Oh, Lordy, What Is I Gonna' Do?
Some of the people who work out at my gym carry around huge Mountain Spring mineral water bottles filled up with what looks like green dirt. Between sets, they shake it up and swig down this murky solution. Apparently revitalized, they move on to the next set.
I never thought much about it until I was cornered by one of these mud-drinking zealots. The woman told me that the green muck was called "Super Greens" and it had changed her life. She produced a bottle from her gym bag. It looked like finely ground oregano, or maybe the clippings from my landscaper Raoul's high-powered Garden Weasel. The ingredients read like some tree hugger's macrobiotic grocery store list.
You name it and it was in there. Anything that was unlucky enough to be green had been thrown into the bottle. That stuff that grows under your bath mat? It's in there! Dennis Rodman's hair during the '98 playoffs? Third on the ingredients list! Tim Patterson's shorts? One pair per bottle. Simply add the stuff to water and shake it up.
The weed drinker began to tell me how, in today's society, we subsist largely on "dead" food and that for cells to divide or grow, it takes roughly 70 amperes of energy, or life force. Super Greens, apparently, provides the proper wattage or something. I then told her, politely, that it was my impression that if you ground something up into dust, sucked out every last bit of moisture, and stuck it in a bottle, it was largely dead. And if I was wrong, I was going to take my father's cremated remains off the mantle and ask him if I could borrow a ten-spot 'till payday. I was also going to apologize for any cracks I might have made about him in the last nine years, 'cuz, for chrissake, I thought he was dead. Then, I'd try to help him acclimate to life as a pile of dust and caution that we'd probably have to alter all his old suits. Bummer.
She must have been used to such skepticism, because she bravely continued. She told me that she had been authorized by the inventor of Super Greens to take blood samples and examine them under the microscope. She started telling me how her blood, before the miracle of Super Greens entered her life, had started to clump together under the microscope, and that now it was clump-free. She also told me that some of her blood cells were "all bumpy," and that now, they were, hallelujah, bump-free!
Furthermore, she warned me that, chances are, my blood—yes, mine!—probably contained fragments of dead blood cells and that the odds were very good that my bloodstream was full of parasites, no doubt swimming up and down my blood vessels as if they were large, lumbering, Mississippi catfish in search of a tasty meal. Oh, Lordy, what is I gonna' do?
She looked at me smugly, as if she had just beaten the pants off me in a game of squash or something.
Well, I'm no hematologist, but I'm under the assumption that types of blood cells (platelets) are supposed to clump. It's a nice little trick designed to keep all of your blood from flowing out onto the nice Persian rug you have in your living room. However, if you start taking some aspirin, or its herbal form, willow bark, you'd experience an anti-coagulant effect and your platelets wouldn't clump as easily. Is there, by chance, I asked her, any willow bark in Super Greens?
"Well...yeah," she croaked.
Furthermore, those "bumpy cells" were probably the type of blood cells known as basophils and that the only time they become "smooth" is when there's some sort of allergic reaction going on and they jettison their histamine-containing "bumps," and, of course, there are some dead blood cells floating around—they're born, they work, and they die in a relatively short time! They get filtered out and disposed of in time, but it's not hard to see an occasional dead one. And if I had any parasites swimming around my blood, I'd be one sick puppy. Normal humans don't have parasites in their blood, unless they just got back from drinking Poop-Perrier from some third-world country!
Regardless, this woman, and many other people in my gym, are convinced that they've discovered a magic elixir. None of them are really sure why they're drinking this stuff up, but they feel better than they have in a long time.
I ran into a similar situation about a year ago while at a party. Many of the people had "discovered" amino acids. Again, they "felt better than they had in a long time." I looked at the bottle, and two capsules—the recommended dosage—provided the exact same amino acids and amounts as one medium-sized egg white.
Who was I to tell them that their magic Coca-Cola bottle hadn't really been dropped by the gods? I learned that lesson the hard way when I once told a female friend that Barry Manilow was absolutely, and without a doubt, 100% gay. I had tried to kill her romantic fantasy and in turn, she kicked a tiny, sharp, stiletto heel into my left shin, where a small bruise, indicative of the bone death that occurred below, still remains.
It's clear that the placebo effect is very, very powerful. Convince somebody that something works, and it will. Years ago, Joe Weider told Tim Patterson's ol' friend Ellington Darden, "I could put anything into a container or capsule—the user will get results."
In other words, he could put portions of his brother Ben's belly button lint collection in capsules, tell people that it was "an anabolic derivative of organic detritus designed to facilitate muscle growth," and people would use it. What's more, a good portion of them would experience results from the stuff. I can tell you, though, that Ben's belly button lint is no more anabolic than anyone else's. I know, I tested it on myself. I became sexually ambiguous and spoke like the stick up my ass had a stick up its ass, but aside from that, I experienced no muscle growth.
There have been scores of studies conducted on the placebo effect. Pills that contained no active ingredients have been shown to demonstrate time-effect curves and peaks, cumulative and carryover effects after cessation of "treatment" that mimic those of real, active medications.
Dose-related responses have also been noted. Give someone two capsules of nothing, and they'll often experience twice the promised effect. Furthermore, placebos often cause semi-serious side effects like drowsiness, headaches, nervousness, insomnia, and constipation.
One study found that when students were told that an electric current was passing through their heads, 70% of them got headaches. Remarkably, the researchers lied about the current. There was none.
Another group found that when they gave test subjects pills containing only tiny magnets designed to measure stomach contractions, the contractions increased, decreased, or didn't change depending on what effect they were told the pills would have.
There are those that might argue, "What's the difference, as long as it works?" Well, there is a difference. It's called integrity. You ought to know that what you're taking really works. What's more, no placebo effect should, regardless of the faith of the user, surpass the genuine effects of any supplement.
With that in mind, I'd like to offer the following tips on how to determine if certain categories of supplements are really working:
1) Testosterone Boosters
Animals are immune to the placebo effect, so a good test would be to give your testosterone booster to your pet gerbil. If, shortly after, he begins to comb his hair in a ducktail, sprinkle himself with some Polo cologne, and crawl up Richard Gere's ass, it's a safe bet that the supplement has elevated his T levels and put him in the mood for romance.
2) Fat Burners
Most of these increase the metabolic rate, so a good way to test one would be to take a pill or two, wait 30 minutes, and then collect the most recent swimsuit editions of every bodybuilding magazine. Tear out the pictures of the babes. Then, try to read one of the articles. If you can stay awake, the fat burner you're taking is a powerful, barely-legal stimulant.
3) Andro Products
If, after taking it for three weeks, your skin gets covered with acne, you grow tiny breasts, gain 40 pounds of fat, and lose most of your hair, the product is having some sort of hormonal effect; either that, or you've suddenly been transformed into Charles Poliquin's estranged sister, Ludmilla, who works on a potato farm in the Ukraine.
Be aware of the placebo effect. Don't get caught up in Svengali-like hucksterism. Ask questions, be skeptical, and be careful with your money. 'Nuff said.
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