MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Currently, we witness an unprecedented hype about the ALKALINE DIET. It seems to be everywhere: on TV, radio, in the dailies, magazines, books and the Internet. The diet is being promoted for an amazing array of conditions by a dazzling list of VIPs. To me this merely indicates that very important people have paid very little attention when it was explained to them how the body controls its pH. It seems that VIPs tend listen to stuff that is not only factually incorrect but potentially dangerous. (Perhaps ‘VIP’ stands for ‘very ignorant person’?) This website (one of millions on the subject) is as good an example as any for the level of misinformation that is currently out there:

START OF QUOTE

When a food is ingested, digested, and absorbed, each component of that food will present itself to the kidneys as either an acid-forming compound or a base-forming one. And when the sum total of all the acid-producing and the base-producing micro and macronutrients are tabulated, we’re left with a calculated acid-base load.

One common problem with most industrialized societies is that our diets produce what’s called a “low grade chronic metabolic acidosis.” This means we’re in a chronic state of high acidity. Since the body must, at all costs, operate at a stable pH, any dietary acid load ha to be neutralized by one of a number of homeostatic base-producing mechanisms. Although the pH of the body is maintained, many cells of the body will suffer.

A cancerous cell is acidic. If your body is in a constant state of over-acidification, it becomes impossible for healthy cells to regenerate. Cancer cells thrive in an overly acidic environment. By taking action to become more alkaline, you can make it more difficult for cancer cells to regenerate.

Eating an acid/alkaline balanced diet is the key to staying healthy. Understanding the pH of the foods that you eat is relative to the state of your body’s health.

The goal of the acid alkaline balance diet, also known as the alkaline diet and the alkaline ash diet, is to achieve an optimal balance between acid-forming and alkaline-forming foods. The anti cancer diet greatly reduces the strain on the body’s acid-detoxification systems.

END OF QUOTE  (I corrected several spelling mistakes)

Personally, I don’t care a hoot whether VIPs eat this or any other diet. When it comes to claiming that the ALKALINE DIET can treat or prevent cancer (or other serious conditions) I do, however, get concerned. Such claims will almost inevitably prompt patients to give up their treatments in the hope that the diet will do the trick. In other words, such claims endanger the lives of patients, and I find this intolerable. Tragically, a recent case seems to demonstrate how real this danger is.

So, allow me to put the record straight: there is no evidence that the Alkaline Diet is effective for the prevention or treatment of any disease, particularly not cancer. For those who find this hard to believe (vis a vis the current hype, this would hardly be surprising), here is the evidence.

One systematic review concluded that despite the promotion of the alkaline diet and alkaline water by the media and salespeople, there is almost no actual research to either support or disprove these ideas. This systematic review of the literature revealed a lack of evidence for or against diet acid load and/or alkaline water for the initiation or treatment of cancer. Promotion of alkaline diet and alkaline water to the public for cancer prevention or treatment is not justified.

Another group of researchers evaluated the following diets: raw vegetables and fruits, alkaline diet, macrobiotics, Gerson’s regime, Budwig’s and low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet. They did not find clinical evidence supporting any of the diets. Furthermore, case reports and pre-clinical data point to the potential harm of some of these diets. The authors concluded that considering the lack of evidence of benefits from cancer diets and potential harm by malnutrition, oncologists should engage more in counselling cancer patients on such diets. Our recommendations could be helpful in this process.

So, yet again we are confronted with the fact that the media create attention, hype and misinformation with no real substance whatsoever. It is high time, I think, that journalists are reminded of their duty to report truthfully and responsibly!!!

Health journalists must be reminded of the undeniable fact that misinformation kills people.

9 Responses to Beware of the alkaline diet and the claims made for it! A plea for journalistic accuracy

  • This graphic might help:

    pH for dummies

  • This topic came up on TV last night in the course of a BBC Horizon programme: Clean Eating — The Dirty Truth. Giles Yeo, a PhD biologist from Cambridge University, critically interviewed a number of people who promote various dietary fads. As far as the BBC will allow debunking to go, Yeo did a pretty good job.

    His most notable interviewee was ‘Dr’ Robert O. Young, a naturopath currently residing in California, who is apparently one of the principal gurus promoting the ‘alkaline diet’ as a health benefit, including for cancer victims. Young is facing a stretch in prison for practising medicine without a licence and is awaiting trial for fraud. His two doctorates were apparently purchased from diploma mills.

    Watching Young expound his theories I swiftly formed the impression he is the kind of messianic wackaloon so frequently encountered among quackery gurus. He expounded his belief in the theory of pleomorphism — the kind that held limited sway in the time before Louis Pasteur and which states that microbes arise by transformation of other living organisms. He believes that an acidic diet underlies cancer, obesity and many other diseases. (He would probably not understand the significance of Alan Henness’s diagram.)

    Jasper Rees summed up Young and his alkaline dietary theories very well in his review of the Horizon programme in today’s Telegraph: “Narcotised by self-belief, his dead-eyed creepiness glistened on the screen like a thin film of sweat.” Please note how readily even non-scientists turn to ad hominems when encountering blatant nonsense.

    • The common theme seemed to be all about extrapolating far, far beyond the evidence and the reliance on anecdotes… something that will be all too familiar to readers of this blog.

    • Kim Tinkham is probably Robert O. Young’s most infamous customer. Even Oprah covered her story (of course there was an element of “The Secret” involved which seduced the woo-welcoming Oprah).

      Orac has written extensively about Young and covered the most recent legal battle as well.

      Unfortunately Florida is very tolerant of guys like Young and the other uberquack who runs a cancer ranch there, Brian Clement.

    • Young is currently in prison. Where he will hopefully remain for some time.

  • Thank you for this great image- we have started sharing it via our network (Melanoma Patient Network Europe), as we just recently had some of these diet myths AGAIN :-(, also via the ESMO patient advocacy site as it’s a real problem for all cancers.

    Alan Henness, we were wondering whether you would allow us to print your image, obviously with you as author on it, and take it to ECCO in Amsterdam next weekend to distribute it there? I’d be grateful if you could get back to me- we’ve been educating patients and advocates on this for ages but your figure sums it up perfectly 🙂

  • Often touted as he discoverer of alkaline diet Robert O. Young sentenced to 3 years and eight months in prison for pretending to be a doctor.

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