The False Hope of the Hufeland Klinik

mistletoe Wales Online reports the tragic story of a two-year old girl with stage-four neuroblastoma. I cannot imagine the emotions the parents must be going through. I am sure if my children were ever in this position, I would consider anything to save them. Such desperation though provides rich pickings for those offering miracle cures and dubious treatments. As a society, we do a very poor job of protecting children and parents from such questionable practices.

One problem in preventing exploitation of the most very sick is how the media tackles such stories. It appears to be incapable of looking beyond the claims made by these therapists and insists on portraying it as a narrative of a desperate child who might be saved by ‘innovative treatments’ if only the NHS was more flexible or the cash could be raised.

Tyler Mears reports in the article how the parents of Eliza are trying to raise £60,000 to send their child to the Hufeland Klinik in Germany. We are told that the clinic can “offer their daughter a three week, post-chemo immune building treatment to give her a better chance of recovery.” Apparently ‘specialists’ have told them this is true. What is this clinic offering Eliza?

The complementary treatment includes travel to the renowned Hufeland Clinic in Germany for an immune system rebuild, plus a tailored plan of dietary supplements and food, some of which have to be imported from the US.

Such a huge sum of money has to be raised by the parents and they are calling for help with a fundraising page. To date they have raised over £14,000. This seams like an incredible amount of money for some vitamin pills and some advice about diet.

But is the Hufeland Klinik offering anything meaningful? Can a special diet of expensive food supplement pills ‘boost’ her immune system and help her chances? Where is the evidence?

First of all, having a good diet can indeed be important. Doctors and their Dietician colleagues will advise on what is best. Sometime this may involve taking vitamin and supplements. However, many alternative therapists suggests supplements can actually act as a cancer treatment in their own right. There is little good evidence for this. In fact, talking the large quantities of vitamins can be harmful and even interfere with cancer treatments. According to Cancer Research UK, little is known about the interactions between supplements and cancer treatments. The fear is that antioxidants may even interfere with the cancer destroying properties of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Taking such pills should only be done in consultation with your oncologist.

Given this uncertainty, it is amazing that the Hufeland Klinik make such bold claims on their website. They make it clear that their aim is to treat cancer using ‘naturopathic’ means. They focus on ‘detoxification’ – a pseudoscientific concept that has no real meaning. Their description of their diet approach looks like nothing much more than the usual nutritionist nonsense – raw vegetables – an obsession with drinking lots – juicing – and an irrational intolerance of sugar.

Their description of their ‘Biological Therapy’ lists a set of treatments that are common in naturopathic clinics, such as High Dose Intravenous Vitamin C, Ozone Therapy and enemas. Not only are these treatments without any meaningful scientific evidence base or rationale, they can also be harmful. Naturopathic treatment is not a scientific approach to medicine and is regarded as quackery. As alternative medicine expert, Edzard Ernst, says The German ‘Heilpraktiker (Naturopath)’ is a relic from the Nazis that endangers public health”.

Other treatments on the Hufeland Klinik website raise concerns. Fever Therapy infects the patient with ‘bacterial lipopolysaccharides’ in order to induce a fever. This is done to ‘heat the tumour to 43°C’ in order to kill it.  Rudolf Steiner’s occult mistletoe cancer treatment is also used. Despite many trials, this treatment has not proven to be effective and can harm. Other odd therapies include ‘Brainlight’, ‘chromotherapy’ and ‘Kneipp Therapy’ which consists of naturopathic classics such as hydrotherapy (water treatment), herbs and vitamins.

It does look as if the Hufeland Klinik offers a set of treatments that are either discredited, unproven, useless or even dangerous. If these treatments are really costing this poor family £60,000 then it does look hard to justify this money and those donating to the appeal are being misled. It is a shame such sums raised could not be used to help the family through what must be a devastating period of their lives. Work must be suffering and no doubt such sums could go a long way to providing practical support and care in their own home. Attending this clinic will most likely not offer hope but add to the series of awful experiences being suffered by the child.

The newspaper must bear some responsibility here. Without their uncritical reporting it would be harder to raise money. One would have thought that the first thing a journalist would do when presented with a ‘miracle cure’ type story would be check out the evidence for any claims. But in my experience this is almost never done. The papers love to run with the trope of an NHS that refuses to pay for ‘innovative’ treatments, doctors that are unable to think outside of their narrow treatments and a brave family battling this medical and social conservatism. But this trope is a myth. If the NHS does not provide a treatment it is almost always because it is not evidence-based, or is still in development or there are more cost-effective alternatives. Sometimes it might be right for someone to raise money to travel overseas for treatment, but again, this would almost always be in the context of taking part in a trial and money being required for hotels and other support during therapy. We saw a few years ago how the British press helped fund people to attend the notorious Texan cancer quack, Burzynski. Nothing has changed.

Families in this terrible situation need all the support society can offer them. Some of that will involve helping them to navigate through the myriad of cruel and deceptive claims made on the web by peddlers of false hope and impossible miracles. We are badly served by our newspapers who refuse to engage in that difficult, sensitive and important conversation.

On this theme…

23 Comments on The False Hope of the Hufeland Klinik

  1. The “treatment” is lethal. In August an Italian girl died after a very similar treatment:
    Eleonora Bottaro
    http://transgallaxys.com/~kanzlerzwo/index.php?topic=9055.0
    The Italian media have a number of articles about this case, which is a mixture of Hamer’s “New Germanic Medicine” (also sold in UK as “Meta-Medicine” by Richard Flook) and of “wholistic” therapies like high doses of vitamin C, etc. It is the latter group that in this case is used to rip off parents and supporters with tens of thousands of Euros.

    According to our news wire the newspaper is not going to change its article. This is one more case of media abusing their power to delude and exploit the public. This newspapers does that daily.

  2. The major myth pedalled by these clinics and the press is that most cancers are under control of the immune system. Hence ‘boosting the immune response’ is inherently attractive – too good to be false – and is much invoked in alternative medicine and by the quacks. There’s no evidence for success in use of this strategy in the common cancers, or even the rare ones – and the strategy was firmly discredited in academic medicine after the enthusiasm in the 1980s.

  3. The script spoils about everything. This is not for this topic but for another one:

    “BX Protocol” is a fake (nothing but coloured water), manufactured and sold by gangsters in Salt Lake County, Utah: Dewayne Lee Smith, Linda Pendleton Smith, Christian Oesch, Todd David Mauer. Tony Jimenez is a leading part of that gang.
    The fraud scheme is a pyramid scam, which has outposts in Europe.

    Here is the real story: http://transgallaxys.com/~kanzlerzwo/index.php?topic=9070.0

    Ever heard of Dietrich Klinghardt? That is the guy who gives little children chlorine bleach (“MMS”) enemas against autism. Klinghardt is part of the “BX Protocol” gang. He is an “affiliate”, that is a “sponsor” in the pyramid system.

  4. As per usual, you quote from Ernst reviews but fail to highlight Cochrane which concluded that data on side effects indicated that, depending on the dose, mistletoe extracts were usually well tolerated and had few side effects.I know who I’d take more seriously. Cochrane also concluded that mistletoe improved the QoF in breast cancer patients.Hardly death on a stick.
    In case you hadn’t noticed, immunotherapy is currently all the rage in conventional cancer research at the moment. Viscum, cordyceps and astragalus would be a good place to pump some money into in terms of research. Stimulating Interleukin 2 production by the body using plant extracts seems a rational and safe approach to take. Perhaps the usual suspects at Sense About Science would support a campaign to fund robust RCTs by the government and cancer charities.

    Then again hell would freeze over.

    • Robin. The Cochrane review is hardly a ringing endorsement is it? Despite decades of use, at best only weak evidence is available. It is worth remembering that there is no good rationale to using mistletoe – it was dreamt up from the mystical ramblings of an occultist. Hardly the best way to create hypotheses for cancer treatments? Do you agree? And as for ‘immunotherapy’, I see the appropriation of a term on the Hufeland website, not actual evidence of serious research. If I am wrong, I would expect some detailed explanation of what exactly the clinic is doing that can be accurately described as immunotherapy and not just advertising.

  5. I just find it interesting that Cochrane found mistletoe to be comparatively safe when compared to previous reviews.

    Cochrane are unable to include non-RCTs in their systematic reviews which is why Grossarth_Maticek review wasn’t included.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11347286
    Still, a large study looking at primary endpoint data in 10,000 patients (eg. death) floats my boat. Especially when those using mistletoe long-term saw a life expectancy of 7.08 years compared to 3.45years in the control group. Which is why we need to fund a substantial RCT for what could be a significant addition to cancer therapy.

    Plus we have RCTs that have shown it improves quality of life in patients on chemotherapy (see Cochrane).

    Whether it was discovered as a cancer therapy by Donald Duck or Crusty the Clown I couldn’t give a flying. For some strange reason you do.

    • There are good reasons why non-RCT trials are not included in Cochrane reviews. The risk of bias is too high. So we can pretty much discount any cherry picked cohort study you wish to pull out of your hat.

      As for trials in Cochrane that show “improves quality of life in patients on chemotherapy’, let’s remind ourselves of what the review says.

      Nevertheless, there is some evidence that mistletoe extracts may offer benefits on measures of QOL during chemotherapy for breast cancer, but these results need replication.

      Not a ringing endorsement.

      And yes it does matter who came up with the idea and why. We are not going to waste money research Crusty the Clown’s magic cancer cure and neither should we spend money on investigating Steiner’s mystical barmpot cancer cure. What conceivable reason would you do that?

  6. But Cochrane are calling for more robust studies on mistletoe. Why wouldn’t you want to follow their advice? Especially, in a therapy which has been shown to be comparatively safe (see Cochrane and not Ernst) and used on ten of thousands of people over decades compared to new conventional therapies which are used on 2000 healthy volunteers before being granted a marketing authorisation. Thank god we didn’t listen to the “usual suspects” 50 years ago otherwise we would never have plant derived wonder drugs such as metformin and warfarin.

    It’s not just me that’s seeing the light over polypharmacy. The following programme is poorly made (this is the BBC) but there is a message that Sense About Science need to take on board. A lot of conventional medicines do a lot of harm and have limited benefits. Alternative approaches need to be looked at and that’s a message that people like Sir Iain Chalmers at Cochrane are making.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07w532p/the-doctor-who-gave-up-drugs-episode-1

    • Find me a Cochrane review that does not call for more research.

      That mistletoe might be ‘safe’ is not a reason to think it is a therapy worth investigating. Lots of things are safe. Does not mean they are medicine. There has to be a sound rationale to investigate mistletoe – and the rationale for mistletoe is based on the magical thinking of a crackpot clairvoyant.

  7. Then Cochrane must be a bunch of suckers spending years reviewing the evidence for a therapy based on the magical thinking of your mate Ruddy.

    I don’t think they are, do you?

    If mistletoe isn’t medicine then why bother doing a systematic review?

    They certainly have more gravitas than Sense About Science and Ernst in the sphere of medicine, wouldn’t you agree?

    • Cochrane do reviews because mistletoe is used quite a lot and big claims are made for it by those that sell it. The evidence gathered by Cochrane suggests there is no substance to these claims. This helps patients and doctors come to better decisions about treatment.

      I have been critical in the past of Cochrane of doing reviews for treatments where there is no prior plausibility that the treatment might work. But that is another day.

  8. You condemn the so called alternative therapies. Sadly often people die from cancer regardless of the type of treatment. How do you explain the millions of death despite ( or by) the conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy?

    • Is it really worth the effort tonight of replying to someone who obviously could not think their way out of a paper bag?

    • Exactly so. The critics always take 1-2 cases to prove their point but dont cite the thousands or more that have died due to conventional therapy

  9. Andy, your head is in the paper bag. Your thinking is so typical for the medical establishment – anybody who has thoughts different from theirs are idiots. Even if the evidence is front of their eyes, they are denying it. You remind me the educated individuals from many hundreds years ago who believed the earth is flat.
    I’m not saying all alternative therapies are equal or successful. Nor the allopathic therapies. But I have more than good experiences with supplements, my husband also. He had high blood pressure and suffered from bad heartburn – these problems went away when he followed a naturopath advice, started taking good quality mineral and vitamin supplements. And he started salting his food!!! How contradictory. How the doctors would treat these ? With pills with side effects which he supposed to take until his death, and say avoid salt because of your blood pressure !!!
    I have anxiety issues, sometimes they were so bad, my chest was literally aching for hours. I don’t wish this anyone. Imagine it stopped in few days when I started taking multiminerals. I still experience anxiety, although not so severe and the chest pain stopped. The severe bleeding from my gums stopped since I taking high dose vitamin C. What the dentist say? Visit us every half year, wash your teeth properly, floss. What they are advising is not enough. They never told me how vit C helps in gum disease. By the way we always had a good diet, never smoked, lead a quite healthy lifestyle. But the vitamins and minerals in todays food are not enough. What naturopathic doctors say chronic diseases are the results of mineral and vitamin deficiency – this seems to me more than logical.
    My mum always followed the MDs and the official health advice. She died in her mid 70s after many years of ill health. My dad avoided doctors like a plaque and he is still fit as a fiddle near to the 80. He wavered, had check up last month, where the doctor prescribed statins for him. Now I’m trying to talk him out of taking it.
    I could have write more examples why I don’t trust MDs. I know the likes of you dismiss them as anecdotal and unfounded. But there are too many stories like these and makes me angry how the official medicine thinks they have got the monopoly for knowledge. While they are good at trauma care and surgery, but their treatments of chronic diseases are a fail!!! Admit it!!! Come down from your high ivory tower and open your mind, Andy ! It do for you good.
    By the way thank you for your website, it’s great!!! You probably don’t know but you and your faithful sidekick, the bad monkey do more for the so called alternative medicine, than many NDs. Keep up the good work !!! 😉

  10. Hello to everyone,

    I´m the CEO of Hufeland Clinic Germany. We do offer an integrative Cancer Treament for more than 30 years now. We never ever had a two year old Child which we´ve treated and charged with the unbeliveable sum of 60.000 Pounds. I will forward this articel to our lawyers. Nothing on this article is true!!

  11. I dont know anything about this clinic except that a friend told me his very good friend was cured of pancreatic cancer there which was deemed incurable by all the doctors who had treated him prior to going to the clinic. So i wonder if this article was written by a paid sponsor of the pharmaceutical industries whose main objective is to discredit all alternative medical options.

  12. Oh dear. Flawed friend of a friend’s evidence (FOF). Famously, no one ever saw the Indian Rope Trick, but it got established as a fact because FOFs had seen it in India.

  13. After watching my wife deal with colon cancer, two round of 5FU chemo, colon resection, liver resection, and several ablations of tumors on her liver (all conventional treatments) with the tumors returning within 6 months, we changed paths to a naturalpathic approach. I believe she would not have survived another round of chemo but the naturalpathic approach gave her two more years of better quality of life. We visited Hufeland and my only regret was we didn’t know about it sooner. She has since passed but I still believe we were on the right path of which Hufeland was part of that path. The solution is out there and it will be a balance between conventional and naturalpathic methods. John Hopkins University (USA) is doing clinical trials on Misletoe therapy for cancer treatment right now.

    If you go anywhere you need to be realistic on the status of your condition and educate yourself on how to balance your treatment for what you think is right for you.

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