21 Oct

By Michael Cartel

Former P&G logo ©Protor & Gamble, Inc.

Former P&G logo
©Protor & Gamble, Inc.

Several years ago while visiting my father I noticed a dozen bottles of ‘health’ tablets sitting at his breakfast table. I carp-gaped at the outrageous prices.Snake-oil

“What does this stuff do for you?”
“A friend recommended them.”
“Your friend doesn’t happen to sell this stuff does he?”
“Since taking these pills I haven’t had a cold.”

I pointed out that he had the flu last year but he dismissed my inquiry with a slash of his hand. A bottle labeled ‘Kelp Tablet’ read “so important for good health, made entirely from Nova Scotia kelp, Pacific coast kelp, deep sea dulce, Irish moss and alfalfa.” Another bottle was Lecithin Capsules, announcing “…an amazing nutritional factor…” while the Bee Pollen boasted “The male reproductive elements of the seed bearing plants…Some call it the ‘miracle food’ and for good reason!” Then there was an ‘Herbal Combo’ that contained “Siberian ginsing, gota kola herb, fo ti herb, dandelion root, spirulina plankton,expectorant slippery elm and yellow dock.”

“How is it possible that these supplements missed the scrutiny of the AMA and the Washington Post?” I said, wondering why the world was covering up these miracles.
“Maybe they don’t know all there is to know. Perhaps you don’t know all there is to know.”

He had a point of course. It’s the same argument peddlers of health pills use. You don’t know for sure that they don’t work, so maybe they do. Experts can’t make up their minds, so we (the pill salesmen) will scare/amaze you while simplifying. The scenario goes that the AMA doesn’t want you to be healthy since it’s bad for their business. A cure for cancer was known eons ago but they won’t let you have it.
pain cure jpg

This is part of the wider Collective-Conspiracy-Theory that’s a trillion-dollar a year business. I have two aquaintences who believe deeply in conspiracy intrigues. One works at a supermarket and is convinced that the poultry and fish industry gave a bad rap to the dairy industry by starting that cholesterol rumor. The other guy blames the ‘Government’ for suppressing information about that flying saucer that now sits in a guarded warehouse somewhere in Washington.

Once a fanciful rumor catches fire with the emotionally marginal it takes on a life of its own. Some years ago a rumor began that the man-in-the-moon logo of the Proctor and Gamble soap company was a sign of the devil. The company spent a fortune in public relations fighting the lie but boycotts eventually sank the moon face.

When my father challenged me on the health pills issue I researched several libraries,wigwam tonic the Compuserv network, the FDA, and the Berkeley Wellness Letter. I presented the data against the pill brochures to my father. Like a deprogrammer wrestling the faith back from a possessed soul, I convinced him that the supplements were either unnecessary or useless. Spirulina, for example, is an incomplete protein algae costing $300 a pound. Lecithin, another advertised miracle food, is a fatty substance found in liver, nuts and eggs, and is also used as an additive to hold processed foods together. Kelp is a source of iodine, but you get more than you need by merely eating. A jar of honey costs two dollars in a market, triple that in a health food store.

My father hasn’t had an illness since going cold turkey on the health pills, although he hasn’t shaken the vitamin habit just yet. However, my two conspirator friends still believe their own pet intrigues.

Belief in conspiracy theories are serious cult religions, and like psychic fraud or snake oil cure-alls, are immune to non-emotional facts.

Stolen from my Valley Vantage newspaper in 1992

Reprinted from my Valley Vantage newspaper in 1992


  1. Turn of the century medicine wagon shows worked over backwater farm towns but the web has exposed that the modern, educated and cultured are as gullible as their century-old ancestors. P.T. Barnum was wrong; there’s a sucker born every split second.