Respectful Insolence (a.k.a. "Orac Knows"): A most uncomfortable question

Respectful Insolence (a.k.a. “Orac Knows”): A most uncomfortable question

I stumbled upon this blog while looking at a blog that linked to my Homepage. I must say I was impressed with Respectful Insolence and intend to check this one regularly. I hope those that venture here (eventually) will like it too.

‘Intelligent’ Design in Utah

The Utah State Senate ammended a bill on Monday Jan. 23 that mandates what a teacher can say about the origins of Homo sapiens in the science classroom. Essentially, they’ve made is unlawful to fail to say that “not all scientists agree about the origins of man” with regard to evolution. They don’t mind if the teacher implies or even states that the *lesser* species on the planet evolved from a common ancestor, but humans are somehow set aside from the rest of the matter on the planet. “…a teacher could teach how an alligator was formed through evolution, which is not prohibited by law until the teacher starts to address how man was created.” From this article: http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/58082

No *reputable* scientist believes man just popped into existence. Moreover, the disclaimer the Utah Senate requires science teachers to state, “not all scientists on which theory is correct” is misleading to the point of being a lie. Sure, scientists disagree. And some even believe Adam and Eve were the first two humans. But how many of these “scientists” are in a discipline related to evolutionary sciences (geology, biology, anthropology, etc.)? Pitifully few.

However, the Utah Legislature is an example of anthropocentric thinking and perhaps magical thinking. We see ourselves as separate and removed from the world and destined for another plane of existence. Thus, our time here, in this reality, is limited. Rather than live our lives as if *this* world, this life, was all we have, we are holding out for something better. The lesser species may have evolved, but the anthropomorphic gods we believe in have more love for the human species -we get to go to a “special place” when we die. As long as we believe.

Man is but a brief instance in the history of life on this planet.

Life has existed for hundreds of millions of years -man for perhaps 250,000, probably less. One is left to wonder: did god exist before man? I doubt it.

The Pseudoscience of an "Infomercial" Conman

Kevin Trudeau is the author of several “self-help” books, including Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You To Know About and Mega Memory. Trudeau also has “starred” in several Infomercials in which he advertised one or more products, pretending to either be a journalist interviewing a proponent of the product or a proponent of a product pretending to be interviewed by an actor/journalist. He was penalized heavily by the Federal Trade Commission in 2004, restricting his marketing via the pseudo-news shows called “infomercials” and requiring him to pay $2 million to settle his false-claim charges.

Flipping channels on a Saturday morning, avoiding silly cartoons and infomercials in search of something interesting or informative, I came across an interview that I didn’t initially identify as an infomercial. I quickly figured out it was a paid advertisement, but the format of the show was very much like that of Charlie Rose or a PBS talk show.

The topic, however, was the first clue: natural cures suppressed by the government and food and drug industries. The person being “interviewed” was Kevin Trudeau, the author of Natural Cures They Don’t Want You To Know About.

As I listened, I was astounded at what Trudeau was saying. Not that I believed him, but that he had the audacity to make the claims he did. In the first 5 minutes of the show, Trudeau had said that there existed cures for cancer, attention deficit disorder (ADD), herpes, diabetes and acid reflux and that the Food and Drug Administration along with the food and drug industries are suppressing this information. Of course, he didn’t list specific cures by name, instead citing the risk of doing so is to evoke the wrath of the government, namely the FTC and FDA. Apparently, Trudeau feels that the laws that prohibit making claims of “cures” without scientific evidence to support the claims and having the drug approved is part of the conspiracy of the government entities and industry controls to suppress homeopathy.

The FDA is in cahoots with the drug industry

Trudeau stated in this pseudo-interview that the “FDA works with the drug industry to prevent alternative, natural remedies” from being marketed. Indeed, he argues that the definitions that the FDA has established are themselves designed to favor the drug industry.

Well being critical of the drug industry is probably a healthy stand and that the FDA isn’t completely competent in both its enforcement and control of safety and expense associated with the drug industry is probably accurate.

But Trudeau argues that the FDA’s definition of conditions such as acid reflux, obesity and ADD as diseases is erroneous and misleading. Trudeau also is critical of the FDA’s definition of a “drug,” since it limits the ability of homeopathic remedies to market their products.

A Brief History of Homeoapathy

Over two hundred years ago, German physician Samuel Hahnemann developed the hypothesis that like cures like and this is the basis of modern homeopathy. In a nutshell, the idea is that symptoms of conditions can be treated with natural substances that produce similar symptoms (the “law of similars”), but because many of these substances can be toxic, even lethal, Hahnemann used a principle of dilution that he declared the law of infintesimals to make the substances safe for consumption. 1

Final dilutions in homeopathy can often produce results that have 1 part medicine to 10 29 parts of water. In a dilution like this, one would have to drink 7,874 gallons of water to consume just one molecule of medicine. Some homeopathic remedies are diluted to 10 400!

Trudeau doesn’t mention this in his “interview,” but maintains his criticism of the FDA. The definition of a drug, he says, is such that “only a drug can cure a disease,” an inference that the definition is omitting the possibility that other substances, namely “natural remedies” can “cure a disease.” The FDA defines a drug 2 as: “articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in man or other animals.” Clearly this isn’t stating “only a drug can cure diseases,” but rather that which is intended to cure a disease is a drug. If something is a drug, then it falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA and must be regulated as well as approved.

That really only leaves Trudeau with the criticism that natural remedies cannot get approval due to the bias against them by the FDA, the drug industry, and science in general. He doesn’t consider that this bias is legitimate. Not even close.

Trudeau’s wild and dangerous claims: the worst 10

During this infomercial / pseudo-interview, Trudeau says or argues the following. If it is in quotes, it is as near to his exact words I as I can recall. I took notes during the broadcast, but could only get some of the key points.

1. He argues that acid reflux, ADD, and obesity (among others) are not diseases.
2. He states that the drug industry is the “most profitable industry in the country.”
3. He stated that there exists a natural remedy which can “cure a migraine headache forever.”
4. He stated that there exists a natural remedy which can “cure arthritis forever.”
5. He stated that a cure exists for cancer
6. He stated that a cure exists for types I and II diabetes.
7. He stated that “if your body’s pH is alkaline you cannot get cancer,” and that the “body pH” of all cancer patients was acidic.
8. He stated that the food manufacturers intentionally “put ingredients in food into make you fat [...] because fat people eat more.”
9. He stated that a recent study that concluded St. John’s Wort to be ineffective was based on flawed methodology because each of the other drugs tested likewise resulted in being largely ineffective to treat depression.
10. He stated that there was a cure for multiple sclerosis, which was caused by a “food additive” that gave the symptoms of MS.

I expected that Trudeau would live up to my expectations of typical pseudoscience bull and present us all with “sworn testimonials” as to the effectiveness of the natural remedies. This is a characteristic of a bogus product that should make anyone immediately suspicious, since it’s the best way to establish a belief system: get a bunch of people to swear it’s true or real.

But Trudeau surprised me with his “testimonial” segment! He basically listed two or three non-specific ailments and stated that they each were better after they tried a natural remedy. The only remedy he would mention specifically was to take a tablespoon of vinegar to counteract acid reflux. He begged away from being specific citing the risk of action from the FTC or FDA if he were to divulge the actual substance used.

Acid Reflux?

Amazingly enough, Trudeau’s explanation of acid reflux was that it wasn’t acid that is the problem, but the gas created by the foods that are eaten. Trudeau is highly critical of the established medical knowledge on the topic and makes clear implications that the medical establishment, undoubtedly in cahoots with the government and the drug companies, are deliberately misleading the public about acid reflux disease. Indeed, Trudeau claims it isn’t a “disease” at all! Instead, Trudeau claims that acid reflux is caused by not enough acid in the stomach and that the gas emitted from food digested only partially because of this lack of acid is the cause of the symptoms. That’s where the “tablespoon of vinegar” comes in: it adds acid to the stomach.

However, if we want to take a medical opinion (Trudeau is not educated in medicine), acid reflux, otherwise known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), affects up to 36% of otherwise healthy Americans in the form of heartburn. While the symptoms are typically treated with over the counter remedies such as Pepto-Bismol™, there can be some serious or severe problems: “Hoarseness, chronic cough, asthma, laryngitis, recurrent pneumonia and ENT infections, nocturnal choking, sleep apnea, loss of dental enamel, bad breath and globus sensation.” It has even been implicated in connection to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.3

Medical authorities have a very different view of what causes acid reflux/GERD. Among them are relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), decreased LES resting tone, impaired esophageal clearance, delayed gastric emptying, decreased salivation, and impaired tissue resistance. Other indirect causes include lifestyle factors such as “smoking, large meals, fatty foods, caffeine, pregnancy, obesity, body position, drugs, and hormones.” 4 Clearly, Trudeau is misinformed at the least. He offers no sources for his information and only the brief testimonial of his friend who drank a little vinegar to add some acid to his stomach. In all likelihood, the friend’s consumption of vinegar acted to both reduce the acidity (thereby increasing the pH) of the reflux in the esophagus and rinse it back to the stomach since the pH of vinegar is 3 and the diluted HCl of stomach acid is generally between 1 and 2, perhaps as high as 3.5.

Responding to Trudeau’s other quack claims

1. Diseases that Aren’t: Trudeau argues that acid reflux, ADD, and obesity (among others) are not diseases.

The CDC defines disease as a “sickness; illness; an interruption, or disturbance of the bodily functions or organs, which causes or threatens pain and weakness.” The Midwest Institute for Biological Control calls it a “departure from the state of health or normality.” One can only wonder what definition that Trudeau uses. Type “define:disease” in Google and a plethora of definitions arise from many reputable sources such as those I just mentioned. None of them would exclude conditions such as acid reflux, ADD and even obesity.

2. The drug industry is the “most profitable industry in the country.

No argument there. This is probably the one true thing Trudeau said throughout the entire commercial. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation and Sonderegger Research Center, the pharmaceutical industry has outdone every other from 1995 until 2002, when it began to slip. In 2003, mining and crude oil production outpaced it. 5

3. – 6. He stated that there are natural remedies that will cure: migraine headaches, arthritis, diabetes (I & II), and even cancer.

The only legitimate answer one can give this type of quackery is, “whatever.” Trudeau is lying. Period. If he can demonstrate that these cures exist in rigorous, clinical tests, I’ll print this essay and eat each page. If such cures existed, scientists and researchers would not sit on them. They would share them with the world. And, in answer to the argument that scientists are people and just as susceptible to greed and jealousy as the next man, I submit to you that if this is so, then the first one to write the paper and attach his or her name to the discovery will be immortalized and, perhaps, rich. The drug companies and the government could neither suppress the altruistic scientist nor the greedy one.

7. He stated that “if your body’s pH is alkaline you cannot get cancer,” and that the “body pH” of all cancer patients was acidic.

It is true that cancer cells cannot survive in an alkaline environment. But what Trudeau either is ignorant about or omits from his claim is that no cell in the body can survive in an alkaline state. The functions of enzymes in the body are to begin chemical reactions. Enzymes only function in a narrow range of acidic pH. If the pH balance of one’s blood is affected to increase or decrease, then the body acts quickly to correct this to prevent sickness or death. Trudeau’s claim of eating certain foods to increase alkalinity is bunk. All foods that go into the stomach will become acidic, after all, HCl is produced there. From the stomach, they go to the intestines and are neutralized by secretions from the pancreas. At that point, the food is alkaline. 6

8. Food manufacturers intentionally “put ingredients in food into make you fat [...] because fat people eat more.”

While that is a possibility, I wouldn’t put much credibility in it. I think it’s a safer bet to believe that the food manufacturers manufacture and package foods in ways that consumers have indicated they want it. The driving principle in the last two decades has been “quick,” “easy,” “fast,” and “fun.” Microwave meals have far surpassed the “TV diners” of the 1970’s in both content and speed of preparation; McDonalds has streamlined and set the standards for drive-thru method and the “Happy Meal” dominates the market in fast-food sales to kids. But this is what the consumer wants. If it wasn’t, McDonalds would offer an alternative, like healthy meals with bottled water and fruit instead of cola and hot, apple pie. In fact, they are doing this due to recent public acknowledgement of the fast-food culture as being a bad habit. Trudeau would be more believable if he would simply name the “ingredient(s)” and which food companies were adding it. He also says that the United States is not able to export food, yet we had $62.3 billion in farm exports for 2004 and only $52.7 billion in agricultural imports. 7 Again, Trudeau appears misinformed.

9. St. John’s Wort study had a flawed methodology because each of the other drugs tested likewise resulted in being largely ineffective to treat depression.

Trudeau is quick to point out that the study was flawed because the sertraline, which was the comparator drug didn’t outperform the placebo. But neither did the St. John’s Wort. He’ll tell us the “study was flawed,” but won’t tell us how. The fact is that there needs to be more study done in order to fully evaluate whether St. John’s Wort has any real effectiveness in treated depression. What is known, however, is that it has some potentially serious side effects for pregnant or breast-feeding women as well as when used in conjunction with other drugs, such as AIDS remedies such as indinavir.

10. He stated that there was a cure for multiple sclerosis, which was caused by a “food additive” that gave the symptoms of MS.

I really have to quote Stephen Barrett, M.D. in regards to this claim:

“MS’s extreme variability makes it a perfect disease for quacks. The only way to know whether a treatment is effective is to follow many patients for years to see whether those who receive the treatment do better than those who do not. Quacks don’t bother with this kind of testing, however. They simply claim credit whenever anyone who consults them improves. And since the majority of attacks are followed by complete or partial recovery, persuasive quacks can acquire patients who swear by whatever they recommend.8

Listed by Quackwatch as a “cure” to avoid when treating MS is “coral calcium.” Interestingly enough, it just happens to be a product that Trudeau was fined $2 million by the FTC for making false and misleading claims about. Trudeau and his accomplice, Robert Barefoot, made an infomercial from the same ad agency as the Natural Cures book, only Trudeau played the part of reporter interviewing Barefoot. The interviewer for the Natural Cures show was Pat Matthews.

Kevin Trudeau is a fraud. A scam artist. A con man of the worst kind. He seeks to make money off of schemes that take advantage of those that are in need of true medical assistance and those that are hopeful that they’ll be able to stay healthy. But if Kevin Trudeau truly believes the bunk and baloney he writes and says, then he is merely pathetic.

- Carl T. Feagans

References:

1 Park, Robert (2000). Voodoo Science. Oxford University Press: Oxford. pp. 52-58.

2 FDA (2002) Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) Title 21, Section 201(g)(B)

3 Minocha, Anil (2001). How To Stop Heartburn: Simple Ways to Heal Heartburn and Acid Reflux. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

4 Fennerty MB, Sampliner RE.(1993) Gastroesophageal reflux disease. Hospital Medicine. 29(4):28-40.

5 Kaiser Family Foundation (2004). Trends and Indicators in the Changing Health Care Marketplace, 2004 Update, found at http://www.kff.org/insurance/7031/ti2004-1-21.cfm

6 Mirkin, Gabe (2003). Acid/Alkaline Theory of Disease Is Nonsense. Quackwatch.org. Found at: http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/DSH/coral2.html

7 Witte, Griff and Henderson, Nell (2004) U.S. Food Imports Increase, May Match Exports This Year. The Washington Post. Thursday, November 25, 2004; Page E01

8 Barrett, Stephen (2003). Be Wary of Multiple Sclerosis “Cures.” Quackwatch.org. Found at: http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/ms.html

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UPDATES

I recently found another source by Dr. Stephen Barrett in which he directly addresses the same infomercial that I viewed. The piece is especially informative because it includes the Transcript of the show with Barrett’s comments in red. I recommend it to all who have read this article as Dr. Barrett does a far better job than I in criticizing Trudeau’s “work.” You can find it at InfomercialWatch.com: http://www.infomercialwatch.org/tran/trudeau.shtml

BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU EXPERIENCE:

It would appear that the Better Business Bureau has had some experience with Kevin Trudeau. I recommend anyone interested in dealing with Kevin Trudeau, Shop America, NaturalCures.com, TruStar Marketing, or any of the other companies that Trudeau creates when one gets a bad rap, to visit their report on Trudeau’s Shop America.

According to the Better Business Bureau, “this company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to unanswered complaints. However the business has resolved most complaints presented by the bureau.”

And, “this company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to a pattern of complaints. Consumers allege dissatisfaction with the Natural Cures book and/or being solicited to purchase information from the company website that is not included in the book as advertised.”

These complaints concerned:
10 Advertising Issues,
22 Selling Practices,
60 Delivery,
3 Service / Repairs,
4 Warranty / Guarantee,
25 Product Quality,
179 Refund Promised,
2 Unfulfilled Contract,
38 Customer Service, and
54 Credit or Billing Issues.

They were closed as:
102 Resolved,
111 Assumed Resolved,
1 Unresolved,
2 Administratively Judged Resolved, and
184 No Response.

Source: Better Business Bureau Report can be found at: http://www.chicago.bbb.org/commonreport.html?bid=73001973

Direct email Feedback I’ve received regarding this article on my website.

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