A positive preliminary CAM study, and why we need to study CAM

In an _in vitro_ study, ginger induced death in ovarian cancer cells. Given the amount of time and risk it takes to get a drug from a positive _in vitro_ study to marketing approval, I think we can agree (as the researchers assert) that it will be a long time before doctors send you to the grocery store for your ovarian cancer meds.

What I found even more interesting are the following two statements:

bq. Ginger is effective at controling inflammation, and inflammation contributes to the development of ovarian cancer cells.

I’ve recently become interested in this link, given that I lead a fairly stressful life at this point. The stress response heightens inflammation, and this leads to a cascade of problems. Cancer, too, apparently. Sounds like I should spend several thousand dollars on a vacation rather than chemo. (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not that simple.)


bq. “Patients are using natural products either in place of or in conjunction with chemotherapy, and we don’t know if they work or how they work. We don’t know how the products interact with chemotherapy or other cancer treatments. There’s no good clinical data,” Liu [the primary investigator of the study] says.

Given my recent interest in CAM, I found the above statement intriguing. This researcher is admitting that they _don’t know_ about alternative cancer treatments that people already use, and that there is _no good clinical data_ on cancer CAM use.

Contrast this with a “statement”:http://www.randomjohn.info/wordpress/2006/01/09/prove-it/ made by an editorial accompanying a June 2005 negative report on echinacaea, where the author said that studies should be restricted to “biologically plausible” candidates and falls just short of calling NCCAM an illegitimate organization. Well-known high priest of skepticism Orac “makes his own dig”:http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2006/03/its_worse_than_i_thought.php. Granted, I wish that NCCAM would do smaller dose-ranging studies before launching into larger confirmatory trials to avoid dosing people with unsafe or ineffective doses of a natural product, but I think that the above quote shows exactly why we need such an organization. We _don’t know_, at least in a solid, repeatable sense, what these herbs are doing and how they interact with other interventions. (It’s known that echinacaea does interact with some cancer interventions.)

At any rate, given the current treatments for cancer cause all sorts of nasty side effects (being cytotoxic and all), and that the tolerance for adverse drug reactions is pretty high in the oncology field, I’d say any common product such as ginger that induces cancer cell death, even in a narrow range such as ovarian cancer, ought to be explored.


4 Responses

  1. John,

    I would argue that once cancer has set in, it is difficult to control it effectively even with very potent/toxic medications.

    As I see it, incorporating certain healthy foods/lifestyle choices in your daily regimen might nip a cancerous cell or two in the bud and maybe prevent full blown disease. I dont know how one could design a trial to test for such an effect but for starters one could look at populations which consume ginger, turmeric etc and look at cancer rates in these populations. Of course, the quality of information you gather would be dependent on the historical record of detection rates.

    Also, I was inspired by your yoga blog and started one of my own. I am still in the process of getting set up but stop by if you get a chance.


  2. “…but I think that the above quote shows exactly why we need such an organization.”

    My thoughts exactly! Even though we don’t always know how, natural products can actually be effective cures. Pat often says that whenever he feels bad, he like to shoot a lot of “bullets” and when he feels better, he doesn’t always care which things worked and which didn’t, he just knows that he feels better. Of course, that is very frustrating if you are dealing with recurrent, chronic health conditions. So yes, more study into CAM would be great for everyone!

    There is a little known reference manual that I have been using quite often since I first discovered it several months ago is the “Natural and Alternative Cures” database. (It’s gone by several other names in the past, including “The Natural Pharmacist”, “Natural Health Bible”, and “The Natural Health Encyclopedia”.)

    Steven Bratman, M.D. is the driving force behind this tedious review of thousands of studies on natural substances. Dr. Bratman focuses almost exclusively on double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. He cross-references conditions and natural substances together and gives a fair and balanced assessment based on what evidence is available. (Even a quackbuster “quackbuster” was able to say something good about him: “He is both a strong proponent and vocal critic of alternative treatments. This even-handed approach has made him a trusted party on both sides of the debate.”)

    But I want to address another issue that gives CAM such a black eye. The speed at which CAM marketers/distributors can, and must, move to stay competitive with each other is a bit of a double-edged sword. We can move on news like this so quickly because things like ginger are widely available. If I wanted to, I literally could have a ginger-based “cancer-fighting” supplement on our website within 60 days.

    But because our industry is relatively unregulated (especially compared to Pharma) and it is also littered with so many different companies — most of which are individuals distributing crappy, over-priced MLM products — it’s easy to jump the gun on these studies, throw the cheapest form of ginger you can find into a product and start marketing it as “studies claim that ginger fights cancer”. And if you don’t, your competitors will.

    Here is a relevant comment that we received yesterday from a customer:
    “Alternative Healthcare products belong to a dark unregulated world. Potions & snake oil are elevated by everybody on the bandwagon as miracle cures and their products are always better then the opposition. I believe in alternative medicine but am highly skeptical of all products. I ordered from your website because it is one of the few that looks and acts professional. I like your in depth discussions of the ailment as well as the product and how it works. I do not have to guess what UR dealing with while I am being educated at the same time. But the proof of the pudding is still in the eating and I will reserve judgment of your products after I’ve used them. OK?”

    We ask our customers after they make a purchase what they thought of our website and what made them decide to purchase from us. The answers are always fun to read. So yes, this comment is a bit self-serving, but I believe it represents perfectly the “mind” of a large portion of the marketplace. They like natural stuff, but they hate the way most of us market it!

  3. Hmm…none of my 3 href links worked in my last comment. Here they are again.

    Example of Natural and Alternative Cures database (we’re going to be implementing this onto JigsawHealth.com very soon):

    Dr. Steven Bratman’s website:

    Quackbuster comment on Dr. Bratman:

  4. My only beef with Bratman is that he stopped 😦

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