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Christopher Hitchens Dies at 62 At Hands of Conventional Medicine

January 16th, 2012

Famous polemicist and skeptic let down by his medical high priests

His faith and hopes buoyed by clinical trials which only promised death, as Berkeley’s Duesberg could have told him

Could he have found better alternatives in nature’s prescriptions that he scorned as quackery?

Research says yes, so why are the FDA and NIH standing in the way?

Christopher Hitchens  - a believer at last, faithful to the end as he was sacrificed by the high priests of the Church of Modern MedicineLike Steve Jobs, Hitchens is gone, early, at 62, hastened to his end at the hands of modern medicine, the inevitable tragic outcome of barbaric treatment that cannot save many esophageal cancer patients from death and, owing to its horrendous side effects, probably accelerates their demise.

As in the case of Steve Jobs, it is appropriate to ask whether alternative medicine may have ameliorated his decline or even saved him, given the accumulation of promising results from the armory of (plant derived) phytochemicals now proven potent in killing cancer cells in the lab and in animal studies. Though not as yet in human trials, owing to the anachronistic prejudice of the FDA whose personnel seem as illiterate as most cancer specialists in the latest research, freely available to them as well as the general public at PubMed.

If so, they have cut short the life of a heroic heretic, one willing to attack hypocrisy and stupidity from Mother Theresa to God itself. What some may not have realized is that Hitchens was on the side of life and freedom, the greatest values of all.

“If you’re at Vanity Fair and you’re talking about some of the things that Christopher has taken on, at the top of the list is going to be Mother Teresa,” said Graydon Carter, editor at Vanity Fair and a longtime friend.

In 1994, Hitchens co-wrote and narrated a documentary on her called Hell’s Angel.

“This profane marriage between tawdry media hype and medieval superstition gave birth to an icon which few have since had the poor taste to question,” he said in it.

Hitchens wrote about her for the magazine, too. Carter said it didn’t go over so well.

“That’s a tough topic to go after,” he said. “It was quite negative, and we had hundreds of subscription cancellations, including some from our own staff.”

Hitchens’ killer charm

We always appreciated Hitchens for his remarkable capacity to charm his intellectual victims and the audience with a joking verbal twist as he thrust his dagger in. Only Sam Harris (author of The End of Faith) matches him in his capacity to poleaxe the peddlers of nonsense without personally offending them or the onlooker, who was free to revel in the language Hitchens employed with Wildean wit and Johnsonian sense.

The only thing we found hard to take was the fact that Hitch liked the sound of his own voice as much as everyone else did, and was fairly deaf to information that came from outside the oral culture of his Washington insider club. We got nowhere trying to enlighten him about science and the self serving behavior of scientists willing to sell the public a bill of goods, but again, that is par for the course for left wing liberals, who generally seem incapable of understanding, let alone questioning science and scientists. The fact that the one time Trotskyite Hitchens grew tough mindedly rightwing on Iraq for the sake of pushing back what he saw as the Islamic threat to Western freedoms didn’t seem to make any difference. But then, as Oscar himself remarked, “One should never listen. To listen is a sign of indifference to one’s hearers.”

As far as “God” is concerned, the great contributi­on Hitchens made was to encourage others to straightfo­rwardly reject the prima facie ridiculous notion of a personal God who “loves” humanity and will somehow (never detectably­) protect us from misfortune and if we are good elevate us out of our bodies to heaven (which, as Isaac Asimov observed, is hardly a comforting prospect, since an eternity of non corporeal life there must be hellishly tedious) (On the other hand, as Woody Allen remarked,”I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I’m taking a change in underwear just in case”).

Instead of being sensitive to the need of the fearful to believe in God and not to have their fond fairy tale shattered, Hitchens robustly advocated use of the faculty of reason “God” gave us. Publish and be damned – and he did. Thank “God” for someone who had the strength of mind and the spine to tackle the problems of life lived, with all its joys and sorrows, and not take refuge in fantasy, and not apologize for his realism and his sense.

This kind of straightshooting seems unkind to some. Yes, there is something so anti-life about convention­al religion – the milquetoas­t and childish leaning on the hope of succor from the supernatur­al that the religiousl­y inclined are sold on and try to sell us. But is it not cruel to try to remove the pillar on which the weak lean?

Christopher Hitchens by Sorel - disrespectful of the religious, and even the gods, yet leading their congregation towards Life rather than HeavenOn the face of it Hitchens’s intellectual assault on emotional comfort food may seem ruthless. Most of us prefer pussyfooti­ng on the issue in case we hurt the feelings of the religious. But Christophe­r was quite justified in attacking religion because his unkindness actually promoted the opposite – celebratin­g the precious experience of existing, for however brief a span.

In this sense Hitchens was not a threat to the happiness of people who look to “God” as somehow providing the purpose and value they cannot see in life in itself.

On the contrary, he actually pointed in a moving and honest way to what they should be doing – loving life, not “God”, and each other, not so much a long dead Christ, but his teachings, and all people, not just those belonging to Christiani­ty, Islam or some other religious tribe.

What’s more, this is actually what Christ told us to do, it seems clear. The irony is that Hitchens was more genuinely Christian than the Church which peddles all the guff about God up above and angels in heaven saving us from ourselves, and don’t forget the alms tray.

Christopher’s new religion

The biggest irony of his life was the tragic one, however, where one of the most famous skeptics in modern public life staunchly resisted the blandishments of the Church of God only to fall, in his physical vulnerability, into the hands of the Church of Science, which proceeded to sacrifice him on the altar of Trials of Promising but Toxic New Drugs.

That of course is the problem of human vulnerability, it leads us to run into the arms of whoever we conceive to be our rescuer. In the case of the Christian Church, or Synagogue or Mosque, we rush to sign up from our deathbed, on the principle that no man is an atheist in a foxhole, or as Pascal advised, bet on God’s existence, that way, if you are wrong there is no penalty.

I am Francis Collins, the resolutely God fearing, therefore only partially scientific Director of the NIH, and Christopher relied on me completely to steer him into the latest drug trials to see whether any of them could do him any good, and ensure that phytochemical research was set aside, not that anyone has told me about any of that.NIH Deathwatch

In the case of physical frailty, apparently you can be the greatest skeptic in the world but if your incessant smoking and drinking leads to esophageal cancer (cancer of the item lower than the throat on the way to the stomach) you rush to put your welfare in the hands of your friend Francis Collins, the Pope of modern medicine in this country, the head of the NIH.

You will, it seems, question everything in human society and up in Heaven, but not modern medicine, or at any rate, the High Priests of the Church of Modern Medicine, in whose care you entrust your life without ever examining their Bible to check and see if everything is up to date.

So Christopher Hitchens, champion skeptic, iconoclast and debunker, once he was terrified by the diagnosis of esophageal cancer, crumbled into a devout disciple of the NIH, its commandments and its works, and took refuge with Collins, who apparently used his influence to shoehorn Hitchens into the latest trials of supposedly promising drugs aimed at whatever genes the oncogene cowboys had lately decided might be the wolves which eat the sheep alive.

Meanwhile Hitchens publicly dismissed any advice he was offered by those pointing to the promise of alternative medicine as crackpottery purveyed by worms who emerge from the woodwork whenever anyone famous gets cancer. He preferred the company of his new mentor Collins, top general of the established army, bemedaled with clinking decorations and politically and socially renowned for his proven, peer reviewed knowledge, if not his genius. This, despite the fact that gene hunter Collins is only half scientist, famous for his stout, though logically feeble, defense of his belief in the Christian version of the Almighty.

Anyone thinking of steering Hitchens in a different direction therefore drew back, as we did, knowing that our advice was discredited in advance. The result was that Hitchens bravely slogged on under increasingly savage assault from standard chemotherapy, with any contribution from natural palliatives not only ignored but probably barred by his caretakers, lest they interfere with the supposed benefit of the standard drugs he was given, or the potential effect of the new, genetically targeted ones he was given in the trials.

The latter were reportedly tried one after another, to see what happened, and in the end they killed him, with the aid of his cancer, by defeating his immune system, wreckage which in other circumstances would be called AIDS. Indeed, it is not inaccurate to conclude that Christopher Hitchens was partly or wholly brought down by iatrogenic AIDS, that is, AIDS induced by his doctors and their drug testing ministrations.

In this regard it is noteworthy that Phase 1 clinical trials have as their chief purpose to test the toxicity of a drug, which is primarily measured by how rapidly it kills the patient at what dose.

What Hitchens didn’t know

What did Hitchens evidently ignore, in his understandable vulnerability and rush into the embrace of the heroic figure of Collins, at the helm of the vast passenger liner of established medicine? What icebergs loomed that he was unaware of, what land could he have sighted, rather than drown in the slowly sinking ship to nowhere he embarked upon?

The first might be the fact that for thirty years our research and understanding of cancer has been fruitless because it has been steered in quite the wrong direction. The Titanic has been ploughing through the sea of ignorance directly towards the iceberg of futility, rather than towards land.

The fashion for thirty years has been to look for specific genes or gene groups to blame for particular cancers, the so-called oncogene paradigm, which has seen its leading adherents award each other more than one Nobel prize.

The assumption of this line of research is that if you identify which gene or gene group has somehow gone wrong, you have identified the way potentially to target it and slow the cancer, stop it or even reverse and cure it.

The only problem is that it has led nowhere fast – cancer cure rates (once separated from the manipulation of data based on the oncogene assumption) have generally not improved much in thirty years.

Why is this the case? Apparently because the cause of cancer is not spontaneous gene error or mutation but massive disruption of the genome, caused by the familiar threats of radiation or chemicals (including chemotherapy, by the way, in that chemo can reduce the body’s own capacity to curb cancer).

Such massive disruption results in cancer cells typically having quite the wrong number of chromosomes, sometimes as many as double the norm. Technically this is known as aneuploidy, and is well known to cancer researchers, but it has been largely ignored as a research avenue or even by textbooks ever since it was uncovered a hundred years ago by Boveri (in 1914; David von Hansemann suggested it even earlier, in 1890).

Cancer cul-de-sac or highway

Duesberglooking subduedOnly recently has it been the focus of renewed attention in what may be a sea change in cancer research led by the remarkable Peter Duesberg at Berkeley. Duesberg has always been a total skeptic as regards the usefulness of the oncogene approach in cancer, and he has devoted more than a decade of research into aneuploidy and the part that it plays in cancer.

Recently he brought out a paper which very specifically outlines this avenue and why it is far more likely to lead to results than the thirty year old cul de sac of oncogene study, despite the Nobels that have accrued, most notably to Harold Varmus who is now in charge at the NCI.

What the paper points out most notably is the failure of the oncogene theorists to produce any evidence for it after sampling tens of thousands of cancers, an embarrassment for the Nobel winners and a signal that skeptics who have followed Duesberg in questioning the approach are right.

We will detail the situation in a later post on Duesberg’s revolutionary paper, but the lesson is clear. Those who fed Christopher Hitchens one drug after another targeting the genes of his cancer as the potential key to its cure produced only one useful result: they were able to see the damage caused, each attempt another step towards the grave of the notable polemicist.

Hitchens, skeptic and investigator par excellence in politics and culture, would have found out all this if he had troubled to ask. But such is the nature of established medicine in an age where only specialist researchers read the papers available to all on PubMed, and health officials, researchers and practitioners confine their enquiries updating their knowledge outside their field to their oral culture (the “Joe-says-pedia”) that no one among his consultants knew to tell him, and he rejected outsiders as unreliable.

A decade of mainstream hints

Unaware of how myopic and blinkered the cancer establishment remains even after a decade or two of remarkably promising research into plant based or “phyto”chemicals, Hitchens seems to have allowed them full rein in directing him away from nature and its curative cancer armory and towards artificial drugs, the one without side effects in reasonable doses and the other with horrendous effects particularly on the immune system, the body’s own defense against cancer.

Would phytochemicals have saved him? Given the commercial apathy towards mounting expensive clinical trials for substances that cannot regain the expense in high prices and large profits, not to mention the outright hostility of the FDA and drug companies towards nature’s compounds, which are scormed as the unproven offerings of quackery, and a threat to the pharma economy, it is impossible currently for science to say.

But there are a slew of studies which suggest that if the right phytochemicals can be administered to impact esophageal cancers in patients as effectively as they can be in the lab or in animal studies, and lethal chemotherapy withheld, there is a distinct possibility that the cancer can be stopped in situ and even reversed. For this is what the studies in lab dish and rats have shown.

Red and black berries

Colorful berries not only taste good, they can save your lifeIn Columbus at Ohio State , for example, researchers have won noteworthy data on seven kinds of berries which actually reduce tumors in the rat esophagus. Their latest paper, Multiple berry types prevent N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine-induced esophageal cancer in rats, published in Jun last year, found all seven inhibited tumor progression – black or red raspberries, strawberries, noni, acai and wolfberry.

Seven berry types were about equally capable of inhibiting tumor progression in the rat esophagus in spite of known differences in levels of anthocyanins and ellagitannins. Serum levels of IL-5 and GRO/KC (IL-8) may be predictive of the inhibitory effect of chemopreventive agents on rat esophageal carcinogenesis.

Such results need to be confirmed of course, but as the latest of a series of papers over the last 15 years it suggests that flavonoids – the phytochemicals associated with pigment, in this case red and purple – have great potential in rolling back esophageal cancer in people, whom it kills at the rate of over 14 thousand a year in the US.

Beneficial effects have also been found by the same group for red beetroot food color (Drinking water with red beetroot food color antagonizes esophageal carcinogenesis in N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine-treated rats, and for circumin, an ingredient of turmeric, which promotes apoptosis – cell suicide – in esophageal cancer cells in the lab dish, according to the University of Michigan Medical School last year (Curcumin promotes apoptosis, increases chemosensitivity, and inhibits nuclear factor kappaB in esophageal adenocarcinoma, and also kills them independently of apoptosis, according to the Cork, Ireland Cancer Research Centre two years ago (Curcumin induces apoptosis-independent death in oesophageal cancer cells.

Reasonable people may ask themselves – and the cancer establishment – whether it is possible that, rather than lose the invaluable mind of one of the most prominent public social critics of our time, it might have been that we were able to save him by getting him to drink copious beetroot pigment in his drinking water, or even his vodka, and to feast on black and red raspberries four times a day.

The point is, we have no certain idea, and it cannot be ruled out as an alternative to certain death through the treatment he did get. Presumably his diagnosis was typical in being late, the factor which keeps the five year survival rate in this country down at 15%. Most die painfully within the year. Anything which avoids this appalling fate is worth trying, especially for smokers and drinkers like Hitchens who refuse to reform.

Several cups of organic Touch Green Tea daily should save you from esophageal cancer, and it tastes the best too, in any of its four formsThere is even the possibility that the great heir to the tradition of articulate public comment founded by bon mot philosopher, dictionary maker and tea fiend Samuel “I never let the kettle cool” Johnson might never have contracted the illness in the first place, if only he had developed a taste for green tea. Urinary tea polyphenols in relation to gastric and esophageal cancers: a prospective study of men in Shanghai, China, the 2002 study from the University of Southern California which found

“direct evidence that tea polyphenols may act as chemopreventive agents against gastric and esophageal cancer development”

is one large piece of evidence for this, even though it is spuriously criticized along with 51 others involving 1.6 million participants by the German meta-review of green tea studies in 2009, Green tea (Camellia sinensis) for the prevention of cancer. The German objections to the procedures followed in the 51 studies they looked at were not objections to the studies themselves; they merely insisted that Phase III trials are needed to confirm them. They don’t convincingly vitiate the many substantive results reported, including ones which appeared more recently which confirm the anti cancer effect of green tea against esophageal cancer.

The reason for noting the many positive results collected by this review and for discounting the reservation it stated is that, like other Cochrane metareviews it was premature – not to say absurd – in discounting lab evidence which is not yet confirmed by Phase III clinical trials. This reservation is standard for this Copenhagen data base, which is international and contains much positive evidence from lab studies for the effectiveness of phytochemicals against cancer. But the fact is that new discoveries in Nature’s pharmacy notoriously lack Phase III clinical trials, for the simple reason that these are very expensive and virtually impossible to fund for unpatentable natural substances. Researchers producing positive results in the lab dish and animal studies for green tea and other substances offered by Mother Nature frequently lament this omission, when such trials otherwise automatically follow promising lab studies for synthetic compounds.

An example of a strong indication that green tea can reverse cancer as yet unconfirmed by Phase III trials is the remarkable result achieved at the renowned Mayo Clinic a couple of years ago, so far unreported by the mainstream media, where a tiny group of four, later expanded to a clinical trial of 24, was able to eradicate or shrink lymphomas apparently through (in one woman’s case) merely doubling the number of green tea bags she used.

(For those who can decode research gobbledegook, in which the chief active cancer subduing element in green tea is the major catechin in tea named epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) see Clinical effects of oral green tea extracts in four patients with low grade B-cell malignancies, Leuk Res. 2006 Jun;30(6):707-12, where:

Green tea or its constituents have long been touted as a health promoting substance including claims it may have cancer prevention properties. We previously reported the in vitro ability of one tea polyphenol, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), to induce apoptotic cell death in the leukemic B-cells from a majority of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). After the publication of our findings many patients with CLL and other low grade lymphomas began using over-the-counter products containing tea polyphenols despite the absence of evidence to suggest clinical benefit, definition of possible toxicities, or information on optimal dose and schedule. We have become aware of four patients with low grade B-cell malignancies seen in our clinical practice at Mayo Clinic who began, on their own initiative, oral ingestion of EGCG containing products and subsequently appeared to have an objective clinical response. Three of these four patients met criteria for partial response (PR) by standard response criteria. Although spontaneous remission/regression is occasionally observed in individuals with low grade B-cell malignancies, such events are rare. Several patients presented here had documented steady clinical, laboratory, and/or radiographic evidence of progression immediately prior to initiation of over-the-counter green tea products and then developed objective responses shortly after self-initiating this therapy. Such anecdotes highlight the need for clinical trials of tea polyphenols to define the optimal dosing, schedule, toxicities, and clinical efficacy before widespread use can be recommended. An NCI sponsored phase I/II trial of de-caffeinated green tea extracts for patients with asymptomatic, early stage CLL opened at Mayo Clinic in August 2005.

and Phase I trial of daily oral Polyphenon E in patients with asymptomatic Rai stage 0 to II chronic lymphocytic leukemia, J Clin Oncol. 2009 Aug 10;27(23):3808-14) where:

CONCLUSION: Daily oral EGCG in the Polyphenon E preparation was well tolerated by CLL patients in this phase I trial. Declines in ALC and/or lymphadenopathy were observed in the majority of patients.A phase II trial to evaluate efficacy using 2,000 mg twice a day began in November 2007.

The full paper for the last mentioned item is free through the link at the bottom of the above abstract Free PMC Article)

Action which might have saved our literary hero

So what does it all boil down to? Should Hitchens have woken up to flavonoids (phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables, especially in their colorful skins)? Those interested might choose the following review for their bedtime reading:

Phytochemicals in cancer prevention and therapy: truth or dare?
Russo M, Spagnuolo C, Tedesco I, Russo GL.
Institute of Food Sciences, National Research Council, 83100, Avellino, Italy; Email: (M.R.); (C.S.); (I.T.).
A voluminous literature suggests that an increase in consumption of fruit and vegetables is a relatively easy and practical strategy to reduce significantly the incidence of cancer. The beneficial effect is mostly associated with the presence of phytochemicals in the diet. This review focuses on a group of them, namely isothiocyanate, curcumin, genistein, epigallocatechin gallate, lycopene and resveratrol, largely studied as chemopreventive agents and with potential clinical applications. Cellular and animal studies suggest that these molecules induce apoptosis and arrest cell growth by pleiotropic mechanisms. The anticancer efficacy of these compounds may result from their use in monotherapy or in association with chemotherapeutic drugs. This latter approach may represent a new pharmacological strategy against several types of cancers. However, despite the promising results from experimental studies, only a limited number of clinical trials are ongoing to assess the therapeutic efficacy of these molecules. Nevertheless, the preliminary results are promising and raise solid foundations for future investigations.

In other words, eat colorful fruits and veggies (especially red, purple and black), and gird for political action to force the FDA to back off from discouraging or even blocking Phase 3 clinical trials and the NIH to fund Phase 3 clinical trials. As Hitchens himself might now say, if he has found to his surprise there is an after life, “Occupy FDA!”

Given that supplements may be needed to administer color phytochemicals in the dose required to have an effect in humans, the cry may be “Occupy Congress!” too. The alarm that supplements may be banned from being sold in retail stores without a prescription is raised by some, who point to legislation lurking in the background in Congress to enforce this rule.

Americans may be surprised to find themselves barred from freely buying vitamin and other supplements in the near future, they say, just as the British were caught off guard by a similar move a while back.

But more on this whole topic – and other cancers now shown to be susceptible to Mother Nature’s antidotes – soon.

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