Five years ago, I gave a talk on Lyme disease in Virginia, Minnesota, which is right in the heart of the famous Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota. Afterwards, a very excited woman approached, very anxious to tell me that she had finally, without any question, confirmed that she had active Lyme disease. Further more, she knew that her infection was mostly situated in her spleen! Being very curious about this last detail, I asked how she knew that the infection was specifically in her spleen? I expected her to answer that her liver and spleen were enlarged and tender or that a biopsy and culture had been done, but what she actually said was quite disturbing.
She explained that she had seen a homeopathic healer who specialized in naturopathy. After filling out a questionnaire and describing the nature of the complaint, she had a brief cursory physical exam. Following this, the patient was led to a computer in another room. She was told to stand with her hands out to her sides and was given a metal probe to hold in one hand. The probe was attached by a wire to a machine called the "health body analyzer computer". As the patient stood there, the practitioner waved a second probe over the organs of her body.
From there, the scenario followed a common theme: On the computer screen, a readout would appear showing fairly innocuous things such as, "There is a small, benign, lesion on the left ovary", "There is a fibrous mass on the sternum", "There is a healed greenstick fracture of the second right rib", etc. Finally, the computer displays a blinking red warning and makes a warning beep. The warning would read something like, "SPIROCHETES DETECTED IN THE SPLEEN. LYME DISEASE DETECTED!" This, of course, confirmed what the patient wanted to hear and it was indisputable! After all, a computer had made the diagnosis!
This story would be disturbing if I had only heard it once, but I subsequently heard of three more patients from the same area going to this practitioner - all with similar results. These patients were educated, intelligent people of varying ages, yet only one of the patients seemed even slightly skeptical. One patient was even studying physical therapy, yet he seemed to be taken in just as easily as the others. Desperate patients seek desperate measures.
This machine, of course, is a total fraud. No computer can probe the human body and then print out a chart of all of the diseases and ailments that a patient has. This is just science fiction. The con-artists merely program the machine to show exactly what they want it to show, word for word. Similar machines have been debunked over the years. Some have been made from parts of old computers bought for under $100.
If the patient has a history of heart disease, the machine will detected the heart disease. However, treating something as well-defined and serious as heart disease would almost certainly lead to legal problems, so the con-artist will also detect a second, but less well-defined, malady such as 'body-fatigue', and then prescribe a course of natural treatments. This is how they make their money. They get the patient to commit to a monthly course of treatment that costs hundreds of dollars and are at best harmless supplements and at worst potentially harmful, like hydrogen peroxide.
The treatments will vary from highly diluted homeopathic nostrums to something like homemade "allergy drops" placed under the tongue. Other treatments can include aromatherapy, electro-magnetic massages, magnet therapy, sound therapy, light therapy and a whole host of other questionable treatments. All of these are non-specific, non-invasive treatments, and all are unproved treatments that rely entirely on anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies and have a low chance of complications. In most cases, regardless of the illness, there will be a course of fairly expensive herbal and vitamin treatments that are nothing more than over-priced, off-the-shelf supplements.
I once bumped into a salesmen at a party who told me he could get me fake Rolex watches if I ever needed them. It was his job to call on beauty centers, hair dressers, spas, chiropractors and treatment centers to sell them "customized products". These were generic vitamins, herbs and shampoos that could have custom labeling put on according to the customer's specification. They could even have their own company name if they liked. These so-called custom designer products keep the consumer coming back, but are often nothing more than generic versions of name-brands at twice the price. They kept the accounts active by introducing new products each month.
A year later, I thought I had heard the last of Lyme patients in support groups seeking out these quacks, but then a former Lyme patient returned to our Duluth support group. She was very concerned and scared because, along with other Lyme symptoms from five years earlier, a new complication had developed. She now had a disturbing heart arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. She was promptly referred to a doctor who put her on antibiotics, and her atrial fibrillation went away.
A few months later, when she was feeling much improved, she returned to the support group to tell her story. To my surprise, she told us all that we were poisoning ourselves with antibiotics and that we should stop taking them immediately! She was quite emphatic and very agitated that we were still pursuing medical solutions.
She credited a naturopath with her complete recovery. The naturopath had told her that what she had wasn't Lyme disease, but rather a series of food allergies. These were detected in a very scientific method: Told to hold a food or allergen in her right hand and extend her left arm straight out to her side, the healer would then push down on her arm to assess strength. If her arm was weak, she had an allergy to the food or substance in her right hand. Then she was probed with a computer-body analyzer and placed on a diet that included carnitine, co-enzyme Q10, acidophilus, and multivitamins. The cost for this scientific diagnosis? Almost $400 for her exam and a one month supply of vitamins - vitamins that she insisted were better than anything in the stores!
Since this was a different practitioner using the same type of body-analyzer machine, I realized that this was probably a wide-spread type of fraud. A short time later, the television show, "Prime Time", did a segment on medical fraud, and there among other dubious medical devices was the very machine that had now bilked a half-dozen Lyme patients from northern Minnesota out of thousands of dollars.
After six years of following a stringent regimen of diet and exercise, this same patient who claimed she was cured was still having monthly exams and procedures. Why? It appears that her "energy center" was low. How did she know this? Amazingly, she was now able to have her body computer-analyzed over the phone without ever leaving home! Simply by moving the phone receiver over her body, the homeopath, from 150 miles away, could detect energy changes in her body and prescribe treatments. How convenient! Now, as long as the patient has a VISA card, the patient doesn't even have to leave the house!
Here's a physics question: How many forms of energy are there? We can detect heat, magnetism and electromagnetic energy like light and radio waves, and there are strong and weak nuclear forces and gravity. So which of these 'energies' does the phone receiver pick up? What energy is so easily measured that it can be transmitted 150 miles via phone lines? Please, please trust me. This is a fraud, a hoax, a sham. These people may seem nice, but they lack any morals if they can take money from sick patients by filling their heads with this kind of hocus-pocus.
What I once thought was a few isolated cases of over-zealous believers of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo has now become a full-fledged underground industry of medical fraud. Someone is selling these machines and somehow finding a market for them. Where are these things being marketed? As it turns out, this and several other questionable devices are advertised through entrepreneurial newsletters with headlines shouting, "Make $1000 a week at home!!!", or "Medical Miracle that the government doesn't want you to own!!", etc. Such devices are advertised in the back of magazines that cater to independent spirits and the do-it-yourself-er. Eventually, these devices fall into the hands of an entrepreneur who has charm, intelligence and absolutely no scruples. If you think these people are kind and benevolent, just see how charming they are when you run out of money or question their methods.
There is, of course, no such thing as a computer-probe body analyzer, nor can you detect allergies by judging the strength of a person's arms. These things seem too silly to believe in, and yet desperate patients are being taken in every day by such frauds. The only thing these dubious treatments will cure you of is bloated-wallet syndrome.
CHALLENGE: I, Tom Grier, issue the following challenge to any practitioner using the type of computer probe body analyzer discussed in this article: Allow me to arrange a blinded, controlled study at the Duluth, Minnesota medical school using your machine. The goal of the study will be to test the accuracy of the machine in detecting ailments using ten patients with documented ailments versus ten blinded controls with no documented ailments. If your claims are true and the machine works, I will write a 1000-word endorsement of the machine. If the machine is unable to do all that is claimed, including over-the-phone diagnosis, I will be allowed to publish the conclusions of the study with my own conclusions. Until then Caveat Emptor !
Helpful resources for sorting out fact from fraud and reporting fraud: