When I started this blog, alternative medicine was about a fourth-tier topic for me, but has blossomed into my most frequent subject. This will probably always be the case because people will always get sick, and others will always seek to profit from this by offering supposed solutions that are cheap, quick, painless, and absolute. It also appeals to those who want to get one over on Big Pharma and the government for repressing these cures.
Quack medicines are so ubiquitous that I could write about one a day and still have plenty left a year later. I gloss over most of them because they are inseparable from the rest. But I was drawn this week to Restful Sleep because it had some elements that distinguished it.
Sure, it had the usual appeal to irrelevant ancient authority, testimonials in lieu of testing, and regularly transitioned from fact to fallacy to fraud without acknowledging the leaps. It also featured the word that appears most frequently in alternative medicine advertising, chi, only it came with one of those distinctive twists. While chi is never defined, alternative medicine devotees insinuate it is a panacea in energy form. They never tell us what kind of energy, where it comes from, how it’s accessed, or how the peddlers knows of its existence or benefits. But it essentially leads to more pep, alertness, concentration, or strength. With this product, however, chi provides the opposite effect and puts the user to sleep. Medicine based on science is so straightforward and boring. Medicine based on science fiction has so many more bells, whistles, and roads to traipse down merrily.
The ad for Restful Sleep explains how you can know it’s effective. Persons are instructed to wear flat shoes, hold a bottle of Restful Sleep to their chest, and close their eyes. If nothing happens, that proves it works. From the ad: “If your body moves forward or stays neutral, whatever you are holding near your chest is okay for you. Your Chi matches.” My daughter holds her doll close to her chest before going to sleep and racks out for hours, so this system seems valid.
The ad also includes this warning: “If your body moves backwards, whatever you are holding is not good for you. Your body is repelling it. Chi is saying it doesn’t want that.” I fell back while trying to move part of my sectional, so my chi must dislike heavy lifting.
Claims of antiquity in alternative medicine are usually untrue and always irrelevant. A child vaccinated for polio in 1958 wasn’t compromised because Jonas Salk had only introduced the shot one year earlier. Nevertheless, Dr. Yan Ping Xu (We’ll just call her Dr. X) makes this claim about her pills: “They are based on a 2,000-year-old sleep remedy based on balancing the spleen’s Chi. Every organ is affected by spleen Chi. When it is not functioning properly, you may experience fatigue, anxiety, worry, restlessness, and poor concentration.”
My medical knowledge is scant, but I am aware that the spleen filters blood, metabolizes hemoglobin, and synthesizes antibodies. There would seem to be nothing in those attributes that would alleviate anxiety, worry, and poor concentration. But wait, look closer. Dr. X isn’t claiming the spleen can do that, but rather that the spleen’s chi can. So here we go traipsing merrily again.
Dr. X points out that her products contain ginseng and many other herbs without explaining why that matters or what that would accomplish, other than to say it will “bring balance, nourish the Chi, nourish the blood, and calm the spirit.” Three of these claims are medically worthless, and if one’s blood is lacking nutrients, the solution needs to be found somewhere other than a bottle of pills being hawked in USA Today for $29.95.
I tried looking deeper into Dr. X’s site for more substantive information, but the FAQ was limited to tidbits on PayPayl and order confirmations. Next I tried the science tab.
Citing no studies and without outlining her methods of discovery, she asserts that the pills will “help restore balance to your spleen’s and whole body chi so you can have a full night of restorative sleep and wake up refreshed, never drowsy.”
One paragraph starts by accurately stating that the spleen transforms and delivers blood. Next, it notes that if the spleen is malfunctioning, insufficient blood supplies might reach the heart, obviously detrimental. We then spin 180 degrees and go from the medical to the magical: “The heart stores the spirit, called shen, and when this is malnourished it is unable to calm the spirit.”
Next we learn that, “In traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s believed that when you’re having trouble sleeping, your spleen’s chi is off balance. In Chinese medicine, it is believed the spleen is a VERY important organ that every other organ relies on.” On one hand, no amount of belief makes anything true. On the other hand, her “very” was in all caps.