16 January 2013

Pyramid scheme healthcare products are not miracle cures. My 'Iridescents' moment.

The way the cast of The Secret Life of Us lived back in the early 2000s was the way I imagined living in Melbourne would be when I moved here almost 10 years ago. It turns out, I don't really even like St Kilda, but I have been to the awesome apartments with the rooftop that overlooks the beach, and I know Samuel Johnson. This past month, I have been thinking about a few episodes of the show a lot. I have always related to the characters in some way - finding my feet as an adult, confusion of love, career goals, feeling lost, feeling on top of the world. But it was an incident that happened last month that made me feel like it may be the closest I come to living like a Secret Lifer.

Remember when Kelly got figuratively hypnotised into selling placebo pills through a pyramid scheme? She bumps into an old school friend (not really a friend) who claims to be in "the health industry" and invites Kelly over to her place for some drinks. In place of drinks, her friend whips out a whiteboard, spews forth some affirmations, and convinces Kelly she can be living her dream life by participating in Network Marketing.

Absolutely not selling!


"All you need to do is tell a few of your friends how well these vitamins are, and bingo! Instant income and instant fulfilment!" Kelly's friend tells her. Her friend's business partner adds, "For just a few hours a week Kelly, just be talking to your friends, you can have total financial and spiritual freedom". Through pills. Iridescents. Absolutely not selling, and absolutely a cure all for every ailment.

Kelly is initially sceptic, and then convinced. Armed with some jars of Iridescents tablets, she listens to an audio book - it too spurts out the same hypnotic, naively empowering catchphrases as her opportunistic acquaintances - phrases like "choose a life of prosperity and joy", "choose abundance and financial wealth" and "understand the satisfaction of empowering others and empowering yourself". After taking in the book's contents, she's in a trance.

Kelly invites some friends to the flat she shares with Evan and Alex for an information session about Iridescents. Evan is cynical, asking questions about income and expenses. The pyramid sellers aren't buying his relevant points.

Kelly spends $70 a bottle on the Iridescents to on sell to others. She claims she has never felt better. Even though, as Evan points out, there was nothing wrong with her. There's no medical proof behind the tablets, despite the testaments from Average Joes. Kelly "talks to her friends and shares what she knows". She's persistent. Her friends are cynical. In the end, Kelly sells very few tablets and she only makes a few cents over $27. And no serious illness was cured.


I totally had an Iridescents moment recently. The moment where Kelly tries to sell me Iridescents to cure me. I've had a few Iridescents moments in my life actually. I often get unsolicited and unwanted medical advice, including these "healthcare" pyramid sellers - with no medical background - who see opportunity in me, to further their own riches. A few years back Mum sent someone over with half a dozen bottles of a weird concoction of mangosteen juice, similar to Noni juice, for me to trial without payment. If I saw healing effects from drinking the juice, I could purchase more bottles. No harm was done, but I saw no healing effects. I had one bottle it tasted awful. Another bottle accidentally fell from the cupboard and smashed all over the floor, leaving a temporary red stain in the grout. I threw out the rest of the bottles.

Last month I met someone over a group lunch. He asked me what I do, I told him I am a writer, that I have a blog. I explained that my blog could be described as 'health activism from a patient perspective'. "I work in health too", he told me. Oh really, are you a doctor? are you one of those in Secret Life of Us?!, I thought, wondering whether this was his second career, and he practices doctoring on the side. Something about stem cells, he told me. I thought about my friend who is receiving stem cell treatment to be able to walk again, and thought it might be a bit like that. I continued lunching, and carried on other conversations.

After lunch, he farewelled our group, and handed me his card and some pamphlets, selling his business. A pyramid scheme health business! It was the stem cell treatment form of Iridescents. The pamphlets featured lots of graphs and long words, the only one I could distinguish featured 'algae'. Of course there were no prices in the pamplets. One was specially targeted at healing skin, a headline screamed that taking these tablets would lead to SMOOTHER YOUNGER SKIN IN SEVEN DAYS!!!!! But my skin does that naturally, overnight! Take that, wannabe Iridescents. KAPOW!

I received a call from him the day after our lunch. He invited me to speak at a marketing event for these tablets. I asked what sort of things he'd want me to talk about. Healthcare and blogging, he said. I told him I can do, but I charge a fee. He said he could only pay me in product. I was polite but firm in telling him my thoughts:

I told him I can't use the product because I only use what my dermatologist has prescribed me, and even then I ask lots of questions about side effects so I can make informed decisions. He said he had done some research on my condition ("how do you pronounce it again?" he asked me) and thought it'd be suitable for me as he's seen it improve peoples' eczema.

I explained Ichthyosis is not eczema, and told him a story of when I took some allergy medication for some painful ears, as recommended by my trusted pharmacist. The medication caused a bigger allergic reaction which made me extremely sore for two weeks. I wasn't able to walk, I wasn't able to use my hands. My whole body peeled red raw. I also said I will only promote products I believe in and use, and so I can't speak at his event, whether I spruik the product or not. He understood.

While he probably meant well, he was an opportunist. He saw dollar signs in my redness. I imagine he wanted to show that these tablets were on their way to curing my rare condition as fast as money was draining from my bank account. I was disappointed that he felt qualified to suggest a dodgy, costly tablet would help a serious medical condition that until meeting me, he had no idea about.

I worry that these pyramid sellers prey on vulnerable people desparate for a cure. I worry that these pyramid schemes do more for lining the pockets of opportunists than healing the sick. I worry they believe these products work, and try to convince people (with and without illnesses) that they can be used alongside or instead of prescribed treatment - be it treatment from a doctor, pharmicist or registered alternative therapist.

I strongly believe being a pyramid seller of a magic cure all tablet like Iridescents does not make a person a healthcare worker. People should not take opportunity in others' illness, or even wellness, to benefit their own finances. We are not here so you can try to perform miracles by selling us these products. We are not food for your Tupperware.

If you are offered a 'miracle cure' like Iridescents, I recommend you do some research on the product and speak to your doctor before taking it, and if in Australia, consider reporting the miracle cure to the ACCC ScamWatch.

I also recommend you watch the entire four series of The Secret Life of Us. It's so wonderful. Especially the snippets of the Motor Ace song between episodes.

Have you been offered a miracle cure product for your illness? Did you buy and try it? Did it work?

PS: are you following me on social media? I'm on active Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for talking through this situation with me. You gave me some confidence to write this post :)

  2. The scammers who set up these pyramid schemes really don't care about what product they're pushing. Sometimes the product itself might be OK, but the main idea is to sell something, anything, and then get you to impose on your friends, so they will impose on their friends, and on and on. My parents considered selling Amway cleaning products back in the 1970s (the company still exists) but weren't about to start "recruiting" their friends. The money is in pulling in an ever-increasing number of suckers, not in selling the product itself. Good, informative blog post.

    1. Thanks Cheryl. Yes I remember Amway - it was big here too!

  3. Hi Carly,
    First and foremost I would like to thank you for sharing your experiences. I first read about you in a story carried in Frankie Magazine.
    I also have an incurable condition and would like to share my experiences with you, but I prefer communicating by email for confidenciality reasons.
    If you don't mind, you can send me an email so that I get your address and I will email you back with details of my experiences. My email address is: troit@hotmail.co.uk
    May THE LORD ALMIGHTY bless you and may HE protect and guide you so that you continue to be an inspiration to the hopeless.
    I am inspired by your attitude towards life and I wish, by the grace of GOD to meet you in person someday.
    Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    Stay blessed!


    1. Hello
      I am most disappointed you tricked me into being informed about your pyramid scheme/suspicious 'miracle' product though this comment.
      Really low of you. Did you not read my post at all?

  4. Ahhh mangosteen - my parents were on that bandwagon for awhile! And remember when it was all about royal jelly as the cure all?

    I'm a great believer in alternative therapies having successfully used acupuncture, naturopathy and homeopathy. That said I've educated myself quite extensively about them and have pushed back on some of the "cures" I've been offered in the past. And I think that is the key, if I can find research to back up what they are saying, yay, sounds good. Possibly I should describe myself as an open minded skeptic.

    1. I think alternative therapies can help, but you need to persevere and believe in them.

      What exactly is mangosteen I wonder?!

      Thanks again for your comment

  5. I have few family members peddling this stuff at the moment (stem cells, really@!?). It drives me crazy. I wish they'd do something constructive with their time. If you tell them you're not interested, you're looked down upon, as if you don't care about your health; you're missing the boat; have no idea how to be healthy. It's like some kind of cult. Why can't they see that?

  6. It's nutty. I've had more than my share of free advice from people who don't have a clue. I've told more than a few of them that it's never occurred to me to try & fix this. The sarcasm was unfortunately lost on them.
    In the 70's it was pyramid power. There was the Mary Kay lady at the eye doctor who got mad when I politely refused to even try her magic potions. There was the guy who followed me out to my car AT NIGHT when I had an armful of shopping bags and offered to pray for me after seeing my 'poor hands'. As I've gotten older and more confident it doesn't happen as often but it happens on occasion.
    I don't know how it is in Australia but in America they take accepting a situation as equivalent to giving up. I think there's nothing wrong with teaching acceptance. Take care of yourself but don't worry if you don't get that miracle cure.


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