Respectful Insolence

Over the years, I’ve not infrequently noted that there is a serious disconnect between what most people would think of as “natural” and what is considered “natural” in the world of “complementary and alternative medicine,” or, as I like to call it, CAMworld. I started thinking about this again after yesterday’s post about Jessica Ainscough’s decision to treat her rare sarcoma with the quackery that is the Gerson therapy and how her mother’s decision to use the same quackery, instead of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, resulted in her untimely demise. Reading over Jessica Ainscough’s blog, The Wellness Warrior, I see Ainscough extolling the virtues of “natural healing” over that nasty, reductionistic science-based medicine. Indeed, Ainscough has assembled a stable of bloggers who write primarily about “natural health.”

I’ll get back to Ainscough in a while. Another thing that got me thinking about this was a post I came across by one of my favorite quack apologists, Sayer Ji. He’s the guy who runs a website known as GreenMedInfo, a website that subverts legitimate research and misrepresents science in order to support “natural medicine.” Examples of the sort of intellectual firepower Ji brings to the issue of “natural medicine” include a post in which he described vaccines as “transhumanism” that subverts evolution and another post in which he tries to represent evidence-based medicine as being no more reliable than a coin flip. (He also really, really likes me.) In any case, for some reason, Ji’s blog showed up on one of my standard Google Alerts that I monitor with the delightfully batty title Biotech’s Dark Promise: Involuntary Cannibalism for All. It’s a perfect example of how advocates of “natural healing” demonize science as “unnatural.

Just from the title alone, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Ji would be attacking, and I was pretty close to correct. First, he attacks the cloning of human embryos for medical purposes. Certainly, there are major ethical issues to deal with when it comes to therapeutic cloning. Also certainly, therapeutic cloning is very attractive because it has the potential for de novo organogenesis and the permanent treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and diabetes mellitus. There are also a lot of problems to overcome, including induced tumors, the potential for interspecies pathogen transfer, and epigenetic reprogramming. Thorny ethical and legal issues remain, as well. For instance, the difference between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning is not so clearcut. The first step, implantation of a nucleus from a somatic cell (usually a skin cell) is basically the same for therapeutic cloning as for attempted reproductive cloning. In the U.S. and many other countries, reproductive cloning is illegal, which makes therapeutic cloning problematic. Yet, Ji makes it sound as though there is a world-wide rush to start cloning human beings for all sorts of nefarious purposes. Subtlety, of course, is not his strong suit.

Which brings us to “cannibalism.” Did you know that vaccines are a form of cannibalism? Neither did I, but Sayer Ji says it is; so it must be so! Take a look:

Whereas cannibalism is considered by most modern societies to be the ultimate expression of uncivilized or barbaric behavior, it is intrinsic to many of the Western world’s most prized biotechnological and medical innovations. Probably the most ‘taken for granted’ example of this is the use of live, aborted fetus cell lines from induced abortions to produce vaccines. Known as diploid cell vaccines (diploid cells have two (di-) sets of chromosomes inherited from human mother and father), they are non-continuous (like cancer cells), and therefore must be continually replaced, i.e. new aborted, live fetal tissue must be harvested periodically. A good portion of the CDC’s immunization schedule requires the use of these human fetus-originated vaccines, and these include: rubella, measles, mumps, rabies, polio, smallpox, hepatitis A, chickenpox, and herpes zoster. Additionally, so-called “abortion tainted vaccines” cultivated on transformed fetal cells (293, PER.C6) are in the developmental pipeline, including: “flu, Respiratory Syncytial and parainfluenza viruses, HIV, West Nile virus, Ebola, Marburg and Lassa, hepatitis B and C, foot and mouth disease, Japanese encephalitis, dengue, tuberculosis, anthrax, plague, tetanus and malaria.” [iii]

I’ve discussed the “aborted fetal tissue” gambit so beloved of antivaccinationists, particularly those with fundamentalist religious tendencies, more times than I can remember. Just type “aborted fetal tissue” or “aborted fetal cells” in the search box of this blog, and you’ll see what I mean. Yes, some viruses used to make certain vaccines need to be grown in human cells. These cell lines were derived from an aborted fetus back in the 1960s and have been continually passaged (allowed to double) in cell culture many, many, many times since then. None of the original cells from the aborted fetus used to create the cell line remain; they are all descendent cells, many, many, many generations distant. Moreover, in the production of vaccines, these cells are removed. There are no fetal cells in vaccines. Let’s put it this way. Even the Catholic Church has stated that until there are alternatives, Catholics should vaccinate. If even the Catholic Church can reconcile itself to the use of these cells, it’s hard not to view the bleats of someone like Sayer Ji as anything more than pure cynicism. It’s also just plain nonsense. “Cannibalism” is the eating of human beings. Even if you think that the use of cell lines originally derived from aborted fetuses is pure evil, it is not cannibalism. Ji simply wants to demonize vaccines even more than associating them with aborted fetuses; he wants to make it sound as though using these vaccines is morally equivalent eating aborted fetuses.

Ji gets even more ridiculous, however. Ji doesn’t like “biopharming.” Biopharming is the use of plants, insects, or animals to produce useful proteins and biomolecules that normally don’t produce them. Lots of drugs and biomolecules are made this way now, and this is nothing new. For instance, insulin has been made by inserting the gene for insulin into bacteria for 30 years now; indeed Genentech first succeeded in producing recombinant insulin into bacteria in 1978. Not surprisingly, recombinant insulin rapidly became more popular than insulin isolated from pig and cow pancreases, and it changed the treatment of diabetes forever. Most people consider this sort of advance a good thing. Not Sayer Ji:

Another way in which the dark specter of cannibalism is resurfacing in our lives is through biotech’s intense investment in biopharming technologies. Also known as molecular farming, biopharming involves creating “drug-producing” GMOs by inserting a gene that code for useful pharmaceuticals or biological products (e.g. antibodies, lactoferrin) into host plants, insects or animals that do not naturally express those genes.

And, of course, he fears vaccines most of all:

There is intense work being done today to create biopharmed “edible vaccines,” which contain deadly viral or bacterial vectors. Obviously, the biopollution created by inserting these genes into plants traditionally used for human consumption and which could find their way into the human food supply could cause life-threatening health problems. But edible vaccines are only a subset of biopharmed products in the developmental pipeline. There are a broad range of human proteins being ‘pharmed’ using genetically modified animals expressing human genes as ‘bioreactors.’

Ji then proceeds with a list of several examples of biopharming, including bulls expressing human lactoferrin for human consumption, mice expressing human granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor under control of a goat gene, silkworms expressing human glycoproteins, tobacco expressing human interferon-alpha for medical use, rice expressing human serum albumin for medical use, and more. To Ji, this is cannibalism:

With biotech weaving into the web of life arbitrarily placed human genes and their biological products, cannibalism (human consumption of human proteins) will become an inevitably in the future. The question is, will we stand for this reworking of the very molecular and genetic infrastructure of life, or pretend like it won’t also result in the genetic modification of our own bodies.

No, the question is whether Sayer Ji is an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to molecular biology, and the answer is clearly yes.

Of course, what Ji doesn’t seem to consider is that none of this is “unnatural.” Indeed, to do these things, scientists are taking advantage of nature, using natural products (DNA), inserting genes into cells using various methods ranging from plasmids to viruses, and producing proteins normally made by the human body. Indeed, you could even look at it the way our “natural healing” advocates look at things. The reason these proteins are needed to treat patients is because those patients obviously have deficiencies in them. All scientists are doing is providing doctors with the means to correct deficiencies in insulin, human interferon-alpha, serum albumin, and the like. I jest, but only a little. It’s not too far off.

Also notice how, even the hint of anything “unnatural” taints everything in the eyes of a quackery apologist like Sayer Ji. If a cell line derived from a human fetus 40 or 50 years ago that has undergone probably hundreds, if not thousands, of cell divisions since then, “diluting” the original components of the original cells nearly as effectively as homeopaths dilute their remedies, is used to make vaccines, those vaccines are forever tainted by the 50-year-old evil. Indeed, this concept reached a ridiculous extreme when Helen Ratajczak claimed that autism was due to human DNA from fetal tissue from the cell line in which the rubella virus used to make the MMR vaccine. She claimed that this fetal DNA underwent homologous recombination with the brain’s DNA in vaccinated children, caused expression of proteins from another human, leading to an autoimmune reaction. Now that’s some powerfully unnatural DNA.

All of this brings us back to the Gerson therapy for cancer, which Jessica Ainscough loves so much. It turns out that Sayer Ji thinks it’s just ducky, too, having invited Charlotte Gerson to appear in his “Natural Healing Summit” and having published several abstracts seemingly favorable to the Gerson therapy. Indeed, among cancer quackery apologists like Ainscough and Ji, the Gerson therapy is the epitome of “natural healing.” This remains something that I have never been able to understand. Remember what the Gerson therapy involves; I discussed it yesterday, after all. It involves:

  • Thirteen glasses of fresh, raw carrot/apple and green-leaf juices prepared hourly from fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Three full vegetarian meals, freshly prepared from organically grown fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A typical meal will include salad, cooked vegetables, baked potatoes, Hippocrates soup and juice.
  • Fresh fruit and fresh fruit available at all hours for snacking, in addition to the regular diet.

The Gerson therapy requires huge amounts of these fruits and vegetables, up to 20 lbs. per day, as well as:

  • Potassium compound
  • Lugol’s solution
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Thyroid hormone
  • Pancreatic Enzymes

Note that pancreatic enzymes come from, well, animal pancreases, and thyroid hormone comes from, well, animal thyroids, while Lugol’s solution is a solution of elemental iodine and potassium iodide in water, named after the French physician J.G.A. Lugol that was commonly used as a disinfectant. To top all this off (if you’ll excuse the term), the Gerson therapy involves coffee enemas, lots and lots and lots of coffee enemas, several a day. Meanwhile, variants of the Gerson therapy also include:

  • ozone treatment (given by enema or via infusion in autologous, heparinized blood or directly into patients’ blood vessels)
  • hydrogen peroxide (topically, rectally, or orally)
  • intravenous “GKI drip” (glucose, potassium, and insulin solutions)
  • “live cell therapy”
  • castor oil
  • clay packs
  • Lincoln bacteriophage (a vaccine made from killed Staphylococcus aureus bacteria) and influenza virus vaccine, both reportedly to stimulate “allergic inflammation,” a process Gerson believed contributed to healing , and
  • laetrile.

So, if using recombinant DNA to make human proteins for medical therapy is “unnatural,” then how on earth can using bacteriophages be “natural”? After all, scientists using recombinant techniques have been taking advantage of bacteriophages since at least the 1970s to introduce human DNA sequences into bacteria to make human proteins. How is ozone treatment “natural,” given that the ozone has to be generated with a machine or from hydrogen peroxide, a—gasp!—chemical? “Live cell therapy” involves either ingesting or injecting cells. Some forms of biological therapy used in science involve using live cells; so how can live cell therapy be “natural” and, for instance, bone marrow transplantation be “unnatural”?

In CAMworld the dividing line what is and is not “natural” is very fluid and arbitrary, apparently. Using human proteins from the “wrong” source is a crime against nature, while, puzzlingly, shooting yourself up with coffee enemas four to six times a day is not. I also have news for Mr. Ji. Cannibalism is not unnatural; it is very common in nature among all sorts of animals. Moral beliefs that are shared by most humans today explain why we find cannibalism repulsive, not anything in nature. He should be totally down with the “cannibalism” of biopharming.

Comments

  1. #1 Lucario
    SoFla, where the sun has not risen yet
    October 18, 2013

    Wha…wait…what?

    Words fail me at the sheer stupidity of this crank.

  2. #2 Lawrence
    October 18, 2013

    Wow, just wow……

    I’m also pretty sure that his definition of “cannibalism” doesn’t exist in Websters….or pretty much anywhere else for that matter.

  3. #3 herr doktor bimler
    October 18, 2013

    they are non-continuous (like cancer cells), and therefore must be continually replaced

    Cancer cells are non-continuous? And here I was, thinking that the special feature of the HeLa cell line and hybridomas is that they *are* continuous.
    I get the impression that “preserving credibility” is not a high priority for Sayer Ji.

    cannibalism (human consumption of human proteins)

    If “injection” is part of his definition of “consumption”, I guess transplants and blood transfusions are also cannibalism. Ah well.

  4. #4 incitatus
    October 18, 2013

    has it occurred to you how close Gersonism is to Eliphas Levi style ritual magic? In Levis magic practitioners were promised vast results but only if all aspects of a ritual, sometimes lasting up to a year, were perfectly accomplished with no taint or flaw. sneezing could ruin a years work. This meant that when Baalberith failed to appear it was due to an imperfect ritual. always. Because it was next to impossible to get it right.
    Consider Gersonating….all that fruit and veg has to be still “alive” and fresh and totally organic at all hours of the day or night. so if the cancer rots your tit off its due to you failing to follow the ritual….

  5. #5 Dangerous Bacon
    October 18, 2013

    “all that fruit and veg has to be still “alive” and fresh and totally organic at all hours of the day or night.”

    So you’ve gotta buy those expensive “live” lettuces they’re now selling at the supermarket with roots attached? (because as we all know, other lettuce heads are dead and rotting without the roots).

    I confess, I’m a medical cannibal – you should see the treats they leave for us in the docs’ lounge…

  6. #6 Julian Frost
    October 18, 2013

    The Gerson therapy requires huge amounts of these fruits and vegetables, up to 20 lbs. per day

    *.*
    O.O
    I had a “hollow legs” phase as a teenager and in my early 20′s. Even then, I don’t think I could have eaten 20lbs. a day.
    Would the enemas they take have something to do with needing to eat so much?

  7. #7 AnObservingParty
    October 18, 2013

    Lincoln bacteriophage (a vaccine made from killed Staphylococcus aureus bacteria) and influenza virus vaccine, both reportedly to stimulate “allergic inflammation,” a process Gerson believed contributed to healing

    This has always confused me when it comes to the CAM-loons. I mean, BS aside, I thought they generally pulled their hair and gnashed their teeth anytime the V-word was mentioned.

    Anyway, I’m starting to get really tired of these people hijacking and co-opting perfectly good words like “warrior” and “natural” and now “cannibal.” I cannot help but physically roll my eyes now whenever I hear the word “warrior.” I think it’s actually become an autonomic response to hearing that word, I don’t even think I consciously control it anymore.

  8. #8 Eric Lund
    October 18, 2013

    Biotech’s Dark Promise: Involuntary Cannibalism for All

    Shorter Sayer Ji: Soylent Green is made of people!

    @Julian: The vegetables get juiced, so I’m sure it’s a lot less than 20 pounds by the time it’s processed. But juicing every hour, 13 times a day? When do people following this protocol have time for such things as having a life? The regimen strikes me as being incompatible with, among other things, having a full-time job.

  9. #9 Calli Arcale
    October 18, 2013

    Dangerous Bacon — actually, there are advantages to buying the plants with the roots still attached. The biggest one is that they keep a bit longer. ;-) Heck, if you felt like it, you could pot them and keep growing them, though that would ruin a perfectly good head of lettuce by letting it flower.

    herr doktor — yes, presumably he’d object to transfusions on this basis. Heck, he should object to *motherhood* on this basis. It’s not just baby drinking momma’s milk or subsisting off of momma’s blood; momma ends up with bits of baby in her blood! Bits far more significant than the stuff he’s freaking out about here. I wonder how he’ll stand looking at his mother during Thanksgiving dinner.

  10. #10 Orac
    October 18, 2013

    The regimen strikes me as being incompatible with, among other things, having a full-time job.

    Indeed. Jessica Ainscough, for instance, basically devoted her whole day every day for three years doing the Gerson therapy.

  11. #11 Krebiozen
    October 18, 2013

    But juicing every hour, 13 times a day?

    I imagine it’s cleaning the juicer between juicings that is the most painful part, worse than the enemas. I have a juicer that has been stuck in the back of a cupboard somewhere, since I realized that chewing fruit was less onerous than juicing and then cleaning the damned juicer.

    If cannibalism and exchanging genes horrify Ji, I hope no one tells him what happens during normal, natural human sexual behavior, not to mention reproduction. His head might explode (which might not be altogether a bad thing, on reflection).

  12. #12 Denice Walter
    October 18, 2013

    Seriously, many alt med regimes- not just the extremes like
    Gerson- involves complicated rituals like juicing, ingesting handfuls of supplements, creating 80% raw meals and avoiding anything that a paleolithic person couldn’t hunt or gather.

    A daily plan advocated by the woo-meisters I survey might include several juices a day ( “juice- feasting”) and vegan, organic, GMO-free foods – making shopping even more of a chore. Food preparation includes arcane juicers and food dryers- no microwaves- as well as special water filtration processes. Fortunately for believers, all of these wonders are sold at the websites’ stores’. More conveniently, they also sell dried, powdered fruits and vegetables that you can add to your purified water or organic juices 6 or 8 times a day. Helps to simplify things.

    Hilariously enough, my own tennis instructor- who’s my age-occasionally puts himself on a diet free of highly processed food : subsisting entirely on grilled poultry and fish and salads and raw fruits for about a month, he becomes quite svelte and pleased with himself. Then he can indulge in slightly more processed distilled products from Russia, Finland and Sweden. They have pure glacial water or suchlike over there.

  13. #13 Chris Hickie
    October 18, 2013

    Sayer Ji is an an utter, true and complete moron, but he is a moron with two MDs on his staff: an antivaccine wack-a-doodle psychiatrist (http://gaia-health.com/gaia-blog/2013-06-25/a-doctors-awakening-on-flu-vaccines-in-pregnancy/) and a “concierge” anti-vaccine pediatrician (http://www.thornburgpediatrics.com/questions/ , and http://www.zoominfo.com/p/Brian-Thornburg/1259176285). Both physicians look like they have sold out for profit by going alternative, BTW.

    It pisses me off that dangerous quacks get these MDs on their staff which confers undeserved legitimacy. To me, the worst thing in the world is a MD on woo.

  14. #14 Denice Walter
    October 18, 2013

    @ Dr Chris:

    Brogan has shown up on TMR, AoA and Gary Null’s ( what is laughingly called a) show. IIRC she may also be fetaured at Alison MacNeil’s/ Louise Kuo Habakus’ new venture- Nurture Parenting- a blog, woo-distribution network.

  15. #15 Denice Walter
    October 18, 2013

    FEATURED

  16. #16 janet
    where the fall colors are beautiful
    October 18, 2013

    So, if one ingests any form of human protein, one is then considered a cannibal. Saliva contains human proteins, so I guess we all have to spit a lot. Also, any kid who ever entertained him/herself by eating “nose produce” (every kid ever born??) is also a cannibal, probably this Ji whackadoodle too.
    And, isn’t juicing a form of processing? Or do I misunderstand the term? Those of us who have to watch every calorie we eat know that juice is waaaaaay more calorie-dense than the fruit itself, plus juicing removes the fiber. Maybe that’s why they have to have the enemas. I’m sure paleolithic individuals gave themselves multiple enemas daily. Having read the Gerson protocol, give me standard chemo any day–it sounds way less invasive.
    What idiots. Sigh.

  17. #17 Wesley Dodson
    October 18, 2013

    The problem, it seems to me, is that the placebo effect is real, but only so long as the patient (and perhaps the doctor) doesn’t know it’s a placebo. The mind is unwilling to acknowledge its own potential effectiveness in the healing process and must project it onto the healer and/or the treatment. So alternative medicine assumes a variety of disguises and useless procedures to mask the fact that its doing nothing. What’s important is that the patient expect positive results.

    Of course, the placebo effect can’t cure everything, and in the case of major pathologies like cancer, must remain ancillary to proven methods of cure. And it seems highly unethical for placebo peddlers, in whatever form, to charge excessively for their services. Of course, to the capitalist mind, higher cost equals better reward, so perhaps the price of some alt-med treatments adds to their efficacy.

    At any rate, I think the placebo effect deserves to be exploited in any mainstream course of treatment, especially if the patient is skeptical of conventional therapy. If you’re uncomfortable with homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, or whatever, then contrive your own mumbo-jumbo to raise the patient’s expectations. First, do no harm. Second, inspire.

    Of course you are right to attack alternative treatments that take the place of proven therapy or become so outlandish that they cause harm to the patient. But I think you should be more tolerant of harmless woo as an adjunct. No matter how powerful a treatment is proven, we should always expect the addition of the placebo effect to lead to a better outcome.

  18. #18 Calli Arcale
    http://fractalwonder.wordpress.com
    October 18, 2013

    janet:
    “Having read the Gerson protocol, give me standard chemo any day–it sounds way less invasive.”

    I have to agree. Of course, I’m also one of those who’ll refuse the nasal flu vaccine on the basis that I’d seriously prefer the needle to having stuff squirted up my nose. I *hate* nasal sprays.

    And yeah, juicing is very much a form of processing. But it’s done in the home and you don’t cook it or add “chemicals” so I guess that makes it different somehow.

  19. #19 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    October 18, 2013

    @janet

    So, if one ingests any form of human protein, one is then considered a cannibal. Saliva contains human proteins, so I guess we all have to spit a lot.

    Not to mention kissing. Couples who kiss are, according to Ji’s definition, literally cannibalizing each other. Parents who kiss their children. Oh, the horror!

  20. #20 Young CC Prof
    October 18, 2013

    You know, if eating other people’s DNA is that poisonous… Ever eat an apple someone else might have handled without gloves on? LOTS of human DNA! In your mouth! Way more than in medical products! OMG!

  21. #21 Andreas Johansson
    October 18, 2013

    And, isn’t juicing a form of processing? Or do I misunderstand the term?

    In the Woosphere, “processed” appears to mean prepared in an unapproved way. If it’s done in an approved way (they’d probably call it a “natural” way), you can break down a foodstuff to its constituent molecules and put it into sugar pills without it becoming “processed” in the process.

  22. #22 Mary
    October 18, 2013

    What about that placenta eating thing the CAM folks love so much? Is Sayer campaigning against that too?

    I suppose organ donation for saving other humans is out then too, hmm?

    Just recently I found out about a neat project to make human collagen bandage/wound healing assistance that sounds pretty good. It’s made in plants. But yeah–maybe people should really prefer unhealed wounds. It’s natural.

  23. #23 Sastra
    October 18, 2013

    In CAMworld the dividing line what is and is not “natural” is very fluid and arbitrary, apparently.

    The line between “natural” and “unnatural” is fluid and arbitrary from the standpoint of the objective process or treatment, yes. But it seems to be rather solid and predictable when you look at it along the lines of tribal identity.

    Who endorses it? What concepts and ideas do they associate it with? Do they use the right words? Do they seem like the right kind of people — Nature-loving folks who fight against the authorities which advocate things which go against Nature? Are they pushing the right buttons? Invoking an appropriate world view? Are they spiritual?

    It might be interesting to take some of the scientific “enemies” of the natural medicine movement and write essays extolling their worth as “natural forms of healing,” hitting all the tropes and drawing from all the cliches — including complaints about profit-hungry mainstream scientists and physicians who are fighting against this gentle new breakthrough (even though there is no such fight.) Give a warm personal testimonial and call yourself something like ‘Spiritwind’ or ‘JustAmom.’

    Then send them out into the woo world … and watch what happens. Will the unnatural now “pass” as Natural?

    Maybe.

  24. #24 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    October 18, 2013

    Of course, the placebo effect can’t cure everything…

    Evidence, please, that placebos can cure *anything*.

    I would agree that placebos might make someone think they are better, but I have never seen anyone provide evidence of any objective improvement that cannot be explained by the natural course of disease or injury.

  25. #25 Young CC Prof
    October 18, 2013

    @23: Try new Greenflu. It’s designed using principles similar to homeopathy, with highly dilute doses of flu, then combined with other ingredients to stimulate your immune system and activate your body’s natural defenses.

    It’s carefully prepared using natural live eggs and purified using a special process, to make sure that the vital proteins remain intact.

    Best of all, people who use Greenflu have been shown to purchase fewer drugs and spend less on health care during flu season. Don’t let Big Pharma’s puppets keep you away from this lifesaving, money-saving breakthrough!

  26. #26 Krebiozen
    October 18, 2013

    Wesley Dodson,

    The problem, it seems to me, is that the placebo effect is real, but only so long as the patient (and perhaps the doctor) doesn’t know it’s a placebo.

    Sadly the placebo effect isn’t real*, at least not in the way you appear to mean. It can make people feel better, but it doesn’t objectively affect their condition at all. I’m not aware of any objectively assessed condition that is improved by a placebo as compared to no treatment**.

    No matter how powerful a treatment is proven, we should always expect the addition of the placebo effect to lead to a better outcome.

    On the contrary. Firstly proven treatments come with a free placebo effect, and secondly an unproven treatment that provides a placebo effect and nothing else can be downright dangerous. I the case of asthma, for example, feeling better may easily dissuade a sufferer from using an inhaler when their condition is objectively worsening.

    * The best example I know of this is this study which is often cited as evidence that sham knee surgery (making an incision and then simply sewing it back up) is as effective as lavage (washing out the joint) and debridement (basically scraping out the joint), thus demonstrating the awesome power of the placebo. However:

    The authors found that all three treatment groups fared equally: each reported subjective symptomatic relief, but no objective improvement in function was noted in any of the groups.

    (My emphasis)

    ** Comparing after placebo to to baseline is a source of much confusion and error – a cold will get better if you give a placebo, but it will also get better without treatment.

  27. #27 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    October 18, 2013

    @Wesley Dodson,

    What you say might make sense if three things were true:

    1. That the placebo effect has a medically significant therapeutic benefit and not, as appears to be the case, merely making people think they’re feeling better.

    2 That there were no ethical concerns with fooling people – telling them that this is a treatment when it isn’t.

    3. That people wouldn’t pass on the information that the surgery, medicine, radiation, physical therapy, or what have you was absolutely worthless – but that PLACEBO stuff, man is it good for what ails you. If you ever get sick, skip all the rest of that stuff – go straight to the PLACEBO.

    If you’ve got data on those that you’d wish to share, please feel free. I for one would be willing to look at good solid reproducible evidence that placebos have a significant therapeutic effect for something.

  28. #28 Krebiozen
    October 18, 2013

    M.O’B.,

    I for one would be willing to look at good solid reproducible evidence that placebos have a significant therapeutic effect for something.

    Me too. Several years I had great hopes for placebos, but the evidence has slowly moved me to my current position of apostatic cynical skepticism. I would love to have my faith in psychoneuroimmunology revived with some good evidence, but I shan’t be holding my breath.

  29. #29 Denice Walter
    October 18, 2013

    @ Sastra:

    Unfortunately**, I don’t have the time but I can riff on creative descriptions for psychotherapy and counselling-

    find your own true Self
    allow your Spirit to thrive unhampered by the material***
    Unleash your Innermost Sage and/ or Warrior
    your vocation to serve the Universe awaits you
    I am your living Spirit Guide
    Connect with your Inner Goddess and Rule!
    map out your path on your transcendental journey
    Channel YOURSELF!

    ** others might say “fortunately”.
    *** clothing optional folk might also answer

  30. #30 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    October 18, 2013

    @Denice Walter – Can I release my innermost Oregano if I don’t care for Sage?

  31. #31 incitatus
    October 18, 2013

    @Denice Walter

    channelling oneself in the evening certainly helps you to drop off to sleep

  32. #32 Luara
    October 18, 2013

    Also notice how, even the hint of anything “unnatural” taints everything in the eyes of a quackery apologist

    I really doubt this. Most of them drive cars.

  33. #33 sophia8
    October 18, 2013

    Jessica Ainscough, for instance, basically devoted her whole day every day for three years doing the Gerson therapy.

    Compare Jessica Ainscough’s daily existence with bobh’s account of how his wife lived with her terminal cancer. She went travelling, took holidays, cared for her grandchildren, saw old friends, went to family feasts and celebrations. She not only enjoyed the life left to her, but took care to spend as much time as possible with her loved ones, so that they would have plenty of happy memories when she was gone.
    Meanwhile, Jessica Ainscough spent a huge amount of her time shut indoors, juicing, having enemas, endlessly thinking about diet and food, endlessly cleaning the juicer, endlessly cleaning the enema equipment, checking the clock to make sure she was right on the hour with her juice-drinking…. And even more than that, trying and trying to keep thinking positive thoughts, because any hint of negativity might destroy the magic.
    If I ever got diagnosed with terminal cancer, I’d know which lifestyle I’d choose.

  34. #34 Sastra
    October 18, 2013

    Denice Walter #29:

    Thanks! I’ll use it:

    Vaccines are NATURAL HEALING!!!!

    Look, I’m just a mom, but vaccinations helped me find my own true Self and allowed my Spirit to thrive unhampered by the material world. I didn’t take anyone’s word, I did the research and made up my own mind.

    What I discovered is that vaccines naturally work with your own immune system, unleashing your Innermost Sage like a Warrior against the toxins we are constantly being bombarded with.

    Don’t listen to the naysayers and shills. Empower yourself with the CHOICE to get a vaccination! Your vocation to serve the Universe awaits you as you are filled with a living Spirit Guide, one which can connect with your Inner Goddess and Rule! Remember that every vaccination is a perfectly natural step on your path on your transcendental journey. Channel vaccines; Channel YOURSELF!

    Through the natural healing method of vaccines. Namaste.

    signed, SpiritWind

  35. #35 Shay
    October 18, 2013

    The regimen strikes me as being incompatible with, among other things, having a full-time job.

    The Draconian requirements of the Gershon regimen are a guarantee that very, very few converts will be able to do it 100% correctly.

    Giving supporters a convenient “out” for when (not if) it doesn’t work.

  36. #36 Wesley Dodson
    October 18, 2013

    Krebiozen, I agree that proven treatments come with a free placebo effect, unless the treatments, in the case of cancer, are downright scary, i.e. geared toward the destruction of cells–cutting, burning, and poisoning as they say. I’m not saying these treatments are ineffective, just that their nastiness is likely to inspire fear.

    Mephistopheles, I don’t agree that deception in the patient’s best interest in unethical, as long as they are receiving the best possible treatment. So while it may be unethical to give someone a sugar pill in place of a clinically proven drug, I don’t think it’s unethical to give them a clinically proven drug and encourage them to get acupuncture or pursue meditation because it will improve their response.

    But from what I am hearing my received knowledge about PNI is out of date. Would love to be pointed toward some recent studies.

  37. #37 Luara
    October 18, 2013

    Evidence, please, that placebos can cure *anything*.

    There seems to be a good deal of evidence that people can get rid of warts via placebo. Also by hypnosis.

  38. #38 Krebiozen
    October 18, 2013

    Wesley,
    Point taken. It probably depends on how you think about the treatment; those who exaggerate the side effects of conventional cancer treatments and claim they destroy your immune system probably aren’t helping in this regard.

    I forget the name of the man who recommended visualizing chemotherapy as a white light destroying cancer cells, or similar. He claimed success in cancer patients’ responses but this wasn’t replicated in follow-up studies.

    I don’t believe that how you regard chemotherapy makes the slightest difference to its objective efficacy. However it might help a patient to endure it, if it proves difficult, which could be life-saving.

  39. #39 Krebiozen
    October 18, 2013

    Luara,

    There seems to be a good deal of evidence that people can get rid of warts via placebo. Also by hypnosis.

    That’s a good point, there is some evidence for this, but much of it isn’t of the greatest quality (e.g. is uncontrolled), and/or it isn’t very clear. This study, for example, that compared hypnosis, salicylic acid, and a placebo to controls, with ten subjects in each group. The controls lost more warts than both the placebo and salcylic acid groups. The hypnotized subjects lost the most warts, but given the variability it is hard to come to any firm conclusions.

  40. #40 Richard Smith
    October 18, 2013

    I just finished reading Mary Roach’s _Stiff_, and if Ji thinks modern medicine is cannibalism, he really needs to read chapter 10, “Eat Me,” subtitled “Medicinal cannibalism and the case of the human dumplings.”

  41. #41 Luara
    October 18, 2013

    With warts, there are methods that work better than hypnosis anyway – so not much incentive to research it. But it makes me wonder, if a sensing device were implanted near a tumor, whether a person could control blood flow to the tumor by biofeedback.

  42. #42 Chris,
    October 18, 2013

    This is really weird since I watched this week’s CSI, where the mystery protein was a killer ingredient.

  43. #43 Chris,
    October 18, 2013

    Erg… the link in “CSI” works.

  44. #44 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    October 18, 2013

    Wesley Dodson – I am not an expert in medical ethics and understand that doctors do disagree on the subject of withholding information from patients (or indeed telling a flat out lie if it’s done with the best of intensions and for the perceived benefit of the patient). It strikes me as dodgy and ma/paternalistic. It also reminds me vaguely of a scene from The Bells of Saint Mary’s.

  45. #45 Chris Hickie
    October 18, 2013

    Warts almost go away even if left alone because (unless someone’s immune system is extremely suppressed) eventually the virus that is causing the wart is will be cleared by the immune system. As a pediatrician, especially with smaller children, I will do my best to convince parents not to have me try to freeze warts and instead just let them go away on their own.

  46. #46 Skeptical Hams.
    October 18, 2013

    Crazy thing is that aborted cell derivatives are used in a large part of the CDC immunization schedule – that much Ji gets correct. That it is cannabilism, not so sure about that. Good article, though I think you conveniently rolled over all the biopharm research his article discusses which quite frankly does disturb me. Human lactoferrin in cow’s milk. Yuk!

  47. #47 Krebiozen
    October 18, 2013

    Luara,
    I do wonder about hypnosis and warts, and especially what the mechanism might be if it does actually work. I have come across some uncontrolled studies that apparently found hypnosis was able to remove warts on one side of the body only, which is hard to explain, but I would need to be convinced of the integrity of the study design before I was convinced of this. These kinds of studies tend to be carried out by people who are highly motivated to prove hypnosis works, with all the cognitive pitfalls that brings along.

    Would simply reducing local blood flow eliminate a wart? It seems unlikely, but even if so, how do hypnotic suggestions to get rid of a wart do that? Does imagining a wart disappearing induce a person’s brain to send out a signal to reduce blood flow just around a localized area like that? Is that even possible?

    If not blood flow, then how could this work? What other mechanism that isn’t already operating would kill a virus and could be turned on by hypnosis? The more I think about it the more problematic it gets. I can see a possible mechanism for relaxation reducing corticosteroid levels, thus reducing immunosuppression, and systemic effects like that, but local effects are harder to explain. I’m not saying they are impossible, but I have a problem with prior plausibility.

    I also wonder about claims that hypnosis can raise blisters e.g. if a subject is told they are being touched with a hot object. I experimented with hypnosis quite a bit several years ago, and found it very interesting, though I found that you can get people to do most things associated with hypnosis even when they’re not in a ‘trance’ (whatever that means). I suspect most of us spend most of our time in some sort of ‘trance’.

    I have used hypnosis to induce analgesia, but this happens out of trance too so it isn’t particularly remarkable; we have probably all had the experience of injuring ourselves while our attention was elsewhere and not noticing until afterwards. To my regret I never tried raising a blister. I’m out of practice these days, but I might see if I can find myself a good hypnotic subject some time and give it a go.

  48. #48 Denice Walter
    October 18, 2013

    @ Sastra:

    Well, there you go twisting my finely honed prose in order to shill VACCINES!
    Alright then, carry on!

    When I was a grad student, a hilarious friend wanted me to tart up SB psychological information in New Agey garb whilst giving motivational lectures selling counselling or group therapy- which would also be SB
    and based on my studies/ training- although we wouldn’t tell THEM… he would be my manager @ 10%. I of course refused him despite the fact that I would wear flowy clothes-

    Maybe it’s not such a bad idea although it is quite unethical.

    Still, the whole scenario is quite ridiculous- imagine me as a New Age guru, wearing drifty grey-blues in raw silk, on the hillside, wind in my hair, calmly
    advising my acolytes… I could call myself “Laxmi” or latinise my name-
    don’t laugh, it sounds very cool-

    Nope, It’s still wrong to mislead people even if they LIKE it and it makes me rich.

  49. #49 Calli Arcale
    http://fractalwonder.wordpress.com
    October 18, 2013

    Wesley Dodson:

    Krebiozen, I agree that proven treatments come with a free placebo effect, unless the treatments, in the case of cancer, are downright scary, i.e. geared toward the destruction of cells–cutting, burning, and poisoning as they say. I’m not saying these treatments are ineffective, just that their nastiness is likely to inspire fear.

    The excellent term “nocebo” has been coined to describe this phenomenon, where an expectation of harm negatively colors perception of the treatment.

  50. #50 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    October 19, 2013

    Evidence, please, that placebos can cure *anything*.

    There seems to be a good deal of evidence that people can get rid of warts via placebo.

    I would like to read more about this. Citation, please. What has convinced you that doing nothing works better than doing something?

  51. #51 Krebiozen
    October 19, 2013

    Johnny,

    I would like to read more about this. Citation, please.

    There are several studies on PubMed of varying quality, as I mentioned above. Some evidence does look interesting. See what you make of this study , for example, that used hypnosis to treat genital HPV in women. I’m not sure what to make of it.

  52. #52 incitatus
    October 19, 2013

    @ Mephistopheles O’Brien

    any doctor who failed to reveal to me the full details of my treatment for any reason good or bad would a) swiftly cease to be my doctor and b) possibly be hauled up before his professional body. Doctors should never treat without fully informed consent in my opinion. I have informed every doctor I have ever had of this, and had a variety of self serving arguments as to why they feel this is wrong, which almost always include the “how do we dumb it down enough for you” argument. These arguments result in them being fired.
    In my view uninformed treatment is assault, pure and simple. It follows from this that placebos should not be given. I know that’s a little black and white but its where i sit.

  53. #53 DLC
    October 19, 2013

    So, if Mr Ji were to have some mishap and say, get a big cut on his leg, and need to have a blood transfusion, can I safely assume he would refuse such, as it’s *cannibalism* ?

  54. #54 BobM
    October 19, 2013

    If it’s cannibalism, then it’s quite in line with ancient more “natural” western medicine, which often used ground up body parts in its cures :-).

  55. #55 Spectator
    October 20, 2013

    So the Gerson Therapy involves

    Vaccines
    Chemicals (“all these chemmicals” ;)
    Motor oil base — Castor oil was used a motor oil, famously in WWI airplanes and the Indy 500.

    Natural, for some definitions of the word natural.

  56. #56 Dangerous Bacon
    October 20, 2013

    “If it’s cannibalism, then it’s quite in line with ancient more “natural” western medicine, which often used ground up body parts in its cures”

    I was thinking of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in which preserved bits of one’s ancestors were consumed.

    *according to some, this is still a practice among traditionalists.
    Grandpa is good for what ails you.

  57. #57 ebrillblaiddes
    October 20, 2013

    In all fairness he’s not the first to see injection as equivalent to eating. See also the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I mean, I’m pretty sure they’re wrong too, but…just saying.

    And now I’m wondering whether I should be upset that I was not offered a Soylent Green lollipop with my flu shot this year.

  58. #58 LW
    October 20, 2013

    ozone treatment (given by enema or via infusion in autologous, heparinized blood or directly into patients’ blood vessels)

    I know this has not much to do with the natural/unnatural discussion above, but are they seriously injecting ozone — a gas — into people’s blood vessels? Isn’t that dangerous pretty much regardless of the gas in question?

  59. #59 Denice Walter
    October 20, 2013

    @ LW:

    They ‘inject’ ozone into other places too.

  60. #60 incitatus
    October 20, 2013

    and ozone is extremely toxic, corrosive and just generally nasty

  61. #61 Sebastian Jackson
    October 20, 2013

    Hey Orac, this is a bit off-topic but do you plan to watch this?

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/hunting-the-nightmare-bacteria/

  62. #62 Calli Arcale
    October 20, 2013

    LW: The IV ozone treatment is I believe generally done not by injecting gas into the blood (thankfully) but by removing the blood, perfusing it with ozone, and then putting it back in again. An alternate version skips the theatrical step of removing blood first and just uses an ozone-saturated saline solution.

  63. #63 Mark McAndrew
    October 20, 2013

    Also slightly off-topic, but I’m due for some kip and can no longer defend Orac’s good name on this shite-hole of an article in yesterday’s UK press. Any assistance gratefully received: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/10383724/I-feel-empowered-in-control-of-my-body-four-women-on-fighting-cancer-with-alternative-therapies.html#disqus_thread

  64. #64 Krebiozen
    October 21, 2013

    Mark McAndrew,
    I think you have done an admirable job of exposing those people as the dishonest creeps they are. I’m resisting the urge to join the fray, as I have a million and one other things I’m supposed to be doing.

  65. #65 Renate
    October 21, 2013

    @ Mark McAndrew, I’m sorry, but i don’t want to read those comments. Seeing someone mentioning dr Burzynski in the article really turned me of.

  66. #66 Denice Walter
    October 21, 2013

    @ Mark McAndrew:

    You ( and the other sceptics) did a great job there: the woo-enablers are spectacularly awful and disgusting. You deserve applause.

    Oddly, one of them calls you a ‘cyber bully’: just yesterday, AoA’s ( and TMR’s) Jameson wrote about strategies for the faithful to deal with internet “bullying”, i.e. challenges based on reality, SBM and scepticism.

    I keep noticing how a phrase or what are laughingly called ‘ideas’ make the rounds of altie sites/ media quickly.

  67. #67 Captian_a
    October 21, 2013

    I’m pretty sure that soup and juice made from Hippocrates would constitute cannibalism?

    So to follow the Gerson diet means becoming a cannibal? No wonder it carries such placebo value.\

  68. #68 Christine (the Public Servant Christine)
    October 21, 2013

    One thing that really puzzles me is how coffee can be Evil if drunk, but somehow becomes Good if shoved up the bum.

    And one other thing… if you have no underlying health concerns that prevent you from properly absorbing nutrients from your food, and you need supplements because your diet doesn’t supply them, THAT DIET ISN’T HEALTHY, no matter what the woo-meisters say.

  69. #69 AntipodeanChic
    On The Beach...
    October 21, 2013

    Mark McAndrew,
    I think you have done an admirable job of exposing those people as the dishonest creeps they are. I’m resisting the urge to join the fray, as I have a million and one other things I’m supposed to be doing.

    I couldn’t agree more. What an appalling excuse for journalism.
    First it starts with scary, non-specific statistics about the increase in cancer (let’s not mention anything about screening picking it up earlier, eh?), followed by mentioning a BBC presenter’s unqualified assertion that “the NHS refuses to accept the role of diet in fighting cancer”.
    Queue an “SB disclaimer” which would be fairly easy to accidentally skim over, and hey ho, let’s advertise the blog of the first who happens to be an incredibly statistically lucky Gerson advocate! No wonder she says she’s found her niche…

    Then we move on past the second Gerson fan, only to mention the poor young woman who is quite possibly Dr. Burzynski’s most fortunate patient ever (and naturally her cookbook) only for the woo to get wackiest in the fourth instance!

    I thought I’d seen terrible cases of advertorials before – but this is even more shameful.

  70. #70 AntipodeanChic
    October 21, 2013

    I do apologize: there were no statistics.

    Also for the rant, in general…

  71. #71 herr doktor bimler
    October 22, 2013

    What an appalling excuse for journalism.

    It’s Chinatown the Daily Telegraph. Does it even *try* to be journalism? I always had the impression that typical DT readers already know what they think, and are merely seeking to have their opinions reinforced.

    I am trying to avoid making a crude generalisation; this is more an attempt to work out why anyone would buy a newspaper which leaves you knowing *less* after reading it.

  72. #72 Khani
    October 22, 2013

    Rant justified, I suspect.

  73. #73 AntipodeanChic
    October 22, 2013

    @ herr doktor bimler

    Again, I probably should apologize! I live in Australia…

  74. #74 herr doktor bimler
    October 22, 2013

    Living in Australia does not itself require an apology.

  75. #75 Krebiozen
    October 22, 2013

    We know that diet has only a modest effect on the prevention of some cancers, and in some cancers it has hardly any effect at all. I like to keep an eye on the EPIC study that has followed up more than half a million people in Europe, recording their diets and other lifestyle factors and their health, particularly cancer. Their key findings in brief for the three commonest cancers in this study:

    Fiber, fish, red and processed meats affect colorectal cancer risk, the first two reduce it, the second two increase it. Dairy foods also reduce colorectal cancer risk (which may surprise ‘China Study’ fans).

    Obesity after (but not before) menopause increases breast cancer risk, but consumption of fruit and vegetables is not associated with breast cancer risk.

    Prostate cancer risk is not related to fruit and vegetable consumption.

    I must admit to being initially surprised by these findings. I suppose I have absorbed by osmosis the idea that eating lots of fruit and vegetables prevents cancer, but this isn’t really supported by the EPIC data for these cancers, bearing in mind that you don’t have to eat fruit and vegetables to increase fiber intake and reduce colorectal cancer risk.

    If the theories about antioxidant phytonutrients in various vegetables were correct, you would surely see some effects, on breast cancer for example, in a large study like this, but we don’t. This makes the idea that consuming even more fruits and vegetables will cure existing cancers seem even more irrational, yet the idea is very common.

    Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is still good for cardiovascular and bone health, and probably other areas of health too, so I’m not suggesting people don’t bother eating them, but the effect on cancer risk is likely to be small.

  76. #76 Jill
    Canada
    November 25, 2013

    @ incitatus,

    “any doctor who failed to reveal to me the full details of my treatment for any reason good or bad would a) swiftly cease to be my doctor and b) possibly be hauled up before his professional body. Doctors should never treat without fully informed consent in my opinion…… In my view uninformed treatment is assault, pure and simple. ”
    In regards to this I fully agree personally. Although, that is our personal style and approach to health care. I have met many people who simply do NOT want to know what is wrong with them, what various treatment options might be, etc. They want their doctor to make the decision for them. Some are quite verbal about it and where does this leave the health professional when they get no input from their patient? It is an ethical dilemma as doing nothing without fully informed consent is regarded by them as a bad choice as well as making the “choice” for the patient. It is a terrible epidemic of indecision that leaves these professionals in bad predicaments.

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