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Health, psychology & science stories


Alternative therapies - a long way to go

10 June 2000

Published in the Byron Shire Echo

Holistic therapies have fallen victim to a strange irony. With Medicine in decline, they should be harvesting the vast reservoir of trust which was once vested in the medical profession. Yet there is little sign of this.

Here, perhaps, are some of the reasons:

1. Poor training. Australia has eleven university medical schools, and one degree in natural therapies of indifferent quality.

2. Poor theory. Natural therapists often prescribe on "intuition", and don’t understand what evidence is required to establish a treatment’s credibility.

3. Poor ethics. Natural therapists both prescribe and  sell their medicines to clients - something no doctor has done for a century.

4. Poor medicines. Many holistic therapies are nothing more than frauds on the public.

Shark cartilage (for example) is widely proclaimed as a cancer treatment - despite having been tested in a study of 58 cancer patients, where ‘none achieved a complete or partial response’. 

One hears whispers, still, of apricot kernels - that favourite 1970s "cancer treatment". A trial in 1982 tested laetrile - the popular synthetic version of apricot kernels - on 178 cancer patients. Not one was cured, improved or even stabilised.

Several incurred near-lethal doses of cyanide.

Author Dr Hulda Clark claims that some cancers are caused by parasites - which can be killed by such things as walnut hulls, wormwood, and cloves.

Clark’s book A Cure for All Cancers  contains 103 "cancer cure" case histories. Scientists analysing her cases believe most of the 103 either did not have cancer, had already received treatment, or had tumors in early stages.

Fake cures such as these do not merely mislead and defraud. They dangle unrealistic hope before society’s most vulnerable.

Joel D Wallach's audio tape on colloidal minerals, Dead Doctors Don't Lie, circulated around Byron Shire like a Phoenix scheme on steroids a couple of years ago.

Wallach claimed that US physicians have a life expectancy of 58 years (it's actually 75-88), that five societies drinking colloidal-rich "glacial milk" live an average of 120-140 years (no such societies exist), and that he has authored 70 scientific papers (standard electronic searches have failed to discover these).

Joel D Wallach has performed one miracle, however. He's cured a pig of Alzheimer's - a disease from which pigs do not suffer.

The colloidal minerals story began in the 1920s (Wallach tell us), when ailing rancher Thomas Jefferson Clark was told about a healing stream by Chief Soaring Eagle, a Paiute medicine man. Curiously, the present-day Paiute have never heard of either Clark or their famous Chief.

Over the decades, Wallach has been involved with several fraudulent health products - including (you guessed it) laetrile treatment for cancer.

James Pontolillo, the world’s leading scientific researcher on colloidal minerals, believes claims about their health benefits are "pseudoscientific gibberish".

But it’s not just dubious goods and therapists which bring the holistic health industry into disrepute. Retailers and authors are holding up their end of the bargain:

Forty-one US health food stores were recently surveyed by a researcher who said his brother had AIDS, and was still having sex with his wife. Thirty stores claimed to carry products which cured AIDS. (These included herbal baths.) All 41 recommended products which could protect the wife against AIDS. Not one recommend abstinence or condoms.

Adelle Davis's famous book Let's Eat Right  killed or disabled more than one American child who was placed on its recommended supplement dosages.

Victoria Bidwell's Health Seeker's Yearbook tells us that "humans were once exclusively fruit eaters... eaters of nothing but fruit’. Analysis of the bones of 10,000 individuals, who lived over four million years, tells us that humans and pre-humans have never even been vegetarians, let alone fruitarians.

And (sigh) author Bernard Jensen blames the upsurge of lust in the modern world on inadequate consumption of seeds.
Jensen is also America’s best-known iridologist. In a 1979 trial, he and two other iridologists were shown photographs of the eyes of 143 people, and asked to look for kidney problems. They demonstrated no statistical ability to diagnose such problems. However one of them diagnosed 88 percent of the healthy patients with kidney disease.

In 1980, an Australian iridologist underwent a similar test with 15 patients. He missed all 33 of their actual health problems - but diagnosed 60 non-existent ones. A monkey with a dartboard could have been more accurate.

So it’s not just the authors, the professional training, the therapists and the therapies which need overhaul - it’s also the diagnostic devices. Aside from iridology, these include such hokum as the Vega machine, the Synchrometer (for detecting cancers) and the Nervo-Scope.

Though few have bothered to do the work, it is  possible to prove the efficacy of many holistic therapies.

The British Medical Journal in 1996 looked at 13 trials of St John's Wort. The herb was found to have a "significant" effect in countering depression.

Other well-conducted trials have shown that long-term selenium supplementation reduces cancer deaths by 50%; that children with chronic constipation will mostly be cured if switched from cow’s to soy milk; and that folic acid reduces the incidence of colon cancer.

A survey of 39,000 parents of autistic children found that chelating heavy metals out of their bodies was the most successful reported intervention - with 73 percent of the children improved or cured of their autism.

So should healers throw away their prized intuition, and knuckle down to some serious journal-reading?

It would be a start.

By embracing scientific method, the holistic community will root out its numerous quacks and dud remedies. It will, simultaneously, establish the credibility of those remedies which do work.

Without a full-scale commitment to scientific method, holistic medicine will never develop beyond its present dilettante stage. Health consumers will spend further decades jumping between the frying pan of Medicine, and the fire of poorly trained natural healers, and their inadequately proven treatments.

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