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incoming woo - 'stabilised liquid oxygen' & other nonsense

A letter in our local free newspaper caught my eye tonight. Along with the rather outrageous statement that medical pharmaceuticals are 'just toxic pills and potions' pushed as medicines by marketing types (sorry, what? Does this person really think that drug companies & doctors are out to poison people?), there were some other interesting claims that I just couldn't resist...

Hmm, where to start? For example, the writer claimed that Doctors don't even know airborne viruses can be killed simply by burning essential oils - those who worked in perfume factories survived the plagues that killed millions.

Well, contrary to what the letter-writer thinks (in company with many others, judging by some of the on-line material I've seen), doctors and pharmaceutical companies really are interested in curing people when they can, & alleviating suffering if they can't. It seems a little strange , if burning essential oils really does do the trick with viruses, that there isn't an active research program underway to harness this. And when I did a search of the literature, I found that this is indeed happening - that medical researchers are looking into the value of essential oils as anti-virals. In some cases some oils have quite pronounced anti-viral effects in vitro, but the hows & whys have yet to be sorted out. So there isn't really some major conspiracy by doctors & pharmaceutical companies to hide lifesaving treatment - they're doing the work needed to find out what works, & why. (But I suppose, since they aren't actually burning the oils, that this doesn't really count.)

(The bit about the perfume factories is simply a red herring - what plagues, when, & where? And where are the data?)

Or how's this? Doctors are living in the dark ages, they still can't cure infections, their poisonous antibiotics working less as superbugs thrive. Doctors can't cure infections, huh? What about the Nobel-winning success story involving Helicobacter pylori? Routine treatment of urinary tract infections, glue ear, athlete's foot, strep throat, syphilis... A lot of people would be very sick, or very dead, in the absence of antibiotics. Yes, we do have a problem with the evolution of multiple-drug-resistant 'superbugs', due to the misuse of antibiotics. And doctors were among the first to recognise this - & also to work towards minimising further risks by changing prescription practices & improving patient education. And yes, antibiotics can be toxic - in the wrong doses. Dose is important. (Equally, natural remedies can be toxic in the wrong quantities - borage, tansy, foxglove & belladonna spring to mind.)

And there have been no deaths by natural remedies in New Zealand. If we take one 'natural remedy', homeopathy, as an example, this is hardly surprising. After all, homeopathic 'remedies' are essentially water (or sugar pills); you need to drink quite a lot of water to get to the point where it's harmful. And anyway - how do we know there have been no deaths? How can we verify that claim? Where are the data to support it? Randomised double-blinded controlled data would be good - both for the 'no deaths' claim and for evidence of cures.

But the statement that nearly had me spraying green tea over the paper was the characterisation of sodium chlorite as 'stabilised liquid oxygen' (used, says the letter-writer, in combination with echinacea & vitamin C, to cure 'any type of infection'). R-i-i-ght.

Oxygen is usually a gas. Like other common gases, if you want to get it into the liquid phase, you have to chill & compress it. And in that state, it comes in pressurised cylinders & it's cold indeed - the boiling point of liquid oxygen (above which it becomes gaseous again) is -183 degrees Celsius. Sodium chlorite is a strong oxidising agent, most commonly used to generate chlorine dioxide for bleaching paper. One thing it's not, is liquid oxygen. (Rather surprisingly, given the regard the letter writer has for it as part of a 'natural' treatment for all that ails you, the process used to generate sodium chlorite is a long long way from 'natural'...)

 

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Regarding the claim that natural remedies have not caused death, I agree that this is a claim that is difficult to verify. It also depends on what you mean by "caused", I would argue that even if the treatment itself is harmless the lack of conventional medical care could end in death. I found this case through the What's the Harm? website (www.whatstheharm.net):

http://nzsm.spis.co.nz/article700.htm

that mentions a child's death from meningitis due to the mother giving her homoeopathic remedies and delaying medical care. Although an anecdote it does highlight that even if a remedy is involved in a fatality the chance that it will be listed as cause of death is minimal.

I couldn't agree more.

Can you remember why the initiative to control the advertising on "health products" was dropped? I thought the idea was not banning or regulating the products themselves, but controlling the advertising about them, so that they couldn't advertise benefits that they couldn't demonstrate that the product had.

I have an idea it was put in the 'too-hard' basket - due in part to the vociferous protests from the 'we want our natural health products' lobby. A pity, as it would have protected them from the unscrupulous advertisers without actually limiting access to the products themselves... (I saw your comment over at Orac's, too.)

I read the letter last night (a little late I know) but wow, someone greeted the day with steaming hot cup of crazy.

"(sorry, what? Does this person really think that drug companies & doctors are out to poison people?)"

Of course they are. Why don't you open your eyes?:

http://www.3news.co.nz/Living-Proof/tabid/371/articleID/171328/Default.aspx

and surely you must understand that the only health remedies that get seriously studied are the ones that can be patented and return a profit for the cost of the study.

Translation: Pharmac who subsidizes NZ pharm costs by the billion has no specific dept to seek the safest and most effective remedies, but they certainly know that the medical trial system doesn't attract the safest and most effective remedies.

You can have the best research formula in the world, but if you are not looking for the safest and most effective remedy in the first place, whatever you randomised double blind study delivers is still going to be a huge compromise, if not a lethal one.

So, you seem to be seriously suggesting that pharmaceutical companies are interested only in putting 'a remedy' on the market, rather than worrying about safety & efficacy. You're also impugning the ethics of an awful lot of researchers in suggesting that they are not looking for safe & effective remedies. What evidence do you have to support that assertion? (Hint: TV programs don't count.)

So TV programs don't count eh?-Your high and mighty airs are an immediate concern.
So you have alot more integrity than a good reporter eh?
And you would have pulled the life support off Alan Smith and deprived him of Vitamin C eh?

"""So, you seem to be seriously suggesting that pharmaceutical companies are interested only in putting 'a remedy' on the market, rather than worrying about safety & efficacy. You're also impugning the ethics of an awful lot of researchers in suggesting that they are not looking for safe & effective remedies. What evidence do you have to support that assertion? (Hint: TV programs don't count.)"""

Not just suggesting, stating categorically.

I am staggered by your naivety, or is it just lazy academic conformity?

If there was such a thing as genuine randomized double blind studies or rigorous peer reviewed science then we wouldn't have the THalidomide, Vioxx, HRT debacles would we?

And we would have mandatory reporting of adverse drug reactions.

The easiest way to solve this is for you to to ask Pharmac for any studies and more importantly any Literature reviews that show they have exercised due diligence in funding the safest and most effective medicines for dis/ease.

No, they don't. They tend to push a particular point of view & are designed to attract & keep view interest, as much as they are to inform. Nor is the issue one of relative personal integrity - it's a more a question of whether or not a reporter has the time & the skills to dig into & understand the science underlying a story. (This is highlighted by a recent piece of credulous reporting around children's so-called 'psychic' abilities, in the NZ Herald.)

Funny you should mention Vioxx, HRT & so on - since in all cases it was science that identified the problems & scientists who raised the alarm.

I see you avoid the question of whether you would have pulled the life support off Alan Smith and deprived him of Vitamin C?

You say: ""Funny you should mention Vioxx, HRT & so on - since in all cases it was science that identified the problems & scientists who raised the alarm""

Bulls--t It was independent women who did the HRT expose.


If there was any Real Science in place this skulduggery wouldn't be happening:

..."Merck was ordered to pay his widow $253m in damages after the jury heard testimony that Vioxx had been rushed on to the market without proper testing and that doctors had not been told of the potential risks of the drug."

Well, actually, I'd rather you weren't trying to derail the topic of this particular post to push your views on a separate issue. I didn't write anything about vitamin C; I wrote about the pseudoscientific nonsense known as 'stabilised liquid oxygen'.

But since you seem keen to pursue it - your question around pulling life support is along the lines of 'have you stopped beating your wife' ie it doesn't really matter how I answer it, I can't give the 'right' answer. The Alan Smith case is an example of an anecdote, in the same way that Sir Paul Callaghan's comments on the efficacy of vitamin C are anecdote; neither of them really adds anything to the scientific knowledge around its potential or lack thereof.

On the Vioxx thing - you seem to be conflating the science-based work on the drug with any decision by the company's marketing arm to rush it out. There is a difference.

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