The BBC has defended the inclusion of a wellness business in Dragons’ Den after campaigners for myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) complained the show promoted “unfounded” claims that a product could help the condition.
In the episode, which aired on January 18, businesswoman Giselle Boxer said she had used “diet, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and ear seeds” to aid her recovery from ME, and had turned the latter idea into the brand Acu Seeds.
An open letter organised by Action for ME to the chairs of two House of Commons select committees said they were “very concerned” that the way in which her pitch was presented suggested the product was “responsible for her recovery and should therefore be considered an effective treatment”.
We have coordinated an open letter with other M.E. orgs in response to the recent Dragons Den episode in which a contenstant made unevidenced claims regarding the efficacy of 'acu seeds' as a treatment for #MECFS
You can view the letter here: https://t.co/Usy0zf78Ny
— Action for M.E. (@actionforme) January 22, 2024
ME is a long-term condition with a wide range of symptoms including extreme tiredness, sleep issues and concentration problems, according to the NHS website.
It states that while there is currently no cure for the condition, there are treatments that may help manage it.
During the show, the Sheffield-based businesswoman told the potential investors that she had established the product after seeking treatments when she was diagnosed with ME at the age of 26.
She said: “Four years ago I was diagnosed with ME. I went from working in a top advertising agency with a busy social life and exercising regularly to being mostly housebound, unable to walk for more than five minutes without having to get back into bed.
“I was told by doctors that I would never recover, work again or have children.
“I went on a personal healing journey using diet, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and ear seeds. Using this combination, I believe, aided my recovery within 12 months.”
Her pitch to the Dragons produced a historic moment for the show as all six put in an offer for her Acu Seeds product, which is described as a “DIY needle-free ear acupuncture for anxiety, migraines, hormonal issues, insomnia, weight loss and more”.
After hearing their offers, she decided to pick Steven Bartlett to invest in her business.
Following the episode, a joint letter signed by ME campaign groups was sent to Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairwoman Dame Caroline Dinenage and Health and Social Care Committee chairman Steve Brine.
The groups said that, as the episode was aired in primetime on BBC One, they were concerned that a larger audience would have heard the pitch which they alleged “amounts to an unfounded claim that this form of alternative medicine can cure ME”.
It added: “Sadly, there is currently no known effective treatment for ME. There has been a distinct paucity of research into this disease, compared to other long-term conditions, which means that ME is still without a cure.
“As a result, we remind people to only take medical advice from appropriately qualified healthcare professionals and to ensure that any treatment decisions are evidence-based and fully informed.”
The letter also said broadcasters must make “every effort to ensure that content is accurate and does not contain misleading and potentially dangerous information”.
Action for ME said on social media that it has also written to BBC Director-General Tim Davie to voice its concerns about the episode.
A statement from a BBC spokesman said: “Dragons’ Den features products from entrepreneurs and is not an endorsement of them.
“Dragons’ Den shows real businesses pitching to investors to lift the lid on what happens in the business world.
“This episode features an entrepreneur sharing their own, personal experience that led to a business creation.”
Acu Seeds has been contacted for comment.