Monday, April 30, 2007

Sham: "Borrowed Science"

How would you like it if you read an article about how great a product is, and then bought some, only to find it didn't work at all? If you are like me, I'd label that a SHAM.

Many of us consume dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins and botanical products that have claims about their use. In fact, that's much of what we'll be reporting on here in Sham vs. Wham. Unfortunately, as much as I love these alternative healthcare products in general, there are far too many ways to "trick" the public when marketing departments go to work.

The biggest frustration that I have is something called "borrowed science." If you've been reading this blog, you know that I've spent much of my life working with science and scientists, and data to support a product's sale is very important to me. I admire those companies that spend the time (and money) to get their proprietary research out into the marketplace, or to help academic researchers and clinicians perform clinical trials on their products in humans. After all, before I take something, I'd like to know exactly what to expect. While I may be a little bit more fanatical than others about this because of my work experience, I think we all have the same general idea. Before spending our money, we'd like some assurance that the stuff actually works. Sometimes its a safety issue, but most often it's just an efficacy issue. Who wants to spend their money on something that doesn't work any better than a sugar pill???

That's where good science comes in. There are a number of companies all over the world that do the math (and the science) on their products. This research and clinical data supports their specific product and formulation. I'll be highlighting these products in the WHAM category over the next months. However, there is no bigger SHAM than those other companies that take the research of one company and pass it off as their own on their websites or marketing literature.

Here's an example . . . A magazine called "Let's Live" published an article in December 2006 about the herb Andrographis, with a lot of hoopla about how well it works and what it does to prevent colds and flu, or to knock out sinusitis, etc. Much of the research discussed, both in the text as well as in the referenced scientific literature, was from Swedish Herbal Institute, all conducted on a very specialized product called Kan Jang®, and yet the Swedish company or their product was never mentioned. The magazine actually used this research and clinical data to support the products of a number of other companies whose products were shown. I find this particularly scary, especially in light of the fact that Kan Jang® is a product that contains a combination of herbs, and not just Andrographis. How can they even suggest that a simple bottle of Andrographis would give you the same results as a complex, multi-herb product?

After an article like this, thousands of sales clerks in stores that distribute this free magazine start pitching these claims for their $6.99 bottles of Andrographis tablets, when in reality, the product that actually did have these clinical results wasn't even mentioned in the article. Yes, that's unfair; it is borrowed science, one of the biggest problems facing the consumer of dietary supplements. Borrowed science is a SHAM. Magazine and journal editors need to have the guts to place the following cautionary statement into articles in which supplement claims are made:

"The studies described in this article may involve proprietary standardized preparations of the herb under discussion which differ significantly in their constituents from other products manufactured from the same herb. The results of studies on one formulation cannot be taken as evidence regarding the effectiveness or safety of other formulations."

An excellent article about this topic from our favorite medicine hunter Chris Kilham is linked to the headline of this blog. (Unfortunately, after editorializing on the topic, Kilham recommends a few supplements that "borrow" the science of other companies. While this experienced veteran's work certainly falls far from the SHAM category, I just don't understand the contradiction.)


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Healthy Products from Iceland

Talk about a beautiful place filled with healthy people . . . When you are in Iceland, it reminds you of that cliché about dying and going to heaven.

In the late 1990's, our business was growing exponentially (Search Masters International, now a division of Kelly Services, a $4 Billion Michigan company) and we had biotechnology clients coming to us from various parts of the world to help them find the scientists they needed to fill their research labs. I would regularly head overseas to visit these companies, and my wife and partner (Linda) would join me, often with my son who was 12 or 13 years old at the time. One of our favorite destinations was Iceland, not only because I had a client in the area, but because it was a great stop on the way to Europe. You can't find a more beautiful, relaxing and inspiring place to spend a few nights and break up the jet lag.

I was reminded of Iceland last night. My allergies started acting up again, and I found myself unable to sleep due to the wheezing and discomfort of lying in bed with all the doors and windows open. (No, Arizona is NOT any better than Ohio for allergy sufferers!). I get a funny throat discomfort with my allergies, and there is only one product that helps me. It's called VOXIS, and it's a lozenge that is sold all over Iceland. It's produced by a company called SagaMedica, and it's a product that falls into the WHAM category, for sure. (I recently stocked up on this wonderful product via eBay, but don't see it listed there today. Write to if you'd like to find out where to buy).

The ingredient of VOXIS, Arctic Angelica (Angelica archangelica), is gathered from the pure, Icelandic environment by this biotechnology company, SagaMedica, and is processed into an extract that is included in the lozenge along with flavors and other ingredients. Nothing artificial. I find that it is without a doubt the best of the "cough drop" type products, but it's hard to categorize. There are no cough drops I am aware of that calm down throat and mouth irritations the way that this product does. I'm even convinced that the Arctic Angelica has a huge beneficial effect on my lungs and the wheezing problems that I get from my allergies . . . Last night I was asleep in ten minutes after the lozenge went to work.

If you've never seen the Arctic Angelica plant, click on the title of today's post to go to the SagaMedica website. It is all over Iceland, a "beautiful weed" that grows by the coast, their rivers, and is even now being considered as a commercial plant for cultivation there. I'm going to talk more about plants from these Arctic climates in the near future, as one of my favorite products in the world "Arctic Root" also comes from an herb that grows in the wildest areas of places like Iceland.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

How this Site Came About

Thanks for landing here, as a prospective new reader of "Sham vs. Wham: The Health Insider." I'll briefly introduce my background and then tell you why this blog exists, and what you will find in coming issues. I'm hoping for some serious reader feedback as well.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, my wife and I left Ohio where I had grown up with allergy problems and basically lived in agony for a good 50% of the year. Knowing that Arizona had a reputation as a better location for allergy sufferers, we targeted a new life in Tucson and made the move, without even considering the fact that I had no job. I guess we're both risk takers. We bought a house as soon as we landed, and I took what I considered to be a "temporary" job working in a service provider to the healthcare industry. My job was to work as an executive recruiter (a "headhunter") for a new industry sector -- biotechnology -- that was just starting to blossom at the time. Genentech had just gone public, and the word was out that the industrial life sciences was super hot.

And hot it was. After a couple of years, I formed my own business which grew like a weed serving both biotech and the pharmaceutical industry. My life consisted of working closely with brilliant scientists -- those who were in the research and product development side of their business. My own background in science paled in comparision to these young scientists I was asked to recruit. These folks really knew what made the human body tick, and I spent a couple of decades getting to know all that I could about health and science products from the "big pharma" perspective. I was a very happy person to be so involved in an industry that helped people with their health-related problems.

And then two things happened to me, simultaneously, that sent me on a completely different mission.

First off, one of the scientists I placed had moved into marketing, and I asked him about his move. He told me that he had been asked to "invent a disease" for an anti-fungal compound his employer had in the research lab. He described how he had taken a relatively benign little fungal issue for humans and gone to work with his marketing department to make it into a reason to have a drug. Sure enough, I saw the TV commercials come later. Suffice it to say that this let a LOT of the steam out of my interest in working for that company.

The second change in my life came when my barber gave me a piece of advice. I had been using a daily pharma product (Rogaine®) to maintain as much of my fading hairline as I could. The barber suggested that I try a particularly odd-smelling shampoo that had been "developed by the psychic, Edgar Cayce." Now, I live in Sedona, Arizona, so I am no stranger to weird recommendations coming about non-traditional remedies, but I've never, ever been able to buy into all of that because my background is science-based. And yet, there was something about the sincerity of my barber in her suggestion, that I went ahead and bought some. Sure enough, this goofy product that smells like a gas station started to make my hair grow back in.

I was in the middle of a mid-life crisis at that point. All my professional life had been directed to a career in the biosciences, and my trust in the pharma industry had suddenly eroded at the same time that I was experiencing an "alternative" product that actually worked.

And that's the basis of Sham vs. Wham: The Health Insider. I'm going to lay out the cards here about what works and what doesn't, and pull from both scientific as well as alternative sources any and all information that validates healthy product claims, along with detailed medical information via regular health news updates.

Enjoy reading. Please check back -- I'll be here as close to every day as my life will allow.