Holding back the grim reaper

Two relief sculptures on the side of the Fulton County Public Health Department in Atlanta, Georgia.

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The first is straightforward: the physician warding off death. It’s what they do, to the best of their ability.

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The second image is a bit more arcane, not shared as often but equally symbolic.

With thanks to redditor /u/queenbrewer:

“This counterpart bas relief clearly depicts a woman, presumably a nurse, holding a sword. The sword depicts Hygeia , Asclepius’ daughter and the goddess of hygiene, who holds a snake drinking from a bowl, typically symbolizing pharmacy. She fights against a man (perhaps Father Time) holding the mask of tragedy representing suffering in one hand and an hourglass representing aging in the other.”

The TL;DR here seems to be a variant of what I’ve heard around the medical community: “Doctors diagnose, nurses heal.”

Beautiful tributes to all dedicated healthcare workers.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Rachael has now dropped sixteen dress sizes.

I wage war against spam, affiliate marketers, snake oil and general pseudo-scientific bulldust.

In a previous post about worthless nutritional supplements, I posted three identical advertorials from the “Every Day with Rachael” website, which is nothing more than an affiliate marketing portal for hawking useless weight-loss nostrums.

Yesterday I got another one.  I reproduce all four below:

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caralluma

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Rachael Safflower

Notice: each one of these advertorials is based on a boilerplate – they’re identical.

Here at Everyday Health and Wellness, they’re skeptical of Forskolin, Caralluma, Garcinia Cambogia, and Safflower Oil. As a result, “Rachael” has volunteered to be a guinea pig each time. She would now have lost 100 lbs and 16 dress sizes, meaning that her “before” pictures are all a load of bulldust. While I can’t be positive, odds are that “Rachael” does not even exist.

Are we beginning to smell the foul stench of deception here?

Playing In the World Game rates “Everyday Health and Wellness” as

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“PANTS ON FIRE”

All of these products are basically worthless for weight release. They may have, in some way, benefits for some people, but there is no magic bullet, no magic pill that will let you lose weight without altering your caloric intake and exercise regime.

The affiliate marketers responsible for putting this spam into your inboxes, the manufacturers of these products, and everyone involved in trying to separate suckers from their money are soulless, immoral scammers. They will stop at nothing to get your money. Stay away from all products of this nature, or anything advertised in this manner.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Every day is April Fool’s in nutrition.

“People who are desperate for reliable information face a bewildering array of diet guidance—salt is bad, salt is good, protein is good, protein is bad, fat is bad, fat is good—that changes like the weather. But science will figure it out, right? Now that we’re calling obesity an epidemic, funding will flow to the best scientists and all of this noise will die down, leaving us with clear answers to the causes and treatments.

Or maybe not.”

From a recent article at io9 by John Bohannon:

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.

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With a poorly-crafted study that used a small sample and ignored how big the measured results actually were, a team of journalists managed to punk the nutrition-news circuit into publishing their study.

“A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine.”

But it was all a crock of dung. And sadly, I can guarantee that many people will continue to believe the lie, simply because it appeared in journals as “prestigious” as Prevention, regardless of this exposé or any further evidence to the contrary. Like the entire anti-Vax movement, nothing can kill a good excuse for mouth-foaming outrage, not even repeatedly-confirmed facts.

Read the article. It’s worth your time, if you’re interested in having accurate information on which to base your decisions.

A big part of the problem with modern “scientific” studies is the concept of “p-value.” It’s more complex than most people care about, but William Rozeboom wrote, “The use of P values and null hypothesis testing is ‘surely the most bone-headedly misguided procedure ever institutionalized in the rote training of science students.’ “

P value calculations tell you only the probability of seeing a result at least as big as what you saw if there is no real effect. (In other words, the P value calculation assumes the null hypothesis is true.) A small P value — low probability of the data you measured — might mean the null hypothesis is wrong, or it might mean that you just saw some unusual data. You don’t know which. And if there is a real effect, your calculation of a P value is rendered meaningless, because that calculation assumed that there wasn’t a real effect.

(ScienceNews – “P value ban: small step for a journal, giant leap for science”)

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And if Randall Munroe pillories something, you have a pretty good idea that there are legitimate questions about its validity.

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The takeaway: don’t be excited just because one study says something, and I’ve written about this elsewhere. Look at the study, determine the size of the sample used, and see if you can ferret out how big the measured differences were. There’s a lot more digging you could do, but this is a good place to start.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Some thoughts on weight loss from a redditor

Every now and then I stumble across something on reddit that I think deserves a wider audience; there are a lot of folks out there who don’t have any idea what reddit is, or what to do with it.

In the CMV (Change My View) subreddit, people post viewpoints and ask others to convince them that they’re right or not. A recent position: “Any fat person can lose weight by simply adjusting their diet and exercise.”

I’ve posted about releasing weight before, usually in the context of the scammy nostrums people sell to take advantage of those who want to give up pounds but can’t seem to. Redditor /u/eavc posted the following response, which is cogent and relevant. I share it here for your consideration.

It is true that any person will lose weight if diet and exercise are properly adjusted. The important part of your question is whether any person can actually make the adjustments to diet and exercise to produce (and sustain) weight loss.

People are not robots. We are subject to forces of emotion, motivation, willpower, bias, and so on.

That which seems objectively simple to accomplish in isolation can be exceedingly difficult in practice. I believe that everyone can directly observe this to be true with a moment’s reflection on their own shortcomings and struggles.

  • “I’m not going to procrastinate anymore.”
  • “I won’t yell at him anymore.”
  • “I’m going to go running every day.”
  • “I’ll never again drink until I throw up.”
  • “I’m going to stop spending so much money.”
  • “I won’t let sports make me this angry again.”
  • “It’s irrational for me to be so jealous.”
  • “Why should I care if I’m not invited to some party?”

Pain, sadness, boredom, loneliness, routine, socially embedded temptation, fatigue, stress, cognitive biases, competing demands, family crisis, fear, money issues, disease, social learning, etc. — all of these are capable of derailing sincere efforts at personal change.

If there anything in your life you have decided to change and yet have not been able to change, then this argument should ring true.

A person has become fat because they are not good at regulating diet and exercise for whatever reason (biological, psychological, social-cultural, environmental/circumstantial, etc.). Almost by definition, these are people who struggle to adjust diet and exercise. It is therefore like saying “Any depressed person can be happier by simply adjusting their thoughts and feelings” or “Any anxious person … by caring less about the future” or “Sex addict … by choosing not to engage in sexual acts” or “debtor … by earning more and spending less” or “smoker .. by not smoking.” These are true but useless statements, because the person in question practically lacks the abilities required given their current set of circumstances. Advice for all of these kinds of problems centers on how to change psychology or circumstances rather than on the simple idea of the end goal (eat less, smoke less, yell less).

That is why there are books and communities and medicines and science and billions of dollars centered on these kinds of personal change efforts. What’s required is a change in the environment/circumstances or in the psychology – and that’s not easy to do at all.

Let me flip this around. Can you imagine a scenario where a person cannot successfully accomplish the needed adjustment to diet and exercise?

Go over to a place like /r/progresspics[1] and read comments on how people were able to accomplish their transformation. Generally, you’ll hear about some fairly specific set of factors that helped them start and then persist in their journey. New ideas, supportive friends, emotional growth, frightening experiences, a definite system, a change in life situation, regular efforts to stay motivated, and so on.

Now while reading something like that, start mentally deleting the factors that they are crediting. “I couldn’t have done it without the help of my wife” – take away the wife. “I found boxing and that was what clicked after years of nothing clicking” – boxing was never a sport. “I finally decided to prioritize my self and take care of myself” – they were struggling to make it day to day due to environmental stressors (small kids, money problems, work stress, emotionally abusive person in life) and couldn’t focus on personal growth. “The doctor said I would die before I was 50” – the complications of overweight not being as present for them and the doc never delivering that warning.

Then, there’s the reality that most of us are flawed or face challenge in many ways at once. It’s not just being overweight – it’s being overweight and poor. It’s not just being fat – it’s being fat and depressed. Fat and short-tempered. Fat and failing some classes. Fat and an emotionally absent father. Fat and financially irresponsible. Overweight and socially anxious. And generally the list is much longer than just two problems. Many people who want to be better people are pouring a lot of energy into working on something other than being overweight, and it leaves little for the other problem. Conversely, many who successfully lose a lot of weight do so by streamlining and focusing their attention on that specific problem at the expense of other things they could have focused on instead.

All this to say, personal change requires work, and some forms of personal change require so much work as to be practically impossible given the resources and energy available to accomplish that work. That’s why successful weight loss often requires much much more than just the idea of eating less and exercising more. And until the person finds that other thing that is required for their situational factors to shift enough to change the behavior, they are unlikely to be successful in adjusting diet and exercise over the long run.

EDIT: I want to add something to speak to the other side of the coin because some comments have rightly pointed out that this may come across as fatalistic. I’m a big proponent of personal responsibility and personal growth.

If you have something in your life causing problems or holding you back, I would encourage you to look for solutions and – if it’s important enough of a thing – to not give up. I have worked with a lot of people with mental health issues, for example, who say, “I can’t” to things that they absolutely are capable of doing and do go on to do. An attitude of pessimism is often a self-fulfilling prophecy and certainly limits the chances we have to get lucky with the solution to the puzzle or simply to break through due to persistence. The synthesis of my views would be this: we are shaped by many forces but are also capable of ingenuity, resiliency, and change. If you attempt something critically important and fail, either try again, try a new approach, or try something else.

Change is not as simple as ‘eat less’ because behavior is largely the product of a network of causal factors. And for the exact same reason, change is also rarely impossible – there are many factors that can be tweaked up and down the causal chain, though it can take A LOT of effort and probably resources and external support as well. The right small shift can alter the overall set of circumstances and tip the outcome in another direction. And sometimes, it’s something as simple as time or trying again.

Woo Water

Visitng a LYS (Local Yarn Shop) in Logan, Utah, I had a glance at the April 2, 2015 edition of Time™ while my wife was finishing up her browsing.

And once again it was confirmed that there’s a sucker born every minute.

Producers try to replicate the success of coconut water

Coconut water, the trendy sports drink that’s exploded into a $400 million-a-year business in the U.S., has new competition. Bottled-water outfits are trying to sell consumers on H2O with vegetables, tree saps and other flavored ingredients. Startups and small companies especially are marketing a raft of new products spiked with a little extra…

Coconut water? I had never heard of such a thing. But have a look at all the wannabes who are jumping on the money train:

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©Time Magazine

Claims, claims, claims! Improves digestion, soothes sore throats, revitalizes, liver detox, hangover relief, woo, woo, woo! In today’s atmosphere of anti-science and galloping gullibility, there is more opportunity to profit from the ignorance of the masses than ever. Plus ça change…

Edit: Props to Sharon Neeman for catching an error: Victoria’s Kitchen Almond water makes no claims at all, except that it’s delicious and refreshing, which I could certainly get behind if that sort of thing appealed to me.

Petroleum

Lucky Luke, “À l’ombre des derricks”

Snake oil salesmen and purveyors of medical quackery have been around since the dawn of time, but let marketing departments get a whiff of a trend, and the trickle becomes a deluge.

I have nothing against natural remedies per se, and have expanded on this topic in other articles. What I do object to is pure

BS Meter

which these products are, and I recommend that you save your money.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Please do not share from these 10 Websites or Facebook Pages

This is a condensation of an excellent article from DawnsBrain. I’ve summarized the ten here for easy consumption, but her complete article is worth a read.

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☛ TL;DR – these websites promote pseudoscientific woo¹, and are dangerous in that they lead people to shun and be afraid of science-based health and medicine. ☚

10) Alex Jones

Mr. Jones uses a ton of hyperbole, conspiracy theories, and a loose connection to reality, to whip up fear and loathing in his audience.

9) The Food Babe

Ms. Hari, the “Food Babe”, parrots Dr. Mercola and cobbles together cherry-picked blurbs from questionable studies and Wikipedia. She uses the term “investigation” to excuse the fact that she often gives medical advice without having any education in the life sciences. She picks the weirdest ingredients to go after.

#8 Eat Clean. Train Mean. Live Green.

Ms. McDonald mixes some common-sense dietary advice with a shot of “detox” and disordered eating, GMO and fluoride fearmongering, and pondering about chemtrails. She even claims that honey is medicine. Proof that even registered dietitians can be wacko.

#7 Dr. Joseph Mercola

Dr. Mercola, by virtue of his credentials and large fanbase, is possibly one of the most dangerous people on Facebook. Because he generates fear around science-based medicine, he discourages people from seeking real help for illness. He also scares people away from vaccinations, fluoride, GMO food, pasteurized dairy, and dental fillings. But you know, buy his line of supplements and all will be well.

#6 Prevention Magazine

Everyone that promotes “natural cures” above all else seems to jump from one cure-all to another. WebMD specifically states that there is insufficient evidence for at least three items on their list.

#5 NaturalNews.com

NaturalNews.com is arguably the most balls-to-the-wall looniest page on Facebook. They have never met a conspiracy theory they don’t love.

#4 Collective Evolution

All the misinformation, all the time.

#3 MindBodyGreen

The “conversations about health” are decidedly in favor of “natural remedies” that are not supported by scientific research. People who waste their time mucking about with ineffective alternative treatments often die much sooner.

#2 Spirit Science

Most of their posts are harmless new-agey spiritual stuff and kookiness. But sometimes they veer into unsupportable natural remedies and outright pseudoscience.

#1 The Mind Unleashed

They’re a good example of slipping in a bit of bullshit here and there amongst the standard viral Facebook stuff. There’s a theme of immature hippy-style mistrust of any and every authority. What are you rebelling against? What have you got?

Bonus Post

Ernest Hemingway coined the term Crap Detector to refer to the little mechanism that ought to be working inside each person’s brain.

The most certain way to develop this ability to discern truth from baloney is education. In particular, an education in science will help protect you from the charlatans and cranks of the world.

I highly recommend starting with one of the many free online resources, such as Crash Course: Biology, Crash Course: Chemistry, and Crash Course: Anatomy and Physiology.

Bonus 2:

Dawn did not mention him, but I personally would add Mehmet Oz to the list. A sad case of a classically-trained physician who has sold his reputation for a mess of pottage, and in his quest to find natural remedies has devolved into a pitchman for the most ridiculous and worthless products known to man.

Disclaimer: Even with education in the hard sciences, it’s wise to remember that not everything is known that can be known. Aspirin is a direct outgrowth of historical use of willow bark to treat fevers. I have a strong conviction that there are literally countless chemical compounds out in nature that remain to be discovered that can have beneficial effects on human health and disease… but most of them have not been discovered yet.

Heath and wellness is soon to be, if it’s not already, a trillion-dollar industry – and everyone and their dog wants a slice of that pie. Trouble is, most of those dollars will be made selling bullcrap to the ignorant. There are very few exceptions.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ Woo is a term used among skeptical writers to describe pseudoscientific explanations that have certain common characteristics.

The case against lead

Lead-Poisoning

“Mad as a hatter,” went the expression. Alice’s tea party featured “The Mad Hatter,” whose felting work involved prolonged exposure to mercury vapors, resulting in tremors, pathological shyness and irritability.

We still hear a lot about asbestos – it remains on the radar of most Americans, simply because there’s still a lot of it out there in old buildings, and many times a large abatement project will pop up on the news.

We hear less about lead and lead poisoning, however, since lead-based paint was banned in the US in 1978; before that, many children developed signs of lead poisoning, particularly inner-city kids who would ingest paint flakes that had lead added. Lead was completely eliminated from automotive fuels by 1996.

But it appears that lead is still a serious threat; effects of past exposure may include an increase in crime rates, and current exposure through shooting ranges threatens to continue the negative consequences.

Gathered here are a number of articles which should be read and considered, particularly by anyone who works around ammunition; sportspeople, shooters, law-enforcement officers, reloaders, and the like. It is up to the individual to make their own assessments, but from where I sit, it would not be unreasonable to lay at least partial blame for the seeming descent of our society into madness and uncivility on the pervasiveness of lead in our environment.

Read and judge.

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Clair Cameron Patterson. From the Wikipedia article:

Patterson had first encountered lead contamination in the late 1940s as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. His work on this led to a total re-evaluation of the growth in industrial lead concentrations in the atmosphere and the human body, and his subsequent campaigning was seminal in the banning of tetraethyllead ingasoline, and lead solder in food cans.

Patterson met significant opposition for his views, particularly from people such as Robert A. Kehoe, the principal advocate for the use of tetraethyllead as an anti-knock agent in gasoline. In contrast to the “Precautionary Principle” which assumes that there is potential risk to a substance unless proven otherwise, Kehoe claimed that “in the absence of clear evidence of risk there is no risk of significance.” This later came to be called the Kehoe Paradigm, and is essentially the same cognitive dissonance used by tobacco executives in their fight to convince the world that their product was not harmful.

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Robert A. Kehoe

At The Nation, an article entitled “The Secret History of Lead.”

At The Atlantic, a treatise on how the lead industry convinced the public and the media that parents were to blame rather than the toxic substance that they were profiting from:

The lead industry even claimed that the problem was not with the paint but with the “uneducable Negro and Puerto Rican” parents who “failed” to stop children from placing their fingers and toys in their mouths.

Recently, a four-part investigative series at the Seattle Times: “Lead poisoning is a major threat at America’s shooting ranges, perpetuated by owners who’ve repeatedly violated laws even after workers have fallen painfully ill.”

And lastly, an essay at Mother Jones linking gasoline lead to a rise in violent crime. This article does its best to be balanced and rational rather than sensationalistic, and deserves to be considered.

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One pound of lead. The CDC has set the standard elevated blood lead level for adults to be 10 µg/dl of the whole blood. This means that one pound of lead is sufficient to elevate lead levels of 8,247,134 adults. This stuff is rutting toxic.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot more research would need to be done over time to gain further insight into these ideas. But one thing is clear – people who work at or around shooting ranges need to be extra, extra careful and consider possible ramifications of their exposure to lead.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Never eat chemicals! Uh, wait…

If you listen to the Food Babe Thermonuclear Idiot, that’s what you might come away believing.

But I exhort you to pay no attention to this unqualified attention harlot. Instead, feast your eyes on these chemical breakdowns of “natural” and “organic” foods.

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I have to stretch to pronounce some of the chemical compounds found in these wonderful foods, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad for you. Chemicals are everywhere, they are what everything organic around us is made of.

Yes, we obviously want to avoid things that are known toxins and carcinogens; having a shaker full of hexavalent chromium on your table is probably not the best idea, but you get the picture.

Educate yourselves. Make sure your children educate themselves. Science is doing its collective best to provide accurate information to allow people to build a better world. Please pay no attention to those on the lunatic fringe who base their proclamations on innuendo and fear-mongering for the sake of attention, eyeballs, clicks, and ad revenue.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Fracking: Commentary from on-site.

A recent article from The Guardian reports that Mark Walport, a leading UK government scientist, has likened risks from fracking to thalidomide and asbestos – in other words, technologies that had good intentions but hideous, unforeseen results. The article itself is worth a read.

Fracking In California Under Spotlight As Some Local Municipalities Issue Bans

More interesting to me was a report from a former shale worker that appeared on reddit, /u/Raleon. I found his commentary more unsettling than the original Guardian text:

Hey there, I drove oversize load escort trucks (flashing light trucks around huge transport loads) around the Marcellus shale region, specifically helping guide the trucks transporting the set-up and tear-down of wells, and guiding fracking injection fluid trucks in and waste trucks out. I talked to the drivers in particular quite a bit, especially during downtime in between trips, and the site workers a fair bit as well. My best friend is a geologist who worked for the drilling companies during the time the well is set up and functioning, specifically analyzing the soil samples to determine how deep they were and how far to drill so they didn’t miss the pockets they’re looking for.

Regulation is a mess, and corrupt as hell. I saw a lot of the violations myself, personally, because I was “one of them” as a driver. The sites operate under the radar most of the time, and when inspectors show up, they know well in advance just from the truckers on the way. Hide this, cover this up, release this water here to wash away that… it’s all of the companies, too, and could well be considered business standard practices for the Marcellus shale area across all of which I transported loads from site to site in. We worked with numerous companies, so this was not an isolated thing by any means.

The roads get destroyed, especially in rural areas. The water sheds get destroyed from the dumping, and in some places, the companies make so much money (and save so much from not properly disposing) that they’re fine with the operating cost of paying the fine the few times they get caught. There’s no process by which they can be shut down for doing it literally hundreds of times, so at a certain point, they completely give up on anything but the most basic pretense of following responsible procedures for disposal; before we start discussing the inevitability of their slurry slipping out into surrounding material even occasionally. It only really has to happen once for it to be shown to be unsafe, and we’ve got multiple cases in which it’s affected the surrounding earth, not to mention earthquakes, and, no less than two of which are contaminated water supplies.

In several of those states, the citizens quite simply do not have mineral rights on their property. That’s all well and good, rules and rules and fair’s fair, right? I mean, it’s no big deal if these people’s families were essentially swindled by a process they didn’t understand… but, such as it is, the only valid complaint they have is the complete destruction of local infrastructure for short-term benefits, benefits usually seen by the local governing crony’s beneficiaries and not the populace – but again, it’s not the fracking company’s fault that they specifically choose and bribe the easiest localities to get tax breaks or exemptions first, right?

It’s all legal, it’s just ethically circumspect; it remains legal because there’s been no specific regulation on the industry at all. The simple fact is that new things often are bad, and this industry has in no way shape or form set itself a good precedent for being trustworthy. There’s no time at which we should allow any industry to self-regulate, much like we don’t allow individuals who have a conflict of interest to continue to assert their power in that situation. Seriously, since when did we start taking people’s word for it? Reading Rainbow? Anyone?

It’s not that it’s new that’s specifically the issue, however; it’s that they’re actively trying to hinder independent research about the process, they spend an inordinate sum of money ‘selling’ the concept to us, and then refuse to allow the public information about something they openly share within the industry itself, as if it’s some patented secret only the good old boys club should know about; though they certainly don’t treat it like a secret within the industry.

We’ve already seen real issues with fracking – it’s time to take it seriously, and put it under the microscope, instead of hub-bubbing about back and forth about what it even is, when the real issue is that we’re not being allowed to tell them even something so simple as they’re responsible if they mess things up.

Right now, we’re not even capable of holding them responsible for their failures on the most basic level, and there’s no criminality for colossal mistakes either. If fracking caused an epic earthquake and killed millions of people / wildlife / made a large swath of land unlivable, there’s no one who would ever go to prison over their mistakes, because they can just shrug and say “we didn’t know, we didn’t do it on purpose, and there’s no way we could have known”, only because they won’t let us know what they know and that they know in the first place that it’s got serious drawbacks and real, actual, terrible possible consequences that aren’t fear-mongering. It’sidentical to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

There’s no accountability for a profit-seeking venture with public risks, and that’s a real issue.

The issue is difficult for the average lay person to sort through. There’s a lot of money at stake, and it’s hard to know whose information to trust, given that it’s so easy for paid shills to write convincing-sounding articles on the internet and elsewhere. I’m doing my best to read, sort, and filter it all, but at this point my gut tells me that this is an unproven strategy that will have severe ecological repercussions down the line.

I may be one small voice in the desert, but I think the industry is compromising the health of future generations in exchange for profit today, and it’s not right.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Supplements: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I’ve written here multiple times about medical snake oil.

DBRielly_LovePotionsAndSnakeOil

Green coffee extract (debunked), garcinia cambogia, forskolin, caralluma, you name it: It’s all smoke and mirrors… but that doesn’t stop Dr. Oz and others from making a fortune promoting it. What’s next, portland cement?

On that note, have a look at the two following screen captures. The first, hawking Garcinia Cambogia, I published on 23 December 2013, about a year ago. The second, shilling for Forskolin, came from a spam link that showed up in my email yesterday. The third was added as an edit on August 21, 2015.

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Edit: The last one, above, was harvested from a spam email received on 8/21/2015, two years after the first one above. The affiliate marketers just recycle the same old text with another “new miracle.” Do you really trust yourself to do business with people like this?

If you look at the body text of all three samples, you’ll see it’s essentially identical copy. What you see here is a good example of the dark side of affiliate marketing, which you can read about in detail over at The Atlantic. One salient quote:

The downside to affiliate marketing is its astonishing rate of fraud. Because affiliates put up their own money to pay for ads pushing these products, they have a strong incentive to dupe consumers, so they can recoup their investment. If you’ve ever clicked an ad or a “sponsored link” about, say, a spectacularly effective new weight-loss scheme, which then leads you to a fake news article (or “farticle,” in the industry parlance) filled with sketchy scientific findings and constant entreaties to buy a product “risk free,” then condolences are in order: you’ve likely stumbled into some affiliate’s trap. “Affiliates are the most creative bunch of people you’re ever going to find, because you’ve got 5,000 people promoting the same product, and they’re all trying to get an edge,” Jim Lillig, an Illinois-based affiliate-marketing strategist, told me. “So of course you’re going to have people pushing the envelope. Some will do anything and everything to promote a product they think they can make money with.”

What brought this on today is that while waiting for “Mockingjay, Part 1” to begin at our local theater in Payson, Utah, I saw an advertisement for a product called Q96. This has been and is being marketed in Canada and now the US as a natural product that allows people with severe mental disorders to stop taking their meds – and that’s just wrong. A little research turned up a comprehensive article at Salt Lake City Weekly, which is not terribly complimentary about Utah or Mormons when it comes to the MLM and nutritional supplement industry, but which tells the story of Q96 in a straightforward and reasonable way.

Now I need to clarify something: I’m not anti-vitamin or anti-natural-remedy by nature. Look at aspirin; if it weren’t for the efficacy of willow bark in reducing fevers, people might never have done further research to isolate the active ingredient. I strongly believe that many herbs, roots, and natural substances have beneficial properties, some which have not been discovered yet. But when I take something, I want there to be science behind it, or at least a proven track record among users for a given benefit.

There’s a really good article at Consumer Reports which lists 12 ingredients we would probably be better off not messing with, as well as a few old standbys that are most likely beneficial. For a quick reference, the ones to avoid are:

Aconite, Bitter Orange, Chaparral, Colloidal Silver, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Country Mallow, Germanium, Greater Celandine, Kava, Lobelia, and Yohimbe.

Beneficial supplements are:

Cranberry, Fish Oil, Glucosamine, Lactae, Lactobacillus, Psyllium, Pygeum, SAMe, St. John’s Wort, and Vitamin D.

Further information and greater details can be found at the CR article.

My wife grows comfrey to make tea out of; she’s an herbalist and swears by it. For now, I’ll be chary about using it until there is more science on the subject. Tragically, herbs cannot be patented, and so there is no incentive for science to do a lot of research on natural substances like this unless someone funds the study.

I’ve written previously about my own ideas about how to proceed with weight release at the end of this article about the Açaí Berry: low-glycemic eating, exercise, and high quality vitamins and minerals. There are not many companies out there that offer really good supplements that meet all the requirements of completeness, availability, purity, potency, and safety – only about five that I know of – but there is certainly a lot of junk out there that will do you just about as much good as eating pebbles.

Do your research, and watch out for those who would love to separate you from your money and give nothing, or even harm your health, in the process.

The Old Wolf has spoken.