Flim-Flam Friday: A** Coffee

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sad_face_coffee_mug

I first heard about coffee enemas from “Gus“, a raging conspiranoid who wanted to screen The Beautiful Truth, a documentary about the German quack physician Max Gerson, in my city. You wouldn’t think a film with both “truth” and “beautiful” in the title would involve squirting coffee up your butt, but Gus was adamant that Gerson had found the cure for cancer; the Gerson-Sauerbrach-Hermannsdorfer diet combined with regular coffee enemas.  (1)

Gerson first used ass coffee back in the ’30s, so it’s nothing new. However, today’s health faddists have rediscovered and resurrected hundreds of worthless therapies from yesteryear, and caffeine enemas fall into that group. An episode of the TLC show My Strange Addiction featured a Florida couple who administer ass coffee to themselves with the zeal of religious converts, up to four times a day.

What do coffee enemas supposedly do?

Gerson declared that caffeine enemas purged toxins from the liver by stimulating bile production, alleviating cancer and a host of other diseases.
There is no evidence that coffee increases bile production, and no one has ever explained just what these toxins are. Therefore, it is impossible to verify that ass coffee can remove those theoretical toxins. One might as well say that ass coffee flushes gremlins out of the lower intestine. (1)
Other uses of ass coffee are: treatment for constipation, pain relief, energy boosts, and weight loss.

The obvious question is, why not drink your coffee? Gerson’s reasoning was that one cannot possibly consume his prescribed amount of coffee – one liter – in a single day (amateur), but the most frequently-cited reason for ass coffee is that the body absorbs more caffeine from coffee via the tissues of the colon than through oral ingestion. Also, ass coffee is speedier than drinking and bypasses the unpleasant side effects of indigestion, heartburn and continuous peeing. This is the same logic behind rectal shelving of DMT, the legendary vodka tampons, and other stuff you really shouldn’t try.

What’s the active ingredient?

Caffeine and/or cafestol palmitate. Coffee enema enthusiasts have imbued caffeine with mysterious detoxifying properties that it doesn’t actually have, and today’s proponents of the Gerson method claim that cafestol palmitate promotes the production of glutathione S-transferase. No research supports that claim, mostly because cafestol palmitate is active only in green, unroasted coffee beans.  (2,4)

Does it work?

It depends on how you define “work”. Do coffee enemas deliver caffeine to the bloodstream? Yes, in that sense they are effective (if inefficient, disgusting, and potentially dangerous). So increased energy is one short-term effect of ass coffee.
Does it cure cancer? Hell no. Any treatment for cancer, by necessity, has to kill cells and inhibit cell growth. Coffee does neither.
While ass coffee unquestionably does provide short-term relief of constipation, long-term enema application can actually make your colon lazier, ultimately making constipation worse.  (3)
Caffeine consumption does not promote weight loss. In fact, it can complicate dieting by making you hungrier than usual.
The bowel is actually quite efficient when it comes to cleansing. The intestinal lining sheds old epithelial cells naturally every few days, so hurrying that procedure along with colon cleanses of any sort is completely unnecessary. Colonic irrigation and enemas can even flush out beneficial bacteria that helps detoxify waste.

So what’s the problem?

As harmlessly weird as ass coffee may sound, it actually poses serious health risks. There have even been ass coffee fatalities. Here are a few of the potential hazards:

  • As with any bogus cancer treatment, there is the risk that cancer patients will choose the Gerson method over proven medical treatments.
  • There is such a thing as too much caffeine. A liter of filtered coffee (roughly 6 cups) can contain anywhere from 570 to 1200 mg of caffeine. Health Canada indicates the safest known upper limit for adult caffeine consumption is 400 mg of caffeine per day. The Florida couple who give themselves four coffee enemas a day? They’re ingesting up to 4800 mg of caffeine in a 16-hour period.
  • Any colon cleanse runs the risk of overexpanding the colon, causing it to perforate. This can lead to sepsis and any number of other infections.
  • Rectal burns and scarring (duh)
  • Removal of beneficial flora
  • Tissue inflammation (proctocolitis)  (2)
  • Dehydration, potentially fatal electrolyte imbalance and potassium imbalance (hypokalemia)  (4)

The Bottom Line:

Don’t squirt coffee, or any other beverage for that matter, up your butt.

please_knock_it_off

Sources:

1. National Cancer Institute, Gerson Therapy: General Information
2. Keum, B.; Jeen, Y. T.; Park, S. C.; Seo, Y. S.; Kim, Y. S.; Chun, H. J.; Um, S. H.; Kim, C. D. et al. (2010). “Proctocolitis Caused by Coffee Enemas“. The American Journal of Gastroenterology 105 (1): 229–230
3. American Cancer Society pages on colon therapy and Gerson therapy
4. Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center page on metabolic therapies

Flim-Flam Friday: Cherry Supplements

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cherries

For the past few years, one of the trendiest trends in the alternative-health universe has been dietary supplements made from sour (tart) cherries. They’re particularly popular with athletes and arthritis sufferers.

What does the product supposedly do?

Cherry supplements supposedly work as anti-inflammatories, helping to relieve joint pain and muscle soreness without the side effects of ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and other over-the-counter remedies. Some are marketed as effective treatments for gout. A few companies take it a step farther by claiming their cherry supplements are diet aids or can lower cholesterol. Both claims lack strong evidence. A single rat study ties cherry juice to weight loss (1), and one study found a 26% cholesterol decrease in mice fed cherry powder (2)
One company’s advertisement touts two studies by Winona State University’s Dr. Farnsworth Gary Kastello, which found that two cherry products reduced muscle soreness after exercise…if taken for sixteen days prior to exercising. The problem with these results is that the studies were not double-blind, controlled studies; the participants took only the cherry supplements and were aware that these products were the focus of the study. Furthermore, the results have not appeared in any peer-reviewed publication. Buh-bye, scientific validity.

taking-pills

“Gonna be a rough workout tonight…better hop in the ol’ Tardis and pop a shitload of cherry pills for half a month.”

There are a few studies indicating that runners who drink cherry juice exhibit reduced isometric stress, oxidative stress, inflammation, pain and strength loss, but the number of participants in each study is so incredibly small (14-54) that the results are really not helpful. (3)
The only other evidence of cherry-supplement efficacy is anecdotal. Company websites and Facebook pages overflow with glowing testimonials from customers, like this one: “Since taking your cherry supplements, … I cured myself. I believe prayer, diet, and your cherry supplements have put my body back on a healthy track.”

What’s the active ingredient?

In sour cherries, the anti-inflammatory component is cyanidin, a kind of anthocyanidin.
Many companies also tout the antioxidants in their cherry-based products, though that isn’t necessarily as awesome as we might think it is.

Does it work as advertised?

While it’s true that sour cherries have anti-inflammatory properties (as shown by numerous legit studies conducted in the past 10 years), the big question is: Do cherry supplements offer the same benefits as the fruit? The answer is

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To date, no comparison studies have been conducted. Generally speaking, though, actual food is usually a more efficient source of nutrients than supplements derived from that food (in some cases, the processing of food to create supplements can even compromise or destroy the active ingredient). (4)

Pac-Man

FACTOID: Cherries enable you to see and devour ghosts

The FDA has sent warning letters to numerous producers of cherry products (drinks, tablets, etc.). There’s nothing wrong with any of these products. The problem is in the labeling. Once you begin to claim curative powers for your food products, you’re automatically selling a drug – and the FDA has yet to approve any cherry-based product as a drug. It’s one thing to sell cherry juice, and quite another to say your cherry juice is an effective treatment for arthritis.

cherry cuddler with gooseberry

FACTOID: Snorting a Cherry Cuddler doll cures herpes.

So what’s the problem?

There is simply no reason to accept, at this point, that any of the bottled cherry products are superior to the real thing. There is no scientific evidence that cherry supplements offer the same potential benefits as plain old sour cherries, and the price of a bottle of cherry juice or cherry pills is considerably higher than a bag of fresh sour cherries, even if they’re out of season. Example: One company offers 60 dried tart cherry capsules for $18.95. Fresh tart cherries rarely exceed $1/lb (US), and 20 of these cherries can have the same effect as a tablet of ibuprofen or aspirin. (4)
So if you’re buying into the supplement hype based on testimonials and a handful of dodgy studies, you might just be a

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(cherry-flavoured, of course)

Thanks to Renee @ The Skeptic Project for directing me to most of the info in this post!

Sources:

1. Seymour EM, Lewis, SK, Urcuyo-Llanes, DE, Kirakosyan A, Kaufman PB, Bolling SF. (2009) Regular Tart Cherry Intake Alters Abdominal Adiposity, Adipose Gene Transcription and Inflammation in Obesity-Prone Rats Fed a High Fat Diet. J Med Food 12(5):935-42.
2. Seymour EM, Kondoleon MG, Huang MG, Kirakosyan A, Kaufman PB, Bolling SF. FASEB Journal. 2011.
3. – Howatson G et al. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 12 2010, vol./is. 20/6(843-52), 0905-7188;1600-0838
– Connolly D et al. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med 2006; 40: 679-683
4.Basics on Sour Cherries” by Karen Ravn (Los Angeles Times. July 14, 2012)