The one area of the web that has as many “self help” and “miracle solutions” newsletters (and marketing teasers) as personal finance is health — the investing newsletters promise eternal wealth, and the health newsletters promise eternal life (or something dang close). Readers ask us about the crazy marketing for these health newsletters all the time, so we’ve found someone who can help answer these questions. His name is Michael Jorrin, we’ll call him “Doc Gumshoe” and he’s a longtime medical writer who can help add a little skepticism and reality to the hype we all see every day. Here’s his first article for you, we’ll try to bring him back on a regular basis if and when there’s interest (so feel free to suggest other topics for the Doc in the comments section below). As with our other guest authors, Michael’s opinions and assertions are his own.
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What’s behind the deep dark plot to keep miracle cures concealed from the public?
We’ve all heard it before. And yet, the temptation to take a peek behind the kimono is hard to resist. Might there just be a grain of truth in this latest claim?
Here’s a web video ad from a newsletter called Logical Health Alternatives that comes close to dangling the promise of eternal life:
It starts with the headline “Poof! 20 million cancer cells gone!” And it goes on from there. The premise is that there is a natural cancer treatment that miraculously exterminates cancer cells by the millions – even billions – with no ill-effects to the patient. And, of course, the implication is that Big Pharma is doing its evil utmost to keep us from finding out about it, because if we knew about the wondrous effects of this natural cure, no one would spend a dime on Big Pharma’s ineffective and dangerous drugs.
The website describes a New York City physician, Dr Fred Pescatore, in glowing terms. Here’s what the spokesperson says:
“I’ve been working in the health publishing industry for nearly 20 years. And yet, never before have I encountered a physician making such breathtaking inroads in natural medicine.
“Exposing the REAL causes behind today’s deadliest threats. And delivering cures so shockingly easy—they boggle the mind! And put ‘modern’ medicine’s high-tech ‘wonder drugs’ to SHAME.
“His name is Fred Pescatore, M.D. Dr. Pescatore is a best-selling author, sought-after medical expert, and trusted physician to hundreds of patients (from around the world) who flock to his high-profile Manhattan clinic.”
The secret remedy that cures cancer and a lot of other diseases is called “Alpha G,” and, according to the website,
“It’s virtually unheard of here in the land of “cut, poison, and burn” cancer care.”
Behind the premise that Big Pharma is threatened by “natural” treatments is an assumption, shared by many, that there is a fundamental distinction between “natural” treatments and pharmaceutical drugs. Let me say, right off the bat, that whatever distinction there is, it’s exceedingly blurry. Many – maybe even most – drugs have origins in natural remedies. Take aspirin.
Aspirin: a Drug Originating in Tree Bark
Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) traces back its source to infusions made from the bark of the willow tree (Salix), which was used to treat aches and pains from the times of Hippocrates, in the fourth century BC. Willow bark was not without its ill effects, however, and practitioners looked around for substitutes that might work as well without the problems, including the bark and leaves of those pretty Spirea bushes. And in the 19th century, chemists found ways to compound the “natural” salicylic acid with other molecules to mitigate the harmful effects, and by the end of the 19th century they arrived at aspirin as we know it today. But it took a lot of tinkering.
Aspirin, some might say, is a miracle drug. It alleviates pain. It brings down fever. It reduces inflammation. And, perhaps most usefully, it inhibits the clumping together of blood platelets, even in very small doses. Because clots formed by blood platelets in small blood vessels in the brain are the cause of strokes, aspirin is a very effective guard against strokes.
But it’s not without its harmful effects. The same mechanism that inhibits platelet clumping can slow blood clotting in other parts of the body. Long-term, high dose aspirin is thought to be an important cause of bleeding in the intestinal tract. In that sense, aspirin is like every other drug. No drug (and no extract from tree bark or any other “natural” substance) is entirely without harmful effects. As the saying goes, “the poison is in the dose.” Too much of anything can be harmful, even deadly.
More Tree Bark Drugs
But let’s go back to drugs that have their origin in natural substances. Quinine was derived from the bark of the chinchona tree, and is effective as a treatment for malaria. Quite a lot of other drugs, such as the quinolones (which include such vital antibiotics as ciprofloxacin and the other floxacins) are molecules with structures similar to the quinine molecule.
One of the recent discoveries along that line was that a compound from the bark of the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolin), called “taxol,” is effective in combating cancer. Cancer cells, like all cells, reproduce by mitosis, or splitting. The process by which they do so is complex, but it involves dividing some of the cancer cell’s crucial components, such as chromosomes and microtubules. A number of drugs can significantly inhibit the process. Taxol-based agents using this mechanism include paclitaxel (Taxol, Bristol Myers Squibb); docetaxel (Taxotere, Sanofi-Aventis), Abraxane (a newer formulation of paclitaxel from Celgene) and others. These agents are now synthesized and no longer require collecting huge amounts of yew bark, which is fortunate, since it was estimated that a single clinical trial might require harvesting hundreds of thousands of these trees.
So, Big Pharma, as well as Little Pharma and Tiny Pharma, are keenly aware of any clues that a “natural” substance might have disease-fighting capabilities. Their eyes are peeled and their noses are to the ground, because from those “natural” remedies might come pharmaceuticals from which they would make billions.
Here’s what the website says about “Alpha G.” I won’t paraphrase it, I’ll quote it directly. Here it is:
“Renowned medical experts spanning the globe have come to a shocking consensus… Alzheimer’s…diabetes…heart disease…impotence…and much more
are all symptoms of…
“The HIDDEN EPIDEMIC of the Baby Boomer Generation
“Researchers call it ‘the single most common thread to premature death’Are you getting our free Daily Update
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“And, astonishingly…no one’s talking about it
“But now you can turn the tide against this stealth killer— with a solution so STUNNINGLY SIMPLE it puts modern medicine to shame!
“High blood pressure…Elevated cholesterol…Problem blood sugar…Bone loss…Sexual dysfunction.
“I’ll bet you know someone taking prescriptions for all these conditions. Maybe you face the avalanche of pill bottles every time you open your own medicine cabinet.
“But let me fill you in on a secret Big Pharma is desperate to keep tightly under wraps…
“Every single one of these sinister syndromes can be tied back to ONE HIDDEN CAUSE.
“In fact, as you’re about to discover inside this exclusive expose…
“There’s almost NO disease or health worry that isn’t directly related to this SECRET HEALTH MINEFIELD
“And in just a moment I’ll tell you how you can get the inside scoop on the jaw-droppingly EASY cure to this hidden cause.
About Alpha G
Okay, so what exactly is Alpha G? It appears to be alpha lipoic acid. This nutritional supplement is widely marketed. However, if you check the on-line sources for Alpha G or alpha lipoic acid, you will not find the kind of claims quoted above – nothing about curing any of the diseases mentioned on the video presentation. Why not?
Because if the marketers of those vitamins and supplements made any health claims, they would run afoul of the FDA. The FDA keeps a sharp eye on health claims of any kind, and especially on claims that a supplement or “nutraceutical” can cure or alleviate a disease. Claims of that kind have to be substantiated by evidence, and for lots and lots of supplements, that requirement is highly inconvenient, because there just isn’t any evidence. So the manufacturers and marketers of these supplements stay away from that dangerous ground. Which means that the claims have to be made by somebody else.
Is it really the case that establishment medicine doesn’t know anything about Alpha G, or is keeping it under wraps lest the availability of this miracle product utterly destroy the health-care establishment as we know it? Hardly. As it happens, if you go to PubMed, which is the website of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Institutes of Hea