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Dragon’s Den’s Damaging Investment in ME ‘Cure’

As Well as the History Behind the Disease

By Amelia Boag McGlynn

The BBC has removed one of its most recent episodes of the hit TV show, Dragon’s Den. But why? 

Image: courtesy of adamtepl pixabay

7 years ago, my first piece of work on Myalgic Encephalomyelitis was published. I was 12 years old, and I angrily called for more understanding on this complicated chronic illness, citing the dismissal and ignorance that sufferers have faced for decades. I had watched my own auntie suffer for years, forced to give up her dream job, whilst mostly bed ridden. Unfortunately, it seems I must repeat this call in lieu of the disastrous reaction to TikTok's most viral Dragon's Den pitch, where entrepreneur Giselle Boxer has claimed that her acu-pressure stickers are able to cure ME within a matter of months.

Giselle credits her 12 month “recovery” from ME, as well as her journey to pregnancy after struggles with infertility, to acupuncture-based products, motivating her to create AcuSeeds. 

The pitch left all 5 dragons amazed, offering a plethora of funds to invest, before settling for £50,000 from entrepreneur Steven Bartlett, who now owns a 12.5% stake in her business. However, this miracle product is not all that it seems. In fact, it is not even one of the first of its kind to make such wonderous claims. 

The ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) community has been victim to a range of holistic health gurus for years, each claiming a new and different product guaranteed to cure their chronic illness and change their lives forever. 7 years ago, small, and integrated exercises into sufferer’s daily routine was the most popular miracle. This, of course, does not work, but that wouldn’t stop the media from peddling its success, and invalidating those with ME. The most recent miracle cure comes from Dragon’s Den, where Baxter has pitched her curative new product, AcuSeeds. These small, clear stickers contain a small, ball of plated silver, designed to target specific points on the ear that address emotional and physical problems. The idea is derived from Traditional Chinese medicine, which believes that the ears are the microsystem of the body, with each individual point corresponding with a different body part or organ. Small deliveries of pressure from AcuSeeds are thought to send energy and stimulants to these desired places, helping to relieve physical and emotional pain whilst generating energy. 

In theory, AcuSeeds sound perfect. However, the unfortunate truth is that ME cannot be cured. It is a chronic illness that impacts the nervous system, effectively disabling the immune system and confining many of its sufferers to their homes; bedridden and often in a wheelchair.

Sufferers of this illness have been under continual scrutiny for years, subjected to countless attacks from genuine medical professionals to uneducated celebrities 

(I am looking at you, Ricky Gervais). The realm of ‘alternative’ medicine has been claiming to cure ME with countless remedies – and ME sufferers are sick of it. Just a week ago, a 28-year-old woman in the Netherlands died by euthanasia after a long struggle with ME. It is safe to say that if the cure were as simple as inner-ear stickers, she would have not had to end her life so prematurely. 

The pitch was rightfully met with outrage. An open letter was sent to the House of Commons by Action For ME, the only active charity on the UK that supports sufferers of all ages and stages. This letter called for recognition that Boxer’s claims were entirely unfounded, and not based on any medical evidence. Complainants took to X, the social media platform to display their anger at the episode, prompting a response from Dragon’s Den, in conjunction with the BBC, where a spokesperson stated; “Dragons’ Den does not, and has never, set out to offer medical advice, and we believe its audience understands this.”  This dismissive answer was not met with positive responses, and resulted in another open letter, signed by many ME campaign groups to be sent to Culture, Media, and Sport Committee chairperson Dame Caroline Dinenage and Health and Social Care Committee chairperson Steve Brine. After an outpour of disappointment, the BBC were forced to edit their episode, placing a disclaimer before the pitch, which is available to view on BBC iPlayer or other streaming services. However, as many campaign groups of the illness have pointed out, this is too little too late, as the episode was originally aired on prime-time television on BBC 1, where it will have been viewed by millions of people. These people will not seek out the edited catch-up episode after their first-time viewing, leaving them uniformed of the false claims of alternative medicine.

The cruel truth is that if ME is miraculously cured, it probably wasn't ME in the first place. Dragon Steven Bartlett’s £50000 investment will not help those with ME to find a cure and pick up their regular lives from where their disease halted it – it will only continue to feed the stigma that shrouds this disease and prevents factual, helpful work and knowledge to be made and shared. Funding these types of projects will never help ME to be cured, research to be carried out, or for those who have ME to find peace from the constant media bombardment that constantly discredits their suffering.

If you are interested in how you can help, or simply educate yourself, I highly recommend Puffins and Penguins – A personal blog about my experience of living with the illness Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), by Phoebe Boag. 

This Scottish blog details the horrors of ME, and provides useful sources on the education, fundraising and support of those who must endure this terrible illness. Phoebe Boag is my auntie, and I have witnessed the horrors of ME through her suffering. This illness has ripped lives apart across the world, yet it is still discredited by “critics” as a psychosomatic illness, fuelled by laziness. Hopefully, this boost of publicity for ME campaigning charities and groups will only benefit the cause, raising awareness and rightfully provoking the outcry of anger that Dragon’s Den national disgrace deserved. Steven Bartlett may be a huge favourite of CEOs and burgeoning entrepreneurs, but it's important to question what you see, even if it's coming from the mouth of your favourite podcaster.


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