Do you believe in treating cancer with alternative medicine?

Recently, I saw a question on Quora, in which the author asked, “Do you believe in treating cancer with natural regimens?” In a landslide, the best answer, which is chosen by the readers, was one written by a UCLA medical school graduate and Fellow in Oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine, Dr. David Chan. In other words, Dr. Chan is a cancer expert who actually spent 10-12 years of his life gaining an education in treating cancers (instead of like 30 minutes Googling junk medicine). Continue reading “Do you believe in treating cancer with alternative medicine?”

Treating depression with acupuncture-evidence is lacking

hellraiser-pinheadLet’s start out with a basic point–acupuncture does not work. For anything in medicine. And because there is a small, but significant, risk associated with the “procedure,” the risk to benefit ratio is huge (if not infinity, since there is no benefit). 

Just in case you don’t believe me, Steven Novella, MD, of the Science Based Medicine blog, clarifies why acupuncture does not work:

Clinical research can never prove that an intervention has an effect size of zero. Rather, clinical research assumes the null hypothesis, that the treatment does not work, and the burden of proof lies with demonstrating adequate evidence to reject the null hypothesis. So, when being technical, researchers will conclude that a negative study “fails to reject the null hypothesis.”

Further, negative studies do not demonstrate an effect size of zero, but rather that any possible effect is likely to be smaller than the power of existing research to detect. The greater the number and power of such studies, however, the closer this remaining possible effect size gets to zero. At some point the remaining possible effect becomes clinically insignificant.

In other words, clinical research may not be able to detect the difference between zero effect and a tiny effect, but at some point it becomes irrelevant. Continue reading “Treating depression with acupuncture-evidence is lacking”

Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science

ginkgo-health-benefits-bullshitGinkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed also contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in a sufficiently large enough quantity.  Continue reading “Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science”

Supplements to treat the common cold–myth vs science

cold-cureIt’s getting colder outside, and if you go into any pharmacy, grocery store, chemist, or superstore, you will find literally a dozen or more homeopathic, herbal, or other unproven lotions and potions to prevent or treat the common cold, or rhinovirus. These supplements are a significant part of the annual US$108 billion dollar supplement/nutraceutical industry. 

These alternative medicine (so named because there is no scientific evidence supporting their efficacy, let alone safety) products make claims that are so wonderful, many people take them. Then they themselves tell their friends how fast they got rid of their cold. Or that their cold wasn’t as bad after taking the supplement.

The problem is that determine the length and severity of the course of the common cold is entirely subjective. Since the disease is rather mild with few serious complications, it’s hard to determine when it exactly stopped and started, and how bad it was.  The common cold tends to resolve itself without external help, but there really isn’t much you can do to make your immune system attack that cold faster.


Continue reading “Supplements to treat the common cold–myth vs science”

How pseudoscience tries to fool you

Editor’s note: This article has been updated and divided into a multi-part article. The comment section has been closed, so go to the new article if you want to make a suggestion, make a comment, disagree, or make us laugh. 

Pseudoscience is enticing partially because it’s easy and partially because it gives black and white false dichotomies about the natural world, including medicine. Pseudoscience tries to make an argument with the statement of “it’s been proven to work”, “the link is proven”, or, alternatively, they state some negative about scientifically supported therapies. It really  has an appeal to it because it digest complex analysis to a simple “yes, this works.”

For example, real science has debunked the “there is a proven link between vaccines and autism,” a common and popular pseudoscientific belief.  Or that most alternative medicine (CAM) therapies work based on numerous logical fallacies that suspends reason, and accepts “belief” in the therapy, something that evidence-based medicine just doesn’t do.

So, I decided to highlight what separates real science from pseudoscience. We’ll explore what exactly makes an idea scientific (and spoiler alert, it isn’t magic), and contrary to real science, what makes an idea “pseudoscientific.” So sit down, grab your favorite reading beverage, because this isn’t going to be a quick internet meme. I intend to show you the lies of pseudoscience, and how it’s used with creationism, vaccine denialism, alternative medicine, or whatever you want to debunk.  Continue reading “How pseudoscience tries to fool you”

Herbal supplements–unproven, unregulated, unsafe

One of the more ironic memes on the internet is how pharmaceutical companies make so much money (and they do), with the false conclusion that somehow all that money means that they’re not really interested in providing drugs that are safe and efficacious. Then, those same memes will claim that “natural supplements” are healthier and better, while they ignore the profit motive of supplement pushers (henceforth called Big Herbal).

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), an abomination that pushes fraudulent science, reported that in 2007, US adults spent $33.9 billion on visits to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers and for purchases of CAM products, classes, and materials. About $14.8 billion of that spending was on non-vitamin, non-mineral, natural products, such as fish oil, glucosamine (no evidence of effectiveness), and Echinacea (no evidence of effectiveness). What is surprising is that this $14.8 billion is about ⅓ of what is spent on prescription drugs. Finally, about $4.4 billion was spent on herbal supplements, which are supplements that use botanical products based on some historical or current belief that the products have some ability to treat some disease or symptom. Of course, sometimes these beliefs are myths, or even errors, like when a Swiss CAM products company misunderstood someone and believed that Native Americans used Echninacea for treating colds. They didn’t. Continue reading “Herbal supplements–unproven, unregulated, unsafe”

Cancer Treatment Centers of America advertising

cancerYou’ve probably seen their commercials spread over all of the major TV networks. Beautiful scenes. Well-kept hospitals which often to appear to be near empty. And an anecdote or two or three from presumably real patients who describe their experience at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), a private, for-profit operator of cancer treatment hospitals and outpatient clinics which provide both conventional and alternative medical treatments. Included in their treatment plans are chiropractic and naturopathy, neither of which have any evidence whatsoever in providing any healthcare benefit to patients, let alone those suffering from cancer.

Reuters recently published an in-depth report on the validity of the claims that are made by CTCA in its advertising. Here are some of the ones specifically mentioned:

Acupuncture for treating Bell’s palsy–myth vs. science

4acupunctureOf all of the alternative medicine therapies, acupuncture is the one that seems to get the most research money, and gets the most claims of effectiveness. Emphasize “claim”, because as of yet, there are no studies that show anything beyond a placebo effect, and some have shown results worse than placebo. Most of the studies are poorly designed, with poor control groups, with poor results.

Here are just some of the Cochrane reviews of acupuncture research that conclude that acupuncture lacks any clinical efficacy:

That’s just a few of many negative studies. 

So what is acupuncture? Its theoretical basis is that health and sickness are caused by the good or bad flow of Qi through the body, in particular along the twelve major meridians of the body (though some authorities list fourteen or even more) which run from head to toe along the body, and which are associated with the bladder, gallbladder, heart, large intestine, small intestine, kidneys, liver, lungs, spleen, stomach, pericardium, and other things. It is a form of woo medical procedure based on sticking needles into the dermis at precise points to affect the Qi. Except there is no evidence at all that this Qi exists. It’s pseudoscience. Continue reading “Acupuncture for treating Bell’s palsy–myth vs. science”

Echinacea and the common cold–Myth vs. Science

It’s getting close to winter once again, so people always recommend their various lotions and potions to either prevent the common cold or, at least, to reduce the course of the disease. Alternative medicine’s favorite disease to treat is the common cold, mainly because it’s an easy disease to handle without too many serious problems. Also, from the patient’s perspective, the length and seriousness of the cold is usually very subjective, since the patient has a difficult time making an accurate determination when the cold started or ended, and making a quantitative assessment of the seriousness of the disease. Moreover,  confirmation bias is usually the reason one hears that something worked for the cold–the person who reports some product works forgets all the times it doesn’t. Or completely misjudges the actual effects of any treatment.

The list of products that you might run across in your local pharmacy that claim to have an effect on the common cold are many. Zinc, oscillococcinum, garlic, and vitamin C. I wrote about these products last winter, and they mostly don’t work. The strangest cold remedy you might find is oscillococcinum, which is a homeopathic preparation derived from duck liver and heart, diluted to 200C, or 200 1:100 dilutions.  In other words, in a liter of water there are precisely no molecules of duck guts. And there isn’t any logical explanation of a possible mechanism that would allow one to conclude that duck offal has an effect on cold viruses. Though Oscillococcinum is supposed to be used for flus, many use it for colds, but it doesn’t matter, why would a diluted potion of duck guts cure any virus? Well, Cochrane Reviews concluded that ”current evidence does not support a preventative effect of Oscillococcinum-like homeopathic medicines in influenza and influenza-like syndromes.Continue reading “Echinacea and the common cold–Myth vs. Science”

The Placebo Effect–Myth vs. Science


There has been a large uptick in interest about the so-called placebo effect, mostly from the complementary and alternative junk medicine (CAM) crowd. Evidently, they feel that being equivalent to doing nothing is good enough to be real. A recent article in the Wall Street JournalWhy Placebos Work Wonders, is indicative of this recent pro-placebo point-of-view.  

What exactly is the placebo effect? The definition is often misused, implying some beneficial effect from a sugar pill or sham treatment. But in medicine, a placebo is actually a failure. If a new pharmaceutical, procedure or medical device shows no difference in efficacy compared to a placebo, then it is rejected.  But the CAM-pushing herd thinks that proves its a success when one of its potions and lotions is equivalent to a placebo. What? A failure of a modality in evidence-based medicine is somehow converted into a successful product in the CAM world?

Continue reading “The Placebo Effect–Myth vs. Science”