A year has passed since I posted another version of this column in CuencaHighLife.com.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. But, what’s changed? Time. A year has passed. What has stayed the same? Unfortunately, everything.
The same individuals are using expat e-bulletin boards to promote unproven and possibly dangerous treatments for some very serious diseases and conditions.
A year ago, my client “Jean”, a retiree from California, asked me if I’d seen the advertisements for home visits to “administer colon cleansing, coffee enemas, and vitamin C intravenous injections for cancer.”
Unfortunately, I had seen two different women advertising similar “therapies.” One claimed that she’d lived in the U.S.A. for 23 years, and was a LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) for 18 years.
Another woman advertised “home services for IV injections of vitamin C”, along with injections of B-vitamins. She claimed, “…IV vitamin C in mega-doses is recommended for elimination of toxins, elevation of the immune system, and cell regeneration.”
Jean was pretty incensed. She said, “I know that this is Ecuador and not the U.S., but doesn’t Ecuador have regulations prohibiting just some random person providing “therapies” without a license? And who would agree to this kind of treatment? What kind of person would allow a total stranger to come into their house and inject them with…who knows what?”
Indeed. This is Ecuador, and I am not sure of the laws or limits. It may be a question of enforcement. But it’s not the first time that I’ve seen treatments advertised that in my home state of Florida would be illegal. Hey, I’ve seen similar advertisements in Florida anyway, despite the regulations.
Each state board of health governs the scope of practice for each health profession. Some states allow certain things, others don’t. In New York, for example, LPNs may not independently provide therapy in Home Care Settings. In Florida, a LPN (also known as a “Licensed Vocational Nurse”), cannot assess patients, initiate care plans, or start a blood transfusion.
But in no state in the United States may a LPN diagnose or treat a disease. LPNs may practice only under the direction of a senior provider, including a registered nurse, licensed medical doctor, osteopathic or podiatric physician, or dentist.
So, how is it that an individual from the U.S. with a two-year degree in nursing is diagnosing and treating people in Ecuador — for cancer? And what about intravenous vitamin C therapy, “colon cleanses” and coffee enemas? Is there any evidence that these therapies work? And especially to cure cancer?
It’s a year later, and the same two are at it again, with the same claims. I wonder if they’re the same person?
The claims are as outlandish as ever. One ad claims that IV vitamin C “helps as an alternative to treat and prevent cancer” and “produces more energy and destroy (sic) carcinogenic cells,” plus other claims for “enhanced immunity” and “energy.”
The same woman posts that organic coffee enemas “help to relieve pain in people who have cancer. It goes where the medicine had no effect” and “coffee enemas detox the colon.”
I’m not suggesting that there’s not a place for complementary therapies, as some readers are quick to accuse. But as Timothy Caulfield, a professor at the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta writes, “We have science-based medicine — stuff that works — and stuff that doesn’t.”
When conventional and non-mainstream practices are used together, it’s considered “complementary” and include natural products such as botanicals, vitamins and minerals, and probiotics — all grouped into dietary supplements.
Yoga, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, meditation, massage therapy, acupuncture and relaxation techniques are some of the mind and body practices that may be helpful when delivered by trained professionals.
“Integrative medicine” is bringing the conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. Not willy-nilly.
In Ecuador there is respect for traditional culture and practices, including indigenous medical practices. As noted in TodayinEcuador.com, “the new (Ecuadorian) constitution adopted in 2008 recognizes the validity and importance of ancestral treatments for indigenous communities.”
But “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe and effective.
And some “natural” treatments have no basis in science, and can be dangerous. And when non-mainstream is used in place of conventional, as an “alternative”, then delaying treatment can have dire consequences.
There are many examples in scientific literature about patients delaying treatment in favor of alternative treatments. Depending on the type of cancer, this can hasten death.
A good example is co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs.
A life-long healthy eater, he practiced yoga and meditated daily. He did all the right things, yet was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor. Cancer happens.
He could have been lucky, despite the diagnosis. Had he followed a course of treatment that included removing the tumor, it’s possible that he could have survived for a long time. Instead of the virulent type of pancreatic cancer that afflicts 99% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he had the very rare type, pNET. With treatment including surgical removal of the tumor, the survival rate is 87%.
But, was delaying surgery Jobs’ death knell? Maybe. Maybe not.
As reported in Scientific American, “…because pNET grows so slowly, it’s unlikely that much damage was done either.” Jobs might have lived with the cancer for a long while.
However, Jobs decided to opt for an alternative treatment which involved taxing the body with huge amounts of fructose, aka juice fasts. The fast he chose had him quaffing copious cups of fresh juices daily, eschewing other food groups. In his type of cancer, this encouraged the tumor to grow faster.
And not only was he starving his body of vital nutrients, he forced his already challenged pancreas to produce abnormally and potentially harmful amounts of insulin to cope with the insult of unreasonable amounts of fruit sugar.
Also known as L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, naturally present in many foods, and easily available as a dietary supplement. It’s necessary for a plethora of bodily functions, ranging from a component of collagen to its well known function as an anti-oxidant. We all remember that British soldiers earned their moniker “Limeys” because they discovered adding citrus to their diet conquered inevitable scurvy, the disease caused by chronic vitamin C deficiency. Read more here.
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Dr. Andrew Weil says that although he used to recommend far higher amounts of vitamin C taken orally daily, because of new and well-designed studies that show that higher amounts are not absorbed by the human body, he recommends 200 – 500 mg daily, divided into two doses. Read more here.
The supplements are only recommended if you’re not consuming about 200 – 500 mg of vitamin C daily. And that’s really easy to do. Just a ½ cup of red, sweet pepper has 95 mg; one medium orange – 70 mg, 1 cup cooked broccoli – 102 mg, 1 cup strawberries – 84 mg.
Regarding vitamin C intravenous (IV) therapy:
According to MayoClinic.org, “Interest in using very high doses of vitamin C as a cancer treatment began when it was discovered that some properties of the vitamin may make it toxic to cancer cells. Initial studies in humans had promising results, but these studies were later found to be flawed.
Subsequent well-designed, randomized, controlled trials of vitamin C and cancer found no such treatment benefit. Despite the lack of evidence, alternative medicine practitioners continue to recommend high doses of vitamin C for cancer treatment.
More recently, vitamin C given through a vein (intravenously) has been found to have different effects than vitamin C taken in pill form. This has prompted renewed interest in the use of vitamin C as a cancer treatment.
There’s still no evidence that vitamin C can cure cancer, but researchers are studying whether it might boost the effectiveness of other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Until clinical trials are completed, it’s premature to determine what role, if any, intravenous vitamin C (IVC) may play in the treatment of cancer.”
Colon cleansing and coffee enemas: There’s no science behind enema treatment for anything except as a last resort for constipation, and there’s potential danger. A coffee enema means injecting coffee into the anus, supposedly to cleanse the rectum and large intestines. Some proponents of alternative medicine have claimed that coffee enemas have an anti-cancer effect by “detoxifying” metabolic products of tumors.
Enemas do not eliminate “toxins” from the body, and can have harmful side effects.
Pumping gallons of water into the colon is dangerous: it can wreak havoc with a person’s vital electrolyte levels leading to low potassium and even abnormal heart rhythm, and typically producing cramping, stomach pain, diarrhea, and nausea and vomiting.
Other potentially serious complications of enemas include:
- Perforated bowel leading to serious infections (after all, the bowel is full of good and bad bacteria)
- Kidney problems
- Heart failure
- Infection leading to sepsis
- Severe electrolyte imbalance
- If the coffee is inserted too quickly or is too hot, it could cause internal burning or rectal perforation
- Frequent enemas can result in laxative dependence — your bowel stops working properly, leading to or worsening constipation.
Your liver, kidneys, intestines, lungs, skin and lymphatic system are your own natural detox organs, so keep them healthy with a healthy diet, not smoking, and regular exercise and sleep.
Conventional cancer treatments can be difficult, painful, and are not always successful, but they are a world away from treatments just 10 years ago. Scientists are discovering new and innovative treatments constantly, even at a genetic level.
And, as noted in MayoClinic.org, complimentary cancer treatments can’t cure your cancer, but may help you cope with symptoms caused by cancer and cancer treatments.
But, before you sign on for a “therapy” that involves some random person sticking a needle in your arm or a tube up your rectum, please consider that there are professional, highly trained physicians and health professionals here in Cuenca.
If you have symptoms or a diagnosed disease, see a qualified clinician for an accurate diagnosis, and get a second opinion. Treatment options should be discussed, and alternatives considered. If you are delaying treatment, be sure to be monitored frequently.
Go with your gut, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
DrWeill.com. Overloading on Vitamin C? https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/vitamins/overloading-on-vitamin-c/
MayoClinic.org. Alternative cancer treatments: 10 options to consider.http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer-treatment/art-20047246
Medical News Today. Scurvy: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/155758.php
ScientificAmerican.org. Did Alternative Medicine Extend or Abbreviate Steve Jobs’s Life? https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/alternative-medicine-extend-abbreviate-steve-jobs-life/
The Oncologist. Is There a Role for Oral or Intravenous Ascorbate (Vitamin C) in Treating Patients With Cancer? A Systematic Review. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4319640
Today In Ecuador. Ancestral medicine regains favor in Ecuador. http://www.todayinecuador.com/noticias-ecuador/ancestral-medicine-regains-favor-in-ecuador-580023.html