Health Food Scams
Recent infomercials for various health food and supplement “miracles in a bottle” brings to mind the old fable of King Jack, the ruler of Anesthesia:
Content with the state of affairs throughout Anesthesia, but sensing the need to be more in touch with his constituents, King Jack appointed members of his staff to seek out the knowledge from the greatest minds in the kingdom. Upon their return they presented the king with several volumes worth of information. Delighted with the response, yet perplexed with the amount of data collected, King Jack responded with a request to condense the information into a single volume.
After an initial assessment of the condensed version, the king then petitioned to have the information expressed in a single phrase consisting of five words or less. The advisors to the king deliberated for several days and returned with their consensus on the single phrase which best represented the wisdom of the intellects throughout Anesthesia; “THERE AIN’T NO FREE LUNCH.”
It is a “free lunch mentality”, as proclaimed through various marketing channels, that offers physical and mental nirvana through indulgence in commercially available brews, nutriceuticals and medicinal concoctions without legitamite regard for the fundamental principle of pharmocology. Surely if these products have any viable active ingredients, there are certain to be potential complications associated with intoxication or contraindications. Intuitively, a red flag should go up in our heads every time we are confronted with a product that will most certainly have some known and unknown physiological effects. That which is construed as truly pure, or natural is certainly the antithesis of the movement that advocates the mass consumption of food extracts or concentrates held together with binders, suspended in questionable diluents, or encased in synthetically derived gel caps.
Public scepticism over contemporary therapeutic medicine has been a contributing factor to the evolution of a billion dollar health quakery industry. Proponents of the health food culture support what they refer to as a “natural” approach to health and vitality through the use various pills, powders, and potions. Among these products are everything from megadoses of vitamins and minerals to nostrums such as bee pollen, ginseng root, dired algae, and a range of homeopathic products.
These medicinal potions are promoted as having generalized curative or restorative powers for everything from the common cold, chronic fatigue, and sexual disfunction to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other assorted chronic diseases. Beyond the question of efficacy, the consumption of such products may indeed preclude the use of scientifically substantiated medical protocol. Promoted with the cooperation of newspapers, magazines, book publishers, multilevel marketing schemes and franchised retail outlets, these concoctions are unregulated and readily dispensed without provisions for gender, individual physiology, or guidance concerning contraindications or toxicity.
Product promotions are based on a distorted logic that attempts to extrapolate a correlation between an outside piece of scientific data, and a health food product. Independent third party testing of some supplements suggest an absence of a viable quality control program as witnessed through product inconsistencies, impurities, degradation, and bacterial contamination.
The Health Food Industry Free Ride
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 classifies herbs – and concentrates, extracts, and constituents of herbs – as “dietary supplements” and shelters such products from drug and food-additive regulations. The act transferred the burden of proof of safety from supplement manufacturers to the FDA. This act provides the loophole by which the marketers of dietary supplements can make exaggerated health claims for everything from Bermuda grass clippings to mountain lion urine, and it would be up to the FDA to prove the product unsafe.
Natural Food Better than Processed Food?
The term ‘natural’ has become a catch-word for numerous consumable products ranging from beer to cough remedies.
If you check the tobacco isle in your local grocery store, you will notice some brands of cigars and cigarettes labeled as using “All Natural Tobacco.” In general, a “natural” product is promoted as having an inherent goodness beyond that of its processed counterpart. Theoretically, food that incurs alteration as part of an established food processing protocol is diminished of its vital factors.
The proposition that natural foods are superior to their processed foods is short sighted and void of scientific objectivity. If we define “natural” as that produced solely by nature, not altered, treated, or disguised, then we must renounce years scientific developments in food processing technology that have provided an abundant and wholesome food supply.
* Microbiology as a science, has advanced the technology for the understanding of food-borne bacteria. Microbacterial diseases in unprocessed liquid food products such as milk and fruit juices, have been dramatically reduced, and in some cases eliminated through pasteurization. Due to numerous disease outbreaks, attributable to the consumption of unpasteurized fruit juices, the Food and Drug Administration has mandated the presence of the following warning statement for unpasteurized products:
WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and, therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
Food allergy is a serious condition where the body’s immune system reacts to a certain component, usually a protein. The reactions can range from a mild discomfort to a more serious and life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. The process of food oil refining removes the protein which would trigger such reaction, thereby eliminating the inherent dangers of touted natural or cold pressed oils.
Patulin is a toxic and potentially carcinogenic (cancer causing agent) mycotoxin found in apples at varying levels of concentration. In a study designed to compare organic and conventional apple juice, samples of each were purchased and analyzed to determine the concentrations of patulin. The conventional apple juice had patulin ranging from 250 micrograms per liter up to 4,000 micrograms per liter. The organic apple juice had patulin at rates up to 45,000 micrograms per liter. This study suggests that apple processing and concentration of patulin are inversely correlated.
In the final analysis, the accepted definition of what constitutes a natural food may lie somewhere between two opposing extremes of the conservative “mulch munching” devotee foraging for wild edibles, and the more liberal “ballpark frank, junk food junky.”
Toxic By Nature
The natural foods industry has grown largely because of the erroneous notion that naturally occurring substances makes them safer as drugs or medicines than their processed counterparts. A quantitative analytical scrutiny of that which nature has provided reveals the presence of numerous natural toxins:
Ricin, an extremely toxic lectin found in legumes and fatal to humans, was used as an insecticide at one time. Fortunately, heat destroys the toxicity of lectins.
Chick peas and vetch contain lathyrogens which can potentially cause a crippling paralysis of the lower limbs and may result in death.
Protease inhibitors are widely distributed throughout the plant kingdom, particularly in the Leguminosae and, to a lesser extent, in cereal grains and tubers.
Potatoes contain numerous natural poisons, including solanine, a narcotic-like substance. Solanine is known to cause neurologic and/or gastrointestinal problems. Solanine can build up to toxic levels when potatoes are exposed to sunlight during storage.
Cassava, lima beans, and the seeds of some fruits–apricots and peaches for example, are members of a group called cyanogens, precursors to the deadly poison cyanide. As a point of interest, laetrile is a cyanogen that was mistakenly represented as a cancer cure. While laetrile was effective in killing the cancer cells, it did so only at a concentration lethal to patient.
Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens, radishes, and turnips all contain small amounts of goitrogens (glucosinolates), that can enlarge the thryroid gland and aggravate thyroid problems. Goitrogens are estimated to contribute approximately 4% to the worldwide incidence of goiters in humans.
The most potent natural toxins responsible for human health risks are the mycotoxins. These are toxic metabolites produced by fungi infesting foodstuffs, especially cereals and nuts. Mycotoxins are known to have caused ergotism “St. Anthony’s Fire,”
To avoid poisoning, eat all foods in moderation, choose a variety of foods, and avoid fad diets that advocate single food consumption concept.
Toxicity Through Concentration
Any substance in food may have a degree of toxicity whether naturally occurring or deliberately added. The problem with eating a food concentrate is that it maximizes the amount of a particular hazardous substance. Once again we are faced with the “more is better” mentality. Can an extract from food be more healthful than the food itself? Let us consider fruit juice. A glass of orange juice contains about one tenth as much fiber as an orange and twice the calories. The effects of the juice on the human body are as straight forward as physiology 101.
Fruit juices drive blood sugar levels too high. The rise in sugar calls out extra insulin, which in turns stimulates the appetite. This mechanism is especially bad news for diabetics and for people trying to lose weight. Juice is good food, but it isn’t medicine, and certainly is not better than the whole fruit. Ounce for ounce, orange juice has about as much vitamin C as an orange. The fruit itself contains more of some nutrients, and especially more fiber and photochemical.
The Omega-3 Craze
Derived from eating fish, omega-3s may reduce blood clotting, reduce triglycerides, and make the heart less susceptible rhythm abnormalities. In addition, research has demonstrated that fish oil may help relieve inflammatory symptoms of auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis.
Fish oil capsules however, come with potential adverse effects, including an excessive reduction in the ability of blood to clot, increasing the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. The capsule form may also raise cholesterol levels in some individuals. Further more, as pesticide resides concentrate in animal’s fat, fish oil capsules serve as a potential source of concentrated pesticides.
Vitamins are categorized as fat-soluble and water soluble. The fat soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K—generally occur together in the fats and oils of foods. These vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues until the body needs them. It is the capacity to be stored that allows for a potential toxic buildup of fat-soluble vitamins. 25,000 IU daily of vitamin A may cause liver damage or lead to anemia and gout – a form arthritis. The best way to ensure a safe vitamin A intake is to steer clear of supplements and instead to eat foods to obtain it.
Vitamin D is the most potentially toxic of all vitamins. People who take supplements containing vitamin D may easily overdose, not aware that their tissues are building up stockpiles of the vitamin. Overdose of D leads t loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and serious disorders involving the calcium content of the blood and the distribution of the calcium ion throughout the body.
Cases of vitamin E toxicity are rare, and high doses taken over a short period seem to have no adverse effects. People that take anticoagulant medication risk uncontrollable bleeding when they take large doses of vitamin E.
Vitamin K toxicity can result when supplements of a synthetic version of vitamin K are given, especially to infants or pregnant women. Toxicity induces breakage of the red blood cells and release of their pigment which colors the skin yellow. Vitamin K toxicity also causes brain damage. Because the vitamin K contained in supplements can easily reach toxic levels, it is available as a single vitamin only by prescription.
The water-soluble vitamins–B vitamins and vitamin C– are easily absorbed by the body and just as easily excreted in the urine. Foods never deliver toxic doses of the water-soluble vitamins, but the large doses concentrated in some vitamin supplements can reach toxic levels. Women who exceeded 2 grams of vitamin B6 daily (a touted cure for the symptoms of PMS), were reported to have experienced numb feet, accompanied by lost sensation in their hands, and an inability to work.
Since the first report of vitamin B6 toxicity, researchers have seen toxicity symptoms in more than 100 women who took vitamin B6 for more than five years. The potential toxicity of vitamin B6 is yet another reason why people should not self diagnose and self-prescribe vitamins for their own illnesses.
Among his contributions to science, Linus Pauling, is credited for research on the beneficial effects of vitamin C. Since Dr. Pauling first published his book claiming that large doses of vitamin C will prevent or cure colds, many studies have been conducted that have refuted this claim. Currently there is no objective scientific study that supports the notion that a cold can be prevented or cured by taking this vitamin. Large doses taken during a cold however may ease some of the symptoms because vitamin C serves as a mild antihistamine.
Toxic levels of vitamin C can produce diarrhea, cause nutritional imbalances, deprive tissues of oxygen, interfere with the action of vitamin E, and may produce kidney stones. Vitamin C supplementation at any dosage is dangerous for people with an overload of iron in the blood. Vitamin C increases iron absorption from the intestine and releases iron from storage.
At least 25% of the medicines prescribed by physicians in this country today are based on active ingredients in plants. It is the recognition of the life giving properties of botanicals that has had such a strong influence on the environmental initiative for rain forest preservation. To reiterate an earlier statement, a herbal or botanical product that contains useful constituents is likely to have some harmful ones as well. A few of the more noteworthy for their toxicity are as follows:
Any part of the deadly nightshade plant; a fatal poison.
This herbal product is made from ground leaves of the creosol bush. It has been found to cause acute toxic hepatitis.
Contains cancer-causing chemicals
Has not been proven effective in preventing disease and is not recommended for long-term use, since the practice may actually depress the immune system.
An extract of a tree of the same name, claimed to enhance mental alertness, but not proved to be effective or safe.
A plant containing chemicals that have stimulant drug effects. Ginseng abuse syndrome is a group of symptoms associated with the overuse of ginseng, including high blood pressure, insomnia, nervousness, confusion, and depression.
Any part of the hemlock plant, which causes severe pain, convulsions, and death within 15 minutes.
Horse chestnut leaf
Has been associated once with hepatitis.
Proclaimed as a treatment for everything from AIDS to cancer but lacking scientific evidence and FDA approval. Also known as Manchurian tea, mushroom tea, or Kargasok tea.
Root bark from the sassafras tree, once used in beverages but now banned as an ingredient in foods or beverages because it contains cancer-causing chemicals.
Source of coumarin.
Spirulina, a blue-green algae is said to be a rich source of protein and vitamins, effective at treating such conditions as obesity, alcoholism, herpes, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. While the plant does contain 65 to 70% protein, white fish is a less expensive alternative at 97% protein. Chicken and beef come in at 75 to 80% protein.
Numerous investigations into the nutrient value of spirulina show that the high vitamin B12 content is attributed to contamination with insect or animal fecal matter. These results are not unexpected as spirulina is extracted from open lakes and ponds with little washing prior to being dried. In addition, some strains of spirulina have toxins that can cause nausea, diarrhea and throat infections.
Unsound products for prevention and cure of cancer comprise a large segment of today’s medical fraud. When people hear of exciting research reports that hint at cancer prevention, they want to apply the findings right away. One very popular supplement marketing ploy involves the claim that the medical establishment has suppressed information on their particular medicinal concoction. The strong desire for control over cancer makes consumers vulnerable to those who would victimize them for profit. Just a few of the more blatantly fraudulently promoted products include beta-carotene, phytochemcials, kombucha, laetrile and vitamin megadose.
* Beta-carotene. While research has established a correlation between between diets rich in beta-carotene and a reduced cancer risk, an exact mechanism by which beta-carotene might prevent cancer has not been established. Though there is no conclusive evidence that beta-carotene has any effect on cancer, the supplements are still being sold as anticancer agents.
* Phytochemicals. As a relatively new isolate, phytochemical interactions with body systems are not fully understood. Some appear to act as weak carcinogens. Others mimic steroid hormones.
* Kombucha. Promoted as a cancer preventer, arthritis reliever, and baldness cure, this tea is derived from yeast and bacteria. A report in a recent medical journal told of two women who drank an extra strong brew and had to be rushed to the emergency room with a life threatening acid condition of the blood. One woman died, the other woman was resuscitated following cardiac arrest. The Center for Disease Control has asked physicians to be on the lookout for serious side effects in their patients who make and drink kombucha.
* Laetile. Laetrile is registered with the U.S. Patent Office for the treatment of “disorders of intestinal fermentation.” This compound is chemically related to amygdalin, a substance found naturally in the pits of apricots and various other fruits. Since fruit seeds are natural sources of cyanogens, good number of patients treated with laetrile developed signs of cyanide toxicity. The Laetrile following started with a pharmacist-physician who developed one concoction after another for the treatment of serious diseases, especially cancer. It continued with his son, a self-imagined scientist, who spent many years in college but failed to earn any graduate degree. A man who earned his fortune from gun-running and a catholic newspaper columnist promoted it as a persecuted drug that cured cancer. After it was dubbed “vitamin B-17,” an army of health food devotees promoted Laetril, along with vitamins and diet, as nature’s answer to cancer.
* Vitamins. There is not a single responsible study demonstrating that large doses of any vitamin or mineral have ever prevented cancer in a human. The American Cancer Society recommends that the diet include in its variety some foods rich in Vitamins A and C, but it specifically does not advocate supplements, let alone megadoses.
As long as there remain crippling and fatal diseases, there will undoubtedly be individuals eager to offer “alternatives” to scientific treatment and large numbers of desperate individuals willing to purchase them.
How To Tell The Facts From The Myths
You know your being scammed when you see…
1) Anecdotes and testimonials to support claims. Assuming the testimonial has any authenticity, how can anyone tell if a cure or remission is specifically due to cause and effect, or if it is due the placebo effect, coincidence, or spontaneous improvement.
2) Illegitimate credentials and degrees, or credentials outside their professed area of expertise. The late Carlton Fredericsk had a Ph.D. and was referred to as Dr. Fredericks in his radio nutrition shows. His Ph.D. however was not in a health science but in the field of radio communications.
3) Natural vitamins are preferable to synthetic ones. The human body does not distinguish between the so-called natural vitamins and the their synthetic counterpart. In either case the chemical composition is the same. To reiterate an opening statement, and without going into laborious data, the synthetic vitamin is more likely to be manufactured under stricter quality control, and hence offers a more consistent product.
4)The persecution complex. A great many supplement and/or methodology promotion will incorporate a statement about a greedy, closed medical establishment that shuns his or her products from fear of competition.
5) The false contention that most diseases and symptoms are due to a faulty diet and can be treated with proper nutrition. No amount of any kind of nutritional supplementation can change a genetic predisposition to develop disease. No amount of supplementation can reverse the role of excessive intense, intermittent sun exposure resulting in melanoma. Aside from deficiency diseases such as ricketts, beri beri, or scurvy, there is little legitimate evidence that most diseases and symptoms have any significant relation to diet.
6) Food processing or storage is claimed to destroy foods’ nutritional quality. It is erroneous to make such an all encompassing statement concerning processed foods. Milk is processed to the extent that it is pasteurized. Foods processed with vitamins C and E preserve food quality by preventing oxidation.
7) Fructose is preferable to other forms of sugar. The delusion that fructose is an acceptable form of sugar is quite prevalent in many nutritional circles. Nearly all simple sugars are metabolized quickly and disrupt insulin levels which contributes to most chronic illness. Do not be mislead. Avoid fructose just like you would table sugar as they both cause similar problems. Do not be fooled by products that claim to contain “all natural” sweeteners. Added ingredients like brown sugar, raw sugar, fruit sugar, honey or maple syrup are treated no differently from table sugar once they enter the bloodstream.
8) Practitioners who use computerized questionnaires to diagnose nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional deficiencies are diagnosed by appropriate medical tests and examination, not by computers. Any computer used for this purpose is likely to be programmed to recommend supplements for virtually everyone.
9) Outrageous claims are couched in pseuscientific terms or jargon. Some examples from actual magazine ads:
– Subjects who used _________experienced an extraordinary 3860% greater total fat loss than subject who used a placebo.
– ______ is better than any ephedrine based fat burner with its precise combination of pharmaceutical pure 1R,2S Norephedrine HCI, Yohimbine HCI, and Caffeine. The incredibly potent 1F, 2S Norephedrine HCI has been shown in vertebrate studies to be the most thermogenic ephedrine type alkaloid. In one study, only amphetamine itself was more potent!
– A new breakthrough scientific discovery has uncovered the unique substrate activity that controls the key “genetic-marker” shown to regulate muscle growth and fat loss. Now think of the possibilities in new muscle growth. Imagine being able to supply your body with the very substrates that trigger muscle growth, fat loss, and even immune system enhancement. Pseudoscience provides easy answers, dodges skeptical scrutiny making us victims of credulity. Practitioners of pseudoscience purport to use scientific methodology, while in fact they are faithless to its nature.
About the Author
Tze Khit is one of the directors and also a personal trainer from Personal Trainers Singapore (http://www.pt.com.sg), the LARGEST & most POPULAR personal training company in Singapore.