Whole Foods Market is a relentlessly hip American supermarket chain which prides itself on organic fruits and vegetables, gluten-free just-about-everything, and high-end touches like wine bars and exotic take out items (roasted yucca, anyone?). The health products aisle is stocked with Bach Flower and homeopathic remedies. For example, in-house brand Flu Ease: “an established homeopathic formula that should be taken at the first sign of flu for temporary relief of symptoms including fever chills and body aches.”
Selling Flu Ease and like products certainly exhibits a lack of appreciation for scientific evidence, not to mention basic science. But I recently saw a product in the checkout line that was so filled with over-the-top quackery and so shocking in its disregard for the public’s health that I haven’t been back to Whole Foods since. And I won’t be going back.
The product? A glossy, slickly-produced magazine with the conspiracy-minded title What Doctors Don’t Tell You. The April 2014 issue promises, in banner-headline font size, a “New Light on Cancer.” It features the well-known symbol of fighting breast cancer, a loop of pink ribbon, but with a tear in the middle of the loop. We’ll look into this “new light” in a bit.
WDDTY is a British export. The magazine launched there a couple of years ago as a companion to the website of the same name, which has been around since 1989. Both are the creation of Lynne McTaggert and Bryan Hubbard. She claimed, in 2012, that the magazine has a circulation of 40,000. I am not sure when it made its American debut, but this is the first I’ve seen of it.
McTaggert and Hubbard are no strangers to pseudoscience. I’ll let the UK blog Tessera introduce them.
Who are McTaggart and Hubbard? She has form as an anti-vaccination campaigner. In one of her books, The Intention Experiment, she says that the universe is connected by a vast quantum energy field and can be influenced by thought. He recommends vitamin C as a treatment for cancer and they complain about the Cancer Act which prevents them promoting their ‘cures’. So I think we know what we’re dealing with.
Yes, we certainly do.
The magazine’s appearance was not well-received in the UK’s scientific and skeptical community, and for good reason. Simon Singh led the charge: he and others called for its removal from newsagents’ (as the British call them) shelves, a campaign that enjoyed some success. This, in turn, was not well-received by McTaggert, whose representative threatened to sue Singh, a libel litigation veteran. Although McTaggert later denied the threat, she left an internet trail that contradicted her claim. (Moral of that story: don’t deny something you said on the internet. Someone will find it somewhere.)
UK skeptics, science supporters, and their blogs rained well-deserved criticism on WDDTY, especially after McTaggert’s threat to take legal action. Josephine Jones has an extensive list of links to posts and tweets, as well as newspaper articles and a BBC interview with Margaret McCartney, M.D., who also wrote an article about WDDTY in the BMJ. As you might imagine, in addition to the nonsense within the covers, the magazine’s name proved fertile ground for sport. Even the staid BMJ got into the act with “What a new consumer health magazine doesn’t tell you.”
More criticism heaped on, British-style
What were Singh and the scientific and skeptical community so put off by? Here’s a sample of articles discussed by Dr. Margaret McCartney, in the BMJ. (We should note that Dr. McCartney is no defender of “conventional” medicine.)
In the October issue’s news section the article “Thyme is better for acne than creams” starts, “Thyme is more effective than prescription creams for treating acne. . .The herb outperformed pharmaceuticals in a series of laboratory tests, killing the actual bacteria that cause acne . . . Not only is thyme more effective, but it’s kinder on the skin too, say the researchers. Most pharmaceuticals cause a burning sensation and irritation to the skin, whereas thyme and other herbal preparations have none of these side effects.”
What did the magazine cite in support of this claim? Dr. McCartney found that it was an in-vitro study reported in a press release that (obviously) didn’t compare side effects. (This is a recurring theme in WDDTY: in-vitro or small studies cited with the same degree of confidence as if they were large, randomized, controlled clinical trials.)
Another article Dr. McCartney criticized:
“Army personnel with noise deafness and tinnitus are commonly deficient in B12, but enjoy an improvement in symptoms after taking B12 vitamins.” The study referred to contained 12 patients receiving vitamin B12 and was not a randomised controlled trial.
But that was small potatoes in comparison:
The editorial on Gardasil, headed “Lock up your daughters,” warned that “your doctor and your daughter’s school nurse are not likely to tell you about the 100-plus American girls who suddenly died after receiving an HPV [human papillomavirus] vaccine.”
Tessera jumped on this too:
[An] article, by McTaggart, says that cervical cancer is a third world problem, a ‘disease of poverty and unhealthy living’. She talks about the huge number of side-effects but lists only the serious, scary ones. The article bombards the reader with statistics and ‘facts’ and ends by claiming that the vaccination will ‘at best’ save 40 lives in the UK while harming huge numbers.
She accuses drug companies of using extreme scare tactics to promote the vaccines and make money — which is a bit rich when the magazine is shot through with scare stories to promote supplements and alt med.
An article in the same issue, “How I avoided a hysterectomy through diet,” tells of a woman who claims to have healed herself of severe dysplasia and HPV after turning down a biopsy and D&C. A chiropractor/nutritionist friend suggested she be tested for “hidden food allergies.” A naturopath recommended vitamins and supplements and she went on a “special diet.” The article ends with a list of “helpful supplements.”
WDDTY’s extensive advertising for dietary supplements and other alt med products didn’t escape notice either. The Nightingale Collaboration reviewed the September 2012 issue and submitted 26 complaints to the British Advertising Standards Authority, perhaps the “greatest number of complaints submitted to the ASA for a single publication.” Skeptical Letter Writer listed questionable ads in one issue, including these doozies:
Although doctors tell you that a hearing aid is the only recourse for age-related hearing loss, a wide range of herbs and supplements may be able to restore your hearing… Try the herb Gingko biloba, which helps to improve circulation to the ears.
And this ad from Brandon Bayes, “one of those feel-good-about-yourself speakers from the US” (apparently Americans have a reputation for this sort of talk):
Research by the American Center for Disease Control states that 85% of all illness is emotionally based.
As Skeptical Letter Writer noted, Bayes couldn’t seem to find room in her full-page ad for a citation in support of this statement. Or, I might add, get the name of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention right.
Included in the list was an ad for a subscription to WDDTY, with these enticing claims:
Discover treatments that are safer and more effective… Reverse bone loss for good — The secret your doctor doesn’t know… Asthma exclusive — End your child’s wheezing without drugs… Sunbathe your diabetes away… Natural botox — Safer ways to beat wrinkles… ‘How I avoided a hysteroctomy through diet’… Rock’n'roll dads — You can regain your hearing… Unsteady gran? It’s drugs that cause the falls, not old age…
Written By: Jann Bellamy
continue to source article at sciencebasedmedicine.org