MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

We tend to trust charities; many of us donate to charities; we think highly of the work they do and the advice they issue. And why shouldn’t we? After all, a ‘charity’ is ‘an institution or organization set up to provide help, money, etc, to those in need’. Not a hint at anything remotely sinister here – charities are good!

Except, of course, those that are not so good!

By ‘not so good’ I mean charities that misinform the public to a point where they might even endanger our health, well-being and savings. Yes, I am speaking of those charities that promote unproven or disproven alternative therapies – and unfortunately, there are many of those around today.

Our recent letter in the SUNDAY TIMES, tried to alert the public to this problem and to the fact that the UK regulator seems to be failing to do much about it. A Charity Commission spokesman, in turn, replied that his organisation had received the letter and would respond formally to it:

“The Commission is required to register organisations as charities which are established for exclusively charitable purposes for the public benefit,” he said. “Charitable purposes for the advancement of health include conventional methods as well as complementary, alternative or holistic methods which are concerned with healing mind, body and spirit in the alleviation of symptoms and the cure of illness. Those organisations dealing with complementary and alternative medicines must be able to demonstrate that they are capable of promoting health otherwise they will not be for the public benefit.

“The Commission is the registrar and regulator of charities however it is not the authority in the efficacy of any and every non-traditional medical treatment. These are issues of substantial debate with a variety of opinions. Each case is considered on its merits based on the evidence available. To be charitable there needs to be sufficient evidence of the efficacy of the method to be used. The Commission must further be assured that any potential harm that might be said to arise does not outweigh the benefit identified by the method.

“The Commission expects charities to provide information that is factually accurate with legitimate evidence.” 

But is the information provided by all charities factually accurate?

Take, for instance, YES TO LIFE! Have a good look and then decide for yourself.

On their website they state: “We provide support, information and financial assistance to those with cancer seeking to pursue approaches that are currently unavailable on the NHS. We also run a series of educational seminars and workshops which are aimed at the general public who want to know more and practitioners working with people who have cancer.”

The website informs us about many alternative therapies and directly or indirectly promote them for the curative or supportive treatment of cancer. I have chosen 5 of them and copied the respective summaries as published by YES TO LIFE. My main selection criterion was having done some research myself on the modality in question. Here are the 5 cancer treatments which I selected; the text from YES TO LIFE is in bold, and that of my published research is in normal print with a link to the published paper:

CARCTOL

Carctol is a relatively inexpensive product, specifically formulated to assist cells with damaged respiration, it is also a powerful antioxidant that targets free radicals, the cause of much cellular damage. It also acts to detoxify the system.

The claim that Carctol is of any benefit to cancer patients is not supported by scientific evidence.

LAETRILE

Often given intravenously as part of a programme of Metabolic Therapy, Laetrile is a non-toxic extract of apricot kernels. The claimed mechanism of action that is broken down by enzymes found in cancer cells. Hydrogen cyanide, one of the products of this reaction then has a local toxic effect on the cells.

The claims that laetrile or amygdalin have beneficial effects for cancer patients are not currently supported by sound clinical data. There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion. The risk-benefit balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is therefore unambiguously negative.

MISTLETOE

Mistletoe therapy was developed as an adjunct to cancer treatment in Switzerland in 1917-20, in the collaboration between Dr I Wegman MD and Dr Rudolf Steiner PhD (1861-1925). Mistletoe extracts are typically administered by subcutaneous injection, often over many years. Mistletoe treatment improves quality of life, supports patients during recommended conventional cancer treatments and some studies show survival benefit. It is safe and has no adverse interactions with conventional cancer treatments.

None of the methodologically stronger trials exhibited efficacy in terms of quality of life, survival or other outcome measures. Rigorous trials of mistletoe extracts fail to demonstrate efficacy of this therapy.

UKRAIN

A type of low toxicity chemotherapy derived from a combination of two known cytotoxic drugs that are of little use individually, as the doses required for effective anticancer action are too high to be tolerated. However the combination is effective at far lower doses, with few side effects.

The data from randomised clinical trials suggest Ukrain to have potential as an anticancer drug. However, numerous caveats prevent a positive conclusion, and independent rigorous studies are urgently needed. [To judge the validity of this last treatment, I also recommend reading a previous post of mine.]

Finally, it might be informative to see who the individuals behind YES TO LIFE are. I invite you to have a look at their list of medical advisors which, I think, speaks for itself. It includes, for instance, Dr Michael Dixon of whom we have heard before on this blog, for instance, here, here and here.

Say no more!

9 Responses to Uncharitable charities? The example of ‘YES TO LIFE’

  • This is what they have to say regarding acupuncture and cancer:

    “It centres on the belief that energy flows through the body along channels and that energy flow, known as Qi (pronounced chi), can be disturbed by many factors. By inserting fine, sterile, disposable acupuncture needles into the channels of energy, or specific points located on body, acupuncturists aim to stimulate the body’s response and help to restore the flow so it moves in a smooth and balanced way. Acupuncture can influence the body via the nervous system to help restore balance, improve the function of the body and relieve symptoms.”

    “Several studies have found that acupuncture can reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting and can also effectively reduce certain types of pain, particularly lower back pain as recommended by NICE.”

    “Cancers: All cancers”

    • Have you ever been seasick? I have, rarely – but I know of a number of friends who are much more susceptible.
      And they can certainly be helped by TLC; consolation, hope and love (akin to faith, hope and charity); placebo effects, wearing funny ‘pressure’ pads etc.
      I know of no evidence that sticking needles into anybody affects any channel of energy.

      This is not a matter of opinion. If ‘Yes to Life’ seriously claim to have discovered a new form of energy which can be affected in this way, they deserve a Nobel Prize.
      Otherwise they should not be surprised if some people (not me, obviously) called them, and their advisers, quacks and frauds.

      For the Charity Commission to be endorsing fraud is disgraceful, no matter the cavil words they use to disguise the fact.

      • Question is: can one put the blame squarely on the charity? They only selectively use scientific publications produced by professors (former acupuncturists etc.) who has an inherent conflict of interest and hence will almost always produce positive results. Or should part of the blame fall on Universities who fully support these professors to make financial ends meet. Or should the university/ health care regulators be blamed because they allow this to happen and they also base their decisions on what has been published (by the aforementioned professors)? Or should the blame fall on politicians, who put the regulators in office, and who also base their decisions on what has been published. Or is the public to blame for voting specific politicians into office (royalty doesn’t count) and for continuing to use these CM modalities due to the modus operandi of the CM industry etc.

        This charity selectively use positive publications and they see the public’s continued use of CM’s as evidence of effectiveness. So surely they must be partly blamed for this, but they are just a small cock in the wheel. Question is; what and where is the weak link in this above mentioned viscous circle?

  • Absolutely spot on. The Charity Commissioners have repeatedly refused to take any action over charities whose purpose is entirely bogus – they merely suggest one writes to the Trustees, who are of course True Believers.

  • Oh, YTL lists Rob Verkerk as a medical advisor. He runs another bogus charity, the Alliance for Natural Health, whose “public purpose” is essentially boosting the income of its officers and trustees.

  • What can be done to address this? I’ve just made a complaint to both Justgiving and the Charity commission for supporting this charity, which is duping vulnerable people and taking vast amounts of money for it. I know somebody who is currently raising £50k for treatments with them, as he has 2 terminal stage 4 brain tumours. I don’t know the person that well, and so have delicately tried to approach it, but I didn’t hear any response, so instead I’m focusing my efforts on addressing the crime that this is even a charity. They should be stopped. That money could be going to much better causes for real cancer research

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