Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine

Why do intelligent people use alternative medicine?

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgWhile I am on vacation, I’m reprinting a number of “Classic Insolence” posts to keep the blog active while I’m gone. (It also has the salutory effect of allowing me to move some of my favorite posts from the old blog over to the new blog, and I’m guessing that quite a few of my readers have probably never seen many of these old posts.) This post originally appeared on December 12, 2004 and could be considered the first “substantive” post that wasn’t an introduction that I ever did for this blog. See what you think as far as the evolution of my writing style. And, of course, feel free to chime in.

OK, let’s start things off.

About a week ago, I came across this article by Johann Hari in which he points out how much of alternative medicine is just as much unfounded superstition as the “Jesus diet” that some fundamentalist Christians use to try to lose weight. He juxtaposes a brief portrait of a woman with whom he shared a chuckle “at the unscientific superstitions of red-state America.” After this, Hari reports that the woman “glanced at her watch and gathered her stuff quickly. ‘I have to go,’ she said, ‘I’m going to be late for my homeopathy session.'”

He then follows up with the point: “If you are one of the six million Brits who use ‘alternative medicine’ – now a £1.5 billion-a-year industry – you cannot sneer at the Jesus Diet dupes. There is no more scientific evidence for the alternative treatments that now fill a corner of every chemist in Britain than for the Jesus Diet.” Later, he quotes Richard Dawkins, one of Britain’s most eminent scientists, who explains why, by definition, alternative medicine doesn’t work: “If a particular alternative treatment can be shown before a panel of qualified doctors to work, then it isn’t called ‘alternative’ any more. It’s just medicine. ‘Alternative’ is another word for ‘ineffective.'”

Amen–with one caveat. I think he was a bit too strident and dogmatic in his dismissal of all alternative medicine. I’m guessing some of alternative medicine (but no more than a small amount of it) will ultimately be validated by science. For instance, I have little doubt that green tea will probably be found to have some mild chemopreventative benefit when it comes to cancer. What will NOT be validated by science is quackery like that of Hulda Clark, a “naturopath” who claims to have the “cure for all cancers” and the “cure for AIDS.” What is this “cure”? “Dr.” Clark claims that all cancer is caused by an intestinal fluke and that she has developed a device (called a “Zapper”) that will kill this fluke and thus “cure” cancer. Here is what she said in her book The Cure for All Cancers:

All cancers are alike. They are all caused by a parasite. A single parasite! It is the human intestinal fluke. And if you kill this parasite, the cancer stops immediately. The tissue becomes normal again. In order to get cancer, you must have this parasite…

This parasite typically lives in the intestine where it might do little harm, causing only colitis, Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, or perhaps nothing at all. But if it invades a different organ, like the uterus, kidneys or liver, it does a great deal of harm. If it establishes itself in the liver, it causes cancer! It only establishes itself in the liver of some people. These people have propyl alcohol in their body. All cancer patients (100%) have both propyl alcohol and the intestinal fluke in their livers. The solvent propyl alcohol is responsible for letting the fluke establish itself in the liver. In order to get cancer, you must have both the parasite and propyl alcohol in your body.”

Clark’s other claims (documented in QuackWatch–you don’t think I’d actually pay money for her book, do you?–I’m still trying to find a second-hand copy that I can get):

  • The adult liver fluke — which she misspells as Faciolopsis buskii –– “stays stuck to our intestine, (or liver, causing cancer, or uterus, causing endometriosis, or thymus, causing AIDS, or kidney, causing Hodgkin’s disease).” Or the pancreas, causing diabetes; the brain, causing Alzheimer’s disease; the prostate (causing prostatitis; or the skin if you have Kaposi’s sarcoma.
  • As soon as there are adults in the liver. . . . a growth factor, called ortho-phospho-tyrosine appears. Growth factors make cells divide. Now YOUR cells will begin to divide too! Now you have cancer. . . . Having propyl alcohol in your body allows the fluke to develop outside of the intestine.
  • When the fluke and all its stages have been killed, the ortho-phospho-tyrosine is gone! Your cancer is gone.
  • Clearly, you must do 3 things: (1) Kill the parasite and all its stages; (2) stop letting propyl alcohol into your body; and (3) flush out the metals and common toxins from your body so you can get well.
  • It is not unusual for someone to have a dozen (or more) of the parasites I have samples of. You can assume that you, too, have a dozen different parasites.
  • Three herbs, used together, can rid you of over 100 types of parasites: black walnut hulls, wormwood, and common cloves. But the amino acids ornithine and arginine improve this recipe.
  • Use of these five products will kill the cancer-causing fluke in the first five days and the remaining parasites in another two weeks.
  • It takes 5 days to be cured of cancer regardless of the type you have. Surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy can be canceled because, after Clark’s recipe cures the cancer, it cannot come back.
  • All metal (fillings, crowns, bridges, etc.) should be removed from the mouth, and all teeth with root canals should be extracted, because their presence damages the immune system.
  • To prevent recurrence, stay on a maintenance program of killing parasites and give yourself a high-dose program at least twice a year. Also treat all family members and household pets.
  • The method is 100% effective in stopping cancer regardless of the type of cancer or how terminal it may be. It follows that this method must work for you, too, if you are able to carry out the instructions.
  • No matter what kind of cancer you have (or HIV or pains or weakness), a complete program of lifting the burdens on your immune system will miraculously clear it up.

This is, of course, complete nonsense. Cancer is not caused by this intestinal fluke, and Clark’s “Zapper” wouldn’t kill the fluke even if it was. (In fact, she never bothers to explain how people outside this fluke’s range of habitat somehow still manage to get cancer at rates comparable to those living where the fluke is found.) Her suggestion that all fillings need to be removed because they “damage the immune system” is utter B.S. It’s cruel, to boot, because cancer patients are induced to go through through painful and unnecessary dental procedures based on her recommendations. The Swiss Study Group for Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer has also debunked Clark’s methods (see also QuackWatch and here). Clark’s company was ordered by the FTC to stop making “unsubstantiated” claims for her products and for the “Zapper,” and Clark was forced to move her practice to Tijuana, Mexico, where enforcement of medical standards is–shall we say?–somewhat more lax than it is here in the U.S.

I admit that Hulda Clark is a no-brainer example of quackery masquerading as “alternative medicine,” and that discussing her in my first post is akin to the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel. (If some of the alt-med advocates on ever find my blog, no doubt they’ll deluge me with nasty comments and even threats of lawsuits for having the temerity to call Hulda Clark what she is.) However, otherwise intelligent people still fall for her quackery because they are desperate to believe anything that might give them hope. In future posts on this topic, I’ll look at examples of alternative medicine where it isn’t so easy to distinguish potentially legitimate treatments from quackery. I’ll also be talking about how people can distinguish the scams from alternative medicine that might have value and how a treatment for a disease (any treatment, whether “conventional” or “alternative”) should be approached and evaluated for efficacy and risk. In my book, one’s approach to evaluating the therapeutic value a treatment should be the same, regardless of whether it is considered “alternative” or not. This is usually not a simple matter.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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