Making its debut on the high street recently has been What Doctors Don't Tell You, a magazine containing the most amazing collection of conspiracy theories, quack remedies and wacky medical advice ever to hit the news-stands.
Previously available only by subscription, WDDTY can now be found on the shelves of WH Smith, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and others.
Its appearance has generated a chorus of revulsion and disbelief in sceptic-land, but not everyone seems sure which parts of the magazine can be challenged, and which can't.
This is a short guide to nearly nearly all the advertisements in the October edition of the rag, with a special focus on which parts of the advertising codes might have been breached. (Details of how to complain, and to whom, can be found at the bottom of the article.)
Since I'm neither a doctor nor a lawyer, none of the opinions expressed here should be taken as fact; as with everything you read on the internet, check the research for yourself.
The front cover of a magazine or newspaper doesn't usually fall within the remit of the advertising codes, with the exception of the 'front page flash' - a promotion appearing at the top of the page, above the title - which sometimes does.
The WDDTY flash reads:
"Discover treatments that are safer and more effective"
A brief examination of the magazine suggests that this claim might not, strictly speaking, be true. According to lab tech and blogger Jaycueaitch,
"Another health issue of the middle-aged which is addressed is hearing loss... Among the remedies suggested on page 41 is... the herb gingko biloba to “improve blood circulation to the ears” which alleged effect allegedly restores hearing loss and we are further told that the “higher the dose the better the result”. No mention of potential problems is made..."
That list of potential problems should concern anyone suffering from diabetes, seizures, infertility or bleeding disorders, as well as anyone who is planning to have surgery, give birth or breast-feed a child. Worse still, Gingko Biloba interacts with many other medicines, including some in widespread use such as Xanax, Prozac and Ibuprofen. (The herb is probably safe for the general population and its effects on blood-clotting have been challenged in recent research.)
Disregarding the potential hazards, WDDTY offers this astonishing advice:
"Can your hearing be restored? 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. Take 30-200 mg daily; the higher the dose, the better the result... "
The ASA does rule on front-page flash promotions (see this example), so it might be worth challenging the one on the front page of WDDTY one. But even if not...
Although the front cover itself isn't complainable, the advert on page 17 for an annual subscription most certainly is - and it contains all of the same claims!
Most ASA complaints about health challenge whether a claim can be substantiated with rigorous evidence (CAP Code 3.7), whether the claim is misleading (CAP Code 3.1) and whether the claim is irresponsible (CAP Code 1.3). Yours should challenge each of the following claims on all three counts:
"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..."
You might also challenge whether the caption at the bottom is misleading, because it appears to offer advice on the treatment of cancer (risking a contravention of the 1939 Cancer Act):
"CERVICAL CANCER ALERT - What every mother (and daughter) should know about the new jab [HPV vaccine]..."
I would also challenge the text apparently lifted from the Guardian at the bottom of the page. Even if the text is genuine and not quoted out-of-context, is WDDTY misleading when it claims to present "information that is scientific"?
Brandon Bays is one of those feel-good-about-yourself speakers from the US.
Brandon's advert claims:
"Research by the American Center for Disease Control states that 85% of all illness is emotionally based."
Naturally, Brandon can't find the space in her full-page advert to provide a citation of this claim, but "85% of all illness" doesn't leave much room for the kinds of medical problems caused by germs, bacteria, ageing, environmental causes and unwise lifestyle choices.
Brandon might not be able to do anything about that tiny assortment, but she can certainly help with the remaining 85%!
"Discover the radiant essence of your own being and the incredible - even miraculous - healing potential of your own body... The Journey Intensive Seminar WITH BRANDON BAYS, London, 19-21 October 2012..."
The claim that "85% of all illness is emotionally based" is not likely to be sustainable, and should be challenged. (Theadvertised seminar is a snip at £495.)
BEET IT SPORT take out a full-page ad to promote their organic beetroot juice, which they claim can
"...Increase exercise efficiency... Enhance oxygen utilisation... Speed muscle recovery..."
Health and nutrition claims for foodstuffs are not allowed unless they've been specifically authorised by the European Commission (CAP Code 15.1). I can't find any reference of an authorisation for BEET IT SPORT's organic beetroot juice, so it's quite possible these advertisers are being naughty.
Q-Link are the "Developer and Manufacturer" of the Q-Link CLEAR device. An advert for their products appearing in WDDTY is alarming:
"The electronic devices you use and depend on each day generate electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Research shows these EMFs may undermine performance and well-being and have a biological effect on the body... The Q-Link (R) CLEAR (TM) utilizes [sic] Sympathetic Resonance Technology (SRT) which acts as a tuning fork for your body resonating with and reinforcing your own electrical fields. The result is a super powerful [sic] antidote to stressful EMFs that allows you to take control of your well-being."
The best word that could be used to describe these claims isbullshit, and the ASA have ruled several times before on people who thought they could protect us against harmful rays (see here and here; also see this, this and this.)
Amazingly, among the most prominent critics of the claims is... errr, Q-Link themselves!
"What our science tells us is that SRT™ in the Q-Link CLEAR does not act as a shield against EMF, nor does SRT™ impact the physical body, but rather works in support of the natural energy systems that support the human body's healthy function."
"The Future of Supplements has arrived", according toLypo-Spheric Nutrients, who are promoting a Vitamin C supplement that takes no prisoners.
"Lypo-Spheres (R) are nano particles [sic] of encapsulated Vitamin C or GSH that give 98% delivery directly where it's needed - into the cells themselves... Leading expert Dr Tom Levy MD estimates that Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C is x10 more powerful than intravenous Vitamin C!"
In response to your ASA complaints, the advertisers will have to produce evidence that these claims are true, as well as showing that they've received EC authorisation for them.
There are several implied claims, too, that should be challenged as potentially misleading - the implied claim that Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C is the "best antiviral agent now available" as well as the implied claim that Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C might help with "liver and immune dysfunction, heart disease, premature aging [sic] and death".
The advert cites a study by Yokoyama et al. The study was not performed on Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C, nor indeed on any kind of vitamin C supplement. It would be easy to make the case that a mention of the study in this kind of advert is highly misleading.
Lazy slobs are the target market of FlexxiCore's "Passive Exerciser" device, a sort of wibbly-wobbly-shakey-wakey exercise machine that
"...combines the energising effects of this invigorating exercise with therapeutic back care benefits of CPM - at a fraction of the cost."
That "fraction of the cost" is a mere £192.92 - a special discount for loyal WDDTY readers, which even so may seem a little steep for what looks like a simple motor in a plastic casing.
The advertisers are keen to make a show of their good faith:
"We cannot claim that every one [sic] with a bad back will get a quick fix. Or that everyone will sleep deeply after the very first use [of the device]. The results are individual..."
The advert is still complainable, though. The CAP Code makes it clear that anecdotal claims have to be backed up by scientific evidence; without it, the anecdotal evidence shouldn't be used at all. Here are the anecdotes that should feature in your ASA complaints.
"...However, Case Studies from Practitioner Trials have confirmed how much it can help with a broad range of physical conditions, ages, and fitness levels. Try it out for 60 days - find out for yourself how effectively and deeply it works!"
"'I have been using FlexxiCore for about 18 months and I noticed the benefits the first time I used it... frequent use has really helped me to function better pyshically. I have also found that I have more energy and am able to get more done.' Eric Moore, WGTF Golf Coach..."
"It has loosened up the spine really well. On a recent visit to my own osteopath she remarked at how much more free my thoracic spine now feels..."
"GARRY SAYS: BEST LUXURY OPTION: Great for back maintenance... The effect stimulates the circulation... [Quote from Daily Mail article]
"The FlexxiCore has been trialled by over 200 Healthcare Practitioners with consistently positive results. These included Case Studies with some of their clients. A broad range of benefits were reported, including: ... Improvements in back, neck and shoulders... Improved mobility..."
An advert from Medical Thermal Imaging Ltd promotes a novel breast-cancer screening service.
"100% Safe BREAST SCREENING Plus Full Body Screening for all the family... Thermography can detect active breast abnormality before its [sic] possible with mammography... Suitable for all age groups - No Radiation - Non-invasive - No Contact - Medically Recognised - Full Medical Doctors [sic] Report..."
The principle problem with these claims is that, according to the scientific evidence available to us, they simply can't be true. In fact, the ASA has already ruled on a comparable thermography device:
"We noted that the NHS considered thermography to still be very experimental, and therefore did not use it as a screening tool. We understood that view was based on recommendations made by the Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer Screening and the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). We also understood that other health authorities around the world also considered that there was no current, valid, scientific evidence that supported the use of thermography in the early detection of breast cancer. We therefore considered that, in order to substantiate the claims made in the ad, we would need to see a robust body of scientific evidence that demonstrated that thermography was an effective screening tool in the early detection of breast cancer. Because we had not we concluded that the ad was misleading."
This is a revolting advertisement from a reprehensible company which fully deserves the ASA-bashing they are inevitably going to receive. Boo! Hiss!
PAGE 59, PAGE 81
Quacks who feel that homeopathy just isn't crazy enough often choose to become a naturopath instead.
An advert from the General Naturopathic Council - which sounds like some kind of statutory body, but isn't - offers this remarkable "Naturopathic Case Study":
"Patient - 43 year old [sic] female... Symptoms - Initial digestive system felt locked up and nauseous... quickly followed by trembling fingers, night sweats, significant weight loss with muscle wasting, raised blood pressure, fatigue and insomnia... Diagnosis - autoimmune hyperthyroidism (Graves Disease)... Medication advised for minimum of 18 months. The patient asked her GP for 6 months to try naturopathic approaches..."
The advert doesn't record the GP's response to this dangerous suggestion - presumably the Council felt that so many repetitions of the word "fuck" wouldn't fit in a half-page advertisement - but the patient's treatment is lovingly detailed in the next section.
"An iris analysis suggested sub-optimal function of the pituitary gland, influence on the spleen emanating from the liver, subluxation of 4 cervical vertebrae that could be impinging nerve supply. Protocol - herbal support for liver, spleen, pituitary and thyroid, plus osteopathic adjustements to vertebrae..."
An "iris analysis" (better known as "iridology") is a brilliant piece of pseudo-science which claims to detect health problems by looking at patterns on the eyeball. (Think of it as palm reading, but without the same level of scientific credibility.)
It can be noted, too, that even those wacky chiropractorsdon't believe in the existence of subluxations any more.
As mentioned above, health claims like these must be supported by rigorous scientific evidence or they can't be made at all. This whole "Case Study" (and the matching one on p81) is misleading unless it can be substantiated.
Your complaint will also want to challenge whether naturopathy can really "identify the root causes of [health] problems":
"A naturopathic assessment investigates the biochemical, structural and emotional strengths and weaknesses of the client, taking into account the web-like interconnection of the body's organs and systems. A Naturopath will aim to identify the root causes of problems..."
Alan James Raddon, a purveyor of hand-made shoes at the eye-watering price of £495 (the same price as a 3-day seminar with Brandon Bays, incidentally!) reckons his products are worth every penny:
"Weakened under-used muscles are exercised, so strengthen... My Shoes and Shandals have profound healing properties for those with damaged feet. Hammer toes have a chance to straighten. Corned, squashed little toes heal. The circulation improves... Those that walk, skip and dance in my Shoes and Shandals, do so with great strength and agility. This strength is reflected and strong ankles and legs..."
The claim that Alan Raddon shoes can heal medical conditions and strengthen the muscles in the legs and feet is a health claim that needs to be substantiated.
I can't find any mention of our Alan in the medical journals and, as a point of comparison, the ASA has already ruled against several companies making comparable claims (seehere, here and here.)
"Earthing (R) - Nature's Solution to Health" - so says that esteemed medical journal, the Daily Mail.
What sort of product is being advertised is not clear - it looks to me like a big rubber mat - but the health benefits purchasers can expect are laid out across the advert in loving detail.
"How can Earthing help your health and wellbeing? You can connect to the Earth with bare feet- or- [sic] with indoor Earthing sheets and mats. The Earth then shares it [sic] antioxidant, anti-inflammatory anti aging [sic] electrons from its inexhaustible store. The Earth also stores natural rhythms - day/night, and reconnection supports sleep."
Quacks are wising up to the evidence game and often try to support their claims with their own research, but invariably get it all wrong. The research quoted in this advert are from something called the "Earthing Institute" which, for some reason, doesn't yet have the same academic reputation as (say) the Royal Academy.
Links to the "studies" can be found on the advertiser's website. For those without the time to read them, the advert provides a helpful summary:
"Earthing Institute studies show: 100% of people woke feeling rested - 85% of people fell asleep faster - 93% experienced better sleep - 78% experienced better well being - 82% reported reduced muscle stiffness/pain... Sokal study reports benefits in blood sugar regulation, thyroid hormones, osteoporosis, metabolism... Sinatra study shows blood thickness reductions and circulation benefits..."
Do clinical studies really support the claims made for Earthing? Why, I'm glad you asked!
"Do clinical studies support the claims made for Earthing? Robust studies show significant improvements in sleep, vitality, rebalancing of key hormones... improvements in circulation and reductions in blood pressure. Extensive case studies on reduction of inflammation (associated with any -itis medical conditions such as arthr-itis) were accompanied by reduced sensation of pain."
Hopefully your ASA complaint will challenge whether "Earthing" can actually treat any condition whose name ends with -itis - don't forget to challenge every other claim, too!
"The Identification and Treatment of Allergic Disorders"
Furthermore, they boast that
"Many therapists who are working effectively in the field of allergy today have been trained by the Institute... The Institute offers: ... Safe Effective Relief for Allergy sufferers without drugs or diet"
The therapists who signed up to work with the "Institute" were evidently unaware of the ASA's opinion of them:
"Because we considered we had not seen suitable evidence to substantiate the claims made by BIAET that their product could treat hay fever, we concluded that the ads were misleading..."
"We considered that consumers would understand the claim to imply that there were no side effects from taking the remedy because the remedy was natural, and that it was therefore safe to use. Because we considered the ad implied that the remedy was safe merely because it was natural, we concluded the ad breached the Code..."
"We considered that the ad made medicinal claims for an unauthorised product and that it failed to carry the appropriate warning. Because of that, we concluded the ad breached the Code..."
No doubt a dim view will be taken over at Mid-City Place of the continuing use of these banned claims for hayfever treatments.
P.S. Don't forget to ask whether the homeopathic products advertised here are licensed medicines - if not, their sale is an offence.
A suspicious-looking "colon conditioner" called OxyTech is advertised by Dulwich Health. The ASA complaint practically writes itself:
"OxyTech is a uniquely formulated colon conditioner which is fast acting and is scientifically designed to work gently, safely and effectively... For candida, bloated stomach, irrititable bowel [syndrome], leaky-gut, skin disorder, continuous constipation or diarrhoea..."
Can any of these claims be substantiated with rigorous evidence? Furthermore, is the following claim misleading - has OxyTech's safety actually been tested - and if not, is the advice irresponsible?
"Can I take OxyTech with such and such medicine, antibiotics, steroids, homeopathic remedies etc.? ... It can be taken with everything and is particularly good if you take antibiotics..."
Is the following advice also irresponsible?
"If I get food poisoning? Take a large dose of OxyTech (say up to 10 capsules) as soon as possible..."
"FREE YOURSELF FROM THE ALLOPATHIC MEDICAL SYSTEM! We believe that the power to heal belongs in your hands! Not in the hands of a corrupt system. We believe in freedom!"
The "corrupt system" presumably refers to the ASA whobanned this company's earlier adverts and took the unusual step of naming their website as non-compliant.
Your complaint should of course challenge whether the shower-head really offers "treatments" for
"Allergies, Arthritis, Asthma, Autoimmune, Blood, Bones, Cystitis, Dental, Diabetes, Eczema, Glands, Immune System, Injuries, Ischemia, Joints, Kidneys, Mastitis, Muscles, Neurology, Organs, Osteoporosis, Skin, Stress, Strokes and many more..."
You should also challenge whether the "Free Yourself" quote could discourage the public from seeking help with an urgent medical condition - after all, that approachworked last time!
(P.S. The Quantum Laser Shower-Head is available from my mate Oliver Mueller for £2995. A very reasonable price, I think you'll agree; but if it's beyond your means, I'll build you a fake version for a fiver.)
Dr Walter Pierpaoli offers his "Melatonin Zn Se" tablets for the bargain price of £39.99 to anyone who's willing to join his "private buyers club".
The advert describes the product as "pharmaceutical grade melatonin" - in which case it's possibly an illegal unlicensed medicine in the UK. Get writing to the MHRA!
CLASSIFIED ADS, P94-95
As discussed, there's as yet no evidence that phones emit dangerous radiation, or that devices like the SAFER-WAVE product can protect against them.
The claim that the goodhealthnaturally.com product is "900% better than tablets" could easily be challenged, as could the implied claim that it can be used to improve eye health.
The "Buteyko Method" claims to be a better and more effective method of controlling asthma than a standard inhaler. The research evidence available to us suggests that claims like these are nonsense, as the response to your ASA complaint will quickly confirm.
The "Tooth Wizards" ad seems to suggest that dentists have been derelict in their duties towards patients. Can they prove it? Ask to see the evidence!
Serrapeptase is a "Miracle Enzyme", apparently.
"Serrapeptase is making headway in the natural health industry as the 'must have' dietary supplement. May help to support healthy: Joints and Tendons - Bronchial and Lung Function - Veins and Arteries - Digestive System and Colon - Heart and Circulation - Relief from Trauma, Swelling (eg post operative [sic] and Sports injury..."
Once again, food products can't be advertised with health claims unless those claims have EC approval. I haven't been able to find the documents confirming that this advertisement is legal - I wonder if anyone can help?
This article was first published by BadPsychics forum member Cassus on his excellent website http://scepticalletterwriter.blogspot.co.uk it is republished here on BadPsychics as is, and may or may not represent the views and opinions of BadPsychics or its members. For any complaints or correspondance regarding this article please contact Ron through his website or Twitter site @ScepticLetters