BUZZ OVER DANDELIONS
Cancer research continues
Exaggerated claims about the effectiveness of dandelion root as a cancer cure-all are frustrating the efforts of a local oncologist and a biochemist conducting legitimate research into the extract.
As clinical director of the Windsor Cancer Research Group, Dr. Caroline Hamm fields emails and phone calls every week from patients who have been misled by the reckless assertions of a questionable publication or internet site.
“I think most people are desperate and they hear this stuff and they think it’s not toxic and they think it will cure everything,” Hamm said.
It only takes a shallow dive into the web to find a headline shouting in bold type “Scientists find root that kills 98 per cent of cancer cells in only 48 hours.”
The online article mentions Hamm by name along with two leukemia patients who tout the healing virtues of dandelion tea.
The article goes on to claim “further studies have concluded that the extract also has anti-cancer benefits for other types of cancer including breast, colon, prostate, liver and lung cancer.”
Such sweeping declarations make Hamm cringe.
“We can’t claim anything yet,” she said. “It’s very, very early in the process. Basically we’ve had some signals and that’s all.”
Hamm has been involved in a research study of 30 patients using dandelion root extract for the past year. She said they’re at least another year away from compiling any findings.
“Then at least we’ll have some data, which is better than what we have now and that’s all anecdotal,” she said.
University of Windsor biochemist Siyaram Pandey has been studying the anti-cancer potential of dandelion root since 2010 and bogus claims only muddy the water and threaten the legitimacy of his research.
“There is lots of material on the internet about it without any scientific validation,” Pandey said. “We are concerned about it because our whole study could be invalidated.”
Pandey’s promising work with cell cultures and animals led to dandelion root being “the first natural extract reviewed by Health Canada and approved for clinical trial,” he said.
“We have published six research articles in good journals,” he added. “We don’t make any claim that this is a miracle drug. It’s very important the right message gets out. We’re very excited about the research but people should only read authentic information about it.”
The false hope embedded in unfounded claims is not limited to dandelion root.
“There are many products that people claim can cure cancer,” said Dr. Robert Nuttall, the assistant director of health policy for the Canadian Cancer Society. “Good scientific research has not yet shown that these alternative therapies are effective or safe in treating cancer.”
Hamm said education is the key to medicinal myth busting.
“I think we need more education about natural medicine,” she said. “Nothing is without side effects. Everything has side effects.”
Hamm worries about “the people at the end of their rope” who want to stop traditional treatments in favour of something natural.
“Choosing to use an alternative therapy can have serious health effects, such as the cancer spreading or getting worse,” Nuttall said. “Delaying conventional cancer treatment to use an alternative therapy can lower the chances of treating the cancer successfully.”
Nuttall urges cancer patients to “make treatment decisions with the best available information, including knowledge of what the treatment can, or cannot, do and what the side effects may be. Treatments that offer the best hope of success are backed up by good scientific evidence.”