Ill-informed, self-declared experts yelping from atop their soap boxes are a dime a dozen these days. But it is one thing to hear nonsensical rhetoric about the need to avoid substances with unpronounceable names from some scientifically illiterate blogger, and quite another to witness a legitimate chemist urging people to adopt a “chemical-free” lifestyle. Yet those are the exact words used by Shane Ellison, who has anointed himself as “The People’s Chemist.”
“Chemical-free” is a dually absurd expression. For one, nothing, save a vacuum, is chemical free. Chemicals are just the building blocks of all matter. Second, the message implies that “chemicals” are synonymous with “toxins” or “poisons.” Nonsense! Chemicals are not good or bad, their specific use has to be judged on their merits as determined through proper scientific investigation. How the words “chemical-free” can come out of the mouth of someone with a master’s degree in organic chemistry is a true mystery.
While “chemical-free” can be construed to be benign gibberish, urging people to “Ditch Your Meds,” is anything but. Ellison, who once worked for a pharmaceutical company, now tells people that the time has come to give up their blood pressure, thyroid, cholesterol-lowering and antidepressant meds because these are evil concoctions foisted on the world by a heartless profit-driven medical industrial complex. Incredibly, casting insulin aside is also included in this deplorable, foolhardy advice.
Ellison’s attacks also target COVID vaccines, which according to him contain a “chemical s***storm to fight the common cold dressed up as COVID-19.” He even links the vaccines to the production of Zyklon B, the notorious cyanide-releasing chemical used in the Nazi gas chambers. Zyklon B was made by the IG Farben Company, which Ellison says “after the war broke off into Bayer and Merck which became Moderna.” That is ludicrous and even the history is wrong. Merck was around long before IG Farben, and Moderna is not a Merck spin-off. Just another example of the lengths to which rogues will go to gain a following. Not surprisingly, Ellison also claims that the “HIV/AIDS hypothesis was one hell of a mistake” and that “Dr. Fauci and other Pharma-fuelled scientists” made millions from selling treatments that were unnecessary. Just totally mindless blather.
By now you have probably guessed that this sage offers an alternative to the drugs that he says should be ditched. A bevy of “chemical-free” supplements is available for purchase through his website. For example, after dissing vaccines and claiming they are not needed for a virus that doesn’t exist, he pushes his own “Immune FX” that contains an extract of two plants, Andrographis paniculate and coriander. Apparently, plants do not contain chemicals. A literature search for the medicinal value of these plants comes up with some evidence of coriander having antibiotic effects in the gut of broiler chicks, and some Andrographis compounds having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity when tested in cell cultures. There is zero evidence of “Immune X” having been put to a test in human trials.
A supplement labeled as “Serotonin FX,” suggests that it boosts levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can indeed have an anti-depressant effect as clearly demonstrated by the use of prescription “serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Ellison’s formula contains the amino acid L-tryptophan that once again, is not considered to be a chemical. While L-tryptophan is indeed the body’s precursor to serotonin, there is no clinical evidence of equivalence to SSRIs. Patients who have been prescribed these drugs are wading into deep waters should they replace them with “Serotonin FX.”
The other supplements hyped by the People’s Chemist are similarly devoid of evidence. His answer to pain is “Relief FX” with ingredients extracted from white willow bark and ginger root. The willow bark contains salicylic acid that has pain-relieving properties, but also irritates the stomach. That is why it has been replaced by acetylsalicylic acid, better known as aspirin. Synthetic aspirin is superior to natural salicylic acid, so going back to willow bark makes no sense. Ginger is a chemically complex mixture of dozens of compounds, some of which do have analgesic effects, but the label on “Relief FX” yields no information about what ginger-derived compounds are present or in what dosage.
Men who are concerned about testosterone levels are offered “Raw-T,” an extract of sarsaparilla root. But they will be disappointed if they replace their prescription testosterone with this concoction. Testosterone is a steroid, and sarsaparilla does contain related compounds called sterols, however, these are not converted in the body to testosterone. Neither is there any evidence that “Preworkout” advertised as “Faster Higher Stronger in 59 Minutes Without Chemicals” delivers the goods. Never mind that citrulline, tyrosine, Hawthorne extract, yerba mate, and huperzine A are absurdly described a not being chemicals, the claim that any substance can make someone faster, higher or stronger in 59 minutes sticks in the craw.
“The People’s Chemist” curiously uses a microscope as his logo, an instrument not commonly used by chemists. He also describes how he walked away from an “award-winning career as a medicinal chemist” when he discovered that people taking cholesterol meds, cancer drugs and blood thinners were just victims of Pharma’s insidious marketing practices. Indeed, there are some reprehensible practices, and they should be brought to light, but that does not mean that all drugs should be tarred and feathered with blatantly farcical arguments. Ellison says that he poured blood, sweat, tears and years into becoming a chemist. He could also have used a bit of sense poured into his head. With an attempt at humour, he adds that actually, there were no tears, because chemists don’t cry. Wrong! His prattle about a “chemical-free” lifestyle can bring a tear to any chemist’s eye. The only question is whether it is from laughing or crying.
Joe Schwarcz is director of McGill University’s Office for Science & Society (mcgill.ca/oss). He hosts The Dr. Joe Show on CJAD Radio 800 AM every Sunday from 3 to 4 p.m.
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