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Sunday, August 28, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Salesman's cure-all book a big hit

The New York Times

When Carol Boruk of La Marque, Texas, saw Kevin Trudeau selling his book on a late-night infomercial in November, she was mesmerized.

Trudeau was good-looking, energetic and articulate, and talked about nonpharmaceutical remedies that could eradicate virtually any disease. He said the remedies were being suppressed by the government and the drug industry.

Boruk, who had allergies and recurring headaches, happily forked over $30 for a copy.

So have millions of others. For the past three weeks, the updated and expanded version of "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About," which Trudeau published himself, has been outsold only by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," according to Nielsen BookScan.

The total number of copies purchased since August 2004 is roughly 3 million, according to Trudeau's publishing company. The book is No. 1 on The New York Times list of best-selling how-to books.

Trudeau, 42, is not a doctor or scientist and has had run-ins with the law.

In the early 1990s, he served two years in federal prison for credit-card fraud. He later was sued by the Illinois attorney general over an alleged pyramid marketing scheme, and he has tangled twice with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over claims that he made in infomercials for various alternative remedies. The FTC last year barred him from selling products through infomercials.

"Natural Cures" was able to skirt that rule because books are protected as free speech under the First Amendment, a lawyer for the agency said.

Some of the book's assertions have prompted some readers to declare it a fraud.

"Nothing more than a latter-day snake-oil salesman," D. Bellini of Grand Rapids, Mich., posted on Amazon.com. Officials at the New York State Consumer Protection Board also did not like the book. In early August the board issued a statement warning that "Natural Cures" is full of "empty promises."

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Boruk, the allergy sufferer in Texas, said the book was not entirely what she was expecting, but she found it "eye-opening" and said it has inspired her to discontinue several medications and make significant changes to her diet.

"I've lost 30 pounds, never get headaches anymore and hardly notice my allergies," she said.

Trudeau says those who call him a fraud misunderstand him. He said he was preaching a holistic gospel he firmly believed in. He said he eats mostly organic and natural food, never takes drugs, travels with a shower filter to strip chlorine and fluoride from water and recently completed a seven-day fast to purge toxins.

"I can't remember the last time I was sick," he said after returning from what he said was a 14-mile hike.

He noted that lawsuits filed by the trade commission and by Illinois had been settled out of court, and had not contained findings of wrongdoing. He called the prison time a "youthful mistake."

"I changed my priority from making money to positively impacting people," said Trudeau, who lives in Ojai, Calif.

Trudeau has amassed millions from producing infomercials and from direct sales of products. Promotional materials he used in the mid-'90s boasted of a net worth of more than $200 million.

Today, Trudeau said he does not know how much money he has, but it is "probably a lot." He said he owned 10 cars and dozens of houses and condominiums around the world, and is said to be engaged.

Many alternative-medicine experts agree with the core principles in "Natural Cures." But they say Trudeau stretches the facts.

"There's enough truth in what he's saying that it gives him credibility with people who are looking for answers," said Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif. "But a lot of what he says is either nonsense or not proven through credible means."

Some, though, do not care about clinical trials or judgments of the medical establishment.

"I am so grateful I read this book," Boruk said. "It's changed my life."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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