A new vodka made by a company called Bellion Spirits claims it doesn’t have the strong negative effects that alcohol consumption has on a person’s liver and DNA. It’s currently only available in 15 states, and food and drink bloggers jumped on the product as a savior that sounds too good to be true.
The truth is: It actually is too good to be true.
Bellion claims that their vodka is safe because of a proprietary (read: closely guarded trade secret) blend of chemicals they call NTX. The company hasn’t disclosed the amount of each ingredient, but it says that it is a blend of glycyrrhizin (a licorice root extract), mannitol (a sugar alcohol) and potassium sorbate (a common food preservative). This mix, Bellion claims, makes drinks “safer, i.e., less toxic, than counterparts that do not contain NTX.”
So why, you might be thinking, doesn’t everyone know about this life-saving chemical cocktail? The answer is that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the government agency that regulates health claims alcohol companies are allowed to make, isn’t buying into the idea. In fact, it hasn’t bought into the idea since 2014 when Bellion first tried to convince consumers it sells safer vodka.
On April 12, 2016, Bellion submitted a petition to the TBB to allow it to advertise the health claims of their vodka. Bellion makes eight health claims, and the ones that are being hailed as a gift from heaven are the claims that it reduces “alcohol-induced oxidative damage to the liver,” reduces “the risk of alcohol-induced liver diseases,” and “helps protect DNA from alcohol-induced damage.”
VinePair went through Bellion’s petition (here’s the full petition) to see why the TBB is so against NTX, and the TTB’s reasoning seems pretty clear from the statements acknowledged in Bellion’s own petition.
The name is a little misleading
Bellion calls the NTX-blended vodka a “Functional Spirit” (which they trademarked). It’s the “NTX” part that the TBB has a problem with, though. NTX supposedly mean “new techniques,” yet it looks suspiciously similar to Naltrexone, which is a drug used to treat alcohol dependence, the TTB claims. The audience that would be attracted to a less harmful vodka would include people who are trying to reduce their dependence on alcohol. The similarity could be misleading.
The health claims aren’t widely supported
The TTB doesn’t want alcohol companies to make claims that an alcohol product is healthy. Sure, that means the United States doesn’t have hilarious Guinness ads anymore telling you that Guinness makes you stronger, but it also keeps people from believing alcohol is safe or healthy like what the tobacco industry did with cigarettes.
Bellion’s claims rely on studies done by their own scientists. Would you walk into a burning building wearing a flameproof suit if the only people who verified it was flameproof were the people who made it?
It’s own studies were hardly conclusive
Bellion claims in its petition that a “randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over clinical trial involving 12 human subjects found that NTX produced a significant decrease in the biomarkers for liver toxicity.” A second test was then done with 31 people.
The sentence reads like a keyword-stuffed headline trying to promote a study. Only 33 people were studied though. That means that each tested liver stands in for the liver of 9.6 million people.
Bellion isn’t even positive that it works either. The petition says that “hepatoprotective (the ability to prevent liver damage) effects that limit liver injury are cumulative and likely to benefit moderate drinkers over their adulthood.” Key word here: Likely, not proven.
Quoted supporting studies don’t directly correlate
There was another key study that Bellion related to directly in their petition. The study found that mannitol and glycyrrhizin, two of the main ingredients in NTX, built a stronger liver — in rats. For 28 days.
“In all, over 70 studies show the key components of NTX produce liver protecting, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects,” the petition states. No studies have combined those ingredients for one whammo health product besides Bellion’s, however. Many of those studies quoted leave out the potassium sorbate (the preserving agent), which the Food and Drug Administration labels as “generally recognized as safe” when used correctly. It can, however be dangerous.
The government doesn’t always get alcohol regulations right (looking at you Prohibition). But you have to take a deeper look into what benefits a company is actually claiming before trusting big business over big brother. Will NTX kill you? Probably not any faster than traditional alcohol. Should Bellion be allowed to claim it’s safe? Definitely not, at least until unbiased, conclusive studies can confirm its claims.