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"Dr." Sebi: What Do We Make of this Non-Doctor?

A self-made “medicine man” thought acidity caused disease and started selling Cell Food as a cure-all

A self-proclaimed healer who tried to get Michael Jackson off painkillers is back in the news. His chosen name was “Dr. Sebi”, but his real name was Alfredo Bowman and he was not a doctor. The man who was working on his documentary, Nipsey Hussle, was murdered recently, and his death as well as Sebi’s have been taken by some as proof that shadowy forces are conspiring to suppress the truth about Sebi’s remedies.

Should we take Sebi’s body of work seriously?

Who was Dr. Sebi?

Born in Honduras in 1933, Sebi immigrated to the United States where it is said he was unsuccessfully treated for his asthma, diabetes, obesity, and impotency. An herbalist in Mexico allegedly managed to heal Sebi, which led him to create his own herbal mixtures which he sold under the name “Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food”.

He was sued in 1987 for practicing medicine without a license, but was acquitted when the state could not prove he had given medical diagnoses. He was then successfully sued by the State of New York for consumer fraud, and Sebi had to pay 900$ and refrain from making disease-specific claims.

He was later accused in Honduras of money laundering and imprisoned until his death in 2016 from pneumonia.

The Quest for Alkalinity

Sebi’s central belief seemed to have been that alkaline foods and herbs (pH > 7) are necessary to control the acid in our body, and that maintaining this alkaline state protects us from mucus build-up, which causes disease. This coronation of alkalinity as our long-awaited saviour reveals a deep misunderstanding of the human body. Our blood pH cannot be significantly altered; in fact, blood contains molecules of carbonic acid and sodium bicarbonate specifically to keep its pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Beyond that lie illness and death. That tidbit of high school biology however did not stop Sebi from selling a wide collection of herbal extracts.

Sebi’s African Bio-mineral Balance Compounds

Put simply, Sebi’s Cell Food products (also known as African Bio-mineral Balance compounds) are herbs, algae and seaweeds. For $30, you can buy a bottle of his Bromide Plus capsules, which are said to contain “Irish seamoss” (a species of red algae) and bladderwrack (a seaweed). But below the ingredient list, the following disturbing notice appears: “Dr. Sebi’s Original and Unique formulas are proprietary of Dr. Sebi and may contain ingredients not listed here.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable with the notion of popping pills containing undisclosed ingredients. Some of these ingredients could be linked to allergies, intolerances, or they could interfere with medication. Not knowing what they are constitutes a significant liability.

But have these compounds ever been shown to do what is being claimed? Take Sebi’s Blood Pressure Balance Herbal Tea, “intended to better regulate high or low blood pressure”. Its sole published ingredient is “flor de manita”, also known as chiranthodendron, a type of flowering plant native to Guatemala and southern Mexico. While it has been “used for centuries” to help the heart (an argument from tradition that constitutes no proof of efficacy), it should be elementary to test its effect on blood pressure, right? Yet the only scientific papers I could find on this flower reported on its antibacterial activity in Petri dishes and its antidiarrheal activity in mice and rats. Not a peep on blood pressure.

Many of Sebi’s compounds are sold as “detoxification” solutions, but it should be clear by now that our body does not require a regular detox. Our kidneys and liver are doing just fine at filtering our blood. The toxins we are told to fear are always vague, never properly defined, and the detox solutions we are sold have never been shown to have any impact on these hazy boogeymen.

“The African gene resonates on a higher electrical vibration”

Sebi’s beliefs about health unfortunately went beyond typical nonsense and into race pseudoscience. In a 2002 letter to the ambassador of Zimbabwe in the United States, Sebi claimed that African genes have a high electrical resonance and that his African Bio-mineral Balance naturally “compliments [sic] the African gene structure”. Genes do not resonate. They are stretches of DNA that code for proteins, not tuning forks. Moreover, there is no such thing as an African gene. In fact, one of the most replicated findings in the field of human genetic variation is that most of our genetic differences are found within geographic groups, not between them.

You may wonder then about genetic ancestry kits that tell you that your great-great-grandparents came from Ireland or Tunisia. While their precision has been called into question, they test for single-letter changes throughout your genome and compare your pattern to a reference group that self-reports as being from a certain area. While these point changes sprinkled here and there in your DNA can help identify where your ancestors came from, there is no such thing as an African or European gene.

The idea of genes vibrating at specific frequencies which dictate your food requirement is pure drivel.

Opening our eyes

The Internet is full of self-taught gurus who profess to having discovered the one true cause of every disease and the panacea with which to smite it. Unfortunately, real science is slow, nuanced, and paints the picture of a complex world in which different diseases have different causes and in which treatments are imperfect and often come with side effects.

Meanwhile, Dr. Sebi has inspired Facebook pages and groups with tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of followers. For 25$, you can purchase his eyewash made with Euphrasia plants. Maybe it’ll help us all see more clearly.

Take-home message:
• Dr. Sebi, who died in 2016, was not a doctor
• He believed that an alkaline diet could cure any disease and created “Cell Food” products to treat people, even though there is no good evidence behind these claims
• He wrote that African genes resonate at a higher frequency, which is complete nonsense


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