Thursday, 22 April 2010

[Health] Pop Fiction

Recently, a man called Marcus Bass sent me a bag of lollipops. Not only were these lollipops absolutely delicious, but also, apparently, they might actually be good for me.

Obviously, these are no ordinary lollipops. No. These are revitaPOPs.

revitaPOPs are the invention of Stan Kurtz, who is, as the homepage of his personal website attests, one hell of a human being. Although it might be worth remembering, he's not a doctor.

According to the biog page of his site, not only did Stan cure himself of irritable bowel syndrome, but also, Stan and his wife Michelle ‘recovered their son Ethan from autism’. Stan also set up Children’s Corner School, a biomedical school programme with saunas, rarefied air and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Then he sold the school and became President of Generation Rescue, an organisation with the controversial motto ‘Autism Is Reversible’, where he got to hang out with Generation Rescue board member, renowned anti-child vaccine spokesperson and – according to some – murderer, Jenny McCarthy – and her funny boyfriend.

Some time around then Stan hit upon the idea (patent pending) of providing concentrated bursts of the wonder-vitamin B12 in two exciting new ways. First, the delicious revitaPOP sucksickle – mmmmm. Second, the not-so-immediately–appealing nasal spray… at which, unsurprisingly, the marketing dollar is not really being aimed.

Speaking of marketing, Marcus Bass works for LA PR company The Brand X Group. They represent Kurtz and they sent me - floundering blogger with nary a good word to say about anything - a pack of seven goji-flavoured revitaPOPs, to see what I thought.

Now - what I'm trying to avoid here is knee-jerk cynicism. My instinct, sadly, is to assume revitaPOPs are a con, probably with less nutritional value than, say, a three-week-old lychee, and furthermore that everyone who says otherwise has a vested interest in the product, or is - simply put - either lying or frighteningly suggestible.

However, I am determined to eschew my cynicism and examine revitaPOPs as objectively as is possible. First though, a quick butcher’s round the old internet is in order.

Hello, who's this?

Why, it's Tania Reuben! Gosh. How wholesome is she?

Extremely wholesome Tania has long been an advocate of the power of B12 supplements to fight colds and flu and was happy to run a revitaPOP competition on Of the revitaPOP people’s claims for the efficaciousness of their lollipops, Tania writes:

That's exactly the kind of open-heartedness I'm aiming for. Tania, I salute you.

Fellow blogger and mum of three little autists, Kim Stagliano, tried a revitaPOP at an autism convention and immediately felt the effects. 'Holy cow!' she writes. 'Within seconds I felt a distinct "ping" in my brain and I became more alert, bubbly and energetic.'

Which prompted the following comment:

Marketing Marcus will be giving himself a little pat on the back for that one. And rightly so.

Then I paid a visit to the lollipop’s MySpace page where, you will be thrilled to hear, revitaPOP is friends with both Kanye West and Timbaland, which is pretty awesome. More awesome even than that, however, is this video of revitaPOP testimonials. My favourite is probably, ‘It’s a lollipop, and yet – it’s so much more.’ Check it out...

Bizarrely enough, despite each and every one of these heartfelt, thoroughly plausible personal testimonies, my cynicism was still threatening to make a comeback, so Marcus Bass put me in contact with David Dobkin, revitaPOP Operations Manager and not – despite what certain bot-powered news sites might claim – the same David Dobkin who directed Wedding Crashers. (I asked.)

So, when I received my bag of revitaPOPs, I noticed from the bumf that each pack of seven lollipops contains 430,000 times one’s daily vitamin B12 requirement. That's 60,000% a pop. Now I’m no expert, but that seems like a lot. Is there not a chance a person could overdose? Dobkin explains: ‘The FDA has not set an upper limit on B12 consumption because B12 is water soluble. This means that you cannot overdose. Once your body has absorbed enough of the vitamin, it will flush out the remainder through one’s urine. B-12 is non-toxic and there is no danger at all.’

Well, fair enough. And just because you can’t overdose on something doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. Just look at homeopathy.

Really then, despite the recommended dosage of two pops per day for an adult (one for a child), you could really have, say, ten in a single hour and not suffer any adverse effects. ‘You can have 10 pops in an hour,’ confirms Dobkin. ‘It would just give you expensive urine.’

He's right about the expense. revitaPOPs currently retail at $35 (£22.76) for 10. Still, if it's going to stop you getting cancer. And AIDS. This is actually my main area of concern with revitaPOPs, the excessive claims that they combat various ailments, including autism, cancer and AIDS. Or at least they used to. This is a cache of the old revitaPOP site, a page entitled The Benefits of Methylcobalamin - methylcobalamin, Dobkin clarifies, is ‘the only neurologically active form of B12’ - it's the stuff that powers the pops:

Interestingly, on the new site – a slightly sinister-looking thing launched by Brand X earlier this month – the wording has been changed and all references to cancer, AIDS and autism have been excised. Instead the whole benefits bit above has been repackaged as a slightly misleading bauble of bellyaching that actually looks like a hypochondriac’s tag cloud:

Despite the distancing language - 'involved' is great - the impression given is clearly meant to be that the revitaPOP is some kind of panaceaPOP. Therefore, cynicism aside, I was wondering, isn’t this all just a little bit fucking ridiculous?

‘Each claim we make is verified by at least one published scientific study,’ says Dobkin. ‘We have republished several of these studies on our website.'

This is true. There are six links, some but not all of which lead to studies which suggest that methylcobalamin may have positive effects on various ailments. It looks very like someone has just gone to some online medical journal database like PubMed and searched for 'methylcobalamin' though.

Dobkin continues: 'You can also perform a search of the medical journal database pubmed and search for methycobalamin to find literally 1000’s of papers related to our and other claims.’

Actually, there are literally 565 results returned for 'methylcobalamin'.

Cynicism aside, the supporting science is far from overwhelming. Which is of course why the revitaPOP is marketed as a 'dietary supplement' and not, say, a medicine.

Indeed, as wholesome Tania mentioned earlier, on the back of the packet, in reference to a toned-down list of the benefits of methylcobalamin appear the words: ‘These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.’

‘This is a legal statement mandated by federal law,’ says Dobkin. ‘All dietary supplements must carry this statement. Flintstone vitamins, Vitamin K pills, anything that is classified as a dietary supplement must contain this language. All it means is that the FDA does not approve dietary supplements in the same manner it does prescription drugs.' That's all it means: the FDA, cynical beast that is it, merely assumes that the revitaPOP has no perceivable health benefits, because it's a lolly.

Alongside the FDA statement there is a disclaimer. It reads: 'These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.' Bodkin explains that this disclaimer is also a legal requirement. ‘Only prescription drugs can make disease claims that they can cure or prevent anything. B-12 deficiency has been shown to cause or be involved with the litany of diseases mentioned. Our pop is a B12 supplement, and an effective one at that, as shown by our electroencephalograph study.’

Oh, Mr Dobkin. As my grandmother always said, the moment someone tosses an electroencephalograph at you, you know you've won the argument.

It's on the research page, the stuff about the electroencephalograph, including a couple of cracking PDFs, but neurofeedback is a flimsy mistress at the best of times and in my most humble, I read a lot of words, but there was very little actually said. I think the electroencephalograph is a smokescreen. I think there's still basically just a small man behind a curtain with a loudhailer. For a more detailed version of the report, you are sent here, to Stan's site, where the following emoldened words leap out at you and finally, your cynicism comes bounding back into the room and says, 'Oh, come on.'

Look, if you've read this far, I salute you, and I say to you: in my opinion, revitaPOPs are very tasty but utterly, utterly useless. I base that on a combination of my own experience, the insuperable bogusness of the PR and, of course, good old common sense.

Now I'm off to work on my new invention: Cold Orange Soup. This is 100% fresh oranges served as a pulpy soup (patent pending). It is absolutely packed with vitamin C, deficiency of which has been shown to be involved in scurvy, anaemia, nosebleeds, cancer, autism and AIDS.

And if it's a decent ping you're after, I'm hearing very good (and equally credible) things about naphyrone.

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Tuesday, 6 April 2010

[Real Life] Spring!

I’ve just spent four days writing and as far as this blog is concerned I have absolutely nothing to show for it. It’s almost as if I really don’t care anymore. But that's not the case, honest. It’s just other stuff. And it’s just a phase, I swear.

People have sent me lots of stuff to review as well. Lollipops that combat autism, AIDS and cancer. A vibrator that synchs with your iPod (not sure what I’m supposed to do with that exactly – I could shove it up my bottom but… well, we'll see). Plus a book about kissing and a book about men having very little imagination.

If you sent me any of those things, fear not, I’ll almost certainly get round to writing something about them sooner or later, but for the moment, reviewing things is really just slightly nauseating. And reading books takes ages, especially when you’re working 40-hour weeks and trying to write something you care about in what little free time you have.

I’ve been trying to write a novel, since you ask. It’s about families and secrets and lies. I've been working on it for quite some time now, on and off, and I’m about 200 pages in. I think it might be crap.

Did you have a nice Easter though? I do hope so. I hope you did something excellent like build a large Christ out of cheese. I had a nice Easter but I spent it in absolute isolation, writing and drinking Bloody Marys and writing and eating pizza and writing and smoking cigarettes and writing and eating sardines. Lots of writing then, which is good, I’m sure, unless it all comes to nothing, but even then, it’s better than spending money on drugs. (I tried to spend some money on drugs on Sunday in a moment of weakness, but everyone was away. It’s been about six weeks now. I’m not sure I approve.)

I've really got back into smoking cigarettes again though, sometimes whilst simultaneously wearing a nicotine patch for extra Stupid Points. It's utterly shameful. And the last pack of tobacco I bought featured this delicious health warning:

Whoa! How many cigarettes do you have to smoke to get a scarf made of meat? And if that doesn't stop me, what will? Maybe the moustache.

Anyway, I’m joining a gym tomorrow – again! Will I never learn? No, it’s good. It’s spring! Fresh start! I’ve actually got into a bit of a routine over the past three weeks. I get up at 6, make sandwiches and cycle to work in the West End. I get there by 7.15, just in time for the office to open, then I get changed, put talc on my bum and mess around with my own stuff till I have to start work on other people’s stuff around 9.30. Then I cycle home and have a bath. It’s a 25-mile round trip approximately. I reckon once I throw in regular gym visits, I’ll be buff as a bastard by the time the paperback comes out.

Speaking of which, what do you reckon to the cover? Oh, and the new dumbed-down title?

Don’t tell me the cover’s pants, please. Resist.

By the way, while I have your ear, anyone have any idea where I might hold this gathering on June 4th? I want somewhere a) free (or at least with a not outrageous minimum spend) b) for anywhere between 10 and 100 people (I'm guessing) c) preferably in Soho or at least somewhere central. Any thoughts, you people who know London better than I?

Right, on I get. Speak your thoughts in the comments...

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