Oct 25 2018

Liver Failure from Green Tea Extract

I see this all the time. In fact, this kind of thing is now the rule rather than the exception. Someone wants to stay healthy, or get more healthy, and generally take responsibility for their health, so they engage in a list of healthful lifestyles. Unfortunately, some or most of the stuff they are doing is either worthless or even counterproductive. It seems the more motivated they are to engage in healthy lifestyles, the more they fall victim to pseudoscience and nonsense.

Welcome to the “Wellness” industry, which is really an industry of lies, nonsense, pseudoscience, and exploitation. If you are lucky, you will come away from your encounter with the Orwellian-named wellness industry with the only harm being financial. If you are unlucky, your health will be harmed as well.

Jim McCants is now the latest poster child for being a victim of snake oil. At 50 he decided to get more healthy, so that he would avoid his father’s fate, who died at 59 of a heart attack. As part of his regimen, he started taking green tea extract. Why? Because it was marketed with all the usual claims built up by the snake oil industry – it’s “natural”, it has anti-oxidants, it helps detox – all utter nonsense.

But it’s a good story, and Jim bought it. Why not – the vast majority of the public buys it, because it has been endlessly marketed to them. Gurus like Dr. Oz support this pseudoscience with apparent authority. Doctors, scientists, and academics pay far too little attention to it, and so the claims largely go unchallenged. The regulatory bodies have also been rendered largely powerless against these cons, partly by design. The supplement industry, through their generously compensated representatives like Orin Hatch, have gutted the FDA’s ability to protect the public from snake oil.

So we can’t blame McCants for not being an independent expert, for naively thinking that regulations would protect him. He took the green tea extract, and as a result his liver failed. He almost died, but was saved by a fortuitous liver transplant.

So now he has to take anti-rejection drugs, he also has kidney problems and may eventually need another transplant, he has fatigue and chronic pain, and is much less healthy than he was when he started his health kick.

This is what happens when you let an attractive and profitable narrative win out over careful science, strict professionalism, and effective regulations. The narrative has won. This is also not an isolated incident. This same narrative promotes the false benefits of organic food, detox, anti-oxidants, mega-vitamins, superfoods, acupuncture, homeopathy, all manner of useless supplements, cupping, reflexology, iridology, coffee enemas, and a seemingly endless list of other useless nonsense.

Myles Power just wrote an excellent article about drinking turpentine. That’s right –┬áDr Jennifer Daniels, who was stripped of her license, promotes drinking paint thinner in order to treat fictitious parasites and candida to cure whatever ails you. She is a quack, selling treatments that would make a witch-doctor flinch, and people are buying it. In order to make the paint thinner more effective, you can also chase it down with some urine, or alternatively give yourself a urine enema.

This is beyond parody. These treatments seem outrageous because they are. In order to get regular people to drink their own urine – waste their body is trying to expel – you have to gaslight them into believing an alternate reality.

In order to turn this trend around it will take a concerted effort on multiple fronts. We are doing what we can in the skeptical movement, and at science-based medicine, but it’s not enough. We need better education for science and critical thinking. We need better regulations. But probably most importantly – the academic and scientific community needs to wake up. They need to come out of their ivory tower and directly engage with the public and with policy-makers. They have to do more than just explain their research, they need to directly confront false beliefs, misleading claims, pseudoscience and science denial.

Just ask climate scientists what happens when you don’t directly confront science denial, or biotech researchers facing the fearmongering tactics of anti-GMO panic.

The scientific community ignored popular denial of science at their own peril. In medicine, we also ignore it at the peril of our patients, whose health we are sworn to protect. I bet McCants wishes his doctor was more engaged with him about his “alternative health” activities.


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