MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Cancer

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An article in ‘METRO’  caught my eye – not least because it quotes me. Here are a few edited excerpts:

Peter Stott lost his first wife to cancer in 1998. Her death, he believes, was due to geopathic stress (GS) – harmful energies that originate from the Earth. ‘I found out that the house where we had lived had a serious GS problem,’ he says. The discovery prompted him to become a professional ‘dowser’, devoting his life to finding and managing geopathic stress.

But what exactly is this mysterious force erupting from the surface of the Earth – and can it really harm people?Geopathic stress is said to cause discomfort and health issues for certain individuals. These energies, also called ‘harmful Earth rays’ by believers, can be detrimental, beneficial or neutral according to those who think they are ‘in the know’.

Peter Stott
Peter Stott is a professional dowser

The word ‘geopathic’ is derived from the Greek words ‘Geo’ meaning the Earth and ‘pathos’, meaning disease or suffering – hence the term pathogens, the medical terms for bugs that make us ill.

Dowsing, practitioners say, is a method used to detect the presence of various subtle Earth energies and assess their nature and quality. They argue that some of these energies can be linked to geomagnetic anomalies caused by flowing underground water, dry faults and fissures, subterranean cavities, or mineral and crystal deposits.

Dowsing is carried out by a dowser, practitioners who try to find the source of these energies using special tools, such as pendulums, rods, and bobbers – essentially sexed-up tree branches. The person holds the tool, waiting for it to move or react, which they take as a sign that they’ve found what they’re looking for. The odd practice can allegedly also be used to identify leaks, stress fractures, environmental pollutants, electromagnetic fields, nutritional deficiencies, black spots, and, rather oddly, sexing pigeons.

Peter claims that a skilled dowser effectively advises on the optimal placement of buildings and structures to mitigate the impact of geopathic stress, and often possesses the ability to reduce or eliminate it through the use of various methods. He emphasises the fact that GS ‘does not affect everybody in the same way. Cancer has been described as “a disease of location”,’ he says. ‘And if there is a family history of cancer – as there was in my late wife’s case – a person can be more susceptible to GS being a contributing factor in succumbing to the disease.’ Peter believes that GS impacts our immune system, depleting its resources and hindering its ability to function optimally. By eliminating GS from our surroundings, we allow our immune system to operate more efficiently, he contends. Our susceptibility to GS varies, he says, with some experiencing mild symptoms like sleep disturbances and fatigue, while others may face more severe health issues such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and cancer.

17th Century dowsing illustration
Dowsing has been around for millennia (Picture: Getty)

In 2017, rather incredibly, a report revealed that 10 out of 12 water companies in the UK were employing the practice of water dowsing to identify and locate leaks. Even more incredibly, last year, it emerged that Thames Water and Severn Trent Water were still using this form of ‘witchcraft’ for leak detection, despite scientific research indicating its lack of efficacy.

But water companies aren’t the only ones turning to dowsers for help. Peter believes that ‘it is also possible to carry a token or amulet on your person that has been imbued with the powers of protection by someone who is proficient in [dowsing]’. ‘This can protect you from GS and other detrimental energies wherever you go anywhere throughout the world,’ he claims. ‘Other protection techniques can also offer a degree of protection.’

However, Dr Edzard Ernst, a man who has dedicated years of his life to examining questionable, science-based claims, won’t be enlisting the services of a GS specialist or house healer anytime soon. ‘Geopathic stress cannot cause health problems for the simple reason that it does not exist,’ says the retired physician. ‘It is a sly invention of quacks who exploit gullible consumers. The methods to diagnose GS are as bogus as the ones that allegedly treat it. But the quacks don’t mind – as long as the consumer pays.’

Peter fully acknowledges ‘that dowsing and this work in general is not a catch-all solution for every ailment or every person’s situation’. ‘However, often we are approached by people who are “at the end of their tether” due to their exasperation of experiencing events or circumstances in their lives that are not well catered for in the mainstream wellbeing sector,’ he says. ‘I can only speak personally, I cannot speak for the possibly tens of thousands of dowsers around the world. If our work can help ease a person’s experience of life then that is a good enough reason to continue to help where I can’. He adds that ‘we are never going to change the minds of people like Dr Edzard Ernst’, someone ‘who seems to focus exclusively on debunking anything for which there is not a scientific explanation’. Moreover, science, he notes, ‘is moving on with research done into quantum physics and the theory that everything in the universe is connected and is also accessible to everyone’.

_________________________

Oh, dear Peter!

Perhaps you should learn the difference between critical evaluation and debunking (this ‘debunker’ has shown more forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) to be worthy of integrating into the NHS than anyone else).

Perhaps you should read up about the difference between evidence and belief?

And perhaps the chapter on dowsing in my book could help you in this endeavour:

Dowsing is a common but unproven method for divining water and other materials. In alternative medicine, it is sometimes used as a technique for diagnosing diseases or the causes of health problems.

      1. Dowsers employ a motor automatism, amplified through a pendulum, divining rod or similar device. The effect is that the device seemingly provides an independent, visible reaction, while the dowser is, in fact, its true cause.
      2. Dowsing is used by some homeopaths as an aid to prescribe the optimal remedy and as a tool for identify a miasm or toxin load.
      3. The assumptions upon which dowsing is based lack plausibility.
      4. Dowsing has not often been submitted to clinical trials.
      5. All rigorous attempts to test water dowsing have failed, and it is no longer considered a viable method for this purpose.
      6. The only randomized double-blind trial that has tested whether homeopaths are able to distinguish between a homeopathic remedy and placebo by dowsing failed to show that it is a valid method. Its authors (well-known homeopaths) drew the following conclusion: “These results, wholly negative, add to doubts whether dowsing in this context can yield objective information.”[1]
      7. If dowsing is employed for differentiating between truly effective treatments (rather than homeopathic remedies), the risk of false choices would be intolerably high, and serious harm would inevitably be the result.

[1] McCarney et al. (2002).

 

It goes without saing that an article entitled Homeopathic Cancer Therapy Research From 2018 To 2022: A Review of the Literatureinterests me. It turned out to be a revellation in BS. Let me just show you its conclusion:

There continues to be an enormous interest in homeopathic treatment for cancer around the world. This is reflected by the number or studies and the increasingly better quality of studies investigating homeopathic cancer therapy. Some studies appear to signal a concern about lacking information among conventionally trained physicians on homeopathy and their limited ability to respond adequately to the increased demand among patients for homeopathic services. While it is still primarily patients rather than physicians that drive this mounting interest, studies reflect a rise in interest and call for innovation, in provision of integrative cancer treatment by combining multiple conventional and unconventional therapies. According to the majority of available studies, homeopathy can safely be added to conventional cancer treatment, and patients can benefit significantly in countering the adverse effects from that treatment, as well as improvement of their quality of life and survival.

In one our previous reviews of scientific research on homeopathic cancer treatment we had concluded that available studies confirm, “homeopathic drugs have proven biological action in cancer; in vitro and in vivo; in animals and humans; in the lower, as well as in the higher potencies. Cancer patients are faced with a life-and-death decision when choosing their treatment. Since most conventional treatments continue to be associated with severe adverse and sometimes fatal effects, while homeopathy has been found to be free from such effects, it would seem plausible and worthwhile, even urgent, to step up the research on, and even the provision of, homeopathic treatment of cancer and other diseases.”

This conclusion continues to apply to the time period covered in this review of published research on homeopathic cancer treatment.

What a remarkable few sentences!

Please allow me put the record straight on a few points:

  1. enormous interest in homeopathic treatment for cancer around the world – NOT TRUE.
  2. increasingly better quality of studies investigating homeopathic cancer therapy – WISHFUL THINKING, NOT SUPPORTED BY EVIDENCE.
  3. concern about lacking information among conventionally trained physicians on homeopathy and their limited ability to respond adequately to the increased demand – CONCERN IS, IN FACT, DIRECTED AT CHARLATANS USING OR PROMOTING HOMEOPATHY.
  4. homeopathy can safely be added to conventional cancer treatment – YES, BECAUSE IT IS A PLACEBO.
  5. patients can benefit significantly in countering the adverse effects from that treatment, as well as improvement of their quality of life and survival – ONLY IF, LIKE PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASS, ONE FALSIFIES DATA.
  6. homeopathic drugs have proven biological action in cancer – NO.
  7. it would seem plausible and worthwhile, even urgent, to step up the research on, and even the provision of, homeopathic treatment of cancer and other diseases – NO, ACCORDING TO A BROAD INTERNATIONAL CONSENSUS, SUCH RESEARCH WOULD BE AN UNETHICAL WASTE OF RESOURCES.

The truth of the matter is that homeopathy for cancer is a dangerous misconception that could hasten the death of many vulnerable patients.

Those who promote it are amongst the worst charlatans on the planet.

This systematic review and meta-analysis investigated the impact of quality of life (QoL) on mortality risk in patients with esophageal cancer.

A literature search was conducted using the CINAHL, PubMed/MEDLINE, and Scopus databases for articles published from inception to December 2022. Observational studies that examined the association between QoL and mortality risk in patients with esophageal cancer were included. Subgroup analyses were performed for time points of QoL assessment and for types of treatment.

Seven studies were included in the final analysis.

  • Overall, global QoL was significantly associated with mortality risk (hazard ratio 1.02, 95% confidence interval 1.01–1.04; p < 0.00004).
  • Among the QoL subscales of QoL, physical, emotional, role, cognitive, and social QoL were significantly associated with mortality risk.
  • A subgroup analysis by timepoints of QoL assessment demonstrated that pre- and posttreatment global and physical, pretreatment role, and posttreatment cognitive QoL were significantly associated with mortality risk.
  • Moreover, another subgroup analysis by types of treatment demonstrated that the role QoL in patients with surgery, and the global, physical, role, and social QoL in those with other treatments were significantly associated with mortality risk.

The authors concluded that these findings indicate that the assessment of QoL in patients with esophageal cancer before and after treatment not only provides information on patients’ condition at the time of treatment but may also serve as an outcome for predicting life expectancy. Therefore, it is important to conduct regular QoL assessments and take a proactive approach to improve QoL based on the results of these assessments.

Am I missing something here?

Isn’t this rather obvious?

The way this paper is written, some practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) might feel that, by improving QoL (for instance, by some fancy aromatherapy, reflexology, etc.), they can significantly better the cancer prognosis.

Patients with a poor prognosis are more seriously ill and therefore have a lowe QoL. Assessing QoL might be a useful marker, but would it not be better to ask why the QoL is in some patients less than in others?

Dr Julian Kenyon is no stranger to this blog:

I met him once or twice in the mid 1990s. Then he was the GP partner of the late George Lewith. It took me not long to find that I thought of the former even less than the latter.

Now it has been reported that Julian Kenyon was struck off the UK medical register. Apparently, he put pressure on a patient with advanced cancer to pay £13,000 for so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), including sound and light therapy. He ran the former Dove Clinic, a private health centre at Twyford, Hampshire and wrongly told his patient: “You have had all the standard treatments and you are running out of treatment options”. Kenyon’s prescription in May 2022 included sonodynamic/photodynamic therapy as well as the supplements cannabidiol, claricell and similase. The patient was asked to pay a further £20,000 if the initial course of treatment was unsuccessful, the tribunal heard.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) ruled that the doctor’s conduct was “wholly unacceptable, morally culpable and disgraceful”. Kenyon told his patient that there was a 10% chance of his stage 4 prostate cancer being cured. This was a “total fabrication”, the MTPS found. The patient “was vulnerable and… made to feel under pressure to have expensive treatment that was not in his best interests”, it added.

Kenyon has form:

  • In 2003, an undercover investigation by the BBC Inside Out programme accused Dr Kenyon of using spurious tests for allergies.
  • In 2013, a tribunal found he failed to give good care.
  • The following year, it said he made a misleading cancer cure claim.

The latest MTPS ruling bars Dr Kenyon from practising medicine in the UK. His former clinic went into liquidation in March 2023 and has debts of more than £154,000, according to Companies House. Despite all this, it was deemed to be “safe” and “effective”, according to its latest Care Quality Commission report, external in 2019.

I received an email – a round robin, actually – from my ex-friend Wayne Jonas and was amazed to read the following passage:

My new book, “Healing and Cancer,” co-written with Alyssa McManamon, MD, is now available! Whole person care in oncology centers the person with cancer – their history, intuition, and understanding of what constitutes a good life and, eventually, a dignified end …

For those who don’t know him, here is what Wiki has to say about Wayne:

Wayne B. Jonas is an American family physician, retired army medical officer,[1] and alternative medicine researcher. He is the former president and CEO of the Samueli Institute.[2][3] The institute does research into the efficacy of alternative medicine, such as on the effects of prayer on treating disease, use of homeopathy to fight bioterrorism, and use of magnetic healing devices on orthopedic injuries, with Jonas commenting on these research programs, “There is a good case for looking at these things scientifically, because we don’t know a lot about them”.[3] He is professor of family medicine at Georgetown University and an adjunct professor at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.[2]

Jonas received his medical degree from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.[2]

Jonas began his career as the Director of the Medical Research Fellowship at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.[2] From 1995 to 1998, Jonas was the director of the Office of Alternative Medicine (since renamed the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health), a branch of the National Institutes of Health.[2] In 2001, the Samueli Institute was founded. Jonas has served as its president and CEO ever since.[3].

Some of my regular readers might also know Wayne, as he is a member of my ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME. But back to his recent email. I was not sure whether to laugh or cry when I read the above-cited passage:

  1. I honestly don’t know what it means ‘to center the person with cancer’. It sounds very much like new age BS to me, I’m afraid. What I do know, however, is this: almost all cancer patients have formost one wish, and that is to get rid of their cancer. I have never met one who wants to be “centered” with the disease.
  2. I am also sure that cancer patients would want even less to be centered with their cancer, if they knew that this approach eventually entails a ‘dignified end‘. All of us want to live – and cancer patients are certainly no exceptions.

Perhaps it is just Wayne’s clumsy way of trying to express something very profound. Or perhaps it is my mistake for misunderstanding his new age phraseology. In any case, ‘whole person’ cancer care sounds all very attractive – untill you get the diagnosis, that is. Then, you are desperately looking towards a cure, and not towards a ‘dignified end‘. The cure, of that I am quite sure, cannot come from holistic BS, but must come from the best treatments conventional oncology has to offer.

In a nutshell:

if I had the choice between ‘whole person’ care followed by a ‘dignified end’ or conventional oncology followed by survival, I would chose the latter.

 

It has been reported that a former model almost died trying to cure her cancer with a juice diet. Medics tried to get Irena Stoynova to use conventional cancer treatments after she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June 2021, but she ‘shut them out’. Instead of chemotherapy, she sought out so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) online and took the advice of a social media influencer who claims the body can ‘heal itself’ with help of a radical lifestyle and diet changes.

Ms Stoynova thus followed various diets and holistic therapies for two-and-a-half years, which left her emaciated and with fluid on her lungs.

Doctors said she was on the verge of death when she was taken to Frimley Park Hospital by ambulance in May last year. She was told by Dr Clare Rees that she would likely die without treatment for her stage three cancer. But Ms Stoynova continued to refuse for a number of days before finally agreeing to receive chemotherapy. Ms Stoynova then spent 50 days in the hospital’s acute dependency unit.

She said when she was first diagnosed that she decided against traditional treatments after ‘reading about and watching many doctors and professors talk about the success rate of alternative therapies online’. The 39-year-old, who now works in sales, said she did a juice diet for two-and-a-half years, but also tried a raw diet, intermittent fasting, boiling herbs and special teas.

Speaking about her diagnosis, she said: ‘I was devastated, the whole world just closed around me and I felt really alone.’ She said that she was advised to start chemotherapy, but instead turned to the internet to find alternative advice. ‘I found an American guy who has millions of followers who promoted holistic treatment,’ she said. ‘He had a podcast where he interviewed very knowledgeable doctors and professors who are talking about holistic treatment and they called standard treatment “outrageous”. ‘They said that people who had chemotherapy are “lazy” and don’t want to put in the hard work of holistic treatment.’ Ms Stoynova continued: ‘The guy has three or four books on how to heal cancer holistically – how to make salads, use different herbs, juicing, intermittent fasting – there were so many testimonials, so many people that did it. ‘I spent £2,000 on juicers – one for smoothies, one for carrots, one for citrus and one for everything else. I spent two to three hours a day making juice for the next day.

_________________________

The ‘juice diet’ seems to have been the Gerson therapy or a variation of it. We have discussed this particular SCAM several times before, e.g.:

I just wish Irena Stoynova had read my blog instead of following the criminal quackery of the ‘American guy’.

My conclusion:

reading this blog and telling others about it can saave lives

Prof Michael Frass is the undisputed star amongst researchers of homeopathy. Here are the awards and achievements that he mentions on his website:

  • 1994 until 2019Head, Special Outpatient Clinic “Homeopathy in Malignant Diseases”, Department of Internal Medicine I, General Hospital of the City of Vienna
  • 1992 until Feb. 2004Director, Intensivstation 13.i2, Klinik für Innere Medizin I
  • 1994 until 1998 Medical Director Maimonides Center
  • since May 1994Vice President of the “Medical Society for Classical Homeopathy” (ÄKH)
  • since Oct. 1995Head of the Working Group for Homeopathy of the ÄKH in Vienna
  • since Jan. 1998 Speaker of the ÄKH at training courses
  • 1999 – 2012Training Officer of the Austrian Society for Internal and General Intensive Care Medicine (ÖGIAIM)
  • 2001 until 2019 Coordinator of the lecture series “Selected chapters and scientific discussion of complementary medicine methods”, Med. Univ. Vienna, VO 560480
  • May 2002 – Dec. 2005Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Homeopathy
  • since June 2003Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Vienna International Academy of Holistic Medicine
  • 2004 until 2019Expert in Airway Management and Homeopathy in Intensive Care Medicine at the Center of Excellence in Internal Critical Care Medicine (CEMIC).
  • 2005 until 2019Coordinator of the free elective “Homeopathy”, Med. Univ. Vienna, VO 562 923
  • since June 2005Director, Institute for Homeopathy Research
  • 2006 until 2019Member of the planning area + lecturer for the line element “Interdisciplinary Patient Management” (compulsory lecture for medical students)
  • since June 2006President of the Austrian Umbrella Association for Medical Holistic Medicine.
  • since Nov. 2010Chairman of the Scientific Society for Homeopathy (WissHom)

Many of my readers will remember the case of the Prof. Frass et al study of homeopathy for cancer. On this blog, we have seen several articles about it:

The study and the suspicion of scientific misconduct it raised eventually resulted in an official complaint by the Viennese Medical School to the authority that deals with suspicions of publication fraud, the ‘Austrian Agency for Scientific Integrity’. It took a very long time, but recently they have published their final on-line summary of their assessment of the case; here is my translation:

Enquiry A 2021/10:
After an Austrian university was informed externally and by name of possible scientific misconduct in a study and the resulting publication, the institution concerned submitted the already publicised suspected case in the field of applied natural sciences to the OeAWI with a request for examination by the Commission.

After establishing sufficient suspicion of various violations of good scientific practice, the Commission declared itself responsible and initiated proceedings. In the course of this, the principal investigator was given the opportunity to submit a written statement and to provide the Commission for Research Integrity Annual Report 2022 material that would help to clarify the facts of the case, which the accused submitted in large quantities.

In a very complex, comprehensive investigation, which required, among other things, the on-site inspection of original documents, the Commission was able to substantiate the suspicion of data falsification, fabrication and manipulation. In a final statement, the study director, who no longer works for the university in question, and the numerous co-authors were informed in detail about the course and results of the commission’s investigation and informed of the recommendations to the university and journal.  The Commission recommended that the university concerned should consider investigating its own responsibilities and act accordingly, and that the publication should be withdrawn as a matter of urgency. The journal responsible for the publication was asked to withdraw the publication on the basis of the findings of the investigation.

Nobody who has studied the Frass paper in some detail can be surprised by the verdict. I do applaud the ‘Austrian Agency for Scientific Integrity’ for their work. Yet, I do also have some criticism: health fraud on the scale of Frass can easily costs lives. I find it therefore unacceptable that the verdict took so long to get published.

Even worse is, in my view, the fact that the journal, ‘Oncologist’, is still offering this paper today, albeit with this ‘expression of concern’:

This is an Expression of Concern regarding: Michael Frass, Peter Lechleitner, Christa Gründling, Claudia Pirker, Erwin Grasmuk-Siegl, Julian Domayer, Maximilian Hochmair, Katharina Gaertner, Cornelia Duscheck, Ilse Muchitsch, Christine Marosi, Michael Schumacher, Sabine Zöchbauer-Müller, Raj K. Manchanda, Andrea Schrott, Otto Burghuber, Homeopathic Treatment as an Add-On Therapy May Improve Quality of Life and Prolong Survival in Patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: A Prospective, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind, Three-Arm, Multicenter Study, The Oncologist, Volume 25, Issue 12, December 2020, Pages e1930–e1955, https://doi.org/10.1002/onco.13548

In August 2022, the journal editors received credible information from the Austrian Agency for Research Integrity about potential data falsification and data manipulation in this article.*** While The Oncologist editorial team investigates and communicates with the corresponding author, the editors are publishing this Expression of Concern to alert readers that, pending the outcome and review of a full investigation, the research results presented may not be reliable.

Cancer patients will thus still read the dangerously misleading conclusions of the Frass fabrication: “Quality of life (QoL) improved significantly in the homeopathy group compared with placebo. In addition, survival was significantly longer in the homeopathy group versus placebo and control. A higher QoL might have contributed to the prolonged survival. The study suggests that homeopathy positively influences not only QoL but also survival. Further studies including other tumor entities are warranted.” And lives of cancer patients remain needlessly at risk. In my view, this is seriously unethical.

***As far as I know, they received credible information from others long before that!

Yestderday, it was announced that King Charles has cancer. He had been in hospital for surgery for his enlarged prostate. Initially, the news was positive, as it was confirmed not to be prostate cancer. However, during the investigations, a cancer was discovered that apparently is unrelated to the prostate. Since the announcement, many journalists and other people have written to me asking what I think about it and what treatment Charles is likely to receive. I therefore decided to write a short post about the matter.

As a physician and human being I am very sorry whenever I hear that anyone has fallen ill, particularly if the condition is serious and potentially life-threatening. That this includes Charles goes without saying. Equally it is self-evident that I wish that all goes well for him, that the treatment he reportedly has already started is not too arduous, that he keeps in good spirit, that he has empathetic support from all his family and recovers quickly and fully.

Charles will, I am sure, have the best treatment anyone could wish for. Will he use so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), for example, the Gerson therapy, one of the SCAMs he once promoted as a cure of cancer? Of course not! He will receive the most effective, evidence-based care that is currently available. Will he thus not try any SCAM at all? I am confident that he will use SCAM wisely, namely not as a cure but as a supportive measure. In my book on this very subject, I go through all the relevant evidence and conclude that, while SCAM is most certainly not a cancer cure, it can have a place in supportive cancer care. Depending on the symptoms that develop during and after the conventional treatments, certain SCAMs can, according to fairly sound evidence, be helpful in improving wellness and quality of life.

Going through a battle against cancer is often a most humbling experience. Therefore, I am hopeful that, as he recovers from his ordeal, Charles will see that modern medicine – he once described it as being out of balance like the leaning tower of Pisa – is not just effective, empathetic and caring but also not nearly as unbalanced and unholistic as he often proclaimed it to be. In that sense, the experience might reform our king, and – who knows? – he might, after all, turn out to be not the self-proclaimed enemy but a true friend of the Enlightenment.

An alarming story of research fraud in the area of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is unfolding: Bharat B. Aggarwal, the Indian-American biochemist who worked at MD Anderson Cancer Center, focused his research on curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, and authored more than 125 Medline-listed articles about it. They reported that curcumin had therapeutic potential for a variety of diseases, including various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and, more recently, COVID-19.

The last of these papers, entitled “Curcumin, inflammation, and neurological disorders: How are they linked?”, was publiched only a few months ago. Here is its abstract:

Background: Despite the extensive research in recent years, the current treatment modalities for neurological disorders are suboptimal. Curcumin, a polyphenol found in Curcuma genus, has been shown to mitigate the pathophysiology and clinical sequalae involved in neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative diseases.

Methods: We searched PubMed database for relevant publications on curcumin and its uses in treating neurological diseases. We also reviewed relevant clinical trials which appeared on searching PubMed database using ‘Curcumin and clinical trials’.

Results: This review details the pleiotropic immunomodulatory functions and neuroprotective properties of curcumin, its derivatives and formulations in various preclinical and clinical investigations. The effects of curcumin on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), brain tumors, epilepsy, Huntington’s disorder (HD), ischemia, Parkinson’s disease (PD), multiple sclerosis (MS), and traumatic brain injury (TBI) with a major focus on associated signalling pathways have been thoroughly discussed.

Conclusion: This review demonstrates curcumin can suppress spinal neuroinflammation by modulating diverse astroglia mediated cascades, ensuring the treatment of neurological disorders.

  The Anderson Cancer Center initially appeared to approve of Aggarwal’s work. However, in 2012, following concerns about image manipulation raised by pseudonymous sleuth Juuichi Jigen, MD Anderson Cancer Center launched a research fraud probe against Aggarwal which eventually led to 30 of Aggarwal’s articles being retracted. Moreover, PubPeer commenters have noted irregularities in many publications beyond the 30 that have already been retracted. Aggarwal thus retired from M.D. Anderson in 2015.

Curcumin doesn’t work well as a therapeutic agent for any disease – see, for instance, the summary from Nelson et al. 2017:

“[No] form of curcumin, or its closely related analogues, appears to possess the properties required for a good drug candidate (chemical stability, high water solubility, potent and selective target activity, high bioavailability, broad tissue distribution, stable metabolism, and low toxicity). The in vitro interference properties of curcumin do, however, offer many traps that can trick unprepared researchers into misinterpreting the results of their investigations.”

Despite curcumin’s apparent lack of therapeutic promise, the volume of research produced on curcumin grows each year.  More than 2,000 studies involving the compound are now published annually. Many of these studies bear signs of fraud and involvement of paper mills. As of 2020, the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) has spent more than 150 million USD funding projects related to curcumin.

Graphs describing the volume of curcumin research from various sources. Data collected from PubMed and NIH RePORTER. Data may be incomplete in recent years.

This proliferation of research has fueled curcumin’s popularity as a dietary supplement. It is estimated that the global market for curcumin as a supplement is around 30 million USD in 2020.

The damage done by this epic fraud is huge and far-reaching. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, countless hours spent toiling by junior scientists, thousands of laboratory animals sacrificed, thousands of cancer patients enrolled in clinical trials for ineffective treatments, and countless people who have eschewed effective cancer treatment in favor of curcumin, were encouraged by research steeped in lies.

As regulars on this blog know, I am very sceptical about the plethora of nonsensical surveys published in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and thus rarely refer to them here. Today, however, I will make an exception. This international online-survey assessed the demographical data, clinical practice, and sources of information used by SCAM practitioners in Austria, Germany, United States of America, Australia, and New Zealand.

In total, 404 respondents completed the survey, of which 254 (62.9%) treated cancer patients. Most practitioners were acupuncturists and herbalists (57.1%), had (16.8 ± 9.9) years of clinical experience and see a median of 2 (1, 4) cancer patients per week. Breast cancer (61.8%) is the most common cancer type seen in SCAM clinics. Adjunctive SCAM treatments are frequently concurrent with the patient’s cancer specific treatment (39.9%), which is also reflected by the main goal of a SCAM treatment to alleviate side effects (52.4%). However, only 28.0% of the respondents are in contact with the treating oncologist. According to the respondents, pain is most effectively treated using acupuncture, while herbal medicine is best for cancer-related fatigue. SCAM practitioners mostly use certified courses (33.1%) or online databases (28.3%) but often believe that experts are more reliable to inform their practice (37.0%) than research publications (32.7%).

The authors concluded that acupuncturists and herbalists commonly treat cancer patients. Most practitioners use SCAM as an adjunct to biomedicine as supportive care and use it largely in accordance with current oncological guidelines.

You would think that the combined expertise of these institutions are capable of producing a decent survey:

  • Palliative Care Unit, Division of Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, Medical University of Graz, 8036 Graz, Austria
  • Northern College of Acupuncture, York YO1 6LJ, United Kingdom
  • School of Health and Society, Faculty of Education, Health and Wellbeing, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton WV1 1LY, United Kingdom
  • National Institute of Complementary Medicine Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, Penrith NSW 2751, Australia
  • Translational Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, Penrith NSW 2751, Australia
  • Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, Wellington 6021, New Zealand
  • Translational Oncology, University Hospital of Augsburg, 86156 Augsburg, Germany

Well, you would have been mistaken! This surely is one of the worst investigations I have seen for a while. Here are just three reasons why:

  • The researchers designed an anonymous self-completion questionnaire collecting data about the participating practitioners’ demographics and clinical practice of integrative oncology. Someone should tell them that one ought to validate questionnairs before using them and that validated questionnairs exist. Unvalidated questionnairs cannot tell us much of value.
  • The researchers  invited SCAM practitioners in Austria, Germany, USA, Australia, and New Zealand to participate in this study. Invitations were distributed through social media and emails between October 2022 and December 2022 by professional organizations. Someone should tell them that research needs to be reproducible and surveys need to cover a representative population – both criteria that are not met here.
  • The survey participants had to hold a valid license to perform acupuncture, herbal medicine, or both. That excludes all other SCAM practitioners.

Despite these serious flaws, the survey shows two findings that might be worth mentioning:

  • only 28.0% of the SCAM practitioners were in contact with the treating oncologist;
  • SCAM practitioners believe that “experts” are more reliable to inform their practice than research publications.

For me, these two points alone would be sufficient reason to run a mile!

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