Reports of health problems from a dangerous so-called “miracle cure” marketed widely online in recent years as a mineral solution known as “MMS” -- whose promoters tout it as a treatment or cure everything from HIV/AIDS and cancer to autism and fibromyalgia –- are back on the rise, according to a new warning issued by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
In a statement released earlier this month, FDA officials warn that ingesting MMS is “the same as drinking bleach” – a warning that was echoed by medical experts, toxicologists and chemists contacted by ABC News in a new probe of the mixture and its promoters.
"Product directions instruct consumers to mix the sodium chlorite solution with citric acid -- such as lemon or lime juice .... before drinking," the warning FDA notes. "When the acid is added, the mixture becomes chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleaching agent."
Meanwhile this month, the founder of a fringe healing "church" known for marketing the mixture -- who changed course and declared in a church newsletter that "MMS cures nothing!" after being featured in an earlier 2016 ABC News investigative report -- is back to hawking MMS as the solution to "whatever ails you."
FDA spokesman Jeremy Kahn said the statement was issued in part to combat the product’s increasing web presence.
“We’ve seen an uptick in social media traffic and searches all over the web,” Kahn told ABC News. “We’re hoping to remind folks that this product is still out there, it’s dangerous, and to beware.”
The FDA has documented at least 20 reports of MMS poisonings, Khan said, including the hospitalization of a child. FDA records on the agency's website document the April, 2015 hospitalization of a 10-year-old girl with autism after ingesting MMS.
But the FDA is only relying on self-reported incidents, according to Kahn, and does not as a practice follow up with people after they report symptoms of MMS poisoning.
“I can guess there are cases from 2019 that are still processing in our system,” he said. “There are probably many cases that we just don’t receive notice of.”
'The vision of her face'
Marketed under names like “Miracle Mineral Solution,” “Master Mineral Solution,” “MMS” or “CD protocol,” the potentially toxic mixture was ingested by Sylvia Nash, 56, shortly before her death in 2009, according to her husband, Doug Nash, a planetary geologist and former investigator for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Apollo Lunar Sample Analysis Program.
"She had decided to try MMS because she succumbed to the arguments of its proponents that MMS could aid in protecting the two of us against malaria in our [then] current travels on our sailboat in the western Pacific Islands," he told the FDA in a report he submitted to the agency about his wife's death. While doctors who performed the autopsy did not conclude a cause of death, Nash is convinced it was MMS.
Nash said that she initially suffered diarrhea, nausea and vomiting -- but those were all symptoms that proponents of MMS say are not uncommon and can be an indication that the treatment is working, Nash said at the time.
"But it didn't get better," he said. "It got worse and worse."
The couple had planned to sail around the world, beginning in late 2004 and take their time heading south from California and then west. Sylvia had been a crewmate at the start, but Nash said that just six months into the trip, they were "connected."
"And eventually, we married," he said.
After sailing off South America, followed by a two-year spell in New Zealand, they made their fateful stop in the Vanuatu islands in August 2009.
Nash said his wife wanted to take measures against malaria, but hadn't liked the medicine she had taken once before. Instead, she met fellow travelers on one of the islands selling something else.
The vision of her face, just inches away from mine, and those eyes suddenly de-focusing on mine. That’ll haunt me for the rest of my life.
Nash told ABC News in 2016 that his late wife died in his arms, slumped over with her eyes rolled back in her head, just hours after ingesting MMS.
"The vision of her face, just inches away from mine, and those eyes suddenly de-focusing on mine,” said Nash. “That’ll haunt me for the rest of my life.”
In 2016, ABC News took a closer look at religious leader Jim Humble, founder of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, which at one point was based in Angleton, Texas. Humble pedaled the elixir, claiming that he had treated more than 5,000 cases of malaria using only MMS. He claimed to have discovered the solution while mining gold in South America.
Nash had told ABC News that his wife was in excellent health prior to ingesting two drops of MMS mixed in lime juice, the initial dose recommended in Humble's protocol -- and that 12 hours later she was dead, according to the 2011 report he submitted to the FDA.
'They might as well be selling Clorox'
U.S. officials and medical experts have told ABC News that MMS is just a kind of industrial bleach.
"They might as well be selling Clorox,” said Ben Mizer, who as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch unit prosecuted four people for MMS sales in 2013. "You wouldn't drink Clorox, so there is no reason to drink MMS,” Mizer told ABC News in 2016.
That same year, ABC News tracked Humble down in a small village outside Guadalajara, Mexico, where in an interview he defended his claims that MMS is a universally effective cure-all.
“Many women with breast cancer have been cured,” Humble told ABC News. Asked whether he believes himself to be a con man, Humble replied, “Well, I don’t think so.”
Yet after he was featured on ABC News’ 20/20, Humble changed his tune about MMS -- recanting his praise for the mixture and telling his followers that he no longer believed in the healing powers of MMS.
“For lack of a better way to express things at the time – or because others put words in my mouth, in the past I have stated that MMS cures most of all diseases. Today, I say that MMS cures nothing!” Humble wrote in a 2016 Genesis II newsletter.
'For whatever ails you'
But now Humble is back to marketing MMS.
“Whatever the problem, there is a great chance that if MMS is used properly it will help one recover their health,” Humble wrote in a blog post earlier this month. In the post, he touts a self-published 2016 “MMS Recovery Guidebook” as containing a plan to cure a raft of serious illnesses with MMS.
“This plan IS for whatever ails you,” he writes in the post. "In other words, it is the protocol for Lyme, or Parkinson’s, or cancer, or fibromyalgia, herpes, Alzheimer’s, hepatitis A, B and C, liver disease etc. etc. etc. you name it, the list goes on.”
ABC News reached Humble this week via email, and in a written response to questions about his marketing of MMS, the preacher once again defended the mixture.
MMS "cannot harm the human body in any way unless one takes way, way too much which is exactly the same as any other substance including simple things like salt and sugar, even drinking too much water can cause harm," Humble wrote in an email to ABC News. "When MMS is taken according to instructions, one is 99.99% safe."
Humble also included a long list of U.S. patents for medical treatments containing chlorine dioxide -- the powerful bleaching agent produced when MMS is combined with citric acid.
Yet a close review of those patents indicates that in many of them, the chlorine dioxide concentration ranges between 0.1 and 2% of the total solution. Websites that tout MMS describe it as containing a 28% concentration of sodium chlorite, according to the FDA's most recent warning.
Dr. David Constable, science director of the non-profit American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute said that adding citric acid to a mixture that is 28% sodium chlorite and 62% water could dilute the concentration of the subsequent compound, chlorine dioxide, depending on the amount of citric acid added.
“But just converting it to chlorine dioxide is not a good thing,” Constable said. “The key message here should be that no one should ingest chlorine dioxide under any circumstances. This is not a cure. No responsible chemist would ever recommend this.”
As of this week, MMS remains available for purchase directly from the church's website, which is run through Swiss and Icelandic proxy servers.
Kahn said this week that the FDA has learned of several groups meeting recently to strategize a push to market MMS online.
“We try to track any online sellers and bring companies and individuals to [the attention of] appropriate law enforcement agencies.”
Still, Kahn said, the most recent criminal case brought against an MMS seller was in 2015, when Louis Daniel Smith was convicted of conspiracy, smuggling, selling misbranded drugs, and defrauding the United States.
Years earlier, Nash had launched his own personal investigation into his wife's death, and said that he traced the bottle of MMS she had ingested the drops from to a Carson City, Nevada company called Project Greenlife, which was operated by Smith, according to federal prosecutors. In 2011, Nash filed a detailed report about his wife's death with the FDA, only to learn that federal authorities was already on the trail of some MMS proponents. In 2013, prosecutors indicted and eventually convicted Smith.
He was sentenced to a 51-month prison sentence and fined $13,000, court records show. Federal Bureau of Prison records indicate that he remains under supervised release after being released from prison in January.
There's no therapeutic possibilities with drinking diluted sodium chlorite with citric acid. This is flat out dangerous.
While Smith was not charged with Sylvia's death, during court proceedings, the government alleged that "Mr. Smith's actions have posed a risk of danger to others, including contributing to the death of at least one individual." Nash said in 2016 that he believes they were referring to Sylvia.
'Flat out dangerous'
Attempts to reach Smith this week were not immediately successful, but in a blog post critical of ABC News' 2016 reporting on MMS, Smith questions whether MMS caused Nash's death, whom Smith refers to in his blog post by her maiden name, Sylvia Fink.
He calls ABC News' reporting a "hit piece" and claims without citation or evidence that "MMS has been used in over 160 countries by hundreds of thousands of people." He goes on to contend that "Doug Nash has not been truthful with the world, and it's time for the world to know. I would be remiss to allow Mr. Nash to continue this charade that has served only to insulate himself from further investigation, while leaving a scarlet letter on the MMS movement that I know from personal, first-hand knowledge has saved countless lives."
In 2016, the year after his conviction, Smith was warned in a letter from the FDA not to market sodium chlorite for human consumption, citing his 2015 conviction.
"You were managing member of PGL International, LLC (PGL) a Nevada corporation which marketed and sold various health-related products, including Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) a mixture of sodium chlorite and water, through the website projectgreenlife.com," the letter warns Smith. "Sodium chlorite cannot be sold for human consumption and suppliers of the chemical include a warning sheet stating that it can cause potentially fatal side effects if swallowed.
Each of a half dozen independent toxicologists contacted this week by ABC News about sodium chlorite and chlorine dioxide all offered the same conclusion.
"Sodium chlorite and chlorine dioxide in very low concentrations can be used safely to disinfect drinking water," said one of them, Dr. Stephen M. Roberts, director of the Center for Environmental & Human Toxicology at the University of Florida. "Like most other things, the concentration matters. There is no credible evidence that sodium chlorite can be used for medicinal purposes to treat disease."
Another, Dr. William Sawyer, a toxicologist with the non-profit American Board of Forensic Medicine, said that "from a medical standpoint, there's no advantage to using [sodium chlorite], only toxicity."
"There's no therapeutic possibilities with drinking diluted sodium chlorite with citric acid," he said. "This is flat out dangerous."
Nash did not immediately respond this week to ABC News requests for comment on Humble's blog post or the new FDA warning.
ABC News' Chris Francescani and Cindy Galli contributed reporting to this story; Natalie Savits and Brad Martin contributed research.