Watch for tail of cash when assessing health claims


In 2003, while living in Farmington, N.M., I became involved in a committee that was working to get a ban on smoking in the workplace.

Among the things that I learned were two that stood out and surprised me. One was that secondhand smoke was dangerous and the second was how the tobacco industry had managed to falsify information about the dangers of tobacco products.

After 1952 when Reader's Digest published "Cancer by the Carton" detailing the dangers of cigarettes the Tobacco Industry Research Committee was formed by U.S. tobacco companies for the purpose of sponsoring "independent" research.

Unfortunately TIRC was able to find scientists, including some medical doctors, who were willing to help out with their efforts.

A medical historian at Harvard University wrote a book, "The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America." He detailed the misleading aspect of "expert " medical testimony.

"I was appalled by what the tobacco experts had written. By asking narrow questions and responding to them with narrow research they provided precisely the cover the industry sought," he wrote.

Now to consider the activities of the caffeine industry. Due to reports in the medical literature of adverse effects of caffeinated beverages the International Life Sciences Institute was founded in 1978 with funding from soft drink manufacturers.

In 1994, Jack E. James, who has a doctoral degree apparently in psychology, wrote an editorial in the journal Addiction pointing out that "coffee alone is among the worlds most widely traded commodities." In this editorial he described the successful activities of the caffeine industry to counter threats to its commercial interests.

He stated that besides manipulating the dissemination of scientific knowledge the industry has sought to influence scientific research on caffeine by becoming directly involved in the conduct of the research.

Nowadays there is considerable information in the media describing the purported benefits of caffeine with very little mention of the adverse effects.

No doubt some of the research telling of those good things has been paid for wholly or in part by caffeine dollars.

There is some evidence, which comes as no surprise to me, that the alcohol industry has also been involved in manipulating research.

Speaking of alcohol, folks need to know that the World Health Organization has recently stated that the use of alcohol is one of the top four leading causes of non-communicable diseases in the world. Examples of communicable disease would be HIV, influenza or malaria.

Another thought on alcohol has to do with truth in advertising.

When you get a prescription from the drugstore you find a whole list of possible adverse effects from the use of the medication. Some of those are quite rare.

The tobacco companies are now required to give very graphic statements of the dangers of smoking. What if the alcohol companies were required to state that someone who took his first drink has a 10 percent of becoming an alcoholic? Or that if it is a male, he has a 42 perchance of abusing alcohol at some point in his life?

People who use alcohol have a chance that they will abuse their spouse or neglect their children, or die of drowning or run into someone and seriously maim or kill them.

There is yet another area of concern that has to do with some of the multilevel marketing companies, such as Mannatech and Xango. Because of having had one relative working for Xango and one working for Mannatech I have felt it necessary to investigate their claims. These relatives contacted me hoping to gain my support for their products and to join the group of distributors under them.

When I first heard of Mannatech some 12 or 13 years ago I was impressed and thought this might be something to help people with some of the degenerative diseases that modern medicine can't do much for.

Unfortunately, as I began reading their literature and comparing it with so me of the references they gave I found a disconnect.

It appeared to me that they depended heavily on testimonials from people who were supposed to have obtained great results rather than trying to see if there were adequate scientific studies.

I was also led to understand that, at least in Mannatech's case, some of their distributors told glowing stories and made claims for their products for which the company itself was not responsible.

To give folks an idea of how much some of the distributors of these products make I learned that some folks who were at higher levels in the distributor list had six-figure incomes.. Not bad for something that had no scientifically proven value.

Now to look at the case of Xango juice The Xango corporation has given the name Xango juice to mango juice.

It was about seven or eight years ago when I was contacted about the "wonderful" results from the use of mango juice which is a blend of juice from the mangosteen fruit, which is grown only in tropical climates, as well as juice from eight fruits grown in the U.S.

In situations like these the first thing I like to do is search the scientific literature. I found only one study and that had been done in 1932 in Singapore in patients with dysentery.

Distributors for the company have claimed more than 20 human health benefits such as "anti-inflammatory," "anti-microbial," "anti-fungal," "anti-viral," "anti-cancer," "anti-ulcer," "anti-hepatotoxic," "anti-rhinoviral" and "anti-allergic" effects. The sad thing is that there is no good scientific evidence for these claims.

The company now sells its product in 36 countries and has 1 million distributors. By 2008 the sales had exceeded $1.5 billion.

On Sept. 20, 2006, the USDA warned the company its products had not been tested for safety and efficacy and as a proposed new drug could not be sold in the U.S.

The juice does have antioxidant properties a little greater than cranberry juice but less than blueberry and black cherry. The charge for a bottle is $37. Similar fruit juices with as much or more antioxidant properties can be bought for $5 or $6.

Some folks may wonder about noni juice and acai juice. Although no one has approached me about these two products, claims similar to those made for Xango juice are common.

Noni juice was the first of these to come on the market and that was in 1992. There is no good scientific evidence for any of the purported health benefits for either of these.

Anyone desiring further information and who is computer literate can Google any of the aforementioned products and see what resources such as Wikipedia have to say.

The question may arise as to why people even use these products. In my opinion there are four reasons:

Largely because of improvements in sanitation, vaccination and modern medicine people are living longer and are developing degenerative diseases for which, in some cases, medical practitioners have no good treatment.

There is the placebo effect. Many people do not realize how strong this effect can be. When I was in medical school the placebo effect was described. There is a drug called apomorphine which has strong emetic effects.

That is, it can make a person vomit. It has been used in cases where someone has swallowed a poison. To demonstrate the placebo effect some folks were given a shot of apomorphine, which they were assured would keep them from vomiting.

They were then given a substance by mouth which ordinarily would make them vomit and they would not vomit.

So when some people are told of the "wonderful" benefits of the products under discussion, as a result of the placebo effect, they will experience those benefits.

Ignorance and/or gullibility. Some folks will believe the stories they hear or the advertisements they read without questioning them. They may not have the know how to determine what is truth.

And for some there is a certain mystique about using some product from an exotic place or with an exotic name.

As a final note, billions have been spent for these products over the years.

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 2 1/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.


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