Why Dragons' Den star is at centre of controversy over ear seeds

M.E charities have shared their concerns

Giselle Boxer Founder at Acu Seeds - As Seen on Dragons' Den. © BBC
Giselle Boxer is the founder of Acu Seeds, as seen on Dragons' Den. (BBC)

Dragons' Den entrepreneur Gisele Boxer's business Acu Seeds appearing on the BBC show has sparked a debate and conversation.

Acupuncture-inspired health and wellness brand Acu Seeds that claims to "spread awareness of the benefits of auricular (ear) acupressure".

The website said: "Through the use of ear seeds, we are helping others take control of their own health and wellness and making this ancient Chinese medicine practice more accessible to the modern world."

Sharing her own life experiences in the den, Boxer revealed she was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, at the age of 26 and she was told by her doctor that she would never recover but she said that "acupuncture, Chinese herbs and ear seeds played a huge role in reducing" her symptoms.

According to the NHS website, ME - also called chronic fatigue syndrome - is a long-term condition with a wide range of symptom including extreme tiredness.

Since the Dragons' Den appearance, ME charities have shared their concerns saying it "promotes misleading information relating to health conditions".

Giselle Boxer Founder at Acu Seeds - As Seen on Dragons' Den. © BBC
Acupuncture-inspired health and wellness brand Acu Seeds that claims to "spread awareness of the benefits of auricular (ear) acupressure". (BBC)

Ahead of her appearance on the show, Boxer told The Daily Star: "I'm thrilled to share the journey of Acu Seeds on Dragons' Den and shed light on the transformative power of Chinese medicine, particularly ear seed therapy."

She added: "My own recovery from ME through these methods motivated me to create Acu Seeds and offer these benefits to others seeking holistic wellness."

In the den, the entrepreneur made history as she got a record-breaking six offers from all the dragons. Dragons' Den viewers watched as she accepted Steven Bartlett's offer of £50,000 for a 12.5% of her business.

How the ME Association responded

However, ME charities have shared their concerns following the episode. Dr Charles Shepard, honorary medical adviser for The ME Association said: "The way in which Dragons' Den has been used to promote an unproven treatment for ME/CFS has, not surprisingly, caused a great deal of upset and concern in the ME patient community.

"People with ME/CFS are fed up with the way in which products like this are regularly being promoted when there is no sound evidence from proper placebo-controlled clinical trials to confirm that they are safe and effective."

Giselle Boxer shared her personal story on Dragons' Den. (BBC)
Giselle Boxer shared her personal story on Dragons' Den. (BBC)

Action for ME coordinated an open letter in collaboration with other ME charities which was submitted to the chair of the Commons culture, media and sport committee and chair of the health and social care committee.

It also shared a statement which said: "We aware of the Dragons Den episode which aired on BBC One on 18 January, during which a contestant made unevidenced claims relating to the efficacy of ear seeds and other traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as effective treatment for ME/CFS.

"In response, our chief executive, Sonya Chowdhury, wrote directly to the director-general of the BBC on Friday 19th January to express concerns with the way in which the episode and contestant’s website suggest that ‘acu seeds’ are an effective form of treatment and the dangers associated with promoting misleading information relating to health conditions."

It added: "We hope that our concerns, and those of the wider ME community, are listened to and that we are offered the opportunity to address the claims made, alongside working to ensure that this situation does not arise again in the future."

How did the BBC respond?

Giselle Boxer Founder at Acu Seeds - As Seen on Dragons' Den. © BBC
M.E charities have criticised Acu Seeds that was seen on Dragons' Den. (BBC)

The BBC has shared a statement from a spokesperson saying: "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."

The entrepreneur’s website features disclaimers to always seek medical advice.

BBC recruited Dragons' Den star

In response to the ongoing conversation, entrepreneur Boxer said that she was approached by a BBC researcher to appear on the show. This is not unheard of as BBC do state they do approach entrepreneurs on their website.

Boxer told The Mirror: "Funnily enough they [the BBC] contacted me and I received an email from a researcher there and I initially thought it was a spam email. We went through the different stages of the application process and there was so much due diligence and they really looked into every part of my business before I went in to pitch to the Dragons."

How can you apply to Dragons' Den?

Dragons' Den's TV bosses set out that they may approach entrepreneurs as part of the "normal selection process" or people with businesses can choose to apply direct to the BBC show. All applications are processed in the same way, starting with a form and then they are checked across the same casting criteria.

Yahoo has approached BBC, Steven Bartlett and Gisele Boxer through her Acu Seeds website for further comment.

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