Complementary and alternative medicine Friday Woo Medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Your Friday Dose of Woo: Who needs statins? Or: Sacrifice the teeth to remove those toxins!

Some woo is very, very complicated. The reason, of course, is that the often self-contradicting complexity of this sort of woo serves to make it harder for people without specialized training to figure out easily that it makes no sense scientifically. It’s more a matter of baffling ’em with bullshit than because such complexity is actually needed. (No one that I can think of personifies this better than Lionel Milgrom, a man who’s a veritable poet of woo.) Other times, the concept behind the woo is simple. In fact, it’s usually just one idea. In fact, this one idea is usually based on an observation that is definitely true. It’s not the basis of the idea that’s woo, it’s the conclusions derived from the observation that constitute the woo.

For example, take cholesterol. It’s generally accepted now that hypercholesterolemia (a high blood cholesterol level) is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Indeed, statins, drugs designed to lower cholesterol levels, are a multibillion dollar business, with drugs like Lipitor, Mevacor, Zocor, Crestor, and others raking it in for big pharma. But what if you have high cholesterol and don’t like drugs? What if you’re a crunchy type who wants a “natural” means of lowering your cholesterol? You could try turning vegetarian or radically decreasing your fat consumption in other ways, but where would the fun be in that? If you want to lower your cholesterol, perhaps you’d look for other means of doing so. Perhaps you’d latch on to just one idea and ride it into the ground.

Perhaps you’d be tempted to try extracting cholesterol from The Greatest Medical Secret: Epithelial Cholesterol Cells.

Just listen to one Arthur Bloom, a guy who has clearly learned his web design skills from kidnappers’ ransom notes:

Failure of hospitals to to clean the mucus membranes of debris
Thousands are at risk to die!

What on earth is he talking about? Actually, it’s sometimes hard to tell. Once again, Dr. Bloom’s cut and paste web design, combined with his annoying tendency not to write in complete sentences, much less paragraphs, interferes. However, I started to get the idea when I saw this;

Why digest bad cholesterol?
Extract the debris!

Then I found this newspaper article that Dr. Bloom posted on his website dated March 6, 1994:

…everyone from doctors to scientists to the Clark County Health District refuses to gie any credence to Bloom’s claim that your, my, all of our mouths are filled with toxic fat. Unless we get rid of it, he says, we’re highly susceptible to everything from heart attacks to breast cancer to emphysema to, possibly, AIDS.

“Toxic fat kills millions. Millions, you understand?” says Bloom, wearing one of his many sweatshirts that proclaims, not surprisingly, “Toxic Fat Kills Millions.”

Armed with a spray bottle, coffee filters, some slanted documentation and several containers of the most disgusting crystallized mouth gunk you’ll ever see, the former Las Vegas resort showroom captain is a one-man crusade against this self-researched villain, toxic fat.

His means for getting rid of the fat–which he says is the collection of airborne pollutants we inhale every day–may be more disgusting than the fat itself.

Here’s what’s hilarious. The article starts to mention a videotape, but Bloom seems to have intentionally cut out the part of the article that describes what’s on it. Excellent capitalistic skills, dude! They’ll have to buy your videos to find out. Or it could just be my cynicism; after all, there is a description of what Bloom does to cleanse his mouth of these evil toxins, lower his cholesterol, and protect himself from all manner of diseases:

Twice a day, every day, the 72-year-old Bloom…fills his spray bottle with over-the-counter grape juice, leans his head back, and then spritz, spritz, spritzes the juice against the mucous membranes of his mouth. He spritzes until his mouth is full, and then leans forward and dribbles the liquid, which he says contains dislodged toxic fat, into a coffee filter wedged into the neck of a collecting bottle.

The filter collects the fat while the bottle collects the grape juice, which–and we’ll try to put this gently–he recycles into his next mouth cleaning.

“Why would that be a problem?” Bloom asks. ” The only place the juice has been is in my mouth.”

Oh, this is top shelf woo! Just look at it! He even includes disgusting pictures:


I’m just grateful he isn’t into colon cleansing as well. All I can hope is that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. I will say, however, that it’s highly tempting to introduce him to oil pulling advocates. They could make beautiful purple oily woo together.

In any case, Bloom’s stuff is a perfect storm of woo, utterly elegant in its simplicity, yet skillfully echoing alternative medicine’s obsessive belief that we are full of unspecified and never named “toxins” that are causing disease and which must be removed. Methods of removal range from colon cleanses, to liver flushes, to woo as bizarre as “detoxification” footpads or footbaths, to chelation therapy to “cleanse the blood of toxins,” and many more strange and wonderful (and definitely not-so-wonderful) methods besides. Indeed, why not “detoxify” yourself through the mucous membranes of the mouth? It’s no sillier than claiming that you can detoxify through your feet. In fact, on the surface, superficially at least, it seems somewhat more plausible.

It’s not, of course.

What elevates Bloom’s woo to the level of deserving a treatment on Friday is indeed the very simplicity of the concept. But that’s not enough. Sure, you can rinse your mouth with citric acid-containing fruit juice (which is what Bloom says you should use; he just prefers grape juice). Do it enough times, and you’ll surely get a whole lot of gunk out. After all, you eat with your mouth and your mouth is constantly sloughing dead cells as new ones grow up under them. That’s not what’s in doubt. What goes beyond reality is Bloom’s conclusion from this observation that you are eliminating enough cholesterol and toxins to decrease the formation of atherosclerotic plaques or even dissolve them. It’s taking a single idea and making conclusions that stretch it to the breaking point.

That’s what makes it great woo.

But that’s not the only thing that makes it great. It turns out that Bloom has been sending samples of his “toxic fat” from his mouthwashes to various laboratories and academics. The results are quite amusing. For example, in 1991 he apparently sent some to noe Dr. Fred Kern, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado. Dr. Kern’s reply is priceless:

Cholesterol is a normal component of animal cells and secretions. It is therefore not surprising that cholesterol was identified in secretions from the mouth. These secretions always contain desquamated cells as well as material secreted from the glands.

Really, you have to look at this reply to appreciate it. Bloom has underlined the sentence saying it’s not surprising that cholesterol was found and stamped multiple messages about a “medical breakthrough” on the letter, as if this letter confirmed that his detoxification method worked! But it gets even more amusing than that. Apparently, Bloom sent some of his specimens to the University of Arizona to have them analyzed. One Professor Karl Schram wrote back to him, saying:

We have analyzed the sample of mouth “wash” received from you and confirm the presence of cholesterol in this sample…

I have no doubt that the the samples you have submitted to us for mass spectral analysis contain cholesterol. Levels of cholesterol in the sample have, however, not been determined, and I cannot advise anyone as to the therapeutic effects, good or bad, of the product you are developing.

Blooms conclusion? That this represents a horrible coverup of his new finding! He even has this letter from Dr. David Korn at the Stanford University Medical Center pointing out that at most the amount of cholesterol from cells sloughed into the mouth represents at most a few percent of the cholesterol, at most a few milligrams a day. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Dr. Korn seemed far more encouraging to Bloom than was advisable, Bloom concludes that this information, too, is evidence of a “coverup.”

Of course, Bloom, at least at the time of the newspaper article, was very clear on the importance of his work. Just listen to him:

Bloom says he is on the verge of winning the Nobel Prize for science, if only the medical community will see what is best for the public and honor his discovery.

You know, given the bizarre antics of some Nobel Laureates, I hesitate to say that Bloom wouldn’t fit right in. The problem is, Nobel Laureates usually don’t turn into loons until after they actually get the Nobel Prize. Bloom, alas, has put the cart before the horse.

I will, however, give him props for his perseverance. Just like–dare I say it?–Galileo, he soldiers on, despite the slings and arrows directed his way by an uncaring world of unbelievers who do not appreciate his genius:

Dejectedly, Bloom concedes his small family–he’s divorced and childless–are disbelievers.

“Even the young guy who shot my videotape,” Bloom says, “his mother doesn’t want him working with me anymore.”

I feel Bloom’s pain. I also wonder just how purple his teeth are, that is, if he has any teeth left. Constantly swishing with grape juice (and “reusing” it, yet!) must play havoc on his smile. I suppose he probably thinks its worth it. I wonder if his divorce had anything to do with his wife not wanting to kiss him anymore.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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