Fortified with a nip of papaya leaf extract – the latest essential ingredient for boosting the immune system – I meet Prof Edzard Ernst. As Britain’s foremost “quackbuster”, I feel sure he will have views on such elixirs. I am right.
The world’s first professor of complementary medicine looks at me despairingly as I admit to taking unproven remedies. I may be gullible, but I am not alone. Roughly 100 per cent of cancer patients (I have lung cancer) use alternative therapies, and so do millions of others, including the Prince of Wales. Almost invariably, we are wasting our money, in his opinion.
“If there was good evidence that the immune system was depleted by the cancer or the treatment, there might be a case for something like papaya leaves,” he sighs. “But it is naive to think that the immune system fights the cancer cells, and naive to think that boosting the immune system is the answer to everything.”
What about the Bemer pulsating magnetic field machine, which I used for a while to boost my microcirculation and hence, the manufacturer claims, my ability to fight cancer? “Magnetic treatments are mainstream for non-healing bone fractures, but where is the placebo trial evidence for other applications?”
Small companies say they cannot afford to fund such trials. He snorts. “A trial like that could be done for less than £100,000.”