Your Friday Dose of Woo: Acid, base, or woo (revisited)

As we continue our countdown to having reached one full year of woo (namely, the one year anniversary of Your Friday Dose of Woo), it's occurred to me that there's one form of woo that I've dealt with before, but haven't revisited. It's a bit of woo that's so monumentally silly that it's hard to believe that anyone can take it seriously, although I will admit up front that it is not quite as silly as homeopathy. It's close though. I'm talking, of course, about pH woo, the concept that pretty much every disease (or at least a whole heck of a lot of them) is caused by alterations in your blood pH, usually to the acid side, and that all you have to do to restore health is to "alkalinize your blood." While it is true that acidosis can be a sign of disease, in most people without certain severe states of disease, the body's homeostatic mechanisms make it difficult to alter blood pH outside of a very narrow range. The level of sophistication in physiology is exemplified by this statement by one Dr. William Howard Hay:

Now we depart from health in just the proportion to which we have allowed our alkalies to be dissipated by introduction of acid-forming food in too great amount... It may seem strange to say that all disease is the same thing, no matter what its myriad modes of expression, but it is verily so.

Typical woo, it attributes all disease to a single cause.

The only reason that I hadn't revisited it yet is because I hadn't found an example of this woo suitable for YFDoW. But then I had to come across an attempt to apply this sort of "thinking" to an area that could be considered my area of expertise. Yes, I'm referring to cancer:

Cancerous tissue, above all other consequences of choice, has countless secondary causes. But even for a cancerous condition there is only ONE PRIME ORIGIN and CAUSE. I have simply summarized this origin and cause of cancerous tissue in a few words. The prime origin and cause of cancerous tissue is the over-acidification of the tissues then the blood due to lifestyle and dietary choices. A cancerous tissue begins with our choices of what we eat, what we drink, what we think and how we live. Cancer is a liquid and this liquid is a toxic acidic waste product of metabolism or energy consumption.

Cancer is a liquid? I suppose that you could say that in the rather trivial sense that you can say that any cell is "liquid." After all, most cells are made up mostly of water. They are, in essence an aqueous solution of proteins, DNA, and other macromolecules surrounded by a thin lipid bilayer. Cancer cells are no different in that way; saying so is a statement that is utterly meaningless in terms of distinguishing cancer from noncancer.

So who is spouting this amazing woo, plenty more of which we will shortly examine? It's someone by the name of Robert O. Young, D.Sc, Ph.D., who bills his blog, Articles of Health, as being about this:

Articles of Health are the writings of Robert O. Young D.Sc., Ph.D., based upon his theory that the human organism is alkaline by design and acidic by function. He suggests that there is only one sickness and one disease which is caused by an over acidification of the blood and then tissues due to an inverted way of living, eating and thinking. There is no way to have health and alkalinity -- health and alkalinity is the way!

Naturally, like all good alties who think they've found the One True Cause of All Disease, Dr. Young has a website, pH Miracle Living, dedicated to selling products to "alkalinize" your blood and thus supposedly cure disease and make you healthier (or at least make your wallet lighter). Of course, like all good alties, he also has a disclaimer:

Dr. Young is not a medical or naturopathic doctor or practicing as such. Dr. Young has five degrees in science including 3 doctorates which include a Ph.D, D.Sc., and an N.D. Dr. Young is a scientist, health nutritionist, educator, and microbiologist and is the author of eight books pertaining to nutrition, health, the science of blood and microbiology.

Some things never change. Now, the pH Miracle Living website is in and of itself what I like to call a "target-rich" environment (as is Dr. Young's blog), and perhaps I'll revisit it sometime in the future. In the meantime, I'll stick to what I know best, namely cancer. Unfortunately, that alone is also a target-rich environment:

In 1966, Dr. Otto Warburg, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1931 for his discovery of the cause of cancer delivered a lecture at an annual meeting of Nobelists at Lindau, Germany. In his speech he described the primal cause of cancer as follows:

"The prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar. All normal body cells meet their energy needs by respiration of oxygen, whereas cancer cells meet their energy needs in great part by fermentation. All normal body cells are thus obligate aerobes, whereas all cancer cells are partial anaerobes. From the standpoint of the physics and chemistry of life this difference between normal and cancer cells is so great that one can scarely picture a greater difference.

"Oxygen gas, the donor of energy in plants and animals is dethroned in the cancer cells and replaced by an energy yielding reaction of the lowest living forms. namely, a fermentation of glucose."

Noooo! He had to drag poor Otto Warburg into this woo! Otto doesn't deserve this sort of shabby treatment. He's a Nobel Laureate, and his discovery of how cancer cells shift to glycolysis and continue to rely primarily on glycolysis rather than respiration even in the presence of adequate oxygen. Indeed, this effect, called the Warburg Effect, is an important difference between tumor cells and normal cells. Moreover, this difference in metabolism is the basis of drugs like dichloroacetate,, a frequent topic of this blog. Of course, even ol' Otto had a bit of trouble with hyperbole. For one thing, animal cells certainly can undergo glycolysis; muscle cells do it all the time under duress. Long distance runners, in particular, are familiar with glycolysis. That's why it's overstating the case a bit to say that "one can scarcely picture a greater difference," particularly since not all tumors even exhibit the Warburg effect. I can forgive Warburg, though, a bit of hyperbole--although it is known that he became a bit of an eccentric in his later years. In any case, Dr. Young's invocation of Warburg is especially wrong, given that the lactic acid generated by glycolysis is a result of the alteration in cancer cell metabolism, not a cause. It's like saying the exhaust fumes from a car are the cause of the car's motion. But Dr. Young isn't finished yet. He has to go straight off the deep end:

The following is a summary of understanding cancerous tissues:

Cancer is not a cell but a poisonous acidic liquid.

A cancer cell, is a cell that has been spoiled or poisoned by metabolic or gastrointestinal acids.

A tumor is the body's protective mechanism to encapsulate spoiled or poisoned cells from excess acid that has not been properly eliminated through urination, perspiration, defecation or respiration.

The tumor is the body's solution to protect healthy cells and tissues.

Cancer is a systemic acidic condition that settles at the weakest parts of the body - not a localized problem that metastases.

Metastases is localized acids spoiling other cells much like a rotten apple spoiling a bushel of healthy apples.

There is no such thing as a cancer cell. A cancer cell was once a healthy cell that has been spoiled by acid.

The tumor is not the problem but the solution to protect healthy cells and tissues from being spoiled from other rotting cells and tissues.

The only solution to the acidic liquids that poison body cells causing the effects that medical savants call cancer is to alkalize and energize the body.

In conclusion, the human body is alkaline by design and acidic by function! If we desire a healthy body we must maintain that alkaline design.

This is so wrong on so many levels. Tumors are in reality a "protective mechanism" to encapsulate "spoiled" cells from "excess acid" that hasn't yet been eliminated? That doesn't even make sense on its own level. If the cells are "spoiled," then why do they need to be protected from excess acid? Wouldn't it be the rest of the body that would supposedly need to be so protected? Most outrageous of all is the claim that metastases are "localized acids spoiling other cells." What a crock. Although we may not understand all of its mechanisms, we do know quite a bit about the process of metastasis. We've detected tumor cells in the circulation or in the lymphatic vessels. Scientists have been able to find micrometastases that don't start growing until they are able to induce the ingrowth of new blood vessels. That metastases represent "acid" spoiling other cells is about as ridiculous a description of the process as I have ever heard. Metastases derive from the primary tumor and can be shown to be derived from a clone or clones of cells from the primary. Claiming that it's rogue acid going around "spoiling" other cells goes against pretty much all of our current understanding of cancer.

Of course, no good woo would be complete without telling us how to cure the disease to which the woo-meister has supposedly found The One True Cause, and pH woo is no exception, as Dr. Young demonstrates here:

4. So, how does one use this information to prevent or cure cancer? Naturally:

If I have cancer, such as colon, lung, or prostate cancer can I reverse it naturally?

The answer to this question is absolutely!

Once you understand the cause of ALL cancerous tissues as latent tissue acidosis you can then begin the process of reversing, regenerating and preventing the consequences of acidic choices by making healthier alkaline choices. The protocol for a healthier and energetic body, free from all sickness and dis-ease, is found in Chapter Eleven of our latest book, "The pH Miracle for Weight Loss."

It figures. If you want to find out the cure, you have to buy Dr. Young's books, CDs, and DVDs. I should have suspected as much. I do have one question left, though:

What's with the spelling of the word "disease" as "dis-ease"? Could it be a form of plausible deniability: "Oh, no, I didn't say you could be free from all disease. I said you could be free of all dis-ease, as in being free from the opposite of 'ease.' Yeah, that's the ticket."

Very clever.

More like this

remember... dr. young can't claim to cure diseases as he's not a *real* doctor.

"dis-eases", on the other hand, he's got entirely covered.

By r chivukula (not verified) on 08 Jun 2007 #permalink

Minor nitpick: acid/base woos generally don't talk about the pH of the blood; they talk about the pH of the body, by which they really mean the pH of the urine (altie practitioners' marks aren't always clear on the notion that poo-poo and wee-wee aren't parts of the body; I'm deliberately using nursery names here because I think squeamishness about excretory functions is a big factor in people's susceptibility to this sort of nonsense). As I've said before, the only way to meaningfully measure the pH of the "body" requires a very large blender.

"Dis-ease" is a common sign of an altie belief system; I've seen it in writings from believers who weren't hawking anything, though you may be on to something when you suggest that purveyors are using it for legalistic reasons.

What's his cure then? Drinking a bleach or lye solution? Or does a body that's too alkaline develop AIDS?

Acid/Base woo... I think it should all be taken with a grain of salt.

By Mike Saelim (not verified) on 08 Jun 2007 #permalink

Cure cancer and lose weight too! Marvellous.

I think in addition to legal protection they are using an interesting play on pronunciation. dis-ease: lack of ease, the distortion of the chemistry of the body causes one to be ill at ease. Also if I remember my freshman chemistry if a chemist removes the end product of a reaction without reducing the starting product wouldn't you drive the reaction to produce more end products? For instance a reaction produces acid (such as a glycolytic tumor metabolism) then you remove the acid wouldn't you drive the reaction to produce more acid (say favoring the growth of tumors). I'm over simplifying it but couldn't this promote tumor growth? He may be pandering a tumor promoter. I think the CAM institute or the AMA needs to take a really good look at this. Plus if acidosis caused cancer wouldn't ALL diabetics have multiple tumor growths?

Ah, Mike - trying to remain neutral in this affair, eh?


So then you've soured on his acid theory?

Robert Young- isn't he the guy who played Marcus Welby, MD, on TV?

This guy isn't a naturopath; but, he admits having an ND. I don't get it. Maybe he doesn't have a license to play doctor.

@Gork- klatu barrada nikto. Hey, it worked on Gort.

There are so many basic problems with this woo, it leaves a really bitter taste in my mouth. Why are all these acidheads on such a crazy trip, anyway?

Their views on disease are so much in error — so completely Arrhenius — that I have to say they're completely dissociated from reality.

"Target-rich" is an understatement. Wow. I wouldn't know where to begin. Perhaps this sort of thing really requires a response similar to fisking but less serious -- MiSTification, wherein the text is subjected to the fictional riffing of Mike Nelson, Crow T Robot, and Tom Servo. :-P

Acidity in the body comes from tissues and *then* goes to the blood -- but it comes initially from our dietary choices. WTF??? Does it teleport from the digestive tract into the cells, before diffusing into the blood?

Bizarre, even for acid woo.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 08 Jun 2007 #permalink

Augh! The chemistry puns are eating my brains!
On a pedantic note, the tumor, in his weird little world does protect the rest of the body. When he says "spoiled or poisoned cells from excess acid," he seems to mean the cells were spoiled or poisoned by the excess acid. (Poisoned from excess acid). An admittedly poor choice of wording and grammar, but since when did we expect the woos to be coherent? I would just like to point out that the only medical training I have is the news, the internets, and House, M.D., and I could see that virtually everything he said about cancer was patently wrong. It's depressing that people fall for this crap.

Hulda-almost a doctor-Clark,says this guy is full of shit.

By spartanrider (not verified) on 08 Jun 2007 #permalink

Jeez. That is certainly one of the most demented bags of pH-woo I've seen, orac. And I've read a fair bit due to my professional interest in pH.

As a scientist who spent a good few years measuring pH inside cells for a living, I would have to say Dr Young has lost it. Or rather, comprehensively "Gone to the Darkside". As you pointed out, none of what he says makes the slightest scientific sense, and the tumour stuff is beyond crazy.

The last time we encountered "pH woo" over at BadScience, it was in the more standard Woo context of "We eat a bad ACID DIET! We should eat alkaline foods!!"

We gave this a pretty fair trashing on this thread:

and a bit more here:

Sorry, Dr. Young. Without the testimonials, I'm not sure that I can believe this works. Maybe next time.

Actually, red blood cells are completely anaerobic. They have no mitochondria so they derive ATP only from glycolysis. They had mitochondria earlier in their life cycle (mitochondria are what make heme).

The stomach has a pH of about 2. When that pH goes up is when the stomach starts to have problems (but which is cause and which is effect is debatable).

"What's his cure then? Drinking a bleach or lye solution? Or does a body that's too alkaline develop AIDS?"

I guess the saying "Drink Bleach and Die" shoud now become "Drink Bleach and Live"

By Laser Potato (not verified) on 09 Jun 2007 #permalink

Commenters: Do *NOT* advocate drinking bleach! As daedalus2u@9:39 pointed out, the stomach requires a rather low pH to function.

Remember, to properly eradicate the protective tumours, bleach should always be given parenterally. (For cancers of the brain, an injection through the eyeball will work best.)

HTH --
Felix Kasza.

By Felix Kasza (not verified) on 09 Jun 2007 #permalink