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More troubling is what Null recommends people do in response to the poor medical care they're receiving. In Get Healthy Now! he endorses a range of fringe cancer therapies, including anti-neoplastons (peptides derived in part from human urine). He takes a similarly radical approach to AIDS, raising a long-discredited argument that one of the reasons traditional therapies are ineffective is that it has never been proved that HIV plays as great a role in the disease as scientists believe.
Null sensibly warns patients with any serious illness never simply to discontinue conventional therapy. "If you wanted to see me and you had cancer, you would have to have your physician send a letter seeking my input," he says. But when you're selling books by the thousands, there's no way to control desperate readers' attempts to freelance themselves a cure. "That's precisely why people like Null are so problematic," comments Barrie Cassileth, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at New York City's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Null has similar problems when he ventures beyond disease and offers advice on beauty and aging. One daily protocol he suggests for hair care calls for consuming more than 6,500 mg of a dozen different preparations, plus 6 oz. of sea vegetables and six glasses of dark-green vegetable juice. Most people would probably prefer just to switch shampoos. "Show me a single clinical trial that suggests this represents a rational approach," says Jeffrey Blumberg, professor of nutrition at Tufts University.
Null's hints that it may be possible not just to slow aging but to throw it into reverse raise hackles too. "It's ridiculous to talk about reversing aging," says Dr. Andrew Weil, a best-selling alternative-health author. "Aging is a one-way process."
Null, of course, objects to these objections, insisting he can back up his claims. A lot of his corroboration, however, is in the form of testimonials from followers--anecdotal evidence that carries almost no scientific weight. Throughout his writing, he does cite doctors and researchers, giving the material greater authority. On one of Null's pbs videos, he even appears with a panel of doctors who provide reassurance that at least some of his promises of good health are backed up by good science.
All this leaves Null's believers with a decidedly mixed message. For those willing to go panning through his books looking for the gold mixed in with the sediment, there's a lot to be had. For many consumers, particularly seriously ill ones, that may simply be too much to ask. Null himself acknowledges that staying healthy can be a difficult business, requiring people to rip out the very foundation of their beliefs about health care. The problem is, some of what he's replacing it with feels a little wobbly too.
--With reporting by Alice Park/New York