This edition: Qivana supplements and OncoTherm (heat) as cancer treatment
By Harriet Hall, MD
Answer: Qivana appears to be just another in a long line of multilevel marketing companies that employ a pyramid scheme to sell untested diet supplements. They sell overpriced products with exaggerated claims. They enable a few early recruits to make a lot of money by recruiting lots of other distributors. A portion of each distributor’s profits goes to the distributors who recruited them. The distributors lower down in the pyramid overwhelming lose money.
I have evaluated the claims of so many of these companies that identifying their flaws has become a positively boring déjà vu exercise. The Qivana website is full of the usual red flags that raise suspicions about a website’s credibility. It emphasizes business opportunities, makes only the vaguest claims about what its products do, has a “gimmick” that promises a unique approach and sounds sciencey but is really pseudoscientific, features lots of customer testimonials, but can’t cite a single scientific study of its products. The website gives me no information that would make me think their products have any advantage over other weight loss approaches or over the “heart health” provided by the nutrition of a well-balanced diet. Their use of the word “detox” is enough by itself to brand the company as not to be trusted on medical topics.
Qivana offers a suite of products: a patented delivery system for a probiotic, a mixture of Asian herbs designed to help you reach your bioenergetic potential (whatever that’s supposed to mean), mushrooms that supposedly boost your immune system (a common pseudoscientific claim that is scientifically meaningless), a mixture of natural “detox” ingredients that supposedly remove metals and toxins, and a natural sleep remedy. They say the ingredients are scientifically proven to help with various things, but the research they refer to is preliminary and largely preclinical. The fact that a mushroom extract has some effect in a mouse or in a cell culture in the lab doesn’t necessarily mean it has any therapeutic effect in the human body. In her book Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All, Rose Shapiro reminds us that you can kill cancer cells in a Petri dish with a flame thrower or bleach. Every webpage ends with the disclaimer that the products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. One is left wondering exactly what they are intended to do and why anyone would want to take them.
Do these products work? The way to find out if they work is to do controlled clinical studies, and no such studies have been done. Under the Diet Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA), these products can be sold without any of the kind of supporting evidence that the FDA requires before they approve marketing of a pharmaceutical drug. The double standard is obvious.
I’m not saying they don’t work. We can’t know that without testing. But considering the percentage of initially promising treatments that fail to survive the scientific testing process, we do know that the odds are not in their favor. I’m not a gambler; but if I were, I wouldn’t put my money on this kind of thing.
Is it a deliberate scam cynically designed only to separate victims from their hard-earned money? Probably not. I’m guessing most of the sellers truly believe they are improving the health of their customers. What they are really selling is hope. Caveat emptor.
Answer: Maybe; but if it is, it’s not very effective and it only has a limited role as an adjunct to other treatments; and what he’s offering is not likely to be effective at all. Pyatt is a naturopath, not an MD. He offers all kinds of other questionable treatments including craniosacral manipulation, chelation, intravenous vitamins, and homeopathy. The OncoTherm device is not approved by the FDA and cannot legally be sold in the US. If it were being used by an American doctor, the clinic could be raided by the government and the device confiscated. Hyperthermia has been used to treat cancer, but it is almost always used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation, treatments that naturopaths are not licensed to use. And of course using machines to heat the body can hardly be considered a “natural” treatment.
Hyperthermia is a treatment method that exposes body tissue to high temperatures (up to 113 degrees Farenheit) with the intent of damaging and killing cancer cells. There is a fact sheet from the National Cancer Institute that covers the subject pretty well here.
There are several approaches including local, regional and whole-body hyperthermia. It’s easy to kill cancer cells with heat in the lab (a blowtorch works nicely), but there is very little evidence that hyperthermia is an effective or safe way to treat cancer in live human bodies. Hyperthermia can make cells more susceptible to radiation when used within an hour of radiation treatments. It can also enhance the effect of some anti-cancer drugs. Some studies have shown a significant reduction in tumor size when hyperthermia is combined with other cancer treatments; but other studies have not, and not all of the studies showed increased survival. A number of side effects have been reported, including burns, blood clots, and vomiting. There are few if any rigorous well-designed randomized controlled studies. Research is ongoing. Hyperthermia is promising, but it is not yet ready for prime time; it hasn’t become a generally accepted part of the conventional cancer treatment armamentarium. It is still considered experimental and it would be best to give it only in the context of a controlled clinical trial. Any patient with cancer should be treated under the supervision of an oncologist who is an MD and has experience in providing conventional cancer treatments that have been proven effective. In my opinion, naturopaths (even so-called “naturopathic oncologists”) simply don’t have the necessary training and experience to be meddling with life-threatening diseases.
Dr. Pyatt says the device he is using has "proven benefits in both life expectancy and quality of life...” I think that statement is misleading: it goes way beyond the actual evidence.