Solal Technologies actively promotes pseudoscience … and here’s how

Kevin Charleston
Kevin Charleston

Kevin Charleston explains why he stands by the comments a popular vitamin company is suing him for.

Solal Technologies instituted a legal complaint against me for defamation. They object to me calling them “a company that actively promotes pseudoscience”. (They also complain about images used in this article also published here. I did not select the image used on the Quackdown website)

They also object to this supportable statement “The irony is that the magazine Health Intelligence is itself a disguised marketing programme for Solal Technologies, a company that actively promotes pseudoscience and aggressively attempts to shut out valid criticism of its advertising.”

Solal Technologies is not alone in using pseudoscience to justify the products they sell, something common to almost all CAMS manufacturers, most cosmetics companies, and even bed manufacturers who make claims about the “ionic” properties of their mattresses.

Solal’s website makes many claims about their reliance on science, medicine, research and development, for example: “All products are developed using the latest scientific evidence available” and “our team of pharmacists and health professionals will advise … based on the latest scientific research”. Solal’s products are not cheap, and claim to be an alternative to medicines which may have adverse side-effects.

The OED definition of pseudoscience is: “A pretended or spurious science; a collection of related beliefs about the world mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method or as having the status that scientific truths now have”.

Put simply: pseudoscience tries to pass itself off as being based on scientific principles, but really it isn’t.

Homeopathy is a prime example. Its proponents make claims which if true would turn modern physics on its head.

Solal Technologies sells at least one product (HGH Plus) containing homeopathic content. A product page for HGH Plus begins with “a proprietary complex of Vegetarian Grade Homeopathic Pituitarum post. 30x”. Proprietary clearly suggests active involvement by Solal Technologies in its procurement and manufacture.

Solal Technologies employs a homeopath, Dr Tanya Selli, at its ‘Integrative Medical Centre’ “as a product and protocol specialist”. Selli writes regularly for the Health Intelligence magazine, and is listed on its Editorial Board page as “homeopath”.

Pseudoscientific activity includes distorting evidence or the deliberate misapplication or misuse of medical studies. Using a medical study or trial inappropriately, or out of context, is a typical way that companies abuse science to sell their wares. Examples of this include references to studies of proxy effects that have only been tested in tissue samples from animals.

Professor Roy Jobson gives an excellent example of Solal’s distortion of evidence in his analysis of their I3Complex product “this research quoted by Solal was done only in breast cancer cells grown in a laboratory setting, and not in human beings. It is not possible to extrapolate any findings from this study from cells to human beings.”

Dr Harris Steinman comments on the scientific references used by Solal in justifying their claims that “Too much sugar may accumulate fat and make learning difficult”. Both studies used to support the claim were done in animals and from causing unnatural changes in the animals’ metabolisms first. There is no way this can support definitive statements about the behaviour of sugar in humans.

An article in “Health Intelligence” claimed that more sex will increase your lifespan, and supports the statement with 12 references to studies. Professor Jobson again deconstructs the argument by analysing the supporting studies. Not only were three of the references animal or in-vitro studies, but the rest are misinterpreted or non-factual studies.

In an analysis of Solal’s “Anti-Aging Pill”, Steinman points out that the most significant studies reference worms and fruit flies. Later studies found that “worms and flies genetically modified to have higher sirtuin levels actually owe their extended lifespans to background genetic differences”.

Dr David Gorski, a cancer specialist in the USA, has this to say of Solal’s claims for scientific support for I3C in their ‘Breast Protection Formula’ product: “virtually all of the studies that come up are preclinical. They’re either cell culture studies in which investigators put the extract on cells and measured various markers of apoptosis or cell growth and found indications that these compounds inhibit the growth of breast cancer cell lines, or they are animal studies.”

In April 2010, Solal published an advert claiming that Vitamin D was as effective as a vaccine (ASA has ordered Solal to withdraw this claim) and that people taking Vitamin D3 were 43% less likely to get infected with seasonal flu. They supported this statement by referencing a “Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren”. This was a small study of 334 Japanese schoolchildren aged 8 to 15. You cannot apply a study of Japanese schoolchildren to the South African population when skin colour affects Vitamin D manufacture. Nor does the study make mention of vaccines or vaccinations.

The same advert claimed that “90% of South Africans tested at the Integrative Medical Centre in Bryanston last year were deficient in Vitamin D3, making it the most important vitamin for adults and children to take”.

What isn’t stated is that these blood tests were taken from those wealthy individuals who can afford to attend Solal’s pricey Integrative Medical Centre, hardly a representative sample.

The claim that this makes D3 “the most important vitamin” is misleading.

Another common pseudoscientific practice is to restate or exaggerate the effects from a trial in order to justify a pre-determined outcome. The Vitamin D advert claims “people given Vitamin D3 as a supplement were 42% less likely to get infected with seasonal flu.” The actual conclusion of the study states: “This study suggests that vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A, especially in specific subgroups of schoolchildren”. It says nothing about preventing flu nor mentions “many other serious diseases, like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes”, for which Solal makes claims. Solal compared absolute numbers, a common trick to inflate the importance of a claim. The relative risk reduction (here the difference between an 18.6% chance and a 10.8% chance of getting flu) is the relevant number.

Another typical pseudo-science practice is to combine the results of two completely different trials and draw an improper conclusion. Solal’s Pharmacist Brent Murphy states “In children, Vitamin D is 8.6% effective at preventing flu (compared to the ineffectiveness to 1 or 2% effectiveness of flu vaccines)”. He justifies this by comparing the Japanese schoolchildren study with four studies measuring very different things, in very different age and population groups, whereas the only proof for such a claim would be a double-blind RCT spanning multiple-years involving large numbers of age-appropriate people in which one group took Vitamin D and one group had vaccines.

Yet another ploy is to manipulate standard definitions, constants or limits. The CAMS industry typically invents diseases or symptoms, or re-names and re-defines diseases in order to claim that their products treat something that medical science does not acknowledge.

Solal has a product called Burnout which claims to treat “Adrenal Fatigue”. Steinman provides references which rubbish the proposed existence of this fictitious disease.

Solal’s claim that 90% of South Africans tested were deficient in Vitamin D is also such a manipulation. The current (revised) South African definition is that ‘normal’ Vitamin D levels should be over 25ng/ml. In comments on the Quackdown website on 5 April 2011, Brent Murphy (a Solal director and pharmacist) says this: “The reference level we used as a cut off was 50ng/ml, based on recommendations from the Vitamin D council”, and, “However, due to criticism of bias against the Vitamin D council, in subsequent advertising (last year) we changed the “90%” to “80%”, since a review published in … 2005 stated that Vitamin D sufficiency can only be said to exist (in healthy people) when levels of Vitamin D are 33ng or greater. The data we supplied of people in Bryanston showed that 81.8% of people had below 33ng/ml of vitamin D.” The Vitamin D Council is funded by Vitamin Manufacturers. It is not a reputable scientific organisation.

Vitamin D in doses of greater than 500 IU (International Units) is classified as a Schedule 3 drug. That means it may not be marketed, and can only be sold under strict conditions with a prescription. Solal’s Vitamin D advert claims that it “is extremely safe … even at seemingly high doses, such as 2000IU per day”. Murphy and Campbell of Solal have advertised and recommended doses of Vitamin D in excess of both the legal limit and recommended daily allowances on Facebook.

It is vital in science to consider all of the available evidence, and not just select the pieces that agree with the conclusion you want to make. Ignoring evidence that directly contradicts the claims you make is not only pseudoscientific but tantamount to scientific fraud.

Solal have made much out of a Japanese study of schoolchildren, but completely ignored a South African study that contradicts it.

Validation of results is vital to a proper scientific approach, and this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for trade secrets alongside independent verification.

Solal have frequently insisted on confidentiality. In an attempt to substantiate its Vitamin D claims, Solal provided more ‘evidence’ to the ASA. This ‘evidence’ consisted largely of copies from books, or studies which were available on the internet – all stamped ‘Confidential’.

The almost paranoid requirement for secrecy in pseudoscientific circles generally runs hand-in-hand with the belief that the establishment is against them. This anti-establishment paranoia is not necessarily pseudoscientific, but it is a common feature. Solal persistently claims that I am under the instruction of the Treatment Action Campaign. They have no evidence for this; and there is no truth to this bizarre claim.

Companies that lay claim to scientific study, act in a pseudoscientific manner, and use their own disguised marketing vehicle to publicise their pseudoscience while denigrating real medical science, are actively promoting pseudoscience. Solal is such a company.

Further reading

The cartoon used in this article is by xkcd.com. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

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