January 12, 2003
Talk Show Illusion
By Phil Kaplan
addressed infomercials in depth, but there's a subtle breed
of infomercial that has proven effective, in terms of generating
dollars for the producers, which merits identifying and exposing.
The host is usually dressed in a suit or some casual outfit
with a jacket and his or her hair is just perfect. He starts
out by isolating a specific pain that plagues Americans speaking
directly to the camera. Whether it's the emotional pain of
hair loss, wrinkles, fat, or a lack of energy, the isolation
of the pain immediately gets viewers ears to perk up.
with the pain identified, the "expert" is introduced.
Sometimes it's a doctor with a "prescription" for
your pain. Other times it's someone wearing a white coat and
stethoscope who might not have an ounce of medical training.
Still other times it's a very pretty woman, or in some cases
a "regular guy" who invented or discovered something
astounding. Whatever the case may be, the host proceeds to
interview the expert and it isn't long before miraculous stories
of dramatic improvement grab the attention of viewers.
are two distinctive types of infomercials. There are those
that are produced with a full scale production team, location
shoots, and a very large "cast." Then, there are
the "talk shows." What I hope you know is . . .
nobody who classifies as a TV executive gave the "host"
his or her own talk show, at least not in the realm of Jay
Leno or David Letterman. What really happened was a direct
marketing company found a unique selling proposition for a
product and decided that the lower budget talk show format
would generate lots of orders. They seek out a pitch person
and an expert and produce a pre-taped commercial disguising
itself as an actual show.
host reads off of a teleprompter reading words written by
copywriters with experience in direct response. The expert
of course handles every question astoundingly well . . . maybe
it's because his or her answers are also on the teleprompter,
prepared not by him or herself prior to the appearance, but
also by the well paid copywriter.
The products that have been moved
on a large scale via 26-minute pre-taped "talk show"
infomercials include everything from multi vitamins to stop
snoring pills. Do the products actually work? Perhaps in some
cases they do, but for the most part the hype is far more
important to the "success" of the "show"
than the product's efficacy.
As an example, I'm going to single
out an infomercial that is getting quite a bit of airplay
which indicates the company behind it is finding the venture
profitable. My intention is not to dissuade you from considering
the product, but rather to provide some food for thought so
you can be a more educated consumer.
One of the "hot new products"
to hit the phony "talk show" circuit is Coral Calcium.
In it infomercial veteran Kevin Trudeau interviews Robert
Barefoot (renowned biochemist?) about the amazing benefits
of coral calcium. Whenever the e-mails and phone calls come
in in large volume asking about a specific product, I know
a product is having an impact, and coral calcium certainly
is . . . . but is it a result of a truly miraculous product
. . . or is it very simply marketing with a compelling message
that might stretch the borders of truth?
Barefoot's product does appear
to have an impressive mix of vitamins and minerals, but is
there anything miraculous about it?
I believe credibility must be earned,
not granted via a hyped up introduction by a paid pitch person.
I don't want to disparage anyone, so I will not share with
you what I know about Kevin Trudeau's experience. I will however
encourage you, if you're considering buying into a product
advertised on a Trudeau "talk show," to visit http://www.ftc.gov/search
and enter "Kevin Trudeau" in the search box. You'll
find some things that might at the very least raise a red
flag or two.
Robert Barefoot makes some very
strong comments on the show in order to establish the superior
properties of his product. He does much to demonstrate the
importance of calcium and then he downplays the value of store
bought calcium supplements, referring to them as "chalk."
He discusses research and science and somehow extrapolates
that Coral Calcium has a 90% absorption rate while ingesting
calcium citrate might only lead to 5% being absorbed. If everyone
watching the "show" really knew calcium citrate
from calcium carbonate, if they really understood the role
of calcium, and if they had an opportunity to explore and
understand the science, I don't believe they'd come up with
the same conclusions as Barefoot.
One study, published in the esteemed
New England Journal of Medicine (Gastrointestinal absorption
of calcium from milk and calcium salts, 1987), led to the
conclusion that absorption differences between calcium compounds
was not statistically significant. It appears that the five
componds tested, calcium acetate, calcium lactate, calcium
gluconate, calcium citrate, and calcium carbonate, all had
absorption rates near 30% - 40%. Does that come close to the
90% claim made by Barefoot. No. But is his claim backed up
by actual science? If it is, I'll apologize, but until it's
shown to me, I doubt his claim is valid. Even if, however,
his claim were true, that means you'd have to take three times
as much of another calcium compound to equal the total calcium
absorbed in coral calcium. So does that make Coral Calcium
the winner? I don't think so, as it costs more than three
times as much as the standard over the counter calcium supplement
or multi mineral formula.
There are also many variables which
affect calcium absorption. In one study it was evidenced that
calcium citrate is more bioavailable than calcium carbonate
. . . but this study was done on fasting patients. When consumed
as a component of a meal, calcium carbonate proved to be equally
well absorbed (Heaney RP, et al. Absorption of calcium as
the carbonate and citrate salts, with some observations on
method. Osteoporos Int 1999;9:19-23). This illustrates that
research, while it can lend itself to strengthening suspicions,
is ever changing. To pull out only studies that appear to
support a product's value without considering those studies
that might invalidate the tested theories is a very biased
approach to interpreting science.
Other studies consistently indicated
that calcium exhibits threshold absorption, meaning that there
are limits to the amount of calcium that can be absorbed.
Above the threshold, increased calcium intake has no effect.
Threshold for a young adult seems to be near 600 mg. Can you
absorb 600 mg of calcium carbonate or citrate at once? Absolutely.
Anything beyond threshold is overkill, regardless of the established
What exactly does calcium do? Well,
more than 99% of the bodyís calcium is stored in bones and
teeth. While this adds to the integrity of the bony structure,
it also acts as a reserve of calcium that can be freed up
and mobilized if there is need in other parts of the body.
Calcium is involved in energy production, muscle contraction,
intracellular regulation, enzyme activation, hormone secretion,
and DNA synthesis. Yes, it is important, but often the importance
of a human requirement is used to overplay the virtues of
a product with a promise to alleviate illness or pain.
Barefoot's claims that the RDA
numbers for calcium are ridiculously low is quite accurate.
Studies by the National Institute of Health determined that
a post menopausal woman might require 1500 mg of calcium daily.
Because of threshold absorption, that would ideally be split
into three (3) 500 mg doses. It's also true that the average
American takes in far too little calcium (averaging 250 mg
- 350 mg per day) for optimal function and health, but the
factor that needs to be recognized is the poor nutritional
patterns of most Americans. Calcium is not a panacea, it is
a mineral, a micronutrient, and in that it requires interactivity
with a host of other nutrients to perform its functions (zinc,
magnesium, and Vitamin D just to name a few). I'm suggesting,
rather than turning to supplementation and attempting to find
the miracle in a bottle, Americans should learn to eat more
supportively, getting calcium and its synergists from food.
Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products, tofu, canned
fish (with bones), broccoli, kale, calcium-enriched soft drinks
and orange/grapefruit juices, and mineral water. Does it make
sense that a calcium supplement can act as an insurance policy
to ensure that intake is adequate? Sure, but there are thousands
of multi-mineral formulations on the market with calcium as
their primary ingredient, magnesium as the second most abundant.
There are plenty of meal replacement powders containing quality
proteins, a complete profile of vitamins and minerals, and
500 mg of calcium per serving. The question here is, should
we believe "the talk show" when it makes a single
compound or product appear to cure all ills?
Calcium and the
People of Okinawa
major premise that drives "the show" is that calcium
is responsible for the longevity of the people of Okinawa
as they consume incredibly high amounts of calcium. Is it
true that Okinawans have an impressive lifespan? Yes, but
is there any science linking it to the calcium? I haven't
seen it. By the way, does this Okinawan woman look as if she's
thriving on the benefits of calcium? If teeth are an indicator
. . . ummm . . . well, you decide. I'll just say she's not
likely to make an appearance on any show promoting Okinawan
Still, after viewing the "show"
featuring Trudeau and Barefoot, you have to wonder whether
high calcium intake does positively affect life expectancy.
Barefoot relies greatly upon the Okinawa-calcium connection,
but a closer look at science shows quite a discrepancy. Here's
an excerpt from an abstract published in the International
Journal of Cardiology (volume 33,
pages 191-98, 1991):
Seely, S, Is calcium excess
in Western diet a major cause of arterial disease?
Human populations that consume
the most calcium have the highest mortality rates in the
world. The Scandinavian countries, the USA and New Zealand
are the dairy consuming countries and mortality rates soar
in these countries compared to Japan and Portugal where
the consumption of calcium from dairy products is the lowest
on the planet and so are the mortality rates.
This suggests that the people of
Japan have less likelihood of early mortality . . . due .
. . to their low intake of calcium?
calcium were in fact an overriding factor in determining health,
freedom from disease, and longevity, the Masai tribe in Africa
would have some very elderly elders. Interestingly, while
they consume exhorbitant amounts of calcium (the mainstay
of their diets is a mix of cow blood and milk), they have
a life expectancy of only 45 years.
Just for kicks, I contacted the
Centers for Disease Control and asked if I were to travel
to Africa to visit with the Masai, what diseases would I need
to be innoculated for or protected from. Here's an abbreviated
- African tick typhus
- Chikungunya fever (explosive
urban outbreaks have occurred)
- Echinococcosis Leptospirosis
- Lyme disease
- Black plague
- Intestinal worms
- Typhoid Fever
- Yellow Fever
That's quite an impressive list
for a population consuming several liters of calcium rich
food every day. Maybe calcium is not the great protector Barefoot
promotes it as.
At the very least, these issues
should cause you to question whether the "show"
is really delivering truth. Barefoot does make it a point
to mention that the women in Okinawa consume thousands of
milligrams of calcium daily, but interestingly, in the book
THE OKINAWA FACTOR (2001), written by Drs. Bradley and Craig
Wilcox and Dr. Makoto Suzuki, itís noted that women on Okinawa
who live to be 100 years of age only consume about 400 to
625 milligrams of calcium per day.
This is only one of several of
Trudea's running shows, and there are enough other companies
pitching products through the illusion of a "talk show"
to keep this marketing vehicle alive and thriving. Some of
them are so blatanly fraudulent, they take phone calls, every
one of course a glowing testimonial for the hair removal cream,
the hair growing lotion, the wrinkle remover, or the cellulite
eater. How can they accept phone calls . . . if it's a taped
I'd suggest that any time you hear
of an "Incredible Discovery," or a "Miraculous
Breakthrough," you question the science. Any time a testimonial
for a product just seems way over the top grab hold of your
common sense. Any time something in a bottle promises to make
all of your pain go away, ask for backup research, for actual
references, and for some kind of recognizable evidence that
validates the claim.
Last Thursday night was my Breakthroughs
seminar and it was a packed house at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott.
People attended from every walk of life. There were professional
athletes present, there were sedentary people who hadn't exercised
in years. There were fit people, overweight people, underweight
people, and fat skinny people. There were people in their
20's, there were people in their 80's. What I love most of
all about doing these seminars is the privilege of having
the opportunity to empower so many wonderful people who had
thought their fitness goals were fantasy. I start the event
out by blowing holes in all of the "miraculous discoveries,"
and then I deliver powerful information designed to help any
man or woman take complete and total control of the way his
or her body looks and feels. I'm glad so many of you attended,
and for those who missed out . . . good news! I've added another
next Breakthroughs seminar will take place June 5, 2003.
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date, there is still time to take advantage of my "get
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