News items will be published here, but also sign up to our Newsletters — see the form on the right.
You can receive updates from the News feed, either to your RSS reader or via email.
One of the hallmarks of pseudo science is its attempts to commandeer established words and phrases from science and misuse them for its own purposes, giving it a veneer of authority and respectability.
The prime example of this is the word 'quantum'. It refers to small, discrete steps such as the energy levels of an electron. In everyday use, however, it has come to mean the exact opposite: a quantum leap generally refers to some huge step in something or other.
But the word is certainly sciency-sounding and used by many purveyors of pseudo science, trying to give their product (there always is one) some legitimacy. The term 'quantum flapdoodle' was coined by Murray Gell-Mann in his book The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex to describe such usage.
In the September and October issues of What Doctors Don't Tell You, there were full-page adverts for a website www.what.getinharmony.com. Here you will find all sorts of products including a Home and Office Harmoniser that, for £847.00:
Removes all health damaging influences.
In case that's not sufficient, you might need the Harmony Omega II with 'enhanced abilities' for a more respectable £2,897.00.
This website even has its own description of quantum physics — one no quantum physicist would endorse — imploring us that "quantum fields are God" and:
This is what Quantum Physics is - the rediscovery of who you are and the herald of a new beginning for mankind as he re-awakens her divine presence here on Earth.
The two adverts in What Doctors Don't Tell You advertised this website.
In defence of their claims, the advertiser, Harmony United Ltd, said that their products:
…ensured that energy and information were sufficiently ordered so that the body and mind could utilise them. They said whether the human body utilised the higher quality order to remove disease was a matter for the human body. They pointed out that their technology had no influence on that.
No, we don't know either.
As the advertiser wasn't able to substantiate the claims, our complaint was upheld, with three breaches of the CAP Code for each ad.
N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine (melatonin to you and I) is an unlicensed medicine in the UK, but is freely available in some other countries as a food supplement. It's a neurohormone produced in the pineal gland that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles.
…work synergistically with melatonin to produce a much greater effect.
The ad proclaimed that the product could
Preserve Youthful Sleep Patterns
It is possible to be prescribed melatonin in the UK (and at least one form of of melatonin is licensed in the UK), but if it needs to be imported, this can only be done for an individual on prescription from a doctor, using an importer with an appropriate Wholesale Dealer's Licence. Members of the public may be able to import an unlicensed medicine for their own personal use, but it is clear that the advertising of unlicensed medicines in the UK is not permitted.
This ad claimed:
Melatonin Zn Se is freely available in Italy and is now available for the first time under article 1 of the treaty of Rome direct from Italy to you!
This is odd given that, according to the ASA, the advertiser is based in Belize in Central America, they have a PO Box on Sark in the Channel Islands, their domain name is registered in Panama and their parent company is also based in Panama, yet give a London contact phone number. The website mentioned in the ad, www.melatoninznse.com, is registered to an address on Sark and gives the same London telephone number.
Regardless, because it is an unlicensed medicine in the UK, it is prohibited to market it in the UK, regardless of where it comes from.
We challenged the ad and the ASA's adjudication on it is also published today.
Trying to defend the marketing of an unlicensed medicine, the advertiser said they believed:
…their ad was lawful, decent, honest and truthful, because they believed that individuals had the right to import medicinal products for their own use.
The ASA upheld our complaint, ruling it breached the CAP Code and told the advertiser not to market unlicensed medicines again.
As always, advertisers should note that adjudications don't just apply to the medium the ad was in, but to all marketing communications — claims are likely to be just as misleasing regardless of where they are published.
With 52 CAP Code breaches in eight adjudications on ten adverts and complaints on eleven adverts informally resolved, we now have a further five still to be resolved.
There have now been several resolved complaints about supplements making claims that mentioned medical conditions in breach of the CAP Code and these advertisers now have an ASA adjudication against them or have been informally resolved.
We have already reported an advertiser of a medical device to the medicines regulator (the MHRA) after they refused to acknowledge the ASA as a competent authority. If other advertisers don't withdraw or amend adverts to make them CAP Code compliant, will further complaints have to be made?
13 February 2013
Two further ASA adjudications on adverts in What Doctors Don't Tell You this week…
Quoting that ever-reliable source of medical information, the Daily Mail, this advertiser in the first two issues of What Doctors Don't Tell You announced that many of us don't get enough sleep.
The solution? Go to ground. Earth yourself:
The Earth then shares it antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti aging electrons from its inexhaustible store. [sic]
The Earth also stores natural rhythms- day/night, and reconnection supports sleep.
The products are mats that you lie/sit/work on that are conductive and connect to the earth on a mains socket.
But if you think this might not be supported by the evidence, you needn't worry.
Do clinical studies support the claims made for Earthing?
Robust studies show significant improvements in sleep, vitality, rebalancing of key hormones (cortisol- the stress hormone, influences thyroid hormone), improvements in circulation and reductions in blood pressure.
Extensive case studies on reduction of inflammation (associated with any -itis medical condition such as arthr-itis) were accompanied by reduced sensation of pain.
Any -itis medical condition? Wow.
We thought the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) might like to update their guidance to include these 'robust studies'.
We challenged the claims:
Sleep better tonight- sleep earthed
Earthing Institute Studies show:
100% of people woke feeling rested
85% of people fell asleep faster
93% experienced better sleep
78% experienced better well being
82% reported reduced muscle stiffness/pain
Sokal study reports benefits in blood sugar regulation, thyroid hormones, osteoporosis metabolic.
Sinatra study shows blood thickness reductions and circulation benefits.
Poor sleep can have a serious knock-on effect on your health
Robust studies show significant improvements in sleep, vitality, rebalancing of key hormones (cortisol- the stress hormone, influences thyroid hormone), improvements in circulation and reductions in blood pressure…Extensive case studies on reduction of inflammation (associated with -itis medical condition such as arthr-itis) were accompanied by reduced sensation of pain.
We also challenged whether the use of the title Dr in the name Dr John Kelsey PhD, ND was misleading as we understood that Kelsey did not hold a general medical qualification.
The ASA upheld our complaints and their adjudication is published today.
The advertiser, BEP Technology, trading as Original Earthing (BEP), claimed that they were not making medical claims but that they were promoting 'optimal health':
They said conventional medicine was concerned with [treating disease] and explained that natural resources and elements in the world were exempt from such considerations because they dealt only with optimising health.
However, they still provided the ASA with studies, articles and case studies in support of their claims.
The advertiser claimed that:
…the readership of WDDTY were a specific group with a demonstrated interest in health and who were naturally sceptical with a good, discriminatory awareness and who were therefore unlikely to be misled by any claims in the ad.
The ASA considered that many of the claims being made for the efficacy of earthing would be 'ground breaking'! As such, they would require a high level of substantiation:
…such as a body of scientific research including clinical trials conducted on people
Since the advertiser had not supplied this, the ASA ruled that the claims were misleading and that some claims were for medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought and that:
…advice, diagnosis and treatment for them should only be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. Because we understood that was not the case in this instance, we concluded that those claims breached the Code as they could discourage consumers from seeking essential treatment for those conditions.
The ASA were not at all impressed with the advertiser's argument that Kelsey's PhD in Process Engineering entitled him to use the title Dr in the context of an ad making medical claims and ruled it misleading.
This ad breached the CAP Code on five counts.
For further information on earthing and how it is being marketed, read Eric Hall's article on Skeptoid: More Mercola Misinformation: Grounding In Reverse.
Yet another supplement.
This is the first of three adverts in What Doctors Don't Tell You by Dulwich Health Ltd we complained to the ASA about. This one was for a product called AlliTech that stated that it was:
…nature's powerful anti-biotic, anti-parasites, anti-viral, anti-fungal and immune booster with no side-effects reported during over 10 years of use.
The ad made many claims for its effectiveness for several conditions including pneumonia, upper respiratory infections, Lyme disease, kennel cough and, of course, dysentery in apes. It also claimed that 52 patients at University Hospital [sic], London fully recovered from long term MRSA after taking allicin, one of the ingredients of AlliTech. And it has saved thousands of Horse Chestnut trees from dying from Pseudomonas Syringoefungus [sic].
Impressive claims for a product derived from garlic.
We challenged the claims made; whether doctors did indeed believe that parasites were the most under-diagnosed and under-appreciated health threat that was linked to Alzhiemer's, dementia, Parkinson's and MS; whether the testimonials were genuine and whether the ad made claims for an unlicensed product.
The ASA's adjudication is also published today, upheld on all four issues.
The advertiser acknowledged receipt of the ASA's letter and said they noted their comments.
They made no attempt to justify or substantiate the claims they made, so the ASA ruled that they had breached the CAP Code on five counts and told them not to repeat the ad, not to make efficacy claims unless they could be substantiated and not to make medicinal claims for an unlicensed product.
With 45 CAP Code breaches in six adjudications on seven adverts and complaints on eleven adverts informally resolved, we now have a further eight still to be resolved.
And the February issue What Doctors Don't tell You has sixteen fewer pages than the previous five issues.
06 February 2013
Combat stress, poor performance and fuzzy thinking; fight electronic stress. Proven science; published peer reviewed papers. Peace of mind; immediate results.
Electromagnetic fields from electronic devices can, apparently, undermine performance and well-being and have a biological effect on the body.
So any device that protects us from these must be a good idea, whether it uses 'Sympathetic Resonance Technology (SRT™)' or not. The missing link in our hectic lives?
This is yet another ad placed in both the September and October issues of What Doctors Don't Tell You that we submitted to the Advertising Standards Authority. The advertiser is Clarus, based in California (but whose products are available all over the world) advertising their Q-link Clear,
Their website claims:
The Q-Link CLEAR is a new and exciting addition to the well-known Q-Link range of "body" products. Programmed with over 100 natural frequencies known to support the biofield, the Q-Link CLEAR is compact and feather-light so it won't get in the way. Just attach it to a device where it will come closest to your body.
Then, when you use your mobile phone, or listen to music on an mp3 player, hold your game player or otherwise - the Q-Link CLEAR focuses and strengthens the biofield's ability to support your body's natural defenses to EMFs and other stressors.
According to their website, SRT™ is:
Sympathetic Resonance Technology™ (SRT™) is based on the fundamental scientific discovery that every physical system has fields of energy that permeate and surround that system. When systems vibrate at their optimal frequency spectrums, they are able to function more efficiently and deliver expected, even enhanced, levels of performance. When these systems are not vibrating ideally, reduced efficiency and performance can result. In humans, the principal energy system is sometimes referred to as the “Biofield” – a term recognized by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
SRT™ is an array of proprietarily identified frequencies that support and enhance the efficiency and performance of various organic and inorganic systems. Biological, electrical, chemical and other physical systems influenced by SRT™ applications exhibit increased functionality, coherence, structural integrity and other positive characteristics and benefits
And their trade mark for SRT™ appears genuine, covering:
Treatment of materials by application of electromagnetic energy in the nature of subtle energy frequencies in order to reduce quantum noise and increase the efficiency of energy exchange for the purpose of improving the functioning or extending the useful life of the materials.
So now we know.
But for an alternative view on SRT™ technology and what's in a q-link pendant — which uses the same SRT™ technology — read Ben Goldacre's The Amazing Qlink Science Pedant.
Their ad claimed that it was 'proven science' and there was 'published peer reviewed papers' and their website claims SRT™ has 'proven its effectiveness in a wide range of experiments, including trials at UC Irvine, University of Vienna, and Imperial College London'. However, for some reason, they agreed with the ASA not to repeat efficacy claims until they have sufficient evidence to comply with the CAP Code and assured the ASA that the ad would be withdrawn and amended.
This empathises that holding evidence just isn't enough; it has to be evidence that meets the requirements laid down in the ASA's guidance on substantiation.
Because it was informally resolved, Clarus gets their name published on the ASA's website today as an informally resolved case.
If they had chosen to try to substantiate their claims, the ASA might have formally investigated and examined their evidence — I wonder what that would have found?
Still an impressive 35 CAP Code breaches from just five adjudications plus eleven informally resolved cases — with many more to come.
Thanks to all who offered their services and we'll be in touch with everyone shortly.
23 January 2013
Our electricity is dirty. It poisons us and our environment. But don't worry, there is a solution that can clean it up, improve your health and reduce your energy bills. What's not to like? Yours for £55.
This ad by Stetzer UK for a Stetzer plug-in mains filter device in the September issue stated:
Try the Stetzer solution
The powerful answer to a poisonous problem
Stetzers absorb dangerous dirty electricity from the wiring in buildings experts [sic] have seen significant improvements in ADHD, allergies, diabetes, fibromyalgia, headaches, ME, MS, rashes, tinnitus.
Independent EC mark [sic] certified
Now 50% more powerful
Using patented technology
Electricity bills may be reduced by 30%
So as well as claims about medical conditions, it also claims to reduce your electricity bills, to be independently certified, to be 50% more powerful and that it uses patented technology.
We submitted a complaint to the ASA about all of these claims and their adjudication is published today.
The advertiser did not provide robust evidence to support the advertised claims and the ASA ruled that the ad made efficacy claims for the relief of conditions where advice, diagnosis or treatment should only be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional.
The advertiser did not provide a CE Certification from a Notified Body in support of the claim that it was 'independently EC mark certified'.
The advertiser said he was comparing the product with the US product and that the UK one was 50% more powerful because of the differing voltage ratings. The ASA concluded that because the advertiser had not provided evidence that the product was 50% more powerful than a previous model available in the UK, that he had not substantiated the claim and that it was misleading.
The advertiser did not provide details of any UK patents, the ASA concluded that this claim was misleading.
The advertiser did not provide evidence to support the claim that the device reduced electricity bills.
In this one quarter-page ad on its own, the ASA upheld all six issues and identified a total of 12 CAP Code breaches.
As we've said previously, ASA adjudications apply to the same claims made elsewhere — the medium of the advert is irrelevant, so the same claims must now be removed from their website as well.
The 'miracle enzyme', apparently.
Also in the September issue, this ad by Good Health Naturally stated:
Serrapeptase is making headway in the natural health industry as the ‘must have’ dietary supplement. May help to support healthy:
- Joints & Tendons
- Bronchial & Lung Function
- Veins & Arteries
- Digestive System & Colon
- Heart & Circulation
- Relief from Trauma, Swelling (eg post operative) & Sports Injury
What is Serrapeptase?
Also known as the ‘miracle enzyme’ it is a critical & multifunctional proteolytic enzyme can help to support healthy inflammation. Unhealthy inflammation is one of the major factors in the majority of modern day health issues.
Its wide use throughout the past 30 years include 23 studies, successful use by doctors throughout the world, and a fantastic library of testimonials.
With all those 23 studies, it should have been easy to persuade the ASA that they could substantiate their claims. However, they only sent 15 documents to support their claims.
They did agree to remove one of the 'help to support healthy' claims, but tried to argue that they weren't making health claims at all because they didn't mention any health conditions or names of diseases and that they only stated that their product 'may' help.
They also agreed to remove other claims but insisted the ad did not make medicinal claims.
The ASA disagreed, saying that they considered the claims to be health claims. Of the 15 documents the advertiser provided to the ASA, 13 were abstracts of papers, one was a letter to a pharmacology journal and the one study was about serrapaptase in rats, not humans. The ASA concluded that they were not adequate to substantiate the claims.
After consulting the MHRA, who concluded that some medical claims were being made, but that the product was not classed as a medicine, the ASA considered it as an ad for a food supplement for which no medicinal claims are permitted.
In total, the adjudication upheld all four point and notched up six CAP Code breaches.
The adjudication on the Stetzer device in particular has made a significant impact on the number of CAP Code breaches accumulated so far:
After just five adjudications, adverts in What Doctors Don't Tell You have amassed 35 CAP Code breaches — mainly for unsubstantiated health claims and misleading advertising.
How long will this continue?
16 January 2013
BBC One Inside Out South West reporter Sam Smith was concerned at claims being made by homeopaths about vaccines.
A researcher, posing as a mother of an unvaccinated child, emailed one of the most prominent homeopathic pharmacies, Ainsworths, and got a reply from Tony Pinkus, their Superintendent Pharmacist, who is registered as a pharmacist with the General Pharmaceutical Council.
Whereas I have been dispensing homoeopathic Pertussin 30c for 30 years for this purpose - and made sure I gave it to my own children, I am unable to make a claim for its success as there have been no successful trials reported.
However, that did not prevent him suggesting several different homeopathic products to the researcher, including homeopathic Pertussin 30c, as a preventative. These products were, of course, all available online from his website.
As a result of the investigation, to be broadcast on BBC One Inside Out South West this evening at 19:30, the medicines regulator, the MHRA, have told Ainsworths — and Helios, who advertised similar 'vaccines' — to remove them from their website. It appears they have now done that.
But this isn't the first time Pinkus has been caught out by the BBC.
In 2011, Newsnight reported on their investigation into Ainsworths suggesting sugar pills for malaria prevention.
We won our Advertising Standards Authority complaint about the leaflet that BBC reporter Pallab Ghosh was given by Ainsworths on all but one point, but I also reported Pinkus to his statutory regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council. As the BBC report on this latest investigations said:
The General Pharmaceutical Council also investigated but let him off saying he had taken "remedial action".
It seems that remedial action wasn't sufficient to protect the public from misleading — and possibly downright dangerous — advice.
Way back in September 2011, we complained about the unlicensed products Ainsworths were selling:
They also had a 'remedy finder' that linked symptoms to some of their homeopathic products; something we believe is not permitted even for homeopathic products registered with the medicines regulator under their HR scheme.
But Ainsworths were also advertising some 2,342 homeopathic products that appeared to be unlicensed and unregistered. We complained that the advertising, supply or sale of these was not permitted under the medicines regulations.
Sixteen months later, we are still waiting for a substantive response from the MHRA and these products are still being advertised.
It cannot be right that the only time a regulator acts to protect the public is when serious failings of regulation are highlighted by BBC investigations.
It is time for the MHRA to grasp the nettle and fully and properly enforce the regulations that say it is not permitted to sell, supply or even advertise unlicensed homeopathic medicines to the general public — and that includes lay homeopaths.
We'll keep you informed…
14 January 2013
Thermography claims that active breast tissue can be detected through the increased heat it generates compared to the surrounding tissue and this can be detected by a thermal imaging device. Whilst this might sound plausible and there may be some reason to believe this might be the case, there are many reasons to doubt claims about the effectiveness of thermography over conventional mamography.
It's clear that thermal imaging of the breast is not as effective as imaging using xray. Breast screening itself needs debate as it produces harms. Using even less effective methods of screening is likely to produce far more harms in terms of false positives and false negatives. There's a reason why it's not recommended by UK regulatory bodies — it isn't effective enough.
In the first two issues of the monthly magazine, What Doctors Don't Tell You, there was an advert for thermography screening service. This made the claims:
- Thermography can detect active breast abnormality before it is possible with mammography.
- Medically recognised
In their response to the ASA, the advertisers, Medical Thermal Imaging Ltd, trading as Breast Angels, claimed that abnormalities released nitrous oxide which was then converted into nitroglycerin and this was detected by thermography.
However, they failed to supply robust clinical evidence to substantiate the claims made in the advert. The ASA concluded that the ad therefore breached the CAP Code and was misleading.
Since Breast Angels appear to be making similar claims on their website (in fact, they have a copy of the same advert), we sincerely hope that they take note that the ASA's adjudication, although about a magazine ad, applies to all other forms of marketing.
Selling supplements is big business. Even though very few of us actually need them, that doesn't stop many manufacturers making bold announcements such as 'The future of Supplements has arrived'.
We challenged whether the advertiser could substantiate these claims.
The ASA consulted the medicines' regulator, the MHRA, who said that this product was not a medicine but a food. The ASA therefore considered the product under section 15 of the CAP Code (Food, food supplements and associated health and nutrition claims).
Instead of supplying evidence for the claims they were making, the advertiser accepted that the claims were not compliant with the CAP Code and gave an assurance that they will not feature in future advertising.
Even though this was 'informally resolved', as opposed to an adjudication, the advertiser still gets a mention on the ASA's website today. We hope that the advertiser takes this opportunity to review his website for compliance with the CAP Code.
This advert for yet another supplement appeared in the very first issue of What Doctors Don't Tell You and made claims about their product and Restless Leg Syndrome.
We challenged the claims:
Increasingly, they are turning to vitalCALM, a new natural supplement that deeply nourishes the brain and nervous system to improve dopamine levels/function and calm restless legs.
We sincerely hope that Simply Vital will remove similar claims on their website advert for this product and review the rest of their website to ensure it is CAP Code compliant, taking advantage of the free advice the ASA's Copy Advice Team offers if necessary.
Now that the ASA have published the outcomes of half of our 26 complaints, it's a good time to reflect on the numbers.
The ASA have been able to informally resolve ten of our complaints with the advertisers and so far have published adjudications on a further three.
Those three ads alone have amassed a total of 17 CAP Code breaches.
And there are far more to come.
We will update this chart as the ASA publishes further outcomes.
In November 2010, we complained to the ASA about a number of leaflets produced by the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (the renamed Royal London Homeopathic Hospital). The ASA's adjudication on their 'Medical and Clinical Hypnosis' leaflet is also published today.
The leaflet said:
Hypnosis can benefit almost anyone to improve their physical, emotional and mental health.
Research has shown that hypnosis can help regulate various systems of the body, such as the Immune System, Nervous System and Gastro-intestinal System.
The following medical problems been shown to benefit from the use of medical hypnosis:
- Gastrointestinal Disorders
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Chronic Functional Abdominal Pain
- Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease
- Functional Dyspepsia
- Chronic Pain
- Oral and Facial Pain
- Neuropathic Pain
- Rheumatic Pain
- Cancer Pain
- Skin Conditions
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
We questioned whether these claims could be substantiated.
The RLHIM supplied the ASA with numerous clinical studies and research papers that they believed supported the claims.
The ASA identified seven issues and the adjudication upheld all of them except two (chronic pain and cancer pain), concluding that they had substantiated those claims.
However, it ruled that all the other claims were misleading, identifying a total of 15 breaches of the CAP Code.
This now sets a precedent for all advertisers of hypnotherapy and we hope that other practitioners will review their advertising and amend as necessary.
This is our second complaint against leaflets issued by the RLHIM; after the ASA informally resolved our complaint about their Marigold Therapy leaflet, the RLHIM removed their leaflet from their website and removed the corresponding pages from their service guide brochure, but they only removed their Marigold Therapy website pages after we complained a second time last October.
We hope that they will promptly heed the ASA's Action:
The leaflet must not appear again in its current form. We told RLHIM to ensure that they held robust evidence to substantiate efficacy claims in the future.
As we said above, any compliance action required by the ASA applies to all forms of advertising, not just the one the complaint refers to: if claims are deemed misleading, they will be misleading regardless of the medium of the advertising.
We have several other complaints about the RLHIM's leaflets that are still being investigated by the ASA and we hope to publish more outcomes shortly.
09 January 2013