Tag Archives: Rob Verkerk

Amazon ban on – sorry, sales of – herbal products “illegal” – sorry, illegal.

amazonCall the police! A shrieking headline says:

Amazon ban on herbal products ‘illegal’

Wow, really? Let’s look a little closer:

The online retailer Amazon has pulled more than a hundred St John’s wort products, a herbal remedy for depression, after it was approached by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

So the statutory regulatory body approached Amazon, and Amazon pulled the products. And this is supposedly illegal. According to whom? Let’s read on:

The campaign group, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH),
says the MHRA “overstepped the legal mark” and some of those
107 products should never have been removed.

Oh really. And there’s not quite enough space to note that WDDTY contributor Rob Verkerk is the founder of the ANH, or point out that this is a body founded to promote the interests of the supplement industry, which profits handily from bullshit claims for products like St John’s Wort.

Follow the money. Unless it’s going to your friends.

The MHRA says the products were unlicensed and making
illegal medicinal claims or were inappropriately labelled. It now
plans to contact other on line retail outlets, including eBay, which have been supplying the products.

Statutory regulator enforces regulations shock. Pictures at eleven.

Amazon had two choices: challenge the request, or accede. Amazon chose to accede tot he request. They have lawyers and a metric fuckton of money, so that rather suggests that they accept the MHRA’s view that the marketing claims were illegal and the products were unlicensed.

It’s understood the MHRA acted after being approached
by the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) last
December. The association’s executive director Graham Keen
has described the action as having “a very positive outcome”.

So even some of those selling natural woo, are pissed off by the fraudulent claims of other marketers of natural woo. Interesting.

But the ANH questions the “legitimacy of the forced
product removal” and says that some of the medicinal claims
are “carefully worded health claims that are as yet not nonauthorized by the European Commission”.

Does Rob Verkerk work for the Ministry of Truth? That is some amazing doublespeak there.

It says this latest ban is part of an “ongoing campaign by the
MHRA to attack herbal food supplements without adequate
legal justification”.

Skeptics will be rolling around on the floor laughing at this: the MHRA is notoriously spineless in challenging the dubious claims of natural-woo scammers, this is incredibly rare and is based on clear-cut and flagrant breaches of the law.

How happy would WDDTY be for Big Pharma to sell products with unapproved claims via Amazon, do you think? Answers on a postcard, please.

Are West Africans dying needlessly of Ebola for the sake of Pharma profits?

No.

Thanks for reading.

Oh, wait, what? Ah. Rob Verkerk wants to add his peerless insight. Let’s see how that goes. Advance notice: there is a word I am really struggling not to use here. It is a very short word, beginning with C and ending with -unt. Read on, and be prepared to be very very angry.

Visiting Sierra Leone amidst the Ebola crisis is an experience that will remain deeply etched into my memory. The single most outstanding feature is the resilience of the people. Villages like Kigbal have lost about half their population to Ebola, yet the villagers still greeted us with warm, broad smiles-even the now mostly orphaned children. Only when reminded of their loss do the cracks appear and the depth of their loss emerges. One woman has lost four children and her husband to Ebola, while her two remaining children are still fighting for their lives. Despite her pain, she still stood proud and strong, ready for another day.

Rob, one simple question.

What the fuck were you doing in Sierra Leone?

Seriously. What the fuck?

You have no medical qualifications. You are not a doctor. This is a health emergency, and every single person in the area is at risk. Every single Westerner has to be watched and monitored to prevent them bringing the disease back. A westerner who gets infected has to be evacuated, which is a monstrous cost in resources that are already stretched to breaking point.

Have you ever heard of Dr. Martin Salia? Nina Pham RN? Dr. Craig Allen Spencer? Thomas Eric Duncan? Do you read newspapers? Listen to the radio? Watch TV? Do you have access to the internet? Because, and I am really struggling not to shout here, it is blindingly obvious that this is no place to play doctor.

You have gone to a disaster zone, basically as a fucking tourist, and you have gone without the only thing they ACTUALLY NEED: medical skills. You have imposed a cost and a burden on an area already groaning under the weight of a crisis that is barely under control. For what? To boost your own ego and your own profits? Or because you are actually so dangerously deluded that you think your facile remedies for the worried well are a valid intervention?

I am really struggling to think of a third option here, and neither makes you look good.

I also won’t forget the international presence-the logistics personnel organizing medical supplies and protective equipment, the foreign, especially British, army presence, and the fleets of World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) vehicles and staff.

Indeed. People with, you know, relevant medical expertise. The world’s religions have sent doctors and money. The worlds quacks have sent quacks. And the people of Sierra Leone, assuming good faith, let them in, only to discover that they were there for propaganda.

To the endless credit of the locals, the quacks were not lynched but sent home.

There’s also the sharp contrast between the elaborate foreign aid-built Ebola treatment centres and those built with local money, sometimes with the help of smaller non-governmental organizations. These are often built around vacated schools and community centres, with wooden frames made of tree branches, and walls and ceilings of UNICEF tarpaulin. There are around 200 of these around the country.

Yup. Sierra Leone is dirt poor. Send money, some of the cash you make from the legion of the credulous worried well.

These centres and the logistic operations are the only proven medicine against Ebola so far. They allow people with signs of fever or other symptoms of the deadly virus to be removed from their communities by ambulance, often within minutes of trained health workers-who are monitoring communities continuously-dialing the 117 emergency number on their mobiles.

And let us not forget what a staggering logistical achievement this is, given the infrastructure challenges. It’s a good job no tourists are clogging up the roads. Except you.

Once extracted, these people no longer pose a threat to their community, but are generally facing a 70 to 90 per cent certainty of death if positive for Ebola. Following death, burial is ideally within 24 hours, and a huge countrywide government campaign has been largely successful in re-educating communities to avoid their traditional practices for honouring the dead, which include touching the corpse.

25% to 90% depending on outbreak. Medical care has got survival to around 50/50 in Sierra Leone, which is average for outbreaks with good medical support, thanks to actual doctors (not vitamin pill salesmen, Rob, people with actual medical qualifications).

And the local religious communities have been doing an amazing job training people that this is a bad move, and trying to work out ways of protecting the living while honouring the dead.

Think about that for a minute. Your response is less reality-based than the religious community.

If a person brought to a holding centre tests negative, and has malaria or cholera or even morning sickness from pregnancy-which has similar symptoms to Ebola in the early stages-that person is discharged. Once discharged, though, the sad reality is that the person is now more likely to die of those other diseases or in childbirth, as the country’s healthcare system is stretched to the limits dealing with Ebola.

Correct. That’s why they need more doctors and nurses, not quacks. How many doctors and nurses did you take with you, Rob, and why did you not just send them and stay at home yourself, not being a doctor or a nurse?

Thought not.

Would now be a good time to remind everybody that 365 PEOPLE DIED A BLOODY AND AGONISING DEATH BECAUSE A TRADITIONAL “HEALER” THOUGHT SHE KNEW MORE THAN THE MEDICAL FRATERNITY?

Sorry, I said I wouldn’t shout. But, well.

The care of patients in the treatment and holding centres is largely dictated by the WHO and CDC. But one stunning fact is that their guidelines don’t advocate the use of intravenous (IV) support. This is almost unthinkable, as most Ebola patients suffer chronic dehydration due to severe vomiting and diarrhoea. It’s no surprise that one British police officer who was managing the Ebola patient extraction system and burials referred to these centres as ‘death camps’.

Gosh, I am sure the massive interdisciplinary teams of doctors, nurses, virologists and other medical researchers will be profoundly grateful for your insight, because it’s clear that they won’t have thought about this at all. It’s not as if each health worker has the potential to save a large number of lives, making them a scarce and valuable pool of resource, after all. And there are almost no reports of health workers being infected by needle stick injuries are there?

Frankly, your facile pontifications are about as useful as Matthias Rath in an AIDS epidemic. No, actually less useful: at least he is actually a doctor.

Could more lives be saved? Could more be done to improve outcomes for those struck by Ebola? I believe the answer to both is a resounding’yes’.

No doubt the Nobel Prize is in the post. After all, the WHO only has a few thousand trained staff on the ground. They must be gagging for the input of vitamin salesmen.

The best clinical evidence comes from Sierra Leonean Dr Santigie Sesay, who runs the Hastings treatment centre outside Freetown. After receiving training from the WHO – which recommends no IV in Ebola patients largely because of the risk of needle-stick injuries and cross infection to nursing staff – he and his medical team decided to act otherwise. Given that dehydration is an obvious major issue in these patients, they decided to administer IV dextrose and saline along with broad-spectrum antiobiotics and multivitamins. These simple interventions are consistently saving a further 20 per cent of lives, with the death toll falling from 60 per cent to 40 per cent of confirmed cases of Ebola before and after, respectively, the introduction of these interventions.

They take the risk, they are the ones who may die. I am in awe of their professionalism and dedication. But the average death rate form controlled Ebola outbreaks is only 50%, so it’s a big risk: they are deeply vested in the community and they should be celebrated in the same way as other medical martyrs.

That doesn’t make the WHO advice wrong. There is a reason why we celebrate first responders who enter burning buildings to rescue people. And there is a reason why orders are given against this.

The entire point of a co-ordinated response is to place objective judgments ahead of emotion. And yes, it can look callous, especially to those who have an agenda and don’t bother to think it through.

One can only wonder what would happen if more elaborate nutritional protocols were introduced, ones designed to enhance cellular hydration, modulate the immune system, reduce virus levels in the body and support recovery.

Jesus fucking wept. The period from diagnosis to death or survival is typically a week or so from first symptoms, maybe only a few days from diagnosis, during much of which time the patient is typically  emitting fluids from every bodily orifice.

Do you really think they haven’t thought about the role of hydration?

Seriously?

That is breathtakingly arrogant. Really, monstrous hubris.

Because, you know, there are some pretty smart people on the case. And your “insight” is pretty bloody facile when you consider that the standard of care has reduce fatality from around 90% to around 50% over successive outbreaks. The fatality rate in the Zaire outbreak was 88%, the Sierra Leone outbreak is, as noted, around 50%.

What could they have achieved if only they’d listened to you, eh?

But the current West African Ebola epidemic is as much a health and economic crisis for the region as it is a political tool being manipulated by Western interests. Would it be advantageous for the West to find an inexpensive solution to Ebola that could be administered locally to help break the transmission cycle?

Perhaps they could try talking sternly to it?

Or maybe, you know, they could try something really difficult, like developing a vaccine. And yes, that is staggeringly difficult for this disease.

Because in the end massive multidisciplinary medical teams are not bad at working out the best approach for dealing with a disease, it’s just that delivering the cure or preventative is normally rather harder than sitting in an office writing about it form the perspective of no realistic understanding whatsoever.

Surely not, as the high mortality rates drive fear about Ebola in both West Africa and everywhere else in the world. And bear in mind that GSK’ s vaccine, at the time of writing, is being prepped for release. Is this another example of that well-oiled business model favoured by pharmaceutical interests: first create the problem, then provide the solution? The ultimate travesty is that so many lives are being lost-and many of them perhaps needlessly.

Rob, you are an idiot. A fact-blind, agenda-driven idiot.

Vaccines are not profitable. Vaccines for rare diseases of dirt-poor countries are seriously unprofitable. Two companies have put substantial resources into developing a vaccine that will not make either of them very much money.

Did it not occur to you that they might be doing this because it’s the right thing, rather than for your own motives, profit and ideology?

No, of course it didn’t.

Idiot.

The Vitamin Wars

Few columns in WDDTY reveal the hypocrisy of the SCAM industry quite so consistently as Rob Verkerk’s. Rob runs the Alliance for Natural Health Europe (ANH-Europe), a SCAM industry lobby group indistinguishable in function and purpose from the lobbying companies used by “big pharma”, but far less scrupulous when it comes to accuracy, because Rob (like many of his contemporaries) not only lobbies for SCAM, he also makes money from SCAM, and makes more money promoting in print the SCAM from which he makes money.

His February 2014 is perfect of its type:

Few Natural-health aficionados would have been unable to miss the media reports about vitamins being a waste of money. They hit every major newspaper, radio and TV station last December.

Yes, it’s a welcome change from the usual credulous nonsense planted by people like Rob Verkerk.

The Times’ science correspondent, Tom Whipple, the journalist that has had his crosshairs focused on this very magazine in separate articles appearing on the 1st October and 2nd November, was the most condemning.

No evidence that Tom Whipple was the most condemning, but to say he has his crosshairs focused on WDDTY is a classic appeal to motives: according to Verkerk, Whipple cannot be trusted because he has an agenda against WDDTY. In fact, the opposite is true: Whipple can be trusted precisely because he has spoken out against the misleading information in WDDTY, rather than either parroting it or ignoring it as most journalists do.

Rob Verkerk, like Lynne McTaggart and all the other contributors to WDDTY, is unable to separate objective scrutiny of false information from suppression of free speech. That’s because they sincerely believe things which are unsupported by scientific evidence, and that’s precisely why any trustworthy health journalist will give overwhelmingly negative coverage to WDDTY.

His piece, in the 17th December edition of the newspaper, declared, “Vitamin pills are a waste of money, experts warn.” The Daily Mail said multivitamins “do nothing to protect us from illness”.

And this is true: for most people eating a healthy balanced diet, supplements are unnecessary. And for those who are not eating a healthy balanced diet, a change of diet is vastly preferable to supplementation.

So who are those experts, and what did they actually reveal or say? The first thing to recognize is that the most damning headlines about vitamin and mineral supplements weren’t generated from any new clinical trials or even analyses of previous trials. They actually came from an opinion piece written as an editorial by a number of scientists and appearing in the same issue of the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM) that also included three reviews of past studies. Some of the authors had been engaged in previous studies of high-dose synthetic vitamin supplements.

Apparently Rob Verkerk doesn’t understand the process of scientific consensus building. This article summarised several reviews and other evidence, and drew a conclusion. That’s what science does. It’s interesting, though, that a columnist in WDDTY would try to play the “appeal to authority fallacy” card to undermine a published paper – great swathes of WDDTY would be blank if the editors adopted the view that appeals to authority are not reliable.

But this was a serious, highly credible, well-researched article in a major  peer-reviewed journal. That’s why it is so important, and why Verkerk has to spin like crazy to downplay it.

One review, the biggest by far, evaluated 26 studies to see if there was a link between taking typical dosages and forms of multivitamin/ mineral supplements and death from any cause, as well as death from either cancer or heart disease.

Another looked at two studies that evaluated the effects of a multivitamin on reducing cognitive decline in the elderly, and the third investigated whether a multivitamin could reduce cardiovascular events among those who’d already had a heart attack.

Indeed. And the results were underwhelming to say the least.

Any clinicians worth their salt and practising in the field of nutritional medicine, if asked to propose the likely outcomes of the multivitamin interventions evaluated by the three AIM articles, would have said “no chance”. And guess what? That’s just what was found. But this then gave the editorial authors a chance to blast their anti-supplement sentiments through an opinion piece that generated international news headlines.

A physician worth their salt and practising in the field of nutritional medicine, is called a dietician. It’s a protected title, and practitioners are subject to training requirements and statutory regulation. And yes, they would say that the chances of a positive result from precisely the kinds of routine supplementation that makes millions for the SCAM industry in product sales is slim. Multivitamins are, as the article says, probably a complete waste of money. How many shelves in your local pharmacy would that empty?

It’s big business. And the business needs its spin machine – including mouthpieces like Verkerk – to undermine a finding that is in the end neither surprising nor controversial.

The anti-supplement machine is rather well oiled and appears to be wheeled out every couple of years or so, presumably to try to dissuade people from doing too much to manage their own health. Short of banning supplements—something already happening especially within the EU and causing us to lose some of the most efficacious products, which threaten drug sales—this appears to be the favoured strategy among those with this particular agenda.

The pharma shill gambit rides again. What “anti-supplement machine”? When was the last time you saw an advertisement telling you not to buy supplements? When did you last see a campaign to stop shops selling supplements? Who is behind this “anti-supplement machine”? Certainly not “big pharma”, as they own many supplement brands. Whoever it is, they are doing a startlingly inept job: supplements are everywhere, touted by all kinds of credible-looking people using sciencey-sounding words, and they are getting away with it. Nearly a third of the UK population are popping supplements, and according to the evidence they are mainly worthless. That’s not evidence of a well-oiled anti-supplement machine is it?

The statement that this is “presumably to try to dissuade people from doing too much to manage their own health” is an appeal to motives; what Verkerk really means is that promotion of good science (i.e. science talking down the benefit of supplementation) is designed to dissuade people from giving unnecessary money to him, and others like him. The whole point of recent activity around regulatory changes is precisely that people are not managing their own health by taking supplements, they are mainly handing money to charlatans. Hence controls on maximum doses, to provide some control over vitamin megadoseW quacks.

What you don’t read in the papers is what was actually found in the studies. Did you read that a simple multivitamin can lower cancer risk in men by 8 per cent? You probably didn’t read that there were many studies that found positive effects. It’s just when you pool studies that have conflicting results, the very nature of a systematic review of this type, that you run the risk of cancelling out the variable results, even when they may have been due to other factors.

The whole point of a systematic review is that it balances the chance positive findings inevitable in clinical studies, and finds the overall effect to a much greater degree of certainty. As with homeopathy, the number of positive studies is completely irrelevant to the consensus of review studies that there is no credible evidence of effect. The positive studies are not ignored by systematic reviews, they are assessed, weighted according to methodological quality, and factored into the mix.

When the summary finding is no benefit, there’s no point howling about the positive results. The systematic review has already taken account of them. That is, after all, the point.

Also conspicuously absent from the news reports was any discussion of the reasons why most people take a daily multivitamin. They do so because of perceived benefits regarding things like energy levels, athletic performance, mental alertness and immune support.

Really? Where do they get this perception of benefit, given that the reviews find no actual benefit? Ah, wait: it’s a placebo effect caused by people like Verkerk talking up the clinically indefensible products from which he makes such a nice living.

In fact, many of these kinds of relationships have actually been proven scientifically, and have been officially authorized as health claims for use on commercial products EU-wide by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU’s highest authority on food safety.And the EFSA is notoriously tough on accepting health claims. They’ve only approved about 250 in total, and most of these are for vitamins and minerals.

Not strictly true, since these approvals often rely on subjective assessments of benefit, but why would this be a problem? If the evidence is there, then the product is licensed and can be sold. If it’s not, then the evidence isn’t there. Verkerk appears to be arguing that because EFSA approves other products of this class, albeit not many, then all products of the class should be sold as if they were covered. Why would that be a good idea?

Another point made in the AIM editorial is that people can get everything they need from their diet.

Well, I agree. But only in theory, or in relation to a tiny section of society who are able to put in huge amounts of effort to source and prepare the best highest-quality foods and eat them consistently, day in, day out.

That is a fantastically implausible claim, and actually it’s the Nirvana fallacy. It is not hard to eat a balanced diet, and if it were then we’d scarcely have survived the harsh evolutionary realities of life. It doesn’t have to be the absolute best (either as defined by dieticians or quack nutritionists), it only has to be good enough.

The idea that a normal diet is substantially deficient in nutrients, is self-evidently bizarre. Vitamins were essentially unknown prior tot he late 18th Century and there is little doubt that the nutritional quality of our diet has improved vastly since then due to refrigeration and other techniques to prevent spoilage.

In practice, many of us fall dismally below optimal levels in one or more nutrients, and population-wide surveys show us that deficiencies in vitamin A (for immunity), vitamin K (for bone health), magnesium (for muscles and energy) and zinc (for immunity) are rampant. Worse than this, many of us carry genetic defects, referred to as ‘single nucleotide polymorphisms’ (SNPs), which mean we benefit from taking above average levels of particular nutrients to compensate. None of this gets a mention of course, despite the fact that this area of nutritional science— nutrigenomics—is one of the most rapidly expanding areas today.

This is a great argument for eating better and a truly terrible argument for buying a product which, according to the evidence, is routinely mis-sold by its proponents.

It seems that newspapers like The Times can only get away with creating headlines out of these issues if they are highly selective about the ‘facts’ and omit doing justice to the commonly accepted principles of standards of journalism and critical, unbiased reporting. I’m confident that most insightful readers will have been able to read past the agenda of the scientists and journalists involved.

You “forgot” to show that they were in the least bit selective. They didn’t toe the vitamin peddlers’ line, but that is a point in their favour rather than against them

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors tell you to take supplements instead of eating a reasonable balanced diet?

Because doctors, unlike vitamin peddlers, care about your health, not their profits.

The Advertising Standards Authority Exposed

The Advertising Standards Authority Exposed
“The ASA is not a government regulator—it’s a media-industry self-regulator—but it behaves as if it were a government regulator” says the callout box in Rob Verkerk’s opinion piece.

Why does the mouthpiece of the Alliance for Natural Health have such a fixation with a group whose mundane job is to check that advertisements are “legal, decent, honest and truthful”?

The answer probably lies in the sheer number of upheld complaints against the SCAM industry in general and WDDTY advertisers in particular.

In this article Verkerk tries a number of well-worn fallacies in order to advance the thesis that it’s perfectly acceptable for the SCAM industry to substitute belief for fact, because natural.

Continue reading The Advertising Standards Authority Exposed