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Zeolicious Science Part II: Or, why I’d rather be attacked by hyenas than buried in bullshit

By Jake Reimer | 6.04.07

Steven’s sister has terminal cancer, and he wants to know if anyone out there has tried it, and does it work? Maina’s aunt was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, and she plans to take it along with chemo and radiation; does anyone know about the risks? Sara’s six-year old niece was just diagnosed with an aggressive melanoma; does anyone know about dosages in children? Messages like these litter cancer discussion boards; they’re written by desperate people who are looking for hope in tiny plastic bottles filled with earth and water: “Natural Cellular Defense Zeolite.”

A few days ago, I was watching a nature show on PBS. It was one of those heart-wrenching life-is-the-ultimate-reality-show moments – a baby zebra had strayed from the herd and was lost on the savannah. Night was falling, and the situation was getting dire; the little animal tottered through the brush looking for the rest of the herd. It called out, but only occasionally and tentatively – as if it was aware that not all the ears out there in the dark belonged to other zebras.

Those enterprising individuals that stray (or are forced) from the well-trod paths of mainstream medicine into the wilds of the Internet find themselves in a similar predicament; a cry for help from a desperate cancer patient is as likely to bring hyenas as it is healers. For example, in response to requests for information like the ones above, you often see answers that are sympathetic and encouraging … with a toll free “Waiora” number or web site at the bottom. Type “Natural Cellular Defense and cancer” into Google and you’ll find hundreds of different sites with positive testimonials, scientific references … and, inevitably, the Waiora insignia along with a price list. Four tiny bottles of Natural Cellular Defense (NCD) zeolite sent to your home will set you back anywhere from $150 to $200, VISA or MasterCard accepted.

Of course, in nature, it’s easy to tell the zebras from the hyenas, but in the world of alternative cancer therapies, unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. It’s not the hyenas – the shysters selling snake oil – that you really have to watch out for; it’s the sincere ones, the people who really believe they’re selling you a miracle cure. In the case of Natural Cellular Defense, the company capitalizes on the sincerity of its sales force; it’s marketed through a multi-level structure that allows any true believer to become a salesperson and recruiter. That doesn’t mean there aren’t probably some people selling the product who think they’re separating fools and their money, it just means that it’s not as clear-cut as a group of unscrupulous scam artists ripping off desperate patients.

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