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Livestrong.com promotes quack medicine

Updated on July 30, 2012
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Livestrong.com is a Web site brand launched by Demand Media, Inc. and cyclist Lance Armstrong in 2008. Content for Livestrong.com is produced through Demand Media Studios by freelancers and professionals and distributed via video, Web articles and smartphone applications. Livestrong.com is a licensed partner with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Lance Armstrong to help people diagnosed with cancer. While the foundation’s Web site, Livestrong.org, is non-profit, Livestrong.com is for-profit. Armstrong and the Lance Armstrong Foundation received significant equity investments in Demand Media through licensing agreements that allowed Demand Media to use the trademarked Livestrong name.1


Public Domain - Copyright expired
Public Domain - Copyright expired | Source

Unnatural Truth

Livestrong.com Quackery

Content from Livestrong.com has been cited by USA Today and other media outlets including Wikipedia. Some of the content is good; other content is downright abominable. Take Psyllium Husk & Bentonite Clay for Weight Loss on Livestrong.com, for example.The article is advocating an ‘alternative’ medicine practice, colon cleansing, and relies on sources that promote this type of junk science. Of the 4 sources cited, only the University of Maryland source on psyllium husk is reputable. The other 3 sources make claims that stray from the realm of science and science-based medicine. A disclaimer appears in the first paragraph, “Speak to your doctor before trying these supplements”, but then goes on to hype puffery about how psyllium husk and bentonite clay can “promote weight loss” through “detoxification”.2

Psyllium husk is soluble fiber and an ingredient in laxatives. When added to water, it swells up and becomes a gelatinous mass.3 Bentonite clay has similar properties. It’s used as a clarifying agent and also forms a gel in water.4 The article advises you to put the two together with water -- a lot of water -- and drink it down. Follow this up with more water and repeat the process 3 times a day for 3-4 days. What happens when you do this? If you don’t get cramps, you’ll almost certainly notice you’re excreting a dark, gelatinous substance which the article suggests is toxins and years of accumulated fecal matter that had been impacted in your colon. 'Mucoid plaque' is what alt-med believers call the dark, streaked substance they excrete. It’s actually the clay, psyllium and water mixed with feces that’s formed a cast of your large intestine and likely stripped your colon of its protective mucous.

There’s no scientific evidence to support the assertions in the Livestrong.com article. Michael F. Picco, M.D., a gastroenterologist with the Mayo Clinic, states your body eliminates waste without the need for colon cleansing and that colon cleansing can be dangerous to your health.5 Supplements like bentonite and psyllium aren’t regulated by the FDA, and repeated use can make you dependent on them for bowel movements. Using them 3 times a day for 3-4 days as suggested in the article could lead to weight loss, but it’s not healthy. Bulimics use laxatives to control their weight and this is what Livestrong.com is promoting.


Puffery - Fair use
Puffery - Fair use | Source
Fact-checked?- Fair use
Fact-checked?- Fair use | Source

Livestrong.com’s Fertile relationship with Demand Media Studios

An super-sized portion of Livestrong.com content is served up by Demand Media Studios. Demand Media uses an algorithm to determine the revenue potential from long-tail searches and suggests keyword search articles based on the algorithm results. Demand Media then farms the content out to its pool of 10,000 freelance writers. The articles “are run through a plagiarism check, and then are reviewed, edited, fact checked and rated by our highly qualified copy editors.” Demand Media claims their content “is the product of a rigorous editorial process that involves 14 human touch points.” 6

How demanding is Demand Media’s editorial process? On the right hand side of the Web page, Psyllium Husk & Bentonite Clay for Weight Loss, there is a “People Are Reading” section. Every article in that section promotes the same snake oil claims of “detoxification” and “cleansing” using questionable sources and every article has been reviewed by an editor at Demand Studios. The same format is used throughout the site. A stock photo on the top left of the article, an introductory paragraph followed by 4 or 5 more short paragraphs, each with a heading, references at the end and ads galore. Quality writing and credible sources aren’t in demand at Demand Studios; Quantity of articles, based on the number of keyword searches performed, is preferred.

Fact-checking the fact checkers reveals only one reputable source in the article: The University of Maryland Medical Center. UMMC makes no claim for the use of psyllium husk to lose weight or detoxify your body. The other three sources are authors claiming to be doctors but only one, Jacqueline Krohn, is an actual medical doctor. Ann Louise Gittleman claims a Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition from the non-accredited Clayton College of Natural Health. Peter Bennett has a degree in a naturopathic medicine and did postgraduate work in homeopathy, neither of which are considered scientific disciplines. Krohn, Gittleman and Bennett make claims in their books about detoxification and weight loss that aren't supported by scientific evidence or peer review.

The Straight Dope

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a marketing phrase, not science-based medicine. It doesn't use the methods of science in researching treatments before treating people. CAM treatments can be dangerous. Some supplements advocated by CAM practitioners can be harmful.7 Recent research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood concluded, “CAM use has the potential to cause significant morbidity and fatal adverse outcomes.” 8 CAM is an ideology, not a science.

Lance Armstrong and Demand Media profited handsomely from their dealings. The Lance Armstrong Foundation raised a significant amount of money for cancer research and cancer awareness from the sale of Demand Media stock when the stock went public. But what of the harm people may be causing themselves by engaging in CAM practices advocated by Livestrong.com?

Livestrong.com gives the appearance of authority. The site boasts Our Advisors for Food and Nutrition, Health and Fitness. Many are respected in their fields yet a lot of the advice on Livestrong.com is worthless, if not harmful.

What are the advisors roles at Livestrong.com? To give the site an imprimatur, to make it a social media authority. Gauging the site’s popularity on Alexa, that thin veil of credibility has paid off; the site is a success. But it’s a failure when it comes to exposing quackery and providing consistent, reliable, health and fitness advice.

The CAM articles on Livestrong.com are like the snake oil ads in newspapers of yesteryear; they’re a target used to generate advertising revenue for Demand Media and it’s shareholders. Caveat emptor.

Public domain - Copyright expired
Public domain - Copyright expired | Source

References

  1. "Demand Media IPO delivers windfall to the Lance Armstrong ..." 2011. 14 Jun. 2012 <http://www.statesman.com/business/demand-media-ipo-delivers-windfall-to-the-lance-1212492.html>
  2. "Psyllium Husk & Bentonite Clay For Weight Loss | LIVESTRONG.COM." 2010. 14 Jun. 2012 <http://www.livestrong.com/article/343091-psyllium-husk-bentonite-clay-for-weight-loss/>
  3. "Psyllium." 2007. 13 Jun. 2012 <http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/psyllium-000321.htm>
  4. "bentonite (clay) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." 2008. 30 Jul. 2012 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/61219/bentonite>
  5. "Colon cleansing: Is it helpful or harmful? - MayoClinic.com." 2005. 13 Jun. 2012 <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/colon-cleansing/AN00065>
  6. "Solutions for Content | Demand Media." 2010. 15 Jun. 2012 <http://www.demandmedia.com/solutions/content-channels/>
  7. "Liver problems: Alternative medicine - MayoClinic.com." 2009. 15 Jun. 2012 <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/liver-problems/DS01133/DSECTION=alternative-medicine>
  8. Lim, A. "Adverse events associated with the use of complementary and ..." 2010. <http://adc.bmj.com/content/early/2010/11/24/adc.2010.183152.abstract>

Comments

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    • profile image

      JudyinWA 

      5 years ago

      Hello:

      there is a lot of excellent health care practice out there that doesn't have the true scientific medicine research process to back it up. colon cleansing is one of them. There is a lot of health care practice ant treatment that has true scientific research behind it that results in terrible medical treatment. I am a research trained Master' prepared Registered Nurse. Who has been on the negative and positive sides of both. I have several chronic diseases for which Allopathic medicine doesn't have a clue how to treat. Colon cleanses, Herbal medicines prescribed by an herbalist have done far more for me than Allopathic Medicine. I also have terrible gastric and duodenal ulcers that I have had to deal with for 25+ years as a result of taking a medicne that was specifically developed NOT to cause ulcers. There has never been a product that has helped. 15% of the population that took it got ulcers. It was removed fro the market within about 12 weeks of release!!. So that scientific research, or corporate greed, didn't do much good. My specialty is non-healing wounds. True double blind studies are almost impossible to do for wound treatment. Traditional treatment in this country recommended by physicians has no scientific research basis behind it at all. The recidivism rate is about 80%. I used the best treatments out there, that had research of efficacy, as a matter of fact I did some of that research my self. My success rate with the same types of wounds was 87% over 4000 wounds. So, I certainly think that there is quite a bit of positive outcomes from non-western medicine, and at least as effective outcomes overall as Allopathic. I have fibromyalgia--nothing in allopatic medicine has been effective, but several anecdotal products (historically) have been quite helpful and allow me to live without pain medications and opioids that so many of my acquaintances take, and complain that they do no good!

      So after decades of living and working outside allopathic Medicine, and caring for people who have NOT been helped, even seriously harmed, I tend to support nutritional and herbal interventions over Allopathic. But I don't go over the deep end. There is a place for Allopathic: broken leg, cancer tx, early fast intervention for acute problems, then nutrition and herb for long-term management. So don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Both have their place.

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      If all you have is anecdotal evidence to back up your claims, then you're not going to make headway against all the clinical trials that have been done over the past 20 years showing CAM to be no more effective than sugar pills. Snake oil peddlers made astounding claims to cure diseases and used testimonials - anecdotal evidence - to sell their wares too.

      I trust science, it's self-correcting. I don't trust people who make extravagant claims without providing proof. Let me know when you've found a herbal or CAM cure for polio, measles, whooping cough, tetanus, rabies, tuberculosis, mumps, chickenpox, shingles, typhoid fever, ... , and yellow fever. As I recall, many herbal remedies failed to cure these diseases and many people died as a result. I think I'll stick with FDA approved drugs for these diseases. They have a much better track record of safety and efficacy.

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 

      6 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      By blockage, I meant constipation. The docs will give you Miralax, when there are herbs that have the same action. I'll tell my thousands of patients that CAM is not worth their time, or money, even though I have been the only one who has been able to make them well, while the doctors just scratch their heads. Like the lady who was told she would need a hysterectomy. The doctors couldn't stop the bleeding, and were ready to pull out organs. Herbs saved both her uterus, and her life. Sorry, that is much more effective than your placebo theory.

      I could go on, but there really isn't any point. You go get your FDA drugs (with all the side effects that can kill you). I'll stay on my side of the lawn. It's greener here.

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      @Lisa HW - A lot of sites are dressed up for marketing and not for dispensing factual information. Mercola.com is one of the most frequented health sites on the Web, ranking 4th for health content yet Mercola.com spouts conspiratorial thinking with its opposition to vaccinations and water fluoridation.

      @cloverleaffarm - You've provided a terrific example of the dangers of CAM and magical thinking when you suggest GI docs would just prescribe a laxative for intestinal blockage and it's equivalent to herbalists recommending a colon cleanse. An intestinal blockage is very dangerous. A bowel obstruction can kill you. Prescribing a herbal colon “cleanse” like ingesting bentonite and psyllum husk would be downright negligent, if not fatal. Why not strap the “patient” down and give them a good bloodletting while you're at it? Bloodletting has been around longer than conventional, science-based medicine and is still practiced in some parts of the world.

      Yes, plants have compounds in them. Some are beneficial, some aren't. That's why those compounds are extracted, to find out which ones are toxic, which ones are beneficial and at what dose. The dose-response relationship and toxicological properties are easier to study using scientific methods and critical thinking than by making appeals to tradition.

      When CAM practices are held to the same standards and tests as conventional medicine, they're found wanting. CAM treatments are no more effective than placebo. They're not worth the time, money and could be hazardous to your health. They are the snake oil liniments of yesteryear.

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 

      6 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      As an clinical herbalist, and aromatherapist, I must say that I had a good chuckle reading this. CAM has been around many more years than conventional or Western medicine.

      I have read, and know that many of the articles on that site are true. And no, I have never written for them. The only thing I disagree with on that site, is they don't always give the "cautions" about the herbs mentioned. They may be natural, but they are medicine. Many herbs have not been researched, but they have worked for thousands of years, and are not "snake oil". In fact about 75% of meds are adulterated plants/herbs that are extracted in a lab so they can "patent" it. You can not patent an herb. For example, I could not patent "taraxacum offinciale" as a laxative, but dandelion is a mild laxative. Herbs are meant to work as a whole, and certain parts are not meant to be extracted into medicine. I'd rather take an herb, than some drug big pharma creates in a lab.

      Of course a gastro doc will say that, because he has no education in herbal medicine. And, they aren't going to give you any other treatment that they can't make money on. Oh, but they'll gladly take your money and tell you that you have a "blockage" and tell you to go buy some Miralax at the local drug store. Same outcome...colon cleansing...just different means. There are reasons to do a colon cleanse, and when done properly, it can be beneficial. You body will not

      Doctors have no clue about CAM. For example, I went to a clinic once to see if I had an ear infection. The PA told me to take echinacea. I told her no, people with Hashimoto's (an auto immune disorder) can not take an immune stimulating herb, St. John's Wort (which is used internally for depression, and externally for healing wounds and sore muscles, and to keep chewing on the cinnamon stick I was chewing (she had no idea that I was chewing that because cinnamon is an antiviral her. She says "oh, we tell patients to take echinacea all the time". Really? So, doctors are giving out herbal medical advice, without a clue to what they are talking about. They cause more harm than good.

      And because "science based" medicines don't always work, I've also used acupuncture, Reiki, and several other CAM modalities.

      Just because you don't understand it, does not make it "snake oil".

    • Lisa HW profile image

      Lisa HW 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      The "appearance of authority" is one of my biggest concerns about a lot of Internet content these days. The "appearance of authority" or "appearance of professionalism" is easily achieved and says little or nothing about how solid the information in any piece of writing is. To some extent (and on a somewhat smaller scale, in its own way), we have something very similar going on on HubPages when people aim to create an "authoritative looking" or "professional looking" Hub in the hopes of getting Google traffic but without regard for how objective, well sourced, or otherwise well founded information/ideas presented are. It was almost less "ominous" when a lot of stuff on HubPages didn't "pretend" to be more authoritative/professional. At least it was clear to readers that something was written by someone other than an authority or professional. This new kind of low-quality "information" that's showing up in better packaging can't possibly be good over the long term.

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks everyone for the supportive comments! Have a great weekend!

    • jennzie profile image

      Jenn 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I also applied to write for Demand Studios a few times and got rejected each time, but now I'm glad I didn't get the job. Very informative article about the dangers of using non-approved treatments and remedies.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Fascinating! I have noticed how often Livestrong.com articles show up when I do a health search on the internet. Rated up and sharing!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Right. I did a short stint of writing for DMS, and was not allowed to contribute to the "Livestrong" arena, because I am not a "healthcare professional." Pfft. I don't know where they are getting their "professionals," but I am a qualified researcher, and equally capable of looking up the information as any so-called professional.

      Further, the articles they assign, supposedly based upon actual Google search terms, are nearly impossible to fulfill to their horrendously strict requirements, so obscure are the terms. I came across such vague "titles" as: "How to fix golf cart." .... Well, how can that be addressed without knowing the exact nature of the problem with said golf cart?

      I stopped writing there.

      Great article, with well-researched points. Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks Daughter of Maat. I plan on writing a couple of more hubs about Livestrong.com before the end of summer. As you've noticed, it's all about the marketing.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image

      Melissa Flagg COA OSC 

      6 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      I've always thought livestrong was a quack site, but now I have proof! There are so many ads on the pages! Any reputable site offering accurate medical information may have a few ads, but the page isn't covered in them!

      Great hub, voted up and shared it. More people need to realize this site is crap. They're going to end up killing someone with their erroneous information, if they haven't already.

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks for the comment. I have a problem with people or organizations like Livestrong.com who are in a position of authority promoting treatments that don't work or could be harmful.

    • James Peters profile image

      James Timothy Peters 

      6 years ago from Hammond, Indiana

      I see both sides of this... I don't trust the FDA and I pretty much feel like "if it feels good - do it" kind of attitude.

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks for another great comment, twoseven. While researching this hub, I found out the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine has spent over $1.2 billion dollars to find out that CAM treatment are worthless. I think that money would have been better spent on funding universities like UC Berkeley and the National Science Foundation.

    • twoseven profile image

      twoseven 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Super interesting! I actually just came across this site when researching a hub I wrote this morning. I had never seen it before, but I did tend to think it was credible because of the name. Luckily, I checked other sources too for the information on there, but this is really great to know.

      I am always sad to hear when there is corporate sponsorship or other shady financial incentives behind websites that purport to give unbiased information. I have found the UC Berkeley Wellness Newsletter (still primarily in paper format!) to be the best and most reliable source for most health and nutrition information.

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      I think Lance means well but Demand Media has turned Livestrong.com into combination circus/peddler's wagon.

    • profile image

      WhydThatHappen 

      6 years ago

      Interesting article- I always thought something was up with that site, then would think "but it is Lance Armstrong, after all." glad im better informed now.

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