Monday, November 29, 2010

Antioxidants, Medical Wizardry or Wizard of Oz?

    In the past decade health foods have taken on a huge chunk of the food market. We, some of us anyway, have come to terms with our terrible eating habits and their consequences. The average person understands that eating a block of butter with fried chicken isn't the best way to keep the pounds off. Still, America is well known as the planet's fattest nation. With more people realizing that the fattest nation crown isn't something to be proud of, Americans are turning to this new, healthier, section of the food market. There are many different types of so called health foods; organic produce, free range poultry, low fat and low calorie snacks, and foods, fruits mainly, that are said to contain antioxidants. I've found simple answers to most of these health food choices, such as, foods marketed as hormone free are no different than those that are not marketed in the same manner. Hormone use in livestock is illegal, and the use of vaccines does not carry over into the milk or meat of livestock in any significant amounts, if any at all. Organic foods have a similar diagnosis, but these are for another day. The major health craze that I didn't know much about, and couldn't find readily available information on, was something called antioxidants.

      Antioxidants are said to protect our cells from what is called oxidative stress, caused by compounds called free radicals. Walk into any grocery store and you're bound to come across at least one product, on every isle, that claims to contain these protective antioxidants. The best source of abundant amounts of antioxidants is said to be fruits and vegetables. Fruit juices and dietary supplements designed to contain copious amounts of antioxidants are also a competitive source. Product labels with the words "Antioxidants" or "Free Radicals" stand out among similar products without these reassuring terms. Commercials claiming the power of "Super Fruits," brag about the high concentrations of antioxidants contained within. Other than the power to block free radicals labels rarely, if ever, speak about just how these compounds work to extend our life spans. We are only told that diseases like arthritis, chronic fatigue, Alzheimer's, and most especially, cancer can be avoided by supplementing your diet with large amounts of antioxidants. Even the phenomenon of aging is said to be no match for antioxidant power. It was these claims that caused me to look deeper into the inner workings of these miracle compounds. Claims of all powerful and all curing substances in the medical field tend to turn out as snake oil. To start, I truly hoped that antioxidants wouldn't follow suit, but the more I dug into the complicated world of cell energy production, the bleaker antioxidant's claim of medical efficacy became. I have to say, it was a hell of a ride researching the mechanics that antioxidants supposedly act upon, and reading through the published studies containing the data that could exonerate, or condemn, antioxidants for good.
    Let's start slow, slow and easy. First, what the heck is a free radical anyway? A free radical is an atom that has an odd number of valance electrons, creating a negative charge. This negative charge causes the atom to seek out and quickly bond to a positively charged atom. Oxygen atoms happen to be the main culprit in cell oxidation (that's why it is called oxidation). This is why we find atmospheric oxygen as 0₂. Two oxygen atoms bonded together to form a balanced compound of oxygen. Free radicals can also bond to atoms that, once oxidized, create unwanted results. Rust is a commonly known result of this action. Rust, a compound of iron and oxygen, is also called iron oxide or, a less comprehendible, Fe2O3. These same oxygen atoms are the crucial link between antioxidants and health. The oxygen free radical is produced during normal cell function; I'll get to this in a moment. The theory is, some of these break off from the cycle and wreak havoc on our cells. Well, sometimes they do, the question is how often, and how much damage do they really cause.

    Now to cell function and what it has to do with free radicals. As you probably already know, our bodies are made up of cells, lots of them. Different body parts have different cells; your liver is made of liver cells, kidneys of kidney cells, and so on. These different cells have different jobs, but they all need to generate energy. They do this through chemical chain reactions or the electron transfer chain. Basically, a compound is broken down, this releases energy, these compounds or atoms either break down again or attach themselves to other compounds. Each time this happens, a little energy is released and used by the cell. It's an incredible process, and I haven't given it anywhere near the justice it deserves. This is where oxidation takes place. Oxygen atoms are dropped off and picked up over and over again in the chain reaction. As we all know, nothing in nature is perfect. So an occasional freed oxygen atom, or free radical, escapes this reaction and attaches to a compound making up the structure of a cell. When this happens it is called oxidative stress. If our cells take on too much of this, and didn't have some resistance to it, they would became damaged and die. That's bad, really bad if it happens a lot. Lucky for us, our cells and the cells of other organisms have built up defenses to this natural occurrence. If they hadn't, no critters would be around to tell the tale.

    This is just the point where antioxidant supplements are supposed to step in and do their thing. Antioxidants attach themselves to the free radicals, there's a little magic, and boom, no free radical worries. Maybe there isn't any magic, but that's the simplest way to explain it. The Wiki article on antioxidants has a far more in depth description of the process that highly recommend you take the time to read. Antioxidants such as uric acid are naturally made by our body. Some, like uric acid, can even have adverse effects in high concentrations. Large amounts of uric acid are the cause of gout. Here is where the aging and disease theories of free radicals split away from science. Ingesting more antioxidants by eating fruits, vegetables, and supplements is said to send more free radical police to our cells. The problem is, our bodies make all the antioxidants we need, and having to many antioxidants in our bodies can cause hiccups in the chemical chain reactions they depend on. There is also the problem of cell resistance. Like our immune system, cells build up natural immunities to both internal and external free radicals. It is the internal free radicals that begin the construction of this important resistance. When you turn down the volume on internally produced free radicals, cells become less efficient at dealing with the externally introduced baddies. The loss in efficiency negates any benefits from repelling internal free radicals.

    My favorite study on the efficacy of antioxidant supplements is a meta-analysis on a large number of other studies. The studies were focused on longevity benefits in seniors, and many recorded the effects on the prevention of multiple diseases. When all the information was combined, it seemed there was a slight benefit to supplementation. Sadly though, when only the high quality studies that were also the least biased, the only ones that should hold merit anyway, were separately reviewed; it turned out that a marked decrease in overall longevity and disease resistance was found in the participants that were given antioxidant supplements. This is strong evidence that the idea of lowered external resistance negating benefits could be on the right track. It also seems that not only is there no effect, but there is a negative effect in those that received very high amounts of supplements. Another study reviewed the diets of over 400,000 Europeans. Because antioxidants are said to lower your risk of cancer, this was what they tested for. They compared the cancer rates among the subjects that ate large amounts of fruits and vegetables against the rate of those who only ate a normal, balanced, diet. This study come to the same conclusion as the last, there was no evidence to suggest any benefits in cancer resistance from consuming large amounts of antioxidants. So you don't think I'm cherry picking, I did come across a 1998 study that found a 10% increase in the max life span of mice given supplements. It seems there is a flaw in this study though, because no one has been able to reproduce the results in a separate lab test. Not even the originator of the entire antioxidant craze, Denham Harman, who spent decades attempting to show this correlation. It seems the jury is in on this subject.  Antioxidants as a miracle drug is nothing more than the Wizard of Oz, just a lonely old coot behind the giant facade of media hype.
    Our mortality is the greatest cause of irrational thinking. We attempt to avoid it in any way possible. Elaborate stories of gods and afterlife have been told since we first gathered together around the fire. The knowledge that we will one day be no more, can be terrifying. As anyone that has watched a bad slasher movie knows, people do dumb things when they're terrified. This includes the things we decide to believe without first examining the evidence; because the evidence could hold a truth that only validates our fear. So it is easy for charlatans that understand this fear, to prey on our ever growing ignorance of science. They only need a handful of intellectuals, real or not, to support their claims and we are hooked. Our only weapon against these predators is skepticism, skepticism that will lead us to investigate the evidence for ourselves; then we can make informed decisions about such claims. 

"If it were widely understood that claims to knowledge require evidence before they can be accepted, there would be no room for pseudoscience."
—Carl Sagan

As always, please feel free to e-mail me with questions, comments, corrections, and requests for references.

Monday, October 4, 2010

iRenew. The Newest Thing in BioField Enhancing Flapdoodle

Sitting on the couch late one evening I was talking myself into getting up to go to bed.  While slowly lifting off of my absurdly comfortable sofa an infomercial caught my eye.  I spent a few years as a salesman, so I appreciate a good sales pitch from time to time.  This particular advertisement was for an amazing bracelet said to cure fatigue and give you an overall sense of well being.  I thought at first it may be a Vicodin dispenser, but shook off that idea as to good to be true.  Further viewing, though, showed me just what the mechanism was for this breakthrough in modern medicine.  I had never heard some of the terms used, but after seeing a few “strength tests” conducted on random passersby in what looked to be an indoor shopping mall I decided to watch on.  Before the end of the pitch I was given a visual explanation of the powerful item at work.  The commercial was then concluded with an endorsement by an M.D. from a medical institute bearing his name.  Naturally I was vexed, and as always, put my skepticism to work.
First I wanted to look into the most pivotal claim made by the merchant.  The biological system on which it acts.  iRenew’s “official” website claims that the bracelet “May promote strength, balance, and endurance” using “Nano based Biofield technology.”  Further research into this new addition to my vocabulary brought me this vague definition, it is an “integral part of your whole being not just your body” it is in “close balance with every aspect of yourself.”  If that’s not flapdoodle then I’m a teapot.  iRenew claims that this biofield is an energy emitted by all living things that somehow effects many of our feelings and moods.  Since the biofield is made of energy it is only logical to assume that it could be manipulated by energy.  This is where iRenew’s bracelet goes to work.  The electromagnetic fields emitted by our many electronic devices are the supposed culprits of biofield distortion or “unbalance” as they describe it.  To sum up the definition I’ll use this quote from another iRenew merchant site, “So if you feel unbalanced and generally worn down lately, it is probably because your biofield has fallen victim to the electromagnetic radiation around you.”
Putting aside the confusing use of the term “nano” I found that iRenew claims the bracelet is somehow “...made with all natural frequencies.”  How a solid object can be constructed of any frequency at all is a mind smack for me, but that was just the tip of the rabbit hole.  Claims for the abilities of these natural frequencies to “tune” our biofield range from relieve pain to fighting off free radicals.  These extraordinary claims needed extraordinary evidence; iRenew used a handful of testimonials along with a shout out to their supposed quantum physicist said to be working on human energy research for twenty years.  Other sites focused more on validating the claim that this biofield even exists, and that it can be treated.  A specific study conducted recently was referenced on multiple sites.  Finally on the iRenew commercial I was shown the strength test and M.D. plug I mentioned earlier.  While reading the testimonials I came across a comment left by a potential customer.  The comment made me shiver, and really shows just what this product is all about.  It was this comment that forced me to look deeply into all the evidence put forward by iRenew.  The comment was posted on Sep 29, 2010 by a person calling them self “Pam”, and asked whether the iRenew bracelet would interfere with her pacemaker.  She was very hopeful to use this device since she had been diagnosed with ALS and was having serious balance issues.  The perfect target.
The Infamous Study
“Biofield Therapies: Helpful or Full of Hype?  A Best Evidence Synthesis.”  This is the title given to the study that many of the peddlers of not only iRenew type products but also Healing Touch (HT) and other such techniques have been clinging to.  Their claims of a peer reviewed journal publishing such a study that would have a positive conclusion for proponents of treatments was mind boggling at the least.  If the evidence did show they could work I would have no choice but to concede.  Fortunately the evidence did no such thing.  After taking the time (lots of time) to fully read this study and the evidence it claims I realized that, as usual, those making the claims are clinging to shaky evidence and out of context quoting.  
This study was conducted by Doctor’s Jain and Mills and is available online at the NCBI website.  I’ll include the link at the bottom of this blog.  The authors of the study used certain search criteria to find studies that test the efficacy of biofield related treatments.  Once they found the studies they used a point system to grade them based on methods and information posted in the study.  In total 66 made the grade and were used.  It was the evidence found in these studies that led to the author’s conclusion “There is a need for further high-quality studies in this area.”  After looking into the studies they used I would have no choice but to agree.  
The first study I picked to go over was the one that scored the highest on the point scale; a 12 out of a possible 16.  The study monitored 88 asthma patients that were either treated with HT therapy, placebo (actor used to administer HT treatment), and a control group with no treatment.  The patients were treated over 5 sessions and tested at the end of each using an Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire or AQLQ test which scores a patients impairment in 32 total situations.  The AQLQ is, as far as I can tell, an accepted form of assessment even though it does depend on self-reporting.  The findings were minimal at best, and the authors came to the conclusion “Spiritual healing does not appear to have any specific affect on patient asthma related quality of life.”  So minus one for the away team.
My second choice was on the opposite end of their list; it scored a 1 out of a lowest possible score of -3 points.  Apparently the studies were so bad they had to lower the bar a bit.  This study was to test “The effects of healing touch on the coping ability, self esteem, and general health of nursing students.”  The purpose was stated as, “...check the veracity of claims made by healing touch practitioners that the therapy is effective.”  Not much information is given on the methods of this study, but I have to assume that the patients were treated then asked to answer a questionnaire.  Judging by the results it would seem that the longer you are in nursing school the more effective HT is for you.  In the first year students the author reported, “...findings showed no effects of HT...” While the third year students “...some slight effects...”  In conclusion the author admits that the slight effects are not nearly enough to prove the efficacy of HT.  The authors words, though, show were their original intent may have laid, “...projects design may be ineffective in measuring the effects of HT...” and “...objective measures may be inadequate for exploring subjective practices.”  So basically, the study showed no real effect on the students, but maybe we just did it wrong.  With the total lack of information given by the authors and the obvious bias I’m more than disappointed that anyone would use this study for any purpose.  
After looking over the reviewed studies it is hard not to agree that higher quality studies need to be conducted in this area.  Not to show that you can manipulate the nonexistent biofield, but to show that these practices are undeniably just plain quackery.  The vague conclusions leave far too much gap for proponents to wiggle into and use as “evidence.”  Use of this study by merchants of this crapadoo is a perfect example of this.  A study that clearly says nothing more than we need better studies to get hard evidence is being used to mean we need better studies because we have got something here!  
The Becker Hilton Medical Institute
In iRenew’s commercial they use a plug from a Dr. Scott Becker from the Becker Hilton Institute who tells us just how incredibly effective these treatments really are.  How could an educated person with a doctorate to boot believe in such a thing if it weren’t true?  Well, I’m not so sure about his education, but I can tell you that his career activities may have something to do with it.  I looked into the Becker Hilton Institute and man did I find some bunk.  The institute is located in Miramar, FL and their “Yahoo Local” profile says they specialize in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (thanks again Oprah), nutraceutical supplementation, and age management.  Six reviews were written on the profile.  Five of the reviews gave a single star (lowest possible) and contained some colorful descriptions.  A single five star review throw me off a bit until I read it.  The review was titled, “Five Star Criminals.”  How lovely.  When I tried to view the institutes website I was redirected to a page that read, “This account has been suspended.”  Looks like Doc Becker doesn’t make for much of an expert endorsement.  
Radiation All Over
iRenew’s great whipping boy, electromagnetic radiation, really is all around us.  Claims that bombardment from this radiation cause ailments from fatigue to autism are rampant in the pseudoscience community.  These claims have been investigated many times, and no correlation has ever been found.  Since the claimed biofield that these waves seem to harm is completely undetectable and breaks many of the laws of physics it makes for a difficult study directly into this claim.  Neither side has come up with anything other than the fact that biofields just don’t exist.  Besides this we also know that the radiation given off by our wireless devices, cell phones, and just about anything you plug in is not nearly energetic enough to effect our bodies.  We have been walking about in a sea of this radiation for decades now, and we haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary.  This also goes for the “natural frequencies” said to be harnessed by the bracelet.  The earth’s core is a massive dynamo that creates the enormous magnetic field that protects us from solar emissions and other space baddies.  This field has no real effect on our body, and any other frequency given off by most materials is no different.  Case Closed.
Between the silly balance test shown on the commercial and the recent court ruling against Q-Ray, the makers of a similar product, ordering them to refund nearly 87 million dollars to customers I have seen more than enough evidence to come to a conclusion.  Even with the buy one get one free for $19.95 deal I refuse to buy.  This is a sham among shams using shams to sham even the shammers.  When people ask, “What’s the harm?” we can point to this product and show the misinformation given to an already scientifically ignorant public that causes them to lose their money and perhaps time they could be using on a real treatment.  While science based medicine may win the occasional victory (the Q-Ray ruling) scams like this continue to pop up.  They drive a wedge between their customers and the big bad mainstream separating them even further from the truth.  While many will inevitably fall prey to these tactics our best bet is to stay skeptical ourselves and do what it takes to spread that skepticism among the public.  
“If it were widely understood that claims to knowledge require adequate evidence before they can be accepted, there would be no room for pseudoscience.”
- Carl Sagan                      
As always please feel free to comment or e-mail me with any questions or ideas or if you would like to view any of my references.  I’m just too lazy to put them here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Autism and Vaccines. Here We Go Again!

    Before I begin this week’s blog I need to explain the topic.  My plan for this blog was to concentrate on products and services that are sold on the back of fantastic claims.  Many of these sales tactics are nothing short of lies.  The public needs to be educated on such lies, and that is my plan.  I will always take a neutral approach to my subjects.  Most of these claims I would be absolutely elated to prove right.  This week, though, I feel the need to write about a different subject.  One that is very important to all of us with children and any of us that plan to procreate at some point in their lives.  This weeks subject will be the supposed connection between vaccines and autism.  This vaccine “controversy” was all but snuffed out thanks to the hard work and dedication of many great scientists, bloggers, and podcasters.  All this work has now been placed in jeopardy by a recent news story.  The story of the unfortunate girl who is the subject of this weeks blog has sent a wave of new life directly into the vaccine opponents.  The danger these people cause is, in my opinion, impossible to put into words.  As with many opponents to modern science they prey on the ignorance of the public, and spread false claims of pseudoscientific evidences.  This recent resurgence has compelled me to change my criteria for this week so that I might help even just one person learn the truth behind the claims being thrown about. 

    In July of 2000 Hannah Poling was taken to her doctor to catch up on her vaccines.  The 18 month old little girl had been ill with ear infections and fell behind on her vaccine schedule.  Hannah’s doctor gave her 5 separate injections inoculating her from 9 nasty illnesses.  Hannah showed no immediate signs of distress, and she continued to do the little girl things that little girls do.  For a while anyway.  The following year or so saw her losing the small vocabulary she had built up.  She began exhibiting other odd behaviors that are similar to those seen in children afflicted with autism.  Let me say that again.  She began showing behaviors similar to those seen in autism afflicted children.  Hannah’s parents, Dr. Jon Poling a private practice neurologist and Terry Poling an attorney and nurse, recognized her symptoms and had her thoroughly tested to find the source of Hanna’s symptoms.  

   Hannah, it turned out, has a mitchondrial disorder that very well could have been aggravated by the large number of vaccines she received at once.  Mitochondria are the power generators of our cells.  They supply the energy that cells require to do cell stuff.  It is believed that Hannah’s condition mixed with the large vaccine dosage may have starved her brain cells of vital energy; causing debilitating and irreversible brain damage.  This condition can be tested for pre-vaccine, but since it only effects about .0057% of the population testing for this disorder is rare at best.  What exactly was in the vaccines that caused this reaction is still a little fuzzy.  Most have pointed at the ethyl-mercury based preservative thimerosal.

    Thimerosal has been used in a massive number of products from contact lens solution to nasal sprays.  The antiseptic concoction was introduced into nearly all vaccines after a tragic accident in 1928 where 12 of 21 children inoculated against diphtheria died of staph. infections.  The concentration of thimerosal in vaccines ranges between .001% to .01% or about 25 micrograms per .5ml dose.  Since very little thimerosal was needed to be effective it became the go to antiseptic.  Ethyl-mercury is the base of the antiseptic.  Ethyl-mercury, unlike methyl-mercury, does not readily build up in the body, and is usually passed without problem through normal bodily means.  In short, we pee it out without a problem.  Since we are exposed to such a small amount of ethyl-mercury in which product you may be using the flush comes with ease for the your body.  It is ethyl-mercury’s evil twin that we are so afraid of.

    Methyl-mercury is the same type that we find just about anywhere we look.  The most common way for it to enter our body is through eating fish.  Just as methyl-mercury builds up in our bodies; it also builds up in the bodies of fish.  Some store it in bones or skin so fancy filet techniques can be employed to avoid the mercury noid.  Most, unfortunately, store mercury in their muscle tissue.  The stuff we eat.  As should be expected, different species of fish usually carry greatly varied amounts of mercury.  Location also plays a major role since fish absorb mercury both through food and from the water they frolic in.  The FDA website has a chart showing the most common concentrations of mercury in specific species.  Oddly enough it turns out that canned tuna is one of the worst offenders (shark is the worst).  The FDA also monitors these numbers in the fish heading for markets.  Their standard for maximum mercury concentrations is about 425 micrograms per pound of meat.  Substantially more than the amount of ethyl-mercury we would be exposed to in a single vaccine dose.  Also, it is important to note that rumors stating cooking fish properly removes most of the mercury are false.  Once the mercury is in the fish it is there until the little guy hits your digestion freeway. 

    With all that in mind it is difficult to see the claimed connections between thimerosal and the recent rise in autism diagnoses.  Many independent organizations have done thorough testing to find any such connection.  Both the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) have found no correlation between the two, and they still maintain the safety of thimerosal use in vaccines.  Even with these findings the U.S. has decided it is better to be safe than sorry, and had thimerosal phased out of use in vaccines for U.S. use.  It is still used by other international groups and other countries.  W.H.O. still uses the antiseptic for their vaccines since it allows for multiple vaccines to be stored together for long term.  This drastically lowers the cost of each individual vaccination; giving W.H.O. the ability to inoculate far more children against life threatening diseases around the world.

    Though the U.S. has stopped using thimerosal in vaccines the anti-vaccine troops have kept pointing their misguided fingers at these life savers.  Searching for their new culprit compound contained in current vaccines left me without answers.  Basically the best answer I found was that the vaccine, the whole mixture, is the cause.  Since being proven wrong about thimerosal they seem ready to blame everything.  We won’t get one by them this time!  

    It is important to remember that side effects are a part of any medicine.  We are all a little different, so different reactions will happen.  Negative reactions beyond sore arms or fever are exceedingly rare, but they do occur.  The act that is awarding the Poling family was set up for just this reason.  It is no secret that adverse reactions can be caused by vaccines, but the other choice is certainly not better.  The last few generations are lucky to have not seen the veracity of the diseases we have all but beaten with current vaccines.  Just a quick thought of the millions killed by the spanish flu pandemic of the early twentieth century is enough to justify the rare negative reactions we see today.  Polio has been wiped off our continent, and I couldn’t even tell you what the hell Rubella is.  These achievements can be ruined if we stop the current regiments.  Even if just a few out of a hundred decide to forgo inoculation the herd immunity we take for granted can be squashed.  We already see this in the United Kingdom with the resurgence of illnesses once thought eradicated.  Even the parents of Hannah Poling agree with this point.  A Time Magazine article quoted them as saying, “Vaccines are one of the most important advances in the history of medicine, but people need to know there is a risk to every medicine.  There may be a small percentage of people who are susceptible to injury.”  

    Educating the public, as usual, is the best solution here.  We need to get the truth into the minds of the people before the anti-vaccine folks feed them with exaggerated statistics, and incorrect information on vaccine contents and side effects.  Good information is a powerful tool, and we must wield it without reserve against all pseudo-science claims.  The simple misconception that Hannah has been diagnosed with autism is enough to fan the flames of this torrent of untruths.  It has been repeated time and again and I will say it once more.  She has autism like symptoms not autism. A correlation between vaccines and autism has never been found.  And finally, the recent rise in autism diagnoses is due solely to the improved techniques used to diagnose child mental disorders.  Misinformation can cause serious problems; this case is just one of many examples.  So if you run into so called facts spend some time to check them out.  Always remember the words of Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  

If you would like any of my references or have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Quietus" Finally Relief for Tinnitus! Or Is It?

     As far back into the past as I can remember not only was silence illusive for my ears, it would soon become my worst enemy.  A constant low ring just barely audible to me know sings a never ending tune deep inside my ears.  Barely audible so long as the room I'm in is filled with some form of noise.  As the protective blanket of sound is pulled away the chill of my monotone old nemesis becomes stronger.  A silent room leaves me with a constant high pitch ringing that hampers not only my sleep but also my train of thought, and even the small bit of sanity I cling to.  Over the years I have found my own treatments for this odd nuisance.  When lying in bed a radio tuned to my favorite station with the volume turned down so that the music and voices blur into a low murmur.  When that is unavailable a ceiling fan with it's low hum and the"tick, tick, tick" of it's pull chain will do the trick.  Although quite wasteful, a television with an obscure program playing in the background has become a daily necessity.  Such a silly affliction to deal with wouldn't seem as torturous as it is looking in from the outside.  It is.  That is why when I saw an upbeat and exciting commercial for a treatment or even perhaps a cure I was elated and spared little time before investigating.  The following is a narrative of my findings, a skeptical review if you will.

     The miracle "drug" mentioned was called "Quietus".  The name seemed like a fitting and creative label for a treatment designed to help the victims of tinnitus.  Fitting even after a deeper look into the mechanism of it's miracle like effects.  For a low initial cost (the cost of shipping) you enter into a 30 day "free" (you still pay for the shipping) trial.  A comfort to those of us skeptical to the claims of the multitude of Internet snake oil traffickers. If it doesn't work they give back the money.  Some of it, maybe.  Upon reading reviews of the customer service offered by this proprietor it became evident that a full refund would be elusive at best and a partial refund would not come without a fight.  This was fairly unnerving after discovering the total price of one box of Quietus would eventually be $99.95 usd.  Honestly this is a small price to pay if the product does what it claims.  Luckily I was able to obtain the treatment without any cost to myself. (A gift from a friend)  The contents of the box were simple.  A bottle of tablets and another bottle of liquid with a small tip to allow you to place drops of it in your ears.  The dosage was also simple.  Two small drops in each ear and one tablet by mouth per day.  The effects should be felt (or maybe not heard?) within two weeks, but of course everyone is different say individual results will vary.  I followed the instructions with a religious zeal, immersed in joyful anticipation of emancipation from my old nemesis.  Sadly, though, that never came.  I contacted the manufacturer to look for a suggestion to my problem.  A heavily scripted CSR was able to eventually suggest that I double the dosage.  If that didn't work perhaps a triple dose was in order, in which case I would need to order a second unit of Quietus so that I wouldn't run out before I felt the true effects.  Powerful medical advice or just a put'em off until my 30 day trial comes to an end?  I will go with the latter.  How can I say such things just because the product didn't work for me?  Let me explain.

     Homeopathic treatments have been under heavy scrutiny lately.  So far the alternative medicine's rebuttal's have not been very convincing.  Let's take the medical trials mentioned on the Quietus website.  The site sites multiple "studies" each with very similar results.  These studies are also said to be published in peer reviewed journals, a requirement for any serious scientific study.  The studies show that in most cases about a 75% positive result is felt by the subjects.  Especially in children under the age of 16.  I attempted to read these studies using the link to the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" at the bottom of the page but I was taken instead to a page that suggested I also read "The Journal of Medical Acupuncture".  Or perhaps "Botanical Medicine: from bench to bedside".  Well I have to say that I declined their offer but I did find out that the journal I was looking to read was endorsed by the "Society for Acupuncture Research" and the "International Society for Complementary Medicine Research".  Although all these titles sound very scientific they are no more so than the Flat Earth Society.

     I looked deeper at the findings of the studies cited on the Quietus homepage.  To understand why these data are basically useless I needed to look closer at the vocabulary used in the explanations.  First of all the phrase "positive result".  This could mean anything other than say, "my leg has fallen off".  A positive result could be the product of all sorts of stimuli including just a plain ol' good night's sleep.  This wildly vague term is common in homeopathic medicine studies.  Another issue is brought to light with the revelation that children responded even better to treatment than adults.  The most reasonable explanation?  These test do not include any blind tactics.  In other words people receiving treatment know they are and people not receiving treatment know they aren't.  Not only does this allow the placebo monster to show his ugly mug it also causes a psychological need to say yes just to make someone (those conducting the study) happy, someone that according to the studies these subjects spent about six years with.  Why then the unusually higher positive results in subjects under 16 years?  Easy,  if you give a child a tablet and tell him it will make him feel better he is far more inclined to believe you, the figure of authority.  This less inhibited belief would (predictably) cause a more prominent placebo effect amongst those subjects.  I was also unable to find out just what other treatments, if any, were being used.  This could be overshadowed by data showing just how "positive" the effects of the homeopathic treatments were.  The tests noted claimed to be treating a long list of chronic ailments such as asthma, eczema, migraines, depression, etc.  The level of a patient's asthma can easily be shown by the strength of their lungs or perhaps the frequency of attacks.  This type of information is no where to be found in these "studies". 

     The United Kingdom's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has already put in their opinion of homeopathy and can be read here to sum up their findings I would put it as, "it don't work".  This study criticises homeopathy's highly dilute and dubious proprietary ingredients.  The homeopathic rebuttal?  The more dilute the contents the more powerful the effects.  No really that's what they said.  Using that logic if I had massive headache I could toss an aspirin into a pond, then scoop up a small bit of water and drink that.  Unfortunately I would become violently ill and perhaps even die,  my doctors wondering what kind of fool would take such a powerfully dilute dose of aspirin. 

     In the end I am reminded of the other usages of the name quietus.  One is that of a roman aristocrat Titus Fulvius Lunis Quietus who was elected by his soldier as emperor after the death of Emperor Valerian in 260 ad.  Unfortunately the rightful emperor Gallienus wasn't ready to relinquish his throne.  After the defeat of his brother and father in Thrace in 261 Quietus was forced to flee.  He was later killed by the inhabitants of Emesa, an emperor for less than a year.  Another is from a more recent source.  The movie "Children of Men" featured a widely distributed kit to aid in a painless suicide.  The calming blue sky and white fluffy clouds on the box simply read "Quietus".  Irony exists everywhere in our world, all we need to do is look.  The same rings true for bunk, bunkmedicine, bunkscience, bunkhistory, it's everywhere and I will help you find it!  Quietus definitely falls under bunkmedicine.  Be sure to apply what we learned from it to other claims we come to in our day to day lives.