(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Altman Natural Pharmaceutical company in Holon is facing a
multimillion-shekel class-action lawsuit by customers who purchased its Megagluflex
tablets, which it advertised for many years as “rebuilding joint cartilage” in
people suffering from osteoarthritis.
Tel Aviv District Court judge
Altuvia Magen last week recognized such status for the lawsuit by Ilan Jann and
lawyer Yitzhak Hoshen who claimed they used the product and were “misled” into
believing that it would repair painful degenerated cartilage in the
The company, which was established in 1993 to sell vitamins and
other food additives and has been marketing Megagluflex, imported from the US,
since 1998, denied the charges – even though in recent years it has put stress
mainly on the claimed ability of the active ingredients – glucosamine and
chondroitin – to minimize pain resulting from the degenerative orthopedic
disease, as well as pain suffered by sportsmen.
The applicants for
class-action status maintained that claiming that the food additive “builds
cartilage” in humans has gone unproven in clinical studies. Each package of 210
tablets of Megagluflex, whose recommended dosage is three per day, costs NIS
210. The applicants argued that they could have taken much cheaper painkillers
for the same effect.
While radio and other media ads by Altman for years
maintained that the product restores cartilage, the company has recently toned
down its claims, and its Web site does not list Megagluflex among its catalog of
products; only a search calls up information about the product, which is based
on chicken cartilage.
The site today stresses the “pain-reduction” aspect
of Megagluflex and not the “cartilage-building” claims, but the Web site does
state that its product is the “only one that has been tested in Israel and
proven effective” and that it “protects cartilage.”
glucosamine and chrondroitin were derived from shark cartilage. Today, as sharks
have become rare, the compounds are made around the world from pigs or chickens.
Batya Farhi, the company’s deputy manager for development, and scientific
director Sigal Band told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the Israeli product
is based on chicken cartilage, is kosher and carefully tested on a batch-by-batch
basis. Sales of the product currently total about NIS 10 million a year, they
The company representatives said “blood tests of users show
reduction in the loss of cartilage” and that glucosamine and chrondroitin are
“the two building blocks of cartilage.
They have been shown to have
biological activity in people. They reach the cartilage.
“When the case
comes up for discussion, we will bring our own experts who say that the product
is based on scientific research. We are not worried,” they said, even though
Hoshen and Jann claimed nearly a billion shekels were at stake.
Health Ministry said Sunday that would not comment, but there have been no
ministry warnings about possible false claims by Altman about this
The ministry spokeswoman added that “as a result of the
ministry’s opinion, Altman years ago changed its advertising.”
and Band denied this, saying the ministry did not require Altman to change its
advertising or induce it to revise its message or claims in recent
“We changed our advertising because we often change our messages
and use different marketing strategies,” the two women said.
officials maintained that major scientific organizations, including the
Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) and the European League
Against Rheumatism (EULAR) have recommended glucosamine and chondroitin for
fighting the degeneration of human cartilage and not only for reducing
They said that the district court judge would not allow people who
bought Megagluflex only to relieve pain or increase the amount of joint movement
to join the suit.
Asked to comment on the case, Shaare Zedek Medical
Center director-general Prof. Jonathan Halevy, who five years ago wrote a
systematic book on the effects (or lack of them) of a wide variety of
complementary medicine products, told the Post that there have been no MRI scans
done in clinical studies to show that glucosamine and chondroitin rebuild human
“I have been following the medical literature since my book
was published. It is still an open question if these compounds are better than a
harmless placebo in reducing the pain of osteoarthritis. Maybe they do. But they
have not been proven to improve the condition of the cartilage.”