The World Wide Web of Deceit

I write regularly about scams and frauds on the Internet, in the hopes that some folks might stumble across my thoughts and save themselves both money and hassles. I’ve given extra attention to nutritional products, otherwise known as “Snake Oil.”


People use the Internet for accessing all sorts of knowledge, but the landscape has become so deceptive that it can be difficult even for experienced searchers to separate fact from fiction, wheat from chaff.

Here’s an example. My handheld device doesn’t filter out ads the way uBlock Origin or AdBlock Plus does with Chrome on a desktop, so I regularly see all sorts of deceptive garbage while I’m browsing.

One ad showed a picture of Stephen Hawking, with the claim that he owes his massive intellect to a specific supplement. So down the rabbit hole we went, and was taken to a page flogging “Intellux,” a supposed “smart drug” or “nootropic” compound, said to enhance memory or other cognitive functions.

The next thing  I did was to search for (intellux fraud | scam), and it’s interesting to note that almost every result is either

  1. a page that asks “Is Intellux a scam or the real thing” and then goes on to flog the product itself, or
  2. a page that lists in detail all the reasons why Intellux is a worthless fraud – and then goes on to flog another product.

A good example of this is “The Supplement Critique.” This page and this page are examples of what look like fair and balanced reviews of Intellux, Geniux, and Addium/Adderin. They describe in detail the mechanisms of advertorials, affiliate marketing, false tweets, totally fabricated stories and “user feedback,” and the general deceptive marketing techniques. It all looks perfectly legitimate – until you get to the point where the author begins flogging “Optimind,” a nootropic supplement for which he is suspiciously looking like an affiliate marketer.

Popups are pretty nasty, but a lot of pages use them – this is what I got when I explored The Supplement Critique:


“No thanks, I like being stupid.” Well, that’s a great way to get people to feel guilty about not buying your e-book, which is doubtlessly tailored to guide people to the worthless snake oil that you yourself are peddling.

The fact remains that these pages are slick-looking enough to fool a lot of people into thinking they represent real science and real research, when in reality it’s all woo – smoke, mirrors, and pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain.


Just last February the Washington Post and others reported on a New York State investigation into adulterated or worthless “herbals” being sold by GNC, Target, Wal-Mart, and Walgreens. Among the findings:

The investigators tested 24 products claiming to be seven different types of herb — echinacea, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort and valerian root. All but five of the products contained DNA that was either unrecognizable or from a plant other than what the product claimed to be.

Additionally, five of the 24 contained wheat and two contained beans without identifying them on the labels — both substances are known to cause allergic reactions in some people.

It has long been known among scientists that the supplement industry is so unregulated that it’s very rare for the bottle to contain what’s on the label. You just don’t know what you’re getting, and despite FDA efforts, many products are hawked through disreputable channels by way of outrageous and unethical claims.

There are a few good supplements out there. About five companies I know of make a decent effort to put into their products what they claim is on the label. The rest are pretty much selling vain hope.

Be careful out there, and do your research. Look for companies that adhere to pharmaceutical Good Manufacturing Practices (which are far more stringent than food GMP’s) and submit their products to reputable external testing laboratories

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Supplements: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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


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.




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.

More about nutritional supplements

I previously posted about the worthless and deceptive nutritional products hyped to the elderly (and anyone who will cheerfully send in their money); today comes an article announcing

Inspector general: Some supplements for weight loss, immune system make illegal health claims.

Well, .

The article goes on to say that “20 percent of the 127 weight loss and immune-boosting supplements investigators purchased online and in retail stores across the country carried labels that made illegal claims to cure or treat disease.” The DHHS concern is not only with the deceptive marketing, but also that people taking supplements and other natural remedies to treat diseases instead of seeking medical assistance.

Personally, I think the 20 percent figure is a gross underestimate, based on everything I’ve seen in the industry, which remains largely unregulated.

Now getting into a discussion of this nature raises the question: Is the DHHS in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance companies, both of which have a vested interest in keeping people sick? Today’s answers are, “I don’t know,” and “It’s not that simple.” Let me state that I’m pretty convinced that Big Pharma is more interested in making money than in getting people well – otherwise they’d be driving themselves out of the market, which makes good moral sense but poor business sense, and in today’s world money always trumps morals. That said, there are countless drugs which people use on a daily basis which keep them healthy and hearty – if I cut my finger, you’d better believe that I’m going to wash it well with soap and water, and apply Neosporin™ or something like to ward off infection; I suffer from a mild form of Menière’s disease which causes violent vertigo (fortunately for me, only rarely) and if it weren’t for Meclizine™ I might spend a week with my head in the crapper. Not all drugs are bad – but the industry is motivated by the wrong reasons, and one of the greatest mistakes our government ever made was allowing pharmaceutical companies to advertise.


Then there’s the “natural remedy” market. Let’s take homeopathy as the teacher in the moment. I personally put no stock in what from a scientific viewpoint seems like total mumbo-jumbo [1], but it’s multi-billion dollar mumbo-jumbo, and that kind of money will bring all sorts of gnurrs out of the voodvork. [2] Then there’s the fact that many people whom I love and respect do put stock in it, and claim to have experienced benefits from the use of homeopathic remedies, as well as herbs, oils, alternative health treatment, and so much more.

Science is both blessed and burdened by its reliance on empirical evidence. That means in the long run, if the evidence supports a theory, science is required to change its point of view no matter how vehemently one’s gut opposes the discovery. If, continuing in the same vein, a sufficient body of gold-standard trials (randomized, double-blind, placebo-based, with a statistically significant sample) were to show that homeopathic remedies were actually beneficial, the textbooks would have to be rewritten. Thus far that hasn’t happened, and in my book it’s not likely – but one thing I will never do is shut the door on possibility. I’m always open to surprises.

Focusing on prevention

Where I do put stock is in what science has said about degenerative diseases. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, infectious diseases such as diphtheria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cholera, and influenza were the largest killers of populations. Modern vaccines, antibiotics and anti-virals have drastically reduced the toll; today, we see a different enemy – people by the millions are dying from diabetes, strokes, cardiovascular diseasese, cancer, respiratory diseases, and a host of other degenerative disorders.

The standard unit of nutritional need, the RDA (recommended daily allowance) was developed during World War II by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to investigate issues of nutrition that might “affect national defense”. In short, these amounts were established as the minimum requirements needed to prevent deficiency diseases such as rickets and scurvy, among others. Even today, RDI (recommended daily intake) and DV (Daily Value) of vitamins, minerals and co-factors are far below what modern science has determined are required for maximum health. Most vitamins supplements on the market today will do just what they were designed to do during WWII – keep you from getting deficiency diseases – but they won’t provide the optimal nutrition the body needs to fight off the ravages of oxidative stress.

In 2002, the Journal of the AMA stated that “most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone. Pending strong evidence of effectiveness from randomized trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.” [3] Both before and since that time, thousands and thousands of randomized clinical trials have shown that free radical damage (or oxidative stress) is the cause of the vast majority of degenerative diseases, and that providing the body’s cells with the defenses needed can drastically reduce the incidence of these maladies, cutting off the need for curative drugs and treatments at the source.


It should be said in passing that despite all we can do, sometimes people just get sick; like they say in the Japanese massage parlor, “shiatsu happens;” but it’s up to each person who is concerned about their health to do their research and find the solution that works best for them. There are a  handful of companies out there who produce nutritional supplements that will give your body the nutrition it needs (combined with and on the foundation of a healthy diet and exercise, of course) to fight off degenerative diseases and maximize your odds for a long and healthy life, and none of them are found on supermarket shelves. Find one of them that works for you and treat yourself well; your body will thank you for it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

1 You can watch a great explanation of homeopathic dilution by Richard Dawkins, or the classic presentation by James Randi.

2 Thanks to Reginald Bretnor.

3 JAMA, 6-19-2002; 287 (23): 3127–3129.

Some Thoughts About Nutritional Supplements

Even though Mother slipped quietly into the Great Beyond last year at the respected age of 94, she still gets mail from all sorts of places – 99% of them wanting her money. Yesterday our mailbox was graced with a 32-page full color glossy brochure (even had circles and arrows) from an outfit named Biowell, guaranteeing her a restored memory and the mind of a 20-year-old if only she would buy a 6-month supply of MentaFit Ultra at the special price of $269.95.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I happen to believe that nutritional supplementation is an essential part of good health, especially given the Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated SAD) which is chock full of high-glycemic carbohydrates, fats, and very little actual nutrition which our cells are screaming for.

Unfortunately, the largely unregulated supplement industry is a hotbed of fraud, waste, and abuse, and there are precious few reputable companies out there.

MentaFit Ultra is a good example of the worst kind of nonsense. Let’s look at some of the claims found in this brochure:

  • A study showed that the product restored 70% of memory lost over 5 decades of aging
  • Losing your memory, forgetting things and disorientation are NOT normal, but the signs of an aging mind. The only way to get off this slippery slope is with MentaFit Ultra… the ONLY way to not be jeopardized by your fading mind any longer. However, if you choose to do nothing, you will likely suffer from a poor memory, poor recall, and poor mental energy in ever-increasing amounts as the problem gets worse. (Scare tactics)
  • The product was designed specifically to correct mental decline and is the ONLY treatment to help rejuvenate your mind, so you stay mentally healthy into your 80’s, 90’s, and even longer!
  • Biowell’s B Vitamin Complex (free with the maximum order) will help REVERSE BRAIN SHRINKAGE!
  • Just one single ingredient is so powerful it even helps exhausted ER doctors stay alert all night long!
  • A steel-trap memory can be yours… Call now and let it go to work in your brain, clearing out the rust, restoring sharpness, clarity, order and youthful vitality better than any other formula!
  • Will help you return your mental state back to your 20’s in only ONE HOUR!
  • You can restore up to 70% of your memory loss due to aging!

And on and on. Pages and pages of references to obscure and misinterpreted studies, pictures of doctors, hyped up claims about the individual ingredients (sage, rhodolia rosea, vinpocetine and Vitamin D3), and hype worthy of a used-car salesman. And a bottle of this relatively worthless stuff sells for $49.95, where it probably cost $3.95 to manufacture, all without any guarantee whatsoever of quality. Face it – if things like this worked even a fraction as well as they claimed, every doctor in the world would be prescribing it, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia would be a thing of the past.

There’s a huge irony in targeting advertising materials like this at the elderly. They are losing mental acuity as the result of natural aging processes, and hence are more susceptible to slick advertising campaigns which promise outlandish results and offer false hopes, for the low low price of whatever. And Biowell is only one of hundreds of outfits out there who are dedicated to only one proposition: extracting money from unwary and vulnerable consumers. In the last 10 years of my mother’s life, I had to deal with dozens of companies who sold her things she didn’t want, didn’t need, couldn’t use, and didn’t understand – and most of it was (to be charitable) camel ejecta.

“Do not resent growing old, it is a privilege denied to many,” said someone wise. Aging is a normal part of life; every time our cells divide, our telomeres get a bit shorter, and thus far science has not found a way to reverse the process. All physical degeneration can be slowed, however, by making sure the body has ample supplies of the elements needed to keep our cells functioning at the top of their game – vitamins, minerals, co-factors and antioxidants – and sadly we don’t get everything we need from our daily diets. Supplementation is a must for optimal health, but there are only a handful of companies out there that manufacture effective products. If you take things like One-A-Day or Centrum, you might as well be swallowing rocks for all the good you’re doing yourself; do your research – look for companies that follow pharmaceutical good manufacturing processes, and whose products are submitted to independent laboratories like NSF, and which exceed industry standards for completeness, bioavailablilty, purity, potency, and safety.

You may be wondering why I haven’t recommended any of these companies by name. It’s simple – I distribute for one of them, and this post is not designed as a guerrilla marketing pitch. But the takeaways here are two:

  1. Protect your elderly loved ones from worthless products and questionable marketing campaigns. Be involved in their lives, and make sure that you are aware what they are spending their hard-earned money on. Telemarketers are ruthless, and mail solicitations are deceptive and misleading – most supplements offered through the mail are worth less than the powder to blow them to Hell with.
  2. Get on some high-quality supplements. What you need won’t be found at your grocery or discount store – do your homework and get informed. Your body will thank you for it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.