Cancer and Society
Quackery Crystals and cancer: good vibrations or bad intentions?
www.thelancet.com/oncology Vol 15 March 2014
1600s, referring to the property of attracting small objects when rubbed. This association of electric charge and gemstones might explain the modern thinking behind crystal therapy. Documentation from the ancient Egyptians, ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Aztecs, Incas, and indigenous Australian tribes all show the use of crystals for jewellery, medicinal purposes, and protection. Despite being on opposite sides of the world, some communities shared beliefs in the properties of speciﬁc stones. For example, nephrite jade (commonly called jade) was once believed by both Chinese and South American communities to be a cure for kidney problems. The Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century learned that the hard stone was used by the natives of Mesoamerica to cure kidney diseases, and called the stone piedra de ijada, which translates as “loin stone”. It seems to have been mistranslated in French text at a later date, into pierre le jade, and subsequently called jade. Jade was worn around the back or on the loin for many centuries and, even now, instructions on curing kidney stones with jade massage, jade meditation, and jade jewellery are all readily available online. The present pseudoscientiﬁc thinking behind crystal healing is the ability of crystals to restore stability and balance to the body’s energy system. Because all “things” are made up of energy, and because energy resonates at a particular vibration, each “thing” will have its own speciﬁc vibration. When either the body or the mind is not healthy, the body’s vibration changes. Crystals are able to retune the natural vibration frequency and restore health because they too have a natural vibration, which cannot be disrupted. Like many other alternative therapies derived from ancient
civilisations, the concept of Qi, or natural energy, exists in crystal healing. Unblocking of Qi, and harnessing the natural energy, allows the body to restore its balance and heal itself. Acupuncture is based on the same theory of unblocking the meridians and releasing the Qi. The major ﬂaw with this theory is that nobody has ever been able to provide proof of the existence of Qi. Indeed, there is absolutely no evidence that crystal therapies are able to ameliorate the symptoms of disease or the toxic sideeﬀects of treatment. The stable crystal structures are inert and do not emit any electrical signals, unless exposed to extreme physical conditions—eg, the use of quartz clocks in which the quartz is bent by the passing of electrical energy across its planes. Holding a crystal close to speciﬁc body parts, wearing them, or holding them will not stress the crystal suﬃciently to exert any kind of physical eﬀect. There are no published trials of crystal therapy for the treatment of cancer. The only case reports available are written on the websites of crystal healers, who also happen to sell crystals for speciﬁc ailments, and in this era of evidence-based medicine, it is hard to recommend any therapy that has never been properly
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Vaughan Fleming/Science Photo Library
In the well-known fairytale, a destitute Jack believes in the power of some magic beans sold to him by a stranger in the street, and the beans change his fortune. Whether the stranger knew they were magic, or whether he wished to take advantage of the poor boy, is never known. Regardless, as children we are told that if we dare to believe, we will be rewarded. The fact that human beings have used crystals and gemstones for centuries is proof enough for many that they possess healing qualities. Indeed, no other alternative therapy has evidence of its existence dating quite so far into the past. Although some of the earliest historical references to the use of crystals are from the ancient Egyptians in Ebers Papyrus, written around 1550 BC, amulets of gemstones such as amber have been found in graves across Europe dating back three millennia. In view of the belief by many civilisations that amber has both medicinal uses and an ability to protect, it is probable that our Neolithic ancestors were using the amber amulets for similar eﬀect. What drew our cave dwelling ancestors to this fossilised tree resin? And what mystical stories were told around the ﬁre to successive generations? The ancient Greeks believed that amber was created when Phaeton, son of the sun god Helios, was struck and killed by lightening. His sisters were so saddened by his death that it turned them into poplar trees, and their tears were transformed into droplets of amber. The word amber comes from the term electron, an ancient Greek word for the sun. In 600 BC, Thales, a Greek mathematician, discovered that rubbing amber with animal fur created a static electricity and for many years this was confused with magnetism. This eﬀect on amber led to the term electricity, coined in the
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investigated in some sort of clinical trial. However, despite the absence of evidence and the frequently grandiose claims of eﬃcacy, the use of crystals is unlikely to cause the harm seen with other alternative therapies, such as mistletoe and aristolochia. Indeed, similar to many alternative therapies, the beneﬁt is often derived not from the therapy itself, but from the holistic environment in which it is delivered. Holding the crystals in each hand,
trying to tune in to their frequency, while absorbing their positive light, is undoubtedly a form of meditation. And meditation has deﬁnitely been proven to reduce anxiety and pain and improve psychological wellbeing and quality of life in patients with cancer. Thus, with that in mind, the stranger selling Jack his magic mung beans might not have been a proﬁteer after all, but a person who understands the need to believe in centuries of
tradition and a little bit of magic when everything else is looking bleak. With crystals and many other healing aids, when it comes to data, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.
Victoria Harding, Justin Stebbing* Department of Medical Oncology, Imperial College and Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust, London, W6 8RF, UK [email protected]
Films August: Osage County
Claire Folger © 2013 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.
August: Osage County Directed by John Wells, 2013. USA, 1 h 59 min
In the summer of 2007, Tracy Letts’ new play premiered in Chicago, IL, USA. His story of a destructive family reuniting after many years wowed critics and theatregoers alike, and the play was soon transferred to Broadway in New York, and then onto London, UK, in 2008. It has been translated into many languages and produced in cities worldwide. All told, August: Osage County was a roaring success on the stage, so a transfer to ﬁlm seemed almost inevitable. A stellar cast was assembled and the result of their work has now arrived in cinemas. But is ﬁlm a good medium for this powerful story? The answer is a resounding yes. The action takes place in Osage County, OK, USA, where Beverly Weston and his wife Violet live in an
impressive but isolated home. The ﬁlm opens with Beverly interviewing a young woman for a job in their home, principally to care for Violet, who is not only being treated for mouth cancer, but also seems to be addicted to prescription drugs. The woman is hired, but Beverly then disappears. Violet summons her sister and her children to help to ﬁnd him, but only one of her three daughters, Ivy, has remained nearby. As Ivy’s sisters are shown returning to their home state, the cinematography comes into its own. The car containing Barbara—the eldest—and her family is set against wide panoramas of the Great Plains, only serving to emphasise her points about the state of mind that goes along with the landscape. Shortly after mother is reunited with her daughters—a fractious event, as a drug-addled Violet uses the opportunity to belittle her children—a sheriﬀ informs the family that Beverly’s body has been found. Much of the rest of the ﬁlm is set inside the family home, with arguments and revelations a regular feature. However, director Jim Wells uses wide, dusty shots to break from the claustrophobic interior scenes. Cancer is an underlying theme throughout the ﬁlm. The viewer learns early on that Violet has oral
cancer, and she uses her disease almost as an excuse for her disruptive behaviour and pill taking, although her daughters’ reactions imply that her conduct is nothing new. Later in the ﬁlm, during a unique moment of sisterly bonding, Ivy quietly reveals that she was previously diagnosed with cervical cancer. However, this statement is part of a greater revelation that she is in a relationship with her cousin, Little Charlie. Her pragmatic attitude towards her illness only serves to emphasise how diﬀerent her character is from her mother’s. Most of the actors in the ﬁlm are tremendous in their roles. As would be expected, Meryl Streep is stunning as Violet: she inhabits the character completely, depicting the Weston matriarch as a bitter, vindictive woman, who ultimately just wants approval and love. Julia Roberts plays the complicated role of Barbara impeccably, only serving to underline her transition to the drama genre. The casting of two British actors—Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch—in a ﬁlm meant to portray the realities of modern American life caused some controversy during production, but they blend into the ensemble easily (although McGregor’s accent has a few wobbly moments). www.thelancet.com/oncology Vol 15 March 2014