‘Flu Defence’ Effluence – Where Swine Flu Meets Bullshit

With the swine flu death toll recently exceeding 700 mortalities worldwide according to the WHO (that’s the World Health Organisation by the way – we at the MSS are not in the habit of contacting Roger Daltrey and co for updates on global mortality rates), understandably many people are scared.  Even members of The Who, I dare venture, are scared (OK, that time I was talking about the rock band; the World Health Organisation know no fear).  After all, despite the relatively tame death tolls of recent potential pandemics – SARS topped out at around 770 mortalities worldwide, and Bird Flu at just 250 – the threat of a genuine influenza pandemic is all too real, as the 50 million deaths from Spanish Flu between 1918 and 1920 are testament to.

With good fortune and a prevailing wind, the excellent work of the WHO (again, the health guys not the ‘My Generation’ chaps) will continue to help contain and cope with the spread and treatment of the virus, so their advice is generally not to panic, to avoid unnecessary risks, and to essentially let the WHO do what the WHO do.  So being cautious but un-panicky is what we’ll do, and we’ll soldier on, make the odd joke, while listening to both the WHO and The Who (while potentially also watching Dr Who), and as best as we can try not to spread germs nor fear.

Which would be fine, if homeopaths and the rest of the pseudomedical community weren’t out there treating a pandemic as a cash cow.  Google something along the lines of ‘flu cure‘, ‘swine flu remedy‘ or ‘fuck me those pigs are going to kill us all‘* and you’ll be confronted with all manner of homeopathic, dietary, herbal and generally all-round magical cures.  And it’s to one of these fringe, whack-job, dangerous and completely bullshit quack-remedies my attention was drawn today, namely Flu Defence – a herbal pill with claims so unbelievably nonsense-filled and appallingly-unscientific, they really do need to be taken apart one by one.  And if you’ll indulge me, that’s precisely what I’ll do…

Flu Defence is the first 100% natural general-purpose flu remedy that attacks the virus and boosts the immune system, with no known side effects.

One sentence, three out-and-out fallacies. Firstly, we have the Appeal to Nature fallacy – it’s 100% natural, therefore it’s good.  Because nothing natural can ever harm us.  Like, say, arsenic.  Or uranium.  Or the influenza virus. The next stand-out fallacy is this commonly-heard but never-explained ‘boosts the immune system’ line.  Your immune system cannot be boosted, that’s not how it works.  I could never explain it as well as Dr. Mark Crislip’s Quackcast, so if you’d like to hear more on immune-system-power-upping, I recommend you give him a listen.  Alternatively, here’s a decent breakdown of the issue.  Lastly, it has NO known side effects?  Sounds fishy to me, most interferences with your body involve some side effects, usually outweighed by the positive effects.

Now you can easily prevent flu and support your bodies natural defences during acute symptoms. The fine of herbal extracts in Flu Defence, will not only boost your immune system, but will also neutralize various viruses.

Acute symptoms?  Of what?  I thought Flu Defence prevented you from getting flu, so you should have zero symptoms?  And for ‘support your bodies [sic] natural defences’ read ‘boost your immune system’; and for ‘boost your immune system’ read ‘meaningless bollocks’ (see above).

Studies show the ingredients in Flu Defence act a powerful immune booster, that exhibits strong antiviral action against influenza A & B, herpes, bird flu, swine flu and even HIV.

HIV.  HIV.  HIV.  HIV.  Even HIV.  I’m going to keep saying that until it manages to sink in.  Flu Defence acts against HIV. Now, when one intervention claims to prevent or cure multiple unrelated afflictions, that’s a red flag.  When one of those afflictions is incurable by actual modern medicine, yet can be cured by crushing up a bowl of pot pourri into a little daily tablet, that’s… well… I’ll say a HUGE red flag, because I’m trying to limit my expletives in this article and there’s a long way to go yet.  But I will add that it’s a FUCKING huge red flag.  It was worth it.

Add to that the photos on the homepage – an authoritative-looking woman in a white coat perfectly exemplifying the ‘argument from authority’ fallacy, while another image shows an attractive blonde girl suffering the effects of the virus.  I presume the virus she is suffering from is the flu virus, not herpes or HIV, but this isn’t made abundantly clear.  In any case, I think the use of an attractive model acting in distress to help peddle nonsense should in itself be considered a logical fallacy – perhaps ‘Appeal to Attractiveness’ or the ‘Argument Ad Blondeum’.

Just look what is in Flu Defence
Echinacea extract
Well known as a broad-spectrum immune system stimulant Echinacea purpurea is most used to protect against, and to treat, influenza, common colds, and sore throat. It is also a natural antibiotic, used to treat infections, to combat low resistance to sickness and to enhance the immune system. Echinacea has also used in the treatment of chronic recurring vaginal yeast infections. Echinacea purpurea, called “King of the blood purifiers” in some herbal manuscripts, has been traditionally used to help boils, acne and difficult skin conditions.
Elderberry extract
These herbal compounds will bind with viruses neutralizing the activity of the hemagglutinin spikes before they can penetrate the walls of cells, thereby inhibiting their ability to spread. Also, another compound in Elderberry, called anthocyanins, have an anti-inflammatory effect that will minimize aches, pains, and fever. While the flavonoids stimulate the immune system.
Zinc Oxide
Zinc oxide is a chemical compound with the formula ZnO. Zinc is an important element that is required for a number of immune functions, including T-lymphocyte activity, antioxidant activity and putative antiviral activity.
Vitamin C
This is one of the most common substances to fight flu symptoms. Vitamin C has been proven to boost the bacteria-killing ability of certain immune cells called macrophages and neutrophils. It is also believed that vitamin C stimulates production of interferon, an important chemical in the immune system, and that it improves the thymus gland’s ability to make infection-fighting lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.

So, what’s in Flu Defence that offers such amazing, panacea, wondercure efficacy?  Fortunately, the website tells us:

  • Echinacea extract
  • Elderberry extract
  • Zinc Oxide
  • Vitamin C

That’s it. Send the lab boys home, guys, there’s your cure for AIDS right there – two flowers, an orange and a bit of a battery. With their awesome medical knowledge and their expert opinion, Flu Defence has really achieved one of the most remarkable feats of the last century in discovering the vaccine for the HIV virus and influenza virus in one fell swoop.  I say lets make these tablets mandatory for everyone, the world over, so that the medical authority of the Flu Defence experts may help diagnose, treat, cure and prevent these diseases – their medical advice is clearly of the highest order.  Who are these geniuses?  Well, maybe the legal disclaimer at the bottom of the site will give us a clue:

Always read the label and take only as directed. These statements have not been evaluated by any medical authority, and are for educational purposes only. If you are on medication or suffer any major health concerns, review the product with your doctor first. This product is not a medicine, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If symptoms persist or you have side effects see your healthcare professional. Nothing on this site is intended as medical advice.

Wait, what?  Read that again.  Fuck me I wish I hadn’t blown my expletive allowance earlier.

These statements have not been evaluated by any medical authority, and are for educational purposes only.

So the claims made by Flu Defence, of which there are many, are not tested by a medical authority?  And what definition of ‘educational purposes’ is making untested medical claims?  Who exactly are they teaching?  The only lesson they’re teaching people is to always read the small print.

If you are on medication or suffer any major health concerns, review the product with your doctor first.

Major health concerns?  Like, maybe, influenza?  Herpes?  HIV?

This product is not a medicine, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

I beg to differ.  Every word of the site is specifically intended to sell a product that is a ‘flu remedy’, that ‘easily prevents flu’, that ‘exhibits strong antiviral action against influenza A & B, herpes, bird flu, swine flu and even HIV’.  Every sentence of this dismal, deceitful site puts forth the notion that the cure to what ails you is right there in those little orangey, flowery, zincy little pills.

Nothing on this site is intended as medical advice.

This bit I actually believe.  Nothing on the site is intended as medical advice.  No, it’s intended as out-and-out snake-oil con-artistry, from top to bottom via every badly-written sentence in between.  It’s intention, though not stated, is to encourage the sick and the scared to part with their money to merrily swallow tablets that are ‘not a medicine’ and not intended to cure them.  This is manipulation and exploitation of the vulnerable – that is its intent.

So, bearing in mind the legal disclaimer, let’s take a quick tour of the rest of the site.  The Frequently Asked Questions page offers some real gems.  Such as ‘How does it work?’

Flu Defence works on 2 mechanisms of action. The first being an incredible immune system booster, and the second a virus neutralizer. Flu Defence will neutralize the activity of the hemagglutinin spikes found on the surface of some types of viruses. When these hemagglutinin spikes are deactivated the viruses can no longer pierce cell walls or enter the cell and replicate. Flu Defence also minimizes any symptoms like body aches, cough, and fever and can be taken both as a treatment or as a preventer.

OK, that’s interesting.  That’s technically more of an answer to a different question – ‘What does it do?’  Of course, we know it doesn’t do anything – that’s right there in the legal disclaimer.  We also know it doesn’t work, because that’s also in there too.  So they might as well say ‘Flu Defence grows tiny tiny orange groves and flower gardens on the surfaces of each your white blood cells, and when the HIV virus sees the lovely, natural vista there it loses its will to replicate and instead sits down on a tiny zinc bench, taking in the pastoral scene and re-examining its core beliefs’.  Because if you’re going to lie to people, at least make it a creative lie.

And ‘How do I take it?’

One pill daily to prevent flu, with a one week break each four weeks, or six pills daily during acute symptoms (throughout the day). If acute symptoms last more than four days consult your doctor.

Acute symptoms?  It doesn’t specify.  Which might make it an interesting consultation with your doctor.  Still, it will get a damn sight more interesting once you tell him that instead of taking precautions in avoiding catching the flu, or heaven forbid instead of taking your many HIV antivirals, instead you’re buying quack pills from some unscrupulous Internet conmen.

And then there is the cost.  90 pills cost $39.95 – £24.31 to you and me.  Which works out at 27p per pill, which during the non-specific ‘acute symptoms’ periods of 6-pills-a-day equates to £1.62 per day.  Which is expensive, for something that is completely, utterly and dangerously ineffective.

There’s also a Contact Us page to the site.  So I have.  I’ve requested more information on their product, including data on medical efficacy and clinical trials.  I’ll keep you posted on their reply.  And if you find waiting with baited breath for their evidence gives you insomnia, stress or a sense of unease, fear not – Flu Defence is probably just as good for those ailments too…

Many thanks to Darren for the source link.

*I’m sorry, I really couldn’t resist.  Rickrolling might be a bit 2007, but it still makes me chuckle.  And Unlike Flu Defence, laughter is the best medicine…

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  1. #1 by Raj Chahal on July 22, 2009 - 10:07

    Utterly amazing what people will attempt to sell you on the Internet!! It would be interesting to get their annual accounts (I presume public if a plc?) to see how many vulnerable and scared people were conned in the moment of hysteria!!

  2. #2 by Andy on July 22, 2009 - 10:37

    Another great piece of de-bunking Marsh. Although it was a rich target area!

    I’m posting the link to this on my pages.


  3. #3 by Marsh on July 22, 2009 - 10:50

    Andy – thanks very much my good man, that’s very kind of you!

    Raj – that’s a great idea, I’ll have to explore who they are and see if I can get a little more information on them and their accounts. As I say I’ve requested access to their data, but suspect they have none!

  4. #4 by Colonel Molerat on July 22, 2009 - 11:02

    ‘I presume the virus she is suffering from is the flu virus, not herpes or HIV, but this isn’t made abundantly clear.’

    Ah yes, Argument ad Blondeum. I hear they’ve been using that to sell herpes, syphillis and gonorrhoea to the unsuspecting masses for thousands of years…

  5. #5 by Daz on July 22, 2009 - 17:29

    I think you enjoyed pulling this apart marsh!!
    i wonder if this is the same stuff being peddled in the shop in crosby. next time im at the crosby branch i will go in and ask about about it. maybe i can exchange it for some magic beans!

  6. #6 by Barbara on July 25, 2009 - 00:39

    Hi Marsh. I first thought ..How could you be bothered with such tosh? Though good on you for doing it, these money making scams are like personal psychic readings, they appeal to the desperate. And if used instead of proper medical treatment eg for HIV/Aids are appalling.
    It made me think tho about immune system boosting. I always thought breastmilk ‘boosted’ the baby’s immunity by supplying immunoglobulins which (so far) can’t be delivered in powdered modified cow’s milk. Is that boosting? or just providing what is lacking when a baby is not fed naturally? Certainly most of the babies in hospital with gastro-intestinal or ear infections are formula fed. Very few are breastfed.
    Then I remembered seeing a prog where a man with cancer claimed to have been cured by drinking breastmilk. http://www.blisstree.com/breastfeeding123/promising-anti-cancer-powers-of-breast-milk/
    Of course I am sceptical. It is a single anecdote. But if I had a cancer and I had access to breastmilk, I think I’d give it a go. I might also make sure I ate my 5 a day. I’d probably stop smoking and reduce my alcohol consumption too.
    And how do we skeptics account for the power, or apparent power of belief? If I really believe breastmilk will help, and I live longer than the docs predict, how is that happening? Or doesn’t it? I dunno. But you make me think, Marsh. Thanks.

  7. #7 by Wikipedia on July 26, 2009 - 08:24

    “In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, Elderberry was shown to be effective for treating Influenza B. People using the Elderberry extract recovered much faster than those only on a placebo. This is partially due to the fact that Elderberry inhibits neuraminidase, the enzyme used by the virus to spread infection to host cells.[3]

    A small study published five years ago showed that 93% of flu patients given extract were completely symptom-free within two days; those taking a placebo recovered in about six days. This current study shows that, indeed, it works for type A flu, reports lead researcher Erling Thom, with the University of Oslo in Norway.[4]”

    “Sambucus.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 23 Jul 2009, 14:06 UTC. 23 Jul 2009 .

  8. #8 by Google on July 29, 2009 - 00:46

    Google keywords (Elderberry):
    +elderberry +hiv
    +elderberry +hiv +”clinical study”
    +elderberry +hiv +”clinical studies”
    +”black elder” +hiv
    +”Sambucus nigra” +hiv

    Dramatic increase in immune mediated HIV killing activity induced by Echinacea angustifolia.

    Berman S, See DM, See JR, Justis JC, Tilles JG, Ma CB; International Conference on AIDS.
    Int Conf AIDS. 1998; 12: 582 (abstract no. 32309).

    Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Long Beach, California, USA.

    URL: gateway.nlm.nih.gov/MeetingAbstracts/ma?f=102229824.html

  9. #9 by Ramses on October 8, 2009 - 11:24

    The disclamer at the bottom, is so the medicine can be sold as a dietary supplement (food), rather than a medicine. Dietary supplements can be sold freely, while medicines must be approved for sale. This is standard policy for herbal supplements.

  10. #10 by Marsh on October 8, 2009 - 12:45

    I’m sure it is indeed standard practice for herbal supplements. But claiming to cure AIDS is not standard practice, nor is it ethical practice. Nor is it sane.

    Just because it’s standard practice for herbal supplements to put disclaimers at the bottom of their pamphlets saying, effectively, ‘all of the claims we’re making here are just made up’ does not make it ok, it just makes it prevalent.

  11. #11 by Stop FDA censorship on February 18, 2010 - 15:05

    “The FDA censors health information. It does so to protect drugs and its drug approval process from competition.”


    “The pharmaceutical lobby not only affects FDA regulation of drugs but also FDA regulation of foods and dietary supplements. Truthful speech concerning the disease treatment effects of dietary ingredients is censored by the FDA.”


    P.S. The stupid statements about the HIV are removed and website is defaced…

(will not be published)