Read about the activists who helped bring down bleach-peddling, wellness-grifting Grenon family

Rob Beschizza here at Boing Boing recently reported that the Grenon family—father Mark and sons/brothers Jonathan, Jordan, and Joseph, who made millions selling the bleaching agent "Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS)"—were recently found guilty of conspiring to defraud the United States and delivering misbranded drugs. According to this new article in Fact Keepers by Anne Borden King, the Grenons had (falsely) claimed that MMS was a cure for cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, autism, malaria, hepatitis, Parkinson's, herpes, HIV/AIDS, and COVID-19, and were attempting to dodge regulations by asserting that they were running a religious organization. The solution doesn't cure any of those things, and, in fact, can be very dangerous, as King explains:

From 2015 to 2020, poison control centers managed more than 16,000 MMS/bleach-related cases, with around 2,500 involving children. But activists I spoke with believe there are more cases, showing me screenshots from online MMS groups run by supporters of MMS promoter Kerri Rivera. Chillingly, when parents reported that their child was bleeding or sickened by the treatments, Rivera and group administrators would claim it was a positive sign ("herxing") and try to dissuade parents from taking their children to the Emergency Room.

Attempts at regulating the sale of MMS began in earnest in 2010, over a decade after the mid-1990s when Jim Humble first began marketing the bleach solution as a cure for malaria. King provides a deep dive into the case with a focus on the activists who worked tirelessly—joining social media groups where MMS sellers were targeting families with children with autism, collecting data on those sellers, reporting them to various authorities—to bring down the Grenons and stop the sale of MMS. 

It's a terrific read and reveals just how difficult it is to monitor the promotion and sale of harmful or ineffective health products when they are no longer sold in brick-and-mortar stores, but rather in private groups on social media platforms, and through direct messaging on platforms such as What's App. King writes:

During my research inside the social media groups the past three years, I've been offered countless products like illegal stem cells and medical tourism packages, all sold against FDA regulations. In May of 2023, I was offered a Zoom session with a British Columbia naturopath who had been banned months earlier by Canadian authorities from selling his products. The offer came in an online conversation with another "mom" who seemed to be representing the company and would advise people in the group: "DM me."

That same month, I inquired in another group about a vomit-colored solution being sold in plastic water bottles that supposedly could cure autism, AIDS and more. Rather than blatantly engage in sales on the group's page, dealers invited me to DM them, where they then shared information on how to order the product.

This type of stealth sales is also an increasingly common strategy for MMS dealers, with the hope they can remain undetected by investigators—or by keywords plugged into platform AI. The quasi-private space of WhatsApp, for example, is a trading post for various MMS sellers according to Eaton. On a phone call just after the trial verdict, both Eaton and Seigler told me that while they had been able to infiltrate WhatsApp chats and gather evidence for authorities, this kind of work may not be in the sights of regulatory institutions, who may not have clear policy to guide them in these new spheres.

Read the entire article here.

And check out this timely and related related piece that was published today in the New York Times, How Fake Science Sells Wellness, which offers this advice about how to critically assess health claims of products:

If you're trying to get a feel for the legitimacy of a product, the Federal Trade Commission recommends doing a search for the name of the product online, plus the words "review," "complaint" or "scam."

You can also check to see what respected professional associations and major public health organizations like the National Institutes of Health or C.D.C. say about a specific product, protocol or ingredient, experts advise.

If an herbal supplement claims to address high blood pressure, for instance, you might search the sites of the American Heart Association or the American College of Cardiology, as these organizations often have articles, position statements and meta-analyses on them, said Dr. Danielle Belardo, a cardiologist who hosts the podcast "Wellness: Fact vs. Fiction."

When considering a buzzy ingredient or product, remember that "one exciting study" doesn't mean much, Mr. Caulfield said. Kombucha bottles often say they have "microbiome-friendly" benefits even though microbiome research is still in its infancy. So, before shelling out money, give more credence to sources that include a larger body of evidence on a topic, he said.

And keep in mind no single ingredient can change your health overnight. If a product was indeed a cure-all, every medical organization would be rushing to endorse it, Dr. Klatt [Kevin Klatt, an assistant research scientist in the department of nutrition sciences and toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley] said. "Anything that sounds too good to be true is probably too good to be true," he added.