It Doesn't Take a Brain Surgeon ...


If you're like me, you suffer the occasional absent-minded moment: misplacing your keys, losing your train of thought, arriving at work without pants, etc. That is why I snapped to attention the instant I heard the ad on the radio for a food supplement called Focus Factor:

It's one of the top complaints that doctors hear from their patients today. The symptoms include fatigue, poor memory and trouble concentrating. It's called Brain Starvation!

At last, a diagnosis. I wasn't old, I was hungry! Could this be? After I got to work I telephoned my doctor, but when the receptionist answered--true fact--I forgot why I had called. Fortunately, this ad is everywhere, and I soon heard it again on my way home.

Focus Factor's creator, Dr. Kyl Smith, explains in his ad that modern food-processing practices leach nutrients from our foods: "This can turn an otherwise healthy brain into mush!"

This was more serious than I thought.

Forget my doctor, a mere GP.

I telephoned Washington's most renowned nutritionist, C. Wayne Calloway, and demanded to know why medical science had not warned us of this national scourge. He listened to the text of the ad, and laughed. "It's ludicrous," he said. The body takes care of the brain first, he said, before any other organ. As a medical diagnosis, "brain starvation" can be adequately summarized by its initials.

He blamed this sort of ad on Congress, which in 1994 passed a law exempting food supplements from control of the Food and Drug Administration, permitting all sorts of thinly supported claims.

I called Focus Factor's toll-free number. The salesman, Tom, kept trying to get me to pay $149.99 for a special introductory three-month supply, and I kept saying I wanted to talk to Dr. Smith personally.

Exasperated, Tom finally said, "If you were gonna buy a Chrysler, would you call up and ask to talk to Lee Iacocca?" and hung up on me.

I decided to research Dr. Kyl Smith via Mary Lou. Mary Lou is a newspaper librarian. Newspaper librarians can find out everything about you, such as your birth date, your professional affiliations, your address and the price you paid for your home. (Too much, in your case. She checked.) Within minutes, I had learned quite a bit about Dr. Smith.

The most intriguing thing I learned was that Dr. Smith appears to be "Dr." Smith more or less in the sense that Dr. Seuss was "Dr." Seuss. Kyl Smith lives in Texas, but according to the Texas Board of Medical Examiners, he is not licensed to practice medicine there. He appears to be a chiropractor.

I tried to phone Dr. Smith to ask him about this, but for two days he didn't answer the messages I left on his machine.

Dr. Smith did eventually, call me. He talks exactly like he does in the ad--fast and energetic. No, he is not a medical doctor, he said, but so what? "Are you saying you think you need to be a doctor to be an expert on nutrition?"

Well, um, yeah.

Dr. Smith said he disagreed. Brain starvation is real, he said: "The brain is the most nutritionally sensitive organ in the body."

It certainly does seem to be susceptible to manipulation.

Later that day I heard the radio ad again--it seems to run every 12 seconds or so on WTOP, Washington's all-news-and-brain-mush station. So I called Matt Mills, WTOP's general sales manager. What did Mills, professionally, think of the ad?

"I am not going to give any opinion," he said, "that might be adversarial or challenging to an advertiser."

This led to the obvious question: If I paid in cash money, would WTOP run an ad for a pill that guaranteed endless sex with strangers? Or offered a car that could go 7,000 mph? Matt said he could not discuss these things because they would involve "internal station procedures."

I was going to write a scathing indictment about WTOP but then had a better idea. Kyl Smith might not be a medical doctor, but he is no dope. He's making money to pay for those ads, and I am guessing it's coming from people who hear his ads and buy Focus Factor. So instead of embarrassing Matt, I am going to become his client.

Coming soon on WTOP:

Do you suffer from extreme gullibility? I have product that can help restore your natural body defenses against hype. For a mere $149.99 ....

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World