“Sticker schlock” (Healing stickers)

STICKER

While many unproven, probably unworkable treatments have graced the alternative medicine landscape over the decades, Body Vibes has managed to put their own stamp on it. Literally. The company sells Healing Stickers that purport to solve a dizzying array of physical and mental maladies. Conditions that can be alleviated or controlled with the magic stickers include timidity, shyness, anxiety, inflammation, hangovers, pain, toxicity, dehydration, confusion, hormone imbalance, insomnia, and fatigue. Most bewildering, Body Vibes assures users they can attain “unicorn skin.” I guess if your medicine is make-believe, you might as well take it all the way.

To the veteran skeptic, the pseudoscience red flags pop up at once. Detoxing is the role of the liver and kidneys and if they are malfunctioning, you need an emergency room, not an adhesive adornment with butterflies. Second, the body produces several different hormones in varying amounts and each type is constantly in flux. There is no balanced state, so precisely what balancing hormones means, or how this would be beneficial, is unexplained.

The Body Vibes website also throws in the frequent alt-med gambit of saying the product “increases the body’s natural ability to heal itself.” This is a self-refuting claim since the body is not naturally healing itself if a product is needed to help it along.

Linguistic objections aside, the product’s description focuses more on stealth than health. It contains references to vibes, electrics, vibrations, bio-frequency, charges, receptor simulation, sub-harmonics, energy fields, electrical signals, mimicking frequencies, and optimizing brain and body functions. These are listed with no explanation of what they are, how they operate, or why accessing or altering them is beneficial.

While most of the language is consistent with the appeal to novelty (where a product’s recent origin is its main selling point), Body Vibes covers all the alt-med bases by employing the appeal to novelty’s equally evil twin, the appeal to tradition. Specifically, the website alludes to unblocking flow, which is a staple of acupuncture, Reiki, reflexology, chiropractic, and similar bogus healing methods that rely on non-existent meridians and chi.  

The website reads, “When we have an emotional block, the Body Vibes will help to move that energy and release it. Once these negative or challenging emotions are released our body is clear and in a good flow. It’s like driving and hitting all the green lights.” Nice auto analogy there, though I’d have preferred the sentence be used to define “emotional block,” or perhaps offer scientific evidence for how the block is released or specified what the body is being cleared of.

Forbes columnist Bruce Y. Lee took issue with another vague claim, that the stickers “target the central nervous system.” He wrote, “That doesn’t say much. Hitting your forehead repeatedly with a brick can target the nervous system as well.”

Body Vibes offers no peer review, no double blind studies, and no research to support any of their claims, which are so disjointed, meandering, and undefined that it’s not even clear what they are asserting.

Lee also noted that for all the supposed variety of afflictions that will be terminated or mitigated, there is a conspicuous uniformity to the stickers. Further, he wrote, “It’s not completely clear how many stickers you need to wear at a time, where on the body these should go, when you should wear them, or how long.” The website offers little clarity on that front, telling users only that, “Effects of Body Vibes may vary. Some people experience immediate benefits, while others realize the results over time. We recommend wearing Body Vibes for at least one month.”

The stickers’ purported abilities are so broad that users could credit any health improvement to them, and most alternative medicine is built on this ad hoc foundation. And a recommended one-month minimum use period, combined with the fluctuating nature of most illnesses and pains, means most users will think some benefit is being achieved.

In a mostly sympathetic interview with sporteluxe.com, Body Vibes co-founder Leslie Kritzer showed her scientific illiteracy by claiming the stickers are chemical- free. She also said the products are safe for everyone to use, which is a dead giveaway that the stickers have no medicinal properties. Genuine medicine is going to carry a chance of risk, even if very slight. Medicine, by design, impacts the body, and a blanket statement that a product is 100 percent safe for all persons in every circumstance shows it is not medicine.

Kritzer later claims that the material for the stickers was “originally developed for NASA and used to line the spacesuits of astronauts.” Assuming that’s accurate, it still says nothing about how applying a piece of Buzz Aldrin’s wardrobe will help your throbbing knee.   

 

“Bungle of energy” (New Age energy)

brighteyes

Energy is a measurement of the ability to do work. However, the term morphs into a deliberately vague concept when alternative medics reference it in conjunction with auras, chi, prana, crystals, or biofields.

When a local hospital advertised Reiki on its website and attributed to it a number of amazing powers, I queried administrators and media coordinators for more information. I asked about the source or Reiki energy, how it is accessed, what instrument determines how much is being used, what unit the energy is measured in, and how it is transferred to patient to practitioner.

They could answer none of this, nor any other question. I have found this to be the case for every proponent and practitioner of energy medicine and healing. They can offer no explanation for how it is stored and whether the energy source is heat, food, explosive compounds, or spinning flywheels.

New Age energy is a highly supple, adaptive catchall phrase that suggests a benevolent pulsating ball of light that cannot be seen but can always be accessed with the correct hand gyrations or ersatz electronic implement that beeps and hums. After treatment, the patient will feel refreshed, enlightened, healed, or be in touch with nature, angels, aliens, or lost souls. This is done by unblocking, harmonizing, unifying, tuning, aligning, balancing, or channeling a life force that takes the form of an invisible yet glimmering blob.

New Agers pilfer science terms, but use them incorrectly to come up with phrases such as “aligning cell vibration,” “digital frequencies of allergens,” and a seemingly never-ending list of terms using the prefix “quantum.”

A certain German theoretical physicist let us know that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. Putting what that means into practical terms, Brain Dunning at Skeptoid explained, “Speed is a function of distance and time, so energy can be expressed in mass, distance, and time. That’s how we define work that can be done. Energy is a measurement of work. If I lift a rock, I’m inputting enough potential energy to dent the surface of the table one centimeter when I drop it. The calories of chemical potential energy that my bloodstream absorbs when I eat a Power Bar charge up my muscles enough to dig 100 kilograms of dirt in my garden. Nowhere did Einstein discuss hovering glowing clouds or fields of mystical power generated by human spirits.”

Dunning suggests that when hearing the word energy in an esoteric or healing sense, substitute the word with the definition, “measurable work capability” and see how much sense the phrase makes. When doing that, you will get sentences likes this:

“The human race has known about the existence of a universal measurable work capability related to life for many ages.”

“Each individual organism or material radiates and absorbs measurable work capability via a unique wave field.”

“Healing Touch is a therapy that helps to restore and balance measurable work capability that has been depleted.”

For these claims to have any merit, those making them should be able to describe how this energy is stored, manifested, and utilized. Dunning wrote, “Is it potential energy stored in the chemistry of fat cells? Is it heat that can spread through the body? Is it a measurable amount of electromagnetism and if so, where’s the magnet? In any event, it must be measurable and quantifiable, or it can’t be called energy.”

By contrast, alternative medics use energy for claims and terms they cannot measure, quantify, or describe. They use it to renew chakras, perform Reiki, attain universal consciousness, chase ghosts, or commune with a higher plane.  

But energy is not a substance any more than mass or volume are. Nothing is composed of energy any more than it is composed of mass or volume. Still, various new age modalities purport to harness, modify, and transfer unknown energies of unknown origin and access them through unknown means and control them with an unverified instrument or method. Proponents make fallacious appeals to both antiquity and novelty, highlighting energy medicine’s supposed shamanic and exotic roots, while also making futurist references to subatomic waves and vibrating biofields.

Those practices that appeal to antiquity, such as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, qigong, are all faith healing without the religious trappings. Some practitioners require the patient to be present, which appeals to those who feel comforted or loved when attended to by a charismatic craniosacral therapist or iridologist. Others do healings by Internet or telephone or even by just wishing it. This is a logical extension of the practice; If energy can be captured and honed for our benefit, the idea of doing so from afar is consistent with the use of this ability.

For those who prefer their medical magic more Jetsons than Flintstones, orgone is a universal life force which is massless and omnipresent and which can coalesce to create microscopic units, galaxies, and every-sized structure in between. If they coalesce insufficiently in humans, disease results.  Meanwhile, in radionics, disease is diagnosed and treated with an energy similar to radio waves. Then there are the clinicians whose field rests on auras and chakras, the key components in an alternate anatomy.

While the terms and techniques differ, the overarching idea is the same: An invisible, unmeasurable, unverifiable force will offer relief from pain, inflammation, nausea, high blood pressure, rosacea, osteoporosis, hernias, and almost any other malady.

While there are many anecdotes and much post hoc reasoning attesting to wonderful results, there is no evidence of a metaphysical life force that determines health depending on whether this energy source is freely flowing.

The original energy healer may have been Franz Mesmer, who had many women and a few men swooning over his animal magnetism in the 19th Century. While there has been no research affirming the existence of any energy accessed and stored by Mesmer or his alt-med successors, the concept continues today. These metaphysical notions should have gone extinct with the advent of Germ Theory, yet the likes of Reiki and Therapeutic Touch continue in the gyrating hands of 21st Century hospital nurses.

The impracticality of such methods was demonstrated by 9-year-old Emily Rosa, the youngest person to have a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal. Rosa tested Therapeutic Touch practitioners using a simple but brilliant method. In Therapeutic Touch, the practitioner supposedly has the ability to place their hands over the patient’s hands to see if healing is needed, and is then able to tap into healing powers and transfer them.

Rosa constructed a cardboard cutout the practitioners could place their hands through without being able to see if a patient was on the other side. Practitioners had a 50 percent chance of being right by guesswork, yet failed to hit even that level, detecting energy fieldd only 44 percent of the time in 280 trials. Before, they claimed the ability to detect, control, and transfer the healing power, but when put to a controlled test, they were unable to determine even if a patient and their accompanying energy field were present.

Energy healing failed this test and all others. There are no double blind studies or other research attesting to the existence of a curative gleaming sphere floating through the ethers waiting to be snatched by a naturopath. Seeking it out is a waste of measurable work capability.

 

“Squeeze play” (Alternative massage therapy)

MSSG

Massage is the manual manipulation of muscles, joints, and tissues for therapy. It can help relieve soreness, increase range of motion, and feels pleasant enough. Leave it to alternative medicine to screw all that up.

Some unscrupulous practitioners make claims that go far beyond massage’s abilities, asserting it can eradicate or ameliorate disease. Some integrative medicine specialists and Dr. Oz claim the practice is effective for allergies, asthma, bronchitis, constipation, diarrhea, fibromyalgia, and sinusitis. Proponents also credit massage with work done by the liver, kidneys, and colon, saying it can help with waste removal, immune system functioning, and toxin removal, though they never specify which toxins or explain how squeezing someone’s shoulders will exorcise them.

As to its supposed role in disease control, there is no scientifically plausible explanation for how this works, nor any double blind studies attesting to this ability. The claims primarily rely on the mythical concept of the ki flowing through meridians, and the purported need to periodically unblocking this. Neither ki nor meridians have never been shown to exist in any X-ray or CT scan and no explanation is proffered on how any technique would clear blockages or why this would be beneficial.

There are subcategories of medicinal massage malarkey. The ones most resembling traditional, legitimate massage are acupressure and shiatsu. These are so similar that the only difference seems to be that the former aims to access ki, while the latter taps into qi. As to the technique, it’s mostly just a massage, though more attention is usually paid to a specific body part. Different parts are said to be connected via meridians to various internal organs or tissues. So applying acupressure to the lower right thumb might be used to deal with wheezing lungs. There are multitudinous meridian charts so which body part corresponds to which organ or tissue will vary by practitioner. By contrast, all physicians would treat strep throat in generally the same manner, with prescriptions and proven, understood techniques that were arrived at via the Scientific Method and validated in double blind studies.

Acupressure and shiatsu generally advertise themselves as needle-less acupuncture. This is a relatively good idea since the only point of acupuncture is at the end of the needles. If spending 60 minutes receiving make-believe medicine, getting pampered is preferable to getting poked.

Aromatherapy might be considered another form of medicinal massage, although the focus is less on the hands and more on what the hands are applying. In aromatherapy, an essential oil or combination of oils is applied topically, usually on an infected body part. Whereas shiatsu may involve rubbing a calf to try and placate an upset stomach, in aromatherapy, oil would be applied on the infected body part.

Aromatherapy is a little less ridiculous than the other forms of massage medicine. For one, there are no meridians or ki associated with it. Second, the oils are extracted from plants and herbs. About half of medicines have a plant base, so it is not entirely unrealistic to think that some of the oils may have medicinal potential.

The big problem is that they haven’t been tested in a laboratory. There has been no active component identified or isolated. No correct dosage has been determined and no pill, lotion, or cream containing the extracted ingredient has been tested in double blind studies.

Instead, a practitioner or online proponent will announce, “Jasmine works great for migraines,” or ‘”Try sage and patchouli for inflammation.” Another tipster may suggest sandalwood for the same aliments and a third person offer lavender. All the recommendations are all based on anecdotes, which are unreliable because they fail to consider the fluctuating nature of illnesses, the placebo effect, or selective memory. That is why double blind studies are the gold standard for determining what works.

There are no such studies attesting to effectiveness of craniosacral therapy. This from of massage medicine is based on the notion that skull bones are movable and can be manipulated for a variety of health benefits. Precisely what benefit is almost invariably whichever one the client needs when he or she shows up at the neighborhood head shed. The truth is, a person’s skull bones have fused by the time they are regularly watching Paw Patrol. Also, these bones can only be moved by blunt force or a scalpel, not nimble fingertips. As to why one would want to pull apart and move around the brain’s shield, reasons I found included improving life energy, attuning to rhythm, and getting in touch with one’s inner cinnamon bun, or similar undefined and unproven notions. Yet another form of medicinal massage is reflexology, which focuses on the feet.

The more extreme proponents credit massage medicine with treating several dozen conditions as broad as anger, fear, arthritis, cancer, emphysema, shyness,  eczema, bulimia, insomnia, infertility, nightmares, panic attacks, and sciatica. Lists this exhaustive are nearly always a pseudo-medicine giveaway. Authentic medicine has been researched, tested, refined, and has been tailored to treat a specific condition. Doctors and scientists understand the pathological, biological, and anatomical principles behind it, know how it works, why it works, and why some patients might respond better than others. A mainstream treatment for infertility won’t be used to reduce the anxiety of another patient and to treat dyspepsia in a third.

With no research to verify their claims, medicinal massage practitioners are left with the usual alt-med fallbacks. They display dexterity in this area, for they credit the field with employing both ancient methods and cutting-edge knowledge of physiology. Most alt-med practitioners use only the appeal to antiquity or the appeal to novelty, not both.

Meanwhile, massagetherapy.co.uk makes use of the ad populum (“Shiatsu is one of the fastest growing areas of complementary therapy in the UK”) while tryshiatsu.co.uk appeals to authority (“Shiatsu is officially recognized in Japan.”) This last boast does not say precisely which entity recognized shiatsu, what about it was recognized, or why this matters. As to what shiatsu actually does, the website states that it clients to “Contact with the energy pathways and helps to correct imbalance in the functioning of internal organs and to re-balance the effects of emotional disturbance.” I have no idea what any of that means, maybe the ki flow to my brain is blocked.

“Not oil that” (Coconut oil)

COCNURSE

In 1985, Sean Penn was known primarily for two distinctions. One was for being a man who had greatly overachieved in the martial department. The other was for being the impetuous type, a borderline lunatic who attacked photographers with rocks, fired at helicopters which transported them, and who dangled another from a ninth story balcony.

Penn hasn’t completely abandoned his Paparazzi pummeling, but he has four Academy Award nominations, one Oscar victory, and is solidly on the A list, up several letters from where he was 30 years ago. He has branched into directing well-received movies, scored an exclusive interview with the world’s most wanted man, and helped rescue Hurricane Katrina victims. He has achieved a level and breadth of success few would have predicted in the mid-80s.

Also greatly ascending in public image over this time has been coconut oil, which has undergone a transformation from culinary super villain to the latest alleged superfood. But whereas Penn improved his image by being a more willing interview, turning in a captivating performance in Mystic River, and spearheading Haiti earthquake relief, coconut oil is the same substance it was in 1987 when Penn spent a month in jail for punching an extra on set.  

For years its bad reputation was because of its astronomical amount of saturated fat. The oil’s concentration of it is the highest of any food source. In the 1980s, this high content led some to blame coconut oil for heart attacks, so food companies replaced it with partially hydrogenated oils. But it turned out those oils contained trans fat, which became the next demonized food item people clamored to get rid of. So out went the hydrogenated oils, which were replaced, rather uncreatively, by coconut oil. Sort of like when 1962 New York Mets catcher Harry Chiti was traded for himself.

When this switch was made, coconut oil was just considered less awful that hydrogenated oil. But this morphed into it being healthy, which became medicinal, and today is considered a panacea in alternative medicine and anti-Big Pharma circles.

Different proponents credit it with promoting weight loss, preventing heart disease, and arresting diabetes, autism, and herpes. Further, it rejuvenates the skin, promotes oral health, and cures acne. Even this handful of miracles is paltry compared to the list of 101 super amazing stupendous wonderful functions it can serve, according to Joseph Mercola, Dr. Oz, and Wellness Mama.

In this blog’s tradition of soberness and stodginess, let’s take a more measured look at coconut oil. As to what it is, coconut oil is extracted from the edible white inside the fruit’s shell. With regard to its impact on health, saturated fats raise bad cholesterol levels, but depending on the food source, will have different cardiovascular effects. One of the benefits trumpeted by proponents is that coconut oil will reduce the risk of heart disease. But this is iffy at best. Coconut oil’s main saturated fatty acid is lauric acid and some research suggests this substance can raise both good and bad cholesterol. If that’s true, the net heart health benefit is no better than neutral.  

Proponents point to populations in India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Polynesia, all of whom consume copious coconut and who have relatively low incidences of heart conditions. But their diets also include more fish, fruits, and vegetables than most Americans, and genetics could be a factor. An analysis of 21 studies by Nutrition Reviews found no evidence that coconut oil reduces the risk of heart disease.

But even if that’s the case, proponents insist there would still be ample reason to keep consuming the oil. They describe it as a wonder substance that possesses antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties, and which can combat HIV, heartburn, and hemorrhoids. Mercola calls it the best cooking choice, compares it to a mother’s milk, and says it boosts immunity. We’ve been through this one before: It is not only impossible to boost a healthy person’s immunity, it is undesirable. An overactive immune system results in autoimmune disorders like lupus and arthritis. The latter is another of the ailments coconut oil allegedly alleviates, so this reminds me of comedian Steven Wright’s fantasy of putting a humidifier and dehumidifier in the same room and letting them fight it out.

Mercola’s partner in slime, Dr. Oz, credits coconut oil with vanquishing viruses, battling bacteria, boosting thyroid function, and writing your résumé. Not wanting to be left out of this hyperbole hoedown, Wellness Mama claims it treats sunburns, athlete’s foot, nasal allergies, insomnia, depression, cellulite, mosquito bites, and lice. To hear this trio tell it, we should all tear out our medicine cabinets and replace them with coconut stands.

Probably the most presumptuous claim is that massive doses of the oil can stop Alzheimer’s disease. This is based mostly on a writer’s anecdote that her afflicted husband could draw a clock better after ingesting large amounts of the super substance. She takes a swing at sounding science-y by proposing that medium-chain triglycerides in the oil boost the liver’s production of ketones, which are the byproducts of fat breakdown, and that this provides an energy source for brain cells to rejuvenate.

However, there are no published human studies to back such claims. It is unknown whether medium-chain triglycerides reduce Alzheimer’s effects. Even if they did, the component responsible for this would need to be isolated, extracted, tested in clinical trials, and dispensed in medicine form. The notion of getting this benefit through continual slurping of coconut oil seems very unlikely and certainly isn’t supported by research.

Harriett Hall, the SkepDoc, did a PubMed search for an Alzheimer’s-coconut oil connection, and found zero results. Meanwhile, Snopes reports there are no published studies confirming the oil has medicinal value.  

There are a few studies that suggest coconut oil fats might lower blood glucose levels in some patients. Unfortunately, the more unscrupulous proponents will take this possible, limited benefit and turn it into a blaring headline about coconut oil curing diabetes and encourage readers to toss their insulin. I’m no Sean Penn, but that makes me want to punch somebody.

“We’re note worthy” (Solfeggio Frequencies)

SH

One aspect of anti-science forces that perplexes me is how often they consider excellence to be inadequate. Ken Ham believes in unicorns and dragons, yet nearly  as intriguing are verified creatures like members of the Phylliidae family. These insects have evolved a camouflage that causes them to almost precisely resemble a leaf, right down to swaying in the breeze.

Planet X believers contemplate about what this rouge body or its inhabitants are plotting to do to us. They spend time on this pursuit rather than studying fascinating astronomical phenomenon like neutron stars, which are so dense a dipperful would have more mass than the moon.

Meanwhile, music has given us treats as diverse as Bach, Chuck Berry, and the Andrews Sisters, yet this is not enough for proponents of Solfeggio Frequencies, who insist certain musical notes have healing powers. They go beyond asserting that music may have a soothing effect or the ability to lift one’s mood. They say it can vanquish fear, awaken intuition, repair DNA, overcome guilt, fix relationships, “return spiritual order,” “connect with light,” and “raise the vibration of our chakra system.”

At least they’re not claiming the ability to cure cancer, reverse aging, or heal cirrhosis. In fact, proponents seem to be giving themselves cover by employing vague language. Whether Solfeggio Frequencies can offer “transformation and miracles” is not something subject to scientific testing.

Proponents of Solfeggio Frequencies are unusual in that they appeal to both antiquity and novelty. Most alt-med and New Age types will pick one or the other.

In appealing to antiquity, proponents claim that some notes found in ancient music have distinctive, benevolent uses. Like most alt-med topics, there is disagreement among practitioners on even the most basic points. In this case, the dispute is over which Hertz performs which functions. This would be like orthopedists arguing over whether a certain tissue is a muscle or a ligament.

Another appeal to antiquity is the claim that certain ancient sites, such as Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza, are tuned to a certain Hertz, and if that’s insufficiently ancient, another claim is that specific Hertz is in tune with the sun. Also, John the Baptist and Benedictine Monks are sometimes identified as having had spiritual awakenings when they listened to music at these frequencies.

For the appeal to novelty, we have claims such as this one from solfeggiotones.com: “Energy and vibration go all the way to the molecular level. We have 70 different receptors on the molecules and when vibration and frequency reaches that far they begin to vibrate.”

One isolated accuracy in the Solfeggio Frequencies narrative is that the Concert A became 440 Hz in the 1940s. The fact that this happened with the Nazis in power may have given rise to the notion that this was the Third Reich’s responsibility. However, it was not a conspiracy, Fascist or otherwise, to do away with a magic frequency. Rather, it was an attempt at uniformity. Various symphonies of the era were using various Hz for “A” and this simplified that. 

The idea that the sun or stone constructions have a resonant frequency has no backing and adherents never explain what this means, how it works, or how they know it. Even if the Pyramids or Stonehenge did send off a frequency, it would have no impact on our health. Notes can produce deep emotional effects on us, but serious medical conditions are the purview of medics, not musicians.

As some point, these magic frequencies were lost. Many Solfeggio adherents think they were hidden away by the Catholic Church while others think Nazis were the culprits. In either case, the frequencies are said to have been resurrected by modern prophets and are available for not just for our esthetic enjoyment, but for our health.

In the book book, “Healing Codes for the Biological Apocalypse,” Leonard Horowitz insists that “the solution to all humanity’s problem lies within the music.” Once we are all literally on the same sheet of music, Horowitz says, “nothing will be broken, there will be no disease, no dissonance, but only harmony with this communion divine.”

His co-author, Joseph Puleo, writes he received an epiphany while noticing certain numbers, which he took to be codes, while reading Genesis, chapter 7. Puleo explained, “When deciphered using the ancient Pythagorean method of reducing the verse numbers to their single digit integers, the codes revealed a series of six electromagnetic sound frequencies which correspond to the six missing tones of the ancient Solfeggio scale.”

It would take a mighty sweet musical accompaniment to make all that sound anything but discordant.

“Sprouting nonsense” (Wheatgrass juice)

wg

My journey to skepticism wasn’t necessarily slow, but it was a leisurely stroll. Psychics and astrologers always seemed ridiculous to me, but when I was 12, I would have gladly gobbled up the idea that Nostradamus had predicted that the Abominable Snowman would fire from the Grassy Knoll.

I had left those ideas behind by my late 20s, but would still have believed a few things I blog against now. The government had been caught lying about Roswell so often that could put no trust in anything it said about the incident and, combined with the idea of intelligent alien life being possible, I figured the story was true.

Also, I could have been won over by claims of “natural” foods and cures. At the time, I lived in charming Vermont village of 12,000 that featured scenic views, live theatre, and festivals most weekends. There were burned-out hippies, most of the populace had helped elect an avowed socialist to Congress, and lesbians walked hand-in-hand, something most small towns in 1996 had yet to see. So it was very left wing, though other aspects were out in left field, with a hockey stick.

Such as the seminar on how to communicate with fairies in your garden. Or the hypnotherapist who would use scented candles and psychic energy to interpret your dreams. Then there was the smoothie bar that, even by the inflated prices of the region, sold wheatgrass at an eye-popping price, $8 an ounce.

In the world of supposed superfoods, wheatgrass juice usually tops the list, certainly in terms of cost and sometimes in terms of uncorroborated health benefits. The bulk of those benefits center on the fact that the shamrock-colored drink contains chlorophyll, which is crucial to photosynthesis. Plants use chlorophyll to synthesize proteins and sugars, which is wonderful for the wheatgrass but of negligible value to the person drinking it since s/he already receives ample proteins and sugars from their diet. And if drinking wheatgrass juice for this purpose, it won’t work because we have arms, not leaves.

Wheatgrass advertisements feature the usual litany of exaggerated, unproven claims one finds with any “superfood.” But there are also ones that might be true, but mean little. An example of this would be the one which proclaimed, “Wheat grass is high in oxygen … and the brain functions at an optimal level in a high-oxygen environment.” Well, I wouldn’t like my brain’s chances in an oxygen-free environment, but if needing more oxygen, I’ll take deep breaths.

Then there are the undefined, medically worthless claims about restoring balance, detoxing, nourishing organs, restoring vitality, building blood, and neutralizing environmental pollutants. Because none of these attributes are about a disease being prevented or cured, they have legal cover. However, some more daring promoters  assert that wheatgrass juice can crush cancer, beat bronchitis, and eradicate eczema. Proponent Ann Widmore even claimed it could be used in place of insulin, then upped the hyperbolic ante by insisting it could also cure AIDS.

Another source credited it with being able to lower the levels of toxic metals in one’s cells. If those need to be lowered, you need the ER, not a drink that makes Starbucks seem cheap.

Yet another claim is that this lugubrious libation takes care of one’s daily vitamin and mineral allowance in one gulp. Yet the typical two-ounce shot contains just 15 percent of Vitamin C, 20 percent of iron, and 0 percent of everything else. Brian Dunning at Skeptoid described wheatgrass juice as offering “far less nutrition than a Flintstones vitamin at 100 times the price.”

Meanwhile, the Hippocrates Institute stresses the importance of consuming wheatgrass within 15 minutes of it being blended: “When it is consumed fresh it is a living food and has bio-electricity.”

Living food is when an eagle scoops down and spears itself a salmon. Wheatgrass is living when it grows, but not when it’s being gulped. As to bioelectricity, the website crosses completely over into New Age Lala Land with this description: “This high vibration energy is the life force within the living juice. This resource of life-force energy can unleash powerful renewing vibrations and greater connectivity to one’s inner being.” After reading that, I need a shot, and not of green juice.

“Aging glacially” (Anti-aging treatments)

rate-use

Our society respects the elderly but worships youth. As such, there exist many products that purport to arrest the aging process. But 51 leading aging research experts concluded unequivocally that none of them work, even a little: goo.gl/b6Nhn0.

They come in many forms. Starting alphabetically, antioxidant supplements are touted as being able to eliminate the production of free radicals and, by extension, slow a person’s aging.

As we sometimes see in pseudoscience, marketers will incorporate a grain of truth in their shaker of hooey. For an antioxidant is indeed a molecule that prevents the oxidation of other molecules, and said oxidation will produce cell-damaging free radicals. That’s why regularly eating fruits high in antioxidants is a wise lifestyle choice that may well reduce the risk of some cancers, macular degeneration, and other medical misfortunes. But there is no science to support the idea that antioxidant supplements will do this or slow the aging process.

A more invasive anti-aging idea is hormone treatments, which aim to replenish the body’s supply of estrogen, testosterone, or human growth hormone. Experiments with senior men have shown that declines in muscle mass and skin elasticity can be slowed in the short term with HGH replacement, while estrogen replacement may benefit some postmenopausal women. However, the men suffered from excess bone growth and carpal tunnel syndrome, while the elderly female patients showed increased risk of breast cancer and blood clots.  But whatever rewards and risks come with the treatments, the team of 51 specialists stated that, “Hormone replacement therapy has a place in the treatment of specific age-associated disorders, but evidence that it affects the rate of aging is lacking.”

Then we have a large assortment of supplement mixtures. Unlike proponents of the previous products, most mixture advocates don’t pretend to be embracing scientific principles. Rather, they pride themselves on being in on a secret and getting one over on Big Science, Big Ag, and Big Pharma. Dr. Harriet Hall, the SkepDoc, notes that, “A typical example is Seanol Longevity Plus, which contains brown seaweed extract, resveratrol, iodine, and vitamin D. There have been no clinical studies of the product, and there is no evidence that the ingredients affect aging either singly or in combination.”

Hall also came across a couple of especially comical anti-aging postulations. She found an online chiropractors debate about whether the spine could be manipulated into a perfect alignment that would guarantee immortality. Then we have the most idiosyncratic method, which belongs to self-described futurist Ray Kurzweil. He thinks science will conquer disease, aging, and death by the time he is 120. He plans to make it that long through a regimen of gobbling 250 supplement pills daily at specified times, all of which are washed down with 10 glasses of alkaline water, 10 cups of green tea, and red wine. This is complemented by a weekly IV vitamin infusion. I’ll have my toddler check in on him in 2065 and see how he’s doing.

Many plays, films, novels, poems, paintings, and songs address death. These works of art deal with such themes as confronting one’s mortality, the impact on those left behind, and whether death makes life pointless or gives it its meaning.

Dispensing with such passions, death is the cessation of biological functions that sustain an organism. Whether one is a fruit fly whose day of birth and death are the same, or the 10,000-year old aspen tree in which the flying insect lands, death looms for all plants and animals. It is the invariable consequence of living.

The death process goes something like this. When cells divide, errors are made in copying DNA. As the mitochondria in cells generate the energy that sustains us, they also produce free radicals that do damage. Radiation and other environmental factors inflict further perniciousness by causing mutations. Repair mechanisms can limit the damage, but not eliminate it. Eventually the damage reaches an irreparable point. Strictly speaking, no one dies of old age. Instead, tissues, cells, organs, or other biological components malfunction or are left vulnerable to disease. Aging and death are byproducts of the genetic processes that keep us alive.

While there are no products to slow aging or stop death, scientific advances have given those in the developed world an average lifespan of 78, more than double what it was a century ago. The great irony is that those advances – antibiotics, vaccines, Germ Theory, sanitation, food production methods – are cited by those hawking and using anti-aging products as the reasons for the increase in heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and cancer.

But they have it backwards. These conditions are not caused by vaccine ingredients, GMOs, chemtrails, gluten, Wi-Fi, fluoridated water, aspartame, or damaged chakras. They are increasing because scientific advances allow more people to live long enough to acquire these afflictions or to sell bogus products to prevent them.