Discover Magazine runs full-page ‘stem cell’ snake oil ad

Discover Magazine stem cell snake oil
Discover Magazine stem cell snake oil ad.

Marketing of unproven stem cells has exploded in the past 3 years including some ads for things that sure seem like snake oil to me. Overall, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more than a million are being spent on advertising of unproven stem cells.

While in the past I’ve generally tried to avoid using terms like “snake oil” about stem cell interventions and products, there are some instances where in my opinion it likely applies. Here’s an official dictionary definition of “snake oil” to keep in mind: “a substance with no real medicinal value sold as a remedy for all diseases.”

Discover Magazine stem cell snake oil
Discover Magazine stem cell snake oil ad sent to me by a reader of The Niche. They circled the last paragraph on the hard sell ending.

One such case is a product I’ve written about before called “Primal X”, which claims some kind of stem cell-related connection in its newspaper ads. A reader sent me a picture of one of its ads in the San Diego Union Tribune a few months back.

Now a nearly identical Primal X ad is running in the new issue of Discover Magazine. See a screenshot of the ad that a reader sent to me.

It’s sad that a magazine devoted to science would run an ad for something that in my opinion seems very contrary to the ethos of rigorous clinical science and just science in general.

It’s probably all about the money and the need amongst magazines just like newspaper for advertising revenue. We’ve seen newspaper ads all over the place for questionable stem cell things, but somehow about it being in Discover is extra disappointing. It reminds me of much of what’s shown on the Discovery Channel these days, which is not very scientific either.

I contacted Discovery Magazine to ask about this ad and the decision making that goes into their ads more generally yesterday, but no reply as yet.

Why, you might ask, is this likely a snake oil advertisement in my opinion? There are many aspects to it that are like blinking red lights to me. Here are a few.

  • The mention of a “cure for old age.”
  • The ad also references well-known institutions like Columbia and Harvard as though they have something directly to do with the product at hand, but  they actually don’t in my view.
  • Somehow diabetes and Alzheimer’s are invoked in the ad, but it’s not clear how they are relevant.
  • “Clinical studies” are mentioned, but don’t seem to have been conducted on the advertised product as best as I can tell.
  • It’s not clear too what the interstitium has to do with stem cells or Primal X, but the interstitium is heavily mentioned in the ad related to a recent paper that claimed (incorrectly in my view) that the interstitium is a new organ. My understanding as someone who teaches Histology in a medical school is that the interstitium wouldn’t have many stem cells in it actually.
  • As to the product, the ad says excitedly, “everyone who takes it reports they can feel the difference.” Everyone? That’s 100%. What exactly is the “difference”?
  • The “hotline” for the product will apparently only be open for 48 hours, it says. What the heck?

Overall, this sure feels like a hard sell for a very vague product that again in my view feels like snake oil and may have little if anything to do with stem cells. I hope Discover will not run similar ads in the future, but I’m not holding my breath.

FTC are you out there?

3 Comments

  1. I must say that I am not surprised. We have seen these ads routinely on our local nightly television, weekly full page ads in the newspaper, and almost every in-flight airline magazine has such ads. Despite complaints to the FDA, FTC and local medical community, it does not appear that any action has been or is being taken. Its a buyer beware world out there.

  2. We hope print advertisers will follow the lead of Google, with their recent decision not to publish ads that sell unapproved stem cell therapies.

  3. I sent a suggestion to the head of the advertising dept and the senior editor at Discover. Email addresses are public.

Leave a Reply