Breaking: Hello Kitty revealed to be Satan. Or something.
As a former believer in alternative medicine who now speaks out against it, I’ve been asked by both believers and critics, “What harm did it actually do you? If most of it is just placebo, is it that bad?” So let me explain some of the ways in which it has affected me personally.
Homeopathic sleeping pills made me think I was losing my mind. I was going through some major sleeping problems, so I took homeopathic sleeping pills. I thought they would be safer and less habit-forming than over-the-counter pills, but they didn’t work. I took more. I still felt nothing. Scared to go over the recommended dosage but fed up with my insomnia, I took more and more. I realized I had taken much more than what was directed and was worried why I wasn’t feeling any drowsiness at all, let alone why I hadn’t overdosed and died. I didn’t know that I was taking sugar pills. Homeopathic remedies are diluted so much that there is little to no active ingredient. Even if there were, homeopathy is “like cures like,” so caffeine and other stimulants are used for insomnia. This is illogical. I went day after day with little to no sleep and I could barely function. This helped trigger some severe panic attacks. Long story short, I ended up going to the hospital. While talking to my doctor and explaining my problems, he abruptly left and I was sent to Psychiatric. While it wasn’t the fault of alternative medicine that I had sleeping problems in the first place, it likely wouldn’t have escalated to all that if I’d taken real medicine.
I didn’t get the HPV vaccine and now I can’t. I believed vaccines were these terrible things that gave people severe illnesses and caused autism in children. I was wrong. Very wrong. But now the age window in which I could get the HPV shot is gone for me and I cannot get it unless there is a future change in the age range. I am fine and I hope this won’t ever matter for me, but I would be upset if I ended up getting a disease that I would’ve prevented had I not believed false information.
I spent thousands of dollars on dental care and endured pain. I was convinced by Kevin Trudeau’s Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About that I needed to find an alternative medicine dentist, which I had trouble finding, so I delayed making dental appointments. By the time I realized alternative dentistry was quackery, I had dental problems that had progressed. I had to get painful treatments that took multiple visits and cost me thousands of dollars, but would’ve been easily and more affordably treated had I not delayed care. Cavities would be treated with simple fillings, but I had to get root canals and extractions instead. My main concern was fluoride treatments, along with metal amalgam, both of which are safe and effective, and it turned out my dentist no longer used metal fillings anyway. I also bought bottled water because I thought tap water with fluoride was toxic and I spent extra money on toothpaste that was fluoride-free. My unfounded fluoride fear cost me more money and added unnecessary environmental waste. If I had avoided fluoride for a long enough period of time, my dental health could have gotten even worse.
I gained weight while I was trying to lose it and wasted time and money. As I have mentioned in a post about how I lost weight, it took me years before I figured out what worked for healthy weight loss because of diet fads and alternative medicine.
Cleanses made me sick and wasted my money. I did various cleanses, thinking that I would get to the root of my problems and that it would fix multiple issues. I did colon cleanses, candida cleanses, heavy metal detoxifications, etc. Most of these cleanses included taking herbal pills, and the detox kits typically cost me $25-$40 each and didn’t get rid of any “toxins”. And some of them actually made me feel sick, but they claim that’s proof it’s working and that the toxins are leaving your body. The cleanses also usually involved difficult-to-follow diets, which had me going to expensive health food stores to buy alternative versions of conventional foods. I’d have hundreds of extra dollars in my bank account from just the money wasted on cleanses. I also canceled social plans and barely got through my work days while I was sick from the effects of the herbal pills. Sorry, friends and former co-workers.
I wasted time and money on food, toiletries, and beauty products. I thought I needed to buy organic food and avoid all artificial ingredients. Instead of shopping at the neighborhood grocery, I drove out of my way to the closest health food store, since this unfounded diet wouldn’t be possible to stick to at conventional supermarkets. I thought I had to avoid conventional skin and beauty products, such as lotion and cosmetics. The alt-med advice was not to trust certain ingredients in these products, even though they were approved by the FDA. The belief was that, since those ingredients are approved for external use only, they must still be dangerous because the skin is the largest organ of the body and it still gets absorbed. But there are natural oils that alt medders use that are for external use only but they don’t seem to think that’s dangerous, so this doesn’t make sense. I didn’t think critically about this claim, so I stopped buying cheap and effective products from conventional stores and bought their expensive alternatives at health food stores. What a waste of time and money.
I have increased my risk for skin cancer. Medical conspiracy theorists not only claim that sunscreen is toxic, but that sun exposure isn’t what actually causes skin cancer – it’s that the sun draws out toxins from inside your body and brings them to your skin – so you need to focus on cleanses and “clean eating” instead of limiting sun exposure. It turns out that skin cancer runs in my family, putting myself at an even higher risk of developing the disease. I now apply sunscreen when necessary, but I think about all the times I didn’t due to terrible advice and unfounded information. A family member recently went through treatments for skin cancer and I think of how foolish I was to not protect myself.
I wasted money on dud devices. Many people – from college professors to Dr. Oz – were saying that cell phone rays may cause cancerous tumors. There is no established link, but I believed there was. I took the advice of some alt-med advocates and bought anti-radiation shields, which were worthless items. Even if it turns out cell phones do cause cancer, these shields would not have helped.
I endured unnecessary stress. Being an alternative medicine consumer is often caused in part by belief in medical conspiracies. There was a time when I believed so many things in the world were harmful that it made my daily routines difficult for no good reason. I tried to take the quickest shower possible because I was scared of absorbing the supposed toxins in tap water. I wouldn’t microwave anything because I thought it increased my risk of cancer, so I cooked everything the slower way. Before I learned how to tell which websites related to health were valid, I became paranoid about which doctors, journalists, authors, scientists, universities, organizations, news sources, etc. were trustworthy. Now I have a much better understanding of credible sources.
I thought allergies were my fault. I have multiple allergies, some of which are severe. I thought they were exacerbated, if not caused by, eating certain foods, living a “toxic lifestyle,” having a candida problem, etc. I did difficult diets and when they didn’t help my allergies, I just thought I wasn’t strict enough on myself, wasting more time and money and causing unnecessary stress. Although OTC and prescription medications don’t make my allergies disappear completely, they do provide some relief and are better than doing a bunch of things that don’t improve my condition at all.
I wasted money on colonics. Yes, that’s right. I paid someone to put a tube up my butt and shoot water into my colon. This wasn’t something I looked forward to, but I truly thought it would benefit me. I thought the root cause of many illnesses were in the intestines. Acne, obesity, allergies, sinus pressure, lack of mental alertness, lack of energy, and more could all be helped by colonics, so I was told. This was not cheap. This procedure can also be harmful. When I went to the “health spa” to get this done, I was introduced to other woo I didn’t know about before, which led to more money wasted and possible harm caused. I got B-12 shots, which do have legitimate purposes but was used in a sham way. I had not been tested for any vitamin deficiencies and they made unfounded claims that it would give me energy and promote weight loss. There were other procedures I would’ve gotten done if I had the money and it would’ve been a waste. Once you go to a woo facility to get something done, it’s easy to get sucked into the alternative medicine lifestyle and to keep doing more unproven things.
As you can see, these things aren’t harmless. Even though I was a believer in “complementary medicine” – combining alternative medicine with conventional medicine – this is still junk and still causes harm. Many people believe that complementary is the best of both worlds and the reasonable middle-ground approach. But the fact is that these methods still don’t work, so it can still cause harm, even if combined with real medicine. Even though I no longer partake in alt med, it still has negative consequences in my life. While it’s true that science-based medicine can have side effects and be costly, at least it’s tested and peer reviewed for efficacy and safety. And it works. The things I endured with alt med were all for nothing.
When I argue with my friends about alternative medicine, I don’t do it for malicious reasons. I speak out because I don’t want others to go through what I did. And I do it because I understand why people believe these things, so I hope it will help to speak from experience.
Please feel free to list any other credible sources I may have missed and to share your own experiences in the comments. Thank you.
By simply being who he is and doing what he does, Snoop is more social justice than us all.
Top – Snoop getting his hair braided in “Gin and Juice”.
Middle – Snoop shows off his manicure. He does not care about the ‘gender binary’.
Bottom – Korean artist Psy and Snoop get drunk in their music video, “Hangover”.
In all seriousness, I’m so excited that Psy and Snoop did a song together. The video was posted on YouTube on June 8. At the time I’m typing this, it has already been viewed 78+ million views.
Here is the new video for my song, “Faith is a Slippery Pig” featuring the spoken word of Peter Boghossian – philosophy professor at Portland State University – from his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists.
Download the song for free on SoundCloud.
This past Sunday, June 15, 2014, I attended a great talk by skeptical activist Professor Robert Blaskiewicz at the Center for Inquiry in Hollywood. Many of you know him through the weekly video podcast Virtual Skeptics, his blog posts on JREF Swift and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, his work on the Skeptical Humanities blog, and his websites exposing the Burzynski Clinic. And that was what his talk was about: He went into detail about the harm that the Burzynski Clinic in Houston, TX – led by Stanislaw Burzynski – has caused and what we can do about it.
Stanislaw Burzynski is a physician based out of Houston who administers a chemotherapy called “antineoplastons.” They have never, in 36 years, demonstrated efficacy or safety. Nonetheless, Burzynski charges patients hundreds of thousands of dollars for this unproven treatment. The way that it is framed is that they are entering “clinical trials,” but the man has never, ever published the final results of a single clinical trial…
He is not a trained oncologist, but he is treating cancer. He posits a novel mechanism for cancer (a patient’s lack of antineoplastons) that is unrecognized in the medical literature as a cause. His ANP is marketed as an alternative to chemotherapy, but he gives patients chemo cocktails mixed with “terrifying” doses of sodium phenylbutyrate, mixtures that have not been adequately tested for safety and which causes hypernatremia in his patients. He has sold ANP not only as a cancer treatment, but also as an HIV treatment, an unjustified action for which he was severely disciplined by the Texas Medical Board. – TOBPG
If you caught his powerful talk at TAM 2013, his CFI talk covered some of the same information. However, much has happened since then. Notably, USA Today ran a critical piece on Burzynski in November 2013. Prior to this article, the media attention on the clinic was more on human interest stories and less on consumer protection pieces, which Professor Blaskiewicz mentioned in his CSI piece. Not only was this media attention a means to inform current or potential patients of the negative aspects of the unproven cancer treatments, it has helped skeptics and other activists in writing to legislators. The Houston Cancer Quack website had existed about a year prior to the USA Today article, but after the article was published, the call to action became stronger.
Also prior to USA Today was the professor’s website called The Other Burzynski Patient Group. The clinic’s own website features stories of a select few patients giving positive reviews. TOBPG site has instead given a voice to the many more who have been harmed by the unproven treatments and of avoiding science-based treatments at evidence-based clinics. This not only gives the victims and their loved ones a voice, but it is viewable to the public and can be found by potential patients wanting to look up information on the clinic.
Much more information can be found here:
And here is video of Professor Blaskiewicz’s talk at The Amazing Meeting last year:
Thanks to CFI for hosting the talk on Sunday and to Professor Blaskiewicz for his continued hard work in education and activism.
I had the pleasure of being in this music video by Fatally Yours, longtime hometown Bmore friends. Great song! Shot here in Hollywood. Catch me briefly at 1:17 and 4:04 with Michael Trainor.
Cameos also by Dru DeCaro, Brandon Thomas, Dave Aguilera, Jim Kaufman, and Stephanie Lopez.
Be sure to add Fatally Yours on facebook. They make wonderful music.
Over the weekend, during the wee hours of the morning, I came across a rather concerning infomercial from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God for viewers in the Los Angeles area. Religious infomercials are not uncommon and some others also spread misinformation, but this was especially troubling. I started watching around the 10-minute mark of this half-hour infomercial.
During one part of the ad, they talked about people – particularly children – with problems such as self-harm and auditory hallucinations. They said that scientists believe this is schizophrenia but that it’s actually paranormal activity and the way to get this treated is to come to the church. They even claimed that when children were untreated by the church, they would sometimes be swept away by the ocean by spirits who would suck them in.
They then showed a testimonial from a girl (I’m guessing preteen) who explained how she stabbed herself, saw and heard her dead father, and was incredibly angry at her living mother. She also mentioned how she almost got sucked up by the ocean while at the beach. At the end of her story, she said she then started going to church and everything is great now. This is dangerous misinformation to give and it breaks my heart that they would put such a young person on television to talk about this for their gain. She is very young and still possibly not in the right state of mind to fully realize everything that is happening to her right now. I am not against putting children on television per se, but it felt like they were exploiting her, and there was no mention of her getting any legitimate medical treatment. I am concerned about her wellbeing.
After that, there was a segment of one of the two pastors. He said the names of people who were dealing with hardships. He then put cards with their names on them into a tank of holy oil. He asked people to call in so they could receive the benefits of the oil. I believe part of the reason for this segment may have been to get people on the phone to convince them to visit the church and eventually give them money.
Later on, there was a woman who explained that she was dealing with severe addiction, including crack cocaine use, but isn’t doing any of that anymore thanks to the church. Again, there was no mention of getting any treatment from a qualified medical professional.
I noticed in the testimonials of the girl and the woman that neither of them mentioned how the church helped them. They said they got better after going to the church, but they didn’t say how or what they experienced to go through this transformation. I also thought it was peculiar that the pastors only briefly mentioned that they were The Universal Church. I kept seeing “Stop Suffering” on the screen, as if that were the name of the organization. It was only after I searched for them online to see what they were about that I learned the full name of the church is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. I then read some highly negative reports about them, which makes me wonder if they intentionally shortened and barely featured the name because they wanted to make it harder for the viewers to find out what they were really about.
It turns out that this a Pentecostal church that believes in faith healing. This is a dangerous charade. There have been allegations and charges of fraud and money laundering. They have also been known in their locations throughout the world to scam people out of thousands of dollars. One scam is that they advise a member going through a hardship to buy expensive holy oil. There is no evidence that this has healing properties and there have been rumors that the oil is just olive oil bought from the local supermarket. On top of scamming people out of money, they are prolonging their congregants from getting any legitimate help, which could worsen their situations. By the time the victims realize this, their money may have been depleted, making it more difficult to get any real help.
When I share stories like this one with friends, most agree with me that there is something unethical going on. But some of them believe that the victims get what they deserve. I do not agree with this. It’s easy for some of us to spot these charlatans, but I try to imagine how I would view this ad if some things in my life were different.
In the case of the young girl, her father died when she was very young and she explained how hard that hit her. Not only is she young and going through a hardship, but she might have difficulty seeing a qualified doctor even if she demanded it, as she’s in the care of her parent. It is possible that her mother is also not in the clearest state of mind while dealing with this loss. The emotional pain of losing a spouse combined with probable added stress and financial hardships of now being a single parent might be making it hard for her to spot the harm the church is doing.
Even if I were an adult able to make my own decisions, it could still affect me. If I had a severe mental illness, I may not think as rationally as I normally would about how to get help. If my illness made me think there were evil spirits controlling my life and I saw an ad that said this was really happening and claimed to offer help, it’s not far-fetched that I would come to them to rid me of this life-altering problem.
Some of their congregants may not have proper access to medical care and/or educational resources. Imagine if you were dealing with severe drug addiction and couldn’t think as clearly because of this. You may not have a supportive family. Your friends might all be other addicts. You see an ad of a church that is walkable from where you are. On top of them supposedly offering help, there is a built-in community. It isn’t hard to see how someone could possibly be a victim. With worldwide membership estimated in the millions, this is a reality for many.
Here’s another barrier: In the case of the UCKG, many of the reputable sources reporting their scams are published in Portuguese, as the church started in Brazil and is most popular there. Some people may be unaware of tools like Google Translate, which isn’t perfect, but is helpful. This is another reason someone may be easier to scam, as the ad was aimed at English speakers in the Los Angeles area.
If you or someone you know is going through a mental health issue, please understand that it is an illness and can be treated medically. Please do not listen to the false information that it’s not a real illness because it’s “in the head” or that it’s actually something supernatural. Faith healing does not cure diseases and can be harmful when used instead of real treatment. Please consult a medical professional practicing science-based medicine. Like many other types of illnesses, there may be ups and downs to the treatment. You might have to try different things before you find what works best for you. It can sometimes be a long, frustrating process. But science-based medicine is the best method we currently have and it has saved and improved countless lives.
Here is my new song, “Faith is a Slippery Pig,” featuring the spoken word of Peter Boghossian from his audiobook, “A Manual for Creating Atheists”.
Here is the new music video for Skeptoid’s 400th episode! I am happy to be a part of this video as a nurse, dancer, and posse member.
Skeptoid is currently the 13th most popular podcast on iTunes in the “Science & Medicine” category. Congrats to Brian Dunning on his 400th episode and all of his success. He has helped provide the public with essential critical thinking skills and information.
Thanks to all the cast and crew. And check out NewRuleFx for your special effects props and equipment needs!
I saw this going around yesterday, which was claimed to have been said by the current Pope:
“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them.”
A search on Google yesterday showed no valid source for this quote and it has been posted as false on Snopes.com today. It wasn’t a statement worth applauding anyway. This reminds me of junk like “The Secret”. That is not how truth works. Something is not true just because you believe super squeezy hard for it to be reality. I can deeply believe that the white rabbit/imp-like creature Kuromi is a real-life being I can hang out with, but she is not. And what if the same amount of people wish equally for it to be true and not true? Kuromi can’t both exist and not exist at the same time.
Furthermore, religions contradict each other and some explicitly state that if you don’t believe this exact branch, you are wrong and will be punished eternally for it. Only 0 or 1 religions can be true. They cannot all be true.