Saturday, October 07, 2006

Guilty of peddling fear, hope

This week, an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader was brought to my attention. The article shows how much of an influence the peddlers of false hope can have an an individual's life and the tragic consequences that can have.

The situation is the same method of operation that is used frequently in the health fraud industry. Victims are falsely diagnosed with a variety of illnesses using tests that are not recognised as legitimate. Once the illness is diagnosed, the victims are then sold a treatment that are just as fake as the original diagnosis.

John Curran diagnosed 23 year old Amanda Doumato as having thyroid problems, parasites in her blood and cancer. She stopped payment of $15,000 to John Curran after her family doctor advised her thyroid was fine, there were no parasites and she did not have cancer. What she had was cealiac's disease, which is a digestive condition.

Over 300 people paid John Curran an estimated $1.4 Million for treatments. Many had been told they had parasites in their blood. This is a commonly diagnosed condition that many people hear, yet the only common parasitic blood infection is malaria. Others such as
babesiosis and trypanosomiasis are very rare and only occur in certain areas of the world.

Many people with potentially terminal conditions who follow the poor advice end up dying. What is most disheartening is that they often die still believing that the person who has given them false hope.

This was brought out in alarming clarity by a young cancer sufferer in the linked article by Valarie Honeycutt Spears, part of which is as follows:

Gary Alves, a chiropractor, and his wife, Rhonda, took their daughter Taylor to the top treatment centers in the Northeast when they found that she had a rare form of ovarian cancer. But after surgeries, chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant, physicians told Taylor there was nothing more they could do.

One of Gary Alves' colleagues told them that his father had had good luck with Curran.
As a chiropractor, Gary Alves said, he knew that combining traditional medicine and alternative therapies might boost Taylor's immune system so that she would suffer less.

Curran surprised the Alveses by telling them that he could make Taylor healthy again.
He prescribed a dietary supplement, a green drink that he claimed to have formulated himself. (It was actually commercially available and he bought it from a distributor, prosecutors later learned.) He suggested that Taylor consume only the drink and numerous supplements.
The Alveses gave him $2,400.

"He told her that if she followed the regimen to the letter," Rhonda Alves said, "he could restore her health."

Taylor "had everything to live for," her mother said. "She soaked this up."

A talented and driven young woman, Taylor was an actress, model and filmmaker. HBO had purchased her documentary, The Art of Kissing, when she was 17.

She weighed 95 pounds when she went to Curran and, under his treatment, she lost another 15 pounds. She was losing a pound a day, her mother said.

On May 19, 2002, she ate one bite of a chicken sandwich because her aunt asked her to do it as a birthday present.

Immediately, Taylor blamed herself for breaking the regimen. "I've ruined it," she said.
From that moment until she died two weeks later at age 19, Taylor "blamed herself for her worsening condition," said Rhonda Alves. "I will never forgive John Curran for planting that seed in Taylor."

Alves said that she and Gary didn't initially file a complaint with the board of health because they aren't the kind of people who seek revenge. But she cooperated with authorities when they came across Taylor's case.

"I can still hear my daughter say, 'I ruined it,'" she said. "I can still hear my daughter's voice."
Curran's lengthy sentence was appropriate, said Alves.

"I feel like my daughter's voice has been heard."

Cases like this are what keeps this blog going. If just one person stumbles across this web-site and decides to visit a doctor rather than a naturopath, herbalist, chiropractor or other alternative medicine practirioner and gets the help they need for a serious medical condition, then the hours of work that go into this blog are worth it.

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The existence of belief does not indicate the presence of truth."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Man dies of Selenium overdose

I am often told by supporters of natural medicine that "alternative" or "natural" treatments are safe, simply because they are natural. A reminder that tobacco is a natural herb and uranium a natural mineral is usually all that's needed to point out that natural and safe are not synonymous.

A report written up in the Medical Journal of Australia details the death of a 75 year old male who had a prostate cancer scare. An initial report showed elevated antigens for prostate cancer. Before further test could be completed to verify or exclude the presence of prostate cancer, the man used the internet to see what he could take.

The "natural" supplement he chose to help him with his (as yet unconfirmed) cancer was selenium. A google search for selenium and "prostate cancer" done while writing this blog found 454,000 matches. With that many hits it's easy to understand how he could have determined that selenium can assist with prostate cancer.

Our patient then purchased selenium supplements from 2 different pharmacies. (In Australia, most supplements are sold by the same people licensed to dispense prescription only medications) The National Institutes of Health's tolerable upper intake of selenium is 400 micrograms. Luckily, many supplements are very low in the active element, with glucose being used as a filler. The unlucky man in this case purchased sodium selenite, which is much higher purity at 96%.

After ingesting 10 grams, some 250,000 times greater than the tolerable limit suggested, the man became very ill. He took the selenium at 7:00 am, was in hospital by 10:30 am and despite the best efforts of the medical staff, was deceased by 1:00 pm.

There is growing evidence of a correlation between low selenium levels and prostate cancers. However, there still needs to be further research to confirm the nature of the link and then, if proven, determine what level of selenium is optimal. There also needs to be research to work out how the selenium works and what side effects, if any, may occur. This research is going on in places such as the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo NY and many universities.

It is also important to understand that a substance that may reduce the incidence of cancer will not automatically cure a cancer if taken in large quanitities. Rather than help, this case shows that large amounts of supplements can be deadly. This case shows clearly that natural does not mean safe and that more is not always better.

In all cases where your health is concerned, see your medically trained doctor. Don't try to self-medicate and don't fall for the dangerous belief that natural means effective or even safe. If you are unsure, get a second opinion from another medically trained doctor.

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The existence of belief does not indicate the presence of truth."