Every so often, I get eNastygrams kvetching about my stance on ear candles. The less obnoxious complainers employ the “Oh, you should just try it!” argument, while the nastier ones suspect I’m trying to keep all that ear wax business to myself. Neither group can be dissuaded from their religious faith in ear candles; my counter-argument, that candles are unsafe and ineffective, falls on wax-filled deaf ears.
Medical conspiracy theorists abound. To them, we who practice “Western Medicine” are blinkered buffoons at best, greedy bastards at worst, due to our allegiance to drugs and treatments which seem downright destructive. In truth, our allegiance is to evidence-based medicine, but that has no sex appeal — not like all-natural herbs, touch therapy (which involves no touching at all; the practitioner’s aura heals the patient’s aura, thereby oh whatever), or omigod (literally) angel therapy.
Most folks seem to regard alternative medicine with tolerant skepticism. The argument, it can’t hurt and it might help, often wins people over. And, true, most of these treatments can’t hurt — not in any obvious way.
My friend, the one who is being treated for breast cancer, asked me about Ambrotose. Ambrotose, as best I can tell from what I’ve learned online, is a combination of “natural sugars” which are not abundant in our diets (mannose, fucose). Yes, Ambrotose is a sugar pill, but Mannatech, Inc. wants you to think it can cure all your ills — not that you’ll find that information on their website, of course, since the FDA takes a dim view of unfounded therapeutic claims.
Ambrotose users claim it cures autism, fibromyalgia, asthma, Down Syndrome, “weak immune systems”, cancer, you name it; but they’re careful about their phrasing:
Although I would recommend Ambrotose to everyone who cares about living in the best health possible, please understand that Ambrotose, and most of Mannatech’s product line, are natural, non-toxic, food products — and not drugs — and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease. They simply give the cells of the human body the nutrients they need in order to function and communicate properly. When our cells do get the nutrients they were designed to have — but are unfortunately uncommon in modern diets — the result is a strong immune system and a healthy body that can heal, correct, and repair itself. The body is the healer, not the substances that facilitate the healing.
As for the cure-for-cancer claim, this author does a decent job dispelling the myth, concluding,
The main danger I believe is that patients will not only lose money but will also lose precious time. Cancer is a complex disease. It requires professional help. Regardless of the sometimes uncaring attitude of certain errant members of the medical profession, one should not reject everything that conventional medicine has to offer in favor of a regimen discovered on the Internet. The answer is not simply to construct a do-it-yourself program, but to find expert and sympathetic guidance in the rapidly expanding realm of complementary oncology.
Regarding direct evidence of Ambrotose’s benefit, the studies are underwhelming at best.
Ambrotose is marketed through Mannatech and, Amway-style, through other users of Ambrotose. Thus, folks (like my friend) are sold on the idea of Ambrotose by consumers who receive discounts based on how much of it they sell and how many other salespeople they recruit. Sounds a little like a pyramid scheme, doesn’t it? Not surprisingly, the Texas Attorney General’s office has taken an interest in Mannatech Inc.’s claims and practices.
But it’s just a sugar pill, you say. What harm can it do? Aside from the expense, I’m concerned some patients will shy away from conventional (evidence-based) treatment in favor of less toxic “natural treatments.”
Indeed, alternative medicine is less toxic. Chemotherapy is poison, after all; cancer cells are less robust compared to healthy cells, so they tend to succumb to the poison, while healthy cells recover. It’s undoubtedly hard for some people to embrace wholeheartedly a concept that seems to have advanced little since the days of leeches and exsanguination. You mean I can cure my cancer and not throw up/lose all my hair/feel like roadkill? Sign me up!
And that’s the problem, of course. At local health food stores, I’ve heard store owners urge their patrons to try this or that “nutriceutical” as a “safe” alternative to their medications. Scary stuff, in my opinion.
Someone will surely bring up the argument: How do you know this won’t work? After all, lack of proof that a treatment is helpful is not proof of uselessness; and traditional medicine, for all its saves, has its share of spectacular failures as well. Maybe we missed something. Maybe that Chinese herbalist down the road knows something I don’t know.
I’ll tell you the same thing I told my friend. I don’t have enormous faith in traditional medicine. Our practitioners are overworked, flawed humans, and our knowledge base has holes you could drive an ambulance through. But I do have faith in the greed of the big pharmaceutical corporations — the profit hunger of the folks at Glaxo, Merck, Abbot Laboratories, Astrazeneca, and so forth. They may not give a damn if some poor African dies of tuberculosis, but are they eager to be the first to market a better drug for breast cancer? You betcha.
Ultimately, what revolts me the most is the fact these alternative medicine — excuse me, nutraceutical — manufacturers are preying upon the hopes and fears of an extremely vulnerable slice of our population. And they’re doing it on the strength of testimonial evidence. That’s criminally negligent . . . but there’s a better, shorter word for it.