Against my more rational urges, I recently joined Twitter. After all, I’m blogging now, so it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped. I signed on, added a little profile, linked it to Skeptic North, and started following a few people. Tweeted once, then again, and then once more. I was really rolling.
But then something unexpected happened — a complete stranger followed me, one Dr. Isaac Eliaz. I checked his profile, which described him as an “Integrative Holistic Medical Doctor.” Ahh, I thought, he must have seen my tweet about Dr. Mercola’s anti-aspartame rant on HuffPo. Apparently, that’s what happens when you add @mercola to a tweet. Anyway, I was happy to have someone from the alt-med community following me, and who knows, maybe something I say will cause him to question his practices. Not likely I suppose, but I’m an optimist.
Just as I was about to close the window and get back to my day, I caught Dr. Eliaz’s latest tweet out of the corner of my eye, advising his 600 followers about “Research on new prostate formula that naturally combats #prostatecancer!“ Clearly, I had to know more, so I clicked the website link in his Twitter profile.
His site was textbook naturopath, and I urge you all to explore it for yourselves…it’s the mother lode. But I was looking specifically for the natural cancer remedy he was tweeting about — after all, he said there was research, and I didn’t want to judge the treatment by the practitioner. I found it on his New Published Research page – a paper entitled ProstaCaid Induces G2/M Cell Cycle Arrest and Apoptosis in Human and Mouse Androgen–Dependent and –Independent Prostate Cancer Cells by Jun Yan, PhD and Aaron E. Katz, MD, both of the Columbia University Medical Center’s Department of Urology.
Serious academic credentials mean serious research, right? Well, perhaps. Dr. Katz is head of Columbia’s Center for Holistic Urology, which “offers the best of conventional and alternative medicine to men and women with urinary tract disorders including prostate, bladder, and kidney cancers, chronic urinary tract infections, benign prostatic enlargement, prostatitis, incontinence, interstitial cystitis, and kidney stones.” But we can’t dismiss him just because he’s a partisan — after all, most research is done by individuals with depth in a specific field, and natural medicine is no different. So let’s take a look at the study itself.
Now I’m no cancer researcher, so I’m not going to come at this the same way the folks at SBM might. I’m going to start with the things that got my skeptical bells ringing, then make such comments on the substance of the study as befit my level of expertise. To those readers with a deeper medical background, please feel free to give the study a read and add your thoughts in the comments.
Let’s start with the first line of the abstract:
The anticancer effects of ProstaCaid, a novel integrative blend of vitamins, minerals, multiherb extracts, and derivatives, were tested in human and mouse androgen–dependent (AD) and –independent (AI) prostate cancer cell lines.
So why am I hungry for yogurt? Perhaps it’s that “novel integrative blend of vitamins, minerals, multiherb extracts, and derivatives”. Mmm, delicious. From the opening sentence, this paper reads like a product brochure, and I’m instantly skeptical. It continues:
ProstaCaid is a 33-ingredient comprehensive polyherbal preparation with supplements of vitamin C, vitamin D3, zinc, selenium, quercitin, 3,3′-diinodolymethane (DIM), and lycopene. Herbal extracts include the extracts from turmeric root, saw palmetto berry, grape skin, pomegranate, pumpkin seed, pygeum bark, sarsaparilla root, green tea, and Japanese knotweed. Hence, it is rich in natural polyphenols, including quercetin, resveratrol, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and ellagic acid, which have previously demonstrated anticancer potential. The unique formula contains 3 medicinal mushrooms grown on an herbal-enhanced medium. The mushrooms included are Phellinus linteus, Ganoderma lucidum, and Coriolus versicolor, each with known anticancer properties. Therefore, ProstaCaid was designed based on constituents that exhibit antiprolifetaive, antioxidant, and apoptotic activities; however, its efficacy and the mechanisms of action are yet to be examined.
On reading this passage, I was reminded of one of the pithier quotes I heard in business school, about the marketing successes of the free-range movement: “It’s not the eggs, it’s the story of the chicken”. In this case, it’s the story of the mushrooms. And the framing — “ProstaCaid was designed”, “rich in natural polyphenols”, “unique formula” — goes well beyond a clinical description of the product.
Further down, he tells us that, “ProstaCaid is manufactured consistent with the FDA Good Manufacturing Practices regulation for dietary supplements as defined in 21 CFR§111, for batch-to-batch consistency and quality control.” Again, more of a marketing bullet than clinically relevant information. By this point, I’m actually a bit disappointed they haven’t mentioned that they’re a family-owned company with a stellar BBB rating.
There’s more, but I think you get the point, so let’s turn to the research itself, which Dr. Eliaz tells us establishes ProstaCaid as a “potent natural formula “ that “can be crucial in the fight against prostate cancer.” Must have saved lot of people, right? No? Saved a lot of mice?
Try a lot of cells — it’s a test-tube study. Does that mean it’s invalid? Of course not, but here’s what the Canadian Cancer Society says about such studies:
New drugs or treatment approaches are often tested first on animals or live human cells in test tubes. Scientists identify an approach that is most likely to succeed, and then carry out preliminary research into safety and effectiveness.
It’s not unusual for a potential treatment to appear promising at this early stage of research. But it’s usually hard to know if a new cancer treatment will work in humans until it has passed through 3 phases of clinical testing.
Preclinical trials are important, in that they identify potential areas of further research. But they’re hardly sufficient for recommending a course of treatment, especially for something as deadly as prostate cancer. And Dr. Eliaz does overtly recommend such treatment on his site:
As an integrative physician with extensive experience in the treatment of prostate cancer, I have witnessed many patients recover with a combination of integrative and natural therapies to boost immunity and directly attack the disease. Based on the latest peer-reviewed research on the most powerful cancer-fighting botanical compounds, I have developed a comprehensive prostate formula that targets prostate cancer and promotes healthy prostate cells, while also supporting overall health. Learn about this prostate health breakthrough…
Wait, what? That link goes to the ProstaCaid page on EcoNugenics.com. Which turns out to be Dr. Eliaz’s company, and which sells a one month supply of ProstaCaid for a mere $157.45. OK, so it’s all falling into place now. There’s just one missing piece…
Oh, there it is, at the end of the research paper:
The authors would like to thank Dr Isaac Eliaz for his contribution to the study and for developing the formula
. . .
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article: this work was supported by a sponsored research grant from EcoNugenics, Inc, Santa Rosa, CA.
Now the researchers do state that they have no conflicts of interest, and I have no evidence to suggest otherwise. The fact that Dr. Eliaz’s company paid for the research doesn’t necessarily mean anything unethical is going on. But combined with the marketing-like language in the study and Dr. Eliaz’s overreaching claims about the therapeutic value of a treatment that hasn’t even entered staged trials, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest prostate cancer patients get a second opinion. The claims here may look scientific, but they fall neatly into a category I like to call scientiferous — just scientific enough to sound impressive.
I’ll let you decide whether you think they’re also deceptive, but in the meantime: buyer beware.