Snake Oil Science:
The Truth about Complementary
and Alternative Medicine
by R. Barker Bausell

Millions of people worldwide swear by such therapies as acupuncture, herbal cures, and homeopathic remedies. Indeed, complementary and alternative medicine is embraced by a broad spectrum of society, from ordinary people, to scientists and physicians, to celebrities such as Prince Charles and Oprah Winfrey.

In the tradition of Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things and Robert Parks's Voodoo Science, Barker Bausell provides an engaging look at the scientific evidence for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and at the logical, psychological, and physiological pitfalls that lead otherwise intelligent people--including researchers, physicians, and therapists--to endorse these cures.

The book's ultimate goal is to reveal not whether these therapies work--as Bausell explains, most do work, although weakly and temporarily--but whether they work for the reasons their proponents believe. Indeed, as Bausell reveals, it is the placebo effect that accounts for most of the positive results.

He explores this remarkable phenomenon--the biological and chemical evidence for the placebo effect, how it works in the body, and why research on any therapy that does not factor in the placebo effect will inevitably produce false results. By contrast, as Bausell shows in an impressive survey of research from high-quality scientific journals and systematic reviews, studies employing credible placebo controls do not indicate positive effects for CAM therapies over and above those attributable to random chance.

Here is not only an entertaining critique of the strangely zealous world of CAM belief and practice, but it also a first-rate introduction to how to correctly interpret scientific research of any sort. Readers will come away with a solid understanding of good vs. bad research practice and a healthy skepticism of claims about the latest miracle cure, be it St. John's Wort for depression or acupuncture for chronic pain.


If you would like to support our efforts to combat quackery, health and diet fraud we make it easy for you to donate to the cause.

Canadian Quackery Watch - Hot Topics

Click below to restrict search

Terry Polevoy on TV

  • About us
  • Contact us

  • Empowerplus
  • Hulda Clark
  • Cancer quacks
  • Coral Calcium
  • Colloidal minerals
  • Diet fraud
  • Herbal dangers
  • Strauss Herbal
  • Pig Pills, Inc.
  • Chiropractic
  • Alternative Medicine
  • Naturopathy
  • Chelation therapy
  • Magnetic scams
  • Sunbed hazards
  • Search for Coral Calcium

    - Coral Calcium Scams - Special Report
    Kitchener, Ontario - November 1998
    Bob Barefoot came to town. His job was to convince a room full of Mennonites that he had the cure for cancer, AIDS, MS, and arthritis. He held it in his hand, it's simple, neat and painless, and it's safe for the environment, and apparently the prying eyes of Health Canada. After all, it's natural, and it's called Coral Calcium. Two years later and he is still flogs this stuff to Canadians, and our government doesn't care.
    Really Hot Stuff

    • Have you been scammed out of your hard earned money?
    A major TV consumer reporter wants to talk with you.
    E-mail: Contact HealthWatcher

    Quotes from Robert Barefoot at Kitchener Public Library

    It's a miracle

    "50 of 100 people cured of cancer, cured of migraine.

    This stuff really works!"

    "Watch a miracle happen. Just take 200 mg. in 10 minutes"

    "The blind see, the deaf hear, the MS cripples get out in the sun when they take coral calcium."

    "I'll show you blood changes in just 10 minutes"

    "92% of all hysterectomies are not necessary"

    "No more rectal cancer"

    "It's a miracle"

    "Surgeons use it"

    "Spray it on me - I will have no bugs on me"

    "Spray it on plants - they will be bug free"

    "It's the magic mineral" Search

    New Consumer Sentinal web site for complaints

    Click below if you want to restrict search

    Search Now:
    In Association


    Dr. Alonzo
    Is this Dr. Carl J. Reich - or your local distributor of Coral Calcium?

    Smart chicks of Okinawa - a tale of broken yolks, empty promises and health robbery

    Views from behind the golden haze

    Terry Polevoy

    Kitchener, Ontario the town formerly called Berlin, brings the world Oktoberfest each Autumn. It sits in the middle of Waterloo County, surrounded by picturesque Mennonite farms and an enthusiastic population of quacks and alternative practitioners. Some of those people are Mennonites themselves, while others prey on their sensitivity in favour of home-grown cures and remedies.

    The academic and medical community have remained silent during the years that I have lived in town about the quacks, including some of their own. Since last summer, the local newspaper, taken over by SUN media out of Toronto, has placed quacks on a pedestal, with large feature articles on iridology, wholisitic medicine, and has basically ignored the scientific basis of medicine in their pages, if they challenged those who would defraud the public.

    A German marketplace selling snake-oil to the masses

    On November 30, 1998 I learned that snake-oil salesman and author Robert Barefoot was coming to the Kitchener Public Library to give a noon time talk about Coral Calcium. I had followed this scam, and others like it for months, but had never had the chance to see one of their ace pitchmen up close. Barefoot is basically a scam artist who happens to work for HTN (Health Technologies Network) out of the U.S. I was eager to absorb all of his rants with an open mind.

    I had listened eagerly the day before when CFRB, Canada's largest market AM news-radio and talk station, broadcast a rather abbreviated interview with him. I couldn't believe the outrageous claims he made for his products and for the work of a Canadian born doctor, Carl J. Reich, the co-author of the book called "The Calcium Factor".

    As soon as he mentioned Reich's name, my ears perked up because I seemed to remember a story about him and his quack cures. Reich had actually lost his license about 15 years ago in Alberta and in California for quackery. It seems that he claimed that his treatments would cure AIDS and other diseases. It was as simple as the litmus test, the paper to measure the pH of the saliva indicated to Reich whether or not a patient had an underlying condition. It's sort of like the old VW's back in the 50s where you had to take a yardstick and put it in the gas tank to see if you were running on fumes. Reich, obviously trained in modern medicine in Canada and Germany, failed to prove his theory when he was alive. The blood's pH, or acidity/alkalinity system could be the sum total of all the conditions of man, that he Reich could diagnose and successfully treat with his methods. If his aim, living in an alkaline environment, were indeed true, we would probably all be sinking back into the perverbial slime, although according to his crooked theories, we would be free of mold and cancer. How would his successors carry on with his madness? They would have to come up with, not a magic bullet, but with a magic potion. It's not difficult to imagine that a simple answer to all the world's health problems would make desperate and simple minded people jump through hoops into his office for 30 years, especially those who have little or no faith in organized medicine, or no basic knowledge of science.

    So, I was not surprised that when I entered the KPL on Monday, the room was packed to the gills with Mennonites. The award winning report by the writers for the Kansas City Star entitled Plain Prey immediately came to mind when I entered the room. About 90% of those who were there were Mennonites.
    I bought about $42 worth of books and plunked down $5.00 as a guest and sat down to listen to whatever Mr. Barefoot would have to offer. Were these Mennonites aware of what they were getting into, or were they actually behind the move to bring Mr. Barefoot to Kitchener in the first place?

    Mr. Barefoot, introduced as the "King of Calcium", started the ball rolling with a joke about Mormons and lawyers, not exactly my two most favourite subjects. I dare say that he didn't get much laugh from the folks in the audience until he told the lawyer's joke. He then began a story about his relationship with Dr. Carl J. Reich, his mentor. It seems that this maverick doctor, born and trained in Canada, became famous for his theories he developed after he did some work with Otto Warburg, a German doctor won two Nobel Prizes.

    He then enlightened the audience with lie after lie about twin studies, calcium, vitamin-D and how other doctors have cured patients of terminal cancer with pancreas injections into cancer masses the size of cantelopes. Then picture this, a huge dark slice of putrid carcinoma dying in the beaker bathed in alkaline solution, and yet nothing happens when it is plunked in acid. Wow, what a picture!

    The original German quack doctor sort of resembles Abe Lincoln in his top hat

    showing that the cancer rates had gone from 20% in 1952 to 38% in 1998. He failed to mention that of course medical science had conquered polio, measles, smallpox, and a host of other diseases.

    But the audience was unmoved. Instead they were treated to Mr. Barefoot's repeated contentions that "doctors" were the "generals" who have lost the war and that we continue to kill people with our losing war on disease. If only they had followed Dr. Reich's insane revelations that all you had to do was to check the pH of the patient's saliva, feed him calcium salts and presto-chango - all disease will be prevented. And, all good companies, of course will sell out of their coral calcium products.

    I am not an epidemiologist, but I have studied sociology, marketing, and mass movements that are driven by false prophets. I guess that Dr. Reich must be smiling from his grave at the sight of Mr. Barefoot's staunch support for his quack ideas.

    Then comes the really interesting stuff about the Hopi Indians who "have no cancer", the Eskimos who had "no disease" until white man came and fed them Coke and Pizza, the Hunzas who eat a dozen eggs a day, the Georgians who bathe themselves in yoghurt, and the natives who lived in Bolivia at high altitude who drink glacial milk laden with calcium and other goodies. They lived of course without disease and made it into the world's record books with their centenarians who lived until age 150. The fact that there are no birth records for these folks didn't stop Bob from spreading these lies.

    Then he started in with the main theme of the day, the Okinawan miracle of miracles, there are 3 million people who live on this island and there is no cancer. Hey folks, it's the Shangri-la archipelago.

    Over the next twenty minutes or so, Barefoot covered all the mistakes that doctors made in treating hypertension and high cholesterol. Granted though his degree was in a basic chemistry and he never went to medical school, or took a course in epidemiology, he must have done his homework. He held up article after article on vindicated doctors who had been targeted as being unscientific, as if Dr. Reich's ideas would be resurrected and all of us would be reaching for the alka-seltzer or calcium carbonate fizzies to cure our Alzheimers.

    According to Barefoot there are 155 diseases caused by low calcium levels in the body. Why if a baby had to go off milk, they would have to eat 22 lbs. of spinach, or 15 lbs. of broccoli to make up the difference. "We need another source", he exclaimed.

    We could drink milk, it can lower heart disease by 1000% he says. We could do the same for breast cancer. Did you know that according to this HTN guru that "vegetarians die 9 years earlier than meat eaters." What happened to all those Seventh Day Adventist studies from Loma Linda that said just the opposite?

    Did you know that people don't get cancer if they spend time in the sun? Wow, I wish they would have told that to Claudia, my partner who died of melanoma in 1993.

    In a room full of men and women of the Mennonite faith, Mr. Barefoot stood there and said that for Christmas each and every one of those in the room should go out to the department store and buy their loved one the skimpiest bikini and send them out to get some rays. To say the least, I stood up and reminded him about the epidemic of melanoma up here. (He comes from Arizona, where no one goes out in the sun because it's too damn hot anyway).

    Finally, the reason we all came, the story about the Coral Calcium from Okinawa.There were signs everywhere, books on the table two feet high, newspapers with pictures of chiropractors, satisfied customers, and testimonies from all.

    • Dr. Allen Dubner's story about a female patient of his who had tried every modality known to mankind to treat a swollen knee that had swollen to "twice its normal size", and was in a wheelchair. She was finally given one glass of the "coral calcium" and "within 40 minutes she felt energy, strength, and stability she hadn't felt in months. She was able to stand up and take several steps with much less pain" Within 24 hours her atrophied leg was recovering its muscle mass.
    • Eugene Jolliff balanced his diabetes
    • Wanda Clark who cured her psoriasis

    Why are the Japanese who live on Okinawa so healthy? According to HTN's front-man Barefoot, it's because the coral reef is disintegrating, and there is coral sand everywhere, even in the air. All they have to do is "breathe it in". He says that the average Okinawan ingests 12,000 mg. of calcium a day. "There are no doctors, no disease, and they live to 149," he rants.

    Why, 540 years ago chickens that lived near the ocean waves, and obviously must have inhaled the calcium-laden air, gave the best eggs. The people ate the eggs. For two hundred years the coral calcium was hauled off to Europe, principally Scandinavia, where they soaked up the stuff. I guess they don't have oysters, or clams, or limestone or maybe even intelligent chickens up there.

    He then answered some questions, none of them from any of the Mennonites in the audience, who were either snoring, or praying that either something from heaven should fall through the roof and strike this man down, or that the person who brought them there should suffer a fate worse than death. It was hard to read the stoical crowd.

    I think that there were a few people in the audience who were sent there by a local newspaper or two, I don't know. I had to leave to go back to my medical office and destroy more zits for fun and profit. I just don't get it. Perhaps I should have bought some of the Coral Calcium and a spray gun for Christmas.

    Alternative medicine does not support coral calcium

  • Andrew Weil, M.D. - Coral calcium is an aggressively promoted – and pricey – product that supposedly provides incredible health benefits. I do not recommend coral calcium. I have seen no scientific research supporting any of the health claims made for it. Furthermore, these products may be contaminated with harmful heavy metals. I certainly wouldn’t rely on coral calcium to treat cancer, diabetes or any other disease.

  • Michael T Murray, ND - I have been angered by the shameless marketing of bogus products with unsubstantiated, absolutely ridiculous claims. The latest in this growing list of shame is “coral calcium.”

  • Bill Sardi - a huckster in his own right - Robert Barefoot, the popular "scientist" advocate for coral calcium and author of a book on the topic, claims there are 200 degenerative diseases caused by calcium deficiency. If this were so, the Masai tribesmen of Africa who consume large amounts of calcium would be free of these diseases. They are not. It is interesting that the book THE OKINAWA FACTOR (2001), written by Drs. Bradley and Craig Wilcox and Dr. Makoto Suzuki, notes that women on Okinawa who live to be 100 years of age only consume about 400 to 625 milligrams of calcium per day

    The Truth About Okinawan Drinking Water

    Subject: Calcium from Okinawa 
    Date: Sat, 02 Jan 1999 
    From: Ozz <> 

      I read with interest your letter to Okinawa Times. I lived in Okinawa for 13 years and can tell you that Okinawans do not mine coral reefs for calcium. Their major source of calcium is fish.

      The well water which is probably high in mineral deposits as Okinawa is primarily a limestone island, is undrinkable due to pollution.

      Before 1960 or so a large percentage of the rural population obtained its drinking water from wells, springs or streams, and I imagine there was a higher content of minerals in the water. Okinawa has the distinction of the highest ratio seniors over the age of 100 in comparison to the general population of any prefecture in Japan. I don't think there are any quite a 150 years old, but Okinawa has boasted the oldest people in the world for some time. The Okinawans who live that long all share several things in common:

      1. High fiber, low fat diet. Lots of rice, "yama-imo" mountain potato, other root vegetables, "miso" made from soy beans and barley and other grain. The primary meat intake was fish. Pork and goat meat were considered delicacies and only consumed on special occassions.

      2. Exercise. Rural Okinawans worked hard for a living. Cultivation was by hand. They did not have many work animals. Fishermen swam and dove without benefit of equipment. Women had to haul water etc. etc. If they went anywhere they walked.

      3. Attitude. Okinawans have the attitude that, generally speaking, close enough is good enough, if it doesn't get done today there is always tomorrow. They are very friendly and magnanomous, rarely getting upset, and go with the flow. I have visited 7 or 8 countries and Okinawans are the most easy-going I have encountered, by a long shot.

      These are just general observations that I have made while living there. Japan has one of the lowest cancer rates for a first world country, but with the change in diet, lots of McDonalds, etc. that the younger generation is accustomed to the cancer rate has been going up. Japanese women who relocate to the US and change diets, breast cancer rates are the same as for US women within a couple of decades. Women who remain in Japan and keep a traditional diet, have a much lower breast cancer rate.

      Anyway I digress. Bottom line, the folks who are selling this calcium from the coral reefs are full of it.

      That source of calcium is no different from any other source and will not make you live longer. If you want to live longer, move to rural Okinawa, change your attitude and diet and hope for the best.

      Hope I answered your question and didn't ramble too much.


    Odd balls, goof balls, and calcium balls - it's all just shattered dreams

    The Wolfe Clinic used to be in- Nova Scotia

    • The Wolfe Clinic - Ontario, then Nova Scotia, and finally Quebec homepage - Self proclaimed doctor of acupuncture Darrell Wolfe, the publisher of "Reclaim your inner terrain", holds down the front lines in his search for invisible parasites and an unbalanced pH. He wants you to believe that because the brown spots on a banana indicate mold, that you should go out and buy Coral Calcium and a few dozen other potions.
    • Here are a few comments from his tape and his pamphlet

    • Our health system is structured for the benefits of the few, not the many
    • ...germs do not cause disease
    • pH balancing is the greatest weapon for the health of mankind
    • There is only one sickness, one disease, and one cause
    • Life and death are in the blood
    • How are you inner streams?
    • Cancer is a four letter word and that word is acid
    • ...anything acidic is lacking in oxygen
    • Auto Warburg received the Nobel prize for proving that a lack of oxygen causes cancer and with further studies with Dr. Reich, they proved that it was actually a lack of nutritional calcium. (He can't even spell Otto right, so why should we trust his scientific knowledge?
    • ...if you've got the right philosophy and you've got the right products then you are going to get results
    • Once you start taking disease and putting them into a hundred different slots, that's when all of the confusion begins
    • Look, if you don't want to take supplement, you haven't got a chance
    • When we're stressed, we release hormones. Their adrenals are dumping out hormones and....this causes acidosis, it cuts down their oxygen supply to the brain and nervous system, eating up calcium. (I thought most of the calcium was either in the bones or bound to protein?)
    • Dr. Don Nakatsuchi - Texas optometrist and MLM guru

      Health - Boosters - Canada's own

      Direct Nutrition

      Marine Bio Japan

      • Marine Bio Japan - homepage
      • CoralTM - yes folks someone actually trademarked the name Coral. Coral grains are grains of the skeletal structure of reef-building coral that has become defunct. Moreover, the method by which they are obtained does not destroy living coral reefs or in any way damage the environment.

      More MLM companies that sell or promote Coral Calcium products that some claim will change the pH of your blood, prolong life, and may prevent cancer - all while trying to make you think you can get rich quick

      • Transcript of Barefoot interview by Lee Davis - Pick a disease. You can cure it. I've seen diabetics off insulin in a few months. I've seen recently in Denver a woman who had MS and she was in a wheelchair for 27 years. Three months ago she started on Coral Calcium and all the other nutrients and she now runs nine miles a day. Now, you want to see miracles, just stick around the Coral Calcium and you'll be hearing about hundreds of them.

      • Total Health Expo in Toronto - Robert R. Barefoot
      • The Millenium Team - We find that there are two types of people in the world, doers and watchers. If you are a doer, are interested in health, wealth, and time freedom, then go to The Millennium Team page
      • Coral Waters - Coral Calcium
      • Advice Coral Calcium - This one provides you with a great amount of ammunition against Barefoot, but still sells their own brand.

      Medline and Medical links

      Quack science and scientists often associated with Carl Reich, or his successors

      • Oxylist Re: theory of cancer cause - links about Otto Warburg and Carl Reich. Only one of them won fought for the Kaiser, worked in Nazi Germany, and won two Nobel Prizes. What exactly Dr. Reich did is not very clear, even from their own publications.
      • Dr. Otto Warburg: From the book The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family, by Ron Chernow. New York: Random House, 1993.
        • Warburg was a doctor and winner of 2 Nobel prizes. The first was in 1931 for physiology and medicine. In spite of his Jewish ancestry and outspoken hostility to the Hitler regime, he was permitted to continue his work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. Because of his Jewish ancestry, in 1941 he briefly lost his post at the Institute, "but a few weeks later received a personal order from Hitler's Chancellery to resume work on his cancer research." Otto Warburg's decision to collaborate with the regime, writes Chernow, "incensed colleagues outside Germany." The scientist "justified his decision to stay in Nazi Germany by claiming that he was performing extremely important cancer research that would save lives and that he couldn't transfer his research operation abroad."

      • Ripples From O.C. Healer's Case Spreading - the amazing world of Salvatore Anthony D'Onofrio According to D'Onofrio, inserting ozone through tubes in the vagina is a powerful, immediate way to activate the immune system. Sound almost as crazy as Dr. Carl Reich's theories, but much more kinky.
      • Copy of Dr. Carl Reich's license revocation form in California
      • DOCBOARD - Search many U.S. States for you favourite quack doctor - it's too bad that Canada has nothing to offer the public s yet.

      Quotes and anecdotes carved in stone

      Calcium rocks and organic watering holes around the world

      • Doc's Mineral Rocks with FULVIC acid -
        • "nature intended us to get most of our minerals in a plant form"

          "most minerals in most supplements are not chelated or citrated and hence are often found in a more rudimentary or less absorable form"

      • "UNBIASED" report on Colloidal minerals - that's an oxymoronic term if ever I heard one - "Break a leg"
        • Minerals, Minerals, Minerals

          In the past few years there has been a massive marketing blitz concerning minerals. This blitz has been both good and bad. On a positive note, it has served to help educate people concerning their need for minerals. But, at the same time, these same people have become extremely confused about what form of mineral to take. (In other words, "Can you have your rocks and eat it, too?")

      • Mendocino Water - California - testimonials from one medical doctor says:
        • "The form of calcium in Mendocino Sparkling Mineral Water (calcium carbonate) is more readily absorbed by the intestine than is calcium phosphate (as in milk) or calcium oxalate (as in green, leafy vegetables)."

          Professor Floyd C. Rector, M.D., Chairman University of California Medical Center, San Francisco

      Reef sites

      • Mother Jones on the destruction of the coral reefs - Coral mining: People excavate coral reefs for their limestone and sand, for use in building materials, resort hotel beaches, tourist souvenirs, even snake-oil medicines: A Swedish company, Ericssons Preventive Medical Group, claims its Alka-Mine Coral Calcium will "naturally detox the body by neutralizing the acidity with which we are all...too apt to pollute our systems." Sweden, of course, has no coral reefs; the product's mineral-rich coral sand is mined off Okinawa.
      • Coral Calcium scams destroy Okinawan reefs - "The Secret to Longer Life Now Revealed!" so says the latest bogus health claim. This industry is mining coral off of Okinawa to sell as a mineral supplement to cure all kinds of ailments, from arthritis to cancer. Of course, there is no scientific or medical evidence to substantiate their claims the mining destroys the reef ecosystem. Drinking Perrier water is a safer bet for those seeking minerals.
      • Reef Relief links - lots of great links about coral reefs around the world
      • NGO links about coral reefs-
      • What is a reef? -
      • Alarming Decline of Coral Reefs Worldwide - by Emil Venere - Whatever the causes, the potential ecological and economic consequences are ominous. Theories blame pollution, oil spills and sedimentation caused by construction and waste discharge."
      • CORAL REEFS IN OKINAWA, JAPAN - Kiyoshi Yamazato Meio University Okinawa, Japan - Coral reefs in the islands of Okinawa were devastated by Acanthaster planci, the coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish during the period 1974 to 1977. Since then, corals have recovered in some areas, but they are now under attack by Acanthaster once again. As a consequence, coral coverage remains at low levels. (So why are they mining it?)
      • Yoshimine Zenji:  A Life Dedicated to the Reefs - By Maggie Suzuki - The movement spearheaded by Yoshimine-san to review public works in Okinawa, most specifically agricultural improvement projects which are causing coral-killing soil erosion, has made little progress against the massive inertia of established practice. Agricultural improvement projects in Okinawa were causing problems due to red silt runoff pollution, but the Ministry has never, even up to the present, acknowledged the existence of the red silt runoff problem or their responsibility in causing it.(What is in the silt runoff, and are the coral calcium products derived from those very areas?)

      Government links about health claims for food - give them time and they may stumble across the skeletons left by coral calcium scams

      Consumer watchdogs and government links

      • FTC Complaints Form: - Send your complaints from anywhere in the world if they involve U.S. or Canadian based companies who operate to defraud the public.
      • Better Business Bureau - Hampton Roads, Virginia - HTN is not a member of the BBB. Send them a complaint. If it isn't working send them e-mail.

  • Back to Canadian Quackerywatch home page
  • Go to for loads of other diet scams
  • Send us e-mail if you want to send us specific complaints, or if you have a story to tell about HTN or any other coral calcium scam. 938 King St. West Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 1G4 519-725-4953 Fax only

    If you have a story to tell about a quack doctor or therapist in your area, please let us know. If there's a product you see advertised to help you be "more healthy", or perhaps a cure for cancer, send it to us immediately. The government will, as usual, just sit on it and do nothing for months.

    Fax your news clippings to 519-725-4953
    E-mail to: Healthwatcher

  • Canadian Quackerywatch