The placebo effect accounts for positive testimonials supporting the unproven cancer therapy Te Kiri Gold, scientist Dr Siouxsie Wiles says.
The notable science communicator and microbiologist has joined the call for an investigation into the untested bleach water touted as a cancer killing therapy.
She says the vulnerability of terminally ill patients and the high cost of the unproven tonic is a “good recipe” for a strong placebo effect, in which patients taking the product expect to feel better, so do.
Te Kiri Gold (TKG), an electrolysed water containing hypocholorus acid, has been widely dismissed by medical experts but continues to be sold to terminally ill cancer patients for $100 a two-litre bottle.
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Testimonials on the TKG website speak of the product reducing tumours, alleviating pain, and boosting energy.
“My pain has subsided and my energy and vitality levels have returned to pre-diagnosis,” one testimonial says.
Information provided to patients says TKG will kill cancer cells upon consumption, improving health in the first few days of treatment.
Inventor Vernon Coxhead says anecdotal stories of TKG treating cancer prove its efficacy and refuses to run an authorised, double-blind test.
“Everybody else that’s not taking it is the clinical trial, isn’t it?,” he previously said.
Clinical trials were essential for gathering medical evidence and weeding out the placebo effect, Wiles said.
“They’ve done nothing like that. To me, it reeks of snake oil.”
Telling patients they will feel better in the first few days of treatment will generally have that effect.
“The placebo effect is very strong. It works really well for subjective things, things like pain and nausea.
“We also know that the more people spend on a treatment, and the more they’re mentally invested in it, the stronger the placebo effect.”
A two-litre bottle of Te Kiri Gold is sold for $100. Patients are advised to take 600mls a day for a period of eight weeks, the equivalent of 17 bottles at a cost of $1700.
“This product is quite expensive, so if people have invested a lot of money in it, then they will really want it to work. That doesn’t mean it’s actually killing anything.” An unauthorised trial run by the makers of Te Kiri Gold could fall foul of medical regulations, Wiles said.
Terminally ill patients who purchase Te Kiri Gold are asked to provide extensive medical information under the pretense of a trial of the product.
“People don’t pay to be part of a real clinical trial. All of the ways these people are conducting themselves is worrying.” Medical regulators should work to stop the sale of Te Kiri Gold, she said.
Coxhead and Dr Mitchell Feller, a co-director of the company behind TKG and registered GP, have previously said they were conducting a clinical trial but failed to register it with medical authorities. The Ministry of Health notified them it could not be called a clinical trial, but they are continuing a human trial “just for us”, Coxhead said.
University of Auckland associate professor of law Joanna Manning said the law doesn’t directly enforce the registration of unproven products being trialled.
Any health providers involved would be obliged to seek ethics approval to carry out this kind of research, she said.
“It’s indirectly enforceable in the sense that you can breach the code of patient’s rights if you don’t do so.”