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MMS - continued health claims for an industrial bleach

I've written a couple of times about the so-called 'Miracle Mineral Supplement', aka MMS. A recent post over on Science-Based Medicine looks at some of the claims made for this stuff, which is simply sodium chlorite, 'activated' by being mixed with citrus juice - and at some of the potentially serious side-effects associated with its use. And just now one of my readers has e-mailed me:

I know you've covered the Miracle Mineral Supplement hawkers before. It's fascinating how this particular dealer exploits the Medsafe NZ non-compliance letter to *enhance* their marketing! Indeed - how else could you read the following?:

Therefore, regardless of the many thousands of success stories worldwide; this website cannot and will not make any claims that MMS assists in the treatment of serious diseases or conditions; such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer, leukaemia, malaria, hepatitis and others.

Have you been following the case of 15-year-old skeptic Rhys Morgan who got into a spat over MMS at a Crohn's Disease support forum and has since been banned? He's an articulate, brave young man. It's an interesting story and got me digging back to look at your old posts. The comments surprised me. ..(I hadn't heard of Rhys before, but now I've looked him up. He's posted an excellent TwitVid here.)

There are some horrific threads on MMS by NZers that I've found while browsing this morning. This one makes me shiver.

I shivered too. As one writer on that particular thread points out, "MMS is a 28% sodium chlorite (NaClO2) solution that you are activating with 10% citric acid," a process that releases chlorine dioxide. This last is not nice stuff at all (taken by mouth, high doses can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, & if all this continues there's the potential for severe dehydration. In fact the US Food & Drug Administration has put out an advisory warning against taking MMS, noting that "the product, when used as directed, produces an industrial bleach that can cause serious harm to health."  Yet the purveyors of this stuff make all sorts of claims for it, including that it cures AIDS, for goodness' sake!

And they support their claims with all sorts of pseudoscientific nonsense. The NZ dealer that my correspondent linked to claims that MMS isn't really a miracle, it's "just plain chemistry!" and states that

when a chlorine dioxide ion contacts a harmful pathogen, it instantly rips up to five electrons from the pathogen, in what can be likened to a microscopic explosion… harmless to us, but terminal for pathogens. The pathogen – an electron donor – is rendered harmless due to the involuntary surrendering of its electrons to the chlorine dioxide – an electron acceptor – and the resulting release of energy. Oxidised by the chlorine ion, the former pathogen becomes a harmless salt.

This isn't chemistry at all: a) while ClO2 can dissociate in water to form ions, there's no such thing as a 'chlorine dioxide ion'; b) how, exactly, does ClO2 differentiate between harmful (pathogenic) and 'friendly' bacteria? They don't have little labels identifying them, & in many cases an organism may be 'friendly' in some contexts & definitely disease-causing in others; and c) ClO2 is an oxidising agent & thus, indeed, an electron acceptor. But how the removal of any electrons from a bacterium - a complex living organism - would produce a 'harmless salt' is beyond me & would in fact require a rewriting of the rules of chemistry. (A 'salt' is an ionic compound that get when you react an acid eg hydrochloric acid with a 'base' eg sodium hydroxide.)

The dealer also claims that chlorine dioxide is carried around the body by red blood cells, which supposedly make no distinction between this compound & oxygen. In fact, what this oxidising agent does is oxidise haemoglobin (the protein complex in red blood cells that carries oxygen) to produce methaemoglobin. Methaemoglobin cannot bind to oxygen, so high levels of ClO2 would reduce your blood's ability to carry oxygen to your tissues - not good for you at all (headaches, shortness of breath, & fatigue are some of the symptoms of a high methaemoglobin titre in your blood).

I have to say, all this both saddens & puzzles me.It puzzles me, because I can't understand how it is that people will accept marketing claims like  this. Is it because the snake-oil statements cast the world in black & white, while science (& science-based medicine) simply can't, & won't, guarantee a result? Is it because the snake oil offers an easy fix (albeit a potentially costly one - in more ways than one! - if you keep on using the stuff)? Is it symptomatic of a wider distrust of science itself?

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10 Comments

(Hope it comes through this time).

I hadn't heard of MMS before, but it certainly sounds like scary stuff. The thing on the website that worried me the most was this:
"If nausea, diarrhoea or vomiting is experienced, drop back by a couple of drops until it has passed (DON'T STOP taking it). These symptoms are a GOOD sign and show that the MMS is working on problems in your body."

They are basically taking one of the major arguments not to take the product (ie, it poisons you!) and turning into 'proof' that it is working. Very very scary.

Oh yes, that 'getting worse is a sign you're getting better' idea is a very common theme on quackery sites. It frightens me to think that people are probably suckered into it instead of looking for actual science-based medical treatment for whatever the problem is. Or leaving recourse to medicine until it's actually too late for doctors to be able to do anything.

Worse than that. If you are taking the bleach to cure cancer, the theory is that you should be able to increase your tolerance with time -- from (say) an initial tolerance of 6 drops in a glass of water before vomiting blood, to (say) 12. Apparently that's a sign that the cancer is regressing. If you can't increase the amount, that's a sign that the cancer is fighting back. Thus much of the discussion and the literature from the supplier is on ways to trick your body and overcome the bloody-vomit threshold, like (for instance) soaking in a hot bath of bleach before taking a dose.

The only redeeming aspect here is that most of the people who allow themselves to be sucked into this vortex of madness only believe they have cancer because they have subscribed to a mail-order test promoted by the main MMS promoter. So if the MMS crowd want some non-made-up testimonials to list on their sites, there is no lack of people who genuinely believe that once they were dying of cancer (despite their doctors' diagnoses to the contrary) and now they aren't.

The unredeeming aspect is that the promoters' websites blithely advise their customers of the right dose of bleach to administer to infants and children. Um, am I allowed to advocate painless euthanasia for some members of the human race? I would hate to violate the commenting rules.

I started wondering how closely the New Zealand marketers of MMS were connected to Jim Humble, the guy in the States who runs http://www.miraclemineral.org and a plethora of other websites. It is possible that they are merely coasting on his reputation, for sad to say, unscrupulous scam-artists are not unknown in this field of medicine.

The NZ crowd do not explicitly mention him -- though inspection of their website's HTML reveals his name as a tag designed to catch people Googling for "jim humble" and bring them to the site. On the other hand, they do link to his site for people who want to download his medical explanations. On the prehensile tail, the text on the NZ site is copied straight from the US original, without even adapting it for NZ conditions (so it talks in terms of US healthcare)... which is not dispositive either way.

For bonus LOLS (as the kids would say), there is a link on Humble's site to a photographic atlas of skin conditions, to allow you to decide whether a mysterious lesion is shingles or Morgellons or carcinoma. Though the diagnosis hardly matters since the prescription is always sodium chlorite.

The unredeeming aspect is that the promoters' websites blithely advise their customers of the right dose of bleach to administer to infants and children.
Eurgh! I didn't read that far! That's despicable - surely you'd be talking child abuse if someone followed that advice? Especially when you call a spade a spade: anyone doing that is getting their kid to drink bleach for FSM's sake!
On the issue of their links to JH, I thought they might be franchised to him, mainly because so much of their material is as you say copied from the US site. (You'd think they'd have the nous to revise it for the NZ market...)

I can't understand how it is that people will accept marketing claims like this.

I hate to bandy around suggestions of mental illness, but it's evident that a lot of the clientele for MMS are seeking physical remedies for problems that are not entirely physical. Two useful search terms to use when looking into delusional diseases are 'Morgellons' and 'Lymes'; and when you google 'Morgellons MMS' or 'Lymes MMS', there is evidently a great deal of overlap.

Then you encounter people like this woman who write, without any sign of self-awareness, about their concurrent battle with OCD.

Many of these people also swear by dimethyl sulphoxide as another self-medication that keeps their Morgellons or Lymes or Skin-swarming-with-aphids symptoms under control. And colloidal silver. We can haz DMSO post plz?

PS I hate it when your University posting software tells me that my comment was rejected because "Your text was wrong". I KNEW THAT ALREADY.

For bonus bonus LOLS from Humble's site, he explains that the key distinction between him and his various imitators is that he's the only one making illegal claims.

PLEASE understand that legally in the US and most countries suppliers can only claim MMS purifies water. I am the only person who claims other wise.

Who are these people who will take the advice of an internet woo-merchant telling them to drink bleach to cure pretty much anything, yet at the same time believe that their doctor is part of some global conspiracy to make them more sick in order to make more money from them?

I just don't understand!

(Thanks for the bonus LOLS, although CV (cringe visibly) may be a more apt acronym)

Herr doktor has gone on to inform me thusly:
When you read people (a) lauding DMSO for its antioxidant properties and (b) recommending taking it in combination with chlorine dioxide to get the full benefit of the latter's oxidant properties, you have to just shake your head and leave them to it.

On the subject of bathing in MMS, Humble's advice is "If water splashes in the eyes, wipe it away. MMS doesn't harm eyes unlike shampoo."
Others go further and recommend "take bath for 30 monutes covering whole body.open eyes underwater. rinse this is a great way to get mms into your blood plasma."

You should also put tap water through a filter before drinking it, to remove the evil inorganic chlorine that is used to sterilise city water.

I struggle to imagine how anyone could keep their eyes open for 30 mins while bleach washes over them... As for it getting into one's blood plasma - the guy (Jim Humble, not herr doktor!) is simply demonstrating yet again his complete ignorance of how your body works. That people would swallow this nonsense (metaphorically in this case) suggests the parlous state of science understanding in the general public.

It is amazing how little people know, science education is failing a lot of people. But then I look back to my (relatively recent) science education and my school on the Coromandel Peninsula wasn't exactly well-resourced. Moreover, only one of the teachers I had seemed to really enjoy his job (he hosted an excellent module on science fiction), and he was the only one who successfully conveyed any science to me at all. (I had undiagnosed dyscalculia unfortunately, so chemistry and physics obliterated by otherwise good marks in general science long before science classes split into specialities).

One of my primary school teachers was a devout Creationist who told me 'fish don't just turn into dogs' and 'Darwin's theory has been blown out of all proportion!' Thankfully it was a small Waikato school, so he couldn't mislead too many students. Thankfully by the time I encountered him my dinosaur-phase (don't all kids have one?) had gifted me a very secure understanding of evolutionary theory. Others were not so lucky. The other teachers weren't crazy like that one, but nor did they know very much science.

Basic scientific values should be in there early. At least in rural schools, they're not.

The adults I knew - my mother's friends in particular - attended naturopaths, homeopaths, and crystal healing workshops. They still also go the doctor. It's a sort of cognitive dissonance. They believe in science when it's convenient but they don't *value* the scientific method as a successful route to knowledge. This attitude has passed down to my generation, barring one or two of the girls from my village who went into nursing.

I suspect those in the sciences, like yourself Alison, and a lot of my friends, grossly underestimate the amount of woo in the broader community. I'm not remotely surprised that people are sucked into terrible scams like MMS. The only thing that surprises me is that the regulatory bodies - the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff - aren't doing their job effectively either.

I think the dinosaur phase is an excellent entree to science; unfortunately I suspect that many kids then find that the rest of science isn't always quite that enthralling :)
You could well be right on scientists underestimating the amount of woo out there. That would help explain why many of my colleagues ask why I waste my time trying to debunk it - it's no big deal so why do I worry, that sort of thing.

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Recent Comments

  • Alison Campbell: I think the dinosaur phase is an excellent entree to read more
  • Matty Smith: It is amazing how little people know, science education is read more
  • Alison Campbell: Herr doktor has gone on to inform me thusly: When read more
  • Renee: Who are these people who will take the advice of read more
  • herr doktor bimler: For bonus bonus LOLS from Humble's site, he explains that read more
  • herr doktor bimler: I can't understand how it is that people will accept read more
  • Alison Campbell: The unredeeming aspect is that the promoters' websites blithely advise read more
  • herr doktor bimler: Worse than that. If you are taking the bleach to read more
  • Alison Campbell: Oh yes, that 'getting worse is a sign you're getting read more
  • Renee: (Hope it comes through this time). I hadn't heard of read more