Florida, vanity, and lying healthcare dispensers

If there’s one part of the country that may be as obsessed with its collective personal appearance as Los Angeles, it’s Florida — specifically its larger cities and metropolitan areas, especially those in the state’s southern coastal areas: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Tampa-St, Petersburg, Naples, Fort Myers, and others.
In L.A., people at least have the excuse of needing to look New and Improved owing to anticipated, incipient, or extant acting careers. In Florida people just want to look good for the hell of it, and more specifically don’t want to look old even though the median age is (reaching into my ass here) about 87.3.
I live in the Sarasota-Bradenton mini-coglomerate, which numbers about 650,000 people, among them Stephen King, Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman), Jerry Springer, and Martina Navratilova. It’s not the sprawling hell that Broward County, where I held my first Florida address, has become, and it retains a more of an “old Florida” feel than strip-mall- and golf-course-covered South Florida does. But make no mistake — it has its fair share of eight-lane thoroughfares, magnificently inconsiderate drivers, and ugly condominiums, with the influx of humanity trickling off recently as a result not of carefully managed growth but of a cratering housing market.
Getting back to the main idea here, plastic surgery and its derivatives (e.g. labiaplasty in Melbourne is getting very popular) are more than alive and well — they’re thundering around town, priapic and beaming ever prepared to give your wallet a nice reaming while returning nothing of value. And some of those derivatives are comically, gloriously dishonest.

A few mornings ago I hit a Whole Foods to collect lunch from the salad bar, a luxury I allow myself once a week. On the way out I snatched a copy of a free magazine I’d never seen before called Natural Awakenings. Given my proclivities for seeking mostly harmless forms of adversity in the name of wasting time, I believe I grabbed this publication because I at some level was confident that within its pages I would find a veritable gold mine of eminently bloggable, undiluted fifth-degree woo.
Holy botched botox, Batman! The ads supporting this amalgam of holistic altie nonsense were worse than I could have imagined. First there was an ad from an M.D. pushing something called prolotherapy, which involves injecting hyperosmolar dextrose into the origins and insertions of tendons and ligaments in order to promote blood flow to these areas and thus speed healing. I’ll deal with this topic in a future post.
Now attuned to what I held in my hands, I flipped ahead a few pages and was confronted by an even more absurd ad — this one yammering about “bioidentical hormones” used to promote weight loss in a “hormone diet” used in conjunction with things called “lipodissolve” and “cold laser.” It didn’t note what hormones are to be eaten, but apparently they’re useful for spot reduction, which has never actually been achieved. The best part? At the bottom of the page was a head shot of the same doctor as the one behind prolotherapy. His name is Mark Vincent Walter and he runs an operation called BodyscultpingMD, ProloMD and the Prolotherapy and Mesotherapy Clinic, which is less than a mile from where I live.
Dr. Walter’s BodyscuptingMD Web site includes the same claims as those in the ad, which reproduces them almost word-for-word. Let’s have some fun and look at these.
First, have a gander at the photo on the front page. Think this woman achieved that look thanks to an intervention by Dr. Walter or that her physique represents the typical end result of one of his treatments?
This passage encapsulates the central dogma of the entire enterprise:

“Nonsurgical Bodysculpting incorporates the latest technology in Lipodissolve, Lipotherapy and Cold Laser to reshape undesirable localizations of fat such as the belly, saddlebags, love handles and double chin without the risks and downtime of liposuction surgery.”

Dr. Walter is thus claiming his techniques allow for “spot reduction,” something that has never been demonstrated to exist in the absence of literally carving or sucking far from people’s “trouble spots.” As one can see by reading through the whole site, what Walter banks on, just like every other lying pitchman in the spot-reduction indwoostry, is people losing weight generally and thus seeing some pounds and ounces disappear from their “trouble spots” as well.

“We are particularly excited about our medical weight loss program that incorporates HCG and other bioidentical hormones as well as vitamins and amino acids to create the optimal environment for successful weight loss and resetting of the hypothalamus. This program builds on the work of Dr. Simeon who pioneered many revolutionary approaches in the field of medical weight loss. In our view this program is an elegant solution to the weight loss conundrum that so many Americans experience. It is absolutely the safest, most effective and most comfortable program available today.”

If you’ve never seen the term “bioidentical hormones,” be aware that it puts those who deploy it on a par with scammers like these and this one. The reason Walter and and his ilk use it lies squarely in the willingness of the general public to put faith in anything sufficiently scientific-sounding. Merely duplicating the chemical structure of a naturally produced hormone does not make it especially safe or useful. For years, the medical world has boasted all sorts of frequently prescribed hormones identical to those made in the body and produced using recombinant technology and other methods (e.g., insulin, erythropoetin, thyroxine, various steroids). This doesn’t mean that you can’t fry yourself on practically any of them, not only through the direct effects on hormone target tissues but by interfering with natural feedback loops and shutting down organs such that the adrenals, thyroid, gonads and others.
A shorter way of making this point is noting that “bioidentical” copperhead snake venom can kill you. It would be fun tho sit this guy down and ask him if he thinks there are no cases on record of athletes and others doing serious and sometimes permanent, even fatal damage to themselves through the use of androgenic hormones that merit the classification “bioidentical.”
Here’s the really funny part. Lower on the front page, Dr. Walter says:

“We avoid Pharmaceuticals and food substitute approaches because these are simply unhealthy and unlikely to be successful in the long term.”

And here he more or less repeats himself:

“We avoid pharmaceutical approaches- not only are the side effects unacceptable but when you discontinue them your weight will rebound.”

Folks, understand one thing: When a doctor pushing hormones claims to reject “pharmaceutical approaches,” understand that he is a brazen fucking liar. In the quiet, prevarication-happy recesses of his own mind, does he really pretend that exogenous hormones are not simply drugs? I doubt it. But if so, how does this wizard propose that estrogen- and progesterone-based birth-control pills exert their effects? There are a slew of similar examples.
I don’t know if the Web site includes the term “hormone diet,” but the print ad does. This is more undisguised bullshit. Hormones, unlike macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats), offer no calories whatsoever. If you tried to subsist on them, even a wide variety, you would starve to death. “Hormone diet” is as meaningful as “hashish diet” or “sand diet.” I wonder if any of the same duped yokels who shun certain dairy and poultry products for fear of their being tainted by growth hormone would eagerly go on Dr. Walter’s hormone diet.
As for “lipodissolve,” watch this CBS news segment on the procedure and draw your own conclusions. This procedure, like many provided by huckster-docs, is not aproved or regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

One notable advocate of woo-driven hormone regimens is former Three’s Company starlet Suzanne Somers. I’m convinced that Somers is a robot invented by a coalition of jaded but creative engineers bent on exacting revenge on blondes by making them look stupid as hell. See what nonpareil crankbuster Orac has to say about her here and here.
One last thing for now. Walter refers to himself on one of his other sites (I’ll get to that in a later posting) as a specialist in “non-surgical orthopedics.” Forgive my ignorance, but isn’t that sort of like specializing in chemistry-free toxicology, male gynecology, or adult pediatrics?
And so. long after the Ringling family left Sarasota, the circus continues, with the clowns in white coats now outnumbering the traditional, less scary kind.

3 thoughts on “Florida, vanity, and lying healthcare dispensers”

  1. As for that lipodissolve news segment, the best question asked was at the end when the reporter (Julie) asks “So where exactly does the fat go?” When the answer starts with “They speculate…”, I can only say “RUN AWAY!”

  2. The burning question is why Carl Hiaasen hasn’t done a few comic novels on this. Their outrageous behavior is screaming for parody.

  3. “So where exactly does the fat go?”
    They’re just doing their part to help solve the energy crisis….
    Lauri Venoy, a Norwegian businessman who now lives in Miami, is negotiating with Jackson Memorial Hospital to obtain the 11.5 litres of human fat obtained from liposuction operations every week.
    The fat from the hospital would normally be burned but now could be turned into biodiesel. Work is underway to build a sterilisation tank for the fat to meet the businessman’s requirements.
    Venoy’s company sells safety equipment and makes biodiesel from biological waste, normally purchased from restaurants and ships. Higher prices for conventional fuel and growing environmental concern are driving up demand for biofuels.

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