Update: Natural Fake Medicine- Acai to Green Tea and Liver Damage, neutraceuticals for Macular Degeneration

Ginko, Bilberry, Acai juice, Omega-3, Leutin and various antioxidants are being sold in nutrition stores, drug stores and online, for treating macular degeneration and many other diseases. Their healing powers are overstated or cleverly "inferred" so the unwary customer assumes healing benefits. Representation of their health benefits made by the manufacturers of these products are often bogus at best, and rip-offs at their worst. Green tea extracts and liver "detox" formulas are sold in health food stores and even main line grocery stores. Unsuspecting consumers are turning up with liver damage. Chemicals are chemicals, made in a factory or made by a plant. They say "not approved by the FDA" for a reason. 

Macular degeneration is a condition of the retina that causes, mostly older, persons to gradually loose their central vision. As the population ages, AMD (Age Related Macular Degeneration) becomes more prevalent. Unfortunately many Americans and Europeans are wasting their money purchasing plant extracts and vitamin supplements sold by thousands of vendors who claim these products will help or even "heal" AMD. The claims about ginko, bilberry, acai and random mixtures of "antioxidants" are bogus at best. 

Yes. Snake oil salesmen are still around. As a published scientist in the field of antioxidant metabolism, let me reveal some simple truths that you can apply to make your own judgements. There are marketing methods that may not be illegal, but they are deceptive to the average consumer.

     First, there is the method of "IMPRESSIVE SCIENCE". This generally involves statements like "researchers have shown" or "scientists at such-and-such University have shown", describing some particular effects of compounds that are in the product they are marketing. This method relies on a general lack of science knowledge among the general population, knowing that many consumers will just accept this higher scientific authority. It works best if the reader has no expertise in biology at all.

     Second, the method of what I call "Pseudoscientist Credentials" for scientists marketing the compounds. There are several societies with "nutrition" and "biochemistry" in their titles, which have nice websites and paid memberships. Many were created by one or two persons, who sometimes have real advanced science degrees, or they have some certificate from a non-acredited school. They may even publish their own writings and ideas in a newsletter that looks like a peer-reviewed journal, but is not. Unfortunately, while they have a nice looking wall certificate stating their membership in such societies, you will find out that you, or your dog Bingo, can purchase a membership in same society. 

A red flag should pop into your mind when you note that the experts telling you to buy a product are also the ones who own the online/warehouse that will sell you the product. That is a clear conflict of interest ($).

Third, is the "Let the Customer Assume" approach. Works like this. Lets pretend that I have "Curative Revitalizing Alixer Powder" I brew up from some plant. For short, lets call it C.R.A.P. Well, I find a chemistry paper in a real peer-reviewed chemistry journal that shows the chemical called C.R.A.P. can neutralize more free-radicals in a test tube, than the same amount of Vitamin-E. So, I tell you that "C.R.A.P. is a more powerful antioxidant than Vitamin E" and "Here is where you can buy some now, at my store". I also tell you that "oxidation damage contributes to the progression of aging and many diseases", and well those biochemical events do. Then, I let YOU make the big assumption that taking C.R.A.P. will decrease aging effects or disease progression better than Vitamin-E. Right? Actually, wrong! 

The referenced chemistry paper is good science, but it simply shows that that two chemicals in a test tube worked to a different extent to neutralize free radicals in a chemistry test. The paper never said anything about testing C.R.A.P. to see if you humans adsorb it from the digestion, let alone if it will get to any tissues of your body or do anything for you at all. As a matter of fact, most antioxidants supplements you can buy in your supplements store are not harvested by your liver during digestion, except for Vitamin-E and Beta-carrotene (from carrots, Vit-A), which our biology has evolved to selectively harvest, transport and deliver to cells in all of our organs. Vit-E and Vit-A have other biochemical properties that make them the best chemicals do their special jobs in our cells, and to support vision (in the case of Vit-A). (Trust me, I did a whole PhD on how antioxidants work in mammals.)

     Compounds like C.R.A.P., mostly leave the body in waste. You can guess how. Thus in reality, if you feed Vit-E or C.R.A.P. to lab rats or humans, biomedical scientists will often find that C.R.A.P. never really gets delivered to your organs, but Vit-E is naturally harvested by special transport systems in the liver and then chaperoned in your blood stream for delivery to cells and organs; just as it has for thousands of years in all humans. So, just referring to real science paper, does not mean it supports the claims of the seller of C.R.A.P. In that example, the seller left you to make the big assumption. Clever. They do nothing illegal, but as long as you whip out the credit card, they win. They get your money. You get no benefit. This kind of marketing information and social media ad blitzing is all over for many so-called neutraceuticals and cannabis (marijuana). Suggestions that cannabis can treat neurological diseases and cancer is bogus and there is no real scientific evidence to support those claims despite what you read in blogs and websites of those who basically market cannabis. $$ is their big conflict of interest. 

Again, if the entity telling you to get the product is also the one selling it to you, you should be wary.

     Now, back to AMD. Many sellers of "neutraceuticals" will refer to the fact that there is science to show that some compounds know to be "antioxidants" may reduce your risk of developing AMD. That is in fact true. But, it does not mean that you should ASSUME that this applies to their "special mix" too. This is the full story you should know: 

A mixture of zinc, Vitamin-E and Vitamin-A was evaluated in clinical trials, and found to, ON AVERAGE, reduce the risk of AMD. Taking more or less of these compounds, or taking them separately may not have the same benefit at all. The National Eye Institute of the NIH has official information based on proper scientific testing (vitamin mix versus a placebo), which found a 25% risk reduction from a specific dose of zinc, Vit-E and Vit-A. The link to this NEI information is provided below. Please visit this link to read the full story. Note that the findings only apply to specific dose of these compounds as they were tested, and you should check with your Ophthalmologist (eye MD) to see if you should be taking a supplement. Several bona fide vitamin manufacturers produce the supplement for the correct dose, but CHECK WITH YOUR EYE DOCTOR.... please.

YOU can learn to be your own scientist when it comes to evaluating truth from hype. I will leave you with this last thought. No matter what kind of medical practitioner you favor, if they are not willing to write you a prescription for their recommended medicine, or they only recommend medications that you must buy from them, be very skeptical of their motives. We have evolved a separation of Pharmacists and Doctors in modern medicine for a just this reason. If your naturopathic pracitioner is not willing to provide this same separation from financial conflict, do you really trust them to medicate you? 

Your Liver Can Be Overworked....so

Remembe. Your liver is like a detoxification factory. There really is not such thing as a liver detox, so do not detox-treat yourself. Your liver IS your detoxification system. But, just like a real toxic waste treatment  plant, it has a maximum capacity to clean chemicals out that you digest. That includes true medical drugs and chemical extracts from plants. Furthermore, combining more than one drug or supplement is a new problem. Your liver may be able to handle one pill of drug-A a day and keep the concentration from getting too high in your blood. Your friend may be able to take one pill of drug-B per day. A third friend may be able to take one pill of ginko each day. Sharing all of this health talk, a fourth friend decides to take one pill of A, one of B and one of ginko every day. After two weeks they are sleeping bad, feeling ill, and they end up in the hospital. They thought they only took a safe dose of each of A, B and ginko. What went wrong?

Simple. Those were safe doses, but only if they were taking ONE of those drugs at a time. But all three drugs still get processed and excreted by the liver. So when they took A, B and Ginko, their liver was extra busy and they exceeded the capacity of their "chemical clean up factory". Just like a waste treatment plant. With extra drugs to process, all three of A,B and ginko concentrations started to build up to higher and then more toxic levels in their blood. Then a basically healthy friend poisoned themselves, and became ill.

This is happening now with one of the latest crazes, Green Tea extracts and supplements and food spreads. Tea has hundreds of complex organic chemicals. A glass of green tea does not harm you. But taking the extracted equivalent of a hundred cups of green tea in one dose causes these chemicals to build up and become toxic. Unfortunately, the organ most affected by these organic compounds from green tea is....your liver! So you can overwhelm your liver detox factory, then you damage it (hepatotoxicity), so it stops working at all and the chemicals build up in your body even faster. 

It all comes down to how much of any chemical you choose to eat. Remember, as a famous rock group once sang: Love is like oxygen, get too much you get to high, not enough and you're gonna die.

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