Late singer Michael Jackson brought hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) into mainstream consciousness, claiming he slept in a glass chamber, But Jackson reportedly spent no longer than two hours in the uncomfortable confines of the pressurised medical chamber. Picture: AP
The King of Pop brought hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) into mainstream consciousness, claiming he slept in a glass chamber with his friend Bubbles the chimp, and gushing that the miracle anti-ageing treatment would help him live till 150.

But while pictures showing Michael Jackson apparently getting his beauty sleep à la Snow White in his home glass “coffin” caused a stir and entrenched his “Wacko Jacko” moniker, it all turned out to be a publicity stunt: Jackson reportedly spent no longer than two hours in the uncomfortable confines of the pressurised medical chamber as part of treatment for a scalp burn wound on a film set.

Evidence-based treatment

Medically, its evidence-based, Food and Drug Administration-approved uses are for treating decompression sickness (“the bends”), anaemia, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, radiation injury and gas embolisms.

But while HBOT is used more widely in Russia and China than it is in the West, it’s no miracle, universal cure.

The Food and Drug Administration has warned it hasn’t been clinically proved to work for conditions such as HIV/Aids, depression, heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, strokes and the like, which may cause patients to delay or forgo proven medical therapies, which in turn leads to a worsening of their conditions.

‘Cheap’ knock-offs

Worryingly, snake oil salespeople are doing a roaring trade by punting HBOT copycat “ozone capsules” for home and salon use as “magic bullets” for health issues that conventional medicine cannot heal. These capsules or “ozone saunas” warm the skin, which then purportedly “absorbs oxygen” right down to the bones. But these quasi medical devices are enriching the salespeople by selling hope to the hopeless, and preying on the vulnerable.

Prakash Maharajh hopes his experience with a company selling these capsules will give other readers pause for thought.

He mailed me about his experience having bought a “medical oxygen capsule” for R13 000 from Medical Oxygen Supplies in Gordon’s Bay, after he heard the owner, Andries Pieters, extolling the virtues of his “revolutionary”, miracle treatment on Radio Hindvani. Maharajh says Pieters sounded “very honest, committed and professional".

“Pieters assured me that, upon use of the capsule, my brother Arshad Maharajh, who was suffering from lung cancer, will have his condition improved. I was promised a money-back guarantee within a 90-day cooling-off period should the capsule be of no benefit to my brother.”

The returns policy is stipulated clearly on the invoice.

On January 17, Maharajh contacted Pieters about the capsule, asking for his refund as per the guarantee, because it offered no benefit to his brother. In fact, his condition had worsened and he was hospitalised twice while using the capsule. He also spoke to the salesperson, Jacques, who assured him he would take up the matter with Pieters and fetch the machine so that he could receive the full refund.

Ducking and diving

Arshad died on February 10, and Pieters has made numerous excuses since January about that refund. Last month, Maharajh contacted me in desperation. Pieters wasn’t refunding him, he was abusive on the phone and Maharajh felt done in.

So I called Pieters to discuss the matter, but he was defensive and verbally abusive from the start. At first he refused to answer questions, saying he doesn’t work for me. Then he claimed Maharajh had entered into a contract (none exists) and that he would never offer a refund on a medical device because of hygiene issues. It went south from there. Eventually, I blocked his calls, so his lawyer contacted me, asking to see a copy of the invoice. Even his own lawyer couldn’t argue that a refund was not due.

Maharajh gave Pieters more time to reconsider, but despite promises, the refund has never materialised.

Science, or science fiction?

Consumer activist and medical myth buster Dr Harris Steinman, the brains behind CAMcheck, a blog about “scams, pseudoscience and voodoo science, or a critical thinker’s guide to the ins and outs of complementary and alternative medicine”, found Pieters’ claims to be outrageous and spurious. Having viewed a YouTube clip in which Pieters extols the benefits of his miracle treatment, Steinman said the clip was the “biggest lot of b-s I have heard in a long time!”

In the Afrikaans clip, the fast-talking Pieters claims his oxygen capsules “treat, prevent and heal” a number of diseases and conditions, rattling off a range of diseases including arthritis, addiction, osteoporosis, gout, fibrosis, lung cancer, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, ADHD, diabetes, depression, anxiety, weight loss - and even relationships.

“He claims, among other things, that one can inject oxygen through a drip. He claims oxygen can be absorbed transdermally (through your skin), right through your skin and muscles to your bones. He says pure oxygen is stronger than chlorine and kills all viruses and bacteria ‘dead’.

“Oxygen can only be absorbed through the lungs: his medicinal claims are rubbish. This is one major scam.”

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.