Magical Mystery Cures
Saturday January 14, 2012 at 1 pm on CBC-TV
As boomers become seniors, products that offer them a chance to retain the appearance of youth line store shelves and dominate late-night TV infomercials. But do these products perform the almost miraculous cures they claim? Or are they just the latest incarnation of “snake oil”, hustled by promoters such as P.T. Barnum with his travelling medicine shows so many years ago? Back then, fraud and deception were the aim, and innocent audiences were duped with pseudo-scientific terms intended to confuse rather than inform.
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and watch a documentary that will help clarify the mind while tickling your fancy. In Magical Mystery Cures, popular radio & TV science specialist Bob McDonald takes you on a fun-filled, guided tour of various anti-aging products and their extravagant promises to make you feel better, younger, smarter, more vigorous, and more beautiful.
As Magical Mystery Cures, directed & produced by Nick Orchard and written & hosted by Bob McDonald, reveals, a closer examination of some of today’s products and their labels reveals misleading information, where “scientifically proven” is not always the case. Not all the claims these products make are false: some actually do work, though in most cases only for a limited time or in limited ways. But “bogus” could be an apt word to describe the claims of others. In Canada, such products are not considered drugs or pharmaceuticals, they're “nutraceuticals”, meaning Health Canada requires that they must list ingredients but because they're not “drugs”, they don't have to be scientifically proven. Nor do they have to publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals. They only have to be safe and cause no harm. Given that leeway, nutraceutical companies can often say pretty well whatever they want about their products.
Strolling the aisles of the impressively-named Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging and Regenerative Biomedical Technologies in Las Vegas, McDonald encounters smooth-talking salespeople, often dressed in the white lab coats of doctors and scientists and hawking a bewildering variety of products, all claiming to put the buyer on the express lane to the Fountain of Youth.
Anti-aging skin creams, homeopathic cures, “oxygenated” beverages, electromagnetic field scanners, assorted products and gadgets that increase your vitality and “brain power” or remove “toxins” from the body: all come with labels and advertising that offer seemingly miraculous results. Some claim to work on the outside of your body to change your appearance, while others say they heal from within. Some even swear they can reverse the aging process altogether. The motivation to make such claims is powerfully strong. This business is big business, with anti-aging technologies and therapies pulling in a whopping $20 billion a year and growing fast.
Bob McDonald listens to the pitches and personally tests various products that promise to make him feel better. Then he consults scientific and medical experts who give him the real scientific scoop on what these “miracle” products can and cannot do. Can creams actually remove wrinkles and, if so, how? How are toxins removed from our bodies? What scientific evidence is there that these products actually work, or is the so-called evidence merely anecdotal? What words and phrases do products use to couch anecdotal evidence? Bob discovers the tactics and language used to fudge what is often not scientific evidence.
Sometimes, as Bob learns, it may not be the product itself but “the placebo effect”, that is, your own brain believing in the efficacy of the product, that triggers seemingly miraculous results.
Magical Mystery Cures is an enjoyable, energizing and salubrious tonic that cleanses the mind of confusion, flushes out some of the sillier goobledigook pitched at gullible consumers, and does its bit to reduce the number of suckers born every minute.
"I'm a baby-boomer myself,” says Magical Mystery Cures producer/director Nick Orchard of Soapbox Productions, “and I've often looked at these products and wondered if they worked. Bob and I had a lot of fun trying them out, and delving into the science of them, and the results surprised me."