Respectful Insolence

My dear readers, I beg your indulgence for the moment.

I had been planning on doing something a bit more serious than what I’ve been up to lately. Believe it or not, NaturalNews.com pointed me to a study that’s actually pretty interesting. It even challenges to some extend existing results. Of course, Mike Adams’ minion’s interpretation of the study was so wrong as to be not even wrong, as they say (so what else is new?). But therein lies the entertainment value with the educational value.

Sometimes, however, something happens, and a followup to something I’ve written before is demanded. It happens. As you may recall, yesterday I discussed a rather despicable attempt by a supporter of quackery named Tony Isaacs to appropriate Patrick Swayze’s misfortune to make the extravagant claim that Swayze is profoundly “misguided” for putting his faith in “conventional” medicine rather than “alternative” medicine. Much to the amusement of my commenters, Tony Isaacs himself showed up in the comments. His response is worth looking at more closely because it demonstrates something about the thinking of his ilk that is very important to understand. Isaacs begins with a typical appeal to anecdotal evidence. However, it’s lame, even by “alternative” medicine standards:

What would you have to say to the pancreatic cancer patients who are beating cancer with oleander – in many instances using a patented medicine version no less that has been used for over 40 years outside the US and is now in phase II testing in the US after having passed phase I toxicity tests?

I wonder if you would care to comment on the more advanced oleander medicine now in initial FDA testing at MD Anderson in Houston (and having great reports, btw)?

Or perhaps you would have some words of wisdom for the most recent two pancreatic patients who use the patented medicine available from Honduras by FDA exception rule who, after 6 months have either no cancer in one instance and completely halted tumor growth in the other?

I’ll have more to say about this “patented” version of oleander later. In the meantime until I get there, notice how he makes a claim that pancreatic cancer patients are “beating” cancer with oleander. Out of curiosity about whether I was missing something, I started looking into oleander. Doing a search on “oleander” and “pancreatic cancer” produced only one hit, an article looking at the effect of oleander extracts in pancreatic cell lines in dishes. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the way that most new compounds suspected of having antitumor activity are tested. However, it’s only the very first step. Many are the compounds that looked promising in in vitro studies tested against cancer cells on a dish that fail to make it past animal studies, and many more are the compounds that fail to make it past early clinical trials. There were even a phase I trial published for Anvirzel, an extract of oleander, but phase I trials are not therapeutic trials. They are not designed to detect efficacy, only toxicity (i.e., the maximal tolerated dose), pharmacokinetics, and side effects. In all, there were 15 studies found when I did a PubMed search of “oleander” and “cancer,” and that was the only one in which it was used in human cancer patients. There were also a couple of mouse studies, and the rest were all cell culture studies or reviews.

None of this is unusual for a woo-meister. They frequently cite impossible to verify anecdotes and extrapolate cell culture, animal, or very early clinical data to make claims of miraculous healings. In fact, I daresay that regular readers of this blog have seen this sort of thing dozens, if not hundreds, of times. What is unusual is just how blatantly he states a principal that advocates of “alternative” medicine lives by: If it’s “natural” (or perceived as “natural”) it must be better. Always. After all, Isaacs ranted about the “poison” of chemotherapy and the “burning” of radiation therapy; so what is is favorite “cancer cure,” this extract of oleander?

It’s a highly toxic plant, as described by the M.D. Anderson site:

Side Effects and Warnings:

Common oleander contains a strychnine-like toxin and a heart-active cardiac glycoside substance (similar to the prescription drug digoxin) that may cause the heart to beat rapidly or abnormally, or to stop beating. Common oleander has been used as rat poison, insecticide and fish poison and is toxic to mammals including humans. Animals (sheep) have died after eating as little as two to three leaves of Nerium oleander (common oleander). Children may die after eating a single leaf of common oleander. Eating the leaves, flowers or bark of common oleander may cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, pain, fatigue, drowsiness, unsteadiness, bloody diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, liver or kidney damage or unconsciousness. Death may occur within one day. Reports of toxicity and deaths in children and adults have been reported for decades in Australia, India, Sri Lanka and the United States.

Fruits of Thevetin peruviana (yellow oleander) are thought to be even more toxic to mammals, including humans. Based on human studies of intentional overdose (suicide attempts), eating eight or more seeds of yellow oleander may be fatal. Additional side effects of oleander ingestion include irritation and redness of lips, gums and tongue, nausea, vomiting, depression, irritability, fast breathing, sweating, stomach pain, diarrhea, headache, confusion, visual disturbances and constricted pupils. Abnormal blood tests, including tests of liver and kidney function (potassium, bilirubin, creatinine and blood urea), have been reported in humans.It is possible that plants grown in the same soil as oleander plants or in soil exposed to oleander may contain trace amounts of oleander.

Wow. That’s some seriously toxic stuff. In fact, it sounds a lot like…chemotherapy. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. It has a lot of toxicity. However, unlike many chemotherapeutic agents, it’s unclear if oleander extracts have any actual benefit. It’s possible that they might, but the evidence isn’t there in the form of randomized trials showing a definite benefit. Certainly Isaacs’ anecdotes do not qualify as any sort of convincing evidence, at least not in the form he gave it. After all, we have no idea who most of these people are; we have no idea what stage of cancer they had; and we have no idea if they actually responded to oleander extracts or not. But, hey, it’s “natural”; so it must be better than all that nasty chemotherapy. Oh, wait. Lots of chemotherapeutic agents are natural products too. Taxanes, for instance. What’s the difference? They’re products of the big bad pharmaceutical companies, of course!

But wait, does that really matter to Isaacs? Apparently not. One of my readers pointed out that the clinical trial to which Isaacs referred in his comment is testing an agent dubbed PBI-05204. It is a phase I trial, which means that it is not testing efficacy, but rather maximum tolerated dose and pharmacokinetics. In any case, get a load of what Isaacs said about it:

I realize that oleander in raw form is highly toxic – but not so when processed into the medicine and supplement form (which is itself now made by a pharmaceutical manufacturing company to exact standards) and the FDA phase I trials found no doseage limit for toxicity, but rather stopped because the dose reached a size that was impractical to exceed.

As a point of interest, the very lates oleander medicine that has entered phase I FDA testing at MD Anderson clinic has no name yet, but is known simply as PBI-05204 (the PBI stands for Phoenix Biotechnology Inc).

In other words, PBI-05204 is a drug. Not only is it a drug, but it’s a drug made by a pharmaceutical company.. It may not be a huge pharmaceutical company like Merck or Bristol Squibb-Meyers, but it is a pharmaceutical company. In fact, it’s a startup biotechnology company that’s raising cash from investors just like any other biotech company and, presumably, hopes someday to make a tidy profit and grow into something much bigger. Moreover, PBI-05204 is a purified (and possibly modified) natural product, just like lots of other experimental compounds isolated, purified, chemically modified, and manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, both large and small. The only difference is that this particular patented natural product is derived from a plant something that Isaacs likes, extracts of which promotes in the form of oleander soup. it’s chemotherapy, pure and simple. In fact, it’s more than that; it’s chemotherapy made through the same process of natural products testing and discovery that was used to identify, test, and market any number of other drugs produced by that “evil big pharma” cartel.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. I’d like to say it’s astounding, but I’ve seen its like many, many times before. It doesn’t matter that the oleander plant is extremely toxic and that extracts from it can similarly be very toxic. It’s “natural.” So to Isaacs it must be good; it must be holy; it must be right. It must cure cancer, HIV, and other diseases. Just like colloidal silver, which Isaacs also sells. Funny how Isaacs fails to mention that chronic usage of colloidal silver can produce the Smurf syndrome.

The bottom line is that the belief that “natural” is better than the products of big pharma is far more akin to religion than to science, and it is this belief that drives so much of the “alternative” medicine movement. Mr. Isaacs himself epitomizes this belief through his hawking of various oleander extracts, even though oleander is extremely toxic, and his ability to see no conflict between his support of using purified components from oleander made by a profit-driven startup biotech company and his disparaging of chemotherapy and “mainstream” medicine. There is no difference. Oleander is chemotherapy, and it is being tested and marketed by institutions that are firmly part of the “conventional” biomedical industrial complex. The difference between Isaac’s oleander and chemotherapy is that at least there has to be hard scientific evidence that chemotherapy is effectve before it can be marketed. Oleander extracts have not yet passed that hurdle. They may, but they have not yet. Moreover, there is no evidence that I can find that oleander extracts are any more effective against, for example, pancreatic cancer than currently used chemotherapy regimens. Certainly there is no evidence that Isaacs can present of any miraculous-seeming “cures” that would make his previous bold claims that Patrick Swayze would do much better with “natural” therapies like oleander than he is currently doing using scientific medicine to fight his cancer.

Still don’t believe me that it’s about religion more than science. Then get a load of this statement from Isaacs:

Let me ask you, if nature is not effective at preventing and healing illness, exactly when did God become a quack?

That’s actually a rather interesting question, although not for the reason Isaacs probably thinks and no doubt Isaacs doesn’t realize why I consider it an interesting question. For one thing, no one is denying that nature and natural products can’t be effective against some diseases or in the promotion of health in general. What is in dispute is the specific claim that Isaacs’ “natural cures” can cure advanced cancers like pancreatic cancer.

In any case, I could easily retort: If nature is so effective at preventing and healing illness, then why does God allow so many people to become so sick and even to die of horrible diseases like AIDS and cancer? Oh, wait. I bet I know. It’s the person’s fault for not living “naturally” enough. Yes, that does appear to be the implication, as it is for so much woo, that disease is almost completely preventable or curable if only you eat the right foods, do the right exercises, take the right supplements, and believe the right stuff hard enough, so that if you get sick, it’s almost always because of a failing on your part, not because nature’s a bitch.

Perhaps Tony would clarify that point for me.

Comments

  1. #1 Skeptico
    January 15, 2009

    If nature is so effective at preventing and healing illness, then why did people ever get sick or die young before modern medicine was invented?

  2. #2 trrll
    January 15, 2009

    You say nothing’s right but natural things
    Ah, you fool
    Poison oak is a natural plant
    Why don’t you put some in your food

    –Grace Slick, “Eat Starch Mom” lyrics

  3. #3 I am so wise
    January 15, 2009

    The amusing thing is that supporters of “natural” crap rarely have any idea what is natural. They’ll babble about natural teas and foods but fail to realize that tea is not nature, but an invention. Technologies in Repose (as the Jungle Book author called them) frequently baffled them.

    Also, their knowledge of history is sparse and often non-existence, so they’ll babble about things like homeopathy as being natural without knowing that is it a fairly modern Western medical system invented in the 1800s

    However, it is a source of fun. Watching yuppies mock the poor for eating at McDonald’s and being marketing victims while downing some invented food product marketed to their idiot asses as being “natural” is always a bright spot in my name. Reading the insulting way they are viewed by marketeres, despite their self-proclaimed status as “saavy” is laugh. A personal favorite is Packaging as a Vehicle for Mythologizing the Brand in the journal Consumption, Markets and Culture.

  4. #4 Dianne
    January 15, 2009

    In fact, in the phase I trial, no objective tumor responses were seen. This doesn’t mean much–some patients got a dose level that was almost certainly sub-therapeutic, the trial wasn’t powered for efficacy, the tumors being treated were refractory and may not be the ones that are sensitive to the drug in any case…In short, there is no reason not to go ahead with the phase II trial. But the results sure are unimpressive for a supposed “miracle drug”.

  5. #5 Scott
    January 15, 2009

    If nature is so effective at preventing and healing illness, then why did people ever get sick or die young before modern medicine was invented?

    Many of these people don’t believe they did. I’ve been told several times that prehistoric humans generally lived to 80-100 years old and almost never got sick. Generally attributed to “living in harmony with nature” or some such gobbledygook.

  6. #6 Dr. Steve
    January 15, 2009

    I’m sure Tony considers vincristine and vinblastine to be the poisonous emission of the pharmaco-industrial complex, being chemotherapy agents that have a lot of toxicity.

    But, what’s this? They come from periwinkle (vinca)? So they are “natural”. So, they can’t be toxic and must cure cancer.

    I can’t figure out what Tony’s litmus test is. Maybe it’s this: Given by an MD = bad. Given by a naturopath or other altie provider = good.

    Well, at least that greatly simplifies his “research”.

  7. #7 Dangerous Bacon
    January 15, 2009

    Whatever oleander extract undergoes preliminary toxicity testing at M.D. Anderson or elsewhere should have one key characteristic – having been refined and purified to have defined, reproducible levels of putative active ingredients. This is vastly different from the kind of “oleander soup” that Isaacs promotes. His website’s “recipe” suggests the following amount of oleander to harvest for “soup”:

    “A standard plastic shopping bag, holds more than enough leaves and stems to make three 20-ounce bottles of the extract.”

    Does he mean one of those little supermarket bags, or a larger bag like you get at the department store, or something else? Could matter, when you’re brewing up a homemade drug from a toxic plant.
    It seems highly likely based on the imprecise recipe instructions (and the frequently variable nature of plant content of chemical compounds depending on growing conditions) that you could easily wind up with major differences in toxicity between different batches of “soup”, not to mention big differences in the amount of the allegedly active ingredients.

    Isaacs does recommend gloves for handling oleander plant parts. But in his “cooking” section I see no cautions whatsoever about breathing in vapors from boiling the stuff, nor statements about keeping kids or others well away from fumes during the lengthy process.

    As to toxicity of the finished product, he says this:

    “The most common side-effects are loose bowels, slight temperature and perhaps mild nausea, all of which should dissipate quickly as the body becomes acclimated to the extract…The dosage level varies with individuals, body weight, tolerance and side effects, i.e.: vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.”

    Hmmm, sounds a heck of a lot like chemotherapy – only chemo with a unstandardized, toxic, unproven drug taken without adequate supervision.

    There’s also the usual cover-my-ass disclaimer:

    “This information is furnished for informational purposes only and nothing contained herein is intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Anyone with a medical condition or seeking medical advice is urged to seek out a qualified medical professional – preferably one well versed in integrative and/or naturopathic medicine.”

    http://www.tbyil.com/tips.htm

    Speaking of hypocrisy, when’s the last time you heard an altie of Isaac’s breed speaking favorably about vinca alkaloids or taxol (plant-based, toxic, mainstream chemo drugs)?
    Prediction: When and if some oleander-derived drug ever gets developed, tested, approved by the FDA and produced by a drug company, it will promptly disappear into the black hole of altie disapproval in favor of some other home brew of “natural” chemicals. And all the alties who repeatedly claim that plant-based remedies aren’t being pursued because they can’t be patented will keep right on chanting their nonsensical mantra.

  8. #8 IBY
    January 15, 2009

    @dr. steve
    That is precisely what their “litmus test” is, they have no standards at all. I might as well get meself a dose of arsenic because it is “all natural.”

  9. #9 Laura
    January 15, 2009

    Isn’t Paclitaxel derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree? Does that make it okay to take, according to these folks, even though it’s a “mainstream” cancer treatment?

  10. #10 mark
    January 15, 2009

    Why did people get sick and die in the days before modern medicine? Obviously, because they were sinners.

  11. #11 Moopheus
    January 15, 2009

    “There’s also the usual cover-my-ass disclaimer:”

    Does this mean that if someone actually follows his recipe, and gets seriously ill or even dies from oleander toxins, he can’t be sued? Would that really hold up in court?

    “If nature is so effective at preventing and healing illness, then why did people ever get sick or die young before modern medicine was invented?”

    Also plants and animals, which live in nature and suffer from diseases, pests, infections, etc.

  12. #12 eddie
    January 15, 2009

    What’s the betting that this oleander “when processed into the medicine and supplement form” is 30C homeopathy placebo.

  13. #13 e.d.
    January 15, 2009

    I’m in the early stages (re: undergrad) of a medical degree, but even after just a few basic “for majors” biology courses, I’m baffled by the belief that a damaged cell, with something missing or repeating in its sequence causing it to over grow and eventually spread to the entire body can be fixed by drinking a _tea_.

  14. #14 Wayne K
    January 15, 2009

    Never quite understood – everything ‘natural’ is pure and wonderful … except the filthy dirty human body, which of course is not natural in any way.

    Wait … what?

  15. #15 Tanya
    January 15, 2009

    *nods at Wayne K*

    I don’t get that, either. And, of course, if the filthy dirty human body and its awful awful mind create things, those things inherit its “unnaturalness”.

    it’s a worthless distinction if I’ve ever heard one.

  16. #16 samantha
    January 15, 2009

    what’s the source of these “nature has everything we need to cure us” beliefs that seem to pop up whenever alternative medicine is being discussed? It doesn’t seem to really jive with evolutionary theory or history.
    It comes off as some sort of neo-Romantic conception of “mother earth” as “nurturing”, pristine, the opposite of evil man and his destructive machinations, and so on, but I’m not clear on its source (historical or psychological). Are the people espousing it a bunch of aging hippies, continuing to revel in the bad thinking of the 60s, or is it some sort of twist on Christianity/’the grace of Jesus’, or is it something else entirely?
    Does anyone have any insight on this? It makes very little sense to me!

  17. #17 storkdok
    January 15, 2009

    My standard reply to being asked about “natural hormones” for menopausal symptoms is, “You can’t get more ‘natural’ than menopause”.

    I also have to remind people who are insistent upon “natural childbirth” that infections, hemorrhage and death are about as “natural” as you can get. So when would you like that intervention?

  18. #18 Karl Withakay
    January 15, 2009

    “If nature is so effective at preventing and healing illness, then why did people ever get sick or die young before modern medicine was invented?”

    That would be the myth that in olden times, people lived to ripe old ages without health problems and just dropped dead of old age one day while out in the filed tending crops or something.

  19. #19 Dangerous Bacon
    January 15, 2009

    Regarding side effects associated with ingestion of “oleander soup”, the website quoted above employs a dodge common in the world of alt med:

    “While raw oleander is toxic, there have been no reports of serious adverse reactions or side-effects due to properly prepared oleander extract taken according to directions.”

    Note the phrases “properly prepared” and “taken according to directions” (vague as those directions are). We can infer from this disclaimer that any poor slobs who may have reported having a bad time puking or experiencing “loose bowels” (“diarrhea” is apparently a no-no word) were at fault, not the drug or its advocates. This is similar to the excuse used when colloidal silver promoters pooh-pooh the cases of people whose skin permanently turned blue-gray after ingesting it – they must not have done it the right way.

    We shouldn’t be surprised, though, since these dodges are common to alt med as a whole. When ephedra caused untimely deaths, it’s because it was being “abused”, not taken according to the mystical Asian way. When aristolochia in a Chinese herbal mix caused severe kidney damage necessitating renal transplants, that didn’t mean the herb was dangerous, just that the victims were taking it wrong.

    Blaming the victim – it’s easier than admitting your prize remedy may have grave defects.

    Regarding an item in the news today, have the alternative medicine ghouls started (or resumed) bashing Steve Jobs yet for relying on evidence-based medicine?

  20. #20 Jim
    January 15, 2009

    So folks have died from various microorganisms, macroorganisms and occasional falling rocks. It is all a matter of perspective. Humans are the normal substrate for many little bitty thingies. Gawd must had a reason to create them so to be all tuned in to “natural” would be to let them grow!

    Screw that, gimmie the best science can offer to stop whatever is currently trying to colonize me.

  21. #21 SimonG
    January 15, 2009

    I was warned about poisonous plants as a little kid, because the hedgerows where we lived were full of Deadly Nightshade. Then there were the country walks and Foxgloves and Cuckoo-Pint. Not to mention all the toadstools and sundry less toxic (but still nasty) plants.

    So I’m staggered that anyone would consider making use of such poisonous plants as oleander without taking fairly serious precautions. It’s just stupid, and advocating it is even worse.

  22. #22 dreikin
    January 15, 2009

    (re-asked, with some editing, from the previous article)

    I’m too lazy/tired to look this up right now, but does anyone know offhand if there are any studies comparing survival and/or remission rates between a true control (no treatment – even alternative) and chemo/radiation for cancer(s)? I imagine there are no recent ones, due to ethical concerns, though.

    I’m aware that it would almost always* be unethical to do that type of trial currently – I’m thinking along the lines of retrospective studies, and studies from when chemo and radiation were first being tested as maybe having something like that.

    *If some patients obstinately (for any reason – CAM, religion, just don’t want to deal with it, etc) refused to take radiation/chemo, I wouldn’t, personally, consider it unethical to ask if we could track their progress – although I’m not sure I’d ever find an ethics committee that would agree.

    (studies comparing both/either to alternative therapies could be interesting too – if people actually believe the oleander soup line, I imagine alternative might show a lower survival rate..)

  23. #23 John A
    January 15, 2009

    I once worked with a young man who refused my offer of aspirin for his headache because it is “manufactured” and thus not “natural.” I am sure he would have accepted a distillation of acetylsalycylic (sp?) acid from willow bark tea.

  24. #24 DLC
    January 15, 2009

    I remembered oleander being toxic because it was used to murder someone in a case I read about.
    While we’re on about toxic stuff.
    Anyone remember laetrile ?
    http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Cancer/laetrile.html

  25. #25 Tsu Dho Nimh
    January 15, 2009

    Does all the boiling perhaps denature the toxins in the oleander to the point where they are merely sickening, not deadly?

    United States Patent 5,135,745 August 4, 1992 (so it’s expired) gives the instructions.

    The makers of Anvirzel have farmed it out to a Honduran company (http://www.saludintegral.hn/) and are selling it for about $3,000 for a three month supply. Supposedly it is available exclusively at the Salud Integral Clinic in Honduras, which is now owned by Nerium Biotechnology in Canada after being spun off by Phoenix Biotech in San Antonio, Texas.

    So having had a “clinical trial” … they don’t have to prove anything, just offshore it and sell it. Certainly keeps the cost down and the profits up. It’s described as “ongoing investigations”

    “Salud Integral, S. A. de C. V. (“Salud Integral”) is collecting ongoing clinical data for the use of the drug ANVIRZELTM, approved by the Health Secretary of Honduras, Sanitary Register Number M-07708. The clinical data collected is designed to gain additional information about the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of ANVIRZELTM, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of ANVIRZELTM in patients with particular diseases or conditions.”

  26. #26 Ashley W
    January 15, 2009

    Similar story to John A:

    Despite my prodding, my grandmother is still very much opposed to “unnatural” products like aspirin.

    At one point, she turned down an Excedrin, then popped out three pills of white willow bark extract. I had to stop from rolling my eyes.

  27. #27 Rowan
    January 15, 2009

    a friend of mine raises horses. she told me that she was having to use one of her brood mares as a nurse for a foal belonging to a friend of hers. two days after the birth the mare had eaten oleander which had been mistakenly planted alongside the corral, resulting in her death.

    as for the comment by John A, i too never understood people who do not take aspirin due to it being “unnatural”. the situation gives me a headache from facepalming.

  28. #28 Enkidu
    January 15, 2009

    The talk about aspirin reminds me of this thread from a parenting site I frequent…. which contains the following line of thought in a thread trying to hap-hazardly tie together the evils of tylenol and vaccines: “Well, there’s natural sodium benzoate (found in some dried fruits and cinnamon) and synthetic sodium benzoate [found in tylenol], as far as I understand. ..[...].. I’m not even sure if the same health concerns exist with the natural form.”

    Enter if you dare:
    http://forum.baby-gaga.com/about378826.html

  29. #29 Enkidu
    January 15, 2009

    I just noticed how badly constructed the first sentence of my above post is! Apologies for my lack of proof-reading!

  30. #30 Dangerous Bacon
    January 15, 2009

    “Does all the boiling perhaps denature the toxins in the oleander to the point where they are merely sickening, not deadly?”

    Who knows? Likewise, who knows what the hours of boiling do to the putative antitumor properties of the “soup”?

    If a patient decides after first trying the “soup” to go to the Honduran clinic mentioned above for Anvirzel therapy, has prior exposure to possibly diluted oleander components promoted tumor resistance which might negatively affect a desired treatment outcome?

    Who knows?

    Being a guinea pig to “show up Big Pharma” is a risky business.

  31. #31 catgirl
    January 15, 2009

    “If nature is so effective at preventing and healing illness, then why does God allow so many people to become so sick and even to die of horrible diseases like AIDS and cancer? Oh, wait. I bet I know. It’s the person’s fault for not living “naturally” enough.”

    The areas that are affected the most by AIDS are probably the most natural ones, where people are too poor to afford anything unnatural. It seems that people are actually rewarded by using unnatural things like medicine, condoms, and education.

  32. #32 berko_wills
    January 15, 2009

    I don’t think all alleopathic medicine is bad or that ‘Big Pharma’ is automatically evil but I certainly think that incidences of cancer and AIDS etc, are as a result of a modern urbanised lifestyle and the ingestion of chemicals and artificial products. That one would be wary of taking even more in order to try to cure their condition seems to have some merit.

    And the patenting of naturally occuring substances is despicable.

  33. #33 Joseph C.
    January 15, 2009

    I don’t think all alleopathic medicine is bad or that ‘Big Pharma’ is automatically evil but I certainly think that incidences of cancer and AIDS etc, are as a result of a modern urbanised lifestyle and the ingestion of chemicals and artificial products.

    Your knowledge of chemistry is pathetic. Water is a chemical. Want to blame AIDS and cancer on that as well?

  34. #34 Prometheus
    January 15, 2009


    “I certainly think that incidences of cancer and AIDS etc, are as a result of a modern urbanised lifestyle and the ingestion of chemicals and artificial products.”

    Absolutely! By living our modernized urban (or suburban) lifestyle, by eating mass-produced inexpensive food and ingesting chemicals and artificial products, we are able to live long enough to get cancer.

    In addition, it is modern medicine (often called “allopathic” by the “alt-med” neo-Luddites) that has reduced deaths from infections, infectious diseases, injuries, cardiac disease, diabetes, childbirth etc. so that most adults will die from cancer or “old age”.

    The “increased incidence” of cancer is the direct result of the reduced incidence of deaths by other causes. Since we all have to die of something, fewer deaths from cardiac disease means more deaths from cancer.

    Now, due to our “modern urbanised lifestyle”, we don’t die in childhood from diarrhea or in our twenties from tetanus or our fifties from heart disease – we die in our seventies (according to the latest numbers) from cancer.

    Prometheus

  35. #35 TripleM
    January 15, 2009

    dreikin asks if “…if there are any studies comparing survival and/or remission rates between a true control (no treatment – even alternative) and chemo/radiation for cancer(s)?” There have been several randomized trials of radiation therapy versus best supportive care after surgical biopsy in patients with malignant glioma. A summary of relevant studies can be seen in table 2 of this excellent review from cancer care Ontario http://www.cancercare.on.ca/pdf/pebc9-3f.pdf.
    Compared to “best supportive care” (no specific anti-cancer therapy), radiation therapy leads to an approximate doubling of median survival.

  36. #36 Kitty
    January 16, 2009

    I’ve dug up many of our prehistoric ancestor’s bones over the years and can honestly say I don’t think I’ve seen the remains of even one centenarian, never mind many.
    Far from being in a state of natural health, and presumably blissfully happy, the poor sods had terrible afflictions. I’ve seen awful arthritis, dental abscesses which would make you cringe, fractures which killed (eventually), rickets, and many trepanned skulls, which may indicate headaches to die for if you’re willing to try to let out the pain in such a traumatic way.
    I’ve seen skeletal deformities caused by the wear and tear of everyday life, occupational injuries if you like.
    Though not my field, I’ve had pointed out to me the traces on the bones left by many illnesses which would have caused considerable distress.
    If where we are now is a fall from some utopian existence I’m very grateful to have been born after the the fall!

  37. #37 DT
    January 16, 2009

    I ask these “no nasty chemicals for me please” brigade if they would ever risk treatment with a cocktail of the following chemical compounds:

    Dihydrogen monoxide, galactose, lactose, glucose, sucrose, lactoglobulin, lactoflavin, casein, phospholipids, butanol, isoamyl alcohol, hexanol, phenyl ethanol, tannin, benzyl alcohol, caffeine, geraniol, quercetin, 3-galloyl epicatchin, 3-galloyl epigallocatchin, glycerol; inorganic salts including potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium phosphates, chlorides, and citrates; enzymes including proteinases, lactase, diastase, lipase, salolase, catalase, peroxidase and aldehydrase; and acids such as linoleic, oleic, butyric, caproic, caprylic, capric, lauric, myristic, plamitic, and stearic acid.

    I do this as I slyly offer them a cup of nice, “natural” tea.
    ;)

  38. #38 Mongrel
    January 16, 2009

    I ask these “no nasty chemicals for me please” brigade if they would ever risk treatment with a cocktail of the following chemical compounds:

    Dihydrogen monoxide, galactose, lactose, glucose, sucrose, lactoglobulin, lactoflavin, casein, phospholipids, butanol, isoamyl alcohol, hexanol, phenyl ethanol, tannin, benzyl alcohol, caffeine, geraniol, quercetin, 3-galloyl epicatchin, 3-galloyl epigallocatchin, glycerol; inorganic salts including potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium phosphates, chlorides, and citrates; enzymes including proteinases, lactase, diastase, lipase, salolase, catalase, peroxidase and aldehydrase; and acids such as linoleic, oleic, butyric, caproic, caprylic, capric, lauric, myristic, plamitic, and stearic acid.

    I do this as I slyly offer them a cup of nice, “natural” tea.

    Wasn’t that a Doctor Who gag?

    (The Awakening IIRC)

  39. #39 DT
    January 16, 2009

    Possibly, but that was before my time, as it were (and not being a Timelord, I have no way of checking)

    Most of the core ingredients actually are cribbed from a “sense about science” information leaflet on chemicals.

  40. #40 khan
    January 16, 2009

    Yes, that does appear to be the implication, as it is for so much woo, that disease is almost completely preventable or curable if only you eat the right foods, do the right exercises, take the right supplements, and believe the right stuff hard enough, so that if you get sick, it’s almost always because of a failing on your part, not because nature’s a bitch.

    Whether or not they are good for you, what is natural about vitamin pills?

  41. #41 Militant Agnostic
    January 16, 2009

    Whether or not they are good for you, what is natural about vitamin pills?

    Or what is natural about a vegetarian diet?
    Or eating grains or any plant that was developed in the last 10,000 years?
    Or living outside of Africa?

  42. #42 trrll
    January 17, 2009

    don’t think all alleopathic medicine is bad or that ‘Big Pharma’ is automatically evil but I certainly think that incidences of cancer and AIDS etc, are as a result of a modern urbanised lifestyle and the ingestion of chemicals and artificial products. That one would be wary of taking even more in order to try to cure their condition seems to have some merit.

    Back in the ’70′s, many people predicted that we would be facing an epidemic of cancer by now, due to all of the artificial chemicals that we have introduced into our environment.

    Guess what? It didn’t happen. In fact, there has been a downward trend in most cancers.

    Of course, there was one exception–lung cancer from smoking, which exploded after smoking became widespread. Let’s think about that for a moment. Cigarette smoke is a horrible witch’s brew of toxic and carcinogenic molecules. A relatively light smoker might go through 20 cigarettes a day. Heavy smokers smoke pretty much constantly while they are awake. It is amazing that anybody could survive that. And yes, a lot of them get cancer–but a plenty of people smoke for decades and never develop cancer.

    In the face of that, it is pretty implausible to suppose that much cancer is the result of comparatively tiny exposures to environmental chemicals.

  43. #43 SC
    January 17, 2009

    Let me ask you, if nature is not effective at preventing and healing illness, exactly when did God become a quack?

    Let me ask you, Tony: What makes you think it’s all about us? Seriously, when stated this clearly, this whole way of looking things is really quite appalling. It claims to respect “nature,” but it’s a complete misrepresentation of the world and our place, as just one animal species, in it. This ridiculously human-centric view not only ignores the fact that many of these plants pre-existed us (I can’t seem to find out how long oleander’s been around, or really much about its evolutionary history – unsurprisingly, information tends to focus on its effects on humans) but that their features, including the production of toxins or substances that we have found useful, evolved because they were advantageous for the plants. They’re living things, just like us.

    It seems that not only have these woomeisters not left behind the religious idea of sin, but simply repackaged it as toxins – they’ve also not rid themselves of the absurd notion that some supernatural being created the cosmos and every other species on earth for our benefit. It really makes me angry.

  44. #44 Joseph C.
    January 19, 2009

    It seems that not only have these woomeisters not left behind the religious idea of sin, but simply repackaged it as toxins – they’ve also not rid themselves of the absurd notion that some supernatural being created the cosmos and every other species on earth for our benefit. It really makes me angry.

    But religion is a great thing to fall back upon because can you bend it to suit any agenda; to arbitrarily defend any absurd position without a scrap of real evidence. Conspiracy gambits are malleable in a similar fashion. They can be used as catch-all defenses whenever those pesky skeptics come and challenge your woo:

    “You must be working for the drug companies.”
    “I’m being attacked by the drug companies because they want to keep you sick.”
    “It’s illegal to cure cancer.”

    What I find especially pernicious about woo is not the religious aspect of it, but rather their failure to own up to the religion. They try to pass what they do as science when they lack well-designed studies, falsifiability, etc.

  45. #45 Grimalkin
    January 20, 2009

    I have a family member who buys into the “natural = good” argument. Her husband is ill with “something” (what that something is changes from week to week as the two of them work towards completion of their GoogleMD degrees) and they are seeing several “naturopaths” for treatment.

    She used the same argument Isaacs used, that “God made a cure for every illness – you just have to find it.”