I have to admit, it hurts me a little–ok A LOT–to write this piece. I’ve probably done a bit more research than was needed because I was hesitant to come to the realization that I’ve lost respect for one of my favorite athletes. This feeling doesn’t take away 4 championships from a franchise with arguably the best NFL coach of all time, but it does still hurt.
Because Tom Brady may just be the newest poster child for pseudoscience. What an idiot.
Let me start by introducing Brady’s “body coach”, Alex Guerrero. Guerrero seems to be some sort of hybrid of trainer, nutritionist, and massage therapist. I’ll be the first to admit, whatever Guerrero is doing for Brady, he’s doing it well. Brady is 38 years old, a 16-year veteran of the NFL, and still one of the most prolific and effective quarterbacks in the league. As a fan of the New England Patriots, I applaud Guerrero and Brady for their commitment to Brady’s health. But as a scientist, an educator, and well just a member of society, Brady and Guerrero’s business venture TB12 scares me.
Guerrero has a shady past. If you’ve been hidden under a rock this week or don’t live in the Boston area, let me just take a moment to update you on Brady’s business partner. In the early part of this century, Guerrero started a company called Health Solutions, Inc. to sell a nutritional supplement called Supreme Greens. There are a variety of iterations of this product available today (VitaSource’s shown here), but it’s basically a dietary supplement that includes vegetables, grasses, grains, and herbs to be taken as a pill or mixed into a smoothie. At face value, I have no problem with this product. Of course it’s unnecessary if you are consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet, but if you want to take it, it’s unlikely to harm you.
Supplements DO NOT need to be tested for safety and in some cases
CAN be harmful to your health. You should ALWAYS consult with your physician
when considering adding a supplement to your diet.
Ok, so now you’re wondering what’s my beef with Guerrero? He sold a dietary supplement. So what? Well, let me just use the exact words from his televised infomercial:
“[Supreme Greens] is an effective treatment, cure, and preventative for cancer,
heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes, and as a means of achieving
substantial weight loss of up to 80 pounds in 8 months.”
In addition, Guerrero went on to say that in a clinical study of 200 terminally ill patients, Supreme Greens cured 192 of them. Holy crap! That’s a miracle cure! Except, not so fast.
You might well know where this is going now–this study was entirely fabricated by Guerrero. Not only did Supreme Greens not cure 192/200 patients, there were never 200 patients enrolled to study in the first place. And if you’re out there reading this right now questioning who in their right mind would ever take a supplement for their terminal disease, I beg of you to consider that most terminally ill patients are not in their “right mind”. And worse, the desire to help a loved one with a terminal illness is itself an epidemic. That is, friends and family may be the motivators for attempting unproven and often foolish treatments at the expense of therapies that work.
So Guerrero got fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for these unsubstantiated marketing claims. According to the FTC, Guerrero and Health Solutions, Inc. also received orders “prohibit[ing] them from misrepresenting that any dietary supplement can prevent, treat, or cure any disease, or that Guerrero is a medical doctor, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, or Ph.D.” That’s right. It’s Mr. Guerrero.
So that’s the end of the story then, right? Not so fast. Fast forward a bit. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have won 3 championships in 2001, 2003, and 2004. They are heroes in New England and hated most everywhere else. Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest introduces Guerrero to Brady and many of the Patriots players. Guerrero tells them about his new product, NeuroSafe, a “seatbelt for your brain”! I’m not even kidding. NeuroSafe claimed to
“protect your brain from the consequences of sports-related traumatic brain injury,
“Rather than treating brain injuries after the fact,
NeuroSafe sends NueroProtective [the website’s typo, not mine] compounds into the brain where they slow and stop the processes that damage your brain, leading to reduced injury and quicker recovery.”
In an age where we are just beginning to understand all the harm that concussions have caused athletes at all levels, I just can’t even begin to tell you how inexplicably harmful these words are. Particularly in addition to these ones:
“Scientifically proven, clinically tested, and
trusted by athletes of all levels.“
So this time, Guerrero didn’t need to make up a study (though he did since NeuroSafe HAS NEVER been clinically tested nor scientifically proven). All he needed were some New England Patriots, and in particular, the head honcho of them all: a quarterback named Tom Brady.
Guerrero’s new company, 6 Degrees Nutrition, sold a few products in addition to NeuroSafe. And although now disbanded (yes the FTC appropriately stepped in again), the website is a telling tale of unsubstantiated marketing claims with pictures of a few Patriots, including Brady and Wes Welker (how’d the NeuroSafe work for you Wes?).
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t heard Brady advocating for NeuroSafe, though in his recent interview with Dennis & Callahan, he did mention he took it. Brady’s overall stance is a healthy lifestyle and a proactive, preventative approach to health. I think that’s fantastic. But his point that our society’s approach to medicine is to wait until you get sick to do something about it, is entirely ungrounded and honestly inappropriate. Have you ever heard of vaccines, Mr. Brady? (Oh my, it just dawned on me that might not actually be a joke.) The fact of the matter is that we can’t prevent most diseases because we don’t know what cause them in the first place. And sometimes when we do know the cause, it’s a genetic mutation that you’ve been born with. Most of the time, we don’t even know it’s there before symptoms manifest. So doctors and researchers have been studying ways to prevent disease for centuries, but you’ve stumble upon a “new” holistic approach to medicine? You may be Tom Brady, but I don’t buy it.
So now that gets us back to Brady and Guerrero’s new business TB12. I still have no idea what this is or what they plan to do with it. The website contains little information and no links to what they’ll offer.
According to the Patriots Place website, TB12 was “Developed by Brady and his body coach, Alex Guerrero, their revolutionary approaches to wellness in the areas of nutrition and supplementation, as well as physical and mental fitness training, have helped athletes maximize their potential and maintain peak performance levels for more than a decade.”
Because of Guerrero’s past and Brady’s ignorance, it’s the “areas of nutrition and supplementation” that worries me most. As I mentioned above, nutritional supplements do not need to be tested for safety or efficacy. According to Dr. Paul Offit in his book Do you Believe in Magic?, only 0.3% of dietary supplements have documented safety testing. Furthermore, the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) does not mandate product recalls, label changes, nor FDA warnings if a product is deemed unsafe. Therefore, you’d only know if something was unsafe by finding and reading the scientific publication! That’s why the Amazon page for Supreme Greens can still tout, “As seen on the bestselling TV Infomercial starting in 2003!” Yikes.
As Hippocrates once said, “There are, in fact, two things, science and opinion;
the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.”