Posts tagged with "Snake oil"

Bite me: Colorado study finds snake venoms hold promise for curing cancers

February 20, 2020

While the “snake oil salesmen” of the past were peddling fraudulent cures, they actually might have been on the right track: According to a team of scientists at the University of Northern Colorado, snake venom may be the remedy for cancer, Denver’s CBS News affiliate reports.

Dr. Stephen Mackessy, a professor at UNC’s School of Biology told CBS4 that, from rattlesnakes to vipers, studies by his students have shown that snake venoms can attack human cancer cells in unique ways.

 “These are compounds that have evolved to kill other animals, and kill things … in general, wreak havoc with living systems,” Mackessy told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “It turns out they are actually a very logical place to look for therapeutics.”

Snake venoms have been used since the 1950s to treat conditions such as high blood pressure in millions of people worldwide. However, Mackessy told the news outlet, his lab is one of the first to research the possible uses of venom compounds to battle various forms of cancer.

“When you think about looking for a therapeutic drug, you don’t turn first to something like a venom or toxin as a source,” Mackessy said.

He noted that  one of  his Ph.D. candidates, Tanner Harvey, has specifically been researching viper venoms—some of which originate in habitats as close to UNC as southern Arizona. Each venom, in different doses, reacts to cancers in distinctive ways.

“[One viper venom] … kills breast cancer really quickly at low doses. And, it kills colon cancer at low doses. But, it doesn’t kill melanoma,” Tanner Harvey told CBS4.

However, other venoms strongly react to melanoma.

Killing the cancer with venom isn’t hard. It’s not killing the patient at the same time that’s the challenge. The team at UNC said their challenge is finding which compounds can be combined with other remedies to kill cancer efficiently, while preserving other life-dependent cells.

“[Finding the proper doses and mixes] is just like panning for gold,” Harvey said.

The study is still in preliminary phases. Once the team believes it has a solid answer to which venom compounds are safe to battle cancer with, the research would press on to one day potentially meet clinical studies.

And, while Mackessy’s team is working toward the goal of curing cancers, another takeaway from their research that both Mackessy and Harvey hope for is that it will encourage the public to stop senselessly killing snakes simply out of fear.

“You never really know what is going to come from a natural source, even something like a rattlesnake,” Mackessy said. “It may be, in fact, that these dangerous animals house in their venom something that one day may be lifesaving for you, or your family members.”

Research contact: @CBSNews

Sorry, your essential oils are essentially snake oils

October 3, 2019

The squeaky wheel—or painful joint—gets the oil: In fact, many people think that the “essential oils” sold by a range of businesses, from apothecaries to drug stores to Walmart, are magical healing potions that also relieve pain.

But according to an October 2 report by The Huffington Post, these great-smelling elixirs do not live up to their health claims—and are actually no more effective than snake oil.

What exactly are they? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, they are highly volatile substance isolated by a physical process from an odoriferous plant of a single botanical species. The oil bears the name of the plant from which it is derived; for example, rose oil or peppermint oil.

Such oils originally were called “essential” because they were thought to represent the very essence of odor and flavor. And when we say originally, we are referring to the fact that essential oils can be traced back to ancient times, when people used them to make medicinal ointments, perfumes and, possibly, embalming fluids.

While we may no longer use them to mummify loved ones, essential oils have made a major comeback in recent years as a popular and powerful natural-healing solution for various ailments and conditions, the HuffPost says.

Many people say the plant-based oils—like lavender, mint and eucalyptus—relieve their migraines more swiftly than over-the-counter drugs. Some people say oils boosted their libido when nothing else seemed to do the trick.

The oils can be applied to the skin, topically, or inhaled. And each plant is tied to a specific health benefit: Peppermint is believed to increase your energy, lavender may help you calm you down, jasmine is understood to lift your mood. Some scents are even touted as able to fight cancer symptomsheart diseaseinfections and diabetes.

Of course, it’s hard to invalidate any one person’s personal experience if they say something personally helped them. However, the HufffPost reports, despite the widespread claims made for essential oils, there is little science actually backing up the testimonials and not much is known about how safe and effective these products are.

Sure, the oils may smell delicious―and the occasional whiff won’t do you any harm and may even help certain issues in the moment―but many experts say they don’t live up to all the health claims.

“So many people are ill, and are looking for something to help them feel better, it’s hard for them to walk away from a simple and natural therapy such as essential oils,” Felice Gersh, an ob/gyn and founder of the Integrative Medicine Group of Irvine, California, told HuffPost.

Essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration—and the research we do have on the oils is often based on very small or poorly designed studies, Gary Soffer, the acting director of the integrative medicine program at the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Connecticut, told the news outlet.

“The widespread use of essential oils without a substantial body of evidence to support it is certainly concerning,” Soffer said. “While they are generally safe, it can be shortsighted to simply see them as completely risk free.”

Still, those who swear by the oils include health professionals. Some experts suspect this is because of a very convincing placebo effect.

“Across many conditions—including anxiety, depression, and pain—when people believe something is helpful, they sometimes experience benefit,” Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care in Stanford, California, told the HuffPost during an interview. “Any claims of healing power beyond the placebo effect should be regarded with extreme skepticism.”

Research contact: @HuffPost