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Is Resveratrol the new miracle drug?

Health gurus have apparently discovered secrets that thousands of researchers have missed, along with natural remedies that Big Pharma has swept under the carpet. And if you want to reap the benefits of these discoveries, all you have to do is buy their books, subscribe to their newsletters, or invest in their dietary supplements.

They know how to bypass a bypass. They know how to energize your body and brain without exercise. They can make Parkinson’s tremors vanish. They can produce erections that last two hours. And of course, they know how to cure cancer, macular degeneration and diabetes. Who are “they?” According to the brochures that show up in my mailbox, and I’m sure in yours, they are “maverick physicians,” “brilliant MDs,” and “courageous doctors who dare to swim against the tide.” These health gurus have apparently discovered secrets that thousands of researchers have missed, along with natural remedies that Big Pharma has swept under the carpet. And if you want to reap the benefits of these discoveries, all you have to do is buy their books, subscribe to their newsletters, or invest in their dietary supplements.

Dr. Victor Marchione really wants to look after me. That must be why he sends me documents entitled “Health Alert Briefing” or “Confidential Health Briefing,” replete with scientific looking file numbers. And you know the contents must be really important because “action is required immediately.” What sort of action? The purchase of “Dr. Marchione’s Vintality” supplement (according to File No. 070 7117) or that of his “Smart Pill” (File No. DMF/006756). Obviously the man must prepare a lot of secret files if such complex numbers are required to keep track of them.

What will Vintality allow us to do? Indulge in food without consequence, energize our bodies and brains without exercise and live healthier without sacrifice. That’s right. “Delicious desserts, rich creamy sauces, buttery pastries, and all the other high-caloric and high-fat foods that send your taste buds into a frenzy of joy may no longer be dangerous to your health.” As long as you swallow Marchione’s pill which “gives you the health advantages of an entire bottle of red wine in a single tablet!” Of course you have to swallow his arguments as well. These are mainly based on “exhaustive research at Harvard that nutrients in red wine virtually eliminate the dangers of high-calorie, fat-rich foods.” Actually, the research referred to was not done on humans, and did not use “red wine pills.”

Harvard molecular biologist David Sinclair fed one group of mice a standard laboratory diet, another group an unhealthy diet with 60% of the calories coming from fat, and a third group the same unhealthy diet supplemented with regular doses of resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine. As expected, the mice in second group became obese, showed signs of diabetes and heart disease and died prematurely. The mice in the resveratrol group also became fat, but they remained healthy and lived as long as the animals that ate a normal diet and stayed thin. Pretty captivating stuff, but the amount of resveratrol given the mice was roughly equivalent to that found in a hundred bottles of red wine. And it was pure resveratrol, not some ill-defined extract of red wine. Marchione himself admits that until he developed Vintality, you would have to drink hundreds of glasses of red wine every day to give yourself the level of nutrients equal to the amounts used in the research (although he doesn’t mention that the research was on mice). Curiously then, he promotes his tablets which he openly declares contain nutrients equal to that found in one bottle of red wine. By my count, that equals only four or five glasses, not hundreds.

In any case, we have no idea what these tablets really contain. Resveratrol is notoriously difficult to preserve, and the label gives no information about specific nutrient contents. And we really can’t put too much stock in Marchione buttressing his hype with the impressive longevity of Jeanne Calment, the French lady who set a record by living to the age of 122. According to this astute physician, “scientists now know why cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart problems and immune deficiencies never took their toll on her body.

Jeanne Calment loved her red wine and drank it every day!” The good doctor then goes on to tell us that “all the miracles of red wine that kept Jeanne going so strong for so long can be yours even if you never take a sip of the stuff.” All you have to do is shell out a hundred dollars for a three month supply of Vintality. I wonder how many people are going to take Marchione at his word and load up on fatty foods hoping to neutralize the effects with red wine pills. Seems to me a pretty dangerous idea for a physician to be promoting.

How does he get such ideas? “I used to work hard to come up with new ideas,” he says. “But not anymore. Big ideas come to me more quickly, almost without any effort at all. And it’s all because of The Smart Pill. Guaranteed to work for you too.” Well, I’m not sure I want to swallow pills that generate ideas about letting people run loose with fat consumption as long as they are taking Vintality supplements. Anyway, what is in these Smart Pills that “can help erase your worries about losing your mental functions as you age or about being stuffed away and forgotten in a lonely nursing home?” Vitamins C (60 mg), E (18 IU), B6 (5 mg), B12 (15 mcg), folic acid (200 mcg), flaxseed powder (25 mg), Siberian ginseng (25 mg), ginkgo biloba (15 mg), alpha lipoic acid (12.5 mg) and spinach leaf powder (12.5 mg). There is absolutely no scientific evidence that this combination has any effect on brain power or memory. The amounts of vitamins are those found in numerous multi-vitamin supplements, and while there have been some studies attesting to the benefits of ginkgo, ginseng and lipoic acid, they have all used amounts way in excess of that found in The Smart Pill. The only evidence for The Smart Pill is anecdotal. It seems the concoction has allowed Dr. Marchione to come up with a scheme to convince the public to fork out a hundred bucks for a three month supply of a supplement that is backed by zero scientific evidence. That seems pretty smart. Dr. Marchione is not the only one interested in my health. Dr. Julian Whitaker, “the world’s most acclaimed living founder of natural healing,” also sends me his pamphlets. So does Jonathan Wright, a physician “whose brilliant mind finds miracles hidden in substances as harmless as cinnamon, mustard and sugar cane.” Then there is Dr. David Williams, who models himself on a fictional character as he “sniffs out bogus health claims and miracle cures like a modern day Sherlock Holmes.”
Drs. Whitaker, Wright and Williams are certainly real. And although each one implies that he is the world’s leading champion of “alternative medicine,” and its most respected authority, they do share a common belief. They promote the notion that drugs produced by the money-grabbing, unethical pharmaceutical industry are mostly ineffective, cause terrible side effects, and drive people into the poorhouse. But natural, highly effective non- prescription remedies devoid of side effects are available. Of course, pharmaceutical companies try to suppress this information, as well as the publications that promote them, in order to protect the sales of their expensive useless drugs. Now, I am not so naïve as to believe that the pharmaceutical industry is staffed by a bunch of choir boys. There are plenty of skeletons in that closet. Many drugs are hyped beyond what they can deliver, and there are plenty of examples of questionable profit squeezing. But still, these drugs are based on sound scientific research, and their approval requires the submission of extensive safety and efficacy data. Is the approval process foolproof? Of course not. Some nuances only come to light after a drug has been used in the general population for a long time. No amount of testing can guarantee perfect safety. It is always a question of balancing risks versus benefits. This concept, though, seems to elude the promoters of “natural healing.” Their implied message is that if a substance is natural, it is safe. Oh, really? The allergen in peanuts is completely natural. So is poison ivy. And the Amanita muscaria mushroom. In truth, the safety of any substance can only be determined by observation and testing, not by determining whether it was made in a lab or a bush. And its effectiveness as a drug can only be demonstrated by proper, controlled trials.

Julian Whitaker, like the other “natural” prophets, doesn’t seem to share this philosophy. Rather, his advice is based on anecdotes, cherry-picked data and preliminary research. “America’s #1 Diabetes doctor,” as he is billed in the advertising brochure that promotes his newsletter, (I wonder where and when this competition took place) claims to have a “3-Day diabetes miracle.” I’m not sure what this is, since you have to order his pamphlet to find out, but there is allusion to the use of vanadium and magnesium supplements. While there is some scientific evidence that these minerals may help to control blood sugar in some cases, nobody has ever beaten diabetes in three days, as “living legend Julian Whitaker” claims in huge red letters on the front cover of his Health and Healing promotional brochure.

It may take him only three days to cure diabetes, but dementia is tougher. It takes 30 days, according to another of his pamphlets. Of course you will need a specific course of vitamins, which he happens to have available for sale. Whitaker also has a vitamin cure for cancer, and can eliminate the need for a bypass operation with fish oil, vegetable juice and B vitamins. I’m sure this is interesting news to the Norwegian researchers who have just completed a trial administering either placebo or vitamin B supplements to over three thousand patients with angiographically demonstrated blockages in their coronary arteries. After 38 months (quite a bit longer than the three week cure Whitaker claims) there was no difference between the vitamin and placebo groups.

Jonathan Wright sounds more like a deity than a physician. “Instead of aiming a chemical howitzer at health problems, Dr. Wright attacks them with the deft precision of a martial arts master, a mineral here, a vegetable there, and today’s most feared diseases collapse at his feet.” Wow! One of these wonder vegetables is eggplant. “That’s C-U-R-E, not just improve one of today’s deadliest and scariest cancers, usually in under three months,” screams his brochure. “Virtually the entire medical community ignored this natural discovery, but one courageous doctor (Wright) broke the news and has spent his career proving that nobody does it better than Mother Nature.” Right. And the tooth fairy leaves coins under pillows.

The cancer Wright refers to is skin cancer, and the research involved the use of a specially prepared eggplant extract. Indeed, the product worked better than placebo, and has potential for the treatment of some skin cancers. But the answer to Wright’s question, “could a true cancer cure with a 100% success rate get covered up?” is no. His “Special Expose” is pure nonsense. The study is available in the open scientific literature.

Then there is David Williams. “No other scientist has introduced the world to as many important new health discoveries-or blown the whistle on more fakes and mistakes.” And we should really trust him. Why? Because, Williams says, “when some bright, young scientist or inventor hits on something exciting, I’m usually the first person he or she calls.” And gee, I thought their inclination would be to publish their results in a scientific journal. But Williams doesn’t just take their word for a breakthrough. When he “hears of some promising research he checks it out personally, often hopping on a plane, traipsing through a jungle, or examining patients himself to make sure the results are bona fide.” If he’s satisfied, he brings samples back home, runs his own tests, and even tries it out on himself. Yup, that’s just the way that science should be done. And what qualifies Williams as a medical messiah? He’s a chiropractor. Apparently a very brainy one. According to his brochure, Williams “connects the dots and ingeniously reveals the big picture, like Albert Einstein.” “You could say that he is the Michael Jordan of alternative medicine,” the brochure proclaims. You could say that I suppose, but I wouldn’t.

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