Weird Science

The Life Extension Foundation claims it'll add years to your life with pills and cancer profiles. As long as you have the money.

Baxas says he brought this information to his doctor, who didn't know anything about the amino acid. He then consulted with Prater, who suggested he take four tablets a day of Trimethylglycine (TMG), a dietary supplement derived from beets, to reduce the homocysteine level. The cost of a 180-capsule bottle of the nutrient is $20, but, because Baxas is an LEF member, he gets 25 percent off. Membership costs $75 a year, $1500 for life.

"Most doctors have no idea what this is," Baxas says, referring to the TMG. "My doctor told me it may be 25 years before we know if that's any good. That's a bunch of baloney."

To find out if the supplement worked, Baxas paid another $95 for a blood test two weeks ago to measure the homocysteine level. He is still waiting for the results.

Anyone off the street can have his or her blood tested at LEF. For the purposes of this article, a New Times reporter called to make an appointment. "You're going to want to become a member," Joann, an LEF advisor, said almost immediately after picking up the phone. "It's going to be so much cheaper for you." The offer was declined, and an appointment was made for the next day.

Blood is drawn at the vitamin store, in the back in a room the size of a broom closet. Hanging above the door is a bright red sign that reads: "FDA Museum." The "museum" is really just a display of two dozen or so panels depicting alleged FDA atrocities. One panel features the illustrated cover of a book titled Murder by Injection: The Story of the Medical Conspiracy Against Americans. On another panel is an illustration of a man in a blue suit -- an FDA bureaucrat -- throwing books on a fire. The book titles include Eating For Health and Scientific Data. A sign hanging over both panels reads: "Gestapo-Like Raids on Legitimate Companies" -- an allusion to the FDA's raid on LEF headquarters in 1987.

But neither Joann nor Melissa Garcia, a 26-year-old trained phlebotomist, comment on the museum. First they get a few questions out of the way -- name, address, age -- then ask for $55.

Made payable to the vitamin store, the fee covers a test that measures the level of more than three dozen chemicals, minerals, and sugars in the blood and indicates such problems as inflammation, hepatitis, and risk for heart disease. After the fee was paid, the visitor was handed a 14-page pamphlet entitled "Your Laboratory Test Results." On the back was the name of the Hollywood-based outfit to which the blood samples are sent for testing: American Metabolic Laboratories. The lab's owner-operator is also LEF's scientific director, Dr. E.K. Schandl. Schandl is licensed in Florida as a nutrition counselor and clinical laboratory director, but nothing on the pamphlet indicates that he's a medical doctor.

Joann insisted, however, that Schandl is an M.D. as well. Garcia then put on a pair of latex gloves and a yellow smock, pulled out a sterile needle and began to draw blood.

State law demands that either a) a physician order a blood test or b) a physician give blanket approval for the administration of blood tests at a clinic. In the latter instance, that same physician must see the results of the blood test before making a diagnosis and prescribing treatment.

The man supposedly granting blanket approval at the vitamin store is Dr. Herbert Pardell, an Aventura-based osteopath who is also LEF's medical director. Dr. Pardell did not return phone calls for this article, but, according to his nurse, Diane Manet, he does not see the test results. That job is left to Schandl.

Before the blood test concluded, Joann suggested a visitor try Dr. Schandl's "Cancer Profile." At a cost of $310 for nonmembers, the test measures the levels of six different chemicals and hormones in a single blood sample and, according to Schandl, is capable of predicting the onset of cancer up to 12 years before it occurs.

"You should hear the calls [Joann] gets about it," Garcia said, enthusiastically. "She gets all these calls about it from all over the world."

If what Schandl claims about his test is true, he's the only person in the world capable of predicting the onset of cancer. But the half-dozen oncologists and health experts New Times interviewed said they'd never heard of Schandl or his test.

The only tests that even come close to predicting cancer are genetic tests for breast and ovarian cancers, according to Dr. Charles Vogel, the medical director for Columbia/ HCA Cancer Research Network in Aventura. And even if someone carries a "cancer gene," she will not necessary contract the disease, he said.

Oncologists use other blood tests to diagnose prostate and ovarian cancer in asymptomatic patients. A high level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) indicates prostate cancer, whereas a high level of CA-125 ("CA" stands for carcinoma) indicates ovarian cancer. Abnormal levels of such chemicals, including human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), are referred to as "tumor markers," which doctors use to monitor the treatment of cancer. But, with the exception of PSA and CA-125, most tumor markers, including hCG, show up only if a cancer is in an advanced stage, according to Vogel.

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