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January 11, 2009

Patrick Swayze on quack cancer cures

Actor Patrick Swayze spoke about his battle with metastatic pancreatic cancer in a recent interview with Barbara Walters. This type of cancer is universally fatal.

Walters asked the actor whether the was taking any kind of alternative medicine for his condition. Swayze volunteered he was taking a few Chinese herbs, but..."If anybody had that cure out there like so many people swear to me they do, you'd be two things: you'd be very rich and you'd be very famous--- otherwise shut up ."

Speaking of untested and unregulated remedies,  a Missouri woman is suing a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine for allegedly failing to meet accepted standards of care:

Delores Drury's case challenges the notion that Chinese herbs are free of the harmful side effects often associated with prescription drugs. After being treated for a variety of ailments by Patrick Kennedy, a St. Louis-area chiropractor who ordered herbs from Guo, she allegedly developed a kidney condition known as “Chinese herb nephropathy” (CHN).

“Defendants knew, or by using ordinary care, should have known that said Chinese herbs caused unreasonably dangerous risks and serious side effects of which the general public would not be aware,” Drury alleges in a complaint filed Dec. 31 in Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court.

Damn right it challenges the notion that TCM products are side-effect-free. If it's medicine, it can have side effects, whether that substance came from a pharmacy or a forest.

Many of the key drugs in modern medicine were developed from plants and fungi (e.g., morphine, aspirin, penicillin, cyclosporin, Taxotere, etc.). Often, scientists think to study a plant because it's already being used by traditional healers. Point being that effective natural remedies work because they contain powerful chemicals, not some harmless touchy-feely positive energy.

Just because something's herbal or natural doesn't make it safer.


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We need more regulation of the kind of advice chiropractors can give.

Another problem with a lot of non-traditional medicines/herbs/food additives is that many aren't regulated by the FDA (not that that's a guarantee of healthy goodness, but it's a guidepost, at least) and people think they are less risky than mainstream medicine. In reality many have side effects (just like mainstream medicine) as you pointed out, and also are contraindicated with many prescription and over the counter medicines.

Plant herbal relies on natural active ingredient. And these are various chemicals. Most are benign (useless) Some are active and useful. A lot of those are mild stimulant (tea, tobacco) or simply placebo effect.

But just like food, biologically active natural ingredient has effect and side effect.

It doesn't mean natural plant has no use, but if it is biologically active, some chemist from big pharmas probably already look at it. And if it works, they already make a synthetic analog.

Taxol. Is famous example. It was a big chemistry challenge in the early 90's by late 90's it's undergraduate synthesis project.

Before dismissing plant medical as completely useless. A lot of traditional medicine that works are useful. Specially in poor country. It has its place. But it wouldn't cure the worlds ill meaningfully if you ask me.

Before taking herbal medicines one should remember why plants would evolve the elaborate biochemical pathways and spend the energy necessary to produce exotic chemicals that are not needed for their own growth or reproduction. Plants can’t run from their herbivorous predators, so they use thorns or the biochemical equivalent of thorns to discourage them. It’s no accident that many plants are bitter or poisonous. These chemicals are in many cases specifically meant to wreak extensive havoc in animals. If a mouse, say, gets past the bitterness of peyote cactus flesh and manages to ingest some, it won’t want any more. A goat that eats poison hemlock won’t even be back for more. Plants aren’t interested in healing anyone or providing anyone with a numinous spiritual experience, more likely, they’re interested in dropping depth charges inside you should you decide to eat them.

"Chinese herb nephropathy”?
William Faulkner was quick to resort to "bourbon therapy," as he called it, for all his ailments (except his alcoholism.) But nobody even in Mississippi refers to "bourbon therapy cirrhosis," do they? Really, when MDs are prescribing Fosamax and it kills some patients' jaws, we don't call that "MD osteonecrosis of the jaw."

Squashed says, "...if it is biologically active, some chemist from big pharmas probably already look at it."

A landlord I rented from was a reasearch professor of pharmacology. He told me that many more medically useful plants (or the compounds in them) were to be found by testing the plants traditionally used by peoples in a locality than by random testing of the flora there. Ethnopharmacology does beat blind chance for utility -- but with a twist: most of the traditionally used plants were found to be useless, and the useful plants discovered were, more often than not, useless in their traditional use. To invent an example, it's as if the locals had used a salicylic acid (aspirin)-rich willow bark preparation to grow hair, when testing would have shown it useful not for that but for pain, fever, and inflammation. Ethnobotany is often onto something, but usually doesn't know what.

The terminally ill are far more vulnerable to exploitation than the targets of those Enzyte and ExtenZe commercials, but if they can derive a little comfort from the placebo effect and false hopes, is that all bad?

I'm amazed at all the claims that are made for herbs and neutraceuticals on the radio and TV. I'm sure that 90% of these claims are false, but people are being deceived every minute of the day.

The Phantom -

Congress passed a law in the 1990s that as long as the manufacturers don't claim the supplements treat/cure a specific disease, the FDA can't act:

"The Dietary Supplement
Health and Education Act of 1994"

Hey there--dropping in for a bit (Hi Lindsay and grats on the nomination!!). Anyway, I work in the pharmaceutical industry and unfortunately, a lot of folks really are convinced that Big Evil Pharma is secretly hiding cures for cancer and AIDS, and that a mix of crap from GNC mixed with crap from a health food store is better than chemo or whatnot.

Even worse, people self-treat with herbs even when they're on other medications, which can cause all kinds of reactions and cross-effects (famous example=St. John's Wort undoing anti-depressants).

The whole gist of pharmaceutical research is to extract the active ingredients of an item so that all you get is the active ingredient and not the other potentially toxic elements of that item.

Case in point=tamoxifan, made from yew trees. Yew trees are as toxic as hell--children die all the time from eating the berries or needles off of ornamental ones--but it's one of the best next-gen cancer drugs out there. Thankfully we figured out how to synthesize it IIRC so we're not cutting down yew forests anymore. Having said that, I can easily see someone who already had health issues damaging themselves more by doing heavy-duty Chinese herbs.

On top of THAT mess, you have health food "experts" swearing by remedies that have long since been disproven, ie colloidal silver which does NOTHING good and only causes harm (and which was still pushed on me, hard, for a stomach ailment that turned out to be an ulcer). Another example: Ear candling. Only results medically proven so far have been burned, punctured, and ruptured eardrums from melted wasy. Zero medical value when done as a real clinical trial.

while living and playing in san francisco, i sought out a legendary traditional chinese medicine practitioner to try and help me treat the chronic and disabling pain from traumatic arthritis. the result of my time in vietnam. (actually the time part wasn't that bad, but the bullets did real damage).

i drank noxious teas, had myself turned into a pincushion three times a week. i did everything on schedule as prescribed.

my shit still hurt bad.

for great debunkings of "miracle cures" and "cures the AMA/Western Medicine/FDA/etc don't want you to know about" i recommend Orac.


Yep. And those guys know just how to stay one hundredth of a millimeter away from that line without crossing it.

They hint that it can cure a disease. Or they get someone else to make a broader claim for them. And they have strong protection from the Congress, incl the Utah delegation.

Phantom, is there a particular reason the Utah delegation is a strong protector of the herbal treatment industry? I had not heard this before.

Lots of vitamin and supplement companies located in

Third largest industry in the state

They regard it as protecting the home team

MB--great seeing you here! What's ORAC? Full URL plz? Thx! --Jen

MB--thanks, fantastic link!

However, I'd like to point out that for, e.g., terminal diseases, doctors can also be less aggressive than necessary as can the FDA and the clinical trials system.

Compound Pharmacy has gained much popularity in the field of medicine. The medications are equally effective and safe for sick patients who cannot take the actual medications due to their personal allergies.

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