Screw The Woo Woo – Spell Casters!

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).

I’d take medical advice from Nandor the Relentless than the “Spell Caster.”

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:

https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/garlic

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.

AND DON’T TRUST INTERNET “SPELL CASTERS!”

Screw the Woo Woo: Apple Cider Vinegar

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!

“My grandfather’s work was doo doo!” Young Frankenstein. Photo source.

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.”

Photo credit here.

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.

Apple cider vinegar and a paper funnel inserted into a cup are used as an at home fruit fly trap. Photo credit here.

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:

Ingredients:

1 whole broiler chicken, apple jelly, apple cider vinegar, apple pie spice, apples (tart or sweet)

Recipe

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!

Screw The Woo Woo: Essential Oils Won’t Cure Your Cancer

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.

Fresh herbs and oils, wooden table background – we smell good and taste 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.

Screw the Woo Woo: WTF is up with Gwyneth Paltrow and Vaginas/Butt Stuff??

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 that underwire 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.

Screw The Woo Woo: Please Don’t Put Candles in Your Ears (Something I Never Thought I’d Have To Write)

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.

Heading Photo Credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/bright-burn-burnt-candle-278823/

Screw The Woo Woo: Antioxidants and Cancer (When Woo Shows Up At A Freakin’ Science Conference!)

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.


From Experimental & Molecular Medicine (2016) 48, e269; doi:10.1038/emm.2016.119

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.

References: Why Vitamin Pills Don’t Work, And May Be Bad For You; How Oxidative Stress May Kill Cancer Cells; Altered Tumor Metabolism Leads to Intensification of Oxidative Stress and Tumor Cell Death

Screw the Woo Woo: For The Love of The Flying Spaghetti Monster Do NOT Sun Your Bunghole!

Beavis and Butt-head are the intellectual property of
Mike Judge.

In this installment of Screw The Woo Woo, I’m tackling a “wellness” trend that’s been making the rounds on social media, including my Facebook feed, and that is disturbing on sooooooooo many levels: butthole sunning. At first, I thought it was a joke. I really, REALLY hoped it was a joke. Then again, jade eggs for the vagina, vagina steaming, and coffee enemas were (and apparently still are) a thing, so what’s one more bizarre bit of ridiculousness in the wooniverse? This isn’t directly related to breast cancer, BUT(T), since ultraviolet light from the sun can cause skin cancer, I’ve decided to tackle the subject and debunk its alleged benefits to, er, bring to light the very real dangers of exposing your junk to the sun.

That and one of the proponents of this weird ass practice is making shady claims about how butthole sunning balances hormones in the sex organs. It doesn’t. More on that later.

First off, the notion that sunlight can enter your body through your vagina or anus is ludicrous, as is the notion that butthole sunning prevents the leakage of “chi” from the body, mostly because “chi” isn’t a thing, and if you’re experiencing any kind of leakage from your anus or genitals, you DEFINITELY need to seek your doctor. The vagina doesn’t just magically open to the heavens like a flower when you open your legs to the sun. Don’t believe me? Read The Vagina Bible by Dr. Jen Gunter, M.D. and gynecologist who covers everything you need to know about care and maintenance of your girly parts.

In addition to blocking chi leakage, woo woo practitioner MetaphysicalMegan (~a clearly qualified source of accurate, reliable information~) claims that sunning your perineum (a.k.a. the taint, the gooch, the fleshy fun bridge) provides a myriad of health benefits (link to a story that shares her tweet – I refuse to link directly to woo woo bullshit sites) – such as regulating “hormone function in the sex organs.”

That claim is a GIANT steaming pile of bullshit.

Hormone function in sex organs is regulated by intracellular hormone receptors expressed in the cells of internal sex organs that are well-protected from the outside world, including sunlight. For example, estrogen receptors in females are expressed in mammary glandular epithelium deep within breast tissue (where they can contribute to the growth of breast cancer cells in ER+ disease), the endometrial tissue that lines the uterus (internal organ protected from sunlight), ovary, bone (which is why bone loss is a concern for menopausal women and breast cancer patients on estrogen suppression therapy – estrogen contributes to cellular signaling pathways that promote bone growth), and other organs and tissues that are protected from the elements. As sunlight cannot reach estrogen receptor expressing cells, it cannot influence the function of estrogen signaling within them.

But what’s the harm, you might ask? Lots of people believe in and incorporate New Age and Wellness practices into their daily lives. Well, in this case, exposing delicate skin to ultraviolet sun rays without the benefit of sunscreen can actually be harmful. Ultraviolet light breaks bonds in the nucleotide bases (thymine and cyotsine) of DNA in skin cells that absorb it. This can facilitate abnormal bonding between adjacent thymine (thymine dimers) and cytosine (cytosine dimers) that form kinks in DNA. If not repaired, this can lead to DNA mutations that contribute to the development of skin cancers. Now, MetaphysicalMegan recommends 30 seconds, but given that every second you are in the sun, 50 to 100 of these dimers are formed in each skin cell. That’s a hell of a place to risk getting skin cancer, not to mention that the proverbial “places where the sun don’t shine” are horrible places to get a freakin’ sunburn!

Bottom (giggle snort) line: exposing your asshole/taint/vagina/penis/nutsack to the sun isn’t going to help your health. It’ll probably give you a sunburn, it can increase your risk of skin cancer, and it will most certainly make you look like a fucking idiot. Don’t do it.

Publicly available references from The US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: Estrogen receptor expression and function in female reproductive disease; Estrogen receptors and human disease: an update

*Apparently Josh Brolin tried butthole/perineum sunning and, not surprisingly, regretted it. Yup, not even Thanos can handle that flavor of sick burn. The evil part of me REALLY hopes that Ryan Reynolds works in some butthole sunning jokes at Cable’s expense in the next Deadpool film!

Maybe they’ll even do a little superhero bro bonding with joint butthole sunning. They could even bring along Colosus and Dopinder.

I mean, who DOESN’T want to see dat ass? You’re picturing it. I know you are!

Screw The Woo Woo: Turmeric and Cancer

Part of my mission in promoting science is fighting pseudoscience, scams, myths, and misinformation. This is the first in a series of Screw the Woo Woo posts. Woo woo, “supernatural, paranormal, occult, or pseudoscientific phenomena, or emotion-based beliefs and explanations,” is the antithesis of science. Unfortunately, woo woo is flashier and easier to market. From purveyors of alternative medicine, wellness and nutrition “gurus,” the diet and supplement industry, and new age whackadoodles, the woo woo movement offers the lure of “ancient wisdom,” “natural” alternatives to the evils of chemical medicines and toxins (spoiler alert – everything is made of fucking chemicals, and if you want to get rid of toxins, all you need are functioning liver and kidneys), and easy peasy lose-the-weight-and-keep-it-off-without-diet-and-exercise scams.

The “war” between medicine and so-called “natural” remedies is really fucking stupid.

Legit sciences needs better PR and marketing.

My mission is to help with that, as well as helping the public fine-tune their bullshit-o-meters in the Internet age.

Soto ayam – see link below for recipe

Now, I can’t tackle all of these issues, but I can and will do my part to dispel some common myths I’ve encountered as they relate to cancer and breast cancer, starting with turmeric. I love curry, soto ayam, and other delicious South Asian recipes featuring this delicious spice. Turmeric gets a lot of attention for being a health food with medicinal properties. Don’t believe me? Google it. You’ll find a slew of sites selling turmeric as a supplement, articles from such ~reputable~ (see ~? That’s the sarcasm symbol) sources like healthline.com (I refuse to link to woo sites) touting the “10 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin.” One of the benefits reported by the supplement/diet/nutrition/new-age/woo woo movement is that turmeric prevents and/or cures cancer.

So, let me break it down, because it’s, well, complicated. The short answer to the question, “Will eating boatloads of turmeric keep me from getting cancer or treat my cancer?” is no. The compound Curcumin, scientifically known as (1E,6E)‑1,7‑bis(4‑hydroxy‑3‑-methoxyphenyl) hepta‑1,6‑diene‑3,5‑dione, is natural polyphenol that is derived from the turmeric plant. This compound is, in fact, being actively investigated for anticancer activity. Here’s where it gets tricky, though, as noted by Alexander Pope – A little learning is a dangerous thing ; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring. In other words, you’ve got to dig a little deeper when it comes to reports of so-called “health foods” and “superfoods.” Yes, there is some evidence that, in a laboratory setting, Curcumin can interfere with the ability of cancer cells grown in a dish to divide and survive (growth), move (an essential part of invasion and metastatic spread), and attract blood vessels that feed the tumor (angiogenesis). It also shows some activity in animal models of cancer (human tumors grown in mice) and has reportedly shown some benefit in clinical trials*. So that means we should all be eating turmeric all the time, right?

Not so fast. Yes, Curcumin may help fight cancer – though more research is needed – but there are problems with the leap between eating turmeric and getting the benefits of Curcumin. For starters, Curcumin only constitutes 2-3% of the turmeric root, so in order to get enough Curcumin from eating this spice (which, like most spices, is used pretty sparingly to flavor food), you’d have to eat truckloads. Then there’s the problem of pharmacokinetics (PK) – a fancy way of saying how stable a compound is in the human body and how well it reaches its target. “The bioavailability of Curcumin is low because of poor absorption, rapid elimination and/or low target organ concentration. This is due to the reason that Curcumin is conjugated when it is absorbed through the intestine, consequently free Curcumin is present in extremely low level at the target organ.”* Before this can be applied clinically, the PK needs to be greatly improved. It’s also the reason that taking Curcumin supplements probably won’t do you much good.

But what’s the harm? Aside from separating fact (turmeric is delicious) and fiction (eating turmeric will prevent and/or treat cancer), like all chemicals, natural or synthetic, it interacts with other chemicals in the human body. According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Curcumin may interfere with the activity of some anti-cancer medicines, including chemotherapy and anti-estrogen therapies. Talk to your doc and make sure you tell your health care team about any supplements you’re taking or thinking about taking so they can help you weigh the risks, benefits, and dispel any misinformation or misconceptions about them.

Bottom line – no, turmeric isn’t going to protect you from cancer or cure any cancer you may already have. Your best protection is a healthy diet, exercise, avoiding tobacco, too much sun, and keeping up with your health screenings. Enjoy turmeric for the flavor, and rely on medicine for healthcare!

*Front Chem. 2014; 2: 113. – the link is to the publicly available version of this 2014 review article on Curcumin and cancer.

Soto ayam is an abso-freaking-lutely DELICIOUS soup that is super fun to make! I learned from an Indonesian-American, but this recipe is a decent approximation. For the paste used the flavor the broth, she recommended a mixture of shallots, garlic, ginger (fresh), turmeric (powder), macadamia nuts crushed with mortar and pestle. Once prepared, hot broth is poured over a bed of jasmine rice, thin rice vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, parsley or Thai basil, sliced green onions, chicken breast, and a boiled egg, halved.