What motivates alternative health zealots?

Not that all alternative health practitioners are zealots, mind, but some certainly are.

Not an awful lot of outrage here, more a sort of bafflement seasoned with a faint hopelessness with a tasteful garnish of “What the fuck?”

First things first, go have a quick read of this article, conservatively titled ‘Chemotherapy a Fraud?’. Now, as this is an alternative health publication, we know this question is entirely rhetorical and, sure enough, the answer is provided in the second paragraph. Apparently:

Secondly, go have a quick read of this. It’s the study on which these conclusions are based which, oddly enough, the article’s author didn’t think to cite. Well, if we look at what the study actually says, it turns out that the conclusions drawn are, shall we say, a little overstated. The study says:

I’ve edited it for space, but I urge you to read the whole thing. It’s very short.

What this says to me (and please, do correct me if I’m wrong) is that chemo encourages the release of WNT16B in cells neighbouring the malignancy. WNT16B has the unfortunate side effect of offering protection to the cancer cells, shielding them from subsequent doses of chemo. WNT16B, in other words, is basically like a park keeper which encourages grass to grow by stopping people from walking on it. I think I have that right. Again, correct me if I’m wrong.

So, now that’s (hopefully) clear, let’s look at the sins of the “alternative” article.

  1. The author talks about cancer as though it is one disease. It’s not. It’s actually an umbrella term for about 200 different diseases which share similar characteristics. Chemo is extremely effective against some of these diseases (particularly lymph cancers like leukemia) but not so effective against others. When the article’s author says ” Chemotherapy does not actually treat or cure cancer at all, according to the study’s findings, but rather fuels the growth and spread of cancer cells” without specifying which cancers he’s talking about, he risks giving the impression to people with leukemia that chemo will make them worse when, in fact, all the available evidence clearly indicates it will tend to make them better. The worst thing is that he is clearly aware that the study focused on prostate cancer cells (he says so in the first paragraph) but he then generalizes outwards without evidence and starts talking about all cancers (which, of course, he refers to with the umbrella term “cancer” as though all cancers were the same)

  2. He doesn’t mention that chemo is (and again, please correct me if I’m wrong) virtually never used in prostate cancer victims with curative intent. As I understand it (and I’ve read around but am emphatically not an expert), chemo is used in prostate cancer only when the first line treatments of hormone therapy have failed and the cancer has spread to other organs. In other words, it is only used once the patient is terminal and then only to buy more time. The “alternative” article clearly implies that chemo is somehow “expected” to cure prostate cancer as though that’s what mainstream oncologists actually tell people. As far as I can tell, this is not the case.

  3. He says stupid shit like this:

“Avoiding chemotherapy improves health outcomes, suggests research”

This research, obviously, is uncited. It is certainly not supported by the study under discussion. The study was designed to understand why chemo loses its effectiveness in prostate cancer victims. To lose effectiveness, it must first be at least marginally effective. It must, in other words, be better than nothing. The author advises people to instead try Gerson Therapy and medical marijuana. Now, as far as I know, medical marijuana is only useful for fighting the symptoms of cancer. To the best of my knowledge it has no curative capabilities whatsoever. As for Gerson Therapy…well, it’s been roundly debunked by every major cancer research organization and all the available evidence suggests it will actually make you worse. You are, in other words, better off trying nothing at all than Gerson Therapy.

  1. He finally says this “What this means, for all intents and purposes, is that the entire process of chemotherapy is completely worthless, and is actually highly detrimental for cancer patients.”

Now, given that he’s had to misrepresent the fuck out of the study he’s writing about to even make it past his second paragraph, and given that I don’t think any vaguely intellectually honest person could possibly have done this by accident (YMMV but I’m sticking to that judgment) I struggle to understand what could possibly motivate someone to make such an outrageously untrue statement, other than a latent desire to kill people vicariously through the dissemination of patently false medical info.

I’m trying my best to be charitable but really, given the amount of flagrant bullshit in this article, given the amount of nonsense that five minutes of research should clear up, it’s a tempting explanation. Of course, it could be that he just doesn’t care about the truth or people’s health and just wants people to read his stupid blog. Other than that, I’m struggling to come up with a credible motivation.

So, I ask you, what do you think motivates these people? Why are they so devoted to spreading such unreasonable, poorly researched, factually vacant, and ultimately dangerous nonsense?

P.S. - This is hardly a one off. Check out these links:

Natural News: Study Accidentally Exposes Chemo As Fraud

Paranoid News: Would You Like Some Cancer To Go With That?

NYDaily News: Shock Study. Chemo Can Backfire And Make Cancer Worse.

Now, I’m not fool enough to think a cite called ‘Paranoid News’ represents mainstream alternative thinking (if that’s not a contradiction) but natural news certainly does. I’m not familiar with NYDaily News, and the article seems marginally more moderate than the others, but even they make the mistake of referring to all cancers as though they were one disease without mentioning that chemo is enormously and unambiguously effective in a great many of them. Seriously, how do these fucking people live with themselves?

It’s a psychological defense mechanism to give one the feeling that their health is under their control. It stems from one of three things:

  1. I can’t/won’t get health insurance (because I can’t/won’t get a job, or have pre-existing conditions)
  2. I have a chronic condition and have not gotten the answers I wanted from so-called “western medicine” (probably because it’s psychosomatic, but I don’t want to admit that).
  3. I’m a health freak and have enough money to shell out $50 for a bottle of fish penis extract, which appears to work because I have airtight medical care that is probably treating my illnesses just fine. I’m not about to discontinue either one to see which one works, because honestly who cares, and I have a bit of an “alternative” image I like to maintain anyway.

So there you have it.

  1. The naturalistic fallacy

  2. Alternative health is sold via a hard sell with a soft touch.

  3. Real medicine tends to be brutal - it tries not to hide side effects, it doesn’t give you speeches about how your are a super-special spirit, it tries to solve the problem

AH also loves to throw out platitudes like ‘Western Medicine only treats the symptoms!’ (Which is why my doctor tells me to smoke and gain weight). It loves to use terms like ‘boost your immune system!’ (yeah, that means my body will start attacking itself kids) or ‘purge your body of toxins’ (I have liver & kidneys for that, thank you why don’t you balance my humours while you are at it) - these are all bullshit but they sound good.

After a while, one because invested in it, so you just start seeing what you want to see, etc.

I sent the site behind the article a friendly message:

…Lessee how this goes.

Prepare to be called a pharma-shill or worse.

One cup of tin foil hat
1/4 cup of big company fear and hate (see also monsanto)

and season with nature words and new age belief to taste

What baffles me are people who distrust “Big Pharma” because of their profit motives, but will gladly shell out extra money for herbal-organic-toxin-purging-whateverthefuck. The cognitive dissonance that allows such double-think is astounding.

And that’s the other thing that motivates alternative health purveyors; there’s big money in it.

I love the other articles on the linked site. Pringles are cancer-in-a-can. Kashi is poison. (Of all things, Kashi? Really?)

Are you implying that Retro-Phrenology is a sham?

Yeah, this. A lot of denial of mental illness, too (many fake health conditions are attempts to take a real one, depression, and try to find some below-the-neck cause for it). Don’t forget general paranoia about science from either the granola left or the Christian right.

“Random bad things only happen to other people. They can’t happen to me because I know magic.”

Anti-vaxxers love to scream about how “Big pharma” rakes in the profits because so many vaccines are given (needlessly, according to their dementia). In reality, the number of Pharmaceutical companies actually making vaccines has been dropping like a stone since they aren’t high margin items and are a pain in the ass to produce, test, and distribute.

What? I bet that smallpox vaccine brings in tons of $$ every year!!

They’re also a bunch of conspiracy nuts. They believe the big, evil, for-profit pharmaceutical companies are actively “suppressing” alternative medicine because they know it works, and it threatens their bottom line.

Speaking of this, and I apologize for the hijack, but what is the deal with fibromyalgia? Three acquaintances have told me they suffer from it. (Not sure if it’s relevant, but each is female, over 50 years old, and a bit flakey & loopy.) Is it is a real thing?

A few of other reasons that I don’t think have been mentions:

There is a feeling of superiority of being one of the few non-sheep who knows the truth, the same thing that motivates other conspiracy theorists .

People trust their friends and neighbors anecdotal evidence more than they do experts because they know them personally, or at least can relate to them. This is the reason for those ads “Hear the hidden secret that a woman from <<your town>> learned about weight loss!”

Medicine is a science of probabilities not certainties, so it may be that someone who takes prescribed therapy doesn’t get better, and also possible that someone who takes a quack remedy (usually along with prescribed therapy) does unusually well.

The combination of this with trusting local friends leads to combining the anecdotes of “My mother took chemotherapy for her Large Cell lymphoma” and it made her sicker and didn’t do a bit of good, but my cousin took extract of wormwood for here Mantle cell lymphoma and even though the doctors only gave her 6 months to live shes still riding a bike to work 10 years later.

Forget chemo, they’ve also blown the lid off the scandal that Pringles (the supernaturally uniform hyperbolic paraboloid chips that are packaged neatly stacked in cardboard cans) aren’t actually natural slices of potato! But just like potato chips, they’re packed with cancer because when food is cooked, it creates “heat-induced toxins”! Solution: eat everything raw, including eggs!

Yes and no,

I’m no expert but since my wife has a disease with symptoms that lie on the extremely high end of Fibromyalgia I’ve spent some time researching it.

Fibromyalgia is more a list of symptoms than it is a disease, and most of those symptoms are subjective such as pain and fatigue. Its not clearly understood what the causes are and so it could be a number of different diseases with different mechanisms leading to the same set of symptoms. It is definitely the case that there are people who really suffer from diseases that produce fibromyalgia symptoms. But since it is so subjective it is also easy for a person who feels the natural fatigue and pain that comes with age convincing themselves they have fibromyalgia.

Raw chicken is the BEST chicken! Salmonella is a fake illness created by Big Agro.

It is recognized by the NIH as a “real thing” but there is lots of controversy over the causes of it and the nature of it. Wikipedia says: