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: 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: 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.