A Critical Look at Gary Null’s Activities and Credentials

By Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Gary Michael Null (1945– ) is one of the nation’s leading promoters of dubious treatment for serious disease. He hosts radio and television talk shows; writes books and magazine articles; delivers lectures; and markets products through his Web site. He has been certified as a nutritionist in New York State since 1996, but I don’t know whether he sees clients.

According to an article in East West magazine, Null became interested in nutrition during his twenties while working as a short order cook in New York City, where he now resides. He researched the subject and wrote The Complete Guide to Health and Nutrition, which was published in 1972 and sold briskly after Null appeared on a succession of prominent talk shows. He began hosting radio shows around that time and eventually got his own show on WABC, the flagship radio station of the ABC network. Later he moved to WMCA, which broadcast Null’s show on Sunday nights to many stations across the United States. For many years, he also hosted a daily show on WBAI and a Sunday evening program on WEVD in New York City. I have been tracking his activities since the mid-1970s.

Dubious Conclusions

Null is prone to see conspiracies behind many of the things he is concerned about. One of his targets has been the pharmaceutical industry, which, he says, “cannot afford to have an alternative therapy accepted.” He promotes hundreds of ideas that are inaccurate, unscientific, and/or unproven. He calls fluoridation “deadly” and has spoken out against immunization, food irradiation, amalgam fillings, and many forms of proven medical treatment. His series on “The Politics of Cancer,” which was published in Penthouse magazine in 1979 and 1980, promoted unproven methods that he said were being “suppressed” by the medical establishment. His lengthy series, “Medical Genocide,” began appearing in Penthouse in 1985 with an article calling our medical care system a “prescription for disaster” and claiming that modern medicine has had virtually no effect on heart disease, cancer, and arthritis [1]. Other articles in the series promoted chiropractic and homeopathy, claimed that effective nutritional methods for treating AIDS were being suppressed, claimed that chelation therapy was safe and effective for treating heart disease, and endorsed several treatments for cancer that the American Cancer Society recommends against. His Web site contains a huge amount of misinformation and bad advice.

Questionable Offerings

Over the years, Null has marketed a variety of supplement products. In the mid-1980s, his catalog included: Guard-Ion (an antioxidant formula claimed to help protect athletes from free radicals the body can’t control), Gary Null’s AM-PM Vitamin-Mineral Formula (a “revolutionary breakthrough in vitamin preparation” that provides the nutrients needed at the best times for the body’s anabolic and catabolic activities), Candida Complex (to bolster the body’s defenses against yeast infection), Endurance Factor (containing “all the nutrients and enzymes that have made Bee Pollen famous”), Energy Plus (a royal jelly tablet), Rebalancer (a “cleansing formulation” for adults exposed to air pollutants, pesticides, or preservatives, or who have “internal metabolic imbalances”), CoEnzyme Q10 (“may reverse deficiencies and improve organ function, especially in the heart), Sport DMG (an N,N Dimethylglycine product to “improve cardiovascular function and to enhance the body’s natural immune response system), and Gary Null’s Immune Nutrients (“to nourish and stimulate immune function, not merely at a marginal level of preventing disease and degeneration, but a positive level of striving for wellness and excellence, for optimal health”).

A 1991 flyer distributed at Null’s booth at a health expo described Null’s annual “Spring Cleansing, Rebuilding, Stress Reduction Program” at a ranch near Dallas, Texas. The week-long program included aerobic exercise, various sports activities, a fitness assessment, beauty and skin-care treatments, cooking classes, acupressure, applied kinesiology, herbal body wraps, massage, brain-wave stimulation, facials, aromatherapy, reflexology, and loofah apricot scrubs. Null sold the ranch in 1994 [2].

In 1992, Null appeared in a bee pollen infomercial whose producers subsequently were prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission. During the program, Null falsely claimed the human body ages because it doesn’t produce enough enzymes, and that “you can’t get any better food than bee pollen” because it is “loaded” with enzymes,” but the FTC did not charge him with wrongdoing. According to the infomercial company’s president, the interview was taped for another purpose, was dubbed into the infomercial without Null’s knowledge or consent, and was deleted from the infomercial after Null demanded its removal [3].

Null’s recent offerings include the following—each followed by a bracketed comment from me:

  • Brainy II—”Power packed with Phosphatidyl Serine, herbs, amino acids, anti-oxidants and B-vitamins to help you achieve optimal brain function.” [How has he determined that the product can help people improve brain function?]
  • Anti-Aging Program—”Every flavorful sip of the “Aromatic Shake” contains seven of my most successful formulas for promoting age-reducing properties directed at maintaining nutritional and total wellness. [What is an age-reducing property? What is total wellness? Can any product maintain total wellness?]
  • Detox Formula—”A gentle, highly comprehensive balance of botanicals used in traditional Western and Asian herbal systems to aid the body in its internal cleansing” [What is "internal cleansing"?]
  • Eternal Herbal Supplement—”A potent rebalancer and herbal tonic for both men and women.” [What gets "rebalanced"? How can people tell whether they are "out of balance"?]
  • Gary’s Green Stuff—the product of the low temperature dehydration of green chlorophyll-rich foods that are also sources of phytonutrients, essential fatty acids, amino acids, anti-oxidants and trace minerals. Available in powder or capsule form. Awarded a Seal of Approval from the Diabetes Resource Center. [People can and should get the phytonutrients they need from foods. Chlorophyll has no health-related value for humans [4]. The Diabetes Resource Center [5], which was operated by a woman who had no health-related credentials, ceased operations in 1998.]
  • Null-Trim—a powdered mix containing protein from both soy and rice sources, carbohydrates and other nutrients such as guar, chromium, gamma oryzanol and lipoic acid which make this formulation ideal for weight loss or exercise programs. [I see nothing among the ingredients that I believe is useful for weight-loss or exercise programs.]

Curious Credentials

Null says he holds an associate degree in business administration from Mountain State College in West Virginia, a bachelor’s degree from Thomas A. Edison State College in New Jersey, and a PhD in human nutrition and public health sciences from The Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio. Two papers he co-authored during the early 1980s identified him as Gary Null, M.S,” but I have seen no information about the source of that credential.

Edison State is a “nontraditional” school with neither campus nor courses. It is accredited but awards accredited bachelor’s degrees based on career experience, equivalency exams, and courses taken at other schools. In the late 1980s, a prominent college guidebook described it this way:

Thomas A. Edison State College, established in 1972, administers an external degree program that enables qualified students to earn or work toward a college degree without attending college in the usual way. There is no resident faculty, no campus, no classrooms, and no library. Administrative officers in Trenton evaluate college-level learning achieved through work or life experiences, self-study, college courses taken previously, industry-sponsored education programs, military instruction, etc. The college administers its own examinations in the liberal arts and sciences, business, and radiologic technology under the Thomas Edison College Examination Program [6].

The Union Institute is also accredited, but its degree requirements and standards for health-related doctoral degrees differ greatly from those of most traditional universities. Students design their own program, form and chair their own doctoral committee, and are required to attend only an introductory colloquium and a few interdisciplinary seminars. Null’s thesis, entitled “A Study of Psychological and Physiological Effects of Caffeine on Human Health,” was approved in in August 1989. The approval document states that his PhD committee was composed of a “core faculty member,” three “adjunct professors,” two “peers,” and a “second core reader.” The “core faculty member,” Peter Fenner, was a well-credentialed academician whose expertise (in geologic sciences) was not related to Null’s topic. One of the three “adjunct professors” was Martin Feldman, MD, a “complementary” physician (and “clinical ecologist”) who has pinch-hit for Null as a radio host, and helped develop some of Null’s books and supplement formulations. The other two were Philip J. Hodes and Elayne Kahn. When I asked a school official about their background or location, he replied that information was in storage and was too difficult to obtain. In 2005, I located mention of “Dr. Philip Jay Hodes, Ph.D, Ed.D., Practitioner Holistic, Health Detoxification & Orthomolecular Nutritionist, Consultant” on a Web site that sells “natural tropical herbal medicines.” [7] I also discovered that Elayne Kahn is a psychologist in New York City who coauthored a book with Null that was published in 1976 [8].

Traditional universities require that research for a doctoral degree in a scientific discipline make a genuine contribution to the scientific literature. Null’s thesis made no such contribution. The stated purpose of his project was to evaluate (a) caffeine’s effects on “adrenal function determined by a medical examination,” (b) “its perceived psychological effects as recorded in a questionnaire and daily diary, and (c) “the anabolic effect of caffeine according to a theory proposed by Dr. E. Revici.” (Emanuel Revici, MD, was a physician in New York City whose methods were disparaged by the American Cancer Society. State licensing authorities placed Revici on probation in 1988 and revoked his license in 1993 after concluding that he had violated the terms of his probation.)

The first part of Null’s thesis summarized information about caffeine published mainly in scientific journals. The data for the report of his study were obtained by observing two groups of volunteers. One group contained eleven chronic caffeine users who stopped their caffeine intake for a week and then took caffeinated tea for a week. The other group contained six nonusers who drank caffeinated tea for one week and then drank decaffeinated tea. The total number of participants is unclear. Null’s thesis states that six others who began in the first group and five others who began in the second group dropped out of the study because they were uncomfortable. It also states that “at least thirteen” other users were disqualified for noncompliance.

The “medical evaluation” included two tests. One compared each volunteer’s blood pressure when lying down and when standing up. The other was a chemical test for the amount of sodium and chloride in the urine. Null claims that these tests can detect “diminished adrenal function.” Unfortunately for his thesis, they have no practical value for this purpose. The method Null used to determine “the anabolic effect of caffeine” involved measurement of the specific gravity, pH (acidity), and surface tension of single samples of the urine—a test used by Revici. Null noted that the theory behind the test “is still the subject of debate and has not yet gained wide scientific support”—which is a rather strange way to describe a test that is utterly worthless for any medical purpose and could never gain widespread scientific acceptance. The specific gravity of urine reflects the concentration of dissolved substances and depends largely on the amount of fluid a person consumes. The acidity depends mainly on diet, but varies considerably throughout the day. Thus, even when these values are useful for a metabolic determination, information from a single urine sample would be meaningless. The surface tension of urine has no medically recognized diagnostic value.

Following 41 pages of findings, calculations, tables, and graphs, Null concluded that “chronic caffeine users tend to have diminished adrenal function, which he blamed on “exhaustion” of the glands. “Fortunately,” he added, “there are non-drug nutritional programs which have the ability to repair or rebalance weakening adrenal glands toward normal.” The program consisted of “diminishing stressors,” implementing strategies to diminish anxiety, and taking doses of five vitamins and three other products.

In January 2005, I received a threatening letter from attorney David Slater, General Counsel for Gary Null & Associates, Inc., who demanded that I remove a previous version of this article from Quackwatch. One part of the letter complained:

You also attack Mr. Null’s Ph.D. thesis, written over 25 years ago, on the negative effects of caffeine on human health. You say that it “contributes nothing.” Despite your assertion that the thesis was meritless, two updated versions of the paper were accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Nutrition (Volume 33, No.1, 1981) and the Journal of Orthomolecular Psychiatry (Vol. 13 1st Quarter 1984). We understand that only a small percentage of Ph.D. theses are actually accepted for publication in a peer reviewed scientific journal, and Mr. Null’s thesis was published in two different ones. Moreover, Mr. Null’s original clinical and laboratory work demonstrating the deleterious effects of caffeine on the human body became a catalyst for subsequent research on the topic by other scientists. Based on his original findings about caffeine, Null’s advocacy against caffeine has now become a major public health position. Accordingly, it is inaccurate for you to state that Mr. Null’s Ph.D. thesis about caffeine contributed “nothing.” [2]

After comparing the articles to Null’s PhD thesis, I made the following observations:

  • Since Null’s thesis was published in 1989, I don’t see how “updated versions” of it could have been published in 1981 and 1984.
  • The 1981 and 1984 articles have multiple authors [9,10]. Null is not listed as lead author of either one. The papers give no indication of who contributed what to the paper.
  • The 1981 article was a summary of published information about caffeine that was similar to the summary in Null’s thesis.
  • The 1984 article reported a study of 11 volunteers which is similar to the one reported in Null’s thesis. It is not clear whether the thesis was based on the same data or whether Null did a second study.
  • Neither journal has much of a reputation. As far as I can tell, neither one is indexed by MEDLINE.
  • My MEDLINE search for “Null G” found only one article that was coauthored by Null and appeared in a pharmacy magazine [11].

When I asked Slater to clarify the time frames and to tell me where Null got the “M.S.” degree listed after his name in the articles, he replied: “My client has instructed me to cease all further communications with you. He repeats his demand that you remove the offensive and libelous material from your website or face legal action.” [12]

Additional questions remain. Has Null completed any science-based courses related to nutrition and public health? If so, (a) what did he take, (b) when did he take them, (c) did any of them involve classroom attendance, and (d) were any of them related to his degrees? I also wonder when he enrolled in The Union Institute. In response to these questions, Slater replied that Null will not provide further information about his transcripts, coursework, or other details related to his degrees and that he regarded my request as intrusive and an invasion of his privacy [13]. Why do you suppose he said that?

Recent Lawsuits

In October 2009, Null and several others filed suit against the FDA in an effort to stop distribution of the 2009 monovalent H1N1-A (“swine flu”) vaccines [14]. The complaint was based on the assertion that New York State had mandated the vaccine for healthcare workers who see patients in hospitals. One month later, after the FDA had filed a motion to dismiss [15], the court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue and dismissed the case [16].

In April 2010, Null sued the manufacturer of Gary Null’s Ultimate Power Meal. The complaint alleged:

  • The product was produced with 1,000 times as much vitamin D as it should have. By consuming two servings a day, Null consumed 60 million IU during the month he used the product.
  • Null began having severe symptoms in December 2009 and believes he nearly died from kidney toxicity.
  • It took three months to “get his blood seemingly back to where he was able to function, but he continued to occasionally urinate blood.”
  • While he was ill, Null “had dozens of his customers calling him, as well as threatening and condemning him,” and six users of the product were hospitalized with severe kidney damage [17].

During the next few days, Null’s Web sites posted at least three reactions to publicity about the suit. One said that he was “completely and totally healthy and everything is fine.” Another said that “none of the retail product reached the market” and he had “returned to complete health.” But after a Los Angeles Times blog noted that these statements contradicted what the lawsuit said, Null replaced them with one that said he was “feeling substantially better.” Two weeks later, he filed an amended complaint that omitted all of the allegations related to his own alleged illness and claimed only that his company had suffered damage to its reputation [18]. Since then, three lawsuits have been filed against Null, his company, and the suppliers. Two were filed by product users who became ill [19, 20], and the third was filed by the estate of a woman whose illness led to death [21]. The first two suits were settled with undisclosed terms. It may be interesting to see whether the remaining suit uncovers anything about Null’s credentials.

References

  1. Null G. Prescription for disaster. Penthouse Magazine, Sept. 1985.
  2. Slater DM. Letter to Dr. Stephen Barrett, Jan 25, 2005.
  3. Barrett S. Gary Null and the bee pollen infomercial. Quackwatch, March 1, 2005.
  4. Lowell JA. Amazing claims for chlorophyll. Nutrition Forum, May 1987.
  5. Barrett S. The Diabetes Resource Center: What does its “seal of approval” mean? Quackwatch, Feb 4, 2005.
  6. Peterson’s Four-Year Colleges, circa 1988.
  7. Yodel Inc. Home Page, accessed March 3, 2005.
  8. Null G, Kahn E. Wholebody Health and Sex Book. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 1976.
  9. Bolton S, Null G, Pressman AH. Caffeine: Its effects, uses and abuses. The Journal of Applied Nutrition 33(1):35–53, 1981.
  10. Bolton S, Feldman M, Null G, Revici E, and Stumper L. A pilot study of some physiological effects of caffeine. Journal of Orthomolecular Psychiatry 13(1):34–41, 1984.
  11. Bolton S, Null G, Troetel WM. The medical uses of garlic: fact and fiction. American Pharmacist Aug 1982, pp 40–43.
  12. Slater DM. E-mail message to Dr. Stephen Barrett, March 2, 2005.
  13. Slater DM. Letter to Dr. Stephen Barrett, Feb 18, 2005.
  14. Complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. Gary Null et al. v U.S. Food and Drug Administration et al. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 09-1924, filed Oct 10, 2009.
  15. Defendants’ memorandum in support of motion to dismiss and in opposition to plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction. Gary Null et al. v U.S. Food and Drug Administration et al. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 09-1924, filed Oct 28, 2009.
  16. Order. Gary Null et al. v U.S. Food and Drug Administration et al. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 09-1924, filed Nov 10, 2009.
  17. Complaint. Gary Null and Gary Null & Associates against Triarco Industries, Inc. New York State Supreme Court Case No. 10601070, filed April 26, 2010.
  18. Amended complaint. Gary Null & Associates against Triarco Industries, Inc. New York State Supreme Court Case No. 10601070, filed May 10, 2010.
  19. Verified complaint. William Schmidt and Jennifer Maslowski against Archon Vitamin Corp., Triarco Industries, Gary Null & Associates, Inc., and Gary Null, individually. New York State Supreme Court, filed May 10, 2010.
  20. Verified complaint. Patricia Amato against Archon Vitamin Corp., Triarco Industries, Gary Null & Associates, Inc., and Gary Null, individually. New York State Supreme Court, filed June 8, 2010.
  21. Complaint. Jack A. Shulman individually and as executor of the estate of Helen K. Shulman against Triarco Industries, Archon Vitamin Corp, Gary Null & Associates, Inc., Gary Null’s Uptown Whole Foods, Inc., Gary Null Consulting, Inc. and Gary Null, individually. New York State Supreme Court, filed Dec 29, 2011.
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