'Miracle' chemical dubbed a danger

A powerful bleaching chemical promoted by quacks as a cure-all for Aids, cancer and heart disease is on sale in New Zealand, despite its alleged links to the sudden death of an Australian woman last year and other cases of serious illness.

A Medsafe investigation into the product's claimed medical benefits has concluded there is no proof it has any medical value and could be dangerous. But the government is powerless to prevent the sale of "Miracle Mineral Solution", also known as MMS, because it is sold as a "dietary supplement", which means it doesn't require Ministry of Health approval.

Australian woman Silvia Fink took MMS in 2009 to ward off malaria, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea before slipping into a coma and dying within 12 hours, according to a recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald. Although autopsy results were not yet available, and therefore MMS has not been found to be the reason for her death, her husband Doug Nash told the newspaper his wife became ill almost immediately after drinking the mixture of MMS with lime juice she'd brewed up "according to the instructions".

MMS is a repackaged solution of salt sodium chlorite, a cheap chemical which when mixed with an acid generates chlorine dioxide – a potent bleach used to turn wood pulp white, and to treat drinking water and swimming pools.

Adherents of MMS say it kills pathogens while leaving healthy cells untouched, and can cure Aids and cancer and prevent malaria. None of these claims has any scientific backing. The Australian and Canadian governments have banned the sale of MMS and labels have been changed in the US so the product is marketed purely as a water purifier.

Bought in bulk, sodium chlorite costs about $5 a litre. As "MMS", it is sold in New Zealand by miraclemineral.co.nz at $35 for a 125ml bottle, more than 50 times the bulk price.

Dr Stewart Jessamine, Medsafe group manager, said the medicines watchdog wrote to miraclemineral .co.nz last year to request it to modify advertising on its website, which included claims that the product cured serious diseases. "Concerns about this product stem from the fact that it is being promoted to prevent, treat or cure serious diseases, when the product has not gone through an approval process to determine its safety, efficacy and quality," he said.

Jessamine said the website had since been changed and Medsafe would take no further action.

Dunedin doctor Paul Trotman said if something sounded too good to be true, it usually was.

"If this stuff worked, nobody would be dying of malaria, or Aids, or hepatitis."

Trotman said the classic line was to say big pharmaceutical companies were trying to line their pockets by not letting miracle cures be sold to the public, but it was the people involved in scams who were thinking "we can make money out of these gullible fools".

The American "discoverer" of MMS, Jim V Humble, claims in his book The Miracle Mineral Solution of the 21st Century that 75,000 people from five countries have been successfully treated for malaria using MMS.

Roger Blake, of Ngatea in the Waikato, said his was one of a couple of companies distributing MMS in New Zealand, and many other people were making their own solution and sharing it among family and friends.

Blake said he was aware of some negative publicity around the product but alleged it was from people who had not tried the product or were trying to protect billion-dollar drug companies.

Blake said the popularity of the product had increased since he first started selling it in 2007. He sells around 25 bottles each month.

He said his customers had told him of success stories, including that of a woman in her 70s who was cured in six weeks of pancreatic cancer (a disease which typically kills 95% of sufferers within five years of diagnosis).

Blake said the company marketed the product as a "water purifier" and it was up to the individual to decide whether they wanted to "activate it" by mixing it with citric acid, thus turning it into a "health supplement".

He had received one call from a man whose friend was in hospital with severe vomiting after taking the product for the first time, but Blake understood the man had taken 15 times the recommended first dose.

He said most people would "feel crook for the first 24 hours and then come right again" as it was getting rid of the diseased material in the body.

Medsafe said the public needed to "exercise caution when purchasing medicines over the internet because it is very difficult to determine whether the products are effective, safe and legally supplied".

sarah.harvey@star-times.co.nz

Sunday Star Times