January 12, 2003

The Talk Show Illusion

By Phil Kaplan

I've addressed infomercials in depth, but there's a subtle breed of infomercial that has proven effective, in terms of generating dollars for the producers, which merits identifying and exposing. The host is usually dressed in a suit or some casual outfit with a jacket and his or her hair is just perfect. He starts out by isolating a specific pain that plagues Americans speaking directly to the camera. Whether it's the emotional pain of hair loss, wrinkles, fat, or a lack of energy, the isolation of the pain immediately gets viewers ears to perk up.

Next, with the pain identified, the "expert" is introduced. Sometimes it's a doctor with a "prescription" for your pain. Other times it's someone wearing a white coat and stethoscope who might not have an ounce of medical training. Still other times it's a very pretty woman, or in some cases a "regular guy" who invented or discovered something astounding. Whatever the case may be, the host proceeds to interview the expert and it isn't long before miraculous stories of dramatic improvement grab the attention of viewers.

There are two distinctive types of infomercials. There are those that are produced with a full scale production team, location shoots, and a very large "cast." Then, there are the "talk shows." What I hope you know is . . . nobody who classifies as a TV executive gave the "host" his or her own talk show, at least not in the realm of Jay Leno or David Letterman. What really happened was a direct marketing company found a unique selling proposition for a product and decided that the lower budget talk show format would generate lots of orders. They seek out a pitch person and an expert and produce a pre-taped commercial disguising itself as an actual show.

The host reads off of a teleprompter reading words written by copywriters with experience in direct response. The expert of course handles every question astoundingly well . . . maybe it's because his or her answers are also on the teleprompter, prepared not by him or herself prior to the appearance, but also by the well paid copywriter.

The products that have been moved on a large scale via 26-minute pre-taped "talk show" infomercials include everything from multi vitamins to stop snoring pills. Do the products actually work? Perhaps in some cases they do, but for the most part the hype is far more important to the "success" of the "show" than the product's efficacy.

As an example, I'm going to single out an infomercial that is getting quite a bit of airplay which indicates the company behind it is finding the venture profitable. My intention is not to dissuade you from considering the product, but rather to provide some food for thought so you can be a more educated consumer.

Coral Calcium

One of the "hot new products" to hit the phony "talk show" circuit is Coral Calcium. In it infomercial veteran Kevin Trudeau interviews Robert Barefoot (renowned biochemist?) about the amazing benefits of coral calcium. Whenever the e-mails and phone calls come in in large volume asking about a specific product, I know a product is having an impact, and coral calcium certainly is . . . . but is it a result of a truly miraculous product . . . or is it very simply marketing with a compelling message that might stretch the borders of truth?

Barefoot's product does appear to have an impressive mix of vitamins and minerals, but is there anything miraculous about it?

I believe credibility must be earned, not granted via a hyped up introduction by a paid pitch person. I don't want to disparage anyone, so I will not share with you what I know about Kevin Trudeau's experience. I will however encourage you, if you're considering buying into a product advertised on a Trudeau "talk show," to visit and enter "Kevin Trudeau" in the search box. You'll find some things that might at the very least raise a red flag or two.

Robert Barefoot makes some very strong comments on the show in order to establish the superior properties of his product. He does much to demonstrate the importance of calcium and then he downplays the value of store bought calcium supplements, referring to them as "chalk." He discusses research and science and somehow extrapolates that Coral Calcium has a 90% absorption rate while ingesting calcium citrate might only lead to 5% being absorbed. If everyone watching the "show" really knew calcium citrate from calcium carbonate, if they really understood the role of calcium, and if they had an opportunity to explore and understand the science, I don't believe they'd come up with the same conclusions as Barefoot.

One study, published in the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine (Gastrointestinal absorption of calcium from milk and calcium salts, 1987), led to the conclusion that absorption differences between calcium compounds was not statistically significant. It appears that the five componds tested, calcium acetate, calcium lactate, calcium gluconate, calcium citrate, and calcium carbonate, all had absorption rates near 30% - 40%. Does that come close to the 90% claim made by Barefoot. No. But is his claim backed up by actual science? If it is, I'll apologize, but until it's shown to me, I doubt his claim is valid. Even if, however, his claim were true, that means you'd have to take three times as much of another calcium compound to equal the total calcium absorbed in coral calcium. So does that make Coral Calcium the winner? I don't think so, as it costs more than three times as much as the standard over the counter calcium supplement or multi mineral formula.

There are also many variables which affect calcium absorption. In one study it was evidenced that calcium citrate is more bioavailable than calcium carbonate . . . but this study was done on fasting patients. When consumed as a component of a meal, calcium carbonate proved to be equally well absorbed (Heaney RP, et al. Absorption of calcium as the carbonate and citrate salts, with some observations on method. Osteoporos Int 1999;9:19-23). This illustrates that research, while it can lend itself to strengthening suspicions, is ever changing. To pull out only studies that appear to support a product's value without considering those studies that might invalidate the tested theories is a very biased approach to interpreting science.

Other studies consistently indicated that calcium exhibits threshold absorption, meaning that there are limits to the amount of calcium that can be absorbed. Above the threshold, increased calcium intake has no effect. Threshold for a young adult seems to be near 600 mg. Can you absorb 600 mg of calcium carbonate or citrate at once? Absolutely. Anything beyond threshold is overkill, regardless of the established absorption ratios.

What exactly does calcium do? Well, more than 99% of the bodyís calcium is stored in bones and teeth. While this adds to the integrity of the bony structure, it also acts as a reserve of calcium that can be freed up and mobilized if there is need in other parts of the body. Calcium is involved in energy production, muscle contraction, intracellular regulation, enzyme activation, hormone secretion, and DNA synthesis. Yes, it is important, but often the importance of a human requirement is used to overplay the virtues of a product with a promise to alleviate illness or pain.

Barefoot's claims that the RDA numbers for calcium are ridiculously low is quite accurate. Studies by the National Institute of Health determined that a post menopausal woman might require 1500 mg of calcium daily. Because of threshold absorption, that would ideally be split into three (3) 500 mg doses. It's also true that the average American takes in far too little calcium (averaging 250 mg - 350 mg per day) for optimal function and health, but the factor that needs to be recognized is the poor nutritional patterns of most Americans. Calcium is not a panacea, it is a mineral, a micronutrient, and in that it requires interactivity with a host of other nutrients to perform its functions (zinc, magnesium, and Vitamin D just to name a few). I'm suggesting, rather than turning to supplementation and attempting to find the miracle in a bottle, Americans should learn to eat more supportively, getting calcium and its synergists from food. Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products, tofu, canned fish (with bones), broccoli, kale, calcium-enriched soft drinks and orange/grapefruit juices, and mineral water. Does it make sense that a calcium supplement can act as an insurance policy to ensure that intake is adequate? Sure, but there are thousands of multi-mineral formulations on the market with calcium as their primary ingredient, magnesium as the second most abundant. There are plenty of meal replacement powders containing quality proteins, a complete profile of vitamins and minerals, and 500 mg of calcium per serving. The question here is, should we believe "the talk show" when it makes a single compound or product appear to cure all ills?

Calcium and the People of Okinawa

A major premise that drives "the show" is that calcium is responsible for the longevity of the people of Okinawa as they consume incredibly high amounts of calcium. Is it true that Okinawans have an impressive lifespan? Yes, but is there any science linking it to the calcium? I haven't seen it. By the way, does this Okinawan woman look as if she's thriving on the benefits of calcium? If teeth are an indicator . . . ummm . . . well, you decide. I'll just say she's not likely to make an appearance on any show promoting Okinawan calcium.

Still, after viewing the "show" featuring Trudeau and Barefoot, you have to wonder whether high calcium intake does positively affect life expectancy. Barefoot relies greatly upon the Okinawa-calcium connection, but a closer look at science shows quite a discrepancy. Here's an excerpt from an abstract published in the International Journal of Cardiology (volume 33, pages 191-98, 1991):

Seely, S, Is calcium excess in Western diet a major cause of arterial disease?

Human populations that consume the most calcium have the highest mortality rates in the world. The Scandinavian countries, the USA and New Zealand are the dairy consuming countries and mortality rates soar in these countries compared to Japan and Portugal where the consumption of calcium from dairy products is the lowest on the planet and so are the mortality rates.

This suggests that the people of Japan have less likelihood of early mortality . . . due . . . to their low intake of calcium?

If calcium were in fact an overriding factor in determining health, freedom from disease, and longevity, the Masai tribe in Africa would have some very elderly elders. Interestingly, while they consume exhorbitant amounts of calcium (the mainstay of their diets is a mix of cow blood and milk), they have a life expectancy of only 45 years.

Just for kicks, I contacted the Centers for Disease Control and asked if I were to travel to Africa to visit with the Masai, what diseases would I need to be innoculated for or protected from. Here's an abbreviated list:

  • Cholera
  • Influenza
  • Filariasis
  • Anthrax
  • African tick typhus
  • Chikungunya fever (explosive urban outbreaks have occurred)
  • Echinococcosis Leptospirosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Malaria
  • Meningitis
  • Black plague
  • Tuberculosis
  • Intestinal worms
  • Rabies
  • Typhoid Fever
  • Yellow Fever

That's quite an impressive list for a population consuming several liters of calcium rich food every day. Maybe calcium is not the great protector Barefoot promotes it as.

At the very least, these issues should cause you to question whether the "show" is really delivering truth. Barefoot does make it a point to mention that the women in Okinawa consume thousands of milligrams of calcium daily, but interestingly, in the book THE OKINAWA FACTOR (2001), written by Drs. Bradley and Craig Wilcox and Dr. Makoto Suzuki, itís noted that women on Okinawa who live to be 100 years of age only consume about 400 to 625 milligrams of calcium per day.

This is only one of several of Trudea's running shows, and there are enough other companies pitching products through the illusion of a "talk show" to keep this marketing vehicle alive and thriving. Some of them are so blatanly fraudulent, they take phone calls, every one of course a glowing testimonial for the hair removal cream, the hair growing lotion, the wrinkle remover, or the cellulite eater. How can they accept phone calls . . . if it's a taped show?

I'd suggest that any time you hear of an "Incredible Discovery," or a "Miraculous Breakthrough," you question the science. Any time a testimonial for a product just seems way over the top grab hold of your common sense. Any time something in a bottle promises to make all of your pain go away, ask for backup research, for actual references, and for some kind of recognizable evidence that validates the claim.

Seminar Report

Last Thursday night was my Breakthroughs seminar and it was a packed house at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott. People attended from every walk of life. There were professional athletes present, there were sedentary people who hadn't exercised in years. There were fit people, overweight people, underweight people, and fat skinny people. There were people in their 20's, there were people in their 80's. What I love most of all about doing these seminars is the privilege of having the opportunity to empower so many wonderful people who had thought their fitness goals were fantasy. I start the event out by blowing holes in all of the "miraculous discoveries," and then I deliver powerful information designed to help any man or woman take complete and total control of the way his or her body looks and feels. I'm glad so many of you attended, and for those who missed out . . . good news! I've added another date!

My next Breakthroughs seminar will take place June 5, 2003. Tickets will be $89, however, since we just announced the date, there is still time to take advantage of my "get your ticket early" offer. The first 100 people to register will save $70 per ticket! That's right, the first 100 to register will get their tickets for $19.99. If you're ready to make a change, if you have the desire but haven't yet been able to turn that desire into an impressive result, make the commitment to attend and be prepared. Life will never be the same!

Seminar Details

The Best You've Ever Been "Breakthroughs" Seminar

June 5, 2003
Marriott Marina in Fort Lauderdale
7:30 - 10:30 PM.

If you won't be in South Florida and you can't attend the Breakthroughs seminar . . . get the book that shares it all!

The testimonials keep coming.

"Some amazing changes have taken place in my body after reading the Best You've Ever Been and following the 8-week program. I lost 5 inches on my waist . . . which I've been trying to do for about 8 years . . . and I honestly feel better than I ever have. I feel better than I did when I was in college and I'm excited, not only by the potential you've helped me unleash, but by the fact that my wife, after witnessing the change in me, is on the program! She's in Week #2 and already noticing changes! She hasn't exercised since 1991, which is why I think your book is needed by everyone. It provides the truth, but it also is extremely motivational. As I read the first few chapters, I understood, I really do have the power to change! Getting my wife to join me . . . that was more of a wish than a reality, but she's so motivated it's all she talks about. I look forward to both my wife and I being included in your success stories and I'm doing everything I can to help spread the word of the value of your book. So many of my friends are falling for the diet scams, and getting fatter! They need your book, and judging by the bodies I see walking around the malls, shops, airports, and supermarkets . . . so does everybody!"

- Evan (and Jane) Hollander, Las Vegas, NV

Find info and ordering details by clicking here.

Additional Options

If you want to consider the 17-week program that helped me empower of 35,000 people to change their bodies and lives . . . look into my TRANSFORM! program. If you're a bit apprehensive, you can start with the 17-Day ANSWER program. Whatever program you choose, I can promise you'll master this "losing" battle.

Also be sure to check out the classic "The Experts Round Table."

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