If I were unscrupulous and cared more about money than my reputation then I reckon I could do well in the world of dietary supplements. Allow me to try and sell you my wonder supplement and see if I can convince you.
Metalo-Lappin-Detox: A breakthrough in health and anti-aging
The industrial age has seen an unprecedented increase in heavy metal pollution that can lead to mental and physical deterioration as well as accelerated ageing. The human body attempts to protect itself from this onslaught through a protein called metallothionein-2A that detoxifies heavy metals such as cadmium. Metallothionein can however, be overwhelmed if exposure to heavy metals is too high. Like all proteins metallothionein-2A is made from amino acids and the most abundant and important amino acid in this protein is cysteine. Innumerable scientific studies have shown how cysteine is incorporated into proteins and how its nucleophilic properties are essential to detoxification For example here and here.
Thanks to the unique formula of Metalo-Lappin-Detox you can now benefit from the health benefits of 100% natural cysteine, specially formulated within a fast release capsule developed by the renown toxicologist, Dr Graham Lappin. Boost your metabolism with a daily dose of cysteine, critical in the functioning of metallothionein-2A.
Dr Graham Lappin, is an expert in the metabolism of toxins. He has over 30 years experience and has held 3 professorships, including those from the Medical University of Vienna and Duke Medical School in the United States, the home of Nobel Laurette Robert J. Lefkowitz.
Metalo-Lappin-Detox is only available from Dr Lappin’s website and is priced so you can afford it. Take just one 250 mg capsule per day and a week’s supply is only £9.99. What price would you place on your health?
The above description is actually a lot more accurate than many detox claims but nevertheless is still totally bogus. And yet, everything it says is true (although “renown” toxicologist might be pushing it a bit, I admit). Heavy metal pollution has increased with industrialisation and does cause mental and physical deterioration. Many heavy metals when ingested lead to the formation of oxygen radicals which are associated with ageing. The body has evolved systems to neutralise heavy metals, simply because life has been exposed to them (in varying concentrations) since it climbed out of the primordial ooze. Metallothionein-2A is one of the key proteins that protects the human body from heavy metals such as cadmium. Metallothionein-2A is indeed made of amino acids and cysteine is key to its effective function. The links to the scientific literature are genuine and the studies are valid. My list of my credentials is also accurate.
If you Googled any of these individual facts then they could be verified and it would all seem perfectly feasible. It is however, a classic example of pseudoscientific exploitation. The trick is the way the individual claims are joined together - or more accurately the way they are not. There are huge gaps between the claimsthat are left to the reader to join together.
The biggest gap - the breadth of the grand canyon - is simply the notion that taking a cysteine supplement will somehow increase the ability ofmetallothionein-2A to do its job. The body in fact makes its own cysteine in the absence of any from the diet. A normally healthy person makes more than enough cysteine for incorporation into all of the necessary proteins. A supplement of 250 mg per day will make no difference whatsoever to the body’s ability to cope with heavy metals. Of course the claims in my advertisement above, very carefully steered around these inconvenient facts.
Reference to the scientific literature is particularly convincing. The first study quoted is entitled “Role of metallothionein and cysteine-rich intestinal protein in the regulation of zinc absorption by diabetic rats” which sounds right on the money. The paper has nothing to do with the claims of Metalo-Lappin-Detox but the majority of the public would not be able to assess this, one way or the other. In fact the claims for Metalo-Lappin-Detox are full of science-sounding terms such as “nucleophilic”, which again if Googled would appear to be used correctly.
The ploy of listing personal credentials is almost universal in pseudoscience, so much so that it’s virtually a trade-mark. At least in my case I do hold a genuine PhD and not bought off the internet from the University of Outer Northern Galapagos. Robert J. Lefkowitz is indeed a Nobel Laurette at Duke University and I did hold an Adjunct Professorship there for two years. I have however, never met Robert J. Lefkowitz nor had any involvement in his groundbreaking work. If he heard my name, he'd more likely ask, "who's he?" If the reader makes any assumptions because of the association of names, then that’s up to them.
The pricing seems reasonable until I tell you this is three times the price for analytically-pure laboratory grade cysteine. A fast release capsule is in fact, a capsule, just like the ones used for paracetamol (acetaminophen in the USA) you can purchase in the local chemist.
Finally, I would keep a careful eye out for any celebrities purchasing Metalo-Lappin-Detox and then make sure I add this to the website. I’d even give a year’s supply for a celebrity endorsement, after all it wouldn't cost me that much.
Of course many detox and other “natural” remedy claims are nowhere near as scientific my Metalo-Lappin-Detox. Many include explanations about energy flow or increasingly they invoke some quantum effect. It’s all too easy to make this stuff up and it’s all big business.
Pesky skeptics might start writing blogs or sending Tweets critical of Metalo-Lappin-Detox and asking for something they call "evidence". The best form of defence in this case is attack, and I'd say things like "you are embarrassing yourself with your lack of scientific understanding". Another great tactic is to say that the big pharmaceutical companies are conspiring to stop the sale of Metalo-Lappin-Detox to protect their profits. Which is perhaps a little hypocritical of me as I'm not exactly giving it away for free. In fact, anyone know of a good website where I can buy my yacht?