Dedicated to all you people with birthdays. Here are more birthday comics!
Dedicated to Timmy Tofu fan, Jennifer G.! Happy birthday Jennifer!
Here’s more Timmy Tofu.
I need this
A common criticism aimed at those of us who are highly critical of various alternative medicine treatments and, in particular, of the “integration” of such treatments into conventional medical treatment is: What’s the harm? What, they ask, is the harm of homeopathy, acupuncture, iridology, or traditional Chinese medicine? They argue that it’s pretty much harmless, or, to quote Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about earth, harmless. Of course, fans of the novels know that Ford Prefect, a contributor to the guide, reacting to Earthling Arthur Dent’s outrage that the entry for the planet earth consisted of only one word, assured him that in the next edition the entry would be expanded to read “mostly harmless.” An analogy to this sort of quackery could be made, except that it is anything but “mostly harmless.” It can—and is—often harmful to individual patients, not to mention the corrosive effect integrating pseudoscience into conventional medicine has in general.
I’ve documented various examples over the years, examples such as Madeleine Neumann, a 11-year-old diabetic girl who died of diabetic ketoacidosis when her parents relied on prayer instead of medicine to treat her diabetes. Then there have been children like Daniel Hauser, Katie Wernecke, Abraham Cherrix, Jacob Stieler, an Amish girl named Sarah Hershberger, Cassandra C, and, most recently, two aboriginal girls from Canada, Makayla Sault (who died) and JJ (who will, hopefully, live, although her chances of ultimately surviving were greatly compromised by her mother’s insistence on pursuing a Florida quack‘s medicine instead of chemotherapy). These were all children or teens with cancer whose parents chose (or supported their choice) not to undergo chemotherapy and to pursue quackery instead. Then there was Mazeratti Mitchell, who suffered a spinal cord injury while wrestling, whose mother wanted to rely on a naturopathic quack instead of surgery to fuse his spine. The list goes on and on and on; depressingly so, in fact.
I’m sighing with sadness as I add another one to the list: Aidan Fenton of Sydney, Australia, a seven-year old boy with type I diabetes who died undergoing quack treatments associated with using traditional Chinese medicine:
A Chinese healer, who slaps patients until they produce dark bruising and is now under investigation over the death of a Sydney boy, had brought his treatments to Perth.
Self-proclaimed healer Hongchi Xiao was using slapping therapy on seven-year-old Aidan Fenton to treat type 1 diabetes when the boy died in Hurstville New South Wales on Monday evening.
Mr Xiao brought his traditional Chinese medical treatments to Perth in 2013 and was sponsored by Perth traditional medicine practitioner Chai Chua.
Mr Chua told 6PR Mornings on Friday that anyone, especially children, undergoing Chinese therapy for serious health conditions should be supported by conventional medical advice.
It sounds to me as though Mr. Chua is trying to cover his proverbial posterior here. Basically, Aidan Fenton was taking part in a seven day workshop in Huntsville when his parents found him dead in their hotel room:
Police and paramedics were called to the Ritz Hotel in Hurstville about 9pm on Monday to reports that the boy had collapsed and was not breathing.
His parents’ screams alerted staff at the hotel, who called triple zero. A NSW Police spokesman said the boy died at the scene.
It is believed Aidan, from Prospect, had type 1 diabetes, and police are investigating whether he was no longer taking insulin before his death.
Mr Xiao’s week-long Sydney workshop cost $1800 for participants to attend, and was held at the Pan Health Medical Centre.
This Australian news story includes a video of the sort of “therapy” that Hongchi Xia teaches. I encourage you to watch the brief clip. It shows people undergoing Paida, or “slapping therapy,” during which they are seen slapping themselves on the legs, body, face and other locations until the skin was turning black and blue with some rather impressive bruising, and I call this bruising impressive as a surgeon who’s seen a lot of trauma in his residency and, for a few years after, covered trauma call as an attending. Included with the news story is a photo from Xia’s website showing a man with bruising on his abdomen that wouldn’t have been out of place in a trauma patient pulled from a crashed car.
I perused Xia’s website, PaidaLajin Self-Healing and it’s a frightening place on the Internet. Right on the English home page, it advertises Paida as “DIY,” effective, simple, low cost, safe, and universally applicable, as in “effective on about all diseases” (an exact quote). Elsewhere, we learn that Paida means to “pat and slap external skin areas to expel poisonous waste (in the form of Sha) and to restore health by facilitating the smooth flow of Qi throughout the meridians (energy channels in the body). .” (Detoxification. Of course it had to be “detoxification,” complete with acupuncture meridians.) Xia tells us that he uses disease categories “for convenience only,” and “to self heal and to help others regain health, you are advised to ‘forget the disease name.'” What is the rationale for this treatment? Vitalistic, prescientific nonsense, of course:
Paida /Inducing Sha = Elimination of the toxic waste in the body
- Our skin is closely related to meridians (energy channels in the body), limbs, five internal organs, six entrails and nine apertures (including the eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, urethra and anus).
- Paida enhances one’s faith and power of the heart, stimulates and cleanses relevant meridians to facilitate the Qi flow. Smooth Qi flow will in turn help the circulation of blood. Clearing meridians could cure diseases.
- The patted and slapped parts of the body will automatically gather Qi and blood, which then facilitates their circulation. As a toxin-sweeper, the enhanced Qi automatically scans the body to locate and cleanse the blocked meridians. As a result, toxic waste, illnesses and even tumors can be cleared.
- From the perspective of Western medicine, Paida is a “proactive sabotage technique” that stimulates the central nervous system, which then activates energy and blood flow, secretions, and the lymphatic, nervous and immune systems to help repair the damaged parts. This is a process of self-healing and rehabilitation, and enhances the body’s immune functions.
Supposedly, you can even tell what sort of effect the Paida is having by the Sha it produces, which supposedly appears only where diseases are present. in this way of thinking, the amount of Sha indicates the severity of disease and the intensity of the Sha color correlates with the amount of “toxic qi” in the body, with darker colors corresponding to more “toxins”:
According to the position of Sha, one can tell the illness (or potential illness) of the corresponding organs and the Sha itself also shows the body has started the reduction of body endotoxin and the treatment.
The Sha will come out in a minute after Paida with those who suffer from obstructed blood circulation and their Sha comes faster and the color of the Sha is darker than usual.
Some people will have red Sha first, and after more Paida, the color will turn dark purple or even into dark masses.
Yes, it’s called bruising. It’s what happens when the skin is traumatized sufficiently. First it turns red with inflammation, and then the breakage of small blood vessels under the skin leads to bleeding under the skin; i.e., bruises (or, to use the medically fancy term, ecchymoses). Then, as the bruises resolve, as virtually every human being knows, having experienced at least small bruises in his or her lifetime, such bruises turn all sorts of lovely colors from purple to green to yellow, before fading away. Xia notes that sometimes “people will have Sha the first time they have Paida and don’t have Sha afterwards and may have Sha again later, which means their body and mood are undergoing some changes.” No, what it means is that they probably didn’t hit themselves hard enough to cause immediate bruising the first time around and the bruises are showing up later, as they often do with lesser injuries. I know TCM has some really dumb ideas at its heart, such as a concept that links various organs to regions on the tongue, much as reflexology links them to parts of the palms of the hand and soles of the feet, but somehow I had gone all these years without having ever encountered Paida before. This is even dumber than Tong Ren, because at least in Tong Ren the person is hitting a doll instead of himself.
So how, specifically, is Paida done? Xia’s website describes that the proper sequence is to start hitting yourself from the “top down”; i.e., starting at the head and working your way down to the feet until, apparently, you’ve beat your entire body to a bruised pulp. Xia helpfully notes that if you feel the pain of slapping then “you are on the right way” and recommends that you chant mantras while patting or slapping for better results. He even recommends “Paida with your mind,” observing that “when slapping the skin, you can imagine that you are injecting fresh Qi into the body and bringing out the dirty Qi.” You know, it occurs to me that Dirty Qi would be a totally awesome name for a rock band. For a rationale for slapping yourself silly to bring out the “toxins” and treat disease? Not so much.
In fairness, we don’t know yet whether Aidan Fenton died of Paida, whether he had stopped his insulin, or whether he died of something else. However, as noted in Doubtful News, the circumstances look very, very suspicious. It’s also been reported in The Daily Telegraph that Fenton had been made to fast before slapping therapy and that he vomited and died:
It is understood Mr Xiao has claimed participants in the seminar were asked to fast for three days and to undertake the slapping and stretching exercises that can prompt vomiting and dizzy spells, known as a “healing crisis”.
Aidan was among those vomiting during the seminar.
Mr Xiao said Aidan looked well during the seminar and had eaten rice but became ill on Monday evening after Mr Xiao had gone to dinner.
Police and paramedics were called to the nearby Hurstville Ritz Hotel where the Year 1 student had been staying with his parents after the little boy was found unconscious at 9pm.
Hotel staff said they rushed to the family’s aid after hearing screams coming from their room.
Aidan was found in bed. His heart stopped beating on the way to the hospital.
Police are now investigating if the “healer” advised his parents to take Aidan off insulin and instead encouraged alternative therapies to treat him, including massages and slapping.
Consider the pain and fear of a seven year old. He’s made to fast, and doesn’t understand why. He’s made to slap himself all over until he’s bruised, which is painful, and he doesn’t understand why. Why, he wonders, why are you doing this to me, Mommy and Daddy? If Aidan underwent Paida as it’s described on Xia’s website, it’s hard not to conclude that he was tortured, either by Xia or his parents. That’s why reading quotes like this drives me crazy:
Neighbours of the Fenton family described Aidan as a “beautiful, really good boy” and said his parents had been too traumatised to speak about the incident.
“All we can hear is them crying, all the time,” said a neighbour, whose daughter was the same age as Aidan and played with him over the school holidays.
“They were such good parents, it is really hard to understand why it happened and how it happened.”
Yes, it is hard to understand how this happened—very hard—if you’re a rational, science-baed person. There is no physiologic rationale why raising welts and bruises would have therapeutic effect for diabetes or any other serious diesease and lots of reasons for it to be harmful. If, as is alleged, Aidan was forced to fast before, then it might actually be even worse if he had still been taking his insulin, because, as all type I diabetics know, taking the same dose of insulin if you haven’t eaten can lead to dangerously low blood sugar. Be that as it may, I must strenuously disagree with the next part. While I have no doubt that they both loved Aidan and are, as described, completely traumatized by his death and suffering profound grief at his lost, it must be said that Aidan’s parents were most definitely not good parents if, as it appears, they took their seven-year-old diabetic child to a week-long session with a quack who advocates beating the “toxins” out of people until they’re bruised all over their body. To subject a diabetic child to such torture—yes, torture—is unconscionable and unquestionably in my mind child abuse, regardless of the parents’ love or good intentions in doing it. Even if Aidan is found to have died of something else, it would still be child abuse in my mind.
What’s the harm? Sadly, Aidan Fenton appears to have learned the answer to that question.
ADDENDUM: Here is a video of Hongchi Xia speaking about his Paida method. Wow, the quackery is thick here.
1) Wasn't the professor doing this on Gilligan's Island?
2) Do only women do laundry ?
3) It seems to be be incomplete. How to load/drain water ?
Students at the Dalian Nationalities University in China have designed a bike washing machine that will wash your clothes while you pedal. The invention is aptly called "Bike Washing Machine" or "BiWa," and it aims to "bring health and convenience to our life" by combining a stationary bike and a washing machine.
According to a description on Tuvie provided by the students who designed the bike, the way it works is quite simple: "When you ride this bike, the pedaling motion causes the drum of the washing machine to rotate; at the same time, superfluous electricity is generated which can be used to power the display screen or [be] stored for future use."
Credit: Designer: Xuefei Liu, Di Fang, Linhao Su, Zhanbing Li, Xiaoyu Gao Xueyi Wang, Wen Fan, Liying Zhu, Deqian Zhao, Huan Li, Mengmeng Hu and Weiwei Li of Dalian Nationalities University
Considering the small size of the washing machine, it would undoubtedly take multiple spin cycles to complete your laundry. Much like the Drumi, a pint-sized washing machine that can fit almost anywhere, both inventions will probably not completely replace a laundry machine or a trip to the laundromat.
The concept isn't new, as other designers have tried their hand at designing similar machines. However, none have made it successfully to market, so it will be interesting to see if the "BiWa" becomes successful. Until then, we'll continue to work around both our laundry spin cycle and our spin class schedule.
Are you an architect, designer or blogger and would like to get your work seen on HuffPost Home? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Project submission." (All PR pitches sent to this address will be ignored.)
And not just if you are drunk:
When consumers taste cheap wine and rate it highly because they believe it is expensive, is it because prejudice has blinded them to the actual taste, or has prejudice actually changed their brain function, causing them to experience the cheap wine in the same physical way as the expensive wine? Research in the Journal of Marketing Research has shown that preconceived beliefs may create a placebo effect so strong that the actual chemistry of the brain changes.
This new article asks how much placebos are affected by your DNA.
Antisemitism is rampant in the anti-vaccine community, and it goes a long, long way back. In 1932, an antisemitic magazine published a drawing of a smug-looking Jewish doctor immunizing a baby in a cartoon labeled, "Die Impfung," or "The Vaccination," with a caption reading: "It seems to me that poison and Jews seldom do good things."
I've encountered it time and time again in my passion for vaccine advocacy. People who might otherwise take me seriously latch on to mentions of my cultural background as evidence that I'm being paid by Big Pharma. After I'd seen a post that said that fellow vaccine advocate Dorit Reiss and I were "buddies," I sent her a message for the first time, introducing myself. I mentioned in passing that her maiden name, Rubinstein, is similar to my stepfather's name, Rubenstein, and said we could be distant relatives. Of course, I couldn't help but quip that we were both part of the Jewish shadow government.
This is just the painless surface of antisemitism in the anti-vaccine movement. I've seen how ugly-- and how ridiculous-- it gets. Anti-vaccine activists have told me, you see, that it's my fault that my daughter has autism, because my "Jewish genes" from my "tribe" are full of "mental, physical, etc disabilities due to the years/centuries of inbreeding." (Joke's on them, anyway, since autism rates in Israel are half that of the U.S., and my daughter is culturally but not ethnically Jewish.)
They say that our children get special vaccines. One man, based on kids he's seen staring at him in Walmart, as arrived at the brilliant conclusion that Jews get special vaccines and that all other children get poisonous vaccines.
If this were true, I'm a little upset that I missed the part of Hebrew school where I was supposed to learn the secret handshake to let my pediatrician know that I'm Jewish and that my kids should get the vaccines that don't cause them to stare when an antisemitic stranger is creeping on them in Walmart.
It's all part of a Zionist conspiracy, though-- so they say. These people envision a future dominated by militant Jews with Magen Davids and the words "Zionist" written on their uniforms. This Jew-dominated future police state apparently involves vaccine checkpoints where mothers scream and are restrained as their babies are helplessly injected with lethal chemicals.
And this panic over some future Zionist police state seems to bleed into every single discussion they have with Jewish vaccine activists. They tell us that we are just part of a plot.
...Something to do with the "Judaification of America." And they want us to go back to Russia and East Europe. You know, those places were we were slaughtered by the millions.
But they also want us to go back to Israel. They can't seem to make up their minds.
They call us "cockroach."
They call us communist, and in the same breath, call us fascist. They insult our appearance. They call us "mindless, money-driven, greedy heathens."
My, isn't that familiar.
The scary thing is that, the closer and closer anti-vaccine activists get to utter Nazism, the more they begin to claim that they themselves are victims of a modern Holocaust. They flippantly dismiss the actual horrors of the Holocaust-- the brutal deaths of 6 million innocent people by gas, disease, starvation, and labor-- by comparing their experience of refusing to immunize their kids to the experience of being a Jew in Nazi Germany.
"Their doing the same thing to us that they are they jews," one anti-vaxxer screamed, taking the time to edit her comment to eliminate one of her seventeen grammatical errors.
The anti-vaxxers know how much it stings when I, as a Jew, am told that they are victims of a modern Holocaust. They exploit this when speaking to me and my fellow Jewish vaccine advocates:
Anti-vaxxers aren't always hateful people. I know that because I used to be one of them. But I come from a culture that values reason. I was taught as a child that the highest mitzvah, or commandment, is to nurture human life-- that it goes above and beyond any other duty we have to ourselves and others. My background plays a role in my vaccine advocacy not because it's part of a global conspiracy, but because it's a culture that prizes science and human life.
All joking and stereotypes aside, it's not a coincidence that a disproportionate number of Jews are drawn to careers in medicine. It's not (despite what some may say) because it's a well-paid career, but rather, because we tend to value science and its role in improving and strengthening the bodies that we're given. We are commanded not to accept human life as short and brutal, but to use our minds, and the minds of those who came before us, to build a better future.
I'm not a "good" Jew. I've got tattoos on both of my forearms, I'm queer as a ten-cent nickel, and my son's still got his foreskin. I have a Christmas tree and I get my daughter a real birthday cake every year even though her birthday tends to fall during Passover. Plus, I can't stand Benjamin Netanyahu or gefilte fish. But I know I'm at least doing one thing right. I'm standing up for the use of science to prolong and protect the lives of my children and others.
Apparently, all other things aside, my vaccine advocacy combined with my Judaism mean that I am an ugly communist fascist money-grubbing Zionist cockroach shill. My reasons for advocating for vaccines are called into question, my children are labeled the defective products of incest, and my opinion is taken with a grain of antisemitic salt.
The anti-vaxxers are right when they say that today sometimes looks suspiciously like 1932. But I think they're wrong about who among us is actually the target of hate.
A new Facebook bug is causing major problems for users, with posts disappearing and new links apparently blocked from posting. The issue has been disastrous for organizations that rely on the Facebook to communicate with the public. Media brands, which have come to rely on Facebook for an increasing share of traffic, have been particularly quick to voice their displeasure.
The problems began last night with issues in the image-scraping system, which automatically pulls pictures from posted links. The issue was reported in Facebook's developer forums and Facebook's ops team promised a fix — but the resulting fix seems to have broken the system entirely. A number of posts containing links seem to have vanished, including dozens from The Verge's own page, although they have reappeared intermittently. More seriously, users attempting to post new links have been met with cryptic security warnings. Notably, the bug seems to be only affecting posts containing links to content outside of Facebook.
that sound is the sound of a Facebook Publishing bug mixed with the collective aneurysm of social media managers everywhere— ಠ_ಠ (@MikeIsaac) April 30, 2015
When unexpected events happen — be they natural disasters or terrorist attacks — the consequences can be dire. As a result, governments have gone to great lengths to prepare for the unexpected as best they can, stockpiling scarce resources in case supplies get cut off.
The most famous example is the United States’ Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). According to the Department of Energy:
With a capacity of 727-million-barrels, U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency crude oil in the world. Established in the aftermath of the 1973-74 oil embargo, the SPR provides the President with a powerful response option should a disruption in commercial oil supplies threaten the U.S. economy. [Energy.gov]
But not every strategic reserve is so straightforward. In fact, some are downright weird — at least at first glance. Here are four of the strangest:
1. China’s strategic pork reserve
China’s economy has grown by leaps and bounds in the last three decades, averaging over 10 percent growth per year. This has lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and into the middle class. That new middle class has developed a taste for meat — and pork is at the top of the menu. China now consumes over half of the world’s pork.
The communist Chinese government created the pork reserve in 2007 with the aim of stabilizing prices and reducing market volatility.
When pork prices rise, the reserve releases meat to the market in a bid to push down prices for consumers. When the price falls, the reserve buys up pigs in order to keep farmers profitable.
2. Canada’s maple syrup reserve
(Philippe Henry/First Light/Corbis)
Canada's Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers — which produces more than 70 percent of the world’s maple syrup — maintains a strategic reserve of the gooey stuff. Officially known as the International Strategic Reserve, it is located in warehouses in three rural Quebec towns, and has a capacity of over 10 million kilograms of maple syrup.
Maple syrup is harvested from the sap of maple trees, which do not produce sap in consistent quantities. Maple trees require cold nights and mildly warm days to yield sap, and the wrong weather can lead to little or no sap. This means that production levels can vary wildly based on the weather.
That isn’t good news if you’re trying to maintain a large-scale industry. Corporate buyers demand consistency, because they don’t want to sink capital into developing and marketing a product, only to have no product to sell. So Quebec’s producers aim for a large harvest in the good times and sock away surpluses for the lean times, which helps them produce a consistent flow at a consistent price.
3. America’s helium reserve
Helium is lighter than air, giving balloons their buoyancy. But helium is not just used in balloons. The largest commercial use of helium — which has a uniquely low boiling point of just four degrees above absolute zero — is as a coolant for superconducting magnets necessary to build magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. Helium is also used as a shielding gas for high-temperature welding, as a coolant in telescopes, and as a coolant in high-capacity hard disk drives.
And although helium is the second-most abundant element in the observable universe — accounting for up to 24 percent of total universal mass — it is quite rare on Earth. That’s because its mass is so low — as anyone who has lost his grip on a helium balloon knows, the gas will rise and rise until it escapes into space.
This means that helium has to be stored and conserved. Most of the helium on Earth was formed as a byproduct of the radioactive decay of rocks, and is currently obtained as a byproduct of the extraction of natural gas.
The National Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas, provides 42 percent of America’s helium and 35 percent of the world’s supply. Established in 1925 with the aim of supplying airships, today it holds over one billion cubic meters of helium gas. Worryingly, at current rates of usage, known global supplies of helium are estimated to be entirely depleted in 20 to 30 years.
4. Russia’s steam locomotive reserves
During the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation hung over the world. Military training exercises, troop movements, or intercepted communications could all be misinterpreted as a signal of an imminent nuclear strike. In fact, in 1983 malfunctioning computer equipment in the Soviet Union — mistakenly displaying data showing that the U.S. had launched a first strike — brought the world very close to an accidental nuclear conflict.
And what would follow a nuclear conflict? Well, countries wanted back-up power in case their electricity systems failed as a consequence of an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear bomb. The Soviet Union kept and serviced a fleet of steam-powered trains — the strategic steam reserve — that could run on coal. The strategic steam reserve still exists today, but it has been decaying since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. According to Russian defense journalist Anton Morasdov:
Only 12 steam locomotives remain at the only preserved base of the Strategic Steam Resource near Roslavl in Smolensk Region and they may be scrapped soon.
Representatives of the locomotive repair depot Smolensk say that all locomotives are already rotten, and are being scrapped little by little. [Defense and Security]
Editor's note: This article has been revised since it was first published in order to more clearly include proper attribution to source material.
We often see stories in the media about cancer patients who have chosen alternative treatments, either alongside or instead of conventional treatment.
Every cancer patient has the right to decide what, if any, line of treatment they wish to pursue.
But we believe it’s vital that people make fully informed decisions based on genuine evidence about the risks and benefits of any therapy – whether alternative, complementary or conventional – in discussion with their doctor.
To be clear, ‘alternative’ usually implies a treatment is used instead of conventional medicine, while ‘complementary’ therapies are used alongside regular medical treatments.
Unfortunately, media and online coverage of alternative therapies often doesn’t tell the whole story or include professional medical advice, and can be very misleading.
One of the big selling points advocates of alternative therapies use is to claim that conventional treatments are ’toxic’ while their favoured treatment is ‘natural’, implying that natural is somehow better.
This is a fallacy that we’ve previously explored in detail in our post about that infamous herb, cannabis.
Many treatments for cancer and other diseases were originally derived from naturally-occurring substances. The chemotherapy drug Taxol, created from a compound found in yew leaves, is a prime example.
Conversely, some of the most poisonous substances in the world – ricin, cyanide, arsenic, hemlock, snake venoms and mercury to name but a few – are all entirely natural.
Furthermore, alternative ‘natural’ therapies are not guaranteed to be safe. Examples include a serious risk of cyanide poisoning from laetrile, permanent scarring or disfigurement from cancer salves, and bowel damage, blood salt imbalances or even life-threatening septicaemia caused by coffee enemas.
Stories in the news about alternative therapies are usually framed in the words of a patient talking about their own cancer journey. But this is neither scientific proof nor any kind of guarantee that a treatment is effective or safe.
News reports may provide incorrect or confusing medical information, such as misreporting the type and stage of disease or the true chances of survival, and failing to point out any conventional treatments that were used alongside or before seeking alternative therapy.
In some cases this may be the result of accidental omissions or errors, especially if a reporter is only relying on the patient themselves as the source of their story.
Cancer is a complex disease, and without access to detailed medical records – which are confidential – it is impossible to paint a fully accurate picture of an individual’s cancer journey and whether alternative therapies played any role in their recovery.
More worryingly, there are some cases where evidence points towards a murkier interpretation of ‘truth’ and fact.
For example, Australian blogger Belle Gibson built a large media profile and business around the story of having apparently ‘healed herself’ of a brain tumour through diet and lifestyle changes, but has now admitted that she never actually had cancer at all.
People pushing alternative therapies frequently wheel out stories from ‘survivors’ who are apparently alive due to their treatments, yet without providing solid evidence to prove it is true. This raises false hope and unrealistic expectations that there is a hidden miracle cure that can be unlocked for the right price, or by eating exactly the right foods.
As a result, patients and their loved ones may feel guilty or angry for not trying everything that they possibly could have done, despite there being no evidence that such treatments would have helped.
Stories of people ‘healing themselves’ through diet or other therapies make good headlines. However, if the same person later dies from their cancer it often goes unreported, leaving readers with the misconception that the alternative treatment was a success.
Understandably, there may be huge reluctance among family members to admit that alternative therapy failed, especially if it came at a high cost or reduced quality of life. This problem goes back more than a century, as detailed in a paper published in the British Medical Journal from 1911.
It reveals how an alternative “cancer curer” continued to reassure a husband that his wife was recovering after she had actually died, even going so far as to continue applying dressings to the poor woman’s body. Her husband and friends were “ashamed of having been duped and they kept quiet,” while the quack went unpunished.
“Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine” Tim Minchin, Storm
When a doctor recommends a course of treatment their decision is based on the best available information about the chances of saving or prolonging a patient’s life, along with any risks and benefits.
Sadly we know that in too many cases even the best treatments can fail, which is why we’re continually researching more effective ways to diagnose and treat cancer. Even so, the treatments we have today – including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy – have helped to double cancer survival rates since the 1970s.
We understand that people want to hang on to any glimmer of hope that they or their loved one can be cured, particularly when facing a terminal cancer diagnosis. But despite what alternative therapists may claim, they do not have evidence to support the effectiveness of the treatments they offer. Yet they do normally stand to make money – many thousands of pounds in some cases – from selling ineffective treatments and advice.
Of course, pharmaceutical companies stand to make money from cancer treatments too and we’ve written about this at length. But they must provide evidence of the effectiveness, safety and side effects of their treatments through lab research and clinical trials. This information is assessed by doctors and healthcare providers when deciding whether a treatment should be made available for patients and paid for by the health service or insurance.
We have extensive information outlining the scientific evidence – or lack of it – for a wide range of alternative and complementary treatments on our website.
If there was good evidence that alternative treatments work, then they should stand up alongside conventional treatments.
In addition, the potential costs to patients of placing their hopes in alternative treatments go beyond financial ones.
One of the biggest risks of seeking alternative therapy is postponing or declining evidence-based conventional treatment, which might otherwise prolong or even save a patient’s life.
Perhaps the most famous example is Steve Jobs, the former head of Apple. He was widely reported to have pancreatic cancer, but in fact he had a very different type of cancer called a neuroendocrine tumour which started in his pancreas. After diagnosis he refused medical advice to have surgery and chemotherapy, opting for alternative therapies such as acupuncture, juicing and other treatments he found on the internet.
By the time Steve finally agreed to surgery, his cancer had spread and was untreatable. There is no way of knowing if delaying conventional treatment made a difference to his ultimate outcome, but it’s a decision he reportedly regretted.
Then there is the issue of pursuing unproven alternative treatments overseas. Travelling abroad can be risky if a patient is unwell, even leading to emergency hospital admissions if anything goes wrong or their health deteriorates unexpectedly. Because arranging appropriate insurance can be difficult, sorting out any problems that occur while abroad can be extremely costly and stressful.
Another risk is that patients choosing to use alternative therapies may miss out on opportunities for palliative care, such as effective pain relief or reducing the symptoms of advanced cancer with radiotherapy or drugs. Although they cannot provide a cure, palliative therapies can make a big difference to quality of life in the end stages of cancer.
Whether you love or loathe the concept of the ‘bucket list’, pursuing unproven alternative treatments – particularly abroad or involving arduous and restrictive regimes – robs people of valuable time that they could be spending with family and friends.
We’re continually looking at the evidence behind all kinds of cancer treatments, whether conventional, alternative or complementary, providing extensive information about them on our website. And we are working as hard as we can to develop more effective, kinder treatments for all types of cancer, bringing more tomorrows for patients and their families.
We would like to encourage everyone to ask for the evidence behind claims made for ‘miracle cures’ and consider whether it is scientifically robust and convincing.
To help, we have a web page about finding and judging reliable information on the internet. This piece in The Conversation about scientific evidence is helpful, as is their collection of articles about understanding research.
Finally, if you or someone you know has questions about cancer and treatment, please give our Cancer Information nurses a call – they’re on freephone 0808 800 4040, 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, or you can send them an email.
This article was originally published on Cancer Research UK's Science Blog.
Last week we met Dunk, the NSA's captivatingly weird Earth Day mascot, and now it looks like he's not the only anthropomorphic creature in the NSA family. Dan Raile at Pando Daily went to the RSA security conference last week, and returned with a prize: an NSA-themed coloring book.
The book, America's CryptoKids: Future Codemakers and Cokebreakers, tells the story of a team of talking animals, who, when they're not spying on you, spend their time shredding on the guitar and playing friendly games of lacrosse. While also spying on you, of course.
This one is dedicated to Pierre! Happy birthday to you!!
Also, Happy Birthday to Queen Elizabeth while we’re at it. Here are more birthday comics.
Se Tiver uma fonte de energia alternativa, da ao menos para ter agua para beber sem se preocupar com o apagao nem com o sujao. Mas a um custo beeem alto
Falta de água, racionamento e calor são temas que preocupam o governo paulista nos últimos meses, em meio à maior crise hídrica da história. Para um inventor de Valinhos, a 85 km de São Paulo, a solução para esses problemas veio, literalmente, do ar.
Engenheiro mecatrônico, Pedro Ricardo Paulino patenteou em 2010 a Wateair, máquina que faz água condensando a umidade do ar.
A água produzida -que passa por um sistema de purificação que elimina as bactérias- é tão limpa que seu uso inicial foi em máquinas de hemodiálise. Para ser consumida, ela precisa passar por um segundo filtro, que adiciona sais minerais à solução.
Tudo o que a Wateair precisa para funcionar é estar ligada na tomada. Quanto mais úmido estiver o ambiente, mais ela produz. Porém, se a umidade cair a menos de 10%, ela para de funcionar. Isso elimina o risco de deixar um ambiente fechado muito seco. No dia mais seco deste ano em São Paulo, o nível chegou a 19%.
A contadora Maria Helena Castro, 31, comprou uma máquina em maio para suprir a falta d'água no sítio dela em Itu (a 101 km de SP).
Ela desembolsou R$ 120 mil na versão que produz até mil litros por dia. "Tinha problemas com falta de água desde fevereiro. Hoje, crio minhas galinhas, porcos, coelhos e irrigo minha plantação sem dor de cabeça", diz.
Maria Helena conta que o preço compensa e que ainda não precisou fazer nenhuma troca de filtro ou manutenção.
O inventor explica que, como os componentes da máquina são importados e a demanda ainda é pequena, os custos são elevados. "Tudo é encomendado e praticamente não existe nada feito em linha de produção", afirma.
|Pedro Ricardo Paulino posa com uma das versões de sua máquina em Valinhos, no interior de SP|
A menor máquina, que produz 30 litros por dia com a umidade relativa do ar a 80%, custa R$ 7.000. A maior, que chega a 5.000 litros por dia, é vendida por R$ 350 mil.
Segundo o criador, o gasto de energia elétrica para fazer um litro de água é equivalente a R$ 0,17 em São Paulo. Portanto, encher uma caixa d'água de mil litros custa R$ 170.
A Sabesp cobra em média R$ 7,25 (incluindo a tarifa de esgoto) para distribuir a mesma quantidade a uma família de quatro pessoas. Ainda assim, o inventor diz que a procura pela máquina aumentou exponencialmente nos últimos meses.
"Os clientes antes eram escolas ou pessoas que precisavam de água potável em menor quantidade. Agora, vendemos a restaurantes, produtores de remédios e outros prejudicados pelo fornecimento de água e pela dificuldade da captação por poços", diz.
Segundo o engenheiro, um aparelho de ar-condicionado comum faz algo semelhante, mas produz água com metais pesados e bactérias.
Paulino começou o projeto nos anos 1990, numa multinacional. Em 2006, passou a desenvolver a máquina com o próprio dinheiro. Quatro anos depois, conseguiu atestar a qualidade da água produzida e patenteou a Wateair.
Para o inventor, o aparelho pode ser uma das soluções para a crise. "Máquinas como essa em escala gigante e a dessalinização da água do mar são opções para o futuro de São Paulo."
1 - Turbinas aspiram o ar para dentro da máquina
2 - As moléculas de água são condensadas e tornam-se líquidas
3 - Filtros e raios ultravioleta purificam a água
4 - Outro filtro adiciona sais minerais
5 - Pronta para ser consumida, a água é armazenada em um reservatório
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