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What a surprise: study found that prayer won’t cure AIDS

What a surprise: study found that prayer won’t cure AIDS

The Chicago Tribune today carries a shocking report detailing the amount of taxpayers’ money used to fund studies into quack therapies in the US.

For example, scientists were given $666,000 in federal research money to investigate whether distant prayer could heal AIDS. They found it could not.

And a study that cost $374,000 found that inhaling lemon and lavender scents doesn’t do a lot for our ability to heal a wound.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine also helped pay scientists to study whether squirting brewed coffee into someone’s intestines can help treat pancreatic cancer (a $406,000 grant) and whether massage makes people with advanced cancer feel better ($1.25 million). The coffee enemas did not help. The massage did.

NCCAM also has invested in studies of various forms of energy healing, including one based on the ideas of a self-described “healer, clairvoyant and medicine woman” who says her children inspired her to learn to read auras. The cost for that was $104,000.

A small, little-known branch of the National Institutes of Health, NCCAM was launched a dozen years ago to study alternative treatments used by the public but not accepted by mainstream medicine. Since its birth, the center has spent $1.4 billion, most of it on research.

A Tribune examination of hundreds of NCCAM grants, dozens of scientific papers, 12 years of NCCAM documents and advisory council meeting minutes found that the center has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on studies with questionable grounding in science. The cancer treatment involving coffee enemas was based on an idea from the early 1900s, and patients who chose to undergo the risky regimen lived an average of just four months.

The spending comes as competition for public research money is fierce and expected to get fiercer, with funding for the NIH expected to plateau and even drop in coming years.

Said Dr Wallace Sampson, clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford University:

Some of these treatments were just distinctly made up out of people’s imaginations.

And Dr David Gorski, a breast cancer researcher at Wayne State University, who has been a vocal critic of NCCAM, said:

How can we justify wasting money on something like this when there are so many other things that are much more plausible and much more likely to result in real benefit? Lots of good science and good scientists are going unfunded.

The director of the center and other advocates say it is worthwhile to use taxpayer dollars to study certain alternative treatments.

“They deserve scientific attention,” said NCCAM Director Dr Josephine Briggs, who noted that the center’s $128 million annual allotment amounts to less than half a percent of the total NIH budget.

Studies of energy healing or distant prayer likely would not get funded by NCCAM today, she added.

Yet many mind and body treatments that are being studied, like qigong and acupuncture, also involve the purported manipulation of “a universal energy or life force”, sometimes called qi — metaphysical concepts unproved by science and incompatible with our modern understanding of how the body works.

Americans spend about $34 billion each year out of pocket on complementary and alternative therapies, according to a national survey conducted in 2007 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey found that about 40 percent of American adults reported using some sort of alternative treatment in the previous year. Mostly they reported taking supplements; practicing deep breathing exercises; going to a chiropractor or osteopath for spinal manipulation; meditating; or getting massages.

Finding out through well-designed scientific studies whether these treatments work is a valuable service, said neurologist Dr Steven DeKosky, who sits on the NCCAM advisory council and is dean of the University of Virginia medical school. He said:

I don’t know who else would do that other than NCCAM.

DeKosky headed a $36.5 million study, including $25 million from NCCAM, on ginkgo biloba, a popular supplement taken as a defense against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. DeKosky’s study concluded that it did not lower the overall incidence rate of either condition in elderly people who were normal or already had mild cognitive impairment.

In the fiscal years 2002 and 2003, NCCAM helped fund a study with the National Cancer Institute of an arduous regimen for pancreatic cancer that is best known for frequent “detoxifying” coffee enemas.

The research design pitted standard chemotherapy against a regimen developed by Dr Nicholas Gonzalez, a New York City physician. In the study, volunteers on the Gonzalez protocol were to take dozens of supplements each day, including between 69 and 81 capsules of pancreatic enzymes; undergo twice-daily coffee enemas; maintain a strict diet; and engage in other “detoxifying” activities like “skin brushing.”

There was little scientific evidence to suggest all of this would work other than a paper Gonzalez published in 1999 on a pilot study of 11 pancreatic cancer patients.

Since then coffee enemas have been linked to infections and electrolyte imbalances that can be fatal.

Despite the risks and the lack of evidence that the regimen would help patients, the taxpayer-funded study enrolled 55 volunteers with pancreatic cancer.

In 2010 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology published a study that found that patients receiving standard chemotherapy had lived an average of 14 months. The Gonzalez patients lived an average of four months, and were in significantly more pain.

Today, patients continue to stream in to see Gonzalez about his cancer treatment. In the end, the study changed few minds and put volunteers at risk for little benefit to them or to the greater good – at a cost to taxpayers of $1.4 million, with $406,000 coming from NCCAM.

For those who want to put coffee up their butts without seeing a charlatan, sites such as the Optimal Health Network flogs home enema kits for just $225.00, saying:

Coffee in enemas increases the detoxification benefits of the colon cleanse. Coffee enemas are a common tool in the complementary treatment of cancer. Our Optimal Health Network coffee is made especially for enemas. It is an organic, fairly traded, air-roasted enema coffee blend. The blend of coffee beans is chosen for its high caffeine and palmitic acid content, which are the elements in coffee that provide the greatest benefits for liver detoxification and pain reduction. When you buy organic enema coffee from us, you can be sure you’re getting coffee optimized specifically for colon-cleansing benefit.

Critics of NCCAM say the project demonstrates how difficult it can be to study complementary and alternative medicine, and that precious research dollars could be better spent elsewhere.

Gorski, the cancer researcher, concluded:

We have to be good stewards of public money for science. I don’t view NCCAM as being a good steward of our public money at the moment. Even if they are doing rigorous science, they are still looking at incredibly implausible things.

30 responses to “What a surprise: study found that prayer won’t cure AIDS”

  1. Edwin Salter says:

    Looking on the bright side, how good that distant prayer is again revealed as useless – the implication being that God either has no hearing or else enjoys groans.
    Treatments that do work may be given explanations later realised to be daft. In what sense are deep breathing or physical manipulation alternative?
    Coffee enemas certainly sound implausible but then so does eating shit (shows great therapeutic promise).
    It may not be all bad.

  2. Stephen Mynett says:

    The problem with alternative ideas that may be plausible is that they are usually pushed by complete idiots/loonies or are just a money-making scam. There is also the question of who do you get to decide what is worth following up, NCCAM have showed should they should not.

    As things are it is much better to stick with what we understand and let genuine medical researchers do their job and fund them to do it.

    Unfortunately we still waste too much money on quackery, a hospital near me at Bristol is happy to use taxpayers money on homoeopathic crud. Perhaps we should fund homoeopathy but do it in the same way as they produce their “medicines”, ie dilute it, an example would be a normal medicine would receive £50,000 grant but homoeopaths claiming to treat the same thing would receive 0.000000001 of a penny, in their terms that would be a much more potent grant.

    Unfortunately a lot of hospitals seem to like quackery,a few years back my own haemophilia centre offered me a pain control course based on mindfulness. It was garbage, I managed to get hold the materials they were using, one of the course writers was a Daily Mail journalist, so obviously it was coming from a highly truthful and scientific source. There has been research into whether mindfulness works, as a way of combating stress there were some positive reports but all of the non-biased reports on pain control were in agreement, it did not help.

  3. Paul says:

    That’s a well written report covering a lot of ground.
    I agree with Edwin that it’s good prayer is shown up for what it is. However a word of caution: no doubt we will soon be told prayer doesn’t cure AIDS as most infected are homosexuals and they deserve to die so the prayers were ineffective and for those who are children or had tainted blood transfusions – well that’s gawds plan and mysteriousness.

  4. Smokey says:

    Well, it is important to do research on unconventional methods of treatment. That’s how we end up with new types of effective treatments.

    But not at that price.

    And they could well have skipped a few. Like prayer. I think we already knew the outcome of that study.

    The biggest problem is that nobody’s going to give a damn. The healers who are willing to learn which treatments are ineffective, don’t do them in the first place. And the ones doing them, aren’t willing to learn.

    The sheeple will never know nor care. Mostly because the sham treatments work as a placebo, but who cares about details? It still works.

    The latest fad of wilful ignorance doesn’t help either. Add in the rising popularity of false news pandering to the prejudices of the stubbornly gullible, and before you know it, Trump’s president.

  5. Har Davids says:

    If praying actually worked, most diseases wouldn’t even have a name, obviously. Pouring money down the drain, as usual with these morons.

  6. Camp coffee up the colon=Anus Horribilis.

  7. A randy homeopathic homo once informed me that it is better to swallow rather than spit so as to avoid picking up the dreaded lurgy. Can this be true, or was he merely winding me up so as to have his wicked way with me? Truly, a girl quite simply cannot afford to be too careful nowadays.

  8. charles Longstreth says:

    Perhaps they prayed to the wrong god. Isn’t Satan said to be the ‘God of This World’?
    Besides which, wow, are we stupid!

  9. Angela_K says:

    Prayer achieves only one thing: making the person talking to their hands look like a nutter.

    I live near Glastonbury which is woo mecca for all types of new-age bollocks. You can have “crystal therapy”,chanting to clean your chakra and other ridiculous so called healing – at a price. Sadly, these purveyors of quackery do a lot of business with the gullible fools who flock to Glastonbury.

  10. Vanity Unfair says:

    “Americans spend about $34 billion each year out of pocket on complementary and alternative therapies, according to a national survey conducted in 2007 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

    On that basis, if the NCCAM reports were to stop people wasting their money then the expense would be worthwhile. Unfortunately, too many people do not read the reports (boring and difficult to find) and rely on the exaggerated advertising (freedom of speech) and credulous reporting (overworked or lazy journalists) for information. The historical record is not reassuring, otherwise most of the quacks would soon be out of business. However, that is no excuse not to do the experiments.
    As long as NCCAM can maintain its independence the results will be useful because authoritative. The danger in the USA comes from vested interests in Congress. In the UK the danger is from Prince Charles. Just ask Edzard Ernst.
    Besides: spot the odd one out: willow bark, cinchona bark, gingko biloba bark.

  11. Ivan Bailey says:

    As Jim Royle would say: “Coffee my arse”.

  12. Broga says:

    The Queen and Charles are enthusiasts for homeopathy. Charlie insists that compliant ministers fund this bogus nonsense on the NHS. However, the royals have a most effective approach for themselves. They insist that homeopathy is effective but when they are ill they jump to the head of the queue to get the best clinical treatment from top doctors.

  13. barriejohn says:

    I am conf used by this report. There are many people curing AIDS on the internet, and all have a 100% success rate!

    https://youtu.be/g59vQ8eOiUo

  14. gedediah says:

    Alternative medicine. If it worked it would be medicine.
    Some of the treatments described really can help people feel better for a while. They’re ok as long as that’s all that’s claimed. Not if they’re claimed as cures.

  15. Laura Roberts says:

    A nasty and insidious aspect of this is that the average layperson may conflate these studies with unusual, but legitimate research. I can well imagine conservative politicians pointing to reports like this one as they slash NIH and NSF funding in coming years.

  16. Trevor Blake says:

    No science is wrong before it is conducted. The moral and economic and social problems come after it is conducted. If the experiment shows the conjecture was weak or false and people keep doing it, that is the problem.

    Prayer is the experiment that always fails and keeps getting repeated.

  17. On You Tube see ‘Blaire White: Triggering Trannies’. She is an acquaintance of mine, and you will absolutely adore her. Beauty, intelligence, rationality….what more could one ask for?

  18. Newspaniard says:

    I NEVER EVER, EVER donate to anything that smacks of “medical research”.
    Let’s start with the “Cancer Research” con. Decades ago there was a BBC Television programme called “Tomorrows World” which, at least once a month announced that a cure for this or that cancer had been found and every time the promise was made that although successful it wouldn’t be available for at least 5 years. Those 5 years and maybe 5 decades have passed and still “miracle cures” for cancer are being found which won’t be available for at least 5 years. The charities, when questioned as to where the huge amount of money donated goes, answer, “It goes to the places, most likely to produce results”. Why would they do that? The directors are getting a minimum of 10 times the national average salary. Why would they invest cash which successful, would put them out of a job? A couple of years ago, the 2 biggest UK cancer “research” organizations merged. I wouldn’t mind betting my best pair of bed socks that not a single highly paid director lost his job and all the job losses were to the people in it for genuine charitable purposes or paid the minimum wage or less. When was the last time ANY drugs company said, “Thanks to the wonderful work of the research charity we are able to release this cure at cost price”. Yeah… Pigs Might… Then there are the drugs companies who are ripping off the NHS. When NICE say “Piss off, you are ripping us off (which is usually true)…”, Suddenly a tearful actress comes out of the woodwork to announce that “Because the NHS refuse to buy this (useless pile of overpriced crap) they are killing me and destroying my (tearful) family. Then questions are asked in the house and NICE are forced to back down. Whatever happened to the distraught female who “HAD” to have this hugely expensive drug or die? Did she die or go back to her acting job with a fat cheque in her purse? (End of rant coming). I worked all my life and paid my taxes and my National Health contributions. I am sure that NEVER in that time did I pay in an accumulated sum of £100,000 and yet to get a session of chemo therapy costs at least that. Where do people, or more importantly, the drugs companies think the money is coming from? No-wonder the NHS is always broke. Golly, I’ve been wanting to have that rant for years but I never got the opportunity until now. Thanks, Barry.

  19. Angela_K says:

    Newspaniard, I have to agree with you. It always seems to be those at the top of charities who do financially very well from the public’s largesse, with the crumbs from the table going to the scientists who actually do the hard work. The fact that charities have to fund medical research is anathema; a more efficient and less wasteful NHS should fund this. Just think how much money could go to research if the NHS didn’t have to pay for quackery such as homoeopathy and hospital chaplains and “prayer rooms”

  20. Broga says:

    It is a curious practice, much publicised on the BBC, that causes people to flock to the churches to pray when there has been a disaster. What possible point can there be in praying to the Omnipotent One who allowed the disaster to happen in the first place?

  21. Charity is one of the Seven Deadly Virtues.

  22. AgentCormac says:

    If god is malevolent enough to randomly inflict pain, suffering and grief on his creation through terrible and agonising diseases, then why on earth would he be moved to listen to our whinging prayers begging him to make the afflictions he’s designed magically go away? He obviously thinks we deserve the suffering and isn’t minded to listen. He is after all a complete bastard.

  23. Angela_K says:

    @Peter Sykes. Yes, read that before, such a waste of money.

  24. tonye says:

    Newspaniard/Angela K,

    I bought a short book earlier this year called ‘the great charity scandal’ by David Craig.

    It exposes the gross waste of money and funds that many charities undertake.

  25. StephenJP says:

    At least in the UK we seem to have avoided the waste of time and money that the NCCAM entails. Here, it is up to the peddlers of homeopathy and the like to prove that their superstition has any therapeutic effect before they can market it as a medicine; it is not up to a government agency to test it at vast public expense. And if they try to make claims without any evidence, they will find people like Edzard Ernst or the Nightingale Collaboration and the ASA on their backs.

  26. Maggie says:

    Nothing works as well as prayer!

  27. barriejohn says:

    Maggie: I can improve on that.

    Nothing is better than prayer!

  28. Newspaniard says:

    @tonye. Book ordered, thanks for the tip.