The headline was shared by a friend on facebook recently. This kind of alarmist title is not unusual for social media and is often passed around taken completely at face value.
Why are people so ready to believe such an article?
Detecting BS in health stories is not straightforward. There is no Snopes for health. Yes Snopes does expose some ridiculous health claims, but usually you have to do your own research.
Part one: The Sniff Test
The initial clues the article is dubious are:
- It suggests a conspiracy by mainstream medicine to hide a cure because it is not profitable to doctors (this is quite a damning suggestions: that doctors would rather make money and let you die than share a simple cure with you).
- It suggests there is a simple cure for cancer that nobody has heard of. Why are you not hearing about this on the front page of the New York Times instead of some blog?
- The article is on a site which appears to be dedicated to health conspiracy clickbait.
This should be enough for you to ignore the article and walk away.
But hey – we are now media literacy ninjas and are taking our game up a notch. Plus if you want to prove to someone it is BS, you will need to get your evidence lined up…
Part two: Drilling Down
This is where the slippery nature of medical news is exposed. Many of the aka fake health news stories are partly true: research is distorted or misinterpreted to make an outrageous claim. But the underlying research does in fact exist.
Reading through this piece, much of the article accurately reports the research on baking soda. It is actually quite a good piece – one of the better ones – as it provides some links and remains mostly factual… until we arrive at the thrust of the argument:
“A 2009 study published in the journal, Cancer Research, is among the first to confirm that the alkalinizing effect of sodium bicarbonate can indeed stop cancer.”
No it can’t. Or at least this has never been proven. The research certainly did not say this. This is twisting the conclusion. But I am jumping ahead of myself. Let’s take a look.
To know whether this is true, we need to look at the actual research.
“Here, we show that oral NaHCO3 selectively increased the pH of tumors and reduced the formation of spontaneous metastases in mouse models of metastatic breast cancer.[…] Bicarbonate therapy had no effect on … the rates of growth of the primary tumors.”
In English: In an experiment on mice, bicarbonate slows the spread of cancer but doesn’t stop its growth.
The piece has a lot of technical jargon. If you don’t want to read through this (few would) someone has done the work of putting it into layman’s language for us: Drinking baking soda does not cure cancer
Because we have access to the primary source of info for their claim and can see it is false, there is no need to “triangulate” as Howard Rheingold has suggested. If there was no primary source, we might have to do a bit more work. Fortunately this is straightforward though it does take a bit of brainwork to get through the research.
It is also worth noting that the author’s most outrageous claim as suggested by the headline (that this is a legitimate cure being ignored by oncologists) is not substantiated AT ALL. That suggestion is pure clickbait.
As far as health claims go, suggesting to cancer patients they should put false hope in drinking bicarbonate of soda is not “that bad” in the grand scheme of things. Many articles make much more damaging claims which encourage desperate patients to invest in expensive cures – at least this one is free. Then again there may be many negative health implications of drinking so much bicarbonate that your body pH changes. Who knows? No human trials have been done. But I digress…
In my personal opinion, besides the twisting of the words of the study, the most damaging claim made by the headline is that people should not trust doctors because they are willing to withholding help because they are greedy.
There are certainly differences in opinion between mainstream and alternative medicine about how to treat a patient. But to interpret that difference as being one side devoted to “The Truth” and the other devoted to profit is damaging propaganda intended to make people suspicious of mainstream medicine.
In this specific case, even if bicarbonate was a possible treatment, the level of research done is nowhere near what is considered acceptable for it to be approved ie so far there has only been a couple of mouse studies.
Treatments require years of trials before getting FDA approval. There may be many unknown complications from attempting this cure on a human and a doctor would likely lose his/her license for prescribing such an unfounded treatment.
Follow up research has suggested serious limitations to this therapy including the potential for severe health problems from consumption of high levels of bicarbonate.
So no, oncologists are not keeping a perfectly good cure away from needy patients. Bicarbonate as a treatment is an interesting idea and research on it continues. But for now it is completely speculative.
If you take nothing else away from this post, here is a simple rule of thumb worth remembering:
If you ever see a headline like “Here is the cure that doctors/big pharma don’t want you to see” be prepared for BS.
The following sites are reliable sources of medical info. Useful for researching dubious claims: