I really love the internet. It makes it really easy to find all sort of information. Unfortunately, its force also makes its weakness: it is very easy to find and spread fake or unfounded information. This is particularly prevalent, unfortunately, when it comes to alternative or holistic health care, and especially when it comes to cancer care.
There’s always been snake oil sellers and witch doctors, but with the internet those came to have a much larger audience than ever before. I believe most of them are well-meaning, badly informed people, so I am only going to give a few red flags as to what to watch for, for your own protection.
The “silver bullet”.
OK, we’ve all seen the ads. “You just have to eat this one weird food and [result you are looking for]”. The truth is, cancer is a multifactorial disease which can take decades to bring people down. Although we have made a lot of progress understanding the condition, we are still at odds to understand its causes completely. And because there is a multitude of reasons behind it, you cannot get one single remedy that will offer complete cure. The best approach is and will always be a comprehensive holistic approach that combines mainstream allopathic medicine, complementary therapies, lifestyle, emotional and dietary modification and so forth. So no, you don’t have to spend five grands on mushroom from the top of the world. You cannot solely rely on that exceptional oil from deep in the jungle, or whatever else is the latest fad. Cover your bases first. Work to change your life and turnaround your health in all of its aspects. Because no supplement will make up for a bad diet or lack of exercise.
Just by principle, somebody who’s going to ask you to sell your house and destitute your kids just to pay their 6-figure treatment price clearly do not have your best interest in mind. And while a very high cost can sometime be warranted in the case of experimental technology, it is definitely another important red flag.
In fact, if 12 years in business have taught me anything, it is that price and value are two different and often uncorrelated things. A high price is not always a sign of performance, and some companies abuse this by putting a high price tag in order to create the expectation of quality.
The secret / conspiracy thing.
Now, there is sometime some legitimacy in this approach. Yes, there are very powerful lobbies out-there, which have no interest in their little affairs being exposed or terminated. Yes, those groups machinate to force everyone to buy their unhealthy stuff (hello Monsanto). The sugar conspiracy is a good recent example of how deep this runs, and how pervert an effect this kind of groups can have. However, if somebody is trying to sell you “the cure that is suppressed by [insert any institution name]”, you have to ask yourself first: is there a good reason that was suppressed in the first place? A good example is Laetrile, a toxic compound which converts into cyanide in the body (not a vitamin), and which has sent several people to the emergency room. Why would one refuse chemo on the ground that it is toxic, and go for something that is equally toxic, unmonitored and unsupported by all medical personnel and with virtually no science behind it?
The “everybody else is wrong” meme.
There are lone geniuses, and there are those who pretend to be. Typically, this kind of fraud is led by people who have complex theories about their subject, they will pepper their conversation with scientific-sounding words, but are easily disproved. Some will invent themselves a career and a title, pretend to have spent years in research, and even write books about it. It could be that they had an idea and some good intention at first, but then got trapped in the wrong theory and couldn’t face the reputation hit that going back on what they said would imply. A good example of this kind of quack is Batmanghelidj’s water cure.
Here is how to protect yourself: anybody who is suggesting you should always discontinue mainstream treatment even if it holds good promises, and who claims he or she’s got the only one real approach that works, that person is going to be wrong.
People who want to disconnect you from your families, friends and spiritual support.
Huge red flag here, and consistent with the way sects brainwash the unfortunate who fall for them. In fact, there are some very real cases of sectarian alternative health group, such as the “universal medicine” of Serge Benhayon. Other red flags in the same category include: a strong personality cult, repeated spiritual or esoteric statements, weird beliefs about health and sex, and always a very high financial cost.
Is faith healing (spiritual healing) real?
There’s nothing wrong about believing that you may receive help from God, or the Universe, or a supreme being. In fact, having faith in something is probably a lot healthier than the opposite. There are anecdotal reports of miraculous healing. And by nature, you can’t prove or disprove the supernatural (because, eh, it’s above nature). Philosophically however, you have to accept that, almost by definition, you can’t, CAN’T, force the hand of God / the Universe / any supreme being. And if anybody is selling you the opposite, it’s best to dismiss that person.
What about energy healing?
This is something that comes up very often in the complementary healthcare world. It sounds very “eastern philosophy” and there “must have a long tradition behind it”. As a physicist, sometime my hair rises due to how much the word “energy” gets abused. So please humour me with a little bit of scientific score-setting.
What is “energy”? Energy is not a thing, and it’s definitely not a field either. You can’t directly move or sense energy. Energy is a characteristic of an object at a particular point in space and time. For instance, a moving car has a kinetic energy due to its movement. The petrol you put in your car has a chemical energy that gets released when it gets burned in the engine. The body doesn’t have an “energy sensor”, and there is no such thing as an “energy flow” or “energy blockage”.
Now, that doesn’t mean that “energy healing” doesn’t work. In fact, I have used some that broadly fit into that category with good effect. So overall, I’m open to the possibility that “energy healing” could work, but it should be called something else, and more investigation is warranted.
My personal intuition, and I have no proof of what I’m saying here, is that “energy healing” is a form of spiritual healing.
Is Mind over Body real?
Here it is easy to fall into controversies because people put different things in this subject. At one extreme, yes, mind has a tremendous power over your body. If you think of getting up and going, your mind is telling your body to go, and your body responds to your mind. So, in the most trivial sense your mind will affect your body. On the other end of the spectrum, it is quite clear that you may think all you want about bending the spoon or levitating in the air, it just ain’t gonna happen. And in-between those extreme, yes it is possible to modify the perception of pain through hypnosis or even potentially affect the immune system. But you are not going to think your tumour away and anyone who tells you so is not giving you the respect you deserve.
The occult arts…
At the fringe of the complementary therapies one can find people practising channelling, divination, tarot or card reading, spiritism, magic, esoteric or occult arts, voodoo and so forth. Here we have thoroughly departed the realms of science-based intervention and got into dark beliefs. The problem is that most mainstream religions have criticised such approach in no uncertain terms. So while there is no proof that such approach does offer health benefits, what would be the advantage of hypothetically gaining a few years in this life if you were to go in a worse place in the next?