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Science-Y Fiction

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Although this may be more of an ethical question, I'm hoping you can settle a long-standing dispute between my husband and me. He has always been outraged by the fact that The Six Million Dollar Man was given only one bionic arm. When the subject comes up, I tell him that Col. Steve Austin had only lost ONE arm in the accident, therefore there was only ONE to replace. Bryan says that the doctors should have just given the colonel a matching set of bionic arms. After all, "he was already on the table!" Please help!

 —Lori

Those who suggest I write my own questions need look no further; even I am incapable of this. But since it was asked, the question did get the respect of proper research. But finding no easy answer, I ultimately filed a Freedom of Information Act request: It seems they couldn't give him a second arm because the only available spare was a child's model. According to the report, they considered installing it, but quickly determined it would be so short that they would never be able to find a stunt double. I'm sure it's true; the document was signed Oscar Goldman.

With the words of Mr. Goldman, "better, stronger, faster," I now make the seamless transition to a discussion of a wannabe bionic technology: LifeWave Energy Patches. Rarely do I get to evaluate such an easy target. This product consists of adhesive discs, which are pitched through the ever-trustworthy multi-level marketing (MLM) format. Sold as a drug-free enhancement for endurance, strength and stamina, dual patches are worn on the wrists, chest, ankles or knees. How do they work? Their simple explanation: Using organic nano-antennas, these patches communicate with intracellular mitochondria directing them to convert fats into the energy molecule ATP. Of course. Nano-antennas. Why, I could kick myself for not thinking of them first.

In late 2003, LifeWave applied for a patent, which is still pending approval. I managed to wade through the extensive patent application to discover that the disc contents are primarily honey, molasses, a few amino acids and an air bubble. Specifically, Sue Bee Honey and Grandma's Old Fashioned Molasses are the brands of nanotechnological compounds in each $6 pair of single-use, plastic-coated patches. The description submitted to the patent office states that the discs "regulate thermomagnetic energy flow." Given that thermomagnetic energy is not something associated with living things, I can easily see why a letter sent to LifeWave indicates the office has decided to let this application ripen for a fourth year.

Still, the sales of LifeWave patches have taken off, thanks to the unintended assistance of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). In 2004 at the U.S. Olympic trials, the Stanford women's swim team was accused of doping when organizers noticed these patches on the swimmers' shoulders. It became news when the discs were tested for illegal substances and an immense unintended LifeWave advertisement when nothing was found. Proud statements proclaiming, "tested by USADA and U.S. Olympic committee," soon became prominent in the company's marketing.

The operation's Web site claims that double blind research at major universities proves the patches work, but not a single study is published and available for technical scrutiny. Perhaps more telling is that two universities have demanded that their names be immediately removed from association with LifeWave.

But what of the scientist who developed the patches? Shockingly, the inventor David Schmidt seems not to be a scientist at all. He does, however, have a resume that includes two previous failed MLM companies. Indeed, perhaps his success this time around is because he's been keeping his nanotechnological advances secret. And, I'm sure, the acclaim he'd receive for changing the laws of physics would be quite embarrassing.

I did test these patches about a year ago; a very intelligent friend (who hoped I would jump into his MLM downline) gave me a pair. Skeptical, but still open-minded, I placed them as instructed. Following a long morning run on the Greenbelt, the only effect I noticed was skin irritation. I don't dispute that there are many people, like my friend, who truly do feel a distinct boost in energy. And by knowing the pouches contain simply supermarket sweeteners, it proves to me once again the real physical effect of belief, commonly known as the placebo effect.

If one could truly modify physiology using a non-permeable external patch, it would be a real bionic-sized breakthrough. As it is, the desire for better health—or the hope of business success—often leads to wasting money on useless products. Like The Six Million Dollar Man, some things are very expensive fiction.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send action figures and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).

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