Article: FDA busts myths of preventing and treating cancer by eating apricot kernels, herbs, and other ingredients


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Maggie Fox (NBC News) writes about a new FDA report that warns of 14 "fraudulent” cancer products claiming to either cure or treat cancer (1). The companies that sell these products claim that many of them also prevent cancer, but are they safe or effective? (6/26/17)

Contents

False claims                 Clinical trials
What does this mean for me?     Questions for your doctor                
Guidelines Resources and references
   

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to 14 fraudulent cancer cure companies. Apricot kernels, herbs and other ingredients are the focus of Maggie Fox’s NBC News coverage of the FDA actions.  

A cancer diagnosis of an individual, family member or friend is challenging and can cause extreme distress; people diagnosed with cancer may be desperate to try anything and vulnerable to these companies’ claims to “cure” or “treat” cancer. The companies making these inaccurate are a danger and represent an injustice to the people they claim to help.  

FALSE CLAIM:  “If a person eats 6-12 apricot kernels per day, they will never have to worry about cancer.”

This false claim is advertised on one of the companies’ websites. Cancer patients and their families may be vulnerable and more willing to put skepticism aside if they hear or read that something can cure cancer. But these companies go further than that. According to a blog post written by the FDA’s Donald Ashley, JD and Douglas Stearn, JD, “These companies use slick ads, videos, and other sophisticated marketing techniques, including testimonials about miraculous outcomes. Often a single product was promoted as a treatment or cure for multiple diseases in humans and animals (2).”

However, these products have not been FDA tested. Claims that they cure or treat cancer are fake, and they are potentially dangerous. As Maggie Fox writes, “…’Everything Herbs’ was advertising apricot kernels, which contain deadly cyanide. Apricot seeds were the basis for amygdalin (laetrile), an unproven but popular “alternative” cancer therapy sold online and in overseas clinics since the 1970s, despite much evidence it is worthless.”

The FDA issued warning letters to 14 companies regarding their fraudulent claims about their products: AIE Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Amazing Sour Sop, Inc.; BioStar Technology International, LLC; Caudill Seed & Warehouse Inc.; DoctorVicks.com; Everything Herbs; Hawk Dok Natural Salve, LLC; Healing Within Products & Services, Inc.; LifeVantage Corporation; Nature’s Treasure, Inc.; Oxygen Health Systems, LLC; Sunstone, Inc.; The Vibrant Health Store, LLC (dba Dr. Christopher’s Herbs); and The Vitamin C Foundation (3).

What does this mean for me?

The FDA is responsible for “Protecting the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, quality, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products, and medical devices.” Drug companies seeking FDA approval to sell a new drug are required to test it in many ways, from early experiments done a laboratory to seeing if the drug is safe and effective for use in humans.

Additionally, clinical guidelines have not been written for any of these products. As defined by the Institute of Medicine, clinical guidelines are “…systematically developed statements to assist practitioner and patient decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances (4).” These guidelines are made after enough high-quality research studies are completed that support the use of the products in question. For example, many researchers and physicians from different academic institutions would have agree that eating 6-12 apricot kernels a day would prevent cancer for the guidelines to incorporate this practice.

Being diagnosed with cancer or experiencing a loved one going through cancer is difficult, and it is inappropriate, illegal and unethical for companies to promote products that have not been proven to be safe or effective. But because companies like these exist, cancer patients and their loved ones should be sure to confirm that the products or treatments they hear and read about are critically examined by trusted resources, such as the FDA and a person’s own health care providers.

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Expert Guidelines

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has guidelines on survivorship that include the following recommendations on dietary supplement use:

  • Supplement use is not recommended for most survivors, except in instances of documented nutritional deficiencies, inadequate diet, or other indications (eg., osteoporosis).
  • Little data exist to support the use of vitamins or other dietary supplements for the purposes of cancer control, recurrence, or prevention. 
  • Taking vitamin supplements does not replace the need for a healthy diet. All efforts should be made to obtain nutrients from food and beverages.
  • Providers should assess supplement use at regular intervals. Ask about reasons for supplement use and supplement ingredients. 

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is an organization that translates research on diet and cancer risk into practical information for the public. AICR recommends that people try to meet their nutritional needs through a healthy diet. They do not discourage people from taking a multivitamin supplement, but they warn people not to rely on supplements alone to protect from cancer. 

The American Cancer Society recommends speaking with your oncologist before taking any supplements. 

Questions To Ask Your Health Care Provider

  • What are my treatment options?
  • Are there any supplements that I can take to help me prevent or treat my cancer? 
  • I'm taking herbal or dietary supplements, will these interfere with my treatment?
  • I'm taking herbal or dietary supplements, are any of these harmal?
  • I am having treatment side effects, are there any natural therapies that I can try? 
  • Can you refer me to an integrative medicine expert?

Open Clinical Trials

The following are clinical trials testing integrative therapy for people in treatment for cancer:

The following is a clinical trial testing integrative therapy to lower risk for cancer:

 

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