Archive for the 'Absurd medical claims' category

Chopra, soul, and a big, insoluble mess

The recent arrests of the Hutaree cult here in Michigan are part of a tradition of militant separatism in this part of the country, beginning with the militia movements in the late 20th century and climaxing (hopefully) in the terrorist acts of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. This latest incident is interesting in that it appears to share some qualities of the militia movement, the Christian Identity movement, and the Tea Party movement (although what sorts of ideologic connections there really are will take some time to figure out.)

Cults in general scare me. They scare me not just because of their acts and their ideas, but their attractiveness. They have the ability not just to attract those of similar ideas, but they also seduce those who may simply be vulnerable to their philosophies. The flames of hatred are being fanned by those on the right, including teabaggers and so-called mainstream right wing commentators. The economic times, an "ethnic" president who represents the future of the US population, and an utter failure of others on the right to speak out against the hate feed these right-wing violence cults.

But cults don't just feed on hatred. Cults, like street gangs, also seduce with love, with pleasant-sounding ideas that are congruent with and confirm one's own beliefs. The antivaccine movement (as opposed to individuals with their individual beliefs) are a cult. They have charismatic leaders (such as Barbara Loe Fisher, JB Handley, and Jenny McCarthy), they have their own beliefs that are impervious to the assault of actual facts, and they accrue followers, spreading their lies. Their lies have helped to lower vaccination rates and increase the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases. And their success depends upon a general cheapening of the meaning of "experts", and a vilification of earned scientific authority when it disagrees with their beliefs.

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17 responses so far

Vaccinations and autism: we're number one?

Mar 24 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine, Vaccination inanity

It has been alleged by Great Minds such as Jenny McCarthy (D.Goog.) that the US recommends far more vaccinations than other countries.  Her precise statement was, "How come many other countries give their kids one-third as many shots as we do?" She put this into the context of wondering if our current vaccine schedule should be less rigid.  The entire piece was filled with what could charitably called less-than-truthful assertions, but I'm not feeling that charitable: they are lies (or the rantings of an idiot, or the delusions of lunatic.  There are probably other possibilities that I haven't thought of). 

Oh, Jenny.

First, we need to parse out this "more shots than everyone else" statement. Dr. Jenny may think she understands what this means, but I doubt it.  Some countries--Haiti, for example--give far fewer vaccines than we do because they are desperately poor and in a constant state of crisis. Because of this, they have very high rates of vaccine-preventable diseases.  They want to vaccinate more, but can't.  Then there are countries who can afford to vaccinate. Let's look at what three industrialized nations recommend before six years of age.

Vaccinations, by disease and country, 0-6 years of age

Vaccine France Germany USA Iceland
Hepatitis B Yes Yes Yes No
Rotavirus No No Yes No
Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertusis Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hib Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pneumococcus Yes Yes Yes No
Polio Yes Yes Yes Yes
Influenza Not reported Not reported Yes No
Meales, mumps, rubella Yes Yes Yes Yes
Varicella No Yes Yes No
Hepatitis A No No Yes No
BCG (disseminated TB) Yes No No No
Meningococcus No Yes For some Yes

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22 responses so far

Channel 7 doesn't pluck the pigeons, they just lead them to slaughter

Mar 17 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine

(This piece appears today at Science-Based Medicine and is re-posted here today because I like it and I'm lazy. --PalMD)
A couple of years ago, a number of us raised concerns about an "investigative reporter" at a Detroit television station.  At the time I noted that investigative reporters serve an important role in a democracy, but that they can also do great harm, as when Channel 7's Steve Wilson parroted the talking points of the anti-vaccine movement.  Wilson has since been canned but apparently, not much has changed.  While performing my evening ablutions, I stumbled upon the latest abomination.

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4 responses so far

Quackery, pure and simple

Feb 13 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine, Texas nurse case

What constitutes quackery depends very much on how quackery is defined. If part of that definition is making false or unsubstantiated claims about a medical product you are selling, then Dr. Rolando Arifiles is a quack.

Dr Arafiles and his cronies in the Winkler County government may not realize is that this "internet" thing works both ways. It may increase your ability to sell fake cures, but it also opens you up to being discovered. Of course, increasing your profile by abusing the legal system to quiet critics doesn't help.

The FDA and FTC aren't too happy about the proliferation of fake flu cures coinciding with the H1N1 pandemic. They are so unhappy that they are making a special point of going after people preying on the public:

"Products that are offered for sale with claims to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus must be carefully evaluated," said Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. "Unless these products are proven to be safe and effective for the claims that are made, it is not known whether they will prevent the transmission of the virus or offer effective remedies against infection. Furthermore, they can make matters worse by providing consumers with a false sense of protection."

The Quack Miranda Warning is no protection against this sort of malfeasance.

So, in case this site goes down the memory hole, I grabbed a screen shot. According to my sources (OK, and Arifiles' own LinkedIn profile), Dr. Arifiles is the owner of the Healt2Fit website.


See the circled bit?  The part where Arifiles claims that his colloidal silver gel is FDA approved for swine flu?  That's not OK.   

It would probably be unfortunate for him if the FTC or FDA were to hear about this.  It might take away some of the precious resources he needs to help him fight the civil suit filed against him

16 responses so far

CardioFuel---another magic pill

Feb 10 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine

I get a lot of email asking me about various alternative therapies and supplements. A recurring theme on this blog has been the hyperbolic claims of alternative practitioners and supplement makers, and while I can't answer every email, I can at least address some of them in the blog. Supplements are often marketed using unsupported health claims to which is appended the Quack Miranda Warning, essentially allowing the makers to say that the pill will have such and such a benefit, while simultaneously denying any responsibility for the claim.  Since the FDA isn't examining these claims, it's worth while to ask our own questions.

The latest email concerned a product called CardioFuel. Let's take a closer look at this stuff.

According to the distributor:

CardioFuel is the most profound energy producing supplement on the market today! It does something like no other can: Increase energy at the most basic metabolic level, by increasing ATP (the biochemical energy unit of transfer) production. More ATP means more energy reserves to overcome chronic disease, beat the competition, and handle the everyday stressors of today's fast paced world!

So to be taken seriously, there should be evidence that this product: 1) increases ATP, 2) increases "energy reserves", and 3) helps overcome chronic disease and "the competition".
First, it is not possible to directly measure ATP in a human being under normal clinical conditions, so any claims about this must be an inference from markers of ATP metabolism, or a guess. We'll see what the literature says about this below.
Second, we need an operational definition of "energy reserves". Does this mean fat stores? Glycogen stores? These things are measurable to an extent.  Finally, we can do a literature search to see if CardioFuel or an acceptable analog has been tested for its effect on relevant outcomes.

First, what is ATP?  
ATP is adenosine triphosphate, a biological molecule with many functions, among them the transfer of energy.  ATP is produced in several ways, most famously in the Krebs cycle, a complicated biochemical process which premeds are mercilessly forced to memorize.  ATP contains three phosphate bonds, and the third bond contains a great deal of energy, energy that the body uses to fuel many biochemical processes.  Each molecule of ATP contains a d-ribose moiety, a simple sugar upon which the molecule is built.  One of the claims being made by the CardioFuel folks is that if we ingest more d-ribose, we can make more ATP and be more "energetic".  
First, ATP synthesis, like most biochemical processes, is subject to feedback regulation; ATP production and its byproducts feed back to reduce further ATP production. Second, it is not clear to me that simply providing more of this particular substrate would significantly boost ATP production.  But with my limited knowledge of biochemistry, it seems like an interesting question to investigate.  

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19 responses so far

More on injustice in Texas---now with quackery?

Feb 10 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine, Texas nurse case

There have been some disturbing rumors circulating about Dr. Rolando Arafiles, the Texas doctor who enlisted a local sheriff to harass and ultimately prosecute local nurses. The nurses filed anonymous complaints with the state medical board about Arafiles' practices, and one of them is now in court facing felony charges for doing her job.

One of the complaints that nurse Anne Mitchell registered was regarding Dr. Arafiles alleged that he was hawking supplements to patients. While this is not necessarily illegal, it is ethically questionable, and if the patients were in the ER and not under his care, that would be a bad thing indeed.

Now, my initial stance on supplements is usually negative, but since further specifics weren't available, I withheld judgment, at least in writing. But now Arafiles' own words show us just how scary this guy is (and to thicken the plot further, court filings allege that the sheriff in this case is actually in the supplement business with Arafiles---a whopping conflict of interest).

Blogger Mike Dunford of The Questionable Authority has done the legwork to uncover some of these disturbing connections.  Among some of the most disturbing revelations:

Dr. Arafiles has appeared on infomercials on "God's Learning Channel" about so-called Morgellons syndrome, a form of delusions of parasitosis.  Arafiles has aligned himself with Randy Wymore and Marc Neumann, two big boosters of this non-disease:


Arafiles appears from this video to be one of the doctors who tells patients what they want to hear, instead of the truth.  But even more cynically, he tells patients they have this non-disease, and then sells them worthless "cures" such as colloidal silver.

His medicine show on God's Learning Channel continues on his commercial website  where he sells colloidal silver for everything from Morgellons to diabetes.  This last is particularly horrid, as nearly 10% of adult Texans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and effective treatments are readily available.  He even hawks "water alkalinization systems", helping perpetrate one of the stupidest medical myths after homeopathy.
This is one of the worst cases of outright quackery (at least, in my opinion) that I've seen from a licensed physician. He appears to make up diagnoses for patients, and then conveniently has just the right (unproved, profitable) cure to sell them.  This is no Pharma Shill gambit---when I prescribe medication for diabetes, it often costs a patient pennies a day and I do not profit from it, other than to see my patient get better.  When a doctor either invents or plays up a disease, and then profits from selling the cure, this is the most cynical, unethical, and immoral form of abuse.  
In this small Texas town, a nurse is now being subject to a malicious prosecution brought by a huckster and his partners who are not only using law enforcement to advance their business needs---they are the law.  There is nothing here that doesn't stink, and it keeps getting worse by the day.

5 responses so far

Bad Touching

Jan 24 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine

Tragedy can bring out the best and the worst in humanity. The Haitian earthquake has seen an outpouring money (the most needed type of aid) and other emergency aid. A few days ago I pondered what sort of quackery would emerge to fill a need that doesn't exist.
Homeopaths responded, of course, and while clean water is always needed, clean water that comes with a fairy tale is not.
Every person that lands in Haiti to provide "aid" also brings a mouth to feed and a cloaca to empty, so every body who goes better have a lot of value to deliver. That's why the arrival of Scientology ministers in Port-au-Prince is doubly abominable.
And what are the Xenu-bots bringing with them? They did bring some doctors, but...

"We're trained as volunteer ministers, we use a process called 'assist' to follow the nervous system to reconnect the main points, to bring back communication," she said.
"When you get a sudden shock to a part of your body the energy gets stuck, so we re-establish communication within the body by touching people through their clothes, and asking people to feel the touch."

No. No, it does not. There is no "energy" to get "stuck", and as a doctor on the scene said, "I didn't know touching could heal gangrene." In fact, an influx of untrained volunteers could worsen infection, especially if they are moving from one patient to another touching them.
The people of Haiti have suffered terribly, and the suffering will continue for a long time. As long as our Marines are there, maybe they could kick these dangerous cultist idiots off the island.

22 responses so far

HuffPo---the Great Attractor of idiocy

Jan 11 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine

The shamans of stupidity over at Huffington Post recently wrote a completely insane article whining about how unfair it is that science keeps winning. Orac did his usual best to illustrate how bizarre these folks are (and how wrong). But I also love the comments to the piece. They were an interesting mix of jaws hitting the floor in shock at the inanity, and "crank magnetism", as other idiots piled on science, which despite its successes must somehow bow to an alternative magical belief system. This comment was the best (broken down for your convenience):

Having been trained in the rigorous field of rocket science, I am somewhat horrified at the lack of rigor in medical research, and the pathetic level of knowledge as to how the human body really functions. They have yet to figure out the causes of any of the major chronic illnesses, and are still looking for the origins of our immune system. It is arrogance and ignorance that seems to fuel the medical-industrial complex, and it is a travesty to compare the medical arts with science as I know it.

One of my partners was also trained in "the rigorous field of rocket science", except he would never call it "rocket science" with a straight face. He left the field for medicine. But RS's appeal to his own authority is cute---pathetic, but cute.

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24 responses so far

Dangerous medicine?

Jan 10 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine

An interesting discussion has been going on over at TerraSig. Abel used his expertise in pharmacology to help explain some of the nearly-inexplicable events that led to the injury of dozens and deaths of several participants in a sweat lodge ceremony. The investigation led to a Michigan physician who runs a "men's health" practice and pharmacy. The leader of the sweat lodge ceremony was apparently found to have prescription medications prescribed by and purchased from this doctor.

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16 responses so far

Barbara Loe Fisher owes me a new irony meter

Jan 07 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine, Vaccination inanity

As we mentioned earlier, Barbara Loe Fisher, founder of the infectious disease promotion group NVIC, is suing a bunch of people for "defaming" her.

Today she posted a piece at Age of Autism entitled, "2010 Needs A Fearless Conversation About Vaccination." She is suing a nationally-known vaccine expert, the reporter who interviewed him, and the magazine which ran the story about vaccination.

So much for fearless conversation.

3 responses so far

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