SAO PAULO — Vitamin D was named as such when it was first discovered in 1910, but it wasn't until two decades later that its real structure was identified. In fact, it is a steroid hormone. Even today, the use of the term "vitamin" is a source of debate among health professionals.
Vitamin D deficiency is no longer considered a nutrition problem but rather an endocrine system disorder. In practical terms, the production of sufficient quantities of this hormone depends on sun exposure, not on diet.
Still, the deficiency has become pandemic all over the globe due to a drastic change in lifestyles, with the progressive urbanization of populations even in tropical areas, where living in confined and air-conditioned spaces and using sunscreen have become commonplace.
Today, nine in 10 people on the planet have unsatisfactory levels of vitamin D.
Traditionally, vitamin D is known to be essential for the metabolism of calcium and for good bone and teeth health. But scientific advances have unveiled more health benefits, some of which are very surprising. For example, vitamin D is a powerful anti-cancer agent and strengthens the immune system.
Following these discoveries, there have been debates about the ideal dosage for prevention or treatments. The diversity of its positive functions on our bodies drew the ironic and misguided reaction that a "vitamin" can be a panacea, capable of curing or preventing every ill. That said, prolific studies demonstrate that its benefits are myriad and very real.
Sunbathing on a beach in Croatia — Photo: Alex Proimos
Thousands of scientific articles cite vitamin D deficiency as either a cause or a risk factor for about 100 disorders, including 17 types of cancer, hypertension, diabetes and autoimmune diseases, as well as cardiovascular and infectious diseases. Now with the Internet, never has misinformation had such short legs.
Our attachment to the basic principles of medical practice (first, do no harm, and second, always act in the patient's best interest) led us to use an innovative therapy, consisting of high doses of vitamin D under close supervision. As a result, a large majority of our patients carrying such diseases as multiple sclerosis can return to normal or almost normal lives, depending on the consequences of the disease prior to the treatment.
There is nothing as rewarding for somebody who has been defending these hypotheses. No pseudo-scientific arguments can argue with the facts.
*Walter Feldman is a doctor and former Brazilian Parliament member. Cicero Galli Coimbra is a neurologist and professor at the University of São Paulo.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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