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

——————————————————————–

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.

3 Responses

  1. A recent email from Donna Cowan:


    What a sad shame at the expense of human health, YOU and people like you
    promote sickness! You and ALL of the people of your kind excell in
    spreading false information!! Why? It’s your wallet!! You are stupid, and
    greedy! I have NO respect for you or crap people like you and/ or of your
    kind!! Kevin Trudeau is so right! Ever braoadcast that Flex oil dissolves
    cancer…it’s true, so true!! I am proof!!
    No you wouldn’t dream of broadcasting such a thing because it would put
    doctors in the poor house! Cancer among other diseases and ailments would
    financially break the doctors! Physicians are NOT doing anything they can
    to find the cures for cancer…Per your comment that they are!!! Focus on
    finding the cause then the cure would be found!! START at the souce, you
    fools ….NO….that would end the many dollars….NO money in finding the
    source for you foolish doctors!! Fluoirde in one source of cancer!! STOP
    that and many, many health problems would be end!!

    Your comment about “I would think their wealth would be even greater if the
    cure was not hidden” is utter nonsense!

    You SO SUCK!

    D.C.

    My Response:

    My only goal is to promote critical thought and to encourage people to avoid credulous responses to every wild claim that comes along just because they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that the health industry hasn’t answered their concerns.

    The health industry (doctors, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, government oversight, etc) have problems. Your time would be better spent educating yourself on the real problems that exist and the possible solutions than simple accepting, at face value, many of the wild claims that are promoted just because they provide and “alternative.”

    There is only one way to do science. None of the claims you made in your passionate email to me have the science to back them up. Arguing that this is because of some “conspiracy” is simply a non sequitur since it would be a simple matter to publish the methodology and results that can be duplicated on a website if peer-reviewed, scholarly journals refused them.

    I advocate only one thing: think.

  2. Hi, this is Anna,
    I made another response about how natural cures is nothing new and that Kevin is using that to his advantage. Basically, what I was trying to say,Kevin is right. Even if he is trying to make alot of money or not, the information that he has provided is actually pretty accurate. If you do the research, natural curs do exsist, and the FDA is the largest money making corporation. Is that so hard to believe? What does man fear the most, dieing, sickness, dieing without money for his family, dieing without making something of his life, not being able to accomplish ones goals because of early death or sickness, dieing without ever having reproduced, you get the picture. Alot of people may have found that his cures didn’t work because they didn’t use them right.
    Even conventiional medicine like antibiotics doesn’t work if it isn’t used right. I use the natural cures for flu and cold, but it’s how you use them. I don’t just take a combo of herbs and, WALLA, I’m better. I have to prepare them a certain way and take them a certain amount of time throughout the day.

  3. “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.” – FYI, scientists and academics conduct their work from the support of grants; studies that are not able to be captured and distributed in a controlled, profitable manner do not recieve grants for the most part. Also, it is pretty well known among those of us in R&D that to develop a new compound, we look at the effectiveness of natural remedies and to extrapolate the substance into a patentable product. While Mr. Trudeau may or may not be acting altruistically, the bigger picture that you are attacking is not as off base as you would have your reader’s believe. The idea that big companies and government couldn’t suppress a successful natural alternative is based on what experience? Whether or not you think Mr. Trudeau is bunk, and he very well might be, the bigger idea that low cost, public remedies are suppressed by corporations that rely on quarterly growth is not fantasty; it is a reality that is played out everytime your family member or loved one is placed on some medication to treat a symptom, rather than getting at the root cause through a change in diet and lifestyle. It is not the physician who is the villian in this drama; it is the system that is perpetrated by the pharma companies and goverment, and those institutions that rely on funding from them.

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