From the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients
May 1996, pp. 106-109
I presumed to have known the nature of consumer "activists" from encounters with several remarkable persons of this genre. They had contacted me during previous decades for information and advice after involving themselves in various "causes." The latter included concern about exposure to pesticides, fluoride and other noxious chemicals, illnesses attributed to the use of products containing aspartame (NutraSweet(r)) and monosodium glutamate (MSG), the medical and immunologic complications of vasectomy, the ravages of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar attacks), and the need for more rational approaches to the prevention of multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and traffic accidents.
But Betty Martini of Atlanta proved the ultimate prototype for such involvement.
A Roberts' Angel
Betty first surfaced - or more accurately, bubbled up - during 1994 when she joined the ranks of "Roberts' Angels." This term, a takeoff on the television series Charlie's Angels, was concocted without my knowledge by two "Angels" in Dallas and Chicago who attempted to warn the public about the potential hazards of products containing the chemical sweetener aspartame. This tribute reminded me of the line in Hamlet: "A ministering angel shall my sister be."
Betty initially confined her activities to assembling "kits" of literature detailing the hazards of aspartame. These contained copies of more than a dozen articles and letters published in various journals and periodicals, and my position statements dealing with the potential complications of aspartame products in persons with diabetes and hypoglycemia, pregnant women and young children.
Betty also produced flyers on the subject, and personally distributed thousands of them to any-and all interested persons. Concomitantly, she managed to get April declared as "Anti-Aspartame Month" in Georgia.
I found it difficult to judge the motives for these multilateral activities by a unique personality who drew a martini glass with bubbles alongside her signature. Moreover, Betty's engaging next-door-neighbor behavior, coupled with a delightful Southern accent, captivated members of the media to a degree I had never observed.
I finally concluded that Betty's determined efforts were totally altruistic and constructive...rather than reflecting an ego-boosting search for fame or the promotion of some product. She seemed to embody President Clinton's remark about the great need for a love standard rather than a gold standard. As a physician-researcher who had not received a cent for my studies, I was sensitized to these matters.
In the process, I also became intrigued with this Atlanta native who had evolved into such a formidable self-propelled whistle-blower. Indeed, someone had given her the "thorn in the side" award of the tongue-in-cheek National Association of Goodness (NAG).
I first met Betty in Hollywood, Florida. She was preparing to fly there, at her own expense, in order to visit the "FDA Holocaust Museum," and asked me to meet her there. I had no idea what this enterprise was about.
The facility proved to be a converted store that displayed dozens of health related features, photos and exhibits. All underscored dubious decisions made by the FDA that the museum's founders regarded as improper...and on occasion, schizoid. On the one hand, this agency permitted the use of toxic and carcinogenic products for human consumption - most notably aspartame and MSG. By contrast, it had shut down firms and physician-clinics because they advocated the use of herbs, vitamins and other relatively innocuous supplements. The FDA also arbitrarily refused to approve Stevia, a natural sweetener long consumed throughout the world by diabetics and persons with hypoglycemia.
Betty acknowledged that many considerations influenced FDA policy in these matters, some of which escaped her as a lay person. But she had seen enough to be convinced that consumers needed lots more corporate-neutral input and help.
I had no inkling about the enormous energy and wide scope of this short blond dynamo until she went into high gear in two realms. One was involvement with aspartame, described below. The other concerned the injection of synthetic growth hormone into cows for the purpose of increasing the supply of milk, even though no shortage existed. This product was made by the Monsanto Chemical Company...by coincidence the corporate parent of The NutraSweet Company.
Betty was shocked by the ramifications of recombinant bovine growth hormone based on an enormous amount of information she had already gathered. One aspect pertained to the increase of insulin-like growth factor, which might be carcinogenic. She proceeded to enlist concerned persons all over the globe in this venture of righteous indignation.
Atlanta Encounter #1
I was to receive an honorary fellowship from the American College of Physicians in Atlanta during March 1995. When Betty and Don learned of this forthcoming visit, they suggested that I meet some of their friends involved in "Mission Possible" ...more intriguing bait.
This sojourn reinforced the impression of a remarkable woman. Some hallmarks included:
I delved into Betty's previous activist background as subtly as possible.
[Betty Martini and H.J. Roberts, MD at the convocation of the
American College of Physicians on March 16, 1995.]
Betty also wrote a ditty called The Hard Rock Blues. It concluded: "Now my warning, sad but true, Don't let the rock get a piece of you."
Meeting the Medical Establishment
Betty insisted upon accompanying me to sessions of the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians held at the Georgia World Congress Center. I balked at first. But there was no question about her intent: to learn. She listened attentively at every lecture, making extensive and highly perceptive notes. Without fear or embarrassment, Betty cornered many physicians including professorial lecturers - about various topics, and usually ended up explaining the hazards of aspartame products. Most expressed gratitude for orienting them to Aspartame Disease, about which the majority heretofore had been unaware.
Betty also witnessed first hand the "arrogance of ignorance," a source of professional dismay to me. It was embodied in the reflexive behavior of doctors who regarded her comments as "nonsense."
Betty was overwhelmed by the bias of presumed authorities on topics such as reactive hypoglycemia and the chronic fatigue syndrome. One incident left a profound impression:
A physician attending a session on diabetes objected to having "activists" in the audience. This included me even though I had not uttered a word! Betty previously asked if anyone had encountered the aggravation of diabetes and its complications by aspartame.
This doctor's obnoxious denial reminded me of a joking comment uttered two days previously by one of Betty's M.P. friends: "Denial is not a river in Egypt.
More on Activism
Betty willingly paid a high price for her ambitious activities as an unsalaried activist and Roberts' Angel. They often consumed 18 hours of her days...and nights. With reserved approval of Don, her talented husband/chemist/ minister, she transformed several areas in her lovely home into "war rooms" for publishing, stocking and distributing anti-aspartame and anti-bovine growth hormone literature on a vast scale. Betty's skits" had now evolved into Packages." Betty and several friends banded themselves into a new organization: Mission Possible or M.P. These "true believers then reached the four corners of the earth through their own networks, and by personally distributing flyers to flight attendants and pilots on planes.
Chutzpah in Atlanta
Atlanta houses the headquarters of the Coca-Cola Company. Any effort to boycott Diet Coked, a major product, posed a formidable undertaking that few would ever attempt...or risk. Indeed, doing so in Atlanta could probably intimidate 99% of its inhabitants.
But not the crusading Betty Martini! Members of M.P. staged their version of the Boston Tea Party in Atlanta by dumping Diet Coke and other aspartame sodas in front of a large health food store before the media. Hearing about these tactics in her hometown, I recalled the famous line by John Milton in Lycidas: "Look homeward Angel now."
On another occasion, Betty and other outraged members of Mission Possible protested the widespread use of aspartame products by diabetics. They appeared at the Diabetes Association walk-a-thon, distributed flyers warning of the potential adverse effects of aspartame to an estimated 1,000 diabetics and their families. They also dedicated the day - July 4th - to the late Joyce Wilson, a diabetic aspartame reactor with severe retinal complications. The group handed out press packs with black lace and sympathy cards garnished with a long-stemmed yellow rose.
These engagements were only a prelude to the Olympic games scheduled in Atlanta the next year. Betty had already passed the anti-aspartame torch to other Roberts' Angels in the hope of achieving the goal of M.P. She described the group in these terms: "We are a volunteer force, and pay our own expenses. We have nothing to sell, but we are giving away the truth. We ask that you pass the torch."
These events reminded me of a story told about Mary Harris, the "Mother Jones" of Mother Jones Magazine, when she approached her 100th birthday. Introduced as a "great humanitarian" at a college convocation, Harris exclaimed: "I'm not a humanitarian. I'm a hell raiser!"
Ventures in Cancer Treatment
I am not only certified and recertified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, but also the author of nine books. My first text on medical diagnosis was used by 60,000 doctors, especially to prepare for their Board examinations.
This preamble is intended to indicate that I have been around medicine long enough to realize that most purported "cures" for cancer have been discredited, particularly when suggested by nonphysicians who lack credentials.
During my first visit with the Martinis and their friends, the subject of Betty's "cancer tea" arose. It surfaced when Don fetched several plastic bags containing different powders for one of the guests present. When I inquired about their nature, Betty indicated that they were used to make two preparations - Lydia's #55 and Lydia's #99 - which were supplied free. I purposefully kept quiet.
Having come to realize that Betty is one smart cookie, however, I felt it necessary to maintain an open mind over a topic that would evoke insulting belly laughs from most oncologists. In addition to her own case of breast cancer, Betty stated that other individuals with malignancy of various types had remained in remission for many months or longer after using these preparations...often to the amazement of their treating physicians.
I sought more details. Betty thereupon handed me the exact instructions. The ingredients in #55 were powered rhubarb, spikenard, black snakeroot and lady slipper. The formulation for #99 included black cohosh roots, spikenard roots, wild cherry bark, mullein leaf, lady slipper powder, tincture of iron, quinine sulfate and oil of wintergreen.
The background of these formulas devised by Native American medicine men, and how Betty found them, proved fascinating stories in themselves.
Over the ensuing months, the number of apparent dramatic remissions in Betty's "series" escalated. When I returned to Atlanta, these "patients" included several persons with cancer of the breast, two with melanoma, two with non-Hodgkins lymphoma (including a local TV personality), and individual instances of advanced colon cancer, chronic myelocytic leukemia, prostate cancer and uterine cancer.
As noted, my reaction to such "treatment" ordinarily would have been one of immediate rejection. I vividly recall the professional and emotional beatings of renowned physicians who had advocated discredited cancer therapies. In point of fact, oncologists and the American Cancer Society delight in this form of vilification of purported cures. They make one message very clear: every suggested nostrum for cancer has to go through the conventional channels of evaluation, including controlled double blind studies. Otherwise, bow out, or go to Mexico or one of the Caribbean islands, or face censure."
Having previously worked with hematologists and oncologists for a number of years, Betty was aware of such prejudice. But now in an apparent total remission 3-1/2 years after beginning these formulas, after refusing surgery (because of the apparent dissemination of breast cancer in her mother postoperatively), this gutsy pioneering spirit was not about to be put off solely by "the party line." In her inimitable way, Betty told the joke about a sheriff who denied-the request of a man about to be hanged for a last cigarette: "It's bad for your health."
On The Internet
Starting from scratch, literally, Betty's rapid mastery of e-mail (email@example.com) and the Internet proved awesome. She handled an average of 4050 messages every day! I personally viewed this effort, which Betty pursued until the wee hours of the morning. The magnitude of such a deluge for information required "compression" when 4.5 megs were exceeded.
The combined involvement of Betty, Mark, Elaine and other Roberts' Angels on the Internet began having an impact as more concerned persons, including physicians, warned patients to avoid aspartame products. The group focused on aspartame guzzlers with headaches and those diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis.
While pilots found Betty's information disturbing, they usually maintained an open mind in the event it was accurate. Indicating that he planned to get a "second opinion," one pilot added: "If their findings are in agreement with yours, I'11 help Mission Possible out as much as possible. I too have suffered a loss of visual acuity, and some depression in recent years, with no thoughts of aspartame as the culprit. I'm going to go off the stuff immediately as well, and see if I can see or feel better. Regardless of the outcome, thanks for putting the effort into spreading the word about something you think is dangerous."
Betty relayed many spontaneous comments on the Internet to me. These are representative.
"I previously suspected that you were incapable of accepting anything that countered the FDA-approved, corporate oriented, party line. You have at last convinced me, and I suspect many others, of it. One couldn't refute the FDA dogma if God herself came down and told you that it was wrong...I failed to see the necessity of performing double-blind studies, at great expense to the taxpayers, when in case after case after case, aspartame is proven to be the culprit by simply removing it from a sick person's diet - everything else remaining the same. Of course, such methodology doesn't put the moola into the coffers of some $$$-addicted research facility.
Another viewer on the Internet provided his "$0.02" (two cents) in these terms: "I want someone to prove it's safe, not prove it's harmful. What I've read here the last couple weeks has been enough to convince me to stop ingesting aspartame. I returned every last can of diet soda to the grocery store this past weekend, and I've stopped putting Equal(r) in my coffee, cereal, etc. I've had enough headaches, dizzy spells, etc., and the doctors don't know why."
Betty's disciples, however, were less forgiving about persons with an obvious axe to grind on the Internet. One commented on such a "regular PITA" (pain in the ass):
"If I had a kill file, that's where he'd be. His level of misinformation is atrocious, but apparently little can be done about him. He has infiltrated every group I read regularly to a point where I seldom post any more because he has an opinion about everything, and speaks on it loudly and often. I suggest you ignore him and get on with talking to the people who listen."
But there were limits even to Betty's patience. She responded to one character: "So I say, go ahead and drink all the diet cola you want, and don't worry about silly things like your health. Some things are worse, like an arrogant attitude."
When an impasse was reached, Betty resorted to her unique brand of poetry. "Rockhead" received this opus (slightly modified) titled, "Educated Fool."
I love my chemo poison
I'm a modern guy, you know,
Every day consuming "foods"
Like the ads all tell me to.
I argue, fight and persevere
Defending toxins others fear...
No matter that you've spent 2 years
Researching, hearing others' tears.
I know so much with my degree
No evidence will alter me!
I did my thinking back in school,
But since haven't used a mental tool.
Your new ideas just hurt my pride
And so your evidence I deride.
I've got to struggle hard, you see
To keep someone from teaching me!
So here's a non-diet toast to the unsinkable Betty Martini of Atlanta, whose valiant efforts have benefited the health of many!
H. J. Roberts, MD, FACP
West Palm Beach, Florida 38416 USA