In a recent comment on Sunrise Rounds, a reader noted that I was opposed to “Alternative Medicine.” Actually, I do not oppose any idea that has a chance of helping, especially to fight a disease as vile as cancer. I do strongly oppose treatment without evidence or research. However, today a patient asked me about an Alternative method, which I must say was so unique that it might make me change my mind … yes, if this is where Alternative Medicine is headed, I may decide that I am opposed to all of it.
My patient has a blood disorder, which requires regular intravenous therapy. The condition is well described in thousands of published papers and the medicine he is receiving has been proven in hundreds of randomized trials to successfully treat and often cure this disease. While I can add that my partners and I have seen this therapy work in hundreds of patients, it is not necessary, as every major hematologic authority in the world supports what we are doing.
However, after getting three “second” opinions from other hematologists, all of whom supported and recommended the same treatment, the patient and family sought an “Alternative” opinion, this time from a Naturopathic Doctor. The recommendation from this clinician is enlightening.
Naturopathy, a more than 150-year-old system of care, is based on the concept of “vitalism,” the idea that energy forces, not biologic systems, control the body’s organs. There is no objective scientific evidence to support this idea. Naturopathy tends to focus on wellness and lifestyle changes that attempt to support the body’s “innate healing potential,” taking a holistic approach to care. While traditional medical authorities, such as the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute, do not recognize any health benefit for Naturopathy and worry it may distract patients from getting real care, some of the simple interventions which are used, such as exercise, manipulation, balanced nutrition, meditation and avoiding alcohol, may complement oncologic care. However, the advice given to my patient makes my head spin.
My patient was told that he did not have a primary problem with his blood. Rather he had “radiation poisoning” and this was causing a breakdown in his body. How this toxicity was detected, as no tests were performed, was not clear. In addition, how he would have become contaminated with radioactive material was not obvious; he lives in non radioactive Central New Jersey, has never been to a nuclear power plant, has done nothing for which the Russian secret service would want to poison him with polonium -210 and has not taken to digging for or eating uranium. Nonetheless, radiation poisoning was the diagnosis and “fortunately” there was a cure.
The patient was told, on a daily basis, to soak in a hot bath of water. Into the water, he should place several quarts of apple cider vinegar and a prodigious quantity of sea salt. He was to lie in the water until it cooled. The heat would cause the radiation to move to the skin and the brine mixture would draw it out by “osmosis.” The cure was just a supermarket away.
Now wait a moment. Let us talk biology and physics 101. First, radiation is called that because it radiates… it is like light, in a second, it is 186,000 miles away. It does not stay in a person’s body. The only way to stay radioactive is to eat something radioactive … i.e. swallow radioactive dust or rock. While it is clear that my patient did not do this, it is even more ridiculous to think that heat and a salt-vinegar soup could make a radioactive substance migrate through the body and “out the pores.” Osmosis is the movement of fluid, not radioactive metal, and fluid movement by osmosis is absolutely blocked by the outside layer of our skin; if not we would dry up like a raisin when we swim in the ocean. This “diagnosis” and “treatment” is patently ridiculous.
I was more balanced in my answer to our patient. I emphasized to him the importance of continuing his traditional hematologic therapy, as it is very likely to help. I told him that I doubted he had radiation poisoning, as there was no evidence of that horrible condition in our extensive blood testing. Nonetheless, I told him that if he wished it would be OK to take the salt and vinegar hot baths. I doubt it could cause harm. I suggest, however, that perhaps it would be better used for making pickles.