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By MARK MAREMONT
Wall Street Journal
Oct. 5, 2015

Faced with a prostate-cancer diagnosis more than a decade ago, Ben Carson, the Republican presidential hopeful and retired surgeon, consulted an unusual source: the medical director of a Texas company that sells nutritional supplements made of substances such as larch-tree bark and aloe vera extract.

The company doctor “prescribed a regimen” of supplements, Mr. Carson told its sales associates in a 2004 speech. “Within about three weeks my symptoms went away, and I was really quite amazed,” he said to loud applause, according to a YouTube video of the event.

The candidate today is cancer-free after surgery. He told associates of the company, Mannatech Inc., that he initially considered forgoing surgery and treating the cancer with supplements only.

Dr. Carson, running near the front in the GOP presidential contest, has never held public office and holds up his career as a pediatric neurosurgeon as one of his chief credentials. In a contrast some medical researchers find jarring, he has also had a long and personal involvement with Mannatech, a company that has weathered scrutiny from state and federal officials over allegedly improper health claims for its products.

The company in 2009 settled false-advertising charges brought by the Texas attorney general’s office, which alleged Mannatech had permitted “deceptive” and “illegal” miracle-cure testimonials at sales meetings and allowed materials circulated by associates suggesting its products could treat or even cure Down Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, autism, cancer and other serious ills. The Texas AG’s civil complaint said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had notified Mannatech on multiple occasions that its marketing materials made illegal drug claims.

Mr. Carson appeared in videos posted on Mannatech’s website until last week, including two filmed in 2013 and styled like commercials. In a version of one, still posted on YouTube, he praised the company for “trying to find a way to restore the natural diet as a medicine, or as a mechanism for maintaining health.” The videos vanished from the company site shortly after inquiries from The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Carson also has given four paid speeches at Mannatech gatherings, most recently one in 2013 for which he was paid $42,000, according to the company. It said the earlier speech payments went to a Carson-affiliated charity. It said Mr. Carson “has never been a paid endorser or spokesman” for the company.

Barry Bennett, Mr. Carson’s campaign manager, said the candidate is a believer in vitamins and supplements. In a January 2015 television interview following a National Review article about his history with Mannatech, Mr. Carson said he had been using its products for more than a decade.

As for the Texas legal problem, Mr. Bennett said Mr. Carson “never heard anybody make the claims they’ve gotten in trouble for and he doesn’t believe they should have made those claims.” The campaign declined to make Mr. Carson available for an interview.

Mr. Bennett said Mannatech wasn’t allowed by contract to use Mr. Carson’s images for publicity purposes. He said earlier this year, the campaign demanded the company remove all mentions of Mr. Carson, and believed it had done so.

Mannatech, based in Coppell, Texas, is a publicly held company that earned $6.5 million last year on revenue of $190.1 million. Its website says “glyconutrients” in its products contain complex sugars that help support better immune, cognitive and digestive function. A disclaimer in small print says the products “are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease.” Mannatech’s products have often been marketed to an evangelical Christian audience.

Dr. Carson, in a 2013 video that was on Mannatech’s website until last week, commended the company as a way for people to “improve their own financial situation.” He said: “It’s an incredible opportunity for anybody who really wants to be involved with doing something themselves, making a good living….”

Numerous associates, in social-media pitches, have cited Mr. Carson’s involvement. “Want to know all you can about MANNATECH Products endorsed and used by DR BEN CARSON, and the business opportunity?” said a Facebook posting by a Louisiana woman early this year …

Contact Mark Maremont at mark.maremont@wsj.com

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