *poof* – you’re healthier, skinnier, or just poorer… depending on how active a role the placebo effect plays in your experience.

Thrive is so widespread that some of you reading this might even be members yourself – either shelling out the required $100-$300 dollars per month to keep “thriving” or peddling the snake oil to everyone on your friend’s list (quite possibly with the best of intentions) to offset the cost of this month’s supply. There are a number of products offered through Lev-El that come right to your door each month, and like any nutrition or supplement company, some products have science on their side and others amount to little more than 21st Century witchcraft – promising to make you thinner, healthier, or happier in exchange for around the same amount of money per month it might cost you to buy a Mercedes C-Class or get unlimited data on three different iPhones.

How do they convince you to join the ranks of their multi-level marketing empire? Well, on the business side, they make their living using the same less-than-reputable but technically still legal practices found in the MLM industry for decades – but this isn’t a business column, it’s a fitness one, so let’s focus on how they convince you that their products work, even though many of them have no science whatsoever to back them up.

Companies like Thrive (which I’m beating up on as a large culprit, but far from the only one) rely primarily on testimonials rather than clinical studies. They have no need to pay a lab to use real science to determine whether or not their products are actually effective, you see, they have the testimony of real customers that saw real results and credit their success to the brand. It’s a flawed, dishonest, and frankly shady method of attributing results to their business, but it’s also extremely effective.

I couldn’t find any references to scientific studies anywhere on the Thrive website or their social media accounts, but I did find lots and lots of testimonials. (YouTube)

Isn’t it illegal for these companies to claim their products can do things without having any science to back them up? No. In fact, there isn’t even any government oversight intended to make sure they’re safe before hitting the market.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.” The FDA writes on their webpage