Space City Skeptics

The Official Blog of the Houston Skeptic Society

My Family Members Aren’t Immune

with 2 comments

A few days ago, my aunt sent me the name of a ‘nutritional supplement’ that her cousin had sold her sometime back.  When she first told me about it, I pointed out that it sounded fishy.  I did some research on the product, and found that it a product sold through a multi-level marketing company called “FirstFitness“.  The website is more dedicated towards promoting new distributorships than its products, and like most MLMs, stresses how the participants can quit their stressful, high income jobs and work from home a few hours a week, and eventually win a Mercedes, dream vacations, and the like.  Of course, you have to sign up 10 people, who each need to sign up 10 people…

She was persuaded to buy something called Lipomax 10, advertised as a homeopathic remedy to ‘support optimal liver function’  and ‘help relieve the symptoms of bloating, fatigue, water retention, allergies, sluggish bowels and a sluggish metabolism.’  That’s some powerful stuff!

The ingredients include ground dandelion seed, ground Celandine stem, milk thistle powder, and a ‘proprietary blend’ which is 99% turmeric extract, turmeric being a spice that gives mustard its characteristic yellow color and is a component of many curry powder blends.

For milk thistle, I did find that some research has been done, through the National Institute of Health, but through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines.  If you’ve kept up with the news, you’ll remember that the sponsors of this center have been disappointed that the research has turned up no efficacy in anything they’ve studied to date.  As far as milk thistle:

  • There have been some studies of milk thistle on liver disease in humans, but these have been small. Some promising data have been reported, but study results at this time are mixed.
  • Although some studies conducted outside the United States support claims of oral milk thistle to improve liver function, there have been flaws in study design and reporting. To date, there is no conclusive evidence to prove its claimed uses.
  • Recent NCCAM-funded research includes a phase II study to better understand the use of milk thistle for chronic hepatitis C. Additional research, cofunded by NCCAM and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, includes studies of milk thistle for chronic hepatitis C and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (liver disease that occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol).
  • The National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Nursing Research are also studying milk thistle, for cancer prevention and to treat complications in HIV patients.

In other words, nada.

My quick search of the dandelion and celandine showed even less promise – all the links were to natural or homeopathic sites, and talked about the wonders of these all-natural ingredients, and how they have been used ‘well known and used throughout Europe’ which apparently is meant to confer status.  The sites claim that these herb promote health, aid digestion, improve liver function (apparently most of us are going around with non-functioning livers), prevent colds, inhibit tumor growth, improve appetite, cure yeast infections, and decrease glucose levels.  Considering that my aunt is a diabetic, I’m not sure that taking dandelion capsules would be a good idea, if it really did change glucose levels in the blood willy-nilly.

I think my aunt was a bit embarrassed, and threw the stuff away.  I suggested that she take the company’s money-back guarantee to heart and get her $35 back.  She needn’t be embarrassed.  I don’t know the cousin who sold her the stuff very well, but I recall that she is a bit incredulous about a great many things (she out one time belonged to a religious group who thought they could raise people from the dead), and was likely merely trying to supplement her income.  The herbal, natural, and homeopathic supplements generate billions of dollars in sales each year, so there are a lot of well-intentioned, educated people who are uninformed about what is being sold, legally.  Oprah is a big source of unsubstantiated garbage.  For instance, she touts Acai berry, and sales increase dramatically.  Wikipedia states:

Recently, the açai “berry” has been touted and marketed as a highly beneficial dietary supplement. Companies sell açaí berry products in the form of tablets, juice, smoothies, instant drink powders, and whole fruit.

Marketers of these products make claims that açai provides increased energy levels, improved sexual performance, improved digestion, detoxification, high fiberantioxidant content, improved skin appearance, improved heart health, improved sleep, and reduction of cholesterol levels. More dubious claims include reversal of diabetes and other chronic illnesses, as well as expanding size of the penis and increasing men’s sexual virility and sexual attractiveness to women.[1][2] weight loss product.

As of March 2009, there are no controlled studies backing up any of these claims. According to ABC News correspondent Susan Donaldson, these products have not been evaluated (in the US) by the FDA, and their efficacy is questionable.[3] In late 2008, lawyers for The Oprah Winfrey Show began investigating alleged statements from supplement manufacturers who suggested that frequent Oprah guest Dr. Mehmet Oz had recommended their product or açai in general for weight loss. (Link)

The best we can do is to educate, gently, one person at a time. This morning, my mom sent me another one of those emails about how Swiffer cleaning solution kills pets, and added this note:  ” thought I’d send it on just in case. please don’t google it and correct it,  just delete.”  She meant, don’t send her a link fromSnopes about how this is not true.   I of course looked it up, and found that it not only wasn’t true and had numerous factual errors, the manufacturer of Swiffer, Proctor & Gamble, had issued press releases about the misinformation being circulated.  Someone sent that link to my mom, someone who had probably received it via email on a list with hundreds of other email addresses in the chain, and some people would stop buying a perfectly safe product, and pass the email along yet again.  I love my mom, and I’m not criticizing her, but she didn’t want to know the truth, and certainly didn’t want to respond back to the person who sent the email to her.  And that is why bad information persists against the evidence.


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Written by Geek Goddess

April 25, 2009 at 8:31 am

2 Responses

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  1. Great post. A general rule of thumb that I wish more people would follow is that if a proposed treatment is claimed to treat everything, it almost certainly treats nothing.

    skepticpedi

    April 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm

  2. That is nice to once and for all find a website where the blogger knows what they are talking about.

    Interesting Blog

    November 27, 2009 at 10:55 pm


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