It’s always a great day here when we come across something new yet completely inert being masqueraded as an effective, evidence-based remedy. And today has been excellent. It turns out that one of our all-time favorite vitamins, Vitamin B1 (also known as Thiamine, which is sometimes spelled “Thiamin”), is being marketed as a mosquito repellent. The two most popular drug vitamin delivery routes seem to be transdermal (i.e., skin patches) and oral (i.e., vitamin B pills).
SOURCE: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases | GRAPHIC: By Brenna Maloney and Patterson Clark, The Washington Post – May 01, 2007
A quick google search uncovers a swarm of online vendors that are touting the “all natural Thiamine skin patch” as a safe and effective alternative to DEET-based mosquito repellents, which are somewhat toxic and therefore not recommended for infants less than two months old. The only problem with this claim of superiority is that it’s not scientifically supported: Fradin and Day (2002) compared the efficacy of insect repellents, concluding that “no ingested compound, including garlic and thiamine (vitamin B1), has been found to be capable of repelling biting arthropods” (including mosquitoes); Ives et al. (2005) found “no effect of vitamin B supplementation” on the attraction of the previously-untested Anopheles stephensi species of mosquito; and, Goad (2006) notes that there are only two ingredients officially endorsed by the CDC to repel insects — picaridin and DEET:
No other products have shown any clinically proven efficacy, including vitamin B1 (thiamine) and garlic. In 1985, the FDA responded to the increased anecdotal accounts of vitamin B1’s effectiveness as an insect repellent by issuing a statement refuting any claims of efficacy and prohibiting manufacturers from doing the same for any oral product.
One of its leading advocates is Dr. Frederic Honigman, an international business guru who promotes a gamut of skin patches to treat health issues, such as osteroarthritis and male impotency, and cosmetic concerns regarding acne and wrinkles. In fact, you’d probably be hard pressed to find a condition that Fred couldn’t recommend a patch for.
Dr. Honigman, who pimps his thiamine-based mosquito repellents over at bite-amins.com/, suggests that you can disrupt the blood-seeking behavior of mosquitoes by taking Vitamin B1 supplements because your body will excrete the excess through your pores, thereby giving your skin a smell that mosquitoes don’t find quite as delicious. Neat theory, right? Again, not empirically supported.
Although Dr. Honigman’s story is plausible, the truth is that the vitamin we all know and love actually has no known effect on mosquito behavior. This is why Vitamin B1 advocates like Dr. Honigman can only point to testimonies, anecdotal experiences, and pseudo-scientific explanations in defense of their gimmicks.
Maybe you’ve heard of the “wonder” antioxidant supplement POM Pills. In case you missed their series of delightful ads, which ran in national publications like Parade, Fitness, The New York Times, and Prevention throughout the end of 2010, we’ve reproduced one below:
The FTC responded to the POMx supplement advertising campaign by making a formal complaint, accusing POM Wonderful LLC “with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their products will prevent or treat heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.” Here are a few of the specific claims that got the FTC riled up:
“SUPER HEALTH POWERS! … 100% PURE POMEGRANATE JUICE. … Backed by $25 million in medical research. Proven to fight for cardiovascular, prostate and erectile health.”
“NEW RESEARCH OFFERS FURTHER PROOF OF THE HEART-HEALTHY BENEFITS OF POM WONDERFUL JUICE. 30% DECREASE IN ARTERIAL PLAQUE … 17% IMPROVED BLOOD FLOW … PROMOTES HEALTHY BLOOD VESSELS … ”
“Prostate health. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men in the United States and the second-leading cause of cancer death in men after lung cancer.
Time pill. Stable levels of prostate-specific antigens (or PSA levels) are critical for men with prostate cancer. Patients with quick PSA doubling times are more likely to die from their cancer. According to a UCLA study of 46 men age 65 to 70 with advanced prostate cancer, drinking an 8 oz glass of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice every day slowed their PSA doubling time by nearly 350%. … 83% of those who participated in the study showed a significant decrease in their cancer regrowth rate.”
“You have to be on pomegranate juice. You have a 50 percent chance of getting [prostate cancer]. Listen to me. It is the one thing that will keep your PSA normal. You have to drink pomegranate juice. There is nothing else we know of that will keep your PSA in check. … It’s also 40 percent as effective as Viagra.” The FTC’s administrative complaint against POM Wonderful alleges that these claims are false and unsubstantiated:
Clinical studies prove that POM Juice and POMx prevent, reduce the risk of, and treat heart disease, including by decreasing arterial plaque, lowering blood pressure, and improving blood flow to the heart;
Clinical studies prove that POM Juice and POMx prevent, reduce the risk of, and treat prostate cancer, including by prolonging prostate-specific antigen doubling time;
Clinical studies prove that POM Juice prevents, reduces the risk of, and treats, erectile dysfunction.
What the makers of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx supplements failed to mention was that their prostate cancer claims are based on a clinical study that was neither “blinded” nor controlled, that their erectile dysfunction claims are based on a study in which the experimental group (the one that received the treatment) did no better than the placebo group, and that their heart disease claims are supported by studies that conclude nothing about heart disease benefits. In short, they misrepresented scientific studies to say precisely the opposite of what the research actually suggested.
Thankfully, POM Wonderful LLC didn’t let this glaring lack of evidence get in the way of their marketing strategy, touting POMx supplements as a natural panacea for treating, preventing, and reducing the risk of serious diseases–in effect “placebofying” a generic antioxidant cocktail. This kind of intellectual dishonesty and corporate audacity is nothing new, but we can hope that people will continue to challenge these kinds of over-hyped health claims and rely on common sense until there’s good evidence to think otherwise.
An early language development system called “Your Baby Can Read” promises new parents a means to give their child a leg-up when it comes to reading. In the words of Dr. Robert Titzer, “Your Baby Can Read” is based on the premise that there is a “natural window of opportunity from about birth to age four [where children] read better and are more likely to enjoy it.” While this is true, there are better ways to take advantage of that window than by subjecting your baby to a 5-DVD series that promotes learning-by-rote!
Some critics call YBCR a poor substitute for actual parenting–you know, the kind of parenting that provides natural growth and development. Instead of learning through loving, parental nurturing, this program forces babies to memorize certain words and phrases, ignoring the phonetic content of new and unfamiliar words. This extreme focus on the “whole word” can disrupt the learning process, as it doesn’t teach babies how to “sound out the words.”
Dr. Steven Novella, a clinical neurologist and professor at Yale University School of Medicine, is particularly critical:
The Your Baby Can Read program is an extreme whole word appraoch [sic]. Infants and toddlers are taught to memorize words, which they can then recognize and name from memory, even before they can understand what they are reading. Critics of this approach claim that this is not really reading, just memorization and association. Some even caution that by taking an extreme whole word approach, phonic understanding can be delayed and the net result can be negative.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends NO screen time(both tv and computers) for children under 2 years of age. There have been many studies done which show screen time does more harm than good, regardless of what all of these products like to claim.
The verdict? Your Baby Can Read is a scientifically unsubstantiated program that panders to anxious parents, peddling the guarantee of rapid language acquisition that leads to life-long academic success. Dr. Novella calls the spade a spade: Your Baby Can Read is “likely to be nothing more than a costly distraction from more common sense approaches – like just spending quality time with your kids.”
When you call to place an order for Dual Action Cleanse (hereafter DAC), you’ll hear the operator review the “Original Deep Discount Cleanse,” which is a combination of both formulas (shown below) that’s supposed to last you 2 months because “you only need to take DAC every other month to stay cleansed.” That means that the amount of dietary supplements you’ll get is just enough to ingest for one month. After that you’re shit out of luck.
So in other words, DAC has redefined the twin ideas of dosage and supply! Surprise surprise, they even offer a “6-month supply”, which is simply a 3-pack of DAC that you take every other month.
You’ll also notice when you’re watching the DAC TV infomercial that they never seem to mention the price. This is called a lead-generated ad, in which Klee Irwin hypes up his product and commands you to take advantage of their special offer by calling now.
When you call, you’ll get the basic offer first, which is a “2-month” supply for just $59.90 plus $9.95 for S&H ($69.85 total). For the “6-month” supply is at a slightly better rate, and it will run you $149.90 plus $9.95 for the shipping ($159.85 total). However, a word of warning: if you buy either of these options, they will set you up on an auto-ship program where they will automatically ship you more (every 2 or 6 months) and automatically bill you unless you call customer service to cancel.
And believe me, it’s a hassle to cancel. To say that Cellular Research (the manufacture of Dual Action Cleanse) systematically engages in questionable billing practices and financial misconduct is to sugar-coat the situation. In 2007 alone, the LA Better Business Bureau reported that it had received “more than 350 complaints that Dual Action Cleanse overcharged, failed to issue refunds, and made unauthorized charges.”
Oh, here’s an interesting footnote: it causes birth defects! In their own words:
**Usage Warning: Do not use if safety seal is broken. Check with your doctor before using these products if you are using medication or have any medical condition, especially if you have heart disease, high blood pressure or a digestive condition. Green Tea Natural Energy contains caffeine and may affect blood pressure and/or heart conditions. Do not use if pregnant, nursing or may become pregnant. Do not exceed recommended daily intake. Not intended for use by persons under 18 years of age. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. Store in a cool, dry place. WARNING: (State of California Prop 65) This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.
Be wary of this one, folks. It’s just not good for anyone, under any circumstances.
Got heartburn? Get in line. Over 15 million Americans experience it daily, and around 60 million have heartburn once a month. What can you do about this chronic inconvenience? If you believe the marketing hype and scientific claims made in its infomercial, AloeCure supports “long-term acid-balancing and normalization of your digestive system,” and can address symptoms like acid reflux, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcers.
AloeCure is advertised as a dietary supplement, so its claims are immune from the FDA’s scrutiny. But is this so-called “drug-free” remedy effective? Let’s look at the ingredients:
- Organic Aloe Vera juice (~98%)
- Citric Acid
- Xanthan Gum
- Sodium Benzoate (preservatives)
So AloeCure is nothing more than rebranded Aloe Vera juice, as the remaining ingredients are inactive. That being said, it’s extremely overpriced. Mamamia notes that you can buy pure organic Aloe juice for a few dollars from retailers like GNC, which might be a hassle-free way to test if Aloe Vera works for you. A randomized, clinical trial from 2004 suggests that Aloe Vera juice is somewhat effective in relieving painful symptoms of active ulcers.
If you’re thinking of buying AloeCure, be warned. There are a number of consumer complaints about the return policy not being honored and unsatisfied customers still getting billed. Also, the terms of trying their product “risk free” include an automatic renewal clause that ships you more Aloe Vera and charges you for it every month (unless you cancel, of course). So do yourself a favor and buy plain Aloe Juice through a trusted vendor like Amazon.com
Some of the reassuring fine print:
All Washington and Maine orders are subject to applicable sales tax. Shipping and processing fees are non-refundable. After the 30 day guarantee period is over all sales are final. Returns may be subject to a re-stocking fee. Returned packages require a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) number to ensure accurate processing. RMA numbers can be obtained by calling AloeCure™ customer service at 800-671-4180. M-F 8AM to 8 PM EST
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
We’re so busy! We don’t have time for food! This mashup of 90 different infomercials into 5 minutes of torture is hilarious.
The shipping & handling scam is one of the prevalent scams within the infomercial industry. If you consider how much it actually costs to ship a product, these companies make a bundle by marking up the S&H costs. And, in a lot of cases, the shipping times are ridiculously slow considering how much is actually being paid to ship it. Most of the companies that have such horrible S&H fees and services do so in order to lessen the financial loss when a refund is initiated.
Most products that you see on TV infomercials have a “30-day Money Back Guarantee.” It’s crucial to note that the “money-back guarantee” essentially means that you can get a full-refund of the product cost (less shipping) if you return the product within 30 days (usually of receiving it, but sometimes the “trial” begins when shipped). That means that whatever you paid for S&H will not be refunded, and furthermore, you’re liable for the expense of shipping your product back. So in some cases, you’ll be out twice the cost of shipping!
And not only is the average cost of S&H extraordinary in this industry, but also the average shipping time painfully long. Take, for example, Scalp Med, a product “regrows your own hair”. If you order a 2-month supply, the package weighs a pound (2 2-oz bottles of Vitadil, 1 4-oz bottle of Nutrisol, and 1 8-oz bottle of Cortex Enlarger), and costs $18.81 to ship, with an expected delivery time of 3-4 weeks. They also offer priority shipping for another $9.95, which cuts the wait to just 10 days or less.
To put that price tag in perspective, if you went to Amazon and paid $18.81 for S&H on something that weighs about a pound, you would get either overnight delivery, or 2-day delivery. Scalp Med’s S&H policy is ludicrous, and it indicates to me that they probably get a lot of refund requests, and are trying to minimize how much they have to give back by inflating the cost of S&H.
Stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll provide a detailed list of the S&H policies of various infomercial companies. I’ll start with those whose S&H times are slow, and/or fees exorbitant, give examples of balanced S&H policies, and share some of the most exemplary companies out there.
This is the first installment of a three-part series on Dual Action Cleanse. Part I will analyze Dual Action Cleanse, providing insight into the claims and effectiveness of Dual Action Cleanse.
Dual Action Cleanse is a colon cleanser developed by Klee Irwin that’s marketed to people who feel bloated and/or clogged. The fancy ”Dual Action” qualifier means nothing more than there are two seperate formulas packaged together that you have to take.
The first is the Colon Clear formula, which contains a “proprietary blend of 22 fibers and herbs to enhance peristaltic action and support your digestive function (promoting 2-3 bowel movements per day). This natural action tones and cleanses the colon while eliminating unnecessary toxic build-up.” The second is the Total Body Purifier formula, which “contains 33 powerful cleansing herbs that target 15 specific body parts. Among these powerful herbs are Milk Thistle to support the liver, Red Clover and Beet Root to purify your blood, Hawthorne Berry to enhance blood flow, Licorice to support digestion of other herbs, along with 24 other nutrients to stimulate cleansing.”
It’s important to note that one of the active ingrediants in the Colon Clear formula is Cascara Sagrada bark (rhamnus purshiana) in a powdered form. On June 19, 1998, the FDA “reclassified the stimulant laxative ingredient [...] cascara sagrada (including casanthranol, cascara fluidextract aromatic, cascara sagrada bark, cascara sagrada extract, and cascara sagrada fluidextract) [...] from category I (monograph) to category III (more data needed).” Their major concern at the time was the potential carcinogenicity/toxicity of Cascara Sagrada. And in 2002, the FDA issued a final ruling, determining “that the stimulant laxative ingredient [...] cascara sagrada (including casanthranol, cascara fluidextract aromatic, cascara sagrada bark, cascara sagrada extract, and cascara sagrada fluidextract) should be deemed not generally recognized as safe and effective for OTC use.” But because DAC is NOT a drug, but rather a “dietary-supplement,” the FDA’s ruling doesn’t apply.
ChiroFind has a great summary of the health risks of taking Cascara Sagrada: “Prolonged use of cascara sagrada may result in a variety of side-effects, including spastic colon, heart arrythmias, nepropathy and edema. Long-term use can lead to loss of electrolytes, particularly potassium ions. Conditions such as hematuria, muscle weakness and albuminuria may result from long-term cascara use. In addition, cascara may interact negatively with a number of pharmaceuticals, including thiazide diuretics, corticoadrenal steroids, antiarrythmics, digitalis and indomethacin. Cascara sagrada should not be taken by patients with intestinal obstructions, colitis, Crohn’s disease, appendicitis or unknown abdominal pain. It should not be administered to children under the age of 12.”
And although the instructions are to take it “every other month,” and that it’s “not intended for long term use,” taking Dual Action Cleanse for one-month is long enough to pose health risks. Medical professionals warn against taking Cascara Sagrada for more than 7 days, because “excessive use of Cascara Sagrada can cause your colon to become dependent on it’s use, and you will only be able to have a bowel movement with the assistance of some form of laxative.”
Check out these pictures which lists all of the ingrediants of DAC (incl. Colon Clear and the Total Body Purifier):
It’s interesting to note how many of the ingrediants are common to BOTH formulas. Both the Colon Clear and the Total Body Purifier contain: Alfalfa powder (leaf), Fennel powder (seed), Peppermint powder (leaf), Red Raspberry powder (leaf), Ginger powder (root), Slippery Elm powder (bark), and Beet powder (root), which amounts to 7 herbs and fibers that are recycled between the two formulas.
Once you open up your package of Dual Action Cleanse, you’ll see a “message from Klee,” chock-full of grammatical errors, that essentially solicits you to buy MORE stuff that Klee deems “necessary” to achieve the most healthy digestive system possible. Check it out:
Furthermore, there’s an FAQ section on the back, that not only tries to sell Klee’s “Maximizer” kit by making it seem absolutely necessary, but also provides some information that’s inconsistent with the official DAC website. Check it out:
Specifically, the FAQ that comes with Dual Action Cleanse states that “Dual-Action Cleanse is not intended for use by anyone under 14.” On the website, it states that “Dual-Action Cleanse and the Maximizer Kit is not recommended for children under the age of 18.” It bothers me that Cellular Research, the company that makes DAC, can overlook both factual inconsistencies, as well as the numerous grammatical issues that plague its pamphlets.
Finally, on the end of the pamplet is a plea to subscribe to Klee’s newsletter (read: spam list), at a website that no longer exists:
The Bottom Line
Dual Action Cleanse contains a lot of herbs that are natural laxatives and stimulants (including the dangerous Cascara Sagrada), which means that while DAC may provide temporal relief by inducing peristaltic action, in the long-run, it will probably create dependency and exacerbate whatever problem you’re having. Furthermore, Dual Action Cleanse comes in tablet form, which is more difficult to digest than gel-capsules or powder that you mix in a drink, so it’s not as effective as it should be. Lastly, the grammatical errors and inconsistencies between the official DAC website and the pamphlet don’t reassure me at all that this is a product worth buying.
I’d like to welcome you all to our new blog, Infomercial Scams. This blog will cover the inconsistencies in the Infomercial market, provide analysis of key infomercials, and will tell everything you need to know about an infomercial product, before you make any snap decisions. I’ll tell you what to expect when you call an “operator”–who is really a trained salesperson– in regards to buying something you saw on TV, as well as specific details about how to control the flow of the conversation to avoid impulsive buying.
I’ll give you the bottom line on every product: whether or not it really works, what the full price is, if there are alternatives that can save you money, how good the customer service is, and, ultimately, if you should buy the product. My goal is to prevent you guys from being scammed, ripped-off, or conned when you buy things that you see on an infomercial. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share your experiences if you’ve tried a product that I’m reviewing!