Cancer Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine

On the magical prevention of pancreatic cancer

I don’t know how I missed this article. I really don’t. It’s over a week old, and it’s exactly the sort of irritating cancer quackery that normally draws me irresistibly to it to slather it in a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence. After all, being a cancer surgeon and all, I really, really hate cancer quackery, even more so than I detest other forms of quackery. I hate it even more when it comes from Mike Adams, creator of, that one-stop shop for all things quackery, anti-vaccine, and conspiracy. Basically, it’s an example of Mike Adams discovering something about cancer biology that scientists have known for decades, hyping it up as though he was the first person to realize it, and then drawing exactly the wrong conclusions about it. This time around, it’s Adams doing what Adams does best (completely misunderstanding science) in a post entitled Pancreatic cancer takes 20 years to grow into detectable tumors – here’s how to halt it today.

Before I go on, in all fairness I should point out that Adams takes a study that appeared in Nature a couple of weeks ago and runs off the cliff into the crazy with it, as only he can. At least, I’m pretty sure this must be the study; as usual, Adams doesn’t cite the actual article or provide a link to the study, but there’s only one recent study in Nature that appears to match the findings that Adams describes. This study, published by investigators at Johns Hopkins and Harvard, reports on the results of experiments in which they sequenced the genomes of seven metastases and compared them to the primary tumors. They found that the clonal populations of cells in the metastates reflected those in the primary tumor. Moreover, by doing a quantitative analysis of the timing of the evolution of pancreatic cancer from precursor lesions to metastases, the authors came up with an estimate that it takes at least a decade between the cancer-initiating mutation and the development of the the parental non-metastatic cell. In other words, there’s a decade between the first major mutation and the first frankly malignant cancer cell. They then estimated that it took the cancer an additional five years to develop the ability to metastasize and that patients usually died within two years after that. Part of the reason this is so interesting is that it provides insights into the biology of pancreatic cancer and why there are almost always metastases (or at least microscopic metastases) by the time the tumor is diagnosed.

Let’s see what Mike Adams can do to this fascinating biology:

This is a huge story for five very important reasons:

Reason #1) The idea thrown around by cancer doctors that cancer is a “spontaneous disease” that strikes randomly and without warning is pure bunk. In order to “get” cancer, you actually have to GROW cancer for two decades! It doesn’t just suddenly appear like magic.

Ugh. Here we go again. Adams thinks that, just because the effects of a random event can take nearly two decades to make themselves manifest as pancreatic cancer, it somehow means that the disease is not “random.” Here’s a hint: The time between the inciting event and the development of a disease is a separate issue. Adams is attacking a massive straw man anyway, as is his wont. No one says that cancer has to “appear like magic.” What science says is that cancer-initiating mutations occur in a stochastic fashion and that it takes more than one mutation to drive a normal cell into becoming cancerous. This is known as the “two hit” or “multiple hit” hypothesis. Also known as the Knudson hypothesis, this hypothesis states that multiple “hits” are required in both oncogenes (genes that, when too active or mutated to become too active, can cause cancer) and tumor suppressor genes (genes that normally keep cell growth in check and, when inactivated, can cause cancer).

Reason #2) When cancer doctors diagnose you with pancreatic cancer and say things like, “Good thing we caught it early!” they are full of bunk yet again. They didn’t catch it early — they caught it late! Almost 20 years too late.

I can’t recall ever having heard a doctor who treats pancreatic cancer say anything like “Good thing we caught it early!” except, perhaps, in a relative fashion, meaning that the tumor is at least still operable. That’s because even small pancreatic cancers that can be completely resected with a pancreaticoduodenectomy (a.k.a. the Whipple operation) will still within five years kill approximately 70-80% of these patients with “completely resected” tumors. Unlike Mike Adams, who apparently thinks that fairy dust and magic supplements will cure or prevent pancreatic cancer, real doctors know that pancreatic cancer is a deadly foe against which we (and the patient) lose far more often than we win. Any physician who takes care of pancreatic cancer patients will tell you how humbling that is. Moreover, contrary to Adams’ implication, real doctors already know that it takes at a minimum several years for pancreatic cancer to reach the point of causing symptoms or even being detectable on imaging.

Next, Adams makes a statement that is, shockingly, semi-reasonable. You know, of course, that that can’t last, and, sure enough, it doesn’t. But, first, let’s see what Adamas says:

Reason #3) If it takes 20 years to grow cancer tumors to the point where you get diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer, then that means you have 20 years to change your lifestyle and stop the cancer!

Well, maybe. Here’s the problem. Well, actually, many problems. In order to stop pancreatic cancer that early, you have to know which specific dietary and lifestyle alterations can halt the progression of cancer, be it pancreatic or another kind. You also have to have a good handle on who’s actually harboring microscopic pancreatic cancer, or else you face the same problem we face with screening patients to detect cancer early and preventative therapies: You have to screen or treat a lot of patients who would never develop the disease in order to detect one cancer or prevent just one patient from getting it, respectively. Unfortunately, whatever Adams claims to the contrary, we don’t have the data to tell us what those interventions should be. For instance, we know that smoking increases the risk of pancreatic cancer; so stopping smoking is a good idea. We don’t, however, know what foods, drugs, or lifestyle alterations, if any, prevent or reverse developing pancreatic cancer.

Adams, of course, thinks that he knows. He claims that eating lots of sugar produces cancer; so you have to stop eating processed sugar in order to stop pancreatic cancer in its tracks. Now, there may well be good reasons to avoid processed sugars, but there’s no good evidence that doing so will cut your risk of pancreatic cancer. The risk factors for pancreatic cancer are pretty well known, too. They include increasing age, cigarette smoking; race (it’s more common in African Americans); diet (there are indications that high meat and fat intake are associated with increased risk, which makes sense because chronic pancreatitis is associated with pancreatic cancer and high fat diets are associated with pancreatitis); cirrhosis; surgery on the upper GI tract; certain chemical exposures (possibly); and known genetic mutations, like BRCA2 and HNPCC. Processed sugar isn’t one of them.

Neither is vitamin D deficiency, although Adams seems to tout that particular vitamin as being a virtual cancer cure-all (or, more appropriate, a cancer prevent-all). While it is true that certain observational studies regarding vitamin D and cancer have suggested a protective effect against cancer. There are even biologically plausible reasons to think that low vitamin D levels are associated with certain cancers and that supplementing vitamin D to boost its levels could well decrease the risk of certain cancers, even though it’s not clear yet whether vitamin D deficiency can cause or contribute to cancer or there are confounding factors that produce the correlations observed thus far. One randomized trial of nearly 1,179 healthy postmenopausal women who took daily supplements of calcium (1,400 mg or 1,500 mg) and vitamin D (25 μg vitamin D, or 1,100 IU) or a placebo for 4 years concluded that te women who took the supplements had a 60 percent lower overall incidence of cancer. Unfortunately, there was no vitamin D-only group, and the primary endpoint of the study was not the incidence of cancer, but rather osteoporotic fractures. Because cancer was not the primary endpoint, it’s hard to tell if this decrease was real, and it is not clear to me whether cancer incidence was an endpoint built into the original study or whether it was tacked on later, after the study was under way. In any case, although it is biologically plausible that vitamin D might decrease the risk of various cancers, it is by no means settled whether it does so or not, for which cancers it does it, and whether there are any risks to long term vitamin D supplementation that might make it less attractive as a preventative strategy. More importantly, even if vitamin D does decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer, it can’t possibly live up to Adams’ claims for it:

If you combine vitamin D and selenium nutrition with other anti-cancer nutrients such as fresh vegetable juice (on a daily basis), omega-3 fatty acids, a wide variety of fresh fruits (including citrus and berries), and even red wine (rich with resveratrol), you will create an internal biological environment in which cancer tumors just can’t grow at all.

This is especially true if you pursue a more alkaline diet that’s rich in vegetables and green foods rather than acidic substances such as sugar, fried foods and caffeine.

Combine all this with some regular exercise, good sleep, stress reduction habits and strict avoidance of cancer-causing chemicals, and you’ve got a recipe for blocking virtually all tumor growth in your body.

Because to Adams everything natural is good and anything “synthetic” is bad. You think I’m exaggerating when I characterize Adams’ views on this matter this way? Wonder no more:

Of course, for all this to work, it is VITAL that you avoid all synthetic chemicals: Do not take pharmaceuticals; do not use conventional perfumes, skin lotions, shampoos or other personal care products; do not use conventional laundry detergents (they’re filled with cancer-causing fragrance chemicals); do not use anti-bacterial soaps; do not cook on nonstick cookware; do not drink fluoride in your water… basically just get all the toxic chemicals out of your house and out of your life.

So let’s recap. According to Mike Adams, if you only get rid of all the processed sugar in your diet, start taking vitamin D supplements, go vegan, and start exercising, you don’t have to worry about pancreatic cancer (or, for that matter, any cancer). It’s so simple! Nothing natural can hurt you and nature doesn’t want you to die of pancreatic cancer. (Well, actually, it doesn’t care if you die of pancreatic cancer. As they say, life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease.) Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with going vegan, except that it’s hard for most people to get adequate nutrition on a vegan diet because it takes a lot of work to do so, particularly to insure adequate protein intake. At the very least, there’s little doubt that eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat is healthier than the average American’s diet. Where Adams goes woo is when he attributes magical properties to these “natural” interventions, claiming that they can completely halt the progression of cancer or even render tissues completely inhospitable to cancer cells that may develop and try to grow there. Would that were true!

The appeal to magic doesn’t stop there, though. To Adams, if you use even a single synthetic chemical, it ruins everything! So powerful are the evil humors contained within “synthetic” chemicals that even a tiny bit will ruin all that natural goodness and lead you to get pancreatic cancer and all sorts of other horrifying diseases. What a wonderful out! If you do what Adams says and get pancreatic cancer anyway, he can just respond that you must have used something with “synthetic” chemicals. After all, unless you move to some remote area of the planet to live off the land, making your own tools, gathering and growing your own food, you will come in contact with those eeeevilll “synthetic” chemicals. It’s unavoidable in modern civilization. Adams’ conception of disease and medicine is the very image of Luddism, but, ironically, even though he would never admit it, his frightening people out of using anything that smacks of “synthetic” chemicals is an implicit admission that natural, whether “better” or not, is definitely not stronger if it can’t withstand even minor contact with them.

In fact, more than anything else, Adam’s “out” reminds me of a similar “out” that psychics and promoters of the paranormal use. Just substitute “skeptic” for those nasty chemicals. So powerful, apparently, is skepticism that even one skeptic can stop a psychic’s powers from working. You have to believe. Similarly, to Adams, so powerful is even a hint of “synthetic chemicals” that it will ruin all that “natural” living and make you sick.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

50 replies on “On the magical prevention of pancreatic cancer”

The fluoride all by itself gives him an out: what are the odds that a person not only is drinking non-fluoridated water at home and wherever they travel, but is buying only products made with non-fluoridated water? Somewhere, there’s an “all natural” proponent ready to argue that the whole thing fell down because, at some point on vacation, the person went into a deli and got a cup of herb tea made with the local, fluoridated tap water. Or a bowl of mushroom-barley soup, ditto.

Adams, like Null, frightens his audience about cancer or another serious illness, then provides a strikingly similar plan to avoid the dread disease ( actually, all disease) : a highly restricted diet ( organic, mostly raw, sugar-free**, possibly vegan), intense exercise, lasting up to an hour, most days of the week, and scheduled relaxation, meditation, or journal writing. Who, other than a flush woo-meister, has the time, money , or obsessiveness to maintain this regime? No problem, if you don’t get enough vegetables or fruit, there are green and red powders. Adams frequently shills “magic foods”, so you’ll feel “protected”. Short on “peace of mind”, relax, they’ve got a DVD. First scare, then sell.

** Null maintains that he was dropped from NYC’s PBS TV station’s pledge drives because a Ms. Rockefellar was on their board. She represents the “sugar lobby”, which had targetted him for his “journalism” about the evils of sugar. Seriously.

Oh, BTW, Adams ( and the other idiot) also sell shampoo, skin care, detergents, water filters, and so on.

In fairness to Mr. Adams (hard as it is to say that) regarding the link between sugar and pancreatic cancer, I recall seeing a study a few months ago where it was found men who drank a lot of pop (or soda for you Americans) had a higher rate of pancreatic cancer, and I believe it was hypothesized that the fluctuations in sugar levels from drinking pop could be a contributor (I’m going from memory here). It was a pretty preliminary result from a limited epidemiological study though – certainly not a definitive conclusion.

@5: ‘Pop’ is used as a term for soda in parts of the United States, actually. Going off the data here (which is admittedly not a scientific survey, although it’s doesn’t strike me as the sort of question that would be quite as vulnerable to selection bias as most web polls), ‘pop’ is more common in the midwest and mountain regions ‘soda’ shows up around New England and California, while the south just uses ‘Coke’ regardless of who actually made the stuff.

Excuse me, in comment #6, that should be “wouldn’t vitamin-D supplements contain those dreaded ‘synthetics'”.

“Of course, for all this to work, it is VITAL that you avoid all synthetic chemicals: Do not take pharmaceuticals; do not use conventional perfumes, skin lotions, shampoos or other personal care products; do not use conventional laundry detergents”

My father-in-law, who founded the chair in Cosmetic Chemistry at London University and who was, at various times, Chief Cosmetic Chemist (in the U.K.) to Max Factor, Revlon, Miners, Gala, Tokalon, Outdoor Girl, (not necessarily in that order) and who tried all new products on himself, first of all and then on his daughter, would laugh in his grave at this nonsense.

We have just had a Member of Parliament disbarred for telling lies. Cannot we declare an embargo on all Internet woo-meisters for the same reason?

According to Mike Adams, if you only get rid of all the processed sugar in your diet, start taking vitamin D supplements, go vegan, and start exercising

You forgot “become a wino”.

To Adams, if you use even a single synthetic chemical, it ruins everything!

So, no steel or tin cookware (or most other metals alloys, really – one wonders how he manages to use a computer without giving himself cancer or all sorts of other nasty diseases), which I guess means only pure copper or iron. Can’t use any soap, really, since saponification synthesizes an alcohol and carboxylic acid salts. Unless he means naturally occurring saponification, such as can happen to corpses (if the conditions are just right). Clothes should be pure cotton, silk, linen or wool; no rayon, polyester or other synthetic fabrics.


Ahh, pop. I haven’t heard that very much since I moved away from the Midwest. I’ve had to alter my language so people would know what I was talking about and now use “soda”.

@ 7:

And sometimes “tonic.” Almost entirely exclusive to Boston (and rare here), for some reason I’ve yet to understand…

Well, I think the only way to be sure is to find a culture that lives as close to the lifestyle Mr. Adams preaches, study them for a 20-year period, and look at their rates of cancer during that period. The hard part would be finding a culture that has anything remotely resembling that lifestyle. Anybody have any clues?

Do Adams and Null, et al, ever notice that lots of really old people eat a fairly ordinary diet (or even a fairly poor diet), drink tap water, use everyday supermarket toiletries, probably smoked at some time in their lives, and don’t exercise beyond a daily walk (if that)? My 89- year-old neighbor is one of them. She just got two stents (her first ever intervention) and feels great–she had wondered why she wasn’t feeling so good before the stents.

I also know of at least two people who subscribed to all of Null’s/Adams’ nostrums and were dead before 50 from cancer–although they were drinking wheat grass juice, visualizing the disappearance of their (metastasized) tumors, and getting all sorts of woo treatments up until the day they died.

Most vitamins if not all are synthetic. Some are synthesized via microbial fermentation, some via reacting two or more petroleum distillates. Vitamin D can be had from somewhat natural sources. Lanolin is a rich source of cholesterol which are exposed to radiation (UV light) and then filtered to get the cholecalciferol. Or cod liver oil.

The biggest problem for a vegan is not protein, that is super easy to get, I’ve met power lifting champions who happen to be vegan, but rather they are limited in their consumption of the Omega 3’s EPA and DHA. Those are beneficial for the heart, eyes, brain etc. The newest research on Omega 3’s is the stabilizing effect it they have on arrhythmia’s. Or something to that effect. However mike adams is a twit, so go figure he would promote a vegan diet and non vegan supplement at the same time.

@ Anthro – I know. But they wouldn’t mention that. The “super” seniors in my own family would hardly be shining examples to the woo-meisters : my father’s favorite snacks were NY Deli-style meats and Nathan’s or Sabrett hotdogs, cheesecake, ice cream, *cheese*, Chinese food ( he cut down on salt after he had already turned 80). My grandmother and aunts were no better- some even smoked.

I wonder what Adams’ rationale is to explain why Adele Davis died of cancer?

Re: pop/soda — where I grew up in the dryland West, it was “soda pop”. Everybody understands that one. *grin*

Lucario (@12), even if you had a population that did everything precisely in accordance with Adams’ guidelines, you could never say for certain whether any deviation from the population mean rate of cancer was caused by the regimen. If you have a group of people that isolated from modern society, they’ve probably got a dozen potential confounding variables that you’d never be able to untangle. Plus, how do you isolate yourself from all synthetic compounds when they’re literally in the air, water, and soil pretty much everywhere? Are we supposed to stick these folks in a bubble for 30 years? Or send them to Mars?

I was thinking the same thing as Rorschach, who asked:

Plus, how do you isolate yourself from all synthetic compounds when they’re literally in the air, water, and soil pretty much everywhere?

His plan is impossible to follow. You cannot escape synthetic chemicals, no matter what you do. So, even if I did buy into his brand of magic, it would be pointless to do as he says. Why waste my time doing part of it, when I can never do the whole thing?

Ah, yes: evil synthetic chemicals.

There’s this lovely Catch-22 here: Adams’ own vitamin D products contain synthetic vitamin D. Oops. Not only that, but vegans have no choice but to use synthetic chemicals, notably vitamin B12. It’s an essential nutrient that is only available from animals, synthesis, or GM cultured bacteria.

Some days you just can’t win.

There’s also always the “out” that (for example) the vitamin C in that organic orange you just ate has still been too close to Big Pharma products – so that it’s chemically identical to the synthetic stuff! Which means that you’re still effectively eating synthetic chemicals, and if you were REALLY dedicated you’d ensure that your vitamin C is clearly distinguishable from the nasty stuff.

I’m kind of wondering how finding a tumor twenty years on somehow means it doesn’t have a start date. Isn’t that kind of like saying if you meet somebody in college they don’t have a birthday, because if they’ve been around a while there can’t have been a time when they weren’t there? (Or maybe what I really mean is that they can’t have a specific conception point.)

I remember one altie that said that cancer is almost always found in people who eat a lot of fast food. Of course the two people in my family who did get cancer never ate the stuff.

I wonder what Adams does to protect himself from all the plastics around him and the chemicals they exude. For his own safety he should at least stop using a keyboard. And no more Tupperware.

I’m a vegan and I get adequate protein from vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and soy(tofu and tempeh). I get b12 injections because supplements never seem to be as effective and getting 1 injection a month is easier than taking a pill every day. My vitamin D is from deadly pharmaceuticals. I get my omega 3’s from flax, walnuts, avocado and a micro-algae derived DHA supplement.

I make sure that 90% of the foods I eat are whole foods and plant-based. That’s my rule of thumb.

It’s difficult dealing with so many quacks promoting a vegan diet but I get by with the use of helpful sites such as this to keep me on my toes about the woo.

Jojo (#18) observes:

“His plan is impossible to follow.”

Precisely! That’s the “quack escape clause” – if your outcome is “sub-optimal’ (e.g. you get cancer), Adams can always claim that you weren’t strict enough in following his plan or that you didn’t start it soon enough.

The quacks have got their marks covered coming and going – if you don’t get cancer (i.e. you die of cardiac disease or are hit by a bus), it was their diet and supplement regimen that “saved” you. If you get cancer, it was your fault because you didn’t follow their insanely complex and difficult regimen carefully enough (or you started it too late). I call this the “heads I win, tails you lose” principle of “alternative” medicine.

Look to see Adams using this as part of his “cover” when people come to him complaining that they got cancer even though they followed his recommendations. He’ll say “Well, this study showed that you needed to start the regimen twenty years ago – you started too late!”

D.C. Sessions,

Vitamin B12 is only produced by bacteria – the B12 in plants and animals originated from bacteria. While vitamin B12 can be synthesised (first reported by RB Woodward in 1973), the industrial production of vitamin B12 is currently done by fermentation using bacteria that “naturally” produce it. There have been a few companies that used genetically modified bacteria – and Sanofi-Aventis may still use them – but the majority is made with “unmodified” bacteria.

I’m not an expert on veganism, but I suspect that since bacteria are not in the kingdom Animalia (they are, in fact, in a completely different domain from animals and plants), they would be acceptable to vegans.


I’m not an expert on veganism, but I suspect that since bacteria are not in the kingdom Animalia (they are, in fact, in a completely different domain from animals and plants), they would be acceptable to vegans.

The bacteria that produce B12 are fussy little critters and don’t grow outside of the guts of ruminants. They can be cultured, but don’t naturally occur in useful quantities on or in plants.

Which is why you won’t find any significant vegan societies in history: being vegan is a high-tech affectation.

Prometheus — you’ve put me in mind of “Money Talks”, by the Alan Parsons Project (on the “Gaudi” album). Here’s the bit I’m thinking of:

But when you get right down to it, no matter what you try
You deal the cards, give the wheel a spin
One day you might get over it but everybody knows
It’s heads you lose and it’s tails they win
Don’t have too much to show for it, that’s the way it goes
You roll the dice and they cash you in

@Ana Observer

I wonder what Adams’ rationale is to explain why Adele Davis died of cancer?

IIRC, Davis’s explanation was that she’d had to have full-body X-rays to get life insurance several decades prior to her death.

For evidence of the delusional bubble that Mike Adams, the Health Deranger lives in, take this article on his wonderful life in Ecuador, free of artificiality and “toxins” (as compared to the nasty old United States).

“In the U.S., your water comes out of a tap, and it’s contaminated with fluoride and chlorine. In Ecuador, it comes out of the GROUND, and it’s contaminated only with living microorganisms. That’s LIVING water vs. DEAD water.”

Apart from the dubious joys of drinking water loaded with “living microorganisms”, Adams seems blissfully unaware of other interesting things that may be in that water he drinks. For one thing, there’s the messy ongoing litigation against Chevron for having dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into Amazon waterways in Ecuador from 1964-1990. The war on drugs has meant defoliant spraying on coca fields along the Colombia-Ecuador border. And Ecuadorean peasants and environmental activists have protested a new mining law that they say will cause further environmental degradation in the country.

It doesn’t sound just like a paradise of unspoiled goodness to me, even if it’s a haven for cranks who spew bad health advice and paranoid ravings about evidence-based medicine.


Even if someone is producing B12 from large fermenters of E. coli or B. subtilis engineered to mass produce the stuff, what are the odds that the bacteria are grown on vegan media? More specifically if it contains tryptone or something along those lines, it’s an animal product. Even if it uses soy-based peptones, you still need to see if they used yeast extract, and if they did what the yeast was grown on.

I know a few vegans (I’m a vegetarian) and most of them eat a bit of cheese or a backyard chicken egg now and then and they are all just fine with no supplements. Very few in my experience are such purists that they’d resort to shots. Maybe my friends are “slacker vegans”, but their concern is more toward the treatment of animals rather than any overarching health concerns.

Dangerous Bacon:

Apart from the dubious joys of drinking water loaded with “living microorganisms”, Adams seems blissfully unaware of other interesting things that may be in that water he drinks.

Now I’m reminded of one of the Discworld books. Nanny Ogg (I think) handed somebody a glass of water from the well, taking a moment to fish out a newt. “Show’s it’s fresh,” she said. The footnote explained that for years, people have taken newts in wells to be a sign that the water is clean, and in all those years, not one of them has asked whether the newts get out of the well to go to the lavatory.

Ive never really been able to comprehend, when the biology of vitamins is quite well understood, including required intakes where the logic sits? Who decided that taking massive overdoses of these industrially produced organic chemicals can somehow address disease processes?? And how can the application of such technology be even vaguely termed ‘natural’?

Looking at the epidemiology of diet and disease causation, one needs to be careful. In humans, diets are all self-selected.

People who drink a lot of fizzy sugar water might do so because they are trying to self-medicate an already poor regulation of blood glucose. Problems with glucose regulation may predate the consumption of fizzy sugar water. Consumption of fizzy sugar water might actually be therapeutic by improving regulation of blood sugar.

Who decided that taking massive overdoses of these industrially produced organic chemicals can somehow address disease processes??

I think for some this idea is based on the belief that back in the golden age before “chemical” fertilizers, pesticides, mechanization and the long term storage and log distance transportation of food, food was much more nutritious since it was always fresh (they never heard of root cellars?).

They also have never heard of Berri Berri, Scurvy, Pellagra, Pernicious Anemia, Goiter or Cretinism. They also never heard of maggoty bread or shit covered streets. Life was so much better….

Just to make sure there are no misconceptions; as far as I have read, protein defiency among vegans is not a problem at all. Being a vegan myself since approximately 4 years, I get my protein from various beans, lentils and nuts (the hard-to-get amino acids that is, almost everything contains protein after all).

But indeed, supplements in the form of artificial B12, Omega 3 derived from algae and perhaps vitamin D is if not necessary then at least highly beneficial. There are examples of vegans getting B12 from dirty vegetables (you know, feces do contain B12…) though they are extremely rare. Advocating a vegan lifestyle and at the same time shunning the advantages of modern chemistry is simply foolish.

Apologies for any spelling errors, english is not my native tounge.

The idea that human diets are “all self-selected” is over-generalizing from our relatively well-off position. I have a wide range of choices for what to have for lunch, because I’m in a big city and I have money to spare. Lots of people are eating, say, beans and tortillas, or mostly rice, day in and day out because that’s what’s available to them.

Similarly, school lunch programs are a good thing, but neither the children nor their parents are making most of the choices there.

Not that the woo-meisters seem much interested in the billions of people who don’t have cash to spare for their supplements, but they do exist, and they are relevant to discussions of human diet and health.

@ #7. Yes, in the south most soda pop is referred to as Co’ Cola; but they do differentiate Se’m Up (7 Up).


Dangerous Bacon points out a Mike Adams howler:

“In the U.S., your water comes out of a tap, and it’s contaminated with fluoride and chlorine. In Ecuador, it comes out of the GROUND, and it’s contaminated only with living microorganisms. That’s LIVING water vs. DEAD water.”

I guess it all depends on what those “living microorganism” are. Shewanella and Pseudomonas aren’t so bad; Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella enterica enterica, serovar Typhi and Escherichia coli O157:H7 – not so good.

John V points out:

“Even if someone is producing B12 from large fermenters of E. coli or B. subtilis engineered to mass produce the stuff, what are the odds that the bacteria are grown on vegan media?”

I guess it depends – the cheapest bacterial media these days is made with casein digests (tryptone and peptone), which isn’t vegan. Not being a vegan, I’d have to ask – would it be considered vegan if the animal-based media were washed off the cells prior to lysis?

For that matter, how “clean” do foods have to be to satisfy vegans of the average stringency? Fruits and vegetables fertilised with manure will have amino acids etc. that were from intestinal cells sloughed off into the manure – would that be enough to cause some vegans to refuse them?

Working on a university campus, I guess I see a lot of this vegetarianism/veganism and other “food purity” movements as a sort of moral/ethical “one-upsmanship”. The few people I know who are vegetarian/vegan because they don’t like meat or because of religious reasons don’t talk about it a lot. The ones who see vegetarianism/veganism as a moral/ethical/political choice can’t stop talking about it.

Shane asks:

“Who decided that taking massive overdoses of these industrially produced organic chemicals can somehow address disease processes??”

I believe that was Linus Pauling. He – and others who have followed him – commited the error of not understanding enzyme kinetics.

In short, if a vitamin is essential in an enzyme-catalysed reaction (and most vitamins are part of enzyme catalysed reations), the rate of that reaction will increase as the concentration of the vitamin (and other reactants) increases – to a point. At some point, even if the supply of the vitamin and other reactants is infinite, the increase in reaction rate will reach a plateau (saturation).

And not every vitamin-dependant reaction in the body runs at maximum speed. Most are limited by either the availability of other reactants or by feed-back control on the enzyme. In addition, it is not always (usually?) optimal for reactions to run at top speed.

Anyway, Pauling got the idea that since vitamin C is essential to human life, more would be better. Unfortunately, taking more vitamin C than is needed simply ends up with vitamin C going out in the urine (unless you take so much that it crystalises in the kidneys). Other vitamins – the fat-soluble vitamins, for instance, are actually quite toxic in excess.


I thought the Vitamin C nuts simply upped the oral dose they took until they exceeded the maximum intestinal absorptive capacity for ascorbate (Vitamin C)- enzyme kinetics again! – and gave themselves an osmotic diarrhea (water staying in the gut to “accompany” all the unabsorbed ascorbate). Then they “back off” the dose a bit until they don’t get diarrhea, which is supposed to set your daily consumption at the absolute maximum that your body can absorb.

Of course, as Prometheus has just noted, the maximum you can TAKE UP from the gut is likely far more than your body can actually MAKE USE OF. The stuff that you take up from the gut but your body can’t “distribute to the cells and use” will come straight out again via your kidneys.

All kind of a waste of money, really. Though I confidently predict the vitamin sales hucksters will be happy to rake the cash in.

All kind of a waste of money, really. Though I confidently predict the vitamin sales hucksters will be happy to rake the cash in.

Indeed, we westerners have the most expensive urine in the world.

In Ecuador, it comes out of the GROUND, and it’s contaminated only with living microorganisms. That’s LIVING water vs. DEAD water.”

Only living microorganisms? Only

I’m just out of a bout of gastro-enteritis – a relatively mild one so probably viral – and dude, I don’t want living microorganisms in my water, ever. Some of these induce diarrhea on the order of 20L of sh*t per day – your insides are literally liquified, while you are left dehydrated, delirious, your throbing kidneys (and the fire burning on your behind) keeping you from finding rest in any position.

kemist – you would agree, throw in some chlorine to do some good old fashioned oxidation to kill the living scum!

As much as I hate redox chemistry, oxidation is still a great approach to killing harmful organisms. So in lieu of drinking peroxide, chlorine will do just fine, thank you.

Having matriculated (and probably micturated) in the shadow of the Coca-Cola world headquarters, I can tell you the word y’all are looking for is “coke.”

As for Adam’s and Null’s diet woo: eat right, exercise, die anyway; so enjoy it while you can.

I’m considering starting a new diet fad called shamanism where you only eat things that have died of supernatural causes.

@46: Another “interesting” application of terms. It reminds me of a gag in a Discworld novel: A professor looks at a sample of a city’s water under a microscope, and says, “Well, with so many living things in it, it must be safe.”
Except, the gag makes more sense.

Nitpicky correction here: The litigation in the Chevron v. Equador case is against Chevron. Any pollution that occurred was under the watch of Texaco, which operated the field until its management was given back to the Equadorian government. Part of Chevron’s argument against Equador is that the original contract stipulated that the Equadorian national oil company was in charge of maintaining the field and cleanup, which they did not do.
Whoever the guilty party, Chevron bought Texaco long after this had happened, but inherited Texaco’s lawsuits.
Like so many issues, it’s not as cut and dry as the pundits or activists would like you to beleive.
I think that the fact that this was even brought up in the comments for a piece criticising the alties for reducing the incredibly complex set of risks and probabilities in cancer prevention to a fallacious but simple model underscores that human impulse is to simplify things…we just need to make sure that our preconceived beleifs don’t influence how we reduce complicated problems.

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