The World’s Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets is claimed to reveal thousands of “secrets” to the reader. Amazon Books lists editions for nearly every year since 1998. The 2004 edition was widely advertised on 30-minute television infomercials during which talk show host Barry Farber interviewed Arthur P. Johnson. The 2006 infomercial was hosted by 85-year-old former “20/20” commentator Hugh Downs and contained a statement by Johnson that Bottom Line Publications had to “stop the press” so that many more secrets could be added. I watched the 2006 version of the infomercial several times and purchased the 2006 version of the book, which I read carefully. Dr. Stephen Barrett compared the 2006 and 2000 versions and supplied information about other Bottom Line publications. This article describes our observations and findings.
The 2006 infomercial has segments in which Downs “interviews” Johnson interspersed with plugs by some of the book’s contributors. Johnson looks impassioned and melodramatic. He waves his hands, sighs, and accuses the “medical establishment” of hiding what is discussed in the book. He repeatedly suggests that a conspiracy of silence and ignorance involving physicians and drug companies deliberately keeps this information from the public. Downs’s questions are obviously scripted.
The infomercial identifies Johnson as a “medical editor and author,” but I could find no other description of his credentials. He is not identified as an author anywhere on the Internet. Curiously, even though the infomercial clearly identifies him as the editor, his name does not appear anywhere in the book. Nor does the book mention the alleged conspiracy that is such a prominent part of the sales pitch.
The 2006 World’s Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets is 563 pages long and contains 26 chapters. It is printed in black ink on thick, inexpensive paper. The number of articles per chapter ranges from from 13 to 67. Some are only a single sentence, whereas others take up to three pages. The book is not organized by medical topic. The first three chapters are entitled “Best of Bests,” “Everyday Remedies,” and “Heart Matters,” for example. The text and layout of chapters 1-25 (the first 483 pages) are nearly identical to the contents of the 2000 edition. Chapter 26 (“Stop the Presses”) consist of 55 more recent articles that were added at the end. All articles have their authors listed at the top. These include physicians, pharmacists, PhDs, and dentists, as well as others without formal titles. The overall organization is haphazard. The content of each article varies widely but all of them represent the opinions of their authors. There are no scientific references, but many mention the authors’ books along with their credentials. Johnson states that the authors received “not a penny” for their contributions, which appears to be accurate.
Two of the authors who appear in the infomercial are recipients of the Nobel Prize in Medicine:
- The first is Louis Ignarro, PhD, a pharmacologist who states that his health secret is “a tiny molecule” that has enormous lifesaving potential. Dr. Ignarro received his Nobel Prize in 1998 along with two others for their work with nitric oxide (chemical symbol NO). Their work lead to the appreciation that NO is an important chemical mediator that regulates various physiologic functions within the body. This is hardly a “secret,” since nitric oxide is now well known to be involved in the actions of many drugs and natural bodily processes. His article in Health Secrets claims that boosting nitric oxide levels using herbal supplements prevents heart disease and stroke. There is no published scientific evidence to support this claim. Dr. Ignarro also has a Web site (ignarro.com) where he calls himself “Dr. NO,” sells his book, and links to an NO product (Niteworks) marketed by Herbalife. The website prominently displays an animated image of a spinning Nobel medal. The Nobel Prize is perhaps the greatest honor in the world for a scientist, but I consider his commercial exploitation deplorable.
- The other Nobel winner is Barry Marshall, MD, who received his prize in 2005 for the discovery that most peptic ulcers are caused by a bacterial stomach infection that is easily treated with antibiotics. Johnson claims that Marshall was scoffed at by the medical establishment. This is a myth. Marshall’s original article was published in 1984. Once his findings were confirmed by other investigators, antibiotic treatment for ulcers quickly became standard throughout the world. Surgery for ulcers, once the most common major operation, is now rare. Once again, this is no secret. Medical personnel and the informed public are well aware of it.
Another example from the infomercial involves the use of vaccines for cancer. Claiming that cancer vaccines are another highly successful “medical secret,” Johnson refers the reader to page 497 for information on how to enroll in clinical trials. The article itself discusses cancer vaccines but does not support what he says. It does not claim that vaccines cure cancer. It merely states that solid tumors get smaller in 3% to 5% of treated patients and that nonsolid tumors have a “slightly higher” response rate. The promised instructions on how to enroll in clinical trials consist of “ask your oncologist about cancer vaccines” and the phone number of the National Cancer Institute.
The World’s Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets includes more than 900 individual articles. Some contain valid medical advice by reputable experts, but many are brief and/or discuss only one or two aspects of complex medical problems. Many others seem to have little to do with medicine (e.g. frozen bananas as a healthy treat) or are obvious (“keep skin clean by washing with gentle soap and water”). Still others express claims that are unproven, vague, and/or unscientific (e.g. “Studies suggest that homeopathic remedies may be effective in the treatment of hay fever, arthritis and diarrhea.”). Most of the authors are not well known. Some (Deepak Chopra promoting “Mind/Body Medicine”) are wearily familiar. The topics likewise range from accepted medical standards like beta blockade for heart disease to obvious quackery such as magnet therapy for pain. Some of the articles seem very out-of-place (e.g., how alcoholics can get an extension on their tax return, and in-line skating injures more than 100,000 each year). For people who want even more “secrets,” Bottom Line Books has published Healing Unlimited, which, for many years offered 1,497 “no-side-effects cures achieved without toxic drugs or risky surgery” and the more recent version, Super Healing Unlimited: 1,739 Remarkable Secrets from the World’s Greatest Authorities.
Dr. Barrett, who compared articles in the Treasury to articles in 1997 issues of the publisher’s monthly newsletter Bottom Line Health, found several that were identical. So it appears that much of the book’s material is simply recycled from other Bottom Line publications. The newsletter articles are drafted by staff and checked by the named authors, but they do not appear to be checked by independent experts. Thus if an author has unscientific beliefs, that’s what will be published, which is why Quackwatch keeps Bottom Line Health on its “nonrecommended” list.
In the final analysis, the World’s Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets is a conglomeration of brief unrelated articles of varying quality and validity by authors of varying reliability who, over the years, were asked for their advice and opinions. The book is poorly organized and contains no scientific references other than the names of the authors. Despite the title, I could find no secrets or evidence that medical secrets are being hidden from the public, as the infomercial repeatedly states. There is no medical information in the book that cannot be found, in a more complete and correct form, in standard medical texts and high-quality Web sites. I believe this book is a very poor value for consumers.
Dr. Quill practices anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, New Hampshire and is a professor at the Dartmouth Medical School. He has a lifelong interest in “alternative medicine” and he has taught and lectured on the subject for many years.
This article was posted on February 2, 2007.