Jewish World Review
May 30, 2000 /25 Iyar, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I ONCE DRANK Super Blue Green Algae. It was during a fact-finding mission to a "Whole Life Expo" in Seattle. I wanted to know more about fringe health fads and what drives people to put their lives in the hands of medical quacks and charlatans.
A bright-eyed grandmother, waving a Dixie Cup filled to the rim with blue-green goo, accosted me with the brazenness of a D.C. panhandler. "I take it to protect my immune system and for my severe asthma," she announced. "It's harvested at Klamath Lake in Oregon and freeze-dried. We're sending it to Guatemala to feed the children. The studies show it takes care of Attention-Deficit Disorder. And it's also good for your bones. Your oxygen supply will increase, and the energy is amazing," she gushed.
Despite any credible evidence of its health benefits, Super Blue Green Algae is a booming business worldwide. Sales of Super Blue Green Algae, distributed by Oregon-based Cell Tech, skyrocketed from $17.9 million in 1993 to $200 million in 1996. Japan reported this month that algae pill sales topped $400 million in 1999; vendors there are aggressively targeting hyperactive children.
Why is this glorified pond scum so popular? "It's magic," say the creators of Super Blue Green Algae in promotional literature, "for anyone, anytime, anywhere, any age" -- and for anything. A foot doctor outside Seattle claims it alleviates chronic pain. Enthusiasts on the Internet say it cures illnesses from morning sickness to allergies to sexual dysfunction, and prevents cancer, mood swings and hearing loss.
Well, what harm could it do? I downed the Super Blue Green Algae cocktail, and waited for the magic to begin.
Nothing happened. And for that, I should be extremely thankful. A new study published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed medical journal, reports that the algae cultivated in Oregon's Upper Klamath Lake contains potent, cancer-promoting toxins.
My digestive encounter with this New Age goop was whimsically stupid. No harm, no foul (except, perhaps, my breath). But adults who should know better are subjecting their children to far more dangerous experiments masquerading as miracle science. Last month, 10-year-old Candace Newmaker was apparently
strangled to death in the name of alternative healing while her adoptive mother, Jeane, watched from an observation room. The mother, a nurse practitioner in North Carolina, had paid four therapists in Colorado to subject Candace to a procedure called "rebirthing."
According to Quackwatch, a watchdog group that monitors health fraud, the purported goal of rebirthing "is to resolve repressed attitudes and emotions that supposedly originated with prenatal and perinatal experiences." Patients diagnosed with "attachment disorder" are wrapped in blankets that simulate the womb. One practitioner claims that "emotional and mental toxins" are cleansed from the body. When patients emerge from the cocoon of blankets, their lost bond with parents is allegedly restored.
Rolled up in a flannel blanket and covered with pillows, young Candace was surrounded by four adults who pushed against the pillows "to simulate birth contractions." This technique is not recognized in mainstream diagnostic manuals. Most of the evidence of its benefits comes from unlicensed and overzealous Internet gurus. But Candace's mom participated approvingly in the one-hour-and-10-minute "treatment" -- even after her daughter pleaded that she couldn't breathe, begged to be let out to go to the bathroom, and told the adults six times that she was going to die.
A day later, the little girl succumbed to asphyxiation. The only bonding experience that came from the treatment was the $5,000 bond Mrs. Newmaker had to post this week after being charged with criminally negligent child abuse resulting in death.
From Super Blue Green Algae to rebirthing, such medical quackery will continue to thrive. In our junk science society, anecdotes substitute for solid scientific proof. Wishful thinking trumps reason. We want shortcuts and quick fixes for physical ailments. We seek bogus theories that place blame for family problems on everyone and everything except parents themselves.
The swindlers and pseudotherapists are all too willing to make a
killing -- literally -- off the reckless, desperate, lazy and blind.
Magic, they know, is a lot easier to sell and swallow than the bitter
tonic of personal
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