Throwing everything but the kitchen sink, quackery-wise, at Ebola


You know how I sometimes lament that I’ve been writing too much about the hijinx of the antivaccine movement, its crimes against reason, science, and medicine? It’s become a bit of a trope around here at times, to the point where, when I bring it up, I tell myself I shouldn’t be repeating myself so often. Then I do it anyway because, heck, this is blogging and it’s impossible to blog for a decade without repeating one’s self. Besides, if I’m to start navel-gazing here in a blog sense, a successful blog actually needs certain repeating tropes, as long as they’re relatively entertaining or reveal something about one’s personality.

This time around, though, it’s not about vaccines. It’s about Ebola quackery.

Look, I get it. Ebola is the story of the day. It’s hot. It’s now. It’s hip. It’s happening. Everyone wants to discuss it, even though the actual risk of its causing any outbreaks here in the U.S. Unfortunately, that “everyone” includes quacks of every variety you can think of: Homeopaths; antivaccine loons; promoters of “auto-urine therapy” (i.e., drinking your own pee), high dose vitamin C, essential oils, and, of course, “natural” biopreparedness kits. Believe it or not, I thought I had heard practically every sort of quackery out there being touted as able to cure Ebola. In retrospect, I was deluding myself. This was driven home when I came across an article by “Dr.” Mark Sircus, Ac., OMD, DM (P) (acupuncturist, doctor of oriental and pastoral medicine), entitled Ebola – Saving Lives with Natural Allopathic Medicine.

My first question was, “What the heck is ‘natural allopathic medicine’?” Sircus is selling an e-book on it for $20.90 a crack. According to Sircus’ website, “natural allopatic medicine” is a “new therapeutic principle that revolutionizes both allopathic and naturopathic medicine offering a radical shift in medical thought and practice” focusing on “pH management, cell voltage, magnesium and iodine medicine, cannabinoid medicine, carbon dioxide medicine, re-mineralization of the body, increasing oxygen transport and oxygenation of the tissues, opening up of blood vessels, saturation and healing of cells with concentrated nutrition via superfoods, breathing retraining, emotional transformation processing, detoxification and removal of heavy metals and radioactive particles.”

Wow. Is there anything that this “natural allopathic medicine” doesn’t involve? And why on earth does Sircus call it “allopathic”? Remember that “allopathy” is a term that the inventer of the quackery known as homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, coined the term “allopathy” as a pejorative term to refer to any “conventional” medicine at the time that was not homeopathy. One would think he would know that and therefore wouldn’t want to take a name that would not appeal to those prone to embracing the pseudoscience that he peddles. I mean, this is the guy who promoted the use of baking soda to treat H1N1, considers cancer to be “tissue rot,” and advocated “stringing up” the scientists at the CDC.

So we know that Sircus and science are connected by, at best, coincidence. We also know that he has some truly odious views when it comes to conspiracy theories and quackery. Now, taking advantage of the media hype over the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and the handful of Ebola cases in the US, he’s advocating similar quackery for Ebola. He begins his article by pointing out that currently the only treatment for Ebola is supportive care, including IV fluids, oxygen and respiratory assistance, antibiotics for secondary infections, medications to encourage clotting when coagulopathy develops, and good nursing care. This is correct, as far as it goes. However, I’m constantly forced to point out that supportive care is medical care. While there is no specific treatment that isn’t experimental targeting the virus itself, nor any vaccine yet to prevent it, that doesn’t mean there is no treatment. It just means that there’s no specific treatment. He then proclaims that it is “nutritional law” that indicates that Ebola patients have “high nutritional requirements that need to be addressed,” stating:

Natural Allopathic Medicine takes a different approach than contemporary medicine. Instead of using toxic pharmaceuticals that diminish the immune system by further driving down nutritional status we use we treat and cure through the fulfillment of nutritional law.

We do not need to develop expensive drugs waiting while millions potentially die. Right in the emergency room are already excellent medicines that doctors are familiar with that save lives every day. Nutritional medicine is safer and more effective than pharmaceutical medicine. Just ask an emergency-room or intensive-care-ward doctor right after he has injected magnesium chloride or sodium bicarbonate to save someone’s life.

Oy. When magnesium chloride or sodium bicarbonate are used in emergency situations, they are not being used for their nutritional value. They are being used for their chemical properties. Magnesium ion has effects on electrical contractility of various muscles. That’s why it’s used to treat certain cardiac arrhythmias in the emergency department and eclampsia in labor and delivery. Sodium bicarbonate is used to acutely reverse severe acidosis, although it tends to be useful mainly as a temporizing measure. The reason for an acidosis is almost always metabolic or respiratory, and until the underlying abnormality is fixed, more bicarbonate will always be needed.

None of this stops Sircus from claiming:

The core of the Natural Allopathic protocol redefines the way emergency room and intensive care should be practiced on Ebola patients with proven fast-acting, safe, concentrated and mostly injectable nutritional medicines. If the Ebola infection truly gets out of hand, it is comforting for parents to know that they can legally administer these same medicinals if infected people are treated at home. All of the Natural Allopathic Medicines can be also taken orally or used transdermally (topically) to almost the same effect if treatment is started early enough.

Yeah, that effect would be nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. At least, Sircus never provides any compelling evidence that they would have such a dramatic effect against Ebola. Not that that stops him from going off the deep end and recommending multiple minerals and vitamines to treat Ebola. In typical quack fashion, he cherry picks papers and experimental data, throws it all together in a sort of plausible stew of speculation, and takes tha speculation to justify his claims. In this, he reminds me very much of some of the antivaccine activists over at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, who do the same sort of thing and think themselves brilliant having “seen” connection that those apparently unimaginative scientists and physicians fail to see. Of course, it never occurs to them that the reason they’ve “failed to see” is because there’s nothing there to see. It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect on steroids.

So, what is Sircus’ answer? Selenium. Vitamin C. Sodium bicarbonate. (Of course!) Vitamin D. Medical marijuana. (Again, of course!) “Infrared therapy.” Glutathione. He also mentions colloidal silver, given that quacks seem to think that colloidal silver is good for everything, at least infectious diseases.

High dose selenium is apparently the legacy of Emmanuel Revici:

The primary symptoms of a cytokine storms are high fever, swelling and redness, extreme fatigue and nausea. In Ebola a combination of factors lead to death so we chose a combination approach that deals with all the factors. In Ebola the immune reaction may be fatal with cytokine storms. To stop the cytokine storms and acute respiratory distress inject selenium or force the world of medicine to produce Dr. Emanuel Revici’s liposomal selenium, which can be administered orally in extraordinarily high dosages, much higher than is available through injections.

Dr. Revici’s greatest discovery was that if we want to deliver a nutrient to a sick cell – attach it to a fat. Unsaturated fats are the ultimate and perfect vehicle to deliver nutrients to stressed cells. This discovery enabled Dr. Revici to package therapeutic minerals, at will, to delivery only to sick cells.

We’ve met Revici before, albeit briefly. He made a name for himself in the world of alternative cancer quackery back in the 1970s and 1980s with what he called his “guided chemotherapy” or “lipid therapy.” It’s based on the idea that cancer is an imbalance between constructive (“anabolic”) and destructive (“catabolic”) body processes. The answer, to Revici, was to administer lipid alcohols, zinc, iron, and caffeine, which he classified as anabolic, and fatty acids, sulfur, selenium, and magnesium, which he classified as catabolic. As described in Quackwatch, his primary “biomarker” was the specific gravity of the urine.

Next up, magnesium:

Magnesium chloride (magnesium oil) has always been and remains my favorite first line medicine that affects overall physiology. Dr. Raul Vergini from Italy says, “Magnesium chloride has a unique healing power on acute viral and bacterial diseases. It cured polio and diphtheria and that was the main subject of my magnesium book. A few grams of magnesium chloride every few hours will clear nearly most acute illnesses, which can be beaten in a few hours. I have seen a lot of flu cases healed in 24-48 hours with 3 grams of magnesium chloride taken every 6-8 hours.” My recommendation would be to follow Dr. Vergini’s suggestion and augmenting that with Transdermal Magnesium Therapy.

Evidence? None, of course! He just presents anecdotes of claimed cures plus claims that it can cure polio and diphtheria.

Because I’ve already discussed vitamin C for Ebola as the quackery that it is before in my usual inimitably detailed fashion, I won’t dwell on the rather long section of Sircus’ article that postulates using ascorbate to cure Ebola. It’s nothing more than the same nonsense. Come to think of it, so are the brief passages on vitamin D, which rely on the same claims that have been going around for a while that vitamin D can cure influenza, or at least prevent it better than the flu vaccine. It’s a claim that was popular five years ago when the H1N1 pandemic was in full spring. It’s just been “repurposed” to treat Ebola now. While it’s true that there is evidence that vitamin D deficiency might predispose to viral infection, there’s no evidence that vitamin D can combat Ebola (or even the flu, for that matter, at least not in the way claimed).

Here’s my favorite, though. Well, Sircus’ paragraph on medical marijuana is amusing, given that it presents exactly zero evidence that cannabis can treat Ebola, instead touting its ability to prevent seizures and convulsions and “anti-oxidative, neuroprotective, immunomodulation, analgesic and anti-inflammatory actions.” That’s nice, albeit exaggerated, as I’ve discussed before.

But, no, for sheer incoherence, the promotion of “infrared therapy” takes the cake:

According to Professor Abo Touru of Nagata University our immune functions are improved by 40% when we increase our body temperature by 1 degree. Infrared heat (light induced heat) relieves pain by expanding blood vessels and increasing blood circulation. Better circulation carries off metabolic waste products and delivers oxygen-rich blood to oxygen depleted cells, reduces pain and speeds up the healing process.

Having BioMats installed in every hospital bed would insure that fewer die from Ebola nor from the avian or any flu. Bathing patients in light and heating their internal environments boosts their metabolism and improve their immune systems. Patients in bed can use low levels of infrared around the clock making them comfortable and dealing with the chills that often come with high fevers.

Just one problem. Most people with Ebola already have high fever. Increasing their body temperature further is unlikely to be of any effect, and there’s no evidence that bathing the patients in light and heating their internal environment more than it’s already been heated by Ebola virus infection will do anything except make the patient even more miserable than he already is from his fever and infection.

All of this leads Sircus to conclude:

Kent Brantly, the Ebola-stricken American doctor who was flown back to the United States from Liberia, “seems to be improving,” Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday. Not everyone is going to die of the disease meaning there is hope and treatments that can increase the odds that one will survive this extremely nasty disease.

Brantly was treated with an experimental drug that has not been tested for safety had to be flown in at subzero temperatures. Though impractical for home use and unproven, it proves this disease can be beaten. Natural Allopathic Medicine offers proven safe medicines immediately available to all.

Got that? Because ZMapp, the humanized monoclonal antibody against the Ebola virus shows promise and might have been responsible for Dr. Brantly’s surviving his Ebola virus disease, that means that the disease can be beaten and therefore…Sircus’ Ebola quackery must work. True, he doesn’t straight out say that it does, but his describing how Brantly survived after having been treated using a new experimental drug before saying that “natural allopathic medicine” is safe and immediately available to all is clearly intended to give the impression that Sircus’ quackery is equivalent to experimental drugs like ZMapp.

If I didn’t have to spend over $20 to get it, I’d be half-tempted to order Sircus’ e-book on “natural allopathic medicine.” Given what a cornucopia of Ebola pseudoscience Sircus is recommending, I’d probably have material for weeks’ worth of blogging. In any case, maybe I’ve finally come to the end of my perusal of Ebola quackery. At least, I hope so. I am, however, under no illusion that there isn’t still more, even more bizarre, quackery being directed at Ebola out there. Sooner or later, I’ll encounter it.