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Your Friday Dose of Woo: Another model goes woo

What is it about celebrity models and credulity towards woo?

Very early in the history of this blog, we first encountered Suzanne Somers, someone who underwent lumpectomy and radiation therapy for breast cancer, as well as radiation, but eschewed chemotherapy for “alternative” medicine. Guess to what she attributed her survival? Then she got into bioidentical hormones, even though it’s generally a bad idea to pump yourself full of huge doses of estrogen far beyond anything ever used for hormone replacement therapy if you’re a breast cancer survivor. (Her luck in not having induced a recurrence of her breast cancer so far is amazing.) But even that wasn’t enough. Most recently she’s been peddling a dubious stem cell service and trying to make hay by offering to help Christina Applegate, who recently underwent a double mastectomy to treat her breast cancer and as a preventative measure because she possesses BRCA1 mutation that puts her at an incredibly high risk for breast cancer in the other breast.

Then there’s the bête noire of this blog, former Playboy Playmate of the Year turned game show hostess turned gross-out comedienne turned purveyor of “Indigo Child” woo, all before, along with her boy toy Jim Carrey, she turned into the celebrity face of the antivaccine movement, Jenny McCarthy. Of her, the less said right now the better. My disgust with her might kill the lighthearted buzz for which I strive on Your Friday Dose of Woo, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

Of course, it’s not all bad. There is, for example, Amanda Peet, who has come out strongly for vaccines and science-based medicine. (Why can’t all models–heck, all celebrities–be more like Amanda Peet, at least when it comes to science and medicine?) So maybe it’s just confirmation bias or residual sexism in myself that I had hoped I had rid myself of that leads me to wonder if there’s something about having been a model and a tendency towards woo.

And then Carol Alt had to come along. Move over, Jenny and Suzanne, there’s a new model woo-meister in town, and she’s looking to out do you both with her vegan raw food woo after having been totally convinced by–you guessed it!–an anecdote:

He goes, “My girlfriend is 22 years old and they wanted to do a radical hysterectomy on her. She was full of cancer. I took her to this doctor. Everybody was saying [we were] crazy. We went against every doctor, but I’m telling you, he will make you look at food like you’ve never looked at food before. He will change your life! You will not be able to eat with friends and watch what they put in their mouth, because you will know they are poisoning themselves. In six months, he cured my girlfriend of cancer. She just got a negative biopsy.”

But is that all there is to this anecdote? Of course not! It never is. There has to be more, and, annoyingly, there is:

He put her on a raw diet, juiced her, did high colonics, clean outs. Put her on his herbs, enzymes and supplements. Just basically taught her how to re-build her body, which at 22 she could do really easily because she was 22! She had a lot of reserves and she was able to do that. At that point I just thought, “If that [doctor] could do that with that girl with cancer, could you imagine what he could do for me with all the stupid little aging things that are making me crazy?” I don’t want to be like everybody else. I want to be happy. I see all my friends on Prozac and Zoloft and all this kind of stuff. I don’t want that for my life. I don’t want to be on all these OTCs (over the counter medications). I just thought, “What the heck?”

“What the heck?” Personally, I look for a lot more evidence before I make a radical change in my diet and start shooting coffee enemas up my butt. But not Carol Alt. Apparently a hearty “What the heck?” is enough for her to get into Starbutts, as I like to say. Of course, you’ll note that this is a third-hand anecdote with no information to allow us to make even an educated speculation about whether or not Alt’s friends diet did anything at all for her “cancer.” Heck, we don’t even know if she had cancer at all. At age 22, ovarian cancer would be very unusual, as would uterine cancer, both of which tend to be cancers of middle-aged women or older. Cervical cancer would also be unusual at that age, although less so. Hold on! I know! How much do you want to bet that her friend in fact had fibroids, which, when large and painful enough, are sometimes treated with hysterectomy, even in a young woman. Alternatively, maybe she had cervical cancer which was cured by the cone biopsy used to diagnose it, much as breast cancer can be cured by lumpectomy without radiation and chemotherapy, which are, as I like to put it, the “icing on the cake, that decreases the risk of recurrence. It’s possible that she may have had microscopic residual disease after her cone biopsy, prompting a recommendation for a hysterectomy, but my guess is that this story is probably pretty fishy. In any case, Alt’s anecdote is useless. It tells us absolutely nothing because there is no information to make a guess at plausibility.

But no good descent into woo is complete without her own anecdote, and Alt has one. You see, back in 1999 or 2000 she was diagnosed with cervical or uterine cancer (I can’t tell which, one story says both). I couldn’t find what operation she had, but my guess is that she probably either had a generous cone that destroyed her cervical competence or a hysterectomy, either of which would have led her to be unable to bear children, as described as the reason for her divorce. But, guess what? Surprise, surprise! Alt attributes her surviving cervical cancer to her raw food diet and showed up yesterday on the Howard Stern Show to claim just that:

Supermodel Carol Alt (in the past Fred has disputed this classification, however, in light of her recent triumph over cancer, Fred said he was giving her a pass) stopped by to promote her new Playboy pictorial – her first nude shoot ever. Howard asked how Carol reconciled her shoot with her newfound Christianity, so she explained that she wasn’t a fanatic: “I just read my Bible in the morning.” Carol also said she was capable of miracles herself – she cured herself of cancer with a raw food diet. Howard doubted her story, and eventually Carol admitted: “The only thing I did was [buy] a little time with progesterone.”

You know, when Howard Stern gets you seemingly to admit that your story is a load of crap, you’re in trouble. I also have another question: What is it with all these woo-meisters first turning to woo after they find Jesus? One miracle is as good as any other to believe in–when you’re a credulous soul with no critical thinking abilities prone to magical thinking. I suppose that lecherous males should be grateful that her finding Jesus apparently hasn’t stopped her from getting naked for Playboy. But if you really want to see a hunk o’ hunk o’ burnin’ stupid, take a gander at Carol’s blog, where “Dr.” Alt (degree courtesy of Google University) explains the scientific basis of her raw food diet:

I am thinking that:

  • if cooked food is heated to high temps. (In this case, anything over 115 degrees F is considered “high”)
  • if the heat kills most of the enzymes(I supposed this means some of the hardy ones survive?)
  • if the heat also denatures some or most of the vitamins and minerals-meaning that vitamins and minerals are changed fundamentally in their chemical makeup so that they are less able to be absorbed by the body;
  • and if the heating of food effects the PH of the food- changing it from alkaline to acid;

If all this is happening to our food when we cook it, then does eating this food affect our aging process?

Let’s begin here

So, if in fact, when we add heat to anything we change the molecular structure, then by law of the universe, when we heat food we change its molecular structure, too

For example, in chemistry, you know if you boil water, that its molecular structure changes from a liquid to a gas (water to steam).

That is a chemical change.

So, a heated fat and a heated protein then is not the same as a raw fat in that when you heat them, you change its molecular structure, too-just as it happened with the water.

So, you have a food, perhaps a protein-which is an amino acid and you heat that protein. The heat does ‘its thing’ and changes the molecular structure of that protein.

Now you don’t really have an amino acid any more do you? I mean, how can you? If the structure of an amino acid is specific, then to change that structure is to change that amino acid.

Ok, that established, we now have this non-amino acid that WAS an amino acid before it was cooked going into your system.

The body looks at it and says: what is this? I have enzymes for an amino acid, but this is not an amino acid. What do I do?

The body decides then to break down the non-amino acid into its component parts, looks at it, then recognizes bits and pieces, puts those pieces together again as an amino acid, storing in the process the bits and pieces it cannot use.

Then when it recognizes the re-built amino acid, the body then makes another set of enzymes to break down the amino acid that it just re-built. Once, finally broken down into its component parts a second time, it can now be used to re-build and maintain the tissue and organs in the body or to make new enzymes.

Phew! A lot of work for the body-that creates stress and stress is more acid (see my last blog about the effects of acid on the body)

Any biochemists (heck, anyone who’s ever taken an entry level biochemistry class) reading this are probably in acute pain right now from a massive wave of neuronal apoptosis induced by blithering waves of stupid emanating from the passage above. (I know I overuse the whole “apoptosing neuron” bit, but hopefully the colorful language of this particular use of the metaphor will make up for its repetition; like many bloggers, I sometimes can’t resist overusing a good bit that I thought of.) In any case, I apologize and feel your pain. The above is so dumb on so many levels that I have a hard time knowing where to start to apply the not-so-Respectful Insolence that this mass of scientific ignorance cries out for. Suffice it to say that proteins are made up of amino acids, all arranged in a chain. That chain of amino acids is twisted around itself to form all sorts of secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structures, which can be globular, sheets, helices, usually a combination of the bove, and a number of other forms necessary for function. The heat used for cooking can indeed denature many proteins, partially untwisting them and destroying their higher level structure, but usually it’s not enough to break the proteins down to their component amino acids. Indeed, if it were, meat would just dissolve when cooked, the myosin and collagen in it reduced to amino acids, which are small and soluble molecules. But it’s even more stupid than that. At temperatures usually used to cook, amino acids are not broken down. They remain amino acids.

But it’s still even more stupid than that.

The whole bit about enzymes defies science and reason. The body can break down amino acids, but the whole bit about amino acids “altered” by cooking is pure chemical ignorance, especially when combined with the whole bit about the body having to make multiple sets of enzymes to break the “altered” amino acid down to its component parts and then reconstitute it and how eating cooked foods leads to more “acid” which leads to aging and disease.

Ack! I can’t take it anymore. From all this “science-y”-sounding nonsense along with the only semi-reasonable points raw foodists ever make, namely that cooking can destroy some vitamins, Alt then concludes that eating raw foods is inherently better and makes an amazing analogy:

heat=cooked food=denatured, acidic food= making lots of enzymes=pulling vitamins and minerals from body to make enzymes=degenerating body= aging/disease

Yet people insist on eating cooked foods because they like them or just because they are in the habit of eating them.

Well smoking is a habit, too. I would not want to do it! It is bad

And in order to have a healthy life, one must decide to have a healthy life and then do it- quit smoking.

The same with breaking the habit of cooked foods; one must decide what is more important:

Eating cooked foods or have a healthy life.

‘Staying young” for as along as you possibly can or eating cooked foods?

In my book, there is no choice! Be healthy stay young and eat fab. Raw Foods!

That’s right. Eating cooked foods is like smoking! Unbelievable.

But where did Alt get all these dubiously bizarre ideas about biochemistry? If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you might think she got these ideas from über-quack Robert O. Young, whose obsession with acidity as the cause of cancer and all disease is legendary. You’d be wrong in this instance. Apparently, it’s two dubious practitioners, one known to me, one not. The first is Dr. Timothy Brantley. The other?

Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez, he of the “Gonzalez protocol” for pancreatic cancer:

They’re giving you an opinion, as I am giving you an opinion. But I am basing my opinion on a doctor’s research, and the research that’s in books. There was a man… Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez [who] put his name in my book. This guy researched the world over. He spent two or three years traveling the world and he went to every remote place. He went to Alaska and saw them eating fat; he went to The Amazon and saw them eating only grains and no animals at all; he went to the valleys of Switzerland; He went to Africa. Every diet was different. But the people there had been adapted to that diet since the very beginning. So how I found out what to eat for me is I actually went to Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez and had him do a hair test on me. He told me I’m a moderate vegetarian, which means, and here’s the difference, if I don’t have fish I don’t feel good. If I have too much meat, it’s too acid for me. My boyfriend, he can’t survive without meat. He gets literally pale and sick without meat. So I’m sitting here looking at different people and I’m saying, “What’s good for one is not good for another.” We are not one blanket, one person in this entire world. We’re trying to homogenize the world today. But we’re not. Everybody comes from a different stock. You can’t take an Eskimo, and they did this… the Eskimos came down and they started eating the western diet, and they’re now full of cancer and everything. You’ve gotta understand where cancer is coming from. Cancer is an acid reaction. We’re cooking food. That’s acid.

Holy confusing correlation with causation, Batman! (Not to mention an argument from misplaced authority!) No, cancer is not an “acid reaction.” True, the interiors of cancers are often more acidic than the surrounding tissues because they not infrequently outgrow their blood supply, leading them to run out of oxygen and nutrients and start producing lactic acid. Somtimes, tumors so far outgrow their blood supply that the cells in the center die. In any case, Dr. Gonzalez is famous for having taken Max Gerson’s quackery and running with it to the point that he almost made it respectable, a quackery involving–you guessed it–lots of raw vegetables, raw meat extracts, plus frequent coffee enemas. I still can’t believe that Gonzalez somehow got the NCI to fund a clinical trial for his pancreatic cancer therapy, although it’s easy to believe that the results of the trial were never published, almost certainly because the study was a huge bust, with the Gonzalez regimen-treated patients likely doing worse. We’ll never know for sure, although it’s a good bet that if the Gonzalez regimen had been superior to conventional therapy, he’d have published and trumpeted it as vindication.

But Dr. Gonzalez is Carol Alt’s health guru. He even wrote the foreword to both of her books. That should tell you as much about her books as Dr. Jay Gordon’s writing the foreword to Jenny McCarthy’s books. I guess Gonzalez is the inspiration for these bits:

Carol confessed that she owed a lot of her remission to coffee enemas, so Howard walked her through the process: “You would insert this tube into your anus…how deep would you go?” Carol said, “As far as it took. Robin how far would you say?” Robin admitted that she inserted the tube pretty far. Howard had a million questions: did Carol enema while nude or in heels? Did she use lube? Carol said she used coconut oil: “I make love to my enema bag…I think the whole body is a fun zone. Nothing is off limits.”

Except, apparently, science, reason, and intelligence. In any case, that’s way, way, way more information than I needed or wanted.

Did I mention that that was more information than I cared to know?

Jenny McCarthy had better watch her back. Carol Alt’s clearly gunning for her position of ex-model woo-in-chief.

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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