Our very own health scare

September 11th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dangers, detox, nutritionists, scare stories | 3 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday September 11, 2003
The Guardian

· Monday’s Daily Express gave details of an exciting treatment called “thalassotherapy”. Basically you sit in a bath of salt water, seaweed, algae and mud, and then… “because the seawater is at body temperature, mineral ions pass into the blood and encourage toxins to pass out,” says the paper. This is terrifying information. I’d always been quietly pleased with my skin, it being relatively impermeable since my ancestors moved out of the sea. But apparently not, and the implications are terrifying: does this mean all that time I’ve spent in the bath, things have been leaching out of me into the bath water? Or have I been sucking water in? No wonder I’m so big and puffy.

· But apparently it’s more than just ions: “All the vitamins, minerals and trace elements are at exactly the same level and [sic] concentration as they are in your body… by a process of osmosis, your body will take in any nutrients it needs from the seawater. It’s a highly effective treatment,” says Dr Christian Jost, “a consultant in thalassotherapy, from Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa Thalassotherapy Centre in West Cork, in Eire”. So if you want to lose weight without the Atkins, why not sit in a bath of pure water, and let the “nutrients” just seep out of you? Or help yourself to that extra serving of pasta, and then go for a walk in the rain to gently wash it all away?

· And as for the paper’s claim that “joint mobility and range of movement are 10 times easier in sea water?” I hold my head in my hands and wonder: what can that possibly, possibly mean?

· These tabloids are getting so lame at starting health scares, I’m thinking about seeding a few of my own. The Daily Mail can’t even manage to backtrack on its previous adulation of the Atkins diet without making claims like high fat diets double your risk of breast cancer, an assertion for which the data is famously conflicting. But I’m hunting bigger game. So here goes: one traditional Chinese herbal medicine has just been reported as having 11 sudden deaths attributed to it in just two years. But I’m not going to tell you which one. Until next week. Or maybe never. After all, with the stampede that doctors have to endure with every new health scare, I quite like the idea of a nation of hypochondriacs from the “natural means safe” school beating a path to the door of their local snake-oil salesperson to find out…

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3 Responses

  1. dave booth said,

    August 26, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    apparently the ink used to print tabloids absorbed by osmosis through the thumbs. ironically perhaps, these tiny molecules are often found as oily deposits around the clefts of the front brain lobe, effectively jamming information from being absorbed.

  2. John Atkinson said,

    March 21, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Health scare – isn’t it really appropriate word for the the thing?

  3. John Hawcock said,

    March 27, 2006 at 11:44 am

    Re the lethal Chinese herbal cures. As I recall they wre due to the wrong herbs being used in the mix. About what you’d expect from a completely unregulated industry administering drugs made by completely unqualified people.