Greek Government Takes Action against Maker of Nanobionic Clothing
Following an investigation published by journalists Kostas Vaxevanis and Stefanos Gogos, the General Consumer Secretariat (GCS), a Greek government agency, ordered the immediate removal of key health and product claims by Viotech Ltd., makers of the Nanobionic clothing line.
Nanobionic products include vests and T-shirts that retail for 298 euros ($366). The company claims on its website that each product “offers relief, increases strength and stamina, reduces fatigue, and offers a sense of well-being. Suitable for better recovery.” Vaxevanis and Gogos claim to have information indicating that over 20,000 vests have been sold, estimating the company’s revenues at over 6,000,000 euros ($7,426,000).
The products are frequently featured on the television show of well-known Greek journalist Makis Triantafyllopoulos. The Vaxevanis/Gogos investigation of Nanobionic was published in the July 19, 2012, issue of the Greek magazine HOT DOC.
As reported on Vaxevanis’s news website on August 6, 2012, the GCS issued an announcement asking Viotech Ltd. to withdraw all claims of beneficial health effects since all available data about the claims lack scientific documentation. As for the the claim about reflecting infrared rays back to the body, the GCS had doubts about whether Nanobionic products could do this to a greater degree than a conventional fabric. In addition, the announcement mentions “consumer deception” because “the impression is given that the products are distributed by a multi-national company.” The GCS also asked for the removal of the claim that the company’s cited study was conducted “under the supervision of the University of Athens”—this after the HOT DOC investigation and an official denial by the university’s dean.
Viotech Ltd. is based in a suburb of Athens and does not list any domestic distributors or retailers on its site. The company sells directly to consumers and accepts orders via phone and its website. The only other known Greek retailer for Nanobionic is the zougla.gr website, which is the online presence for journalist Triantafyllopoulos. Triantafyllopoulos frequently features stories relating to Nanobionic on his late night television talk show, often accompanied by Viotech’s phone number featured prominently so that viewers can place orders.
On June 26, Vaxevanis and his team featured a story on his investigative journalism show on the Greek state television broadcaster on how bad science was used to make misleading claims for marketing purposes. The products in the story were cosmetics, hologram bracelets, and so-called “nano-vests.” The latter are sold by Nanobionic—but not exclusively. The show made no mention of brands and obfuscated all company logos. Nonetheless, this led to an immediate response by Triantafyllopoulos, who devoted an entire show a few days later to questioning Vaxevanis’s claims and reiterating his belief in the efficacy of Nanobionic based on the numerous testimonials by customers—including famous athletes—that he played for his audience.
According to Vaxevanis and Gogos, this is what prompted them to publish an investigation specifically into Nanobionic and its relationship to Triantafyllopoulos. The relationship appears quite close; Nanobionic is based in a building owned by the Triantafyllopoulos family that also houses his official website zougla.gr. At the time that the HOT DOC article was being written, a sign above the Nanobionic offices stated “Under the supervision of the National Capodistrian University of Athens.” The principals for Viotech Ltd. are the Psipsikas brothers. George Psipsikas is a frequent guest on Triantafyllopoulos’s show, particularly when Nanobionic products are being discussed. Viotech Ltd. did not respond to a request for a statement regarding the investigation by Vaxevanis and Gogos.
According to the company’s official website:
Nanobionic® intelligent clothes reflect the energy emitted by the human body, which is 80% infrared waves (IR) and transform it into Far Infrared Waves (FIR).
The reflection of our body’s Infrared Rays, with the use of Nanobionic® products, essentially penetrates our body at a depth of approximately 4 cm, creating a sweet warmth, with an effect on the tissues and cells, helping in their faster regeneration.
The result from the use of Nanobionic® intelligent clothes could be significant improvement in performance. Nanobionic® technology may increase endurance, cardio respiratory stamina, anaerobic capacity, strength and flexibility. It could also reduce lactic acid, heart rates, premature fatigue and sweating. Nanobionic® clothes may be also used for faster recovery.
Vaxevanis and Gogos sent Nanobionic product literature to Theodoros Samaras, associate professor of physics at Aristotle University and and a specialist in infrared waves and asked him if the company’s claim could be true. His answer: “Infrared waves cannot penetrate the skin at the depth the company claims, since they do not go past the stratum corneum, which is the layer that contains dead skin cells. Given that under normal circumstances over 50 percent of the body’s heat is released through this mechanism (Cameron J.R., Skofronick J.G., Grant R.M.; Physics of the Body; 2nd edition, 1999; Medical Physics Publishing), this does lead to questions about possible negative consequences of wearing these garments, especially by groups with reduced thermoregulatory capabilities.”
Having thus ruled out any known theoretical health benefits in the company’s claims, Vaxevanis and Gogos set out to examine the product itself. Their first step was to purchase an ankle brace for fifty-nine euros ($72) plus a value added tax of 13 percent. This is not the value added tax rate for retail clothing, but rather for medical products. The label designates it as an “orthopedic product” with a composition of “Polyamid 55%, Elasthan 45%, Ceramic Textile.” This indicates a polymer fabric with a ceramic texture, similar to what is used in curtains, hats, and other general-use fabrics. This was further corroborated by Loukas Margaritis, professor of cell biology and electronic microscopy at the University of Athens, who examined a fragment from the sample product under both a regular and a scanning transmission electron microscope. According to Margaritis in the Vaxevanis/Gogos article: “One side is smooth and the other side has reticulated fibers ... there are many such types of fabric with a metallic weave and many of them are used to manufacture curtains, mosquito nets, hats, etc. with the purpose of reflecting electromagnetic waves. There is no published peer reviewed study that states that such a product has health benefits.”
The next step was to go to the Materials Science and Engineering Department of the School of Chemical Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) where Professor and Deputy Dean Moropoulou and her team examined the ankle brace using a thermographic camera. They placed it on the elbow of one of the NTUA researchers. The purpose of the measurements was to investigate whether this particular product reflects far infrared waves back to the body. In order for this claim to be corroborated empirically, the thermographic readings would have to show a substantially lower temperature on the surface of the Nanobionic product than that of the body.
The readings did not support the company’s claim. The minimum surface temperature on the ankle brace was 0.4°C lower and the maximum was 0.6°C lower than on the bare arm. When comparing the arm temperature to that of the T-shirt, the maximum temperature was the same and the minimum was 0.9°C lower. This would indicate that any fabric causes some change in temperature but nothing that shows that the Nanobionic material behaved substantially differently than the fabric of the researcher’s T-shirt. When shown these results, Samaras agreed and also added: “perhaps this is why I was unable to locate any information regarding the physics of how the fabric works (as opposed to biology or medicine)?”
However, the company does cite its own study. As recently as June 23, 2012, Viotech claimed on its website (although as of August 6 this is no longer the case) that:
The study was conducted under the supervision of the University of Athens, in Athens, in September 2011. The object of the study was the effect of the Nanobionic technology on sports performances. The result of the study was that the Nanobionic® fabric and technology positively affect athletic performance. ALL STATISTICAL DIFFERENCES WERE <0.01.
Specifically, by wearing the Nanobionic T-shirt:
All the parameters of cardiorespiratory endurance significantly increased.
All the parameters of anaerobic capacity significantly increased.
The explosive strength and power were significantly better in both legs.
The vertical leap was significantly higher.
The flexibility test was significantly better.
When asked by Vaxevanis and Gogos about Nanobionic’s use of the university name in its advertising, its dean, Theodosis Pelegrinis, stated: “The University Board has no jurisdiction, nor does the University conduct any studies of this kind. The responsibility for any such study falls exclusively on the individual who conducts it.”
The study was presented at the 59th Annual Meeting and Third World Congress on Exercise is Medicine in San Francisco, California, May 29–June 2, 2012. The abstract was included—along with all the other conference presentations—in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). To date it has not been published in a peer-reviewed publication. ACSM is not an academic institution. According to its website: “We are a worldwide membership organization (like the college of surgeons) for more than 20,000 professionals in the sports medicine and exercise science fields. We don’t have a campus or student body, and you can’t get a degree from ACSM.”
Vaxevanis and Gogos showed the study to Konstantinos Natsis, president of the Sports Medicine Association of Greece. According to Natsis:
This study has not been conducted by doctors. Someone who has not studied medicine cannot conduct medical studies. Their claims do not hold up scientifically. The sample size (22) is too small and the methodology is not scientifically documented. There is no scientifically documented evidence that would corroborate the properties they assign to this vest. In these cases studies have to be large and need to be proven over a large sample. The study would also have to state the mechanism by which its conclusions are proven. For me to say that I took these some people, did a study, and got these results doesn’t prove anything. There is no other published study on the internet or in a journal abroad that relates to this matter, nor an approval by the FDA.
In their article, Vaxevanis and Gogos conclude: “Makis Triantafyllopoulos chose to become a television salesperson for his own reasons. It is his right to do so. All he has to do is drop the facade of journalism and start a telemarketing show ... it is now the responsibility of the GCS, the National Council for Radio and Television, and of course the District Attorney to intervene.... Makis can do whatever he wants—even invent ‘nano-shoes’ and claim to walk on water like a new Jesus.”