Ineffective Anti-Cancer Remedies

By Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

It Takes More Than Scientific-Sounding Theories To Beat Cancer.

Although there is little evidence that alternative cancer therapies are of any benefit, millions of dollars are spent on them. Here are some sobering facts about the most common treatments.

Coffee Enemas

The coffee enemas of the Gerson or Gonzolez cancer protocols are examples of treatments that have no documented benefits. While these programs offer patients a diet rich in vegetable juices and healthful organic foods, they also offer a smorgasbord of therapies that have not shown any benefits for cancer patients.

According to Gonzalez, cancerous tumors are collections of abnormal cells. So when therapy causes cell breakdown (necrosis), abnormal molecules of tumor waste are released into the blood, filtered and detoxified by the liver, and excreted through the bile ducts from the liver to the small intestine. The walls of the bile ducts are composed of smooth muscle that caffeine in coffee causes to relax, allowing ducts to “open wide,” allowing tumor toxins to pass into the small bowel.

Gonzalez’s explanation sounds scientific, but it is inaccurate. First of all, cancer cells are not in themselves toxic. They are harmful to the body because they multiply in a rapid and uncontrolled fashion. When cells die, whether cancerous or not, they do not overwhelm the body with toxins. But even if they did, toxins are excreted directly into the blood from the liver; they do not traverse the bile ducts.

Caffeinated beverages delivered rectally are not health-supporting and cannot detoxify your body any more effectively than rinsing your mouth with them and then spitting them out. At least two deaths have been linked to coffee enemas, attributed to hyponatremia and dehydration. There is also a risk of contamination from unsanitary equipment used to administer enemas. For example, one outbreak of Campylobacter sepsis occurred among clients at a border clinic in Mexico that offered coffee enemas, and an outbreak of amebiasis was also linked to fecal contamination of an enema-delivery system.

Pancreatic Enzymes

The theory that cancer was caused by a deficiency of pancreatic enzymes was a speculative notion proposed over a hundred years ago and then rejected. Alternative practitioners frequently unearth this outmoded and disproven theory and use it to fool gullible people.

To be clear, pancreatic enzymes are a legitimate therapeutic intervention when there is pancreatic insufficiency, such as with pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer. However, no study has ever shown a health or survival benefit from using enzymes when the patient’s own enzyme-producing machinery is intact. Unless you have pancreatic disease, your pancreas is still capable of producing adequate digestive enzymes.

Pancreatic enzymes are used in your body’s digestive process. The specific amount of each enzyme you need is finely tuned, based on the precise components of the food ingested. Excess digestive enzymes can injure the digestive tract. Contrary to what is claimed in alternative medicine circles, pancreatic enzymes are not benign. When people who do not need enzymes take them, they harm themselves.

Here are three factors you need to consider:

  1. Supplemental pancreatic enzymes significantly lower the level of enzyme production by the pancreas and result in lessening of enzyme response to food stimuli.This leads to a dependency on enzymes whose amount is not adjusted to accurately suit the food ingested. Our body’s own regulatory computer does a precise job that can’t be matched by any alternative practitioner’s guess1.
  2. Chronic use or high-dose use of digestive enzymes has been found to be associated with fibrotic strictures of the colon2.
  3. Higher levels of pancreatic enzymes are associated with inflammatory bowel disease3.

Shark Cartilage

This is a perfect example of how a good story can sprout a billion dollar industry. After the book Sharks Don’t Get Cancer aired on television, showing cancer patients using shark cartilage apparently doing well, millions of cancer sufferers took (expensive) shark cartilage for years, until the first well-designed study followed cancer patients over time and found the shark cartilage had no discernible effect. Since then, manufacturers have stopped claiming that shark cartilage has any beneficial anti-cancer properties.

Essiac Tea

Essiac tea is an herbal remedy that was prescribed and promoted for about 50 years by Rene M. Caisse, a Canadian nurse who died in 1978. Shortly before her death, she turned over her “ancient” formula and manufacturing rights to the Resperin Corporation. Essiac tea generally is a mixture of four herbs: burdock root, sheep sorrel, rhubarb root, and slippery elm bark. It was claimed that this secret combination of herbs directly attacks cancer, and that no one knows why many people no longer have cancer after consuming the product. It is said to work “synergistically.” Several animal tests using samples of this tea have shown no anti-tumor activity, nor did a review of data on 86 patients performed by the Canadian federal health department during the early 1980s.

Laetrile Amigdalina B17

Laetrile is a drug made from a component in bitter almond (or apricot pits) called amygdalin. It can be broken down into glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide. Laetrile has been marketed as an alternative cancer drug for about 50 years. However, studies in animals and humans have not shown benefits in treating any type of cancer. When it was losing favor as an alternative treatment after multiple studies showed it did not work, the laetrile promoters came up with the idea of calling it a vitamin (B17). Laetrile is still actively promoted on the internet, and stories are circulated about how its value has been suppressed by the medical- drug establishment. .

Scientists have tested substances called “Laetrile” in more than 20 animal tumor models as well as in numerous humans and found no benefit either alone or together with other substances. After each negative trial demonstrated its ineffectiveness and its dangers, proponents varied their claims about Laetrile’s mechanism of action and therapeutic effects. At first they claimed it could cure cancer. Later, they claimed it could “control” cancer. When the “vitamin” theory was developed, it was touted as a cancer preventive. It also has been claimed to be effective in relieving pain associated with cancer and in facilitating treatment with chemotherapy. Many people, unaware that toxic substances can have stimulating effects, still take Laetrile to prevent cancer. They think because it gives them a temporary “lift” it must be healthy. They are slowly poisoning themselves.

Colloidal Silver

The term “colloidal” means the particles are very small so that they disperse evenly into the medium. The promoters of colloidal silver make some fantastic claims. They claim silver is a needed mineral by the body, that it extends life span, and that it protects against cancer. They claim that mineral deficiencies lead to a weakened immune system and cancer. Colloidal silver supplements also are heavily advertised as powerful antimicrobials and immune system stimulants, capable of curing up to 650 different diseases. Machines are even marketed on the internet so people can make their own colloidal silver at home.

At one time, silver products were useful as germicides, but they’ve been replaced gradually by less toxic and more effective antibiotics. (Not that antibiotics are not toxic too, but at least their toxicity is recognized, and they are not sold as a health food.) Clearly, anything with the ability to kill living bacteria in our body must be pretty toxic. It always amazes me that alternative enthusiasts think that toxic natural substances that have the ability to kill bacteria or cancer cells in cell culture are healthful for us to consume.

The main reason why the use of colloidal silver was halted by the medical profession was its severe and sometimes irreversible side effects. Colloidal silver accumulates in the body’s tissues and causes a disfiguring skin condition called argyria. Skin pigmentation, especially around the nose and mouth, turns bluish, permanently. Those affected have been described as looking like corpses suddenly come to life. The Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is 0.01 mg/m3 for all forms of silver. Besides argyria and argyrosis (graying of the whites of the eyes), exposure to soluble silver compounds may produce other toxic effects, including liver and kidney damage, irritation of the eyes, skin, respiratory, and intestinal tract, and damage to blood cells and nerves.


Ambrotose is a product sold by Mannatech, Inc., a multilevel company whose distributors boast that this substance is a powerful treatment for patients with cancer. Mannatech calls plant sugars “glyconutrients,” and by definition these glyconutrients are present in almost all natural plant foods, especially root vegetables and mushrooms.

We must always keep in mind that multilevel marketing products are sold by local people trying to expand their down-lines, and all health claims must be looked at with extra skepticism. The parent company is not liable for any unsubstantiated or unethical claims because they legally divorce themselves from any claims made by their distributors. The parent company uses terms such as “support for the immune system” or “used on cell surfaces.”

“Advanced Ambrotose” is said to contain gum acacia, aloe vera gel extract (inner leaf gel) or Manapol powder, oat fiber, brown macroalgae (undaria pinnatifida) sporophyll,vegetarian glucosamine-HCl, ghatti gum, gum tragacanth, and xylitol.

Searching the scientific literature on Ambrotose does not result in any findings, but the primary ingredient, “arabinogalactan,” is a valuable compound. Arabinogalactans is plentiful in carrots, radishes, tomatoes, corn, pears, coconut, and wheat, among others. Gum arabic, a common food additive, is also composed of highly branched arabinogalactans (from which the substance derives its name). Despite the fact that glyconutrients have some valuable cellular function, the point is we all eat plenty of this already without taking Ambrotose. There is no data to suggest that adding this supplement to a healthful diet will add significant health benefits.

Exotic Tropical Fruit Juices

Juices and extracts of exotic fruits and vegetables such as mangosteen, gogi berries, Chinese lycium, acia, Siberian pineapple, cili, noni, guarana, and black currant are touted as wondrous super foods with a myriad of health claims. Certainly, eating exotic fruits from all over the globe can add valuable phytochemical compounds with the potential for beneficial effects. I see no reason why these fruits and their juices should not be used as part of a varied diet with a wide assortment of phytonutrients. Broadening our variety of health-supporting nutrients from exotic foods has value in building a strong immune defense against cancer.

The confusion arises when marketers claim that the juices can cure cancer or kill cancer cells on the basis of studies that show that some component in the juice or other part of the plant has been shown to kill cancer cells. Just because a concentrated chemical derived from a food can kill cancer cells in a test tube does not make that food a cure for cancer.

For example, some of the non-tasty parts of these plants have been shown to cause the death of human cancer cells in test tubes. But there have been no experiments with actual cancer patients (or patients with other diseases). It’s likely that many exotic fruits are highly nutritious, but there is also the possibility that some of the touted benefits seen in scientific studies arise from the medicinal effects, which are toxic. These medicinal effects are often confused by marketers with the nutritive effects of the fruit.

If something is beneficial against cancer, then one or more of the following conditions must be met:

  1. The substance must be a compound that is more toxic to cancer cells than normal cells (similar to chemotherapy, which can shrink cancerous tumors and kill rapidly growing cancer cells because these cells are more sensitive to the effects of poison than normal cells).
  2. It must supply nutritive substances that increase the person’s defenses against the disease, thereby curtailing the spread of cancer via immunostimulating or immunosupportive means and increasing cancer survival (typically by slowing the spread of cancer). 
  3. It must have hormonal blocking effects that lessen the effect of the body’s endogenously produced hormones that promote the spread of cancer.

When we look at the studies presented on these natural foods, we have to attempt to differentiate between a medicinal (toxic) effect due to a noxious compound in the plant and a nutritive effect due to the phytonutrient content. Promoters of these fruits and juices tend to lump all of the studies together, trying to make their product look like a magical food that can promote wellness and also kill cancer cells. But just because the toxic part of the plant has the ability to kill cancer cells in a test tube does not mean the substance will be an effective agent against cancer.

For example, one reason why I hesitate to recommend noni juice for healthy people is because of its ability to seemingly increase one’s energy and to reduce pain. For a product to have such powerful medicinal effects, it must contain natural compounds with toxic properties. As a result, it isn’t wise to consume these compounds continually over a lifetime. It is too much like a drug.

Noni juice may be good as an aid for elderly people who lack energy or who regularly experience discomfort. But it is inaccurate to claim that these benefits come from the nutritive components. The drug effects come from the toxic components. Natural substances with strong medicinal effects should be avoided unless you have a medical condition that warrants this type of therapy.


1. Domínguez-Muñoz JE, Birckelbach U, Glasbrenner B, et al. Effect of oral pancreatic enzyme administration on digestive function in healthy subjects: comparison between two enzyme preparations. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 1997; 11(2):403-8. .

2. Moss RL, Musemeche CA, Feddersen RM. Progressive pan-colonic fibrosis secondary to oral administration of pancreatic enzymes. Pediatr Surg Int 1998; 13(2-3):168-70. .

3. Heikius B, Niemelä S, Lehtola J, Karttunen TJ. Elevated pancreatic enzymes in inflammatory bowel disease are associated with extensive disease. Am J Gastroenterol 1999; 94(4):1062-9. 4. Drake PL, Hazelwood KJ. Exposure-related health effects of silver and silver compounds: a review. Ann Occup Hyg 2005; 49(7):575-85. .

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