Respectful Insolence

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-93a14cf28581cc69175b20e5f92a233c-medbreakthrough.JPG

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    October 26, 2007

    Wow! Just, WOW!

  2. #2 vlad
    October 26, 2007

    “I’m just grateful he isn’t into colon cleansing as well.” Orac are you sure your not a cardiologist trying to make us all lose weight. I almost returned my breakfast on this one.

  3. #3 Bronze Dog
    October 26, 2007

    Is that an advertisement up there, or a ransom note?

  4. #4 daedalus2u
    October 26, 2007

    Actually the colon cleansing is closer to a real treatment. There is significant excretion of cholesterol in bile, it is a decent surfactant and helps to solublize dietary lipids. It is later reabsorbed into the blood, and then taken up by the liver. But by the time the former food gets to the colon, the cholesterol has been extracted out of it. Small intestine cleansing would work, but would be somewhat difficult and invasive to implement.

    There is an actual treatment where ion exchange resins (cholestyramine) are given orally and this binds to the bile salts (which are derived from cholesterol) such that they are not reabsorbed. This does reduce the level of cholesterol, but unless cholesterol synthesis is inhibited there is compensatory upregulation.

  5. #5 DrFrank
    October 26, 2007

    Despite the hilarity of the woo, I was slightly disappointed as the post title gave the false impression that someone was recommending removing your teeth to reduce cholesterol.

    On the other hand, that might even work, since you’d only be able to eat soup afterwards.

  6. #6 Chemgeek
    October 26, 2007

    Nothing says “credibility” like a horribly designed web page. His website is horrible. I really hope people don’t fall for this crap, but I am soooooo tempted to sacrifice $10 and get the video. I can only imagine how hilarious that might be.

  7. #7 jen_m
    October 26, 2007

    Every so often, in any big city, you will run across a telephone pole that’s had a giant, incomprehensible screed stapled to it. These screeds are often backed with cardboard and wrapped in plastic to increase their durability; they uniformly feature cramped penmanship and run-on sentences. Sometimes there is a post-office box address at the bottom, and donation information.

    This seems to be the internet equivalent.

    He seems less a snake-oil salesman (or puller) than a sad, isolated person who has an idee fixe about health.

    Doggone it, I prefer my Friday woo to make me feel irritatedly amused by the infinite variety of human gullibility, not saddened by a lonely little old retiree in the grips of crazy. (Although James Watson couldn’t get me to feel sorry for him by occupying the same niche. Hm.)

  8. #8 Mojo
    October 26, 2007

    “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.”

    Now, where have I read something like that before?

    Ah, yes, here you go: from a footnote in chapter 8 of The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien*:

    “…commentators have treated de Selby’s disquisitions on night and sleep with considerable reserve. This is hardly to be wondered at since he held (a) that darkness was simply an accretion of ‘black air’, i.e., a staining of the atmosphere due to volcanic eruptions too fine to be seen with the naked eye and also to certain ‘regrettable’ industrial activities involving coal-tar by-products and vegetable dyes; and (b) that sleep was simply a succession of fainting-fits brought on by semi-asphyxiation due to (a).

    … [de Selby] inveighs savagely against ‘the insanitary conditions prevailing everywhere after six o’clock’ and makes the famous gaffe that death is merely ‘the collapse of the heart from the strain of a lifetime of fits and fainting’.”

    Woo imitates art.

    *If you haven’t read this book, I strongly recommend that you do.

  9. #9 corsolo
    October 26, 2007

    I’ve just more or less resolved and abscessed jaw all by my little self–given the fact that I’ve only lived at my present address a short while–and given the state of medical/dental care in Canada at present! So the idea of parting with my remaining teeth to improved my general health makes perfect sense to me!

  10. #10 corsolo
    October 26, 2007

    OOPS! Pardon the typos in the above post. Must be a spot of infection lingering in my aged brain!

  11. #11 Nick
    October 27, 2007

    Few, he’s only using grape juice and vinegar, for a moment I thought he was using organic solvents to achieve the “toxic fat” cleansing…

    Reusing the grape juice? It would make for an interesting microbial sample, but a possibly not particularly healthy mouthwash.

    And the website, I’d say it’s about 0.7 timecubes. Pure, nutso woo at at very finest.

  12. #12 PalMD
    October 28, 2007

    He is clearly disturbed. Look at that “ransom note”. Anyone who works with the mentally ill can see by his actions and writings that he is not a typical woo-pusher, but a sick man. It’s sad, really…except the part where he tries to separate people from their money.
    It’s almost a good thing that he is too mentally ill to turn into a Kevin Trudeau or Gary Null.

  13. #13 Nat
    October 28, 2007

    It’s such a shame that there isn’t a “Nobel Prize for science”

  14. #14 lb
    October 31, 2007

    Why instant coffee? Wouldn’t brewed coffee be more “natural”?

    The stuff on page 6 looks more like what comes out of my vacuum cleaner, not my body.

    If he gives you the recipe, why would you send him money? Proves he actually believes his spin.

    And I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, the #1 cause of death is birth – Nobody gets out alive.

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