This is not a health food. Don't drink it.

This is not a health food. Don’t drink it.

I enjoy feedback from readers. Yes, there’s the regular hate mail accusing me of being a Big Pharma Shill. But there’s the occasional appreciative comment from someone that found a post helpful or informative. The most gratifying feedback is when someone tells me that something I wrote led to a more informed health decision. Often it’s because I was able to answer a question that they couldn’t find a science-based answer to. I’ve answered thousands of questions in my pharmacy career, and have only blogged a handful of them (so far). One of my most fascinating experiences was a stint working evenings in a pharmacy that happened to have a large “natural” health focus. It’s there I began to scrutinize alternative medicine more closely, because it was virtually all the store sold. Homeopathy, ear candles, copper bracelets and salt lamps were all for sale. If it was unproven, proven ineffective, or defied some law of physics or chemistry, this pharmacy probably sold it. But the customers loved these products. I was dumbfounded. Some would buy dozens of supplements, costing hundreds dollars per month, on the advice of their naturopath, treating some vague or non-specific complaints. Others swore by homeopathic remedies, for themselves and their pets. It was common to meet people who were treating conditions that either didn’t exist, or hadn’t been properly diagnosed, like naturopath-diagnosed “food intolerances” or “hormone imbalances”. There were also the occasional “pH balancing” advocates that insisted I was misguided and uneducated for reassuring them that their body’s pH was just fine, despite what their urine test strips were telling them.

I eventually stopped being surprised at the recommendations and practices I was seeing, and started becoming concerned and sometimes even appalled. Much of my time was spent (often unsuccessfully) trying to correct misinformation and beliefs that these individuals not only felt were true, but strongly and personally identified with. If you reassure someone that they don’t have an infection that requires antibiotics, they’re generally pretty happy. But when you explain that “detox” is a marketing term, and there is no need to waste money on a “detox” kit, sometimes it only seemed to reinforce the belief that supplements were useful. Several times I was presented with a prescription, and a simultaneous request for a supplement recommendation as a substitute for the drug, based on the belief that supplements are as effective as and safer than prescription drugs. I’d explain that following a heart attack, and considering quality, safety, and efficacy, that red yeast rice was a poor substitute for a statin. Some would feel otherwise. Many had a very negative perception about the risk and benefits of prescription drugs, with the opposite perception about the merits of various “alternative” remedies.

Every time I think I’ve heard it all in the world of alternative medicine, I can still be surprised. But there will be no natural limit of alternative medicine remedies and treatments for the same reason that there are an infinite number of wrong answers for every right one. A reader writes:

A friend has been taking turpentine orally as ordered by her naturopath to remove candida from her body. She claims she has been transformed – more energy, losing her fat, etc. Would like your comments on this. Do you have any info about it?

There are a couple of questions to sort out here. The first is the safety and efficacy of the oral consumption of turpentine. The second is scientific evidence supporting naturopatic beliefs about “candida” infections.

Turpentine: Natural, perhaps. Safe? No

You may have used turpentine to thin paints and clean brushes, which is its most typical use. Turpentine is an essential oil distilled from pine tree sap – so it does have “natural” origins. The major active ingredients in turpentine are aromatic hydrocarbons called terpenes, natural chemicals widely found in essential oils that provide the aroma and flavour of many everyday products – like the hint of pine resin you taste in your IPA. As you might expect from the poison label on a bottle of turpentine, consuming turpentine can cause hydrocarbon poisoning. At little as a single tablespoon of turpentine can be fatal to a child. Fatalities appear to be rare in adults from consumption, but turpentine can cause severe and even fatal lung inflammation if inhaled, in addition to heart arrhythmias. The CDC says turpentine is “Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health Concentrations.” Even the vapour can irritate mucous membranes in the mouth, eyes and nose.

It’s amazing the pace at which medicine has advanced since we started using evidence to determine what works. One need only look back at pre-scientific practices to see therapies based solely on folklore and belief. Turpentine is one such remedy that has moved from the pharmacy to the hardware store as a result. Turpentine used to be a folk remedy for all kinds of ailments. Given its toxicity, it remained part of evidence-based medicine only in a few topical products: Vicks Vapo-Rub is probably the most well-known product that still contains turpentine. There are no credible scientific or medical reasons for consuming turpentine orally, but you can find those that advocate consuming it orally, as if the past hundred years’ of scientific understanding were irrelevant. A physician stripped of her New York medical license espouses the consumption of turpentine as a “candida cleaner”. There are also various internet threads describing how to consume it (on a sugar cube, apparently). It’s widely believed to treat candida infections. Why candida? Because candida is a fake disease.

Treating a fake disease: Candida

Candida infections or colonizations that alternative medicine providers describe are not the same fungal infections that are diagnosed by medical doctors and treated with antifungal drugs. In the alternative medicine world, nonspecific complaints (e.g., fatigue) are often attributed to Candida infections. These types of “infections” are invisible to medical professionals, but seem universal in the CAM belief system. To be clear, Candida is a real fungus, and Candida infections can be real. But in these cases, there’s no evidence that Candida is causing any infection. It’s a made-up diagnosis with no objective evidence to back it up. Given the Candida infection isn’t even real, there’s a huge variety of “cures” available. Candida “kits” don’t usually include turpentine however. These remedies are usually laxatives and purgatives, which are believed to “mop up” Candida, and restore “balance” to the body. It’s all a charade, designed to give the consumer the illusion that they’re doing something beneficial. Would turpentine actually kill Candida? Perhaps – in a petri dish. But if you take enough to kill any Candida in your body, it may kill you in the process. Could you feel better after consuming turpentine, if it were taken in small amounts? Possibly, but it would have nothing to do with the turpentine. Given the symptoms attributed to candida are nonspecific, it’s normal to expect that they will wax and wane over time. There’s no evidence to suggest that consuming turpentine will provide any health benefits at all.

Becoming an informed consumer

Candida is a fake disease invented to sell fake treatments. The worst that could usually be said for most candida “treatments” was that they were probably not harmful. That changes when proponents advocate consuming paint thinner as a supposed natural remedy. There’s no reason to consume turpentine and multiple reasons to avoid it completely, with the primary reason being that it’s a poison. If someone tells you that you may have a Candida infection, then brace yourself, as you’re not getting health advice, but being marketed to.



Posted by Scott Gavura