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: 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.