Hokum Locum

Skin Lighteners

The pop star Michael Jackson has denied that he uses chemicals to lighten his skin and claimed to be suffering from a disorder called “vitiligo,” which is a spontaneous loss of skin pigment. Jackson said “There is no such thing as skin bleaching. I’ve never seen it. I don’t know what it is.” (GP Weekly 24 Feb, 1993)

In fact, skin lighteners are used extensively by Afro-Caribbean women in response to social pressures. These preparations contain hydroxyquinone which inhibits the production of melanin (normal skin pigment) but cause skin damage with prolonged usage.

“Because the creams are cosmetics rather than drugs they are not subject to stringent tests or regulations and of 33 skin lighteners for sale in Southwark, half were wrongly labelled; six had illegally high hydroxyquinone contents; three contained mercury, which is banned by European law; and two contained cortisone, which should be available only on prescription.” (BMJ Vol 305 p333)

This is a classic illustration of the abuses that occur when potent drugs are allowed to be dispensed as “cosmetics”. I do not know whether Michael Jackson truly does suffer from vitiligo, but with his history of repeated cosmetic surgery and hyperbaric oxygen treatment I would not be surprised if he is using skin lighteners.

Addicted to Sugar

Woman’s Weekly 14/12/92 carries the story of a woman who was chronically depressed until she saw an iridologist who proclaimed the patient “a sugar addict. Her exceptionally high sugar-loaded diet had filled her body with toxins. The whites of her eyes were yellow, and her colon contained faeces which had been present for years.”

This story has all the elements of quackery. Iridology is arrant nonsense adequately dealt with in one of our truth kits, and just what are the “toxins” so favoured by quacks? Can the colon really hold faeces that “have been present for years”? The world’s record for constipation is held by a man who resisted the temptations of the toilet for 368 days. He is said to have become weak after delivering 36 litres of faeces on June 21, 1901, but “there was much rejoicing in the family.” (CMA Journal May 22, 1976/Vol. 114)

This woman clearly suffered from a depression and wasted years in looking for outside “causes”. The iridology diagnosis and treatment is a form of placebo validation of her symptoms, which has allowed her to get better without facing up to more important psychosocial issues. The standard of such stories in the Woman’s Weekly is so pathetic that the staff surely deserve a permanent bent spoon award.

Sports Enhancement

It appears that athletes will do anything to enhance their performance in their chosen sport. Ben Johnson could not give up the use of anabolic steroids and has earned himself a permanent disqualification. Other athletes, such as Katrina Krabbe, have received feeble punishments for the same abuses. Some athletes go to extraordinary lengths to either justify or rationalise their use of performance enhancing drugs. A swimmer (Marlborough Express 16/3/93) complained that a heavy beer-drinking session led to her urine test showing twice the permitted testosterone levels.

A survey of private gymnasiums (British Journal of Sports Medicine 1992;26:259-61) found that 62 out of 160 customers had taken anabolic steroids, along with other drugs to counter the side effects of the steroids. Steroids have been used by some occupational groups, such as debt collectors and bouncers, to enhance physical size and improve employment prospects.

Users have also been observed to participate in needle exchange services through their requirement to administer the drugs intramuscularly. (BMJ Vol 306 13/1/93 p459)

Cooking with Radon

Disused uranium mines are finding a new use as chronically ill people rush to sit in the “health mines” in order to inhale radon gas which is touted to cure everything from migraine to blindness. For as little as $2.50 you receive exposure to radiation while “having a good time playing cards, doing jigsaw puzzles, and reading magazines.” (People Magazine)

(Un) Natural Remedies

Readers will remember the tragic deaths of twin infants from congenital infection of the mother with Listeria, a type of bacteria widely found in seawater and in particular, mussels. It is alleged that the infection was acquired through mussels eaten by the woman as a “natural” source of iron. If only she had taken the completely safe iron tablets available from her local chemist but then, they are not “natural.”

In Belgium, many women have suffered renal failure and died through taking slimming powders containing Chinese herbs, in some cases prescribed by doctors! (GP Weekly 3/3/93) Women are cynically targeted by the diet industry, and it is not surprising that obese people continue to be attracted to slimming remedies which can be eaten.

Oddities of the East

In China, ants are being used in the treatment of Hepatitis B and various rheumatoid diseases. 28000 patients have been treated using medicine made from ants which are rich in zinc and (unspecified) trace elements. 20 percent of a survey of 339 patients were described as “cured,” 77 percent were helped and only 2 percent remained unchanged. No one was made worse. The application of percentages and vague reports of “improvement” does not improve a fundamentally implausible study. (GP Weekly 20/1/93) Applying Skrabanek’s demarcation of the absurd theory, a clinical trial is not indicated.

Chinese herbal preparations often have inscrutable ingredients. A post-menopausal woman attending gynaecology outpatients had a biopsy taken from her uterus, which showed tissue changes consistent with the use of hormones. She was on no medication apart from a herbal remedy prescribed by a homeopath. The doctors found that the list of ingredients included 10 [micro]g of ethinyl-oestradiol (a potent female sex-hormone) with no warnings about long term use. (BMJ Vol 306 16 Jan 93 p212)

The irony of a homeopath prescribing a potent remedy will not be lost on readers. Homeopaths should confine their prescribing to their harmless placebos.

Continuing the theme of arcane Eastern practices, even forms of therapeutic massage are not without side effects. Following a vigorous bout of Shiatsu (Japanese style massage) a patient developed an attack of shingles caused by a reactivation of latent Herpes zoster infection of the affected skin area. (NZ Doctor 18 March 1993)

A man from Belize (Central America) was admitted to hospital with an abscess on his arm which was leaking a shiny pus. He admitted to injecting “white magic” into his forearm a month earlier and an X-Ray showed high density globules in the muscle of his arm.

The material in the injection was mercury, used according to Mayan superstition to ward off evil spirits and increase sexual potency. Tubes of mercury are cheap and freely available in Belize. Historical figures such as Henry VIII were treated for syphilis with mercury, which led to the expression “a night with Venus and a lifetime with mercury.”

The herb chaparral (aka. creosote bush) has been in the news lately, implicated as a cause of toxic liver hepatitis. It is under scrutiny in the US (NCAHF Vol 16 No 1), but as usual our own Health Department is dithering instead of banning it and putting the onus on the distributor to prove that it is safe. I have sent them a copy of the NCAHF article.

Natural Remedies Neglected

Neglect of proven health and hygiene measures can lead to disease as well. 46 people were infected with Salmonella from an imported Irish cheese made with unpasteurised milk. The infection was traced to four cows excreting the same strain of Salmonella in their faeces. There is no excuse for these human infections because pasteurisation kills all disease-producing bacteria commonly transmitted in milk. (BMJ Vol 306 13/2/93 p464)

Soviet Russia had fewer than 60 cases of Diptheria during the mid-1970s. The present social and economic chaos has led to a resurgence of this disease and almost 4000 cases occurred in 1992. Immunisation used to be compulsory but there are now fears that the vaccine is dangerous and AIDS may be caught from the needles. Diptheria has become endemic in rural areas where the standard of health care is very low. (BMJ Vol 306 13/2/93)

Even New Zealand has groups of ignorant people actively campaigning against immunisation. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it!


Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is characterised by subjective complaints of pain and sensory changes in the upper limbs. Skepticism in the literature prompted researchers to examine data, which showed that the diagnosis of TOS is heavily influenced by a patient’s insurance coverage. Those without such cover are rarely diagnosed as having TOS. (NCAHF Vol 16 No1)

There are many operations performed by surgeons which are of questionable indication. Surgery has a potent placebo effect and most surgeons would be reluctant to put operations to the test of a placebo controlled trial as outlined by Dr Bill Morris in the last issue of this journal.

Black Spot Mystery

Many mysteries turn out to have mundane explanations which are seldom accorded the same publicity as, for example, alien abduction stories (actually due to a dream state in susceptible individuals). Local health authorities in Green River, Wyoming sent out questionnaires, mapped homes and exhaustively tested scabby spots from the scalps of school children before concluding that the spots were flakes of tar which had blown off the school roof! (NZ Doctor 1/4/93)