Alternative medicine: The illusion of control

We humans like control. Actually, we need to feel as though we are in control. Perhaps that's why, when we aren't in control--can't be in control, for whatever reason--we instinctively seek ways of being more in control, or at least of feeling as though we are in control. I've often wondered if providing the illusion of control is part of the reason for the appeal of quackery alternative medicine, or, as it's become known these days, "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) or "integrative medicine" (IM). That, and the human need for certainty.

Think about it, taking cancer (my specialty) as the prototypical example. What do those nasty, reductionistic, science-based doctors tell a patient when confronted with a patient with cancer? Even for an early stage, eminently treatable cancer, we rarely use the word "cure." We speak in terms of five- and ten-year survival and percentage chance of relapse. We almost never, ever tell a patient that we can definitely cure them. That's because pretty much all of us have been gobsmacked and saddened by cases like that of a woman with a 1 cm breast cancer with no lymph node metastases, favorable histology, and positive estrogen receptor status who came back three years after apparently successful treatment with stage IV disease. The frequency of this sort of thing may only be in the single digit percentage range, but if you see hundreds of patients a year you will see a few of these patients every year, and you will be humbled. Even more humbling is when a patient asks me what caused her cancer. As much as I can pontificate on the molecular and genetic derangements that are associated with cancer, how cancer cells escape the normal controls that keep normal cells in check, only growing when they're supposed to and then stopping, when it comes to the question "Why?" I can never tell the patient what it is she really wants to hear. That is the cause of her cancer and whether there was anything she could do to prevent it. In most cases, the answers are, to the patient at least, maddeningly vague and hand-waving.

Contrast that to the quack. There's a famous saying about surgeons, "Sometimes in error, never in doubt." With quacks, the saying should be, "Always in error, never in doubt." However, it's that "never in doubt" part that can suck in patients who are normally skeptical and hard-headed rationalists in other areas of their lives. For instance, when a quack like Tullio Simoncini tells patients that cancer is a fungus and that treating it with injections of sodium bicarbonate (i.e., common baking soda) straight into the tumor will cure it, a surprising number of patients believe. Ditto the late Hulda Clark, who proclaimed that the cause of all cancer is a common liver fluke and that she could "zap" it with her "Zapper." Indeed, she even proclaimed that she had the "cure for all cancers." Never mind that as a piece of technology her Zapper looked less convincing than a Scientology E-meter. Or take Robert O. Young, who tells patients that the cause of cancer is "acidity," that cancer is actually a reaction to cells "spoilt by acid"; and that they can cure their cancer by "alkalinizing" their body with a special diet and, of course, supplements. Regardless of how utterly ridiculous his quackery is, intelligent woo-prone women like Kim Tinkham fall for it and pay the price with their lives.

What the quacks give, I've found, is both certainly and control. Well, they actually don't give patients real certainty and control. Rather, they provide the illusion of certainty and control. Of course, there is a dark side to this message. In fact, Robert O. Young, as goofy as he looks and as goofy as he comes across when you see him on video, is a master at providing a false sense of control, as he demonstrates in a post on his blog I saw the other day entitled Health and Fitness Is A Choice Just As Sickness and Disease Is A Choice. Seldom have I seen the attitude of quacks laid out so baldly.

I've pointed out before that Robert Young is a germ theory denialist. In fact, in this post he makes it explicit once again, extolling the virtue of Antoine Bechamp and lambasting Louis Pasteur. After he does that, though, he gets to the heart of the matter, and the heart of the matter is rotten:

More importantly, the germ theory has become a curse because it has encouraged individuals to give up responsibility for their own health over to the medical community. If germs cause disease it stands to reason that control belongs to the medical community whose tireless researchers spend trillions of our money to find the right pill or potion to annihilate disease-causing germs.

Of course, I tend to doubt that in the entire history of science-based medicine the amount of money spent on medical research has even approached "trillions" of dollars, but let's not quibble over numbers. We do spend a lot of money on medical research, certainly billions a year. (The NIH budget is, after all, around $31 billion a year.) But note the complaint against Pasteur. It's only partially a fallacious claim that Pasteur's science was wrong. More importantly, it's an appeal to self-determination, the claim that the real problem with Pasteur's science was that it led to patients abrogating their control over their health to doctors. "If germs cause disease," according to Young, then it takes practitioners knowledgeable in how to combat these germs (like, for instance, Mark Crislip), not shamans-cum-pseudoscientists like Robert O. Young telling their patients that they can cure themselves if they just eat the right foods, take the right supplements, and do the right exercises. In fact, it goes beyond that, as Young makes clear:

Our body in its wholeness is an ingenious creation of nature, It has been given all mechanisms to not only sustain its life but also to create new life. Every healthy person has innate regulatory mechanisms to maintain its alkaline design and self-healing powers, which ensure or reestablish the natural balance of the bodily functions, the homeostasis. It is not the doctor that heals us, nor the medication, but our own innate alkaline regulatory mechanisms. Our body is able to fully regenerate itself. Therefore, it is advised to use great discernment before labeling any disease as "incurable" or "untreatable." If doctors come to the conclusion that a disease in incurable, they would be more accurate in saying that with their knowledge and experience, they are not able to offer any further help. The word "incurable" conveys fear, or false evidence appearing real, which stifles and weakens our body's innate alkaline mechanism.

In other words, believe it or not, Young is arguing that telling a patient her disease is incurable, even if it is, somehow makes it so. Wow. If doctors really had that power, then if we lied to our patients and told them that their disease is curable even when it is not then we should be able to "strengthen our body's innate alkaline mechanism" and cure even the incurable. Of course, Young is spouting a load of nonsense, but it's a telling load of nonsense. It tells us that what he's selling to his marks clients is hope. It's a false hope built on pure pseudoscience, and it involves telling patients they are curable when we know they are not, but it's hope. It's also certainty, as well, in that he's telling patients that they are completely in control of their health. Just look at the title: Health and Fitness Is A Choice Just As Sickness and Disease Is A Choice.

Think about the implications of that for a moment. Ignore, for the moment, all the nonsense, the "science-y" sounding gobbledygook about energy, matter, homeostasis, Hippocrates, and the usual topics that quacks like to use and abuse that Young ladles on his prose like so much gravy on meat loaf. (I'm amazed that nowhere in his article does there appear the word "quantum." It must have been an oversight.) In fact, if you want to get a flavor of the historical misinformation that Young delivers, just look at this statement:

In 1788 vaccinia was the bacteria that medical science suggested caused cowpox.

Except that in 1788 medical science had not yet discovered that bacteria cause disease, and vaccinia is a virus, not a bacterium. The germ theory of disease came nearly many decades later. The rest of Young's essay is peppered with errors in fact and interpretation like this.

It's all either utter nonsense or a twisting of what is currently understood, much of which I've applied some not-so-Respectful Insolence to not just once but many times over the last seven years. To an extent, a lot of it's a straw man argument. No physician would deny that lifestyle, such as diet and exercise, can have a major impact on health. However, unlike the impression that Young gives, there are some conditions and diseases that just happen, no matter how "perfect" or "healthy" a lifestyle you lead. Cancer is one of them. You can decrease your chances of developing cancer somewhat through diet, exercise, and avoiding things that are highly carcinogenic, like smoking tobacco products, but no matter what you do you will never decrease your risk of cancer to zero or anywhere near zero. This is particularly true given that cancer is a disease of aging, and, thanks to science-based medicine, people are living longer and longer these days. Since we all have to die some day, it follows that we all have to die of something, and diseases of old age, such as cancer and heart disease, are the two most common killers of the elderly. In any case, the implication of Young's idea is that if you are sick it is your fault. Period. You are to blame. Not nature. Not a "germ." Not genetics. You. This is the message of Robert O. Young and so many other quacks. In other words, the flip side of his message of control is that your illnesses are your fault.

Yes, it's the same dark side that is shared by The Secret.

Oblivious to that irony, Young engages in a massive case of projection:

Of course, we perceive that these ideas about disease are no longer widely believed, which makes it all more the ironic that Pasteur's germ theory has had and still has a stranglehold on 19th, 20th and now 21st century medicine. As medical writer Alberto Seguin described in an article entitled, "The Concept of Disease," the demonic idea of disease reached its full height with the germ theory. It became possible to bring together rational and scientific thought with irrational tendency to personalize disease. The germ in what ever name it is called, West Nile Virus, Ebola, Hunta, HIV, Anthrax, SARS and now AVIAN, are the scientific demon, the curse, the lie and the fraud that is said to attack and kill!

I would argue that Young is the one who personalizes disease. By declaring with such certainty that whether we are sick or healthy is entirely up to us, he personalizes disease at the level of the patient. If the patient is in control of his health, then if he becomes ill it must be somehow his fault. Blame is personalized. Think I'm exaggerating?

Think again:

Now, I pray and hope that you will realize that we are all responsible for our own health - you alone. A medical practitioner can only help to relieve symptoms. Ultimately, you are the one who has to take charge. Health is a choice just as disease is a choice. You are responsible for what goes into your mouth and what comes out of your mouth, as well as for what you think, feel and do. Health is all about choices and consequences.

Yes, to some extent it is, but this goes too far. If, for instance, you have a genetic condition that causes hypercholesterolemia or hyperlipidemia, you can eat as healthy a diet as you like and exercise all you like, but you probably can't stop the inevitable march of cardiovascular disease. If, for instance, you are a woman who carries a cancer-predisposing BRCA1 mutation, you have as high as an 80% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, and there is very little you can do to decrease that risk. In other words, as important as healthy lifestyles are for treating or alleviating so many conditions (type II diabetes, for instance), there are still a lot of diseases and conditions where genetics trumps lifestyle.

The same is true of infectious diseases. No matter how healthy you are, no matter how fanatically you adhere to the "right" foods and the "right" lifestyle, if you're unlucky enough to have the right pathogenic microbe insinuate itself into the right cells in your body, you will become ill and you might even die. Indeed, that's one reason why quacks like Young hate germ theory so much; it goes so radically against their own radical idea that you alone are completely responsible for whether you are ill or healthy. Microbes, as I like to say, don't care how perfect your lifestyle is.

In the end, Young merely echoes what I've read over and over and over again on quack websites, blogs, discussion lists, and other places where supporters of quackery congregate. Basically, he provides simple answers. All cancer is caused by a single thing, namely "too much acidity." In fact, pretty much all disease is caused by the same thing. That makes the cure simple; all you have to do is to "alkalinize," whatever that means. Never mind that some of the dietary recommendations to "alkalinize" involve eating fruits with a lot of acid in them (such as citrus fruits). Just don't think too hard about it. the second element, of course, is pure certainty. Young tells patients he can cure them with a very high degree of probability, even if they have cancer. Actually, he tells them that they can cure themselves, which is even more powerful, and that all they have to do is a relatively simple set of lifestyle modifications. Of course, by "simple" I don't mean "easy." The sorts of dietary changes Young and others of his ilk recommend are radical, the more radical, it seems, the better. By doing so, when patients adopt his "miracle pH" lifestyle and don't get better, he can duck responsibility. Obviously, if a patient isn't getting better, he isn't doing it right.

After all, if Health and Fitness Is A Choice Just As Sickness and Disease Is A Choice (as Young entitled his post), then if you are sick it is by your own choice.

That's the real toxic message of quacks like Young.

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this really is tragic. The same thing happened to me 2 years ago- stage 2 colon cancer with a less that 5 percent chance of recurrence, suddenly came back after 2 years. Multiple lesions in both lungs. what makes it worse is being bombarded by "advise" which is clearly harmfull. Unfortunately people are so willing to believe woo, that even other patients have urged me to use homeopaths, "alkaline powders" and even reiki. the worst was being told that i had cancer because i "put that energy out there" The absolute worst thing about this whole journey has been witnessing the physical decline of a friend who also has cancer, but has stopped chemo and turned to a homeopath. The same homeopath who treated her for 8 months for a "food allergy" without being able to diagnose her cancer. Thats right, she's gone back to him. i suppose some people turn to quacks out of desperation, but it woo is very often part of a belief system, and how do you address that?

You are responsible for what goes into your mouth and what comes out of your mouth

Digestion - UR doing it wrong if it is coming out your mouth.

Young also claims your body transmutes elements. With that going on it is amazing that every person doesn't develop cancer and/or turn into Godzilla.

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 16 Oct 2011 #permalink

@Militant Agnostic:

Young also claims your body transmutes elements.

Where? I could use a good laugh.

By Matthew Cline (not verified) on 16 Oct 2011 #permalink


You get this all the time Chris @1. You get people eating bovine supplements,squirting coffee up their butts, treating skin conditions with caustic agents, swallowing all sorts of vitamins,imaginary or real, drinking vile concoctions of veg and herbs and consume the equivalent of a full catch of a modern trawler in fish oil. Usually you can tell the wheat from the chaff and in my experience most people can do this. I shrug my shoulders these days to those that don't because basically there is little I can do to change that mentality.

I think it is about that false feeling of control. I had R CHOP 21 and I know that you put your life into the hands of people you don't know and some you will never see, that is something anybody has to deal with in that situation. Woo attracts those for whatever reason can't take that step. The internet doesn't help either and its futile to try change peoples minds.

This site is a great resource for ammo against woo, that little search bar at the top of recent posts is a gem. I commend Orac for having the stamina to continue and as long as he does I will lurk and learn.

One obstacle is the reductionist streak in sites like these. I've learned to mostly ignore it because I care more about learning than proving a point, but I doubt most people are that tolerant.

It doesn't take a reductionist to disbelieve alternative medicine. A criticalist like me can go beyond insolence and actually hate alternative medicine, and there should be sites targeted to this attitude as well.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

Sorry about that anonymous logon. This is Collin. If this post goes in as anonymous also, maybe someone can help me get back into name mode?

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

I am entirely willing to be convinced that Young's therapies work and that germ "theory" is just that: scientific "evidenced" mumbo jumbo.

All he has to do is take a shot of Ebola Zaire blood and not get sick at all.

Should be easy, right? I'm eagerly awaiting his acceptance of my challenge.

What I find odd is that sometimes whole groups of people will "make the choice" to be ill with the same set of symptoms. Epidemics, we call those times. And sometimes they can be convinced to change their minds and to choose not to be ill that way any more, by something like removing the handle from a pump. People can even choose to be ill with symptoms of diseases they'd never heard of and didn't know the symptoms of!

Chris @1 -- I'm sure everyone reading this is pulling for you.

I'm also reasonably sure that this doesn't have any concrete effect on what your cells decide to do -- but still.

Best of luck to you.

By palindrom (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

In fact, if you want to get a flavor of the historical misinformation that Young delivers, just look at this statement:

In 1788 vaccinia was the bacteria that medical science suggested caused cowpox.

Except that in 1788 medical science had not yet discovered that bacteria cause disease.

Not to mention that vaccinia is a virus rather than a bacteria...

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

Eau is a menace to public health and safety, and he's out there punting his magical ways to "reverse" cancer on twitter as drrobertyoung. If anyone wants to start a campaign to counteract his toxic misinformation, count me in. WTFometer standing by.

Josephine Jones has recently blogged about him and I got a bit worked up about him as well…

DISCLAIMER: Louis Pasteur is one of my personal heroes, in fact if asked to choose, I put him at the top of the list of my personal heroes. I will give Eau no quarter.

Chris, I realise you are probably finding this hard to live through, especially in the case of your friend, but do you feel up to writing more about it, maybe a blog post you could point us to?
I want to understand how people's minds works in this sort of situation, to try and help convince others not to do the same thing. I still hope it's not too late for her, of course.

We humans like control. Actually, we need to feel as though we are in control. Perhaps that's why, when we aren't in control--can't be in control, for whatever reason--we instinctively seek ways of being more in control, or at least of feeling as though we are in control.

Behold the power of prayer.

So much of the dangerous nonsense I survey relies upon creating the illusion of control via products: right now the wonder boys of woo are trying to convince their marks that recent studies in the media about supplements' inefficacy ( or possible ill effects we've already heard about- folic acid/ vitamin E and cancer; calcium and CV) are meaningless. So one rants on the radio while the other blogs incessantly ( @ NaturalNews; 10/16/11): another plot against Health Freedom Fighters-( who are -btw- your real protectors)- by the entrenched powers-that-be in medicine/ corporations/government. This is a prelude to their eventual clamping down on the sale of supplements: legislation is in the works to have supplements after 1994 go through testing- a threat to small manufacturers.

One way to create the illusion of control is to give people choices between multiple situations where they have *no* real control. An old study gave subjects choices between "lottery tickets" ( all equally likely to win); subjects who could *choose* their own ticket rated its "value"( to potential buyers) as more than those who were *given* a ticket. Much of alt med with its focus on "choice" is something like that study. (continued)

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

If a person suffers under the uncertainty that accompanies a particular diagnosis ( or the fear of ever having that diagnosis) woo offers spurious research and insincere reassurance based upon wishful thinking. I have heard about "certainty" of cure and "100%" cure-rates more often than is likely to be feasible: if this had occured in reality- wouldn't it be noticed? If Gonzalez or Gerson *really* helped people with cancer , wouldn't word get around ? The news wouldn't be dependent on dudes selling vites, self-serving PR, or Suzanne Sommers.

SBM offers increased control to patients because it has the weight of research behind it: you can increase the probabilities by doing certain things ( yes, *lifestyle* counts in SBM) and following through with medical advice also based on research ( using RCTs) what is *most likely* to increase your odds. "100%" is not guaranteed by the real world: it's only that way in faery tales and advertisement.

Doctors and those who counsel patients can often use their own understanding of probabilites to "enlighten" patients: the general public is notoriously bad with what is called "subjective probabilities"- i.e. how they "view" the actual probability. Both what you fear intensely and desire ardently often seem much more likely that the actual figures would warrant- for they are clouded by emotion. If woo-meisters** can manipulate customers by using this tendency, we reality-based providers can reveal how it works.

** as well as lotteries and casinos.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

Re: Damien @7

That is exactly what I thought when I read this; what will happen when this guy does eventually get sick with something that he cannot "treat"? We will all get something one day, whether it be cancer or heart disease - like ORAC described, something has to kill us. How will Young explain that away?

These quacks make me laugh, but then I think of all the people they harm, and then I cry.

Best of luck to you, Chris at #1. I know all about the "helpful" comments from the time my oldest was diagnosed with a severe communication disorder.

Orac et al:
I hate to change the subject, but yet another "protest" by the anti-vaxxers supposedly happened this morning. The whackos wanted to join the occupy Wall Street protestors - of course, they'll be hawking their books.
Funny, the hubby of LKH made a pile of money on Wall Street- livin' in Rumson, NJ with the likes of Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen ain't cheap.
Anyway, the 12 or 13 of them will blend into the crowd, so they can photograph and promote that their movement is really "mass". Of course "Big Pharma" is their bete noire.

A corollary of the woo-begone rule ( " Getting or Curing Cancer is Within Your Own Control") is that those who become ill or fail to recover are therefore culpable. Again alt med proves how "sympathetic" it truly is: adding the weight of that message to the suffering of people who are already physically ill and frightened. Thus our woo-meisters aren't simply telling us that they *know* better than we do but that they *are* better as well: somehow more worthy, pure, and altruistic. As they sell "cancer-preventing" money-wasting supplements or provide time-wasting ( probability decreasing) cancer "cures".

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

All the best to you and your friend, Chris.

By Queen Khentkawes (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

"...which makes it all more the ironic that Pasteur's germ theory has had and still has a stranglehold on 19th, 20th and now 21st century medicine."

If you want "irony", how about the heliocentric theory of Copernicus, which has had a "stranglehold" on astronomy since the 16th century? Or how about the "stranglehold" Newton's theory of gravity has had on physics since the 17th century (with some minor modifications added in the 20th century)?

Isn't it "ironic" how Young is being accidentally comic?


On a less serious matter than cancer - for years I suffered from severe migraines that worsened in my 30s. I was a half-convinced altmed person for years. Various friends gave a combination of very blaming advice ranging from criticism of my diet to criticism of my emotions and spiritual practices.
One day my eye doctor suggested I see a neurologist after I asked about the auras I was seeing before headaches, and the neurologist prescribed for me one simple medication that virtually wiped out the horrible migraines which by then had me basically disabled.
This ended, permanently and with many hard feelings, my association with the alt-med community and the blaming, misleading garbage they feed to sick people. I tried everything to lead the "good" life that would free me from pain, but the headaches didn't respond to any moral judgement they were making about how I should feel or what I should eat. I just needed medicine. And there is a lack of certainty. We're still not sure why I have them, what is causing them, or why they got worse. Not sure why the dose on the medicine has needed to be changed several times. But I do know I've gone from having 20-25 days a month of barely being able to get out of bed to 2-3. So I'm not "cured", but close sort of counts. It's better than anything altmed could come up with.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

"...which makes it all more the ironic that Pasteur's germ theory has had and still has a stranglehold on 19th, 20th and now 21st century medicine."

Not to mention its stranglehold on the dairy industry.

Does that mean the Milk Marketing Board is responsible for autism?

First things first: Chris, you're such a valuable member of our little family here at RI and I think it's fair to say that we're all rooting for you. I wish magic water and prayers did work.

As for quackery and altmed sleaze, I found this gem amid the kind wishes and stories that people have been posting on Christopher Hitchen's Facebook page . . .

John Vincent Bach
If I were you I would stop with the Chemo and jump on the first plane to St. James, Long Island and start the Cellect supplement TOMORROW... and get your body back into shape to kill the Cancer itself....

Dont follow Steve Jobs....

Cellect is the program I was speaking about. It is used by the VERY TERMINALLY ILL Cancer Victims. It seems like some people combine it with another complimenta...ry regime (Budwig which I know nothing about.) as you will see with the following site: you can go to Cellect site alone or to both....but GO

I have friends who walked away from their conventional doctors are now CURED...and more quickly than you can imagine.

JUST LEAVE THESE IDIOT DR. who want to drug you all up and get cured before you do not have any energy to do so. you...GO TO ""

This "Bach" guy is nonexistent online and his Fbook profile is thin as gruel, so he's either delusional or a sleazy charlatan for

Christopher Hitchens is too smart to fall for this crap, but I feel for the thousands of people battling this disease who waste precious time and money on this tripe.

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

Pareidolius @25 --- It is hard to think of anyone lower than someone who would intentionally defraud terminally ill cancer patients with such crap. Most likely many of the woo-meisters are honestly mistaken, or simply delusional, but anyone who does this knowingly is pretty much the definition of a sociopath.

Migraine sufferer @22 -- This may have been less serious than cancer, but it sounds absolutely hellish. Your suffering while you delayed effective treatment is yet another example (as if one were needed) of the pernicious effects of woo. I'm glad you're feeling better!

By palindrom (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

It is interesting that you argue that people flock to unproven therapies to maintain control of their ailments in opposition to the opinion of their physicians. I have often experienced the opposite problem. Doctors suggesting treatments with little or no supporting evidence coupled with a complete lack of understanding of basic statistics. How is it so many physicians are baffled by conditional probability? Accurately communicating test results and learning to place personal observations in the broader context of large scale clinical trials/datasets should be an integral part of being a physician.

which makes it all more the ironic that Pasteur's germ theory has had and still has a stranglehold on 19th, 20th and now 21st century medicine.

This is something I don't get. So far as I know, the parts of conventional medicine that are due to the germ theory are vaccines, antibiotics, antivirals, Pasteurization, and sterilization techniques, which is only a small part of medicine. Yet a lot of alties think that whatever is wrong with the entirety of conventional medicine is due primarily to Pasteur and the germ theory. Now, I can see how vaccines and antibiotics would have an influence on the historical development of conventional medicine and the way the populace thinks medicine should work (taking shots to prevent a disease or cure a disease), but these same alties seem to think that Pasteur and the germ theory are a primary force behind keeping conventional medicine like it is, which makes no sense.

By Matthew Cline (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink


First things first: Chris, you're such a valuable member of our little family here at RI and I think it's fair to say that we're all rooting for you. I wish magic water and prayers did work.

Thank you, kind sir. But the Chris in the first comment is the not same Chris who you met at TAM 9. I am fine.

I am in shock. Literally. I followed up from his blog to the website. I have seen some quackery, at least I thought I had.

How is this legal - by simply never really making out that you are actual doctor? Surly if you had proper credentials, and show your affiliation to a hospital say, the right people would go after you? So the less qualified you are, the greater the bullshit you can get away with.

Sickening, conscious, psychopathic quackery with malice aforethought.

Chris, I'm so glad to hear you're well! I'll still offer my support for our new Chris and wish them all the best!

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

I remember a faith healer who said to us, "When a person is dying, he/she will do everything in desperation."

@ David: From The National Council Against Health Care Fraud website:

Dr." Robert O. Young lacks legitimate credentials. A recent e-mail response to a query addressed to the Web address of Robert O. Young, co-author of The Ph Miracle, indicated that he does not have a graduate degree from a school accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. According to the sender, Young's credentials include: "M.S. Nutrition" (1993); "D.Sc. Science" (1995); "Ph.D., Nutrition" (1997); and "N.D. (Naturopathic Doctor" (1999). All were issued by the American Holistic College of Nutrition in Birmingham Alabama, which is a nonaccredited correspondence school. Young claims that health depends primarily on proper balance between an alkaline and acid environment that can be optimized by eating certain foods. These claims are false. [Mirkin G. Acid/Alkaline Theory of Disease Is Nonsense. Quackwatch, Feb 6, 2003] Young's Web site states that he "has been widely recognized as one of the top research scientists in the world," and his book states that he "has gained national recognition for his research into diabetes, cancer, leukemia, and AIDS." However, neither the e-mail message nor a Medline search for "Young RO" identifies any articles authored by him that were published in a recognized scientific journal.

In addition to writing, Young offers educational retreats that include a private blood cell analysis and "nutritional consultation" at his 45-acre estate in Valley Center, California. In 1996, under a plea bargain, Young pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempted practice of medicine without a license and was promised that the charge would be dismissed if he stayed out of trouble for 18 months. [Herbalist in Alpine pleads guilty to reduced charge. Deseret News (Salt Lake City), Feb 5, 1996] Young claimed that he had looked at blood samples from two women and simply gave them nutritional advice. The blood test he advocates has no scientific validity. [Barrett S. Live blood cell analysis: Another gimmick to sell you something, Quackwatch, Feb 23, 2005]

I've just come home after a day in the oncology unit. Luckily for me, I wasn't having chemo; just an iron infusion which I need every three months following a total gastrectomy in 2008 - which was for non-cancer-related reasons!

It depressed me to hear a young woman nearby - while having her chemo - extolling the virtues of the 'Gawler' diet. She's doing it because a friend's father with cancer did it, 'and is now back driving his car.' No meat, no sugar, no tea, no coffee, no life! And all on the back of an unproven quack treatment!

By NZ Sceptic (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

@ NZ Sceptic: Perhaps you would be interested in "The Australian" website article about Ian Gawler and his "diet".

First Wife Disputes Cancer Guru Ian Gawler's Survival Story (October 8, 2010)

It seems that wifey #1 has gone public and head-to-head with wifey #2 about certain aspects of Gawler's original treatment for cancer...including the use of "traditional" cancer treatment before he went down the rabbit hole of nutritional cures for cancer. A mighty juicy story there...that neither Gawler or the second wife are disputing.

@ 27..... What I REALLY want to know is:

How is "Very Terminally Ill" different from "Terminally Ill"???

Does one become deader if you're Very Terminally Ill than if you're only Terminally Ill or is there something else to it?????

"Terminally Ill"

I confess that I misread this and my immediate reaction was to wonder what Terminally I and Terminally II were like.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 17 Oct 2011 #permalink

Interesting that a doctor produces a really long-winded tirade against alternative medicine without once mentioning the immune system. Not once. When only the human immune system identifies, mitigates and cures disease and combats pathogens. You want to take all the credit (and hence control!) for vaccines, medicines, etceteras administered by a doctor. Fine - justify your job and the protocols handed to you by big pharma, your overpriced and one-sided education, hospital rules and fears of malpractice - but you're missing the point:

It is the body's reaction to any medicine that effects the cure - not the medicine itself. A doctor talking about 'the illusion of control' - really, come on! Look in the mirror. That said, quackery abounds and should be persecuted, prosecuted or at the very least avoided like the plague - pun intended. And the article in question is of the worst I've ever seen, hands down, but alternative therapies should not be 'generalized' or discounted out-of-hand, especially natural ones that have been used (by doctors even!) and proven for thousands of years.


Thank you for your talking points based on ignorance and the uncritical assessment of mainstream medicine, as espoused by "alt-med" types.

It is the body's reaction to any medicine that effects the cure - not the medicine itself.

Thus you demonstrate your complete ignorance. Hint: for one profoundly simple example, antibiotics actually kill bacteria. It is not your body's reaction to antibiotics which kills bacteria. It is the fact that antibiotics interfere with key biological processes in bacteria.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 18 Oct 2011 #permalink

"Interesting that a doctor produces a really long-winded tirade against alternative medicine without once mentioning the immune system.... You want to take all the credit (and hence control!) for vaccines, medicines, etceteras administered by a doctor."

Maybe he assumes the reader knows there's a connection between the immune system and vaccines?

The immune system is basically involved in fighting off infections and in the containment of malignant tumours.
Antibiotics kill the organisms directly.
When a malignancy manifests itself, it is because it has acquired the mutations which enable it to evade the immune system. Once it has been able to trick the immune system, there isn't much the immune system can do about it and thus the use of anti-cancer agents to kill the tumor cells.
However, this is no control in the absolute sense in which sCAMsters promote their "drugs". Micro organisms may become resistant to drugs or the infection may become too widespread to give any certainty of cure. Tumors can also gain mutations to become resistant to anti-cancer agents.

As far as auto-immune diseases are concerned - the immune system is responsible for the disease and hence has to be suppressed. The immune system doesn't cure anything here.
In immunodeficiency states (congenital or acquired) - there isn't an effective immune system to deal with anything or certain class of pathogens.

I don't see why one would want to invoke the immune system in diseases wherein there is an inherited metabolic disorder or inherited disorders in the structure and thus function of certain proteins? The immune system has nothing to do here.

And, ususally the body's reaction to a medicine is to metabolise it in the liver and excrete it in bile or to excrete it in the urine. Some drugs are metabolized and destroyed by the enzymes in blood. Rarely, certain drugs may induce an UNWANTED and DANGEROUS immune response - allergies. Vaccines are an exception because they specifically bank on the body's immune response to it for their effect.

About the oft cited natural vs artificial:
There is virtually no difference between a molecule which is naturally produced or by artificial means. SBM doesn't care about the source of the drug (barring ethical concerns) as long as it is effective. There is a long list of molecules used in every area of SBM which are found in nature.

You. Are. Awesome.

That is all :)

T-reg explains it perfectly. Better than I did.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 18 Oct 2011 #permalink

There hasn't been a cancer thread since my older daughter's mother-in-law died, but maybe since this seems general, it's appropriate here.

"Mary", the mother-in-law, was diagnosed with uterine cancer about three and a half years ago. Her tumor was treated aggressively with standard medicine, including chemo, radiation, and surgery. For about three years, she seemed cured and led an active life. About 6 months ago, it was found that the cancer had metasticized. She received palliative care, including some radiation to shrink bone tumors, which are reportedly very painful. Although "Mary" became weaker and weaker, she was not in a great deal of pain after the radiation treatment. She lived at home with her husband and was cogent and able to enjoy visitors. She entered a hospice a couple of days before her death.

Now, here's my question-- We've all been saying that Science Based Medicine, although it didn't cure "Mary", gave her three good years of life she wouldn't have had. But I realize we're arguing from one case, just like the alternative crowd. Does anybody know what the prognosis is for untreated uterine cancer? Did "Mary" owe those three years to science?

(This is not prurient interest. Just as "Mary" was dying, we found out my younger daughter's father-in-law has pancreatic cancer. He's started on the chemo-radio-surgery route, but he's threatened to opt out. The fact that "Mary" wasn't cured has had some influence.)

Any help Orac or others can give me on the effects of standard cancer treatments on prognosis would be much appreciated.

By hoary puccoon (not verified) on 18 Oct 2011 #permalink

"Interesting that a doctor produces a really long-winded tirade against alternative medicine without once mentioning the immune system. Not once. When only the human immune system identifies, mitigates and cures disease and combats pathogens."

Would Mike like to identify some instances where the immune system identifies, mitigates and cures diseases and combats pathogens?

Here are a few pathogens (bacterial diseases) that even the healthiest of immune systems cannot fight: pulmonary and meningeal tuberculosis, invasive (meningitis and bacteremia) streptococcus pneumoniae and neisseria meningitidis diseases.

Why shouldn't the researchers who first identified the specific bacterium that causes each of these diseases, the researchers who developed antibiotics to treat these diseases and the doctors who employ their considerable skill to treat these diseases "take credit" for curing these invariably fatal diseases?

@47 - Yeah, imagine if just everyday antibiotics were withdrawn from shelves for whatever reason, then there would be tears - when people saw the horrors of everyday untreated infections return - and people dying horribly from gonorrhea, or abscesses.

You know I understand the control thing. It is very normal for an ill person to be fearful or mistrustful of putting your life into 'thier hands' - but something has gone very wrong in a society that does not see modern medicine as a miracle.

I guess its that same society that allows peoples main anxiety to be that their Blackberry is down. In fact that is how medicine is seen, just another piece of technology that we have some kind of 'right' to, and if it does not work properly, breaks down or is the 'wrong color' then we forget the miracle - and act like spoilt kids - and suddenly medicine - 'big pharma' - microsoft - whatever are evil.

This is a well thought out post and I appreciate it very much. The problem with CAM is that a medical practitioner there can be anyone from 3 days of informal (or correspondence) training to 30 years of professional training. Perhaps the first group dominates the field due to sheer numbers.

However, the latter group does have many contributions to make in the field of Oncology, and they ought to make themselves heard.

Johnson C. Philip, DSc (CAM)

@ Johnson C. Philip: Is there a point to your posting...aside from your url leading to a web site about ancient coins?

Does anybody know what the prognosis is for untreated uterine cancer?

That would depend on the grade and/or histologic type of cancer, also the stage it was when it was diagnosed. A non-invasive FIGO Grade I endometrioid adenocarcinoma would probably be cured by hysterectomy alone. An aggressive cancer (FIGO Grade III or a mixed mesodermal tumor and so forth) with metastases would probably be fatal in a few months without chemotherapy. Chemo would buy some time. Perhaps any oncologists lurking here could give a more definite answer.


Thanks. I'll have to ask my daughter the details, but I'm pretty sure her mother-in-law's cancer was worse than the non-invasive cancer you describe; it was certainly not treated three years ago with a hysterectomy alone.

It sounds, from what you describe, like chemo did "buy some time" for her. And I know for a fact it wasn't just delaying her death. She was felt good and made a point of enjoying her life in those three years between the first treatment and the recurrence of the cancer.

Thanks again.

By hoary puccoon (not verified) on 20 Oct 2011 #permalink

I think it's partly the "just world" fallacy. It's reassuring to think that if people didn't somehow deserve bad diseases, they wouldn't get them. We're getting a cultural mythology that screening and being "a fighter" are all you need against breast cancer, for example, and I think that mindset extends to the rest.

I've had people tell me "you'll be fine, you're young" (as if people younger than me weren't famous for dying of the cancer I have,) and that my attitude made a difference... well, probably not, really, and I'm sure people have handled it all better and still died. But thanks?

By i can't rememb… (not verified) on 21 Oct 2011 #permalink

In our current system is driven by those who make much money as it works. Directly channeled money into the pockets of a few. And guess who that is, the pharmaceutical companies. Now they have to establish that if something is used to treat a disease must be "approved" by the FDA. that's why the big push to get things listed as diseases such as alcoholism, drug dependence, and other things that have been traditionally are not under the umbrella of the FDA. And this in turn puts the drug in the arena of "approved" drug manufacturing as they are the only ones with enough money to meet FDA requirements.

I guess your blaming people's need to "control" understand and develop new discoveries is due to some religious ideology, "if God made you ill it is because you deserve it, don't try to fight against it" ... sorry, i prefer to follow the religion of progress and science. I know for sure dr Simoncini healed many people, i wish i knew more about dr Young

How exactly is it you know that? Doesn't it concern you that most of his claims are factually wrong (e.g. all cancer is white)?

He used to work in the clinic round the corner, i live in Rome.
I am surprised the immune system is not considered in many of the postes above. For the traditional or most supported medical theory cancer is the consequence of a immune deficiency. Protocols ofter mention interpherone/interleukin to prevent metastasis.
you can read about the effects of sodium bicarbonate on cancer here

Authors dont mention candida albicans but tell something about the therapy