Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker spent years promoting health products with questionable claims
With the Republican primary less than a month away, it remains a question mark about how much Walker’s history of questionable health product claims could impact his sway with voters against his rivals. Republicans or against a general electorate as Walker seeks to unseat Senator Raphael Warnock.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll this month showed Walker with a sizable lead in the GOP Senate primary with 66% of the vote — far ahead of his closest competitor, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who got only 7% support.
Walker’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Shortly after Walker retired from professional football, he founded Renaissance Man, Inc. Through this company, Walker developed, sold, and became the spokesperson for Aloe-Lu-Ya, a aloe base.
In promotional materials, Aloe-Lu-Ya was described as containing “ActiVin,” a grape seed extract that the company’s marketing claimed protected against cigarette smoking damage, among other benefits.
Aloe-Lu-Ya was launched by Walmart in 1999 but was a “commercial failure”, Walker’s company said in a subsequent filing with the SEC.
In 2002, the company merged with American Consolidated Mining Co. and was renamed American Consolidated Management Group (ACMG). Walker was named president and chief executive officer.
Through this new company, Walker and his business partners began to develop Sunutra. As with Aloe-Lu-Ya, Walker and company described Sunutra as a means of warding off disease.
In its marketing, the company bragged about the “phytonutrients” in Sunutra, a plant extract that included three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per serving. These phytonutrients reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and more, the company said in government filings.
The company noted, however, in its legally required disclosures to Wall Street investors, that the medical community does not share this view.
“These beliefs are not supported by medical evidence generally accepted by the medical community,” the company said in an SEC filing.
The company originally planned to sell Sunutra through retailers, but later decided to incorporate it into other companies’ products. In 2005, the company announced in an SEC filing that it had partnered with North Carolina-based Nu Specialty Foods Group and would incorporate Sunutra into the company’s cookies.
Just over a year later, the company said in another SEC filing that Nu Specialty only paid Walker’s company $25,000 and defaulted on its other payments. ACMG never found another buyer. The company would continue to rack up approximately $7 million in debt until in 2013 the agency revoked its securities status.
Maureen Meister, a dietitian and lab researcher at Georgia State University, said the phytonutrients and ingredients in Walker products have some benefits. But promoting the products as a way to reduce the likelihood and impact of more than a dozen different diseases and conditions is overkill.
“It’s definitely not going to prevent disease,” Meister said. “Certainly it can slow him down but it won’t be a magic pill.”
Since ACMG’s collapse, Walker has continued to promote health and lifestyle products. In 2014, Walker was a brand ambassador for Livio International, a multi-level marketing company that sold an anti-aging skincare product that promised to “roll back your biological clock.”
In 2018, Walker served as Novagen spokespersona testosterone-boosting supplement, according to Walker, boosts libido and strength.
More recently, Walker has promoted two COVID prophylactics that he says will were approved by the EPA and FDA and would “kill any COVID in your body” during an August 2020 appearance on conservative host Glenn Beck’s podcast.
“Do you know, right now I have something that can get you into a building that will rid you of covid while you’re walking through this haze?” says Walker. “When you walk through the door, it will kill any covid on your body. EPA and FDA approved.
Despite product stumbles, Walker has been successful on the speaker circuit, earning much of his income from brand ambassadors and promotions.
Between July 2020 and December 2021, Walker received $415,000 from 17 speeches according to his December federal campaign disclosure.
He also received over $420,000 from two sports marketing companies. A Delaware-based mental health provider is paying him $330,000 this year to serve as a spokesperson for its veterans support program.
During the election campaign, Walker frequently expressed doubts about public health policies.
As many high-profile political figures urged Georgians to get a coronavirus shot, Walker amplified a fake tweet by performer Nikki Minaj about the vaccine causing swollen testicles and initially declined to tell the AJC if he had received the vaccine.
In a meeting with Tory voters this month, he told the public he hadn’t “got one because I don’t think the government should be telling you to get one.”
“That’s what I feel” he added.
His record of misrepresenting his businesses, his history of domestic violence and political gaffes did not affect his huge lead in the Republican primary race for the Georgia Senate.
He’s so comfortably ahead that he’s skipped debates and forums with his Republican opponents and focused solely on a November game against Warnock, the first black U.S. senator in Georgia history.
University of Illinois public affairs and administration dean Robert Smith, who previously taught a course on Donald Trump at Savannah State University, said he saw parallels between Walker’s supporters and the former president, who endorsed Walker’s candidacy.
Each candidate’s flaws don’t matter, he said, because many of their supporters often coalesce around a single big idea, often with an anti-status quo bent that becomes a unifying theme. Thus, the “candidates become their only cause”.
“Despite these tumultuous (and otherwise damaging) stories, it apparently has the opposite effect of boosting or solidifying support,” Smith said.
–Writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.