Thursday May 29, 2003
Talk about bad science
I am delighted to be able to present you with the head of an American doctor, who has been struck off after the complementary therapies he was peddling turned out to be not just ineffective but downright dangerous.
Dr James E Johnson MD – because Americans always manage to make doctors sound like soap stars – has had his licence revoked after a string of increasingly bizarre and dangerous attempts to cure what he believed was a yeast infection. He started with garlic but his patient was in a hurry and so he decided to speed things along by administering hydrogen peroxide, a popular pseudoscientific therapy.
On this occasion the hydrogen peroxide was given intravenously, through a peripherally-inserted central catheter into a vein in her arm, travelled all the way up through her armpit and on into her chest where it sat snugly next to her heart. After a few “treatments” her arm became red and painful, and she became dizzy with a headache. Johnson diagnosed a “mini-stroke” and, like a good complementary therapist, initiated intramusucular vitamin C injections. The injection site for these became red and inflamed but instead of using antibiotics which, he told his patient, were “incompatible” with hydgrogen peroxide, he prescribed charcoal poultice compresses. With painful inevitability, things deteriorated further.
By the time his credulous patient managed to dredge up the reserves of self confidence necessary to rethink her values and approach a conventional doctor, an ultrasound scan revealed that she had developed an abscess the size of a baseball, which was surgically removed in hospital, after which she mercifully recovered.
For decades, optimistic alternative therapists have been claiming that hydrogen peroxide therapy can treat cancer and various infections (latterly including Aids), as well as improving tissue oxygenation: a quick hunt around the alternative therapy section of any bookshop, or the internet, will produce entertaining examples. The fundamental misunderstandings seem to be, as far as it is possible to untangle these things, that H2O2 is water with a bit of extra oxygen, that this can be used by cells as normal oxygen, or as some form of special oxygen inhibit enzymes in tumour cells, or produce “glyoxylide” which has alleged healing properties but has never been isolated. It can be jolly dangerous, and several pseudioscientists have been successfully disciplined for lying about it ever since Dr Koch, its inventor, was first censured by the FDA in 1942.