What do vitamins and memory-enhancing supplements have to do with campaign ads and federal laws protecting us from false advertising claims?
It all comes down to this: We all get to believe what we want to believe. Never has it been truer than during the opening years of this decade. Why? Because an amazing number of U.S. citizens want things to coincide with and confirm their beliefs, their politics and, all too often, their prejudices.
We even get to believe what commercial products are good for us and which aren’t. For example, you’ve probably seen the television commercials where people swear that, among other things, they feel younger, stronger, more energetic and smarter because they ingest Balance of Nature Fruits & Veggies vitamin supplements every day. The ads include boasts from a coach who coaches better, a woman who is now a better mom, several people who have recaptured the physical prowess of their youth and a guy who sleeps, thinks and even dreams better. There is no clinical evidence of any of this, but here are people like you and me— apparently not actors— who swear their lives have undergone dramatic and revolutionary change for the better.
If I start taking my daily capsules of chopped up and freeze-dried fruits and vegetables ranging from apples to wild blueberries among its 16 different fruits and 15 different vegetables (broccoli to wheat grass), I’ll be transformed into Super Me— able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. How they jam all those miniscule scraps of orchard and garden delights into a capsule must be a herculean task.
I bring this up because it seems an appropriate example of people believing what they want to believe. There is no scientific confirmation that these miraculous benefits of Balance of Nature are legitimate. Dietary supplements and vitamins are not reviewed or approved by the Food & Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission. They are subject to truth in advertising, but so-called consumers are not necessarily regarded as company spokespersons, and if someone says he feels or performs better because he eats banana peel extract every morning, the consumer is not seen as being misled by the manufacturer. It’s a personal opinion, and there for us to accept or reject. Say the consumer is being paid to endorse the product, as was the case with Jared Fogle who haled Subway fare as a weight loss option, before-and-after visual proof backed up his claims. It was being a creep that did him in and sent him to a lower-calorie diet in prison.
As for Balance of Nature customer claims, the company is presenting its product as more than a supplement that combines nutrients to fill in the gaps that may be missing from our often-incomplete diets. I’ve taken vitamins for years and am fairly attuned to what is and isn’t good for me. That doesn’t mean I haven’t fallen off the wagon occasionally, but I know it is up to me, not some magic capsule or app, to resolve any health problems.
Although the manufacturer makes it a point to obliquely compare their product to whole foods, the FDA has opined that Fruits & Veggies are “unlikely to replicate the nutritional effects of whole food,” adding that the product is “lacking in quality control” and therefore “adulterated.”
Consumer Fraud Reporting (CFR) states bluntly that Balance of Nature relies on “misleading advertising” and, even more bluntly, dismisses them as “overrated dried fruit pellets with massively exaggerated health claims.”
There should be similar skepticism toward those memory enhancers like Prevagen and Neuriva, which have yet to show any clinical evidence that they induce the life-changing results as stated by so-called users in those ads. I have crossed the aging line where names and words don’t come as easily as the once did, which is a problem when you do a lot of writing. As with vitamins, there have been tests to show some benefits, but most of the life-changing results are literally in the minds of the users. I took Neuriva, which is a little higher rated than Prevagen, for a while because there was no evidence it did any harm and that it might be a preventative for continued memory loss. It was what you might call a better-than-nothing decision. When it comes to anti-aging, supplemental vitamins can augment, not replace, what is missing in your diet, though their nutrients aren’t absorbed by the body as efficiently as they are from food. I made the decision not to continue these over-the-counter memory enhancers due to lack of clinical evidence or any justification for their price. Aging itself almost always includes mild or moderate memory loss. The real villains are factors like untreated high blood pressure, other medications, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, lack of challenging brain activities and minimal or no face-to-face socializing.
It’s easier to take a pill and believe.
So are the customers exhorting health benefits and improvement in physical performance and mental acuity purposely lying to us? Not necessarily. They may have started exercising and cutting back on unhealthful foods, which may have led to including vitamin supplements as part of a healthy lifestyle. There is also the placebo effect of high expectations due to product claims. People are vulnerable to self-delusion and, as CFR, who pulls up short of calling it an out-and-out scam, suggests: there are people who still believe “that wearing tin foil on their heads keeps the government from listening to their thoughts.”
Disinformation Substantiates Our Beliefs
We believe what we want to believe, and in the case of Balance of Nature they are apparently doing no harm and may be bringing something positive to our lives. The miracle may not come from fruit and vegetable scraps as much as the mystical powers of the human psyche. Positive thinking is a response, not a product, but it clearly can change lives for the better.
The negative side of delusional beliefs is something else, and we’re all susceptible to misinformation, or misleading information, which can be used to foster a harmful cynicism. That is where disinformation comes in, because this is the vehicle that drives falsehoods and captures a wider audience seeking simplistic explanations in an increasingly complex world where we are all bombarded by facts, opinions and opinions disguised as facts.
There are no truths or verified facts required in political ads, which is a big reason why the charges of a rigged 2020 election refuse to die as we approach the next presidential election four years later. Even as the major prevaricators of what is accurately known as the Big Lie are entering guilty pleas for their roles in aiding and abetting the false claims of the former president and current Republican candidate, millions continue to believe what they want to believe.
The same is true of the apparently unresolvable conflict between Israel and neighboring Palestinians, with extremists on both sides continuing to dehumanize each other. There is no more glaring example than the damage to a Gaza City hospital that Hamas, a militant group and the ruling political party in Gaza and the West Bank, immediately proclaimed as an Israeli airstrike. This in the same Hamas that earlier this month committed horrific crimes of murder, rape and torture of Israeli civilians in a residential section adjoining the Gaza Strip.
Latest evidence indicates a Hamas rocket either misfired or purposely targeted the hospital and that Hamas immediately claimed an Israeli attack. That, in itself, is not unexpected. They knew willing believers would see it as the work of the Jews. Israel and the United States advised Palestinians to move to a safer area. Hamas demanded that they stay in place. Their obvious strategy is that hiding among human civilian targets will open the Israelis to charges of genocide if they retaliate with weapons of war into those crowded bastions of humanity.
Protestors on behalf of both sides have blatantly proclaimed that, not matter what evidence surfaces, they will continue to believe what they want to believe.