Tough cell

CANCER

Integrative means “to unify separate items.” Oncology refers to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. So, in a strict sense, exercise, nutrition, deep breathing, and meditation that are aimed at reducing the pain, nausea, stress, and other consequences of cancer could qualify as integrative oncology.

However, most people who consider themselves integrative oncologists use the term because it sounds better than “malarkey.” They offer aura cleansings, naturopathy, and energy healing, all of which have no plausible mechanism by which they would arrest rouge cell growth.

While proponents try to spin it as offering the best of both the traditional and alternative medicine worlds, the term is almost never used by those who combat cancer with chemotherapy and surgery; it’s used almost exclusively by those who prefer beef liver regimens and crystals.

Integrative oncologists favor terms like “multidisciplinary, “synergy,” “patient-centered,” “holistic,” “mind-body-spirit meld,” and “optimizing wellness.” These vacuous words gloss over the fact that the techniques they offer won’t help cure a patient’s cancer. To do that, one needs chemo, radiation, targeted drug therapy, immunotherapy, or surgery.  

Again, in the strict sense of the word, there is room for integrative oncology. Wigs and prosthetic brassieres for post-mastectomy patients are examples of how a person can be helped with issues related to cancer without the disease itself being impacted.

Or perhaps a patient suffers from malnutrition, as cancer affects their appetite and digestion. It would therefore be valid to work with a dietician to come up with a meal plan that will provide the extra vitamins and minerals needed while battling cancer and undergoing treatment.

And since a potentially lethal disease causes dread, anxiety, stress, fear, and worry, it follows that meditation, guided imagery, or a massage to help deal with these emotions can be beneficial. Or the patient may be an erstwhile distance runner who is now incapable of much exertion at all. In this instance, an exercise plan that squares with this new reality is another good idea. So tai chi, yoga, meditation, and the like are all fine for dealing with the tangential issues of cancer. As long as there is no claim that any magical, curative energy is at work, it’s fine.

The nonsense comes from thinking, as Dr. Axe does, that one of the nation’s leading killers is going to be stymied by “vegetable juicing, probiotic foods, immune-boosting supplements, stress reducing techniques, and prayer.” He presumably followed his attorney’s advice by adding, “I am not claiming that is a cancer cure.” Having taken care of that legal cover, Axe dovetails back into, “I believe these natural therapies, either used by themselves or in conjunction with conventional medical treatments, may support the healing process.”

Like much alternative medicine, integrative oncology has seeped into our institutions of higher learning. This includes the University of Arizona, which offers a course on the subject. Despite a terse description of the field on its website, the university managed to squeeze in three logical fallacies:

“It is estimated that a great majority of cancer patients are using complementary therapies in addition to conventional care (Ad populum). As patients face a life-threatening diagnosis out of their control, they turn to therapies that offer hope and a regained sense of empowerment (Appeal to consequences). You will learn techniques such as those offered in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Appeal to antiquity).”

Bypassing conventional cancer treatment is almost guaranteed to be fatal. In the last year, there have been heartbreaking cases of persons trying to cure cancer with Gerson Therapy, veganism, or baking soda and lemon juice.

While not as drastic as those tragedies, integrative oncology mixes the legit and the looney. This creates a parasitic relationship, where chemotherapy, surgery, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy are considered in the same class of cancer treatment as are coffee enemas, frankincense, B12 overloads, and lots of sunshine. All those are types of naturopathy. The field has many forms, but the underlying theme is that the body has an inherent ability to heal itself if only it can be prompted by the right vehicle. This notion cannot be squared with cancer treatment. Incorporating iridologists, Reiki practitioners, or oily neck rubs is of zero value and could even be dangerous since a somewhat pleasant craniosacral massage is going to seem more attractive than another round of chemo, perhaps prompting the patient to forgo the latter.

That’s why UCLA’s Simms-Mann Center is wrong to proclaim that “the best medicine combines multiple modalities.” No, the best medicine is proven through metadata of double blind studies. More is not necessarily better. The removal of a malignant tumor isn’t going to be aided by listening to binaural beats.  

 

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“Frequent liar miles” Amino Neuro Frequency)

'Quack'

Amino Neuro Frequency is a treatment system touted as a way to reduce pain and inflammation. During a session, silver dollar-sized discs are applied liberally to the skin and this is intended to emit healing frequencies to the afflicted body part.

From afncourses.com, we learn that, “AFN discs transmit a unique range of frequencies through the neurons in the body. The nervous system picks up these frequencies, starting a self-healing and self-regulating process. They store and transfer radio frequency in the form of sub-harmonic signals, programmed to a specific frequency. The discs provide a biofield with information via sympathetic resonance. The connection from the patch to the body is made through the nervous system and the seven layers of bio energy the body naturally produces. The patch provides the signal to promote cellular communication to reduce stress and anxiety while restoring imbalances.”

That mishmash of pseudoscientific language never gets around to explaining how the treatment works. But it does reference resonance, cells, frequency, harmonics, energy, and the old alt-med standby, imbalance. Proponents are content to toss a hodgepodge of science-like terms into a caldron and hope the resultant gumbo impresses or at least confuses.

They were unable to persuade the folks at factualphysicaltherapy.com, who noted that, “This explanation is so vague, it can be connected to any problem a person has. There is no condition that they can’t help.”

The discs allegedly decrease pain levels within minutes and are effective for 72 hours. There are many testimonials to support this. Skeptic leader Harriet Hall wrote that one such anecdote had a patient describing his pain level going from 10 to 2 in just a few minutes. This prompted her to wonder, “If the pain is caused by injury or inflammation, how could it resolve so quickly, without time for tissue repair?”

Indeed, there is nothing in the way of controlled scientific studies to support this claim or any of the others. Trying it out one’s self is an unreliable method to determine the efficiency of a medical product or treatment. That’s because the self-administering patient will be unaware if symptoms were resolved because of the treatment, some other cause, or merely time. The opposite is also true. If the subject’s symptoms stagnate or worsen, that person might be the anomaly. These are reasons why control groups and double blind studies are needed. When neither the subjects nor the researchers know which group is receiving the authentic medicine and which group is receiving the placebo, the efficiency can be ascertained with much more accuracy, especially when scores of such studies are conducted.

Double blinds studies are especially crucial when researching treatments for illnesses that are not serious or chronic. That’s because the immune system and the body’s recuperative abilities will generally restore good health and this normal course of business can be wrongly attributed to a purported medicine or technique if we rely on anecdotes instead of data. Double blind studies also help determine the proper dose and to develop treatment protocols. .

With Amino Neuro Frequency discs, there are the additional problems of practitioners having no idea what a human cell’s frequency would be, how the discs would access and hold energy, what type of energy it is, how it is imparted to the patient, and how this is beneficial.

Embedded frequencies are becoming more of an alt-med buzzword. Hall notes that proponents usually employ the word “frequency” in isolation. But the word is meaningless unless the speaker specifics what kind of frequency it is. Frequency is defined as the number of repeating occurrences of an event per unit of time. When used legitimately, it refers to phenomena such as revolutions per minute, heartbeats per minute, waves of light per second, etc. Just throwing out the word “frequency” is taking a science term, using it incorrectly, and trying to hawk a product with it. In other words, the epitome of pseudoscience.

Further, it is impossible to embed a frequency. One might be able to embed an object that produces vibrations or electromagnetic waves that have a frequency, but that would require a power source. And even if a product contained such a generator, there is no evidence that subjecting a body part to a set frequency would have an identified benefit for a specific organ.

“Fleeced lightning” (Phil Parker)

FL

Phil Parker and his Lightning Process sounds like a bad lounge act, but in fact is an even worse form of make-believe medicine. It is another instance of supposed mind control magic, and while Parker’s claims are somewhat less extravagant than other alt-med peddlers, he boasts of doing plenty, none of which is backed by double blind studies or an explanation of the mechanism behind it.

Parker holds that we experience stressors from sickness, pollution, relationships, work, school, finances, etc., and that these mess with our sleep, immune system, digestion, and rational thinking. This, in turn, creates a wide range of medical conditions. So he offers a three-day training course that allegedly helps patients recognize the body’s stress response mechanism and reduce the frequency and intensity of such stressors. Next, the persons will manage their long-term health through the use of neuroplasticity.

While neuroplasticity has applications in areas such as brain damage, vision defects, or Cochlear Implants, these must be undertaken by medical specialists using advanced technology and is not something persons can tap into themselves during a long weekend retreat.

But after such a weekend, Parker says the Lightning Process will help sufferers conquer Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, migraines, backaches, Multiple Sclerosis, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, overeating, low self-esteem, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and general malaise.

Such wide-ranging claims are almost always a pseudoscience giveaway. Consider a legitimate medication, ibuprofen. We know that it treats specific areas: Pain, fever, and inflammation. And in an article for Business Insider, Lydia Ramsey explained that ibuprofen works by “latching onto to an enzyme called cyclooxygenase and blocking it out. This keeps the body from making a molecule called prostaglandin, which generates the inflammation that often leads to pain. With that molecule blocked, the pain begins to subside.”

The language there is a little technical, but we get the basic idea of why the medication works. By contrast, this is what passes for an explication of Parker’s program: “The Lightning Process gives you powerful tools to use brain-body links to influence your health and life. The tools involve gentle movement, meditation-like techniques and mental exercises. With practice you can use them to change the way your nervous system works, switching on pathways which promote health and switching off ones which aren’t so good for you.”

This gives us nothing concrete and there is also no mention of side effects, which is another pseudoscience giveaway. An ibuprofen bottle warns of the risks of nausea, dyspepsia, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, dizziness, rashes, hypertension, and more. The seemingly refreshing lack of side effects in alternative medicine is due to such products lacking any active ingredients, which means they are having no impact on the patient’s body.

Another red flag is Parker’s claims being sometimes vague, such as promising to “help with performance” or “improve esteem,” concepts that are difficult to quantify. But at least that is better than his more dangerous claim of being able to cure Multiple Sclerosis. While that disease has no cure, there are treatments available, and a patient who eschews those for Parkers’ three-day training program are going to make a bad situation even less tolerable.

Indeed, as the skeptic surgeon blogger Orac wrote, “A cancer patient would be infinitely better off trying immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or chemotherapy, rather than trying to use the brain to create thoughts that will kill cancer cells.”

To be clear, Parker does not claim cancer-killing abilities and most of his assertions are relatively benign in an alternative medicine landscape that includes staring at the sun for weight loss, bleach enemas to cure autism, and anti-vaxxers tormenting parents whose children died from Whooping Cough.

Because he focuses on comparatively tame maladies like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, back pain, and headaches, Parker’s techniques may seem to work, owing to the fluctuating nature of illnesses and post hoc reasoning. The one area besides MS where he does cross the line into becoming dangerous is claiming that the Lightning Process will help with mental disorders. A person with such conditions should by getting psychiatric care, not attending a seminar.

But plenty of persons do seem to be attending. On his website, Parker writes of “thousands of success stories from those who’ve changed their lives and health.” That is followed by links to newspapers, magazines, television stations, and blogs. What he doesn’t point to is anything the way of double blind studies. His website has one isolated example of research, but this was  alone study featuring a non-random sample of nine persons with no control group. One zero-blind study on a miniscule number of subjects falls well short of the scientific standard, and it’s easy to see why Parker favors the alt-med tactic of emphasizing anecdotes over data.

What he lacks in empirical evidence and research, however, he makes up for in books and videos, which is yet another pseudoscience giveaway. Someone practicing genuine medicine is going to offer only products and/or treatments. Further, they will be able to explain in scientific terms the mechanism behind what they are offering. They will not be hawking multimedia products that take hours to get through, with only a hazy description of how it all works.

In Parker’s description, the Lighting Process is a means to improve athletic performance, relieve chronic fatigue, vanquish anxiety, end panic attacks, zap Multiple Sclerosis, lose weight, and stop headaches. Such a multi-faceted wonder would be announced in peer reviewed journals and at Nobel Prize ceremonies, not in Facebook posts and advertisements laden with all caps and exclamation points.

 

 

“Balancing act” (Neuro Connect clips)

BALANCE

Neuro Connect clips are new on the alternative medicine scene are, but the posturing and preposterousness that accompanying them have been seen many times before.

Owners of the company that sells them purport that their product can do all manner of wonders, particularly for one’s balance and athleticism. The product was pitched to credulous investors on Dragons’ Den, which is the Great White North’s version of Shark Tank. Doing the hawking was Ontario chiropractor Mark Metus and his business partner, Greg Phillips, both of whom raved about the clips’ ability to immediately improve balance, strength, muscle function, and joint flexibility.

In doing so, they employed classic pseudoscientific techniques, such as misrepresenting a genuine scientific phenomenon and falsely asserting that their merchandise can harness it. In this case, the principle is quantum entanglement, which Metus said his product creates.

This goes well beyond my area of expertise, so I will keep it basic. But quantum entanglement occurs when groups of particles interact in such a way that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others’ quantum state, regardless of distance from one another. Even quantum physicists are unsure why this occurs. The topic is confusing, complex, and science-sounding, so Metus and Phillips take advantage of this befuddlement and pitch their product with assertions that are unsupported by evidence or studies. Again, even among experts, quantum entanglement is little understood, so there’s no reason to believe that the phenomenon is being tapped into for health benefits by two men with no medical or scientific background or training.

According to the company’s website, the clips are infused with a “subtle energy pattern” which travels neurological pathways by means of quantum entanglement and this leads to better health. This description represents a mishmash of misused words, artificially constructed phrases, and unsubstantiated claims. Energy is merely measurable work capability, not the panacea it is presented to be in alt-med circles, where it is the most ubiquitous and abused word. Neurological is an anatomical term, but the clips’ merchants are failing to explain how such pathways would be impacted by their product via quantum entanglement. This use of science terms without explaining the science it is another red flag. Finally, the health claims are unsupported by double blind studies or other empirical evidence, to which Metus can only respond, “We just know that it works.”

Instead of rgw Scientific Method, he and Phillips prefer demonstrations that are easily manipulated. On the Canadian television program, Metus asked Dragon Michele Romanow to stand on one leg and reach up as if she were grasping for an object on a high shelf. He then forces her arm down, attaches the clip, and has her assume the position again.

This time, Metus seems unable to lower the arm and he remarks how much stronger Romanow is, to her amazement. The company’s website is full of such testimonials from customers who also credit the clips with improving their stability, pain management, and motor skills. Glowing reports like these in lieu of double blind studies are yet another pseudoscience giveaway.

The technique that fooled Romanow is frequently used in the alternative medicine field of applied kinesiology. It has also been a central selling point for similar products that purport to improve balance. The technique is less of a demonstration of the product and more of an example of how the range of human motion works.

You can try your own in-home study. Have someone push you with moderate effort from the front. Then turn 90 degrees left or right and have the person again shove you again with the same force. In the second iteration, you will now be much more likely to stay put. This is due to anatomy and physiology, not because a mysterious force or magic dust is at work.

In the hands of charlatans, the usual method is to twice push down on a subject’s arm, which has been raised or otherwise positioned for the “testing.” The first test is alleged to measure the subject’s baseline. The follow-up is meant to show how much stronger or centered the person feels with the product in hand (or around neck or over waist). The patient usually detects a difference, but this is not because a mystical energy has been accessed. Rather, it stems from the client’s positioning and the force exerted by the practitioner.

In a similar deceptive demonstration, the subjects clasp their hands together behind their back while the demonstrator, from about two feet away, pushes down and dislodges the person from their position. Then with the magic bracelet affixed, the demonstrator moves directly behind the person, who now cannot fall back because someone is standing directly behind them.

Another trick is to have the subject stand with their arms forming a T. The demonstrator then pushes on one of the arms around the elbow, outward toward the hand. Unless the subject is Mr. Olympia, the arm is going down. On the next demonstration, with the stupendous product now in place, the push is made again at the elbow, but in the other direction toward the subject’s sternum, and the pose holds.

Since Neuro Connect has yet to conduct double blind studies of its clip, the online news organization Marketplace filled the void. Teaming with science professors from the University of Toronto, the journalists performed tests on 10 volunteers. All were tested on standing balance and grip strength. Each volunteer participant did each test thrice – once with Neuro Connect clips, once was with placebo clips, and once without clips. On the first two of these, neither the subjects nor the evaluators knew which was which. The results showed no difference in strength or balance for any participant in any of the three iterations. Maybe there quantum wasn’t entangled enough.

 

“The Brady Hunch” (TB12 Method)

bradyps

Whatever reasons Tom Brady might give for his key fumble in the closing minutes of Super Bowl LII, he won’t include his breakfast among them. The New England quarterback touts his TB12 Method through his book of the same name and he outlines his dozen guidelines for optimal performance. These include, supplements, stretches, and massage techniques, but the primary focus is on diet.

Brady emphasize foods that he calls “alkalizing,” “anti-inflammatory,” and which improve “muscle pliability.” He writes that certain meal selections lower his pH level, which in turn help with a range of ailments, from low energy to supple bones. However, a person cannot impact their pH balance through diet or anything else, nor would one want to. The lungs and kidneys maintain pH levels and the body deviates very little toward more acidic or more alkaline, instead permanently residing in a balanced, ideal range. In this sense, pH levels are somewhat akin to body temperature. There is little one can do to impact it, one should not be attempting to do so, and if it changes five percent in either direction, medical help should be sought.

Brady avoids alcohol, gluten, GMOs, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, sugar, artificial sweeteners,  fruit juice, grain-based foods, jams, jellies, most cooking oils, frozen dinners, salty or sugary snacks, white potatoes, prepackaged condiments, flour, caffeine, and nightshade vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. With a list that extensive, it doesn’t seem like there would be many grub options left, but he does profess his love for coconut oil and Himalayan pink salt, both New Age, alt-med darlings.

Clearly, some of this abstinence is good. Avoiding alcohol, trans fats, and excess sugar are to be applauded. But some items on his list are there because of unwarranted fears, specifically of GMOs and gluten. Moreover, some foods he eschews are good for health, such as the vegetables. The biggest point, though, is that whatever Brady is refraining from or indulging in, there’s no evidence that the diet does what he claims. It neither alkalizes the body nor improves muscle recovery.

One possibly-true-but-with-a-caveat claim is Brady’s insistence that his anti-inflammatory diet helps him stay injury free and recover quickly from a bruising corner blitz or a game played on three days’ rest. It is true that our cuisine choices can impact inflammation, but Brady’s diet is unnecessarily restrictive.

Before going further, let’s emphasize that there are two primary types of body inflammation. One is beneficial and assists the body’s immune system against viral and bacterial interlopers. As an example, the skin may redden as the body turns up the heat in order to fend off bacteria residing in an elbow scrape. Then there’s harmful inflammation, which occurs when the body’s inflammatory responses are overactive and which reduces a person’s ability to fight off invaders and disease.

Unlike our pH levels, there are ways to deal with harmful inflammation. These include regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, medicine, and, yes, diet. But anti-inflammatory regimens aren’t nearly as exclusionary as the one Brady is promoting. Per an article cited in PubMed, an effective anti-inflammatory diet would focus on omega-3 fatty acids and colorful, non-starchy vegetables, while eliminating Ding Dongs and the like. On another point, there’s no evidence that these diets boost athletic performance. The only post-exercise food options likely to speed recovery are getting adequate carbohydrates and protein.

Another tip Brady offers is drinking at least half one’s body weight in ounces per day. For instance, I weigh, well never mind, let’s just go with someone who weighs 180 pounds. That person, per Brady, should be drinking at least 90 ounces of water daily. He claims consuming less could lead to decreased oxygen in the bloodstream, more susceptibility to sunburn, toxin buildup in cells, and an undefined unpleasantness he calls an “unhealthy inner environment.” None of this has any scientific backing, nor does Brady attempt to cite any.

To state the obvious, humans need water, but let thirst be your guide on whether you should drink some. Our bodies maintain sufficient reserves of electrolytes and 538 journalist Christie Aschwanden quoted exercise scientist Tamara Hew-Butler, who said even an endurance athlete will have salts and minerals replaced with their next meal. There is no need for supplements or excess water consumption. She further said, “Even athletes taking part in ultramarathons should not drink beyond thirst, and supplemental sodium has been demonstrated to not be necessary during prolonged exercise even under hot conditions for up to 30 hours.” Besides, drinking extreme amounts of excess water can lead to hyponatremia, a potentially fatal condition.

As to the muscles claims, Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times took these on. Brady’s idea is that muscles should be pliable for good health and prolonged athletic performance. He suggests less weight training in lieu of “targeted, deep-force muscle work,” which entails “focused massage and contracting of muscles, while also stretching and pummeling them, preferably with high-tech, vibrating foam rollers or vibrating spheres.”

There is no empirical evidence supporting this and Brady is not a subject matter expert with double blind studies and published papers to his name. There’s no more reason to believe his take on this than there would be to turn quarterbacking duties in the Super Bowl over to a kinesiology professor. Stuart Phillips holds just such a position at McMaster University and he said that soft muscles are sick ones, so Brady is not accomplishing what he thinks he is, nor would he want to.

Brady calls muscle pliability the name he and his body coach “give to the training regimen he and I do every day.” In other words, they made the term up and there is no science supporting the purported benefits they attribute to it. Indeed, Reynolds performed a PubMed search with the keywords muscle and pliability, and the only result was a study on the efficiency of various embalming techniques on corpses. Brady’s nutritional notions should likewise be considered dead on arrival.

  

 

“Doctor and the clerics” (Alphabiotics)

BANGHEAD

Alternative medicine and religion are both areas I have addressed on this blog, the former being a much more frequent topic than the latter. The subjects would seem to have little in common, with a smattering of exceptions. For instance, there is Reiki, which could reasonably be considered a form of Japanese faith healing. And I have sporadically happened upon Christian fundamentalists who feel God has provided grasses, barks, and herbs to heal us, if only we can find the right one for our condition through a mix of experiment and prayer. This is separate from pure faith healers, who are content to let their children die horrible, preventable deaths without trying plants, pills, potions, or anything beyond petitions to a deity.

Today, though, we address an alternative medicine-religious hybrid known as alphabiotics. Just how much it is a purported medicine or a religion, however, is debatable. For instance, websites promoting the field lack quantifiable specifics as to what alphabiotics is, how it works, or what it does. A terse description of the alleged process would be that it is neck manipulation meant to relieve stress and thereby usher in multitudinous, though mostly undefined, benefits for the body, mind, and soul. According to adherents, the procedure is meant to enhance energy flow and remove blockages that cause illnesses. This makes it one of dozens of mostly indistinguishable practices that make similar claims. The only difference here is that an attempt is made to douse the field in religious vernacular and to cloak it with a spiritual veneer. While the two parties don’t get along, alphabiotics is an outgrowth of chiropractic, with the former solely manipulating the neck.

Alphabioticbalance.com ostensibly tries to explain how the field works, informing the reader that “unrelieved stress causes your brain to lateralize, meaning that the dominant hemisphere of your brain begins seizing control, trying to work harder, not smarter, and attempting to operate entirely from its perceived area of singular strength.” It further warns that ignoring this will lead to an unbalanced skeletal system that will be deleterious to one’s muscles, nerves, and organs. An additional claim is that most persons have one leg shorter than the other and that this will put pressure on the hips and spine and even impact persons at the cellular level, as “blood is sent to the extremities of your limbs in a futile effort to correct and operate inefficiently aligned limbs.”

To fix it, a practitioner will employ a “gentle, safe, non-invasive hands-on technique” to make a patient’s legs the same length, to cause its blood to flow to the right places, and to make everything balanced. A similarly glowing report at alphabioticinfo.com describes “a process that deals directly with the negative impact of unrelieved, off-balancing stress on the brain and body.” It makes the unsubstantiated, outrageous claim that up to 90 percent of illness is stress-related and that alphabiotics techniques will result in “lower stress levels and improved health, happiness, disease prevention, and longevity.”  Another website promises reduced muscle tension and an enabling of “the wisdom of the body to better do its job of regulating, controlling, and coordinating physiological function, as well as normal mental activity. Strength is restored, brain-fog is lifted, and people’s lives began to work better.”

This pseudoscientific babble is based on no cited research or clinical studies. The impossibly vague, unquantifiable notions are accompanied by no explanation of what mechanism would cause or how the physiology works. Adherents fail to bolster their claims with even one double blind study, instead favoring testimonials by patients identified only by their initials. And it is all supposedly accomplished in just half a minute by “sending sensory input to the brain that a defensive stress response is no longer necessary.”

The field is awash in empty words instead of solid evidence. It bandies about baffling terms like  “brain hemisphere balance,” “joy of whole person congruence,” “hidden causes of denigrating one’s self,” the “true meaning of inner peace,” and the alt-med mainstay, “maintaining balance.”

One attempt to explain it goes thusly: “The Alphabiotics Alignment involves a process of unification of brain hemispheres and integration of higher levels of life force. It instantly unifies the brain hemispheres, balances the energies within the nerve system and muscles, and releases stress held within the mind and body, manifests our dreams and keep us in a constant state of physical, emotional, and spiritual balance and harmony, achieves inner peace, connects to their inner source of power, and takes advantage of the body’s natural capacity for wellness.” Man, for supposedly lifting brain fog, alphabiotics is leaving my noggin right muddled.

So we have pseudoscientific language, over the top claims, and anecdotes in lieu of double blind studies. There is no empirical evidence, but they do have a positive review in the book, “Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About.” So all this takes care of the alt-med portion, but where does religion fit in?” That’s hard to say because on alphabiotics websites, the spiritual aspect is even more vague than the health claims.

But for starters, this practice is only available to members of the International Alphabiotic Association. This isn’t a religious stance per se, but to the best of my knowledge, this requirement is unique among supposed medical ventures. It is more akin to church membership than a medicinal field, even the pretend kind. Next is verbiage that hints of an esoteric or supernatural nature, such as “being in tune with your inner source of power,” and “mind-spirit connectivity.” Practitioners call themselves priests and insist their neck manipulations are sacraments in the Church of Alphabiotics. Founder Virgil Chrane bestows the title “Doctor of Divinity” to those who complete enough training under him.

Beyond this, adherents don’t seem to say much about the religious aspect publicly. The movement seems threadbare with regard to philosophy, tenets, rites, or instruction on morality, afterlife, and miracles.

It is probable that the adherents adopted the religious veneer in order to avoid taxes and medical licensing. Indeed, Seattle Weekly ran a profile of Karen Labdon, who suffered a stroke while enduring a decidedly invasive, non-gentle alphabitoic treatment at the bruising hands of practitioner John Brown.

Rather than questioning the claims Labdon made against him, Brown merely said that the accompanying investigation by Washington state officials violated his religious freedom. He further described himself as a minister in what’s called the Alphabiotic Church and he tated he was performing a sacrament on a parishioner. He compared his technique not to a chiropractor but to a Pentecostal performing a laying on of hands.

Whatever Brown was doing, Labdon ended suffering extreme vertigo and violent vomiting as a result, and Brown was prohibited from practicing for 10 years and fined $30,000. In the end, while alphabiotics purports to be both a medicine and a religion, most available evidence points to it being neither.

“Dead with the water” (Raw water)

WATER

Anti-vaxxers may soon be challenged in their role as the most prominent spreader of preventable diseases. Another science-challenged trend focuses on what adherents call raw water. It is based on the idea that any treatment of H2O is detrimental and that water should be consumed untreated, unsterilized, and unfiltered. And if you don’t live near  a river or stream, companies like Live Water and Tourmaline Spring will deliver raw water to you.

The trend is driven in part by distrust of tap water, particularly its fluoridation and the lead pipes which deliver some of it. Proponents also contend that filtration removes beneficial minerals.

The lead pipe issue is the one concern grounded in reality. Flint, Mich., is the most hideous example of what can happen if the problem is inadequately addressed. But better regulation and bottled water would fix this, while raw water would not. Another concern is that water treatment facilities are unable to remove all trace pharmaceuticals, but these levels are so low as to be innocuous. And even if they did pose a danger, that hazard would not be alleviated by raw water, which by nature goes through no treatment process.

Besides these deficiencies, raw water claims are awash, so to speak, in the appeal to nature and antiquity fallacies. The Live Water website boasts, “Earth constantly offers the purest substance on the planet as spring water. We celebrate this ancient life source that humanity flourished from, since the beginning of our existence. We trust it’s perfect just the way it is.”  

The website also recommends consuming the product within one lunar cycle of having purchased it. This is more appeal to nature, for even if drinking the water within 29.5 days was optimal, the company could just say that rather than mentioning the moon and pandering to the nature crowd.

Singh acknowledges that reverse osmosis gets rid of most of the nasty stuff in water, but says it also makes the water “dead.” He fails to explain precisely what that means, but seems to allude  that the process robs water of probiotics and beneficial bacteria. He likewise asserts that this good bacteria will kill its bad counterpart. It’s true that good bacteria sometimes vanquishes the bad, but there’s no evidence this is occurring in the raw water being peddled. Besides, bad bacteria is already filtered out in the treated and bottled water Singh is campaigning against.

Which leads to the issue of ingesting harmful bacteria. Drinking raw water could be your chance to be on TV, specifically Monsters Inside Me. Waterborne disease is still rife in some places. Giardia, amoebic dysentery, cholera, hepatitis A, salmonella, shigella, and e. coli caused many deaths before the advent of sewage and water treatment systems. These tragedies continue in the Third World, with its abundant supply of natural, raw water.

Singh and other advocates are correct when they say customers might get more minerals from their product, but those minerals may include arsenic. Flowing spring water, while appearing pristine and pure, will contain animal feces and possibly deadly microbes. Therefore, disinfecting this water if planning to drink it is crucial to preventing the spread of dangerous viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Drinking water in the wild should only be done in a last-ditch effort to avoid dehydration and if doing so, the CDC recommends boiling it first, or if that’s impossible, chemically treating and filtering it.  

Since Singh and other enthusiasts appeal to antiquity, allow me to point out that civilizations have been trying to clean their water for 3500 years. For instance, the Egyptians and Greeks used charcoal, sunlight, boiling, and straining to try and filter out impurities. Fast forward a few millennium and by the early 20th Century, public water utilities were removing disease-causing microbes via chlorine disinfection. This helped to substantially reduce instances of typhoid and cholera.

While apparently being OK with cholera-causing bacteria in his drinking water, Singh draws the line at fluoride. He asserts without evidence that fluoridation is designed not to fight tooth day, but to accelerate brain decay. Sing told the New York Times, “Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.” I won’t bother calling him a conspiracy theorist since he took care of that himself. But I will call him the latest in a sad line of anti-science lowlifes that threaten to reverse centuries of progress and knowledge.