Friday, October 9 , 2015, 9:29 am | Fair 76º

Victor Dominocielo: Don’t Buy Into the Placebo Disclaimer

By Victor Dominocielo |

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

This legal disclaimer is usually found in a tiny box, written in almost microscopic print, on all sorts of supplements that claim fantastic health benefits. You’ll see it on your multivitamin, mineral supplements, food extracts and concentrates, and it will claim to end pain and suffering and boost your health to near Olympic levels. I call this a “placebo disclaimer” because after making amazing claims for their product, the last sentence states quite clearly that the product doesn’t do anything worthy of the money you’re spending on it.

A translation of this standard placebo disclaimer is useful. The first sentence should be read as, “This product has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration … or the TSA, the Department of Transportation, NASA or the Army Corps of Engineers … because the ingredients are … FOOD!”

The ingredients of many of these miracle and wonder supplements are usually on the GRAS list (Generally Recognized As Safe) because humans have been consuming them as part of their regular diets for decades. Vitamin C is the obvious example: it’s contained in almost everything we eat, it’s good for us and it’s part of a normal healthy diet. We can synthesize it chemically or extract it from plants and concentrate it into mega doses in pill form, but such mega doses have not proved to be better than consuming vitamin C as part of a healthy diet. So the FDA may decline to waste time and money testing a normal food, mineral, vitamin, raspberry concentrate or green coffee beans for which miraculous health claims are made.

On the one hand, while the FDA doesn’t want to waste time on frivolous claims for common food items, there are outlandish claims for some products that the FDA would like to restrict, but it is prevented from doing so by senators protecting the advertising language of the supplement industry.

Recently, Dr. Oz was “scolded” by a congressional committee for his deceptive language, and British comedian John Oliver took that opportunity to highlight some of the problems with the supplement industry’s ability to continually make outrageous claims for normal food products. Click here for the video.

Also in the video, two longtime senators, Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrat Tom Harkin, were mentioned as top recipients of the supplement industry’s political donations and the leaders of efforts to prevent any restrictions on the language of claims made by the supplement industry.

The second sentence of the placebo disclaimer can be read as, “This product is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease … even though we have just spent the last 15 pages in our brochure trying to convince you that it will perform health miracles.”

Hampshire Labs in Minneapolis, Minn., markets a product called “Marine 4X,” and its brochure claims that its seaweed/algae/ kelp will "lower blood pressure, increase circulation, fix cholesterol trouble, speed weight loss, invigorate metabolism, create younger skin, boost immune function, relieve aches and pains, and beat back aging.”

Yowza! And I thought there was no such thing as a magic pill. What’s the magic ingredient in this seaweed pill? “Fucose.” Sounds a bit like glucose and, sure enough, it’s a type of sugar. Marketing a sugar pill as a magical medical cure-all — don’t they know this could be copyright infringement on homeopathy?

Next thing you know, they’ll attempt to market water as a cure-all. Sorry, that’s homeopathy again. How about a drinkable, magical sunscreen? Surely no one would fall for such an unscientific claim.

It may be hard to believe, but there are ads for Osmosis Skincare’s “UV Neutralizer Harmonized H2O” with a supposed 30 SPF rating. Its advertising states, “The product is made by manipulating the radio waves that occur naturally in water in order to give them UV-canceling properties and then duplicating that same process hundreds of thousands of times. Vibrational waves in the water isolate the ‘precise frequencies’ needed for the protection from UV rays.” Ben Johnson, M.D., the founder, says that once people drink the water, those solar-ray-canceling characteristics are shared with the water already in the body and sunlight is repelled at the skin level with the sun neutralized before it actually hits the skin. For $30 a bottle! Sure enough, included on the bottle is the placebo disclaimer.

Magical sunscreen water? Hogwash. There is no known physical, chemical or biological mechanism for ingested water to neutralize the rays of the sun before they even touch the skin. This type of language about “manipulating radio waves,” “vibrational waves” and “harmonized water/nano whatever” is an attempt to use scientific jargon to deceive and is the typical language of all sorts of gimmicks and alternative health claims designed to separate you from your money.

The final bit of ambiguous language usually found along with the standard placebo disclaimer is the sentence, “Supports a healthy immune (liver, brain, digestive, circulatory, etc.) system.” Consider for a moment that everything you do that isn’t overtly bad for you supports your healthy body systems. Eating, drinking, breathing, exercising, hugging your children, etc., all support health. Advertising that you should buy expensive raspberry extract, vitamin C or miraculous green coffee beans because they support a healthy organ system is as valid as recommending breathing for your continued good health.

In sharp contrast to the expensive marketing of food, water and sugar as placebos, science-based medicine and its pharmacology are intended and even required to diagnose, treat, cure and prevent disease.

— Victor Dominocielo, M.A., a California-credentialed teacher for 36 years, is the human biology and health teacher at a local middle school. He earned his master of arts degree in education from UCSB. The opinions expressed are his own.

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