“Tea’d off” (Kombucha)


There is an appeal in making something yourself. When I concoct a pizza from scratch, I save money and it comes with a feeling of accomplishment that is unavailable from swinging by Papa John’s. This satisfaction would be even more pronounced if I grew the tomatoes myself and turned them into sauce. Similarly, I hear fishermen wax about the feeling of self-reliance that comes from catching, cleaning, and frying one’s own meal.

Those who produce a homemade tea called kombucha also get this pride, but unlike anglers or home chefs, some of these folks claim to cure diabetes or arrest the aging process. Kombucha is touted as an Old Wives Tale panacea and is one of many such products, though it is a somewhat unusual variety, coming in beverage form.

Proponents credit kombucha with being able to relieve many symptoms or illnesses, a typical trait in the world of anecdote-heavy folk remedies. What it is supposed to cure will depend on what is ailing the person, as the placebo effect, post hoc reasoning, and the fluctuating nature of many illnesses do what double blind studies cannot, i.e., testify to the drink’s efficacy. The consequences are mild if the self-administering patient thinks kombucha will take care of sniffles, hives, or hair loss, but they are potentially fatal if one expects it to resolve hypertension, HIV, or cancer.

Often described as time-honored or an old family recipe, it therefore appeals to those vulnerable to the antiquity and naturalistic fallacies. With regard to the former, the tea is often associated with Ukraine and is said to go back hundreds or thousands of years. There is some creativity here, as its supposed place of origins eschews the usual locales of ancient medical wisdom like China, India, Egypt, and Native American tribes.

Regardless of its real or imagined medicinal properties, kombucha is sweetened black tea fermented by a yeast-bacteria blend. This mixture forms what resembles a quarter-inch thick rubbery mat. These can be ordered online, though this messes with that whole back to nature vibe. The makeup of the mats varies depending on the climate where it’s made, as well as which bacteria and yeast are available.  

Skeptic leaders Scott Gavura and Edzard Ernst looked separately in kombucha claims and neither could find any clinical trials that showed the drink to have an identifiable health benefit. None of its active ingredients would suggest any medicinal effects beyond the negligible impact that small amounts of alcohol and caffeine might have.

However, given its lack of uniformity and regulation, the tea may carry risk. Gavura cited the case of an alcoholic who developed jaundice after two weeks of kombucha imbibing, and other users have contracted hepatitis, lactic acidosis, acute renal failure, and other nasties. It is especially crucial that those with a compromised immune system avoid the product, even though Wellness Mama touts the tea as an immune booster.

She also highlights the possibly true but irrelevant fact that kombucha “has been around for centuries in many different cultures.” Despite this appeal to antiquity, she also manages an appeal to novelty, an impressive pseudoscientific double. She writes, “Once a very obscure drink, kombucha is now a popular beverage that is available at most health food stores and many local grocery stores.”

Her more specific claims range from trivial to potentially deadly. For example, she says it will increase energy, an arbitrary distinction that means little if the promise is not realized. At the other end of the spectrum is her insistence that it will detoxify the liver. The liver’s function IS to detoxify, so if it needs detoxed, you should be in an ER, not a tea shop.

I will credit Wellness Mama with saying kombucha is not a panacea and she owns up to the lack of double blind studies, though tries to dismiss that by pointing out the lack of double blind studies on flossing. It would be kind of hard for a study subject to not know if they were flossing, so such a trial is implausible. By pointing out that flossing and kombucha both lack double blind testing, Wellness Mama commits the false equivalence fallacy, where one asserts two elements are equal because they have a common trait. We know from studies involving sets of identical twins that flossing and brushing removes more plaque and prevents more tartar than does brushing alone. But the more important point is that nothing about flossing studies or lack thereof attests to what kombucha can do.

Wellness Mama tosses out some of the alternative medicine standbys, for example saying the tea detoxifies, without explaining which toxins are being extracted or by what process kombucha manages this. A second hackneyed claim is that the tea boosts the drinker’s immunity. Boosting the immune system is not only impossible (except in extreme cases like stage 4 cancer or HIV positivity), it is not even desirable. Overactive immune systems are the cause of autoimmune disorders like lupus, myositis, and Chron’s disease.  

Another alt-med darling promoting kombucha is Dr. Axe. He remains unencumbered by the modest restraint Wellness Mama offers, extoling kombucha as an “immortal health elixir originating in the Far East 2,000 years ago. Kombucha is a beverage with tremendous health benefits extending to your heart, your brain, and especially your gut.” And you’ll be amazed with what it does to your sense of hyperbole.

He parrots Mama’s detoxing and immune-boosting lines, but completes the alt-med triumvirate by calling the tea “anti-inflammatory.” This is another buzzword that, when employed by alt-med proponents, is almost certainly being misused or oversimplified.

This is what the dietician blog Abbey’s Kitchen had to say on the matter: “Inflammation is a complicated condition that cannot be solved or worsened with one single food. If someone is trying to sell you a supplement or diet as anti-inflammatory, or shame you for enjoying an inflammatory hot dog at the ball game, you can be sure it’s a real stretch. If you stick to a balanced diet rich in fruits and veggies, kick the smoking, drinking, and drugs, and exercise regularly, you’ll be in pretty great shape.”

Axe’s most nebulous claim is that kombucha will improve the drinker’s mental state. Hmm, well maybe if it’s mixed with scotch.



“Ambulance deriver” (Essential oils in emergency care)


I have regularly decried the use of unproven medical treatments, especially by institutions that should know better. But as disturbing as the likes of hospital Reiki are, there is some solace in their being kept in the wing for Supplementary, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine (SCAM). As far as I know, there is no ER that will treat a ruptured kidney or compound fracture with applied kinesiology or therapeutic touch. But we are now one step closer to those nightmares with the introduction of essential oils in ambulances.

The guilty party is Tri-State Ambulance of La Crosse, Wis., which uses the lubricants to try and treat minor pain, nausea, and anxiety. Skeptic leader Dr. Steven Novella called this “a fundamental failure of medical education.” Worse, this is not an outlier, but is representative of the infiltration of unproven and unworkable products and procedures into health care. This takes place even at elite institutions, such as Yale, Duke, Georgetown, and the Mayo Clinic.

This creates parasitic relationships in which bogus treatments get undeserved status because of their association with honored names and legitimate medicine. Meanwhile, genuine treatments gets referenced in the same pamphlets and home pages that praise acupuncture, iridology, and Joy Touch.

Novella wrote that treatments should be based on “clear and valid procedures for reliably answering basic questions about safety, efficacy, and fundamental issues of biology and mechanism of action.”

Compare that with WNPR’s description of aromatherapy in Tri-State’s emergency vehicles: “A few drops of essential oils are placed on a cotton ball, which is taped to the patient’s chest. Tri-State Medical Director Chris Eberlein said the smell is not overwhelming, but it does create a better environment for healing.”

“Better environment for healing” is a medically vacuous phrase used to cover for a lack of efficiency. Words like this are rampant in alternative medicine, where vague descriptors, undefined terms, and unspecified benefits are touted in lieu of double blind studies and use of the Scientific Method.

Continuing his defense of unproven treatments, Eberlein said ambulances can often be unpleasant environments for those along for the unexpected ride. That could be, although that’s probably due more to the patient’s condition than surroundings. But the level of comfort is unrelated to whether jasmine juice will tame an arthritic attack.

In the WNPR piece, Eberlein recalled that paramedics gave fentanyl to patients who ended up not needing prescription medication. Overreliance on narcotics for pain relief is a legitimate issue. But it is a non sequitur to say paramedics should therefore give their patients treatments not backed by the metadata of double blind testing. Give them Advil, for crying out loud.

Along those lines, there is some good news regarding the ambulance company’s policy. It will still give narcotics to those who need it, so essential oils will not be used to soothe substantial pain.  As dangerous as alt-med can be, it’s much worse when used in isolation. Treating cancer with targeted immunotherapy and wheatgrass is no big deal, whereas using solely the latter would likely be fatal.

The service is using six oils, with no explanation for how these were selected or offering any evidence for their efficiency. Indeed, essential oils enthusiasts rely heavily on anecdotes and post hoc reasoning. This results in spectacles such as a dozen users citing a dozen different oils to combat insomnia.

When studies are highlighted, they are often of those done in vitro, However, Novella wrote that these are usually distinct from studies that will have practical use: “These studies rarely translate to a clinical application. When you directly expose cells in a culture to a compound, what happens in that setting may say nothing about what happens when the same substance is taken by a living organism. Little or none of the compound may get absorbed or find its way to the target tissue.”

Despite my railings, it is possible some oils could someday show medical promise. Most of them are derived from plants, which are the source for about half the medicines used today. As one example, certain willow bark ingredients can eventually become aspirin. At some point, someone discovered that willow bark had recuperative properties and this could be considered the first step in the Scientific Method: Observation. Through double blind studies, testing for falsifiability, attempting to replicate, and so on, scientists eventually located the active ingredient in willow bark, extracted it, determined the safe dose, and inserted it into a pill, lotion, or syrup.

So if someone online or in your circle of friends reports that lavender works for their rosacea, it just may do that. But that’s why following up with the testing described in the previous paragraph is paramount.  If it does work, such double blind studies will validate that and they would also help researchers determine the effective amount and prevent overdose.

Foraging through a forest in quest of some willow bark to chomp on in hopes of treating a headache would likely still be somewhat effective. But there are better methods and medicines available. Those methods and medicines are also available to Tri-State Ambulance, which is why they should be offering Excedrin instead of eucalyptus.



“Fool injected” (Anti-vax argument)


One of the keys to developing critical thinking skills is to understand the importance of addressing a point and not the person making it. Focusing on irrelevant factors like the speaker’s color, gender, ethnicity, politics, economic status, or background will leave one vulnerable to committing an ad hominem, specifically a genetic fallacy.

A few years ago, I came across a graph that purported to demonstrate that measles was well on its way out before the vaccine to combat it was introduced. It showed that the death rate from measles had dramatically declined before persons began being immunized for it. The conclusion was that the vaccine was inconsequential to the disease’s demise. To dismiss this as the ramble of an anti-vax loon would have been to commit an ad hominem. To address the point from a critical thinking perspective, I needed to examine the claim for truthfulness, then see if the whole picture was being painted, and also consider other angles.

When I did so, I learned that the anti-vaxxer’s point was accurate, but incomplete. While the death rate for measles was going down before the advent of the vaccine, the morbidity rate was not. Measles is an endemic disease, so populations can build resistance to it, but it can also be deadly when introduced to a new group. This, when combined with measles’ highly contagious nature and the susceptibility of preschoolers to it, explains why incidences of the disease spiked and descended several times, at approximately four-year intervals.

But there has been no such spike, or even a tiny bump, since the vaccine was introduced in 1964. In fact, there were 364 measles deaths in 1963, and none by 2004, a reduction of 100 percent. The anti-vaxxer’s chart showed how many persons were dying from measles, but not how many persons were contracting it. Advances in health care had enabled more persons to live with the disease, but only the vaccine eliminated it.   

Earlier this year, I again made myself examine an anti-vaxxer claim rather than dismissing it. For years, I had pointed out there was more formaldehyde in a pear than in any vaccine. But one day, I read an anti-vax blog that asked, “When was the last time you injected a pear?” The point was that the way a substance enters the body makes a difference and the blogger even noted that one could safely drink cobra venom.

And he’s correct. Swallowing the snake juice would be different from having fangs inject it into you. If one were so inclined to try the former, the gastrointestinal tract would break down the venom, similar to how the body digests proteins in food. Also, if one drank venom, it would never enter the bloodstream in active form. By contrast, when a snake bites someone, the victim has nothing beneath its skin or in its muscles to counteract the venom. Since it’s not broken down, the venom swims to the lymph glands and into the bloodstream, where it attacks the nervous system and heart, perhaps fatally.

But while anti-vaxxers are correct on these points, they again fail to understand that this has no bearing on a vaccine’s efficiency or safety. While a snakebite and a vaccine both involve injected substances, using this to compare the two is a false equivalency because one saves lives and the other ends them.   

Like the measles deaths graph, if I had dismissed the pear point because it came from someone I viewed as an anti-vax, pro-disease crank, I would have failed my critical thinking test for the day. Consider this an endorsement for avoiding echo chambers and contemplating various viewpoints. Sometimes the opposing view will be right; other times, it will be wrong, but will cause you to examine the issue and learn something you hadn’t realized. In this case, what I learned was the difference in how the body handles injections and ingestions, and the impact this has on a vaccine’s efficacy.  

The key is how much of a substance gets into the bloodstream because once it’s there, the body will process it the same, regardless of how it arrived. With snake venom, there are too many toxins for the body to handle and the poison makes its way to vital organs. While vaccines have ingredients that would be dangerous in high doses, these are in tiny amounts and toxicity is determined by dose, not ingredient. Further, venom contains active neurotoxins and vaccines do not.

Anti-vaxxers may argue that vaccines bypass the immune system, but again, they are being selective with the facts. Vaccines will bypass the body’s first line of defense, but they are designed to do so and won’t work otherwise. Vaccines contain antigens, which are dead or damaged viruses that are active enough to provoke an immune response, but too impotent to be harmful. This forces the body to develop antibodies against the real virus and thereby become immune to it. If the antigens were destroyed right away, they would never serve their purpose. Besides, antigens are not straggling interlopers, but rather they work their way out of the body like other foreign substances.

Since anti-vaxxers focus on injections, I wonder if their movement would have gained its sinister steam if it didn’t have scary needles to fall back on. What if vaccines were in chewable tablet or powder form and yielded a sweet taste as opposed to a sore arm? According to the Vaxplanations blog, the reason such an approach cannot be pursued is because oral forms of most vaccines would be incapable of getting past the gastrointestinal tract. Stomach acid, enzymes, and gut bacteria would render them useless. There are a few exceptions, such as the oral vaccines for rotavirus and polio, which work because both diseases are caused by gut pathogens.


“A bird in the scam” (Emu oil)


The emu is a large, flightless bird endemic to Australia. Despite an awkward physique, they are faster than Usain Bolt and the females lay giant, Dr. Seuss-worthy green eggs. They are interesting animals but only merit mention in this forum because of claims that emu oil can cure or mitigate a wide range of maladies, including acne, arthritis, rosacea, hemorrhoids, baldness, bee stings, diabetes, bed sores, multiple sclerosis, and even cancer.

Such broad assertions are invariably evidence of a product’s inefficiency. Authentic medicine has an active ingredient that has been identified, extracted, and inserted into a product that is meant to serve a specific purpose, be it attacking a viral invader, reducing an inflammation, or soothing an aching muscle. The biological change it affects is understood, as is mechanism behind the active ingredient. Moreover, the risks and rewards are known. Advil can be taken for knee pain, Aveeno for eczema, and Antivan for anxiety. There is no magic potion that knocks out all of those, especially not from a product that has never been shown in testing to do any of this. Genuine medicine is the reward for doing sound research, following the Scientific Method, and double blind testing. It is supported by empirical evidence and repeated clinical trials.

No product or procedure can treat the dozen-item lists associated with emu oil and similar quackery. And for many serious diseases, there is no cure, only methods to manage symptoms or control flare ups. The more deadly the condition is, the more likely a scammer is to find a desperate patient to peddle to.

If scientists and doctors were seeing consistent, wide-ranging, and significant curative properties in emu oil, there would be multiple double blind studies and peer-reviewed articles highlighting this. Major breakthrough announcements would be made, Nobel Prizes would be awarded, and there would be a rewriting of medical, biology, and pathology textbooks.

Instead, we get claims from Dr. Axe that emu oil boosts the immune system, which is neither possible nor desirable. A heightened immune system is what plagues sufferers of autoimmune conditions such as lupus, celiac, and multiple sclerosis, which emu oil is supposed to fix. We also have an assertion from Wellness Mama that the oil “supports overall health,” an impossibly vague claim, and is without side effects. That last part may be true, but is also a giveaway that emu oil lacks medical value. Medicine, by nature, is going to impact the body is some way and that carries the risk, however slight or rare, of unpleasant side effects.

Another alt-med giveaway is that emu oil proponents prefer anecdotes over data. On wonderoil.com, there are dozens of testimonials insisting that the oil cured just as many conditions. By contrast, the only reference to double blind studies is a paragraph of ad hoc reasoning as to why there aren’t any such studies affirming the viability of emu oil as medicine.

The most frequent emu oil testimonies rave about its ability to soother minor wounds, cuts, and burns, and to provide arthritic relief. But these are cyclical pains and persons are more likely to try something different if previous treatments have failed. This means that seeming successes are likely the result of the discomfort running its usual course. Further, seemingly favorable experiences could result from earlier or concurrent use of genuine medicine. Worse, the claim could be fabricated and there would be no way to know.

One anecdote I found focused on headaches, which is another hurt that fluctuates. But as McGill University science professor Joe Schwarcz noted,”There’s no component in emu oil that could be absorbed into the blood vessels and make it to the brain and influence the dilation or constriction of blood vessels.”

This demonstrates the importance of double blind studies, which determine if placebos produce the same results as the medicine being tested. If there was an ingredient and mechanism in emu oil that cured headaches, experiments and testing would locate this ingredient, extract it, determine the proper dosage, and put in pill, powder, or lotion form. If it worked, patients would need to know how much to use. Too little would be ineffective and too much could be dangerous. But since no research has attested to emu oil’s effectiveness as medicine, supplements that contain it lack standardization and the amount per dose varies depending on which brand one buys.

Many of the claims about emu oil rest on its omega 6 and omega-3 content. These are both essential fatty acids, meaning we can only get them from our diets. But according to obstetrician-gynecologist and skeptic leader, Dr. Jen Gunter, we in the  west consume far too much omega-6 and there’s no evidence that emu oil is especially high in omega-3.

Between Australian origins, a comical appearance, and eggs that resemble massive avocados, there are plenty of emu traits to appreciate, but a byproduct that cures gout, gastritis, and gingivitis isn’t one of them.



“Art depreciation” (Ener-chi)


Like other New Age medicine proponents, Ener-chi founder Andreas Moritz was convinced that life force energy imbalances were the cause of illness and disease. But he put a twist on it by adding artwork to the equation and ascribing curative properties to his paintings. He said he could “imbue them with light-encoded energies” that correspond to bodily organs. Gazing upon the painting would therefore heal ailments of the blood, brain, eyes, liver, lungs, and much more.

He explained, “If one looks at the painting that corresponds to the heart, even for only about a minute, very profound changes occur in the life energy field corresponding to that organ. The flow of chi becomes fully restored, and any thought forms or emotional imbalances that have been locked in the cellular structure of that organ are systematically transmuted and released.”

Talk about a magic eye image. But despite having this painted panacea at his disposal, Moritz passed away at age 58. He was willing to die for his beliefs, noted the ener-chi.com website, which continues to promote his ideas. From the website: “Andreas refused to have invasive surgical treatments or procedures.”  

He is gone, but the Ener-Chi Wellness Center continues to trumpet his proposals. Such as insisting that every cell and organ has its own aura, and that the body’s collective aura is made of trillions of tiny ones. Further, these auras also affect Earth’s atmosphere. Moritz wrote, “Negative thoughts and beliefs, emotional trauma, and other experiential episodes get caught up in the ionosphere, triggering major global disturbances.” But that can be fixed with his paintings, too, as some of them are “designed to heal the Earth and her environment. One is meant to heal and awaken energies in the mountain and rock structures of the planet. Another one has a similar effect on the rivers, lakes and seas.” No need to plant a tree when you can just draw one.

The wellness center website contains several blunders:

  • It misuses the word energy, plus mixes it with undefined New Age Terms: “Ener-chi art affects the human body so that something spirals out from our light body to the universe. It cleanses the aura as well as the physical and mental bodies, and balances the chi force throughout the body. It transports energy in and out of the body.”
  • It makes extraordinary, unsubstantiated claims about an eminent, wondrous phenomenon: “Ener-chi art is designed to activate the codes within the DNA structure that are linked with total immunity to disease and make full use of the body’s enormous untapped potential.” Eliminating all disease or making profound, positive changes to DNA are advancements that would be announced by the Nobel Prize Committee chairman, not a schlocky website.
  • It throws scientific terms into a dish, but comes up with a muddled pseudoscientific gumbo: “Ener-chi assists in raising the body’s frequencies and loosening its density, so that one will be able to live and function in higher dimensions than is currently possible. Direct access to these realms will remove fear from life and replace it with the powerful love energies that are capable of accomplishing almost anything.”
  • It makes the hackneyed claim about seeking the root cause, which energy medicine practitioners use to dance around the fact that alt-med has yet to manage its first cure: “Ener-Chi Art addresses the original causes that are responsible for the physical, mental and emotional problems prevalent in our lives today, including those that are of karmic origin.
  • It includes the ubiquitous alt-med goodie about being holistic: “If healing is to be complete, lasting, and purposeful, it must occur simultaneously on all levels of the body, mind, and spirit.
  • It makes the appeal to antiquity: “Ener-Chi Art is based on one of the most ancient systems of healing and rejuvenation. A primary function of this art is to restore a balanced flow of life force energy, throughout the body.
  • Finally, there plenty of testimonials, praise, and self-promotion, but nothing in the way of empirical evidence, double blind studies, or an explanation of the products’ curative mechanisms.

How dangerous a given alternative medicine is can be determined by what the patient is attempting to cure and whether that treatment is used exclusively. There are some inherently hazardous techniques and products, such as black salve, bleach enemas, or staring at the sun. Others are innocuous, albeit futile. For example, trying to get rid of moderate back pain by using applied kinesiology won’t take away the hurt, but it won’t be fatal or cause any more harm beyond to one’s pocketbook.

So with Moritz’s artwork, if one used impressionism to fix astigmatism, it won’t help the peepers, but won’t do any more damage. But if using minimalism to clear clogged arteries, the consequences could be fatal.

Which brings us to the second and more nefarious plank promoted by Moritz. He felt that cancer could be wished away with the right attitude and by snuffing out unresolved issues. He wrote, “Constant conflicts, guilt, and shame can paralyze the body’s basic functions, and lead to the growth of a cancerous tumor.”

In actuality, cancer is normally is caused gene mutation, which can lead to unchecked cell growth. Vulnerability to these mutations are the result of life choices, genetics, and exposure to carcinogens.

Moritz claimed that cancer was rarely seen until the last half century and makes an even more bewildering assertion that it is never fatal. He said, “What kills a cancer patient is not the tumor, but the numerous reasons behind cell mutation and tumor growth,” and that these reasons include unbalanced emotional states, conflict, stress, feelings of inferiority, and lack of confidence.

However, cancer is more common today primarily because people are living longer. And if the disease were related to our emotions, it would be rampant in destitute locations like South Sudan and North Korea.

Moritz even saw cancer as beneficial and benevolent. “Cancer can be a way of revealing the source of such conflict…and heal it. The body can still cure itself, which it actually tries to do by developing cancer. Cancer is more a healing response than it is a disease. It is the body’s attempt to cure itself of an existing imbalance.”

So any smoker who died of lung cancer was just a pessimist. If they had only gotten to the root of why they felt blue, the disease would have gone away. And other animals who die of cancer, they were just a little stressed. Can you blame them? They are homeless, don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and they have no idea where their children are.

Moritz recalled that he had “yet to meet a cancer patient who does not feel burdened by some poor self-image, unresolved conflict, worries, or past emotional trauma.” He failed to consider that a terminal illness, with its pains and fears and seeing what it does to your loved ones, could be a real downer.

Like many alternative medics, Moritz blamed the patient for undesirable outcomes. If after receiving his “treatment,” the patient was unable to resolve the conflict, then he or she was causing the body’s natural healing processes to fail.

One thing Moritz and I would agree on: You need his paintings like you need cancer.



“Tough cell” (Integrative oncology)


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.  


“Frequent liar miles” (Amino Neuro Frequency)


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.