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It’s Day 7 of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Being on the receiving end of a breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying. Believe me, I’ve been there, done that, and have the internal and external scars to prove it. Navigating the healthcare system to find someone with answers who can tell you what type of breast cancer you have and how best to treat it can be a challenge. And standard of care treatments like chemotherapy and radiation cause major anxiety due to their side effects. It is tempting to look for treatments that will work without side effects.
Scammers prey upon anxiety, fear, and desperation to peddle “alternative treatments” that have not been clinically tested and for which there is no evidence to support anti-cancer properties. These so-called treatments do nothing to stop the cancer from growing and do not kill cancer cells in the body. Some may actually cause harm. And the costs are astronomical.
Quick note: This post is about “Alternative Medicine,” not “Complementary Alternative Medicine.” They may sound alike, but they are two very different things. “Complementary Alternative Therapies” are used in addition to standard of care cancer treatments and are monitored by healthcare professionals. These may include mindfulness meditation, yoga, and acupuncture among others. Spiritual practices may also be complementary alternative therapy approaches. These are fine to try so long as you let your healthcare provider know about them and as long as you take your standard of care medicines or treatments.
By contrast, “Alternative Medicine” scam artists actively discourage conventional standard of care treatments in favor of their woo woo treatments. I’ve covered a variety of woo woo scams on this blog, but when I found this one, I was livid. There are actual “clinics” in Mexico that offer alternative therapies, charge exorbitant prices for them, and cause harm and quite possibly death to desperate cancer patients.
***Note: this is not a dig at legitimate hospitals and cancer treatment centers located in Mexico***
I refuse to link these so-called practices, but they go by names like “Oasis of Hope,” specializing in “Holistic and Alternative Cancer Treatment” like oxygenation therapy (doesn’t do a thing for cancer), hyperthermia (can help other cancer treatments like radiation and chemo work better but isn’t meant to be used alone), vitamins and supplements (see previous post), ozone autohemotherapy (which is not approved by the FDA and is classified as a toxic gas with no known useful medical application in specific, adjunctive, or preventive therapy) and “natural cancer treatments” that they do not define but their white papers (not peer reviewed or published in scientific journals) mention intravenous curcumin (covered in a previous post) and vitamin K (see previous post on antioxidant and supplement therapies). Spoiler alert: these “therapies” have not been shown to be effective at treating breast cancer in clinical trials. Worse, these are on a subpage marketed to people with stage IV breast cancer, some of the most vulnerable people living with cancer. And they do not accept insurance, being located in Tijuana, Mexico, so patients must pay out-of-pocket. For Oasis of Hope, costs range from $19,000 for 18 days of treatment to $29,950 for an “enhanced” experience that lasts 20 days.
Another dubious clinic in Tijuana called “Immunity Therapy Center” is run by a man named Dr. Bautista. He, too, offers alternative treatments much like those from Oasis of Hope in addition to bovine and shark cartilage (not FDA approved for cancer treatment), magna rays (whatever that’s supposed to mean), and “detox,” something your liver does for you normally so you really don’t need specialized chelators and vitamin supplements to do it. As for the immune therapy, the dendritic cell vaccines described on the website are being testing in clinical trials for breast cancer in the United States, but they are not currently approved and we don’t yet know if they really work. That’s another insidious way scammer deceive cancer patients – they use jargon and buzz words from legitimate medical treatments to lend themselves false credibility.
These types of “clinics” are everywhere, not just Mexico. Using a simple Google search, I found them in Arizona, Minnesota, California, Tennessee, the United Kingdom, Georgia, and Illinois on the first page. Many were marked as ads, which is another red flag.
So how do you know if you’re receiving information about legitimate cancer treatments versus scams? This handy video guide from the National Cancer Institute is a great place to start. First and foremost, talk to your doctors and healthcare providers, who should be licensed, board certified, and have expertise in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. And remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It’s funny. I’ve been meaning to write more blog posts, but I’ve been so busy with work, family, writing, and…COVID. My whole family got the ‘Rona and it sucked. Fortunately, we’d been vaccinated, and my husband and I had been boosted. It didn’t result in hospitalization or death. We were lucky. My birth mother, Mary Etta Caldwell, was not. We lost her to Covid and I’m still reeling. PSA – the pandemic isn’t over. It’s still killing people. It’s still debilitating people with long haul Covid. Get vaxxed/boosted and stay safe out there.
Now, onto the main event. This one’s a fucking RIOT!!!
I don’t know if this was from a bot, but I’d like to think it’s from a man. I picture a middle-aged white man who is possibly unemployed and likes to slide into women’s DMs and make sexist comments, spew pseudoscience woo woo, and is a fan of Trumplican propaganda on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll call him Arthur – because that’s what his profile says!
Arthur is very concerned about me and my health. So concerned, in fact, that he reached out in a very sincere and grammatically sound Facebook Message to save me. Now, he hasn’t read my book—though he promises he will and I totally believe him—but he has vital information that he must share with me. Aren’t I lucky?
Arthur has the secret to cancer. Are y’all ready? It’s a dry rot fungus addicted to sugar, and all you need to kill it is hot water.
But if I REALLY want to keep the fungus at bay, I need to “maintain a LOW GLYCEMIC diett” and since “your carryinga little extra weight,” I must still be eating a high glycemic carb “amoint.”
Now, I’ve received flak before for pointing out bad grammar and spelling in personal attacks, but come on! This fucker reached out to me, a breast cancer survivor and researcher, with unsolicited advice and, quite frankly, the STUPIDEST explanation for cancer I’ve ever heard—and I’ve heard some real doozies.
But, beyond the poor grammar, spelling, and general stupidity, there is so much more fodder here for me to unpack. Firstly, mansplaining. It’s a thing. Ask any woman in your sphere and she’ll tell you. She won’t even have to think about it, and will probably come up with five personal experiences in less than a minute. I am an expert in the field of breast cancer. Not sort of, kind of, I guess I know a little—I’m a bona fide expert in the field with a Ph.D. and more than twenty years of experience studying the disease. I also have personally experienced breast cancer IN MY BODY. I know what I’m talking about, and the information I share is carefully researched and derived from peer-reviewed scientific publications.
I doN’t nEEd arTHur to eXplaIN caNcer to mE.
And yet, like so many mediocre white male living examples of Dunning-Kruger, he just couldn’t help himself! Yes, I’m singling out white men. No, I don’t think it’s out of line. If you’re a white man and you’re offended, then you’re an Arthur and you need to rethink your life choices and behavior. If you’re not offended, you’re an ally and you should call out the Arthurs in your life because they’ll listen to you as a fellow white man. You can do it. It’s easy and fun.
Next, the fungus thing. I don’t think Arthur is giving white rot fungus a fair shake. Apparently, it is quite a useful organism that plays a vital role in the global carbon cycle by breaking down lignin, an organic polymer component of plant cell walls, especially in wood and bark, that lends rigidity and do not rot easily. If we didn’t have dry rot fungi, we’d have a whole lot of dead trees mucking up the planet.
But Dr. Dana, does it cause cancer??
Of course not!* In fact, an early pre-clinical study performed in colon cancer cell lines reported that extracts from a species of dry rot fungus, Cerrena unicolor, caused cancer cells to die in culture. That’s right, my friends. I think white rot fungi should sue Arthur for slander. Arthur is spreading malicious propaganda against this very useful organism that does more good on planet earth than Arthur could ever hope to achieve. Clearly, Arthur is jealous.
Now, as for sugar and cancer, it’s complicated. Biology is complicated. Anyone who says anything different is trying to sells you bullshit supplements. I wonder if Arthur sells supplements… Anyway, metabolism consists of a complex series of interconnected biochemical reactions that convert food energy into cellular energy required to fuel cellular processes, generate building blocks necessary to create/sustain/repair biomass, and eliminate cellular waste. Metabolism gets fucked up in very interesting ways in cancer cells and in the cells that surround it (microenvironment). Obesity is a metabolic health issue and a risk factor for breast cancer.
However, as noted by the American Cancer Society, “But the connection between weight and breast cancer risk is complicated. Studies suggest the risk appears to be increased for women who gained weight as an adult but may not be increased among those who have been overweight since childhood. Also, having extra fat in the waist area may raise risk more than having extra fat in the hips and thighs.” There are many, many dedicated, highly trained, competent scientists and physicians studying the complexities of metabolism, and there’s plenty they still don’t know.
I guarantee they know WAAAAAAAAAAAAY more about the subject than Arthur, who has no medical degree, no credentials, and no peer-reviewed studies to back up his assertions. The only thing he has is the audacity. As for the not-so-subtle dig on my weight, I can’t say it better than Lizzo. I’m a big bitch. I don’t have a tour bus, but I’ve got a degree, a platform, and I do a lot of good in the world. What do you do that’s worth anyone’s while, Arthur?
*If you want to hate on fungi linked to cancer, you should really go for Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. They produce aflatoxins, and exposure to those increases liver cancer risk.
In summary, in a world full of Arthurs, be a Lizzo.
I was going to end it here, but Arthur slid back into my DMs to leave these little nuggets of wisdom:
No, I’m not clicking on any of those links, because I don’t want a computer virus. Somehow, I don’t think this is the only virus Arthur is carrying. I hope you’ve found this post informative and entertaining, because I had a HOOT writing it! Thank you, Arthur.
I can’t believe I have to write this post. I’m shaking my head and weeping for the future of humanity as I write it. Are people really stupid enough to believe that ivermectin – a drug we use in our laboratory mice to treat pinworms (butt worms) – can cure Covid?
Yes (sadly). Yes, they are.
Ivermectin is used to treat butt worms in animals. It can also be used to treat roundworms in people. It works by paralyzing worms, specifically by binding to proteins on motor neurons (nerves that tell muscles to move) and disrupting their activity. It also mucks around with the ability of nematode worms to reproduce.
Fun fact: the naturally occurring analogs of ivermectin, avermectins, were discovered in bacteria from soil samples collected by Dr. Satoshi Ōmura from woods near a golf course in Kawana, on the south east coast of Honshu, Japan. The name “avermectin” reflects the activity of these compounds, making treated organisms “worm free.” Dr. Ōmura and Dr. William Campbell shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this discovery. You can read more about that here. Ivermectin in pill form can be used in humans to treat parasitic worms, and topical (on the skin) formulations are also used to treat head lice and rosacea.
It does actually have other, non-butt worm related activities that include treatment of severe muscle spasticity in patients with spinal cord injuries and shows activity against leukemia in laboratory animal models. It may also target molecular pathways relevant to treatment of other cancers, including lung and colon cancer and glioma based on laboratory animal studies, and could block inflammatory T-cell activity in atopic dermatitis, relieving irritation. A recent review covers the research on these applications.
Okay, given these other potential applications, I guess I can kinda sorta see why some folks without a science background might be buying into the idea of using Ivermectin to treat Covid, but(t) still…
This apparently became trendy because of ongoing clinical trials designed to test the efficacy of Ivermectin for Covid-19 treatment and prevention, alone and in combination with other drugs.
Why? Because laboratory studies (in petri dishes in a lab, NOT in people) have shown that Ivermectin can inhibit viral replication, which means it can stop the virus from making copies of itself, which is how it spreads. In vitro. In vitro means “performed or taking place in a test tube, culture dish, or elsewhere outside a living organism.” Plenty of other previous studies showed that ivermectin blocks replication or interferes with the production and spread of other viruses, including HIV, Dengue virus, West Nile virus, and a few others. In vitro. You can review some of these studies here. In spite of these in vitro studies, there is no evidence that ivermectin has any anti-viral effect on the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. For a link to clinical trial data, click here.
And misuse of ivermectin can be dangerous. According to theFDA,“Even the levels of ivermectin for approved human uses can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners. You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death.”
The best way to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2 is to get the vaccine. Period.
And Now for the PSA I never thought I’d have to make…
About the whole so-called “urine therapy” thing – something I never in a million years imagined I would blog about. It isn’t a thing. Apparently, some anti-vaxx conspiracy theory wingnut named Christopher Key has been encouraging his followers to drink their own urine to ward off the SARS-CoV-2 virus instead of getting vaccinated.
For the sake of being thorough and due diligence, I performed a PubMedsearch for “urine therapy covid” on January 16. The search produced 188 results, most dealing with the effects COVID-19 on kidney function, studies related to the potential spread of the virus through urine (risk reported to be negligible), urine-based COVID-19 testing and analysis of cytokines and other diagnostic markers, and testing for SARS-CoV-2 in waste water.
The funniest result was a paper with the title, “Influence of perceived threat of Covid-19 and HEXACO personality traits on toilet paper stockpiling” published inPLoS One.
This one was more sad than funny, but apparently some folks in India are using cow dung to treat COVID-19. People…rubbing animal shit and urine all over your body isn’t effective at treating ANYTHING and is likely to expose you to a whole lot of nasty zoonotic (spread by animals) diseases. Plus you’ll stink. Just…don’t.
You know what I didn’t find in my literature search? I didn’t find a single peer-reviewed study endorsing the use of drinking your own piss as a treatment for COVID-19. Zero, zip, zilch, nada – no evidence to back up this ridiculous claim.
Not that the crazies need silly things like evidence. This actually fits quite nicely with the all-natural woo woo trends. Can you picture it? All natural, locally sourced, sustainably harvested on tap pee pee for your health needs! You’ve heard of eating placenta (don’t do that, either), but why stop there? Drink your pee! When it’s fresh, it looks like a beer.
Sure doesn’t taste like beer. Stick to drinking nice, cold brewskies, and get your vaccine. Please.
Facebook is a great place to meet some weird-ass motherfuckers. We all know that. But I’m still surprised and more than a little dismayed by the scammers. I normally just report ads that include woo woo, sometimes leaving a snarky comment, or just hide or block scammers. It’s rare that they actively seek me out, but it does happen.
Check this out! In response to my post on a blog post about legitimate, peer-reviewed science and breast cancer, Mr. Ansari was compelled by the power of the spell caster, “Dr” Akhigbe, to testify about the amazing things the spell caster can do.
It’s an impressive list worthy of the most outrageous scammy chiropractor. He apparently has the cure for herpes (HSV – I assume the genital variety), HIV, gonorrhea, low sperm count, menopause disease (it’s not a disease, even if it feels like it sometimes; he’s big on STDs and fertility), epilepsy, asepsis (I think he means sepsis – “asepsis” refers to aseptic techniques that minimize risks of bacterial, fungal or viral contamination during surgery and medical procedures), and cancer (which kind, dude?).
Where has this paragon of the medical community been all my life? Why haven’t we heard of him?
I have a few theories, but I decided to go down the rabbit hole and read more about the good “doc” and his miraculous healing abilities. First off, he has at least three profiles. Sketchy. The spell caster profile is apparently now dedicated to marriage, fertility, and “total freedom and happiness.” Hmm, I wonder how much that costs?
The posts are a feast of stock photos with tons of woo, attractive people who seem to be happy, and hashtags a plenty (candlemagic #magicspells #candlespells #astrology #occult #spellcandles #witchyvibes #bruja #pagan #witches #astrologer #psychicreading #witchcraftspells #spellcraft #conjurer #metaphysical #lovespecialist #spellcasters #brujasofinstagram #spiritualoils #spellworker #moneyspells #spiritualawakening #healing #lovespellsmaster #follow #spellcandlesofinstagram #spiritual #altarsofinstagram).
Yup. He’s a busy, busy man. There’s a lot going on there…
I kind of hope there’s a mockumentary based on this dude. Not that it would be as good as What We Do In The Shadows, but I’d LOVE Colin Robinson to explain the history of herbal medicine to The Spell Caster until he’s utterly drained.
I’ll focus on the other profile, which deals with herbal remedies for “great diseases,” because “it’s a gift from God.”
Here’s one of his posts related to cancer:
I’ve already covered turmeric, antioxidants (this includes the berry thing), and I’m covering mushrooms in my book, so let’s dig into what garlic and ginger can do for you (and more importantly, cannot do for you) as a cancer patient.
Note: My medical oncologist is a fan of veggies as well as legitimate research on diet and breast cancer molecular signaling/drug responses. Check out his blog for legit information and some great recipes!
Garlic. It makes food delicious, your breath stinky, and wards off vampires, but what can it do for cancer? When I searched the web, the first promising result I found was from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Reputable enough for me! When I clicked, a big fat pop up window with a disclaimer and a “Continue” button I had to click to proceed tried to jump out of the screen:
“This Web site — Information About Herbs, Botanicals and Other Products — is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.”
They have a whole disclaimer to protect them from yahoos looking for woo woo!
What did it have to say about garlic? In terms of cancer, here’s the 411:
Getting into the nuts and bolts, the clinical summary (with references) states:
1. Possible correlation with garlic supplement and gastric (stomach) cancer mortality (death) but not incidence (getting cancer), but other studies found no evidence of either. Remember, correlation does NOT equal causality.
2. Mixed results on garlic and colorectal cancer, with some observation of reduced number and size of adenomas (precancerous lesions) in patients with a history of adenomas.
3. Mixed or unclear results on risk of other cancers, but possible association with reduced risk of blood cancer. Remember, correlation does NOT equal causality.
Bottom line: garlic makes food tasty! Enjoy it in your favorite recipes, but don’t rely on it to keep you safe from cancer or to treat your cancer.
As far as ginger, I found a great article that already covers it:
“Walk Gingerly Before Declaring Ginger a Cancer Cure It is not at all unusual to find plant extracts that will kill cancer cells in vitro. There are hundreds of phytochemicals that will do this. Neither is it unusual to find an effect in mice that have implanted tumours. But this is a long way away from demonstrating a viable cancer treatment in humans.”
Bottom line: this pretty much sums up the majority of studies on plant extracts and cancer. Enjoy ginger for the flavor, but don’t count on it to cure your cancer.
This is an oldie that keeps cropping up in the sphere of (completely unvetted) wellness tips – apple cider vinegar. I’m a bit puzzled by the claims that this is a “natural remedy.” Apples are natural. Cider is processed, as is vinegar, through a fermentation process involving bacteria and yeast that occurs on an industrial scale. It’s not magic. It’s chemistry.
Anyway, a Google search revealed top hits chock a block FULL of Woo Woo claims that are fantastical in nature and, you guessed it, not scientifically vetted. The “apple cider vinegar process” is only at the top because I searched for it first, I suspect. But the rest – “apple cider vinegar gummies” (gross!), “apple cider vinegar benefits” (makes foods taste yummo, but that’s it), “apple cider vinegar pills” (WTF?), “apple cider vinegar weight loss” (maybe if all you eat are salads with apple cider vinaigrette dressing – but that’s a sad way to live), and “apple cider vinegar diet” (that doesn’t even make sense) – it’s all a bunch of doo doo!
But, since I’m a debunker of woo woo scams, I’m doing the research. A PubMed (database of peer-reviewed published biomedical research) search using “apple cider vinegar” yielded 94 results. Aside from a few articles on the antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties of ACV (not surprising, considering that ACV contains 5-6% acetic acid) and studies in rodent models (cardiovascular health, obesity, and something about boosting immunity in carp and – those were weird) that may or may not translate to humans, most of the articles covered the dangers of using ACV as a “natural remedy.”
For example, tooth erosion and esophageal injury was documented in at least two studies [Case Reports Ned Tijdschr Tandheelkd. 2012 Dec;119(12):589-91. doi: 10.5177/ntvt.2012.12.12192 “Unhealthy weight loss. Erosion by apple cider vinegar”; J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 Jul;105(7):1141-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2005.04.003. “Esophageal injury by apple cider vinegar tablets and subsequent evaluation of products.”]. Seriously, do NOT use this to treat heartburn or GERD. It’s a fucking ACID and adding ACID to a condition caused by escape of stomach ACID is completely ridiculous. Don’t drink it. Cook with it, but don’t drink it.
Not only does ACV have no benefit for atopic dermatitis [(skin irritation) Pediatr Dermatol 2019 Sep;36(5):634-639. doi: 10.1111/pde.13888. Epub 2019 Jul 22. Apple cider vinegar soaks [0.5%] as a treatment for atopic dermatitis do not improve skin barrier integrity], topical skin treatments with ACV can cause chemical burns [J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012 Oct;67(4):e143-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2011.11.934. “Chemical burn from topical apple cider vinegar.”]! Don’t put it on your skin. Please.
One study reported a lack of antiglycemic (lowering of blood sugar) by vinegar, including ACV, in humans [Nutr Res. 2009 Dec;29(12):846-9. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2009.10.021. “Vinegar lacks antiglycemic action on enteral carbohydrate absorption in human subjects.”]. So no, it won’t help people with diabetes.
Fun rando fact – apparently ACV attracts several species of fruit flies, so if you want to collect some wild ones as pest control or for DIY experiments at home, try it! I’m not citing these. Look it up yourself. There are a surprising number of studies documenting this.
Bottom line – there are no validated health benefits in humans for this “natural remedy,” but there are plenty of bad things that can happen if you drink a lot of cider vinegar, put it on your skin, or take pills (and presumably gummies).
And ACV does NOT cure or treat cancer. Only two references came up in a PubMed search for “apple cider vinegar cancer,” and neither reported any benefits for treatment of warts or moles, let alone skin cancer.
BUT…ACV can make tasty salad dressings and delicious sauces. One of my favorites for fall is apple glazed baked chicken. Here’s the recipe:
1 whole broiler chicken, apple jelly, apple cider vinegar, apple pie spice, apples (tart or sweet)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Season the chicken with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake chicken for 1 1/2-2 hours. While chicken is baking, slice apples and prepare glaze. To prepare glaze, heat 1/2 jar of apple jelly with an equal volume of apple cider vinegar and 1-2 teaspoons of apple pie spice. Boil until volume is reduced by 1/2. Remove chicken from oven, drain chicken stock (can be used to prepare some DELICIOUS rice), cover with glaze, and place apple slices around chicken in the baking dish. Cook another 1/2 hour or until chicken is done. Serve with rice or potatoes, green beans, and enjoy!
Essential oils. They’re EVERYWHERE! Articles and posts touting their alleged benefits are all over social media, some news media, and the Internet. A Google search I performed today yielded 1.7 billion results. 1.7 BILLION! Yup, there’s a LOT of buzz about the wonders and medicinal benefits of essential oils.
And almost all of it 100% certified Grade A Bullshit.
This post is dedicated to debunking one of my least favorite bullshit woo woo scams (second only to homeopathy). And I will do so with the power of science and snark, because that’s just who I am as a person.
So what are essential oils? They are oils purified from plants and carry the aroma of the source from which they are extracted. Their name comes from the fact that they are thought to contain the essence of their source, and they smell pretty good thanks to terpenoids, aromatic organic compounds produced by plants that often function as chemical protection against herbivores, insects, and microbes. They also serve as attractants for pollinators, seed dispersers, and in mediating plant–plant and plant–microbe communication. Humans enjoy them because they smell and in some cases taste really good. Sadly, allergies prevent me from enjoying the florals, but I enjoy herbals and fruit oils in a wide array of products – cosmetics, soaps, perfumes, lotions, bath products, and many food items. They’re just nice.
But do they have any medicinal value? What about medicinal value when it comes to cancer? Part of the issue with answering this question involves the (lack of) regulation when it comes to production and testing. The concentration of active chemicals in extracts can vary widely from plant to plant, which parts are processed (different concentrations in leaves, flowers, stems, and roots), which season the plants are harvested, which strains are sourced, etc. Without consistent batches subjected to quality control to assure consistent concentrations of active chemical components (like terpenoids), and without rigorous, scientific studies, we can only rely on anecdotal evidence and (often misleading) claims from suppliers. Some efforts are being made by the WHO for quality and safety evaluation of herbal products, including chemical fingerprint analysis*. Much like vitamins and supplements, which are not subject to the same rigorous FDA standards for safety and efficacy (how well it works) as drugs, essential oils fall under the category of “safe for their intended use,” which does not involve use as medical treatments. They’re considered safe until proven otherwise, a MUCH lower standard than FDA approved drugs.
More importantly, they are (by fairly low standards) rated for safety, but not for EFFICACY. That would require clinical trials and rigorous testing.
Should we be researching them? Sure! Some pre-clinical studies involving cultured cells (cells grow in a petri dish under laboratory conditions) and animal (primarily mouse) models have been published. A systematic review of the literature from 2014 to 2019 identified 79 studies that fit inclusion criteria – including studies investigating essential oils with anti-microbial and immunomodulatory (affects the host immune response) properties, nutrition studies, studies with controls and proper statistical analyses. Of those studies, many documented the anti-microbial (bacteria fighting) and anti-fungal (fungus fighting) properties, antioxidant properties that may help slow food spoilage, and anti-inflammatory properties in laboratory and agriculture models. And, in some preclinical studies, high doses of essential oils can kill cancer cells in culture in a laboratory setting. Does that mean they’ll do the same thing in humans? Not necessarily. See my post on turmeric.
Just for perspective, it’s pretty easy to kill cancer cells in culture in a laboratory setting. I once killed a dish by accidentally leaving the cells in phosphate buffered saline instead of growth media. Yes, salt water can kill cancer cells in culture. So can many drugs, but the majority of compounds with anti-cancer activity in cultured cancer cells and mouse models are not effective in human clinical trials. So, the jury is out on whether or not the active ingredients essential oils can help treat cancer. And inhaling the pleasing aromas produced by essential oils may effect mood, but it doesn’t do anything to thwart cancer growth, survival, or invasion.
These observations definitely warrant more laboratory investigation, but as of this post, there is no evidence that essential oils fights cancer when inhaled or ingested or delivered in any other way into the human body. Advertisements by scammers like the ones listed below are lies:
These are some of the top hits under a Google search for “treating cancer with essential oils.” As is my standard policy, I will not share links for woo woo. The misinformation and outright lies are not only infuriating, they can prove deadly for patients who skip standard therapies in favor of alternative “therapies.” The stats are heartbreaking. In a Yale School of Medicine study (link to original publication here*), “patients who used alternative medicine in place of standard evidence-based medicine had a death rate 2.5 times higher than patients who received standard evidenced-based therapies.”
Women with non-metastatic breast cancer who opted for alternative “medicine” were ~ 6 times more likely to die within 5 1/2 years compared to women who received standard of care therapy. This is a small study – 281 patients – and captures data from patients who disclosed their decision to follow alternatives versus standard of care. It doesn’t include patients who do not disclose or discuss this with their health care providers, so the numbers could actually be higher.
For more information on aromatherapy – separating fact from fiction – click here. Check out this article, too. Bottom line: much like cannabis, essential oils may offer relief from the side effects of standard of care treatments, but they cannot cure cancer nor should they be used as a substitute for standard of care. Complimentary alternative medicine is fine, as it compliments proven therapies, but not on their own.
*Access to this article is limited by a paywall. If you want to read it for yourself, hit me up and I’ll send the PDF.
Like many actual scientists and rational human beings, I have issues with Gwyneth Paltrow’s activities as a “wellness guru” by way of her company, GOOP. Don’t get me wrong, she’s an incredible actress and supports some great philanthropic work, including the work of The American Cancer Society and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. And I don’t have a big problem with her capitalizing on her fame and looks in the beauty industry. We all like to look and feel pretty.
But GOOP as a resource for health and wellness is another matter. From coffee enemas for “detox” (note – all you need for detox are a liver and functional kidneys), vaginal steaming (that’s a recipe for a rip-roaring yeast infection and severe burns), and jade eggs to stick up your vagina (not healthy – and don’t just take my word for it; Dr. Jen Gunter, OB/GYN and author of The Vagina Bible confirms what common sense would tell most women: nothing good can come from sticking rocks up your hoohah), this whole “wellness” thing is actually pretty freakin’ unhealthy. So much so, in fact, that a lawsuit cost the biz $145K (for baseless claims about the benefits of vagina eggs – really just a drop in the bucket for them) and now they include disclaimers about their whackadoodle health claims.
And…now she’s selling a candle that allegedly smells like her vagina. You can’t make this shit up. The candle is called “This Smells Like My Vagina.” It’s right there in the name. Now, I’m not going to unpack all of the patriarchal bullshit that goes along with how women’s bodies should look and smell – your vagina smells fine. Trust me. It smells like it’s supposed to. No one is marketing products to freshen up sweaty ballsacks, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about sexist double standards when it comes to eau de genitals.
But aside from all of that, what does Gwyneth’s snatch-scented candle (allegedly) do? And, I have to ask, did she actually stick the candles into her snatch to infuse them with her feminine “energy” and alluring musk? Apparently, this candle actually smells like “a blend of geranium, citrusy bergamot, and cedar absolutes juxtaposed with Damask rose and ambrette seed [note – um, that’s not what vagina’s smell like] that puts us in mind of fantasy, seduction, and a sophisticated warmth.”
Well, at least she didn’t claim it cures cancer, so bonus.
This is the same woman who falsely claimed thatunderwire bras could cause breast cancer – they can’t and don’t. That shit really pisses me off. She’s not a trained healthcare provider, a scientist working in a laboratory (the GOOP “lab” show that’s coming to Netflix is NOT a lab and I’m probably going to rage post and Tweet about all of the false claims that will no doubt come out of that train wreck), and she has no expertise in this arena. So, my advice to Gwyneth Paltrow is this: stay in your fucking lane. You’re an actress, not a health expert.
Seriously, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a bit of…whimsy when it comes to lifestyle choices. If it feels good and it doesn’t hurt you, then, hey, you do you. The problem is that much of what overpriced celebrity brands like GOOP peddle actually CAN hurt you (remember that whole vaginal burn thing a few paragraphs back?). Worse, in this age of anti-intellectualism, where a large segment of the world population does not value or respect scientists and healthcare provider expertise, celebrities have become a go-to for “the answers” to all of your health woes. That’s a problem.
So what do we do? For starters, use common sense. If something sounds weird (even if it’s allegedly been practiced for centuries by ancient wise women in some place the seller is culturally appropriating for financial gain), it’s probably a scam. If your healthcare providers and people with actual degrees and expertise (e.g. SciBabe, Jen Gunter, Sana Goldberg – Dr. Oz totally does NOT count) advise against it, it’s probably a scam. If it’s a seemingly ordinary item (vagina scented candle) that costs a ridiculous amount of money ($75 – what the ACTUAL fuck), it’s probably a scam. Be smart, stay safe, and don’t be fooled!
Click here for some more hilariously/sad/ridiculous vagina trends from Ms. Paltrow . For SciBabe’s entertaining and informative take on Gwyneth Paltrow and GOOP, click here.
As long as the Internet exists, I will (sadly) NEVER run out of things to blog about on the woo woo front. Scratch that, as long as people exist, I’ll never run out of things to blog about on the woo woo front. For today’s installment, I’ll be covering the bizarre and dangerous practice of ear candling.
Ear candling. As in shoving a FUCKING CANDLE into your EAR and LIGHTING IT to somehow magically clean out earwax and toxins and or some such nonsense. Unlike other woo woo scams I’ve covered, this one has absolutely no science associated with its claims. Rather than misrepresenting science, it simply ignores it. And, as usual with this bullshit, its proponents claim it can ~definitely~ cure your cancer.
Spoiler alert – sticking a lit candle into your ear canal will NOT cure any type of cancer.
As usual, no links to sites that actually support this practice, but the “practice” goes as follows: (1) get a fabric cone soaked in wax or paraffin (blessing by a fake, culturally appropriating “shaman” optional); (2) cut a hole in the bottom of a paper plate or tin pan and stick the side you don’t light through the hole – this will keep wax and ash from falling on your face, because safety first (*snort*); (3) lie on your side, stick the end of the candle you don’t light in your ear canal, and get a friend to light the candle; (4) relax while you make like a human candle holder for about 15 minutes then repeat with the other ear.
Why would anyone do this? The “theory” is that the burning candle creates a gentle suction that pulls earwax and gross toxins out of your ear. Alternatively, the low heat from the burning candle is thought to melt earwax and allow it to fall out of the ear canal naturally after a few days. Some even claim you can open the candle and see all of the disgusting material sucked out of your ear, kind of like viewing (in horror and fascination) what peel-off face masks pull out of your pores.
Trust me, what came out of my face that day was NOT pretty, but my skin did feel smoother after…
Other wild claims about the supposed benefits of ear candling (also called ear or auricular coning, thermal/thermo-auricular therapy, candle/coning therapy) include:
removing wax, bacteria, and other debris from the ear canal treating sinus infections improving hearing or reversing hearing loss relieving sore throats treating colds and flus relieving headaches and migraines improving mental clarity purifying the blood improving lymphatic circulation clearing the eyes and improving vision reducing pain related to jaw aches and temporomandibular disorders reducing tension and stress reducing vertigo
Not only are there no studies to substantiate any of these benefits, the FDA has been warning the public against this dangerous practice, with risks including:
starting a fire burns to the face, ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear injury to the ear from dripping wax ears plugged by candle wax bleeding puncture of the eardrum delay in seeking needed medical care for underlying conditions such as sinus and ear infections, hearing loss, cancer, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. (TMJ disorders often cause headache and painful sensations in the area of the ear, jaw, and face).
Bottom line: if you are bothered by what you believe is excess earwax, sinus and ear infections, TMJ, or other ailments, see a healthcare provider. Sticking a candle in your ear is not a solution, and, quite frankly, it’s a really stupid and dangerous thing to do. Stick to using candles for mood lighting and ambiance.
Greetings! I’m writing this blog post from Singapore, where I attended The International Congress of Cancer and Clinical Oncology. One of the perks of this geeky job as a professional lab rat is that I get to travel to some really cool places to present the results of my scientific research. Now, you would think that a scientific conference should and would be immune to infiltration by the woo. Hell, that’s what I thought before I sat through a talk from a dude who runs a “private clinic” that offers, among other things, hyperthermia and antioxidant “therapies” for cancer patients, the latter of which includes juicing.
Not juicing in the steroid misuse sense, but literal drink-a-glass-of-carrot-juice-and-you-will-reduce-free-radicals-in-your-tumor sense. The guy was literally pushing antioxidants like vitamin C, green tea, and juice – carrot juice, grapefruit juice, but not beet juice (high sugar) – as well as hyperthermia (heat treatment) and intermittent fasting (one of the new fads in weight loss) to treat cancer.
He even cited Linus Pauling, father of the woo woo based vitamin cult that gave rise to western obsession with supplements. His wild (and scientifically UNFOUNDED) claims that high doses of vitamin C could cure everything from the common cold to the flu to cancer still plague bookstores, the wellness industry, and popular culture. They are COMPLETELY UNTRUE!
Fuckballs. I thought about walking out of the talk, but then decided it would give me the opportunity to understand the mind and inner workings of a woo woo peddler in a fucked up know-your-enemy kind of way. Then, I set about dissecting his bullshit claims and countering them with the real scientific scoop.
What do we know about oxidative stress in cancer? Cancer cells accumulate reactive oxygen species (ROS), including peroxide and superoxide, as byproducts of altered metabolism and dysfunction of mitochondria, the energy production center of all cells. These oxygen free radicals can act as mutagens, altering DNA and, when the mutation hits an oncogene, tumor suppressor gene, or gene that affects the cell’s ability to move, the mutation drive disease progression. ROS also induce inflammatory responses that drive cancer growth, survival, and progression. Since ROS benefit the tumor, therapies designed to block ROS with antioxidants should help patients with cancer, right?
Well, as with most aspects of cancer, the story in much more complicated. Turns out, antioxidants have actually been shown to make cancers worse in the laboratory setting and perhaps in humans! How’s that possible? Well, it turns out that high levels of ROS induce oxidative stress in tumor cells and drive them to die. Cancer cells, including breast cancer cells, fine tune their redox balance to different state that normal cells to take advantage of the growth benefits while avoiding levels that would induce cell death.
And that, dear followers, is part of the problem with woo woo, particularly this kind of woo woo that, on first glance, seems reasonable and incorporates bits of legitimate science into the scam. What’s the harm? Well, for patients visiting this guy’s clinic between rounds of chemotherapy – or for patients who skip prescribed, medically/scientifically vetted therapies in pursuit of “natural cures,” – the consequences could be deadly. And even if sitting in a heat chamber and drinking tons of juices doesn’t hurt in the health sense, it could definitely hurt the patient’s wallet.
Bottom line – if you want to add supplements or try alternative therapies (make sure they are COMPLIMENTARY alternative therapies – CAM – that work with your standard of care medical therapy), check with your doctor to determine whether it’s safe and beneficial.