by Mal Vickers
I love the Mind Body Spirit Festival – I really do. But I don’t love having to part with the (grrrr…..) twenty dollars just to get in. My partner tried her hand at The Secret or the power of positive thinking and attempted to get in for nothing, but the security guard shattered her confidence.
Luckily an essential oil called Confidence was readily available from the nearby Pro-Oils stand. This place made it all worthwhile. I happened to find a bottle of Clear Thinking – perfect for a Skeptic like me. I took one long, deep sniff, right to the bottom of my lungs. Somehow my world appeared better, sharper, colours were more vivid, my mind cleared, my thoughts were more focused, yes… I just inhaled a bunch of liquid herbs. You too can buy a 12ml bottle of Clear Thinking on Show special for just $13.60; a bargain as it’s normally $17.00 per bottle. I was also tempted by a bottle of Clarity / Concentration, but no, my mind was
now clear. Just looking at a bottle of Anxiety helped produce the desired effect at $13.60 and Fairy Magic was a spellbinding $20.00. Perhaps I’d accidentally inhaled a hint of ‘Critical Thinking’.
In the meantime, my partner was busy haggling over the price of a bottle of Happiness. “What? $13.60? I’m not happy about that!” she protested. I think she’d caught a whiff of Confidence. The bloke on the till didn’t crack a smile. Perhaps it was a blend of Headache and Fear. It might have been time for him to D-Stress and Chill Out at a total of $54.40.
At another stand my partner wanted to try some makeup that would highlight her eyebrows. The saleslady worked her magic with a little brush. “That looks better; what’s it made from?” my partner enquired whilst looking into a mirror. “Natural sea minerals from Italy” said the saleslady. I piped up, “Possibly Mediterranean seafloor dredgings then”. “You could put it like that” the saleslady responded with a big grin.
Next was the Alkaliza stand. On sale was a powder that you mixed with regular tap water. “What does it do?” I enquired. Apparently you experience different flavours having drunk the power/water mix and you use that to self-diagnose health concerns. “What’s it made from?” I asked? According to their website “Alkaliza is made of molluscs harvested from the pristine oceans surrounding Australia” Hmmm… I reckon the EPA website should be checked first, I thought. I accepted a sample cup; it was like drinking concrete diluted in water – yuck! What followed from my friendly assistant was a long explanation of how people who were unwell, any health condition, had the wrong pH balance in their bodies; too much acid. I’m sure I’ve heard about this acid in our bodies and health problems being skeptically challenged before. Indeed that’s the case; try here, here and here.
“But isn’t acid a normal healthy thing in the body? Don’t we need stomach acid to digest food?” I asked. The answer was along the lines of yes we do need acid in our stomachs, but people who were unwell had too much acid in the blood – the same spiel as before. I wasn’t getting anywhere. “Why wouldn’t you just take an inexpensive antacid tablet if acid is the problem?” I asked. (Note; I’m not suggesting anyone does this. The whole acid is bad for your health argument is bunk; see links above.) The answer was that their product is “natural”. My renewed clear thinking ability kicked in as I recalled the naturalistic fallacy.
I couldn’t help noticing the bright yellow signs around the stand, a listing of many health conditions. How would this look to anyone actually suffering from these conditions?
“Why do your signs mention Crohn’s Disease and Cancer?” I asked. “Those are very serious health conditions, I hope it’s been thoroughly tested. How do you test it?” “Well… I take it regularly”, was the answer. “It’s tested just on you alone?” I asked. “No, all the sales people here take it”. The sales talk was making my head spin. I was almost convinced by that argument against science and rationality. So I gently declined the offer of the ground up molluscs in exchange for $59.50 per month; although I’ve just thought up a great way to make some money from the snails that are attacking my veggie patch.
Another spot that had people laid out flat was Forensic Healing. Here they promoted health courses that can teach you how to become an alternative health practitioner. Exactly which kind of alt-med practice I’m not sure – all of them, or so it appeared. Their website says:
“After many requests from clients to learn her methods, in 2011 Marisa combined all of alternative healing techniques into the Forensic Healing home-based and live training courses.”
They also have a course for getting rid of evil eye.
– but I can teach you the very necessary skill of red eye removal in Photoshop. I’d highly recommend a course in ‘buyer beware’ shopping as an alternative.
There were a number of other stands selling alt-med courses; Happy Science, the Academy of Hypnotic Science, Australian Shiatsu College and Holistic Wellness Coaching to name but a few. The choices were endless, just like the spin I’d received so far.
Moving on again. You too can get your guardian angel drawn at the Angel and Guide Art stand. (Although, I’m sure my guardian angel is Pyrrho of Elis.)
We moved to the far end of the centre to find a plethora of psychics conducting readings en masse. It was tempting but thankfully the scent of Clear Thinking combined with my guardian angel and spirit guides saved me and my chakras from harm.
The humble addition to most curries and culinary spice (or so I thought) turmeric was getting quite a hard sell by MetaBuz. A year’s supply of the yellow powder was selling for only $450.
“Do you have any pain?” the salesman asked a customer. She explained she had pain down the left forearm. “Have some of that” he said smoothly handing over a cup of water mixed with the turmeric, “You should be pain-free in about twenty five minutes.” He continued “…this is one of the best super foods on the planet, I can’t say it in any other words; it’s just this amazing truth. Every horse in Australia that’s in racing takes turmeric and so should every person. Right, that’s as simple as it is, four thousand pages (pointing to a loose leaf binder on the counter), no side effects, no overdose, just get into it.”
Ah… it all makes sense now. This is how the horse Rogan Josh won the Melbourne Cup in 1999 – of course! Being a nosy skeptic I flicked through the folder on the counter which had me intrigued with tabs labelled, memory, cholesterol, lupus, heart disease, leukaemia and prostate.
Since the festival, I’ve had a skim through the peer-reviewed medical literature on PubMed. I can’t find any really robust scientific evidence that turmeric (or curcumin) is effective for any health condition. The subject of turmeric as a health / super food has been thoroughly investigated on the science-based medicine blog.
My quick skim of the folder on the counter showed that it was all low quality evidence. Yes, they generally had “Curcumin” in the title. However, the studies were mainly speculation that such and such a health mechanism might work, single patient case studies etc. Generally what was shown was the introductory part of a research abstract. I couldn’t find any studies with the method and conclusion clearly stated. For anyone reading this blog wondering what good evidence might be, I’m talking about good quality placebo controlled, randomised, double-blind, peer reviewed, replicated clinical trials. Now, what’s so hard about that?
Moving on, we stumbled upon GC Enterprise. They had me try a gel shoe insole, on special at only $20 a pair. All kinds of claims were made for how good and comfortable they were. There was a nice foot reflexology diagram on the back of the packet. They felt simultaneously kind of lumpy and squishy to walk on. You could feel the gel under your feet surging from one compartment to the next.
“What’s inside them?” I asked. “Gelatine and magnetic powder” the saleslady said. “Hmmm… will that mean I’ll stick to the tram tracks?” I chuckled. It’s nice when you get a (possibly nervous) laugh back from the sales people. Good, she’s laughing with me not at me. I politely declined the offer to purchase the gelatinous leg ends and thought it was best I did the Elvis thing and leave the building – without the feeling of squishy jellyfish under my feet.
In any case, I had a strange feeling the Clear Thinking was wearing off.