Partly because it’s the weekend, partly because the NZ Skeptics conference is on, I wander through some examples where critical reasoning was absent.[1]

According this blurb for the second edition of the Sodium Bicarbonate e-book, baking soda is the cure-all. Titled Sodium Bicarbonate – Rich Man’s Poor Man’s Cancer Treatment, by Mark Sircus, merely fixing cancer was not enough for the second edition:

“The main thrust of the first edition was on the use of sodium bicarbonate for cancer treatment. This vastly expanded second edition extends coverage into important areas of kidney disease, diabetes, treatment of flu and the common cold, and other areas of general medicine. Truly sodium bicarbonate is a universal medicine that is nutritional as well as safe and is of help no matter what syndrome we are facing.”

Yes, that right, baking soda is the cure to end them all![2]

They’ve even recommend it for use to weather “the toxic [oil slick] storm that continues to build over the Gulf region.” (Clarification in square brackets mine.)

The blurb writes “This authoritative volume is the only full medical review available on the subject.” I’m not surprised, although not for the reason the author would like. I’d quibble at their use of the word ‘medical’, too.

I’ll let you entertain yourself with—as the blurb puts it—The Mightly Mallet of Baking Soda. You might also want to read the respectfully insolent case on this.

I found the book’s advertising blurb via a web forum, Beyond Vaccination, sidetracking while following leads on New Zealander Hilary Butler’s involvement with the Renatas after the death of their daughter, Jasmine - the subject of a recent coroner’s inquiry.[3] Hilary is also the founder of the anti-vaccine Immune Awareness Society. (This forum is also linked from Peter and Hilary Butler’s website Beyond Conformity: “We alse run an Oceania FORUM,BEYOND VACCINATION, where you will find more information, and people to talk to.”)

At Beyond Vaccination member ‘Barefoot’ posted a link to the book’s blurb titled ‘Knock out the Flu with Baking Soda’. That post was edited by Hilary Butler (aka ‘Momtezuma Tuatara’[4]).

Did she correct the forum member of the bad science on offer? No.

Point out how daft the idea was? No.

She edited it’s title from baking powder to baking soda: “Reason for edit. Baking powder, is quite different to baking soda :-)”

So that it’s not baking powder but baking soda is important but the nonsense in the blurb itself doesn’t matter?

(Note that to make her correction to the forum poster’s shout-out of the blurb, she’d have to read the blurb to realise that baking soda was being referred to as the comment posting the link offers no way of realising the error. Point is, she’d have seen the nonsense it is.)

There’s more: not only did she not criticise this, she supports the idea that baking soda should be used to treat cancer.

While looking to see what else Hilary had said with reference to baking soda I encountered this:

“Oral sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) can diminish the severity of the changes produced by uranium in the kidneys.”

It’s in a grab-bag titled Nuclear Fallout where Hilary offers a list of (dubious) remedies for treatment of radiation damage. She’s clearly hunted down ‘remedies’ with words associated with radiation damage, regardless of whatever merit they might have, and plunked them down on the page with no critical thought. (There may be an element of truth in protecting kidney function, but it’s been over-played; other suggestions there are plainly silly.)

Her call on using baking soda is echoed in more exaggerated form on Mark Sircus’s blog: “And importantly, it [baking soda] is also a powerful buffer against radiation exposure, so everyone should be up to speed on its use. Everybody’s physiology is under heavy nuclear attack from strong radioactive winds that are circling the northern hemisphere.” Talk about appealing to fears.

Particularly telling is Hilary’s list of homeopathic remedies for treating radiation.[5]

I draw attention to the homeopathic remedies Hilary lists because of rule of thumb I have: anyone who promotes or sells homeopathic remedies has either lost ability to think critically or, if they know homeopathic remedies are worthless remedies, are being unethical.[6] Homeopathy is probably the easiest of the ‘woo’ to see as junk. Dilute (supposed) active ingredients until they are no longer in the remedy—yes, that’s really what they do—then dress the remedy up with stories about water having memories and whatnot. Ridiculous doesn’t even start to describe it. Steven Novella at Science-Based Medicine put it this way:

 In my opinion the conclusion is ineluctable – homeopathy is a fraud being perpetrated on the public worldwide.  Governments and regulatory agencies that are supposed to protect the public from medical fraud have failed to do so.

If you’re interested in homeopathy, Steven‘s article is worth reading for a recent update; you might also look in Footnote 5 for my own more modest efforts. Homeopathy so pathetic that I have admit I occasionally mistype it homeopathetic in an appropriate kind of Freudian slip!

Hilary Butler believes “that cancer is a reaction to fungus” that might be treated with baking soda. That cancer is a fungus and can be treated with baking soda is the thesis of Dr. Tullio Simoncini, whose odd notion that tumours are ‘seeded’ by fungal infections have been widely, to be polite, “questioned”, for example at Respectful Insolence.

The company you keep and all - this website touts an interview of Dr. Simoncini by David Icke. It gets worse: this blog, whose authors include a pathologist, point to articles claiming Dr. Simoncini has been convicted in Italy for manslaughter and medical fraud including causing perforated intestines and has had his license to practice medicine withdrawn. Cancer is not a fungus covers Simoncini’s “science” and sorts out some of the nonsense, including his medical status and earlier career. There are no publications featuring ‘Simoncini cancer sodium bicarbonate’ in PubMed, the major international database of biomedical research literature.

The website for Dr. Simoncini’s book Cancer is a fungus (my emphasis) offers that,

“At the moment, sodium bicarbonate […] is the only remedy capable of making the tumours disappear completely.”

All-encompassing claims like this, saying that all the many different kinds of tumours will “disappear completely”, like the wide ranging claims of baking soda made in the blurb for Sodium Bicarbonate – Rich Man’s Poor Man’s Cancer Treatment, should always be treated with skepticism – if not dismissal in the absence of copious evidence.

There are many different kinds of cancers; it is extremely unlikely there will be one single ‘magic bullet’ to treat them all.

In her article Lucy’s Miracle, Hilary seems to think that baking soda ought to be applied as a cancer treatment—she cites Dr. Simoncini, too—and that oncologists treating fungal infections prior to chemotherapy are inadvertently treating the cancer itself:

To me, the “miracle” is that the Starship specialists treated the fungus first….. even if they did not use bicarbonate of soda. The usual oncologist would completely dismiss any suggestion that cancer is a reaction to fungus, so to treat a fungus, to cure cancer is a preposterous idea, right?  But after watching Dr Tullio Simoncini’s videos showing how fast his cancer patients get better, should we be surprised at just how fast Lucy improved?  I’m sure her family will attribute her seeming remission to the cocktail of highly toxic drugs for which they must don gloves and syringe into her mouth three times a day, after all they continue to give it to her three times a day.., but is it?

And did my mother die of cancer, or of untreated fungus?

I’m no oncologist, but I can see a plainer reason for the fungal treatment – clearing an existing infection before chemotherapy (if the patient can tolerate a delay in chemotherapy) so the patient’s body then won’t also have to cope with the infection during chemotherapy.

There is some literature claiming that ‘pH therapy’ might reduce the spread of some malignant cancers. That tentative claim is far from Simoncini’s bold assertion that it will cause all kinds of tumours to disappear completely. There’s also reason to be skeptical about these claims.[7]

Hilary goes on to segue from fungus and cancer back to her rosacea, which she mentions earlier in her article, offering that it might be a form of candida infection:[8]

Is my rosacea, of nearly 20 years duration, actually a form of systemic candida?

With no place else to turn, and nothing to lose, in October 2008 I started an anti-candida diet.  It’s hard going when you are cutting out what to most people, are the “mainstays of pleasure”.

But, for the first time, I’m starting to see a new me.

The rosacea is retreating.

I’ve energy absolutely leaking out of my ears.

A lot of other things are visibly changing.  What, you may ask?  It may sound silly, but I was born with such dark brown eyes into a blue-eyed family, that the common comment was, “And which milkman was your father?”.  When I married Peter, my eyes were green on the outside, and brown in the middle.  “Hazel” is the term you might have used.  After doing the Ultimate Cleanse in November, two astonishing things happened.  The first was that stuff came out of me, the likes of which you would not believe.  Second, all the brown in my eye colour has disappeared, and my eye colour is now a slate grey blue with a slight green tinge.

She justifies her Ultimate Cleanse course with “I might as well try something truly radical, on the basis that at least, it makes (common) sense to me.” She also doesn’t explain what the stuff that came out of her was and, to be honest, I’m not sure I want to know.

A very recent proposal considers if rosacea is caused face mite faeces or bacterial infection related to them. They note that “Rosacea often improves with antibacterial drugs that don’t affect the mites, such as tetracyclines.” It seems that rosacea has been associated with the face mites (Demodex) for a while now, although a fuller understanding is still lacking and/or may not be as widely appreciated as it might be.[9]

Hilary’s arguments show a collection of erroneous thinking common to those exploring ‘alternative remedies’. There’s the classic lack of critical thought running through much of her writing, such as offering homeopathy as a treatment (for anything). There’s looking for exotic answers when ordinary ones would fare better, such as her reasoning over oncologists treating fungal infections. There’s reliance on ‘common sense’ rather than evidence. There’s overlooking material suggesting the treatment, or the people behind them, are unsound. I could go on.

It’s interesting, too, to see the ‘messages’ travel in circles, re-enforcing the erroneous ideas. My story following them travels a circle, too. I opened with the blurb for Sodium Bicarbonate – Rich Man’s Poor Man’s Cancer Treatment, which cited work at the University of Arizona in support of baking soda treating cancer. As I was completing writing this up, I learnt that Dr. Pagel’s group at the University of Arizona had obtained $US 2 million in funding from NCCAM (the US National Center for Complimentary & Alternative Medicine) to apply imaging techniques that can measure pH towards studying “the effectiveness of personalized baking soda therapy to treat breast cancer.” By personalised they appear to mean to measure the pH of the tumour cells then ‘tailor’ the baking soda solution accordingly. I have no problem with the use of the imaging equipment—that much is fine—but am concerned if spending that much is wise if there are better, more likely, things crying out for funding. But, then again, this is NCCAM funding the work… The author of the book even gets in too early to crow that he’s having the last laugh – well before the issue is resolved.

It’s unfortunate people latch only these ‘new’ ideas with little critical thought. Even less unfortunate is some touting them, in the perhaps well-meant guise of helping others, offering untested or unsound ideas as credible by—if nothing else—leaving out material showing that at worst they’re likely to be fraudulent or at best neither/nor, and so should be ignored until better evidence is found to resolve them one way or other .

Feel free to extend on my tentative start on these in the comments below.


After I had written this article I saw Ed Yong had written a long piece on the Demodex mites, including their link with rosacea; if you’re interested in that aspect, check his article out. (In hindsight I wish I’d focused on that only, but never mind. Not a lot of point now that Ed has covered it…)

Orac also touches on Sircus and Simoncini in other articles. He seems to have covered every major crank, but surprisingly seems not to have covered NZ’s (or, rather, Czechoslovakia’s) Milan Brych, recently the subject of a TV documentary.

1. I’m writing this partly as I need to get some of the nonsense I’ve seen lately out of my system as I’d like to get back to writing about science. To the skeptics: this is far from my best, sorry. But better than nothing! (There’s also a lot related to the Jasmine Renata coroner’s inquest that I’ve read that I could write about, including Hilary Butler’s involvement, but that will have to wait until when (if) I can face several evenings of unrelenting tortured claims.)

2. Having implied it treats cancer they then walk around that, talking how it aids cancer treatment – the sort of word games we’ve come to expect from some proponents of natural health or related stances (e.g. some ant-vaccine—opps ‘pro vaccine-choice—proponents do likewise).

3. She claims to have considerable involvement but it’s also possible that’s an impression she wants to convey, rather than an actual large involvement. While the sitting for the inquest has been held, the coroner’s report has not yet been published.

4. Orac, of Respectful Insolence, mentions her by that name in this post. I get the impression Hilary doesn’t particularly hide that the pseudonym is her, so that the pseudonym is more a moniker she likes(d).

5. I’ve written lots on homeopathy. Here, knock yourself out:

Time for disclaimers on remedies?, “alternative” or not

Homeopathy — practical remedies to address it?

Homeopath says to treat a burn… burn it some more

Message to Otago Daily Times: homeopath is not a sound career option*

In good health or not? — ’natural health’ advertising in newspapers, magazines

Undiluted humour: If Homeopathy Beats Science

Homeopathy check-up: Not in the health system, disclaimers on labels

Homeopathic remedies in NZ pharmacies

Alliances of pharmacists & GPs; opportunities to pressure for removal of useless ’remedies’?

Pharmacists to say that homeopathy does not work?

Medical DIY…

Sources for medical information for non-medics and non-scientists

6. Or should know that homeopathic remedies are worthless. I consider pharmacies that sell homeopathic remedies unethical too. This happens in New Zealand.

7. Sodium bicarbonate (i.e. baking soda) is used as an antacid and, according to MedLinePlus, sometimes used to aid management of blood and urine acidity. The latter uses include during chemotherapy to protect kidney function as explained at Respectful Insolence. This literature is recent, limited and with a few exceptions is in the ‘minor’ journals, including ‘alternative medicine’ publications. (The point being that if you do accept these claims, they’re tentative at this stage.) Some of it focuses on proton pump inhibitors rather than sodium bicarbonate.

8. Candida is the fungal genera best known for being the infectious agent in thrush, where people have a white fungal growth on the inside of their mouths, or some types of vaginal infections.

9. I currently have only access to the abstract of this paper.

Other articles on Code for life (for homeopathy, see Footnote 6):

Thoughts on, and for, those trying to choose to vaccinate or not

Do TED lectures need better vetting?

Fact or fallacy, a survey of immunisations statements in the print media

Immunisation then and now

Medical DIY…

Sources for medical information for non-medics and non-scientists