A Skeptical Look at Linda Schaumleffel's
"Power Brain Fitness" Program

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Power Brain Fitness is an exercise program promoted by Linda Schaumleffel. Her current Web site describes the system as a "revolutionary" method that can "improve brain performance now & prevent dementia later." In response to a reader's question, I looked for information on Google and examined past versions of her Web sites at Archive.org. This article summarizes my findings.

Background History

Schaumleffel's program is said to have been derived from her own experience. The current Power Brain Fitness Web site describes her story this way:

Linda is an Olympic athlete (1976 rowing), & a gifted teacher. She is a pioneer of BRAIN FITNESS. In 1989, a car accident brought Linda’s career to a halt. She suffered from physical injuries & a brain injury. Using her curiosity, discipline, and perseverance, Linda healed herself from all her symptoms. In the process she created the Power Brain Fitness program. She leads by example & loves to share what she has learned [1].

Searching online, I confirmed that in the 1976 Summer Games, she represented Canada in the Women's Coxed Fours, in which her team finished seventh out of eight participants. The report also states that she was born in February 1949, which would make her approximately 60 years old today [2]. An earlier version of Schaumleffel's Web site stated that in her 20s and 30s, in addition to competing, she was a teacher and sports coach, but, at age 39, she was severely injured when a large SUV crashed into the rear of her car. After that, she said:

Everything spiraled downward. I had many soft tissue complications, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and other biochemical and emotional problems. The most terrifying thing was that my memory was shot. I couldn't get a coherent sentence out of my mouth. I couldn't even figure out how to shop for groceries. . . .

The doctors didn't know what to do... so I decided to figure it out myself. Luckily, while on the Olympic Rowing Team, I learned how to keep moving forward through every challenge. And guess what? I persisted and succeeded! It took 10 years but I did it! I healed myself! . . .

I discovered that balance and brain function are somehow related. As I dug deeper into this idea, I found and connected 4 KEY CONCEPTS that directly affect the brain's ability to function. Eagerly, I applied these concepts to my situation. Wow! What a change! My friends asked me what happened. I told them I discovered techniques to re-wire my brain and make it work again! [3]

"Lose Weight for a Lifetime" System

Curiously, Schaumleffel's Power Brain system was not her first marketing venture. From 2001 through 2005, she offered "Lose Weight for a Lifetime" courses and telephone coaching through a site at lose-weight-for-a-lifetime.com. The biographical sketch on that site states that in 2001, she lost the 25 pounds gained during the seven years she had chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Her program was centered around "the secret to creating recipes & food combinations so the foods you eat will tell your body to "burn fat" rather than store it." The secret, she said was an optimum ratio of "4 grams fat/12 grams protein/20 grams carbohydrates" with the amount determined by considering lean body mass and activity level. This translates to a diet that is about 22% fat, 29% protein, and 49% carbohydrate, which has a bit more protein than most nutritionists would advise. It is not an unreasonable mix, but Schaumleffel adds a bit of nonsense about the ratio being optimal for fat-burning and that if it is "thrown off by too much," the body stores fat. (That's not true, because fat storage results from eating too many calories, not the "wrong" ones.) The site provides no data from which to judge whether her coaching program was effective.

Other Products

In addition to its weight-loss program, lose-weight-for-a-lifetime.com promoted Avantra Z, L Carnitine, Sango Coral Calcium, Coral Calcium, Cellfood, Biozyme Digestive Enzymes, Silver Solution, and Shu Li Foot Pouches. The promotional pages discussed the products and linked to other sites where they could be ordered. The Shu Li pouch page contained a testimonial, dated April 2003, in which Schaumleffel stated:

My back is a mess after a life of sports including competing in the Olympic Games in rowing, a car accident, and several major falls off ladders and out of trees. Chiropractic care, massage, and exercise have kept the chronic pain to a manageable level. The other night my back was so uncomfortable I could not escape the pain in any position!

The order of Shu Li™ pouches had just arrived, so I followed the instructions and applied the Shu Li pouch to the part of the sole of my foot that related to lower back pain, according to foot reflexology. The Shu Li pouches felt soothingly warm and I fell asleep for the night. In the morning I couldn't believe my eyes, or should I say, back!!! It didn't hurt at all! . . .

As I continue to learn about the Shu Li pouches and use them, I have hope that I can remove a lot of toxicity from my body, and create a lasting solution. In the meantime, with the continued use of these Shu Li pouches my basic energy level is getting higher and higher. I highly recommend these little miracles from Asian called Shu Li pouches.

In 2003, her digestive enzymes page stated:

I consider Digestive Enzymes essential to my health. Twenty years ago I had severe stomach pain and distress. Had I known about the healing power of Digestive Enzymes, I know I could have averted many future problems but I ignored it as part of my stressful job. Ten years ago I became severely ill with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Taking Digestive Enzymes was one of the first steps on the road to recovery. Now I believe that food is our best medicine and Digestive Enzymes are the first key to staying healthy.

For most of us as we age, our ability to digest well become impaired. We continue eating the same foods, and they are broken down into small enough pieces to get into the blood stream. However, they have not been transformed by our natural digestive enzymes into the form that can be used by the cells. If our cells cannot use the food the immune system has to round up all these particles and take them to the liver to be disposed of. We eat daily, so our immune systems are stressed daily doing this round-up job, and our liver sooner or later becomes overworked. That's when the real trouble start

Claims like the above make me question her judgment about health matters. Pads applied to the feet do not detoxify anything [4]. And her "enzyme deficiency" pitch does not correspond to scientific knowledge of the digestive process [5].

Even more curious, however, are what might be discrepancies in the timetable of her health status. The digestive enzymes page suggests that she had severe stomach pain and distress about ten years before her accident, which would be during the time when she was still quite athletic. Her Power Brain Fitness biography states that she had "healed herself of all her symptoms" ten years after the 1989 accident, which would be 1999, but her foot pouch page states that severe pain persisted until at least 2003.

Claims for Power Brain Fitness

The Whois database indicates that powerbrainfitness.com was registered in December 2005. Archive.org has snapshots of the site dating from July 2006.

The current home page states:

Since December 2004, Linda has been helping thousands of people to improve their brain fitness. She reaches people by speaking, by training activity leaders, & by offering for sale the Power Brain Fitness Kits so that individuals of any age around the world can start NOW to improve their performance at work & play, and build a hedge against dementia. A research project is underway." [1]

"Research" Support?

The current Power Brain Fitness site has a page called "Research," which contains two "before and after" reports (a video and handwriting samples) and twelve testimonials. The video report shows how a man who had had a stroke appeared when he began the program and three months later. In the first video he was unsteady when he walked. In the second video, he was slightly steadier, but it isn't clear whether this represents a significant difference. Some done in the first video were not repeated in the second one, so it isn't clear whether they would have shown improvement. Overall, it isn't clear whether his ability to function in day-to-day living was improved. The testimonials, some of which were about improved golf scores, were too vague and/or skimpy to determine whether the users were reporting measurable improvement.

Could Schaumleffel actually have determined that she is "helping thousands" of people? Have thousands of people sent her favorable progress reports? If she actually has that many reports, why doesn't she provide better testimonials? Even she could, however, it is not possible to determine from individual case studies whether any claimed improvement was due to (a) the program, (b) the natural course of the user's ailments, or (c) the user reporting improvement when none actually occurred [6].

To prove that a program can improve performance, studies would have to compare people who use it with similar people who do not—and measurements would have to be made by researchers who do not know what was done. If a program shows promise, it should also be compared with standard physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy programs for which there is evidence of effectiveness.

It is well known that people who are physically and intellectually active have a lower rate or later onset of dementia than people who are not. To prove that a specific program can "prevent dementia," it would be necessary to follow thousands of people for many years. Even if such a study is underway (which I doubt), Power Brain Fitness has not been around long enough to draw any conclusions about its ability to "prevent dementia." Moreover, I believe that programs should be tested before they are sold.

The Bottom Line

Linda Schaumleffel is one of an endless parade of enthusiasts who present their own experience as a basis for developing their products. Her story appears to have discrepancies, and her sales pitch includes questionable claims. Her Web sites do not describe her educational background, which suggests to me that she has had little or no relevant training. It's possible that her enthusiasm will persuade people to engage in helpful activities they would otherwise not do. However, I believe that people with brain impairment would be wiser to rely on trained professionals.

References

  1. Introducing Linda Schaumleffel. Power Brain Web site, Jan 19, 2009.
  2. Linda Schaumleffel. SR/Olympic Sports Web site, accessed Jan 19, 2009.
  3. Schaumleffel L. Welcome to Powerbrainfitness.com. Archived July 2006.
  4. Barrett S. The detox foot scam. Device Watch, Aug 23, 2008.
  5. Barrett S. "Enzyme deficiency." Quackwatch, March 11, 2003.
  6. Smith GL. Common questions about science and "alternative" health methods. Quackwatch, Aug 22, 1997.

This page was posted on January 19, 2009.