A recent Associated Press story by David Ho reported that BioPulse, Inc. and BioPulse International, Inc. have settled federal charges with the Federal Trade Commission regarding how they marketed alternative therapies such as insulin-induced hypoglycemic treatment (IHT), which has been used to "treat" cancer. One ad declared: "At the BioPulse clinic in Tijuana, patients have seen tumors decrease substantially or even disappear from the brain, lung, bone, prostate, liver, and breast." On their website, BioPulse bragged that their treatments were tested and met much success, even though no clinical trials were ever conducted.
BioPulse is now being forced to tell the truth. In its regulatory filing with the FTC, they finally admitted that their treatments have "not been proven effective." With the settlement, the companies had to pay a hefty fine ($4.3 million) and are subsequently prohibited from making any future unsupported claims about the efficacy and safety of their treatments. This misrepresentation has also resulted in at least one lawsuit filed by a former client who purchased insulin coma therapy for his terminally-ill mother. He alleges that the companies, with their stated claims of success, "fradulently persuaded" him to spend $27,500 for a therapy that ultimately did not work.
Begun in June 1999, the insulin-induced coma treatment involves injecting cancer patients daily with insulin to lower blood sugar and induce sleep, starving tumors of the glucose they supposedly need to survive and cleansing the body through sweating. It lasts for about an hour and can cost nearly $40,000 for a seven-week treatment cycle. But this isn't the only experimental, unproven, and expensive treatment offered by BioPulse. Other therapies include acoustic lightwave therapy which involves shining special lights on patients to kill cells that can cause anything from pneumonia to arthritis to cancer and cancer "vaccines" made from patients' own urine.
One FTC lawyer commented that when asked to "substantiate their claims," BioPulse was unable to do so. Dr. Stephen Barrett, editor of Quackwatch.com, points out the holes in BioPulse's "science basis" in his article on IHT. First, BioPulse claimed that IHT starves cancer cells of glucose, but in reality, "cancer cells cannot be selectively 'starved' by lowering blood sugar. If blood sugar is lowered far enough to damage cells, the body's brain cells would be among the first casualties...if hypoglycemia could selectively kill cancer cells, it stands to reason that diabetics would have a lower incidence of cancer as well as a higher recovery rate."
BioPulse claimed that IHT increases the pH in the blood to a caustic level that subsequently kills tumors. Dr. Barrett replies that: 1) insulin has no effect on blood pH level in non-diabetics, and 2) the body maintains, through self-regulation, a very narrow range of pH level in the blood and therefore cannot be taken to this alkaline state.
BioPulse went on to claim that IHT "cleanses the body through sweating." Actually, most of the body's waste products are eliminated by the liver and kidneys and not through sweat. Further, there is no reason to believe that an accumulation of toxins in the body causes cancer.
Finally, BioPulse asserted that tumors thrive when there is a decrease of oxygen in the bloodstream and that IHT deters tumors by increasing the blood oxygen saturation. Dr. Barrett counters that blood oxygen saturation is not affected by insulin and that the idea tumors are anaerobic was discredited over fifty years ago. Tumors actually grow faster when fed vital oxygen and nutrients. Not only was BioPulse making wild claims about its efficacy in fighting cancer, but they were also making up reasons why it would work. Those without any scientific background could easily be persuaded by such faulty logic.
BioPulse's IHT is not the only alternative cancer therapy that individuals should be wary of. There are many treatments with no scientific evidence of their efficacy and success, including:
- Hydrazine sulfate supposed to shrink tumors and stop the wasting syndrome (cachexia) that many patients with advanced cancer suffer from has been shown to be ineffective in randomized clinical trials at arresting the progress of cancer.
- Laetrile is a chemical found in the pits of fruit such as apricots, and its supposed main anticancer component is cyanide. However, in the two clinical trials (neither of which were controlled) that were actually published, there is little evidence supporting it. Also, a possible consequence of excessive doses of laetrile is cyanide poisoning.
- Mistletoe combined with various metals and bacteria is called Iscador, and it is postulated that it resolves the "imbalances" in the body that result in cancer. However, there is no evidence from clinical trials that it can treat cancer, and mistletoe plants and berries can be toxic to humans.
- Shark cartilage is believed to inhibit the spread of cancer because it kills cancer cells and inhibits the growth of blood vessels that tumors need for free growth. It is mistakenly believed that sharks are not affected by cancer because their skeletons are made up mostly of cartilage, which lacks blood vessels. However, while shark cancer is rare, it happens. More than a dozen studies have been conducted on shark cartilage as a cancer treatment, but only three studies have been published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals, and all of the results have been inconclusive about its effectiveness.
Dr. Ralph Moss, in a May 2001 article about "The War on Cancer," wrote that alternative cancer treatments involve "vague promises and grandiose schemes." That's exactly why they're so popular: these alternatives appear to offer some promise in cases where there is sometimes no promise at all. Those offering alternative medical treatments play off fears and loss of hope to make money. When traditional, allopathic doctors say you are unlikely to live, you are more willing to seek treatment and care from individuals or clinics that claim to offer at least some hope of recovery. Just know that these alternatives are not always effective and not always safe fallacious hope is about all they can offer.
For more information on alternative cancer therapies, their efficacy, and their safety ratings, visit: Intelihealth's "Alternative Treatments: Some Are Unproven and Potentially Unsafe" and the National Cancer Institute's Complementary and Alternative Medicine webpage.
Karen Schneider is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health.