Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

An appropriate topic for April Fools’ Day

Blogging on PseudoscienceIn the three years that I’ve been blogging, one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m not very good at coming up with good April Fools’ Day posts. Yes, I have tried it before. For example, a couple of years ago, I tried to make everyone believe that I had gone soft on woo, that I had had a change of heart.

No one was fooled, for even a moment, and if there’s something a good April Fools’ Day post has to have if it’s going to be believable long enough for the “April Fool!” punchline to be surprising, it’s a plausible story. Let’s face it, Orac saying he’s starting to groove on homeopathy just isn’t going to cut it. No one believes it–not even for a second.

Given that cold, hard reality and my lack of creativity in coming up with a more plausible storyline, there really is only one thing for me to do on April Fools’ Day (besides sometimes posting EneMan pictures), and that’s to pick topics so utterly ridiculous that they are appropriate to such a fun day. I mean topics beyond even homeopathy, which, while ridiculous from a scientific standpoint, is not particularly funny. True, its adherents can be quite funny in their tortured explanations of how homeopathy can “work,” but there isn’t that “certain something,” that inherent ridiculousness that makes for inspired silliness.

Fortunately, coffee enemas have just what’s needed.

I was reminded of this aspect of that silliest of silly so-called “complementary and alternative medicine” (a.k.a. “CAM”) therapies by none other than everybody’s favorite over-the-top woomeister and conspiracy theorist, Mike Adams. Well, not Mike Adams himself, but rather his website, where I came across another article by Mary Laredo. We’ve met her before dishing out some seriously dangerous cancer quackery not too long ago. Wouldn’t you know it, though? She’s into coffee enemas as well and has penned a paean to posteriorly-administered caffeine entitled Whole Body Detoxification (Part 4): The Coffee Enema.

It just makes me yearn to read parts one through three.

Laredo, naturally, starts with the dreaded “toxin” gambit:

There is no respite or escape anywhere on earth from the toxins that stifle our planet and overwhelm our bodies. Even our best efforts to eliminate or restrict exposure are often not adequate to the task, and as our toxic load increases so does our chance of developing chronic illness and disease.

As explored in the first three parts of this series there are several methods for releasing the stockpile of chemicals and other toxins from the body in order to maintain or regain health. An alkaline diet devoid of processed foods isn’t always enough, and sometimes extreme measures are necessary to provide the level of cleansing required to keep up with the toxic onslaught.

Ah, yes, “extreme” measures. That’d be squirting perfectly good coffee in a place into which it was never intended to go:

The little understood and much disparaged coffee enema is one such method of purification that cleanses the liver – the body’s largest filter – and provides a multitude of health benefits to the ailing body. Acceptance of the coffee enema’s value may result from an understanding of its history and therapeutic benefits.

“Much disparaged”? Of course it is–and for very good reason. Not only is it a waste of perfectly good coffee, but it’s a waste done in about as undignified a manner as I can think of. Really. I just can’t conceive of how anyone thinks this is a good idea. I have no idea if this account is true or not, but according to Laredo this is supposedly how coffee enemas were started:

The time-tested water enema evolved during WWI when German medic supplies – including morphine – were in short supply and nurses were desperate to find ways of alleviating the post-surgery pain of severely wounded soldiers. Water enemas were routinely used, but anxious to find a more potent pain reliever, one resourceful nurse intuitively used leftover brewed coffee and found it to be highly effective.

So let’s see. Enemas were being used for pain relief? That doesn’t sound all that plausible–shortages of medicine or no shortages of medicine. Somehow I can’t see physicians of the time saying, “Hmmm. We’re out of morphine. I know! Let’s give these poor bastards enemas to relieve their pain!” Also, coffee was in at least as short a supply in Germany near the end of the war, thanks to the Allied naval blockade, as medical supplies. But let’s say for a moment that it is. Let’s contemplate what this unnamed nurse from 90 years ago did. There she was, going about her business, taking care of patients. There happened to be some leftover brewed coffee left over. If you were that nurse, what would your first thought be to do with that coffee? Hmmm. I wonder. Certainly the first thought that would come to my mind would not be to take it and stick it up someone’s nether regions. But, then, I’m funny that way. I also apparently don’t think the same way as “CAM” practitioners, who seem to think that putting coffee into your colon is a good idea.

In fact, let’s look at the rationale for this whole “detoxification” thing. If we are to believe “CAM” advocates, the entire lining of our colons is just chock full of old, caked-on feces and waste sitting there “poisoning” you. Never mind that this is a load of–if you’ll excuse the term–crap. Those of us who’ve actually operated on the colon have never actually seen this legendary buildup of waste and toxins that is supposedly the cause of nearly all disease and that, according to the colon cleansers, MUST BE REMOVED by any means necessary. Never mind that your colon evolved over millions of years to be a finely tuned machine designed to take care of these waste products of digestion and in general needs no help. Never mind that the whole “autointoxication” concept of disease has no basis in science. Never mind that this obsession with internal filth seems to be more of a religious concept akin to that of original sin, in which we are all somehow “dirty” until somehow “cleansed.” Never mind all that.

Ask yourself: Even if you accepted that you are filthy inside and need all that filth and all those toxins flushed out, what would you use? Water, right? Or some electrolye solution, perhaps? Would you think that maybe-just maybe–coffee would be the fluid of choice to purge all that? No? That’s because it makes no sense! But in “altie world,” nothing is too wild or crazy that somewhere, somehow, someone actually will believe that it’s revealed truth. They’ll even come up with the wildest-sounding rationale to justify how it “works”:

The Gerson Therapy explains that caffeine and palmitates (chemicals in coffee) work synergistically to stimulate and cleanse the liver and blood. Without entering the digestive tract the caffeine is absorbed through the bowel wall, via blood vessels, and makes its way directly to the liver.

The caffeine exposure causes the liver’s portal veins and the bile ducts to expand which increases the release of diluted toxic bile. The enema fluid triggers peristalsis (intestinal muscle contractions) and the efficient removal of wastes from the body.

Palmitates in the coffee stimulate and increase the production of a liver enzyme called glutathione-S-transferase (GST), which removes free radicals and cancer cells from the bloodstream and facilitates detoxification of the liver. As a result of the enema the liver becomes less congested with debris, which makes room for the filtering process of yet more bodily toxins.

This is about as full of crap as it gets. There’s no evidence to support any of these claims, and no evidence that shooting a bunch of coffee up into your colon “detoxifies” anything, much less your liver. There’s no evidence that absorbing caffeine or palmitates via the colon is any “better” than absorbing them in the usual manner. After all, the blood supply of the GI tract passes through the liver first before going to the rest of the body, be it the stomach and small intestine (the normal means) or the colon (the woo means). The only difference is that circulation to a small part of the colon (the rectum via the hemorrhoidal veins) bypasses the liver. I doubt very seriously that that small difference matters.

Most hilarious of all, there actually exists a brand of coffee custom made to be used specifically for use in enemas. It’s true. I kid you not. The coffee is called s.a. Wilsons Therapy Blend Coffee. You’d think that for such a purpose you’d just want to buy the cheapest coffee you could find, like Maxwell House or something like that, but, no, you need a special kind of coffee, and here’s why:

All the coffee used for our enema coffee is 100% certified organic. It is also bird friendly and shade grown. Purchased from small independent farmer co-operatives, the beans have been hand picked and the farmers have been paid far more for their product than they would have been paid if sold to the local coyotes (coffee brokers). In addition, s.a.Wilsons is one of the very few, if not the only, Certified Organic Coffee Processor. That means every single step in the production of our enema coffee and the operation of our facility has been certified to organic standards, right down to the products we use to clean the floors.

Because it absolutely, positively has to be organic before you can put it up your backside. But that’s not all:

s.a.Wilsons Therapy Blend Coffee is the first and only coffee that has been specifically blended and processed with enema use in mind. It is also the only coffee that has been lab tested to be more effective. A blend of 100% certified organic coffee beans have been selected for higher levels of Caffeine and Palmitic Acid. Then the coffee is put through the very special three stage process, developed by Scott Wilson after years of research. So what was accomplished with all that research? Well, independent lab tests show that s.a.Wilsons Therapy Blend coffee is up to 48% higher in Caffeine and up to 87% higher in the more important Palmitic Acid. That’s higher than any commercially available coffee. These higher levels make Wilson’s coffee the most effective coffee available, without exception.

So let’s see. We have a ridiculously implausible mechanism that has virtually nothing to do with real human physiology. Of course, that’s par for the course in CAM-world. We also have people who take one of the great pleasures in life, a fine cup of coffee, and ruin it by using it for a purpose for which it was never intended. Even worse than that, they have to make a coffee specific for a purpose for which coffee was never intended, undoubtedly a very expensive coffee.

Personally, I’m with Harriet Hall on this one. Sometimes a concept is simply so ridiculous that there’s nothing to do other than laugh at it. Coffee enemas are clearly one such concept. All that’s left is to come up with some better names for coffee brands intended to be used for this purpose. “Starbutts” may be too obvious a choice, but surely we can come up with some better ideas.

In the meantime, I’m off to the coffee bar. There are too many red blood cells in my coffeestream.

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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