What are Alternative Diets?
In alternative medicine, unsubstantiated health claims are being made for dozens of special diets that are not in line with accepted knowledge. Many of these are ‘flavour of the month’ approaches. To name but a few: Ama-reducing diet (Ayurvedic diet to burn off accumulated ama, which are supposed toxins); anthroposophic diet (lactovegetarian food with sour-milk products); Budwig’s diet (fruit, juices, flaxseed oil and curd cheese); Gerson diet (fresh fruit juices, vegetables, supplements, liver extracts and coffee enemas to cure cancer); Kelly diet (anti-cancer diet including supplements and enzymes); Kousmine diet (anti-cancer diet with ‘vital energy’ foods, raw vegetables and wheat); macrobiotic diet (aimed at balancing yin and yang); McDougall diet (vegetarian diet, low fat, whole foods); Moerman diet (anti-cancer lactovegetarian diet with added iodine, sulphur, iron, citric acid and vitamins A, B, C, E); Pritikin diet (vegetarian diet combined with aerobic exercise); Swank diet (low amounts of saturated fat to combat multiple sclerosis).
Each of these diets has its own unique concept and is promoted for specific circumstances. Some must be followed long-term, others only until the condition in question is cured.
What is the Evidence?
Clearly one would need to assess each diet on its own merits, yet little data has been gathered on any of those mentioned above or in general. Where evidence does exist, it is usually seriously flawed. For instance, the Gerson diet is promoted as a cancer cure, but the only positive evidence comes from an analysis which is now widely accepted to be fatally flawed and which should be ignored.
Several alternative diets can lead to malnutrition, particularly in seriously ill patients for whom it is important to consume a balanced diet with sufficient calorie intake. Feeding a highly restricted diet to a cancer patient, for instance, hastens death and reduces quality of life. Some proponents of these diets make patients feel guilty if they cannot follow their often tedious regimens. This can further reduce quality of life. Our advice is to stay well clear of alternative diets.
For more information:
This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine).