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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PurestGreen said...

Someone could repackage good old british kale as a super food (which it is) and make loads o' cash. The trick is to make something that people walk past everyday seem like something unique and "must have." And then people would eat more kale, which wouldn't be a bad thing.

La Bête said...

I like kale. I think. You don't see so much of it these days, do you? I remember not long ago, all this was kale. Not anymore. Now it's all spinach and rocket. Not bad leaves of course. Hold on, what is kale? Is it not just cabbage? I like cabbage.

Anonymous said...

I have in my possession some Charles Worthington shampoo that promises “three-dimensional shine with exceptional results”. Yes, three-dimensional. Not two, but three. It is “enriched with moisturising rice protein and antioxidant white tea”. Rice protein, I said. It also promises to boost my hair’s “manageability and bounce”.

I also have a Clinique “age decelerating” face cream which claims that “lines and wrinkles seem to evaporate, replaced by plump vibrant skin”.

Sadly, the only things on me that have any bounce are my ever-sagging titties, which flounce about when I least want them to. And the only thing about me that’s plump is my ass, which is growing increasingly plumper by the day.

I realise now I’ve got it all wrong. I need to slather that face cream on my titties to make them "plump", and I should shampoo my ass to make it more "manageable".

Now, I’d like to try one of your super suckers, and a bit of kale with some Cold Orange Soup, please.

A Twitter Friend

PurestGreen said...

Kale is a form of cabbage but the leaves are really crinkled and don't form a head. Kale is extra tasty when tossed with a little bit of olive oil and sea salt (just a tiny bit) and roasted in the oven until it is crispy.

I also like cabbage. And I like your blog.

Anonymous said...

PurestGreen and lovely Stan, kale is also delicious in homemade minestrone soup. I shall make a big vat of it and invite you both for dinner.


Please bring the suckers. I want to feel perky - like the lady in the video.

Julian said...

You haven't been reading the celebrity pages!

The funnyman is no longer the boyfriend of the murderer.

(Yeah, you've done a great job of pulling apart the bullshit, woo-woo claims, and *this* is what I choose to comment on. Sorry!)

Mike Booth said...

I love you, Mr Cattermole.

It's wonderful how marketing people send you their stuff expecting just another blog recommendation. More of this kind of thing, please!

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Haham I love this review.

It's amazing what these people can get away with, isn't it? My favourite bit was when he said that B12 was water soluble, so any excess will just not get absorbed and will come out in your urine*. So of that 60,000%, 59,900% is utterly pointless and will go in one end, out the other.

But people will still buy it, and all those poor desperate parents of autistic kids will convince themselves they see a difference.

*As the man himself pointed out, your expensive urine.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

...and this reminds me of something really horribly shocking.

In the 80s there was a movement of parents of autistic kids who started championing something called Facilitated Communication. I knew someone who gave tuition to a severely autistic girl who couldn't talk at all, and could barely walk. But with her mother's help, she could write. Often only one word per page, sometimes only one letter, but via the resulting scrawl they discovered she could read, write and in fact had quite sophisticated thoughts. Also they realised that... those books she compulsively flicked through at several pages per second? She was actually reading them. Her mother would sit in on her tutoring sessions, guiding her hand and enabling her to stun the tutor with her amazing (written) maths skills.

But... facilitated communication may be (is probably) just a version of the automotive response, something which is exploited by mind-reading magicians such as Derren Brown. The idea is that the magician holds the hand of a volunteer and lead them to a place where they have previously hidden something. The magician leads the volunteer, rather than the other way around, and the volunteer is duly amazed when the hidden item is revealed. The magician has asked the volunteer to think hard about the hidden object but say nothing and give no clues, and then claims to have read the volunteer's mind.

Of course the truth is that the volunteer gives away small involuntary physical clues, subconsciously guiding the magician to the thing they are thinking about.

The claim with facilitated communication is that the autistic subject is only able to write when someone is guiding their hand. And yet studies have shown that in fact the writing is coming (subconsciously) from the facilitator, not the autistic subject.

How horrible is that? Thousands of parents who believe they are finally communicating with a child they thought was locked away forever... when in fact they are talking to themselves.

Of course it's hard to convince them, and many will never know / believe the truth. Maybe this is a positive kind of fantasy, which makes everyone happy? I don't know.

kbxmas said...

Hypochondriac's tag cloud. I like that. And yeah, I know where to get my pings and it doesn't cost me a thing.

clumpf said...

You have some very cerebral commentators on here Stan.

I, however, like Spacedust.

Anonymous said...

Beleaguered Squirrel that was brilliant. Fascinating.

Do any of you remember the case of Dr Andrew Wakefield about 10 years ago? He published a controversial report in the Lancet suggesting a link between the MMR jab and autism that crippled takeup of the jab in the UK overnight and resulted in a rise in measles, with a few fatalities.

Countless subsequent studies and investigations ensued, and the NHS spent gazillions trying to convince panic-striken parents that Dr Wakefield’s claims were unfounded, even though he was employed by the Royal Free Hospital at the time and was head of the very controversial research, which he conducted on children.

It subsequently transpired there was a gross conflict of interest (he was actually employed by a lawyer who was preparing a case against MMR manufacturers), he had falsified his claims, conducted unethical procedures on children to validate his claims and, importantly, no other research could reproduce or confirm his findings. His research was ultimately retracted, he was struck off and is now earning billions in the US peddling his unique brand of autism cure (I believe with the help of a US pharmaceutical company) to despairing parents and their autistic children.

I remember the controversy well…

Found this if you’re interested

Pamplemousse said...

Anonymous: Yes, I remember that well. I assumed Stan was alluding to it in his post. The awful thing about that (and I think Stan referred to this too) is that a lot of people still believe it. Mud sticks.

By the way: I doubt anyone will notice or care, but I just noticed I made a reference to "the automotive response" in my comment. It's not called that, it's called the ideomotor response. I knew it felt wrong when I was typing it. I ought to bloody well know too, seeing as I've written a whole novel about it!

(but the stuff above was fact, not fiction)

Anonymous said...

Bonjour La Bête,
You can release your cynicism Stan, it's nothing compared to the one of these people.
And they obviously don't read your blog, unless they are suicidal.
Uncle Did

Nux said...

If vitamin B12 is so amazing, why don't I feel "so much peppier" after marmite?

Hannah said...

This is Hannah Bevills, I am an editor with We are a medical publication whose focus is geared towards promoting awareness on hospitals, including information, news, and reviews on them. Given the relevance of what you are offering from your site and what our mission is, I feel we may be able to collaborate in some way or another, I look forward to your response regarding the matter. Thanks!

Hannah Bevills