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Dr WallachDo you know this man? You should. He cured Cystic Fibrosis in 1978. How could that be? The gene that causes CF wasn’t even discovered until 1989! Ah, but you see, according to Dr. Joel Wallach, Cystic Fibrosis is not actually a genetic disease.  Before I get into this, let’s first hear a little background on Dr. Wallach.

Dr. Wallach, M.S., D.V.M., is best known for his audiotape Dead Doctors Don’t Lie, (a live recording of one of his shows, also as a book in transcript form) in which he concludes that all disease and aging is due to mineral deficiencies, and that people can and should be able to live healthily for well over a century if only they continue a daily supplemental regimen of colloidal minerals. But it is in another book, Let’s Play Doctor (co-authored with Ma Lan, M.D., M.S., a questionable Chinese doctor, whose license to practice in the United States, doesn’t seem to be on record[1]) where he states that through his research, he was able to replicate the disease of cystic fibrosis in apes, by simply depriving them of the mineral selenium, and then cure them once colloidal selenium was reintroduced in large quantities[2]. This then led to his hypothesis that CF was preventable, could be cured in early stages, and be managed well enough through selenium supplementation for patients to live a normal life expectancy.

But here’s the thing, in case your skeptic flags haven’t been raised yet, none of these claims have any scientific merit, and will not stand up to scrutiny if examined.  And they have been examined, at great length, to the irritation of Dr. Wallach, who has a history of silencing criticism where he can with lawsuits, and bitterly shouting libelous rants against his critics in promotional materials where lawsuits aren’t enough.[3] Wallach, who is a veterinarian, and has bought himself a degree in Naturopathy, prefers to label himself the misleading designation of ‘physician’.  As such, he claims to have done a near impossible amount of human autopsies, in addition the animal necropsies he performed as a veterinarian. This would be illegal for any person with his credentials, whether the number was 1 or 20,500, as he reports[4].

He was allegedly nominated for a Nobel Prize in Medicine after publishing this CF hypothesis and ape trials (Nobel nominees are not revealed until a strict 50 years later, so there’s no way to confirm this), but there was minor problem: It wasn’t true. The real doctors and researchers tried replicating his results, and time and again, concluded that he was a self-glorifying hack promoting a fad that would increase profits for himself, and the mineral company he partnered with at the time.  Keep in mind that anybody can be nominated for a Nobel Prize. There’s no qualifying credentials, nor minimum experience, no clout required whatsoever, only that they must be nominated by practitioners qualified by the Assembly at Karolinska Institute as being fit to approach[5]. It just so happened that Wallach was nominated by a group of eccentric naturopaths, of which he was a member. So it doesn’t really add any merit to his claims, to be Nobel nominee out of a collection of hacks, and the Nobel Committee supposedly denied that Wallach was ever a legitimate nominee to begin with. This, of course, does not stop him from boldly exclaiming this information on his books and brochures anyway.

And then there’s this gem: a promotional talking point that had been used by Wallach so continuously, everyone stopped questioning its origins. It’s called Senate Document 264. The National Council Against Health Fraud summarizes, “The most recent contribution to the body of counter information is offered by Donald Davis, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin.  Davis located ‘Senate Document 264’ cited by Wallach as evidence that 99% of Americans are deficient in minerals.  It turns out that the ‘document’ is nothing more than the reprinting of a highly speculative article about a passing fad written by a Florida farmer in the June, 1936, issue of Cosmopolitan magazine as requested by Florida’s Senator Fletcher.  Fletcher died 16 days after requesting that the government printing office reprint the article.”[6]

Honestly, there’s so much dirt on this quack, that I find it unnecessary to continue writing about him and exposing any more of his conspiratorial lies, inconceivable exaggerations and cult-like charlatanism. (If you’d like to read more, you can find loads of information here , here , here, and here .  Rather, I’d like to look at what the science really says about colloidal selenium, particularly in regards to cystic fibrosis.


Firstly, what the heck is colloidal selenium, and how is it different from regular selenium? (Hang on, it’s about to get technical; stick it out, though, and I promise there will be a reward at the end!) If you were to ask Dr. Wallach, he’d tell you that most minerals we receive from our diet are metallic, and that colloidal minerals are plant based, which is better for you, and more easily absorbed. He’d be wrong, though. According to ChemWiki by UCDavis, a colloid is one of the three primary types of mixtures, with the other two being a solution and suspension. A colloid is a solution that has particles ranging between 1 and 1000 nanometers in diameter, yet is still able to remain evenly distributed throughout the solution. They must be larger than a molecule, but small enough so as to not be seen by the naked eye.[7] So it really has to do with the size and structure of the mineral particles, rather than their origin, or efficacy. Other source definitions confirm this.

Selenium is one of the 24 essential minerals needed for optimal human health. It forms a part of some anti-oxidant enzymes such as glutathione to confer protective effects, and as such has been heralded for its potential use in the prevention of certain types of cancer, as well as aid in glucose metabolism by acting as an insulin mimetic. However, in higher-than-needed doses, or over long periods of exceeding supplementation, selenium causes oxidative stress on beta-cells in the pancreas resulting in insulin resistance and Type II diabetes, as well as become toxic enough to promote cancer. Excessive intake of selenium can cause damage to DNA.[8]

Selenium is found in a wide variety of meat, seafood, dairy, eggs, and grains. According to National Institute of Health selenium fact sheet, the vast majority of people in North America get sufficient amounts of selenium in their regular diet. The only groups that are really at risk of deficiency are people who eat only locally grown/ harvested food where selenium content in the soil is low, and certain people with HIV, or kidney disease. While there are a few established diseases caused from selenium deficiency (CF not included), having too much selenium is substantially more risky. Now here’s where I start sounding like pharmaceutical commercial’s warnings: Selenium overdose can range from small side effects, like bad breath and brittle nails, to serious things like nervous system disorders and heart failure[9]. Some medications can also interact with selenium, which is why it’s important to not start any supplement treatment without telling your doctor or pharmacist.

As I mentioned, selenium content varies throughout different climates and geographies, with some soil having higher amounts of selenium than soil in a different area, so it’s possible for some populations to have large numbers of selenium deficient people. Knowing this, if Dr. Wallach’s hypothesis were true, there would be pockets of high concentrations of Cystic fibrosis patients in some parts of the world with low selenium content, and in places like Utah, for example, where selenium soil content tends to be high (incidentally the location of his colloidal selenium mine from which he gets his products) would have very few if any CF patients, all with very mild symptoms.

When it comes to selenium supplementation in Cystic Fibrosis, the available research suggests that although often having impaired absorption of fatty acids, patients generally had a selenium status no different from that of healthy controls.[10] Studies did note however, that while there’s not sufficient evidence to assert that selenium caused improvement in lipid peroxidation markers, the oxidative stress put on lungs from pulmonary disease could be helped by antioxidant enzymes like glutathione, present in selenium.[11]  And that the balance between the two is delicate and easily disturbed. [12] A systematic review of CF studies on antioxidant micronutrients which included selenium found evidence for and against them. Three out of five qualifying studies were analyzed for outcomes regarding lung function, quality of life, oxidative stress, inflammation, and BMI. There was no improvement in lung function with supplementation, and quality of life (unclear what aspects that covers) decreased. However, oxidative stress was palliated by increased levels of antioxidants in the blood. Most importantly, the reviewers state that, “Antioxidant supplementation in cystic fibrosis is not yet recommended beyond routine care.” [13]

If you type in keywords “selenium and cystic fibrosis” into PubMed, the first article you are likely to see is a 1981 case study published in Clinical Toxicology titled, “Selenium: childhood poisoning and cystic fibrosis.” Whoa, that’s alarming. It describes two children, one with severe CF who died during the course of the study. Both were presenting with symptoms caused from excessive selenium usage, and which didn’t appear to be the result of any other variable.  Because one child was suffering malnutrition, this appeared to enhance the toxicity of the selenium overdose. Now, keep in mind, in the early 80’s malnutrition was common in patients with CF, because nutrition research and drug options were not as developed as they are today, and the child was already very sick. But 1981 also suits a reasonable timeline following Dr. Wallach’s 1978 proprietary “cure” for a consumer, like the child’s parents, to buy in to. This is probably why the authors conclude that, “selenium is a potential hazard in its use as a health food fad for children with cystic fibrosis and in overdose ingestions. Thus selenium supplementation may have contributed to the morbidity and mortality reported here.”[14] I may be making a leap here, but to me that sounds like a dig at Joel Wallach and his mineral-pushing followers.

Another study in the Journal of Pediatrics, which predates the above one by a year, appears to be an almost direct response to the hypothesis that selenium and cystic fibrosis have a causal relationship. The study measured glutathione peroxidase and whole blood selenium in 20 infants and children, and basically found them to be in a normal range for healthy (non CF) children in that locale. Thus, they conclude, “These results do not support the hypothesis that deficiency of selenium is reponsible [sic] for cystic fibrosis.”[15]

You may notice how all these studies are pretty old, from a research perspective. To me, this is evidence of one of two things (maybe both?).  Either: 1) when you get solid enough evidence that a supplement like selenium is, at best not useful for the average non-deficient patient, and, at worst potentially harmful, there’s not much need to continue research; indeed it may be unethical to conduct larger scale trials comparing selenium supplementation in double blind, placebo-controlled studies. Or 2) Charlatans like Joel Wallach have polluted the waters of scientific discovery by over-exaggerating claims, lying, and being that attention-seeking, stubborn, embittered misfit with weird clothes so badly, that the guilt-by-association is so strong, no evidence-valuing scientist wants to touch those topics, for fear of losing the respect of their colleagues, or maybe even their jobs. (Nobody wants to be that guy). And on the off-chance any of these quacks did say something clever, valid, or promising, it would likely be ignored or avoided by the scientific community for the same reasons.

To me, that’s the real tragedy of all of this. If research that could lead to better information, and better treatments gets buried under the rug for shame of being labeled too “out there,” it’s not the charlatans who lose, it’s us, the patients. I believe this man prays on vulnerable people and their families. I believe he exploits any hints of underlying mistrust of doctors to, essentially, brainwash patients into giving him what amounts to exorbitant sums of money. I believe he basks in the praise of his followers, rather than looks out for their best interest, and I believe he decries any form of criticism as something that must be squelched and censored. Most of all, I believe he will not be the man who cures CF.

Now, here’s a picture of kitten. (Told ya there’d be a prize for stickin’ it out to the end!)

Wink-Cute-Kittens-and-Cats

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.ncahf.org/nl/1996/3-4.html “Dead Doctors Don’t Lie! But This Living Veterinarian Does.”

[2] http://skepdic.com/wallach.html

[3] http://nutra-smart.net/al.htm#cf

[4] http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/DSH/colloidalminerals.html

[5] http://www.nobelprize.org/nomination/medicine/

[6] http://www.ncahf.org/nl/1998/1-2.html “‘Dead Doctors’” Doesn’t Lie

[7]http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/Physical_Chemistry/Physical_Properties_of_Matter/Solutions_and_Mixtures/Colloid

[8] http://examine.com/supplements/Selenium/

[9] http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-QuickFacts/

[10] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8504531

[11] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7758213

[12] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7715584

[13] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD007020.pub2/abstract

[14] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7226733

[15] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7367113