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Matthias Rath, M.D.
The alternative therapy movement as a whole has demonstrated itself to be so dangerously, systemically incapable of critical self-appraisal that it cannot step up even in a case like that of Rath....--Ben Goldacre
According to the Dr. Rath Health Foundation website (RHF), Matthias Rath is "the physician and scientist who led the breakthrough discoveries in the natural control of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other chronic health conditions." These discoveries, according to the RHF, "rank among the most important discoveries of all time in the field of medicine." However, few physicians and scientists who are aware of Rath's work agree with this assessment.
He claims he has discovered that
atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes are an early form of scurvy caused by a chronic vitamin deficiency of the vascular wall;
long-term vitamin deficiency is the primary cause of high blood pressure, heart failure, circulatory problems in diabetes, and other related cardiovascular diseases;
cancer growth and metastasis can be prevented by the optimum supply of lysine and other natural substances blocking the enzymatic digestion of the connective tissue by cancer cells.
But Rath's most monumental achievement is the discovery of cellular medicine, the study of "the role of micronutrients as biocatalysts in a multitude of metabolic reactions at the cellular level."* Briefly, cellular medicine defines "the optimum supply of vitamins and other bio-energy molecules ... that will allow the prevention, treatment and eventually the eradication of today's most common diseases."*
Rath claims his vitamin therapy can even cure cancer. But after one of his patients died, he was ordered by a Berlin court to stop advertising such claims in Germany or face a fine of €250,000.* The court ruling centered on the death of a nine-year-old boy, Dominik Feld, who died after being taken off chemotherapy and put on Rath's vitamin treatment. The boy's mother supports Rath and denies her son even had cancer.* She blames scientific medicine and the drug industry for her son's death. Rather than accept their son's tragic fate, she and her husband turned to Rath's unconventional therapy for young Dominik. "In November 2003, Germany's social services obtained a court order to remove the boy from his parents' custody on the grounds that they were not acting in his best interests."* Rath gives his version of the story on his website. According to him, his medicine works and those who say otherwise are dupes of the pharmaceutical industry.
Despite Rath's claims regarding the wonders of his vitamins, several countries forbid the sale of his products because the vitamin doses are too high to be classified as nutritional supplements and the products have not passed the required scientific tests to be labeled as medicines. Nor can they be called foods because they claim to have healing properties, "which is not allowed for food products."*
Rath is well known for his war against the pharmaceutical industry, which he has accused of genocide on the world in its lust for profits.* When the drug companies aren't producing drugs that kill or injure people, they are producing drugs that are useless. "Eighty percent of pharmaceutical drugs currently prescribed to patients have no proven efficacy," says Rath. "At the very best, they only alleviate symptoms without addressing the root cause of the disease."* To which millions of people with any sense say "isn't that wonderful!" Sure, we'd like a pill that would eliminate allergies, diabetes, high blood pressure, or schizophrenia, but alleviating symptoms is a welcome second-best.
Rath achieved some notoriety when he took out a full-page ad in the New York Times1 and other newspapers in which he refers to pharmaceutical firms as "the pharmaceutical drug cartel" and charges that this cartel promotes antiretroviral drugs "to maintain their global market with patented AIDS drugs." Despite the evidence that these drugs are effective, he claims that pharmaceutical firms know not only that they are ineffective but also that they are aimed at increasing the spread of AIDS. He calls all efforts to stop the AIDS epidemic in Africa, which threatens to decimate the population, a conspiracy of the pharmaceutical industry and its minions George Bush, Tony Blair, Paul Wolfowitz, and others. He even asks rhetorically of George Bush: "Were you deliberately allowing this tragedy [9/11] to happen to create a media diversion to ensure the survival of the sinking pharmaceutical investment business?"* Rath has even issued "instructions to George Bush" in which he says: "You will not start World War III as a smoke screen to prevent the demise of the fraudulent drug business."* Rath calls Bush "the main political executor of the interests of the pharmaceutical/petrochemical cartel."* It is safe to say that Rath has a bee in his bonnet about the "drug cartel."
His solution to the AIDS epidemic in Africa is the same as his solution to nearly all health problems: "micronutrients," i.e., vitamins, minerals, and other supplements. Rath claims that micronutrients "can prevent and cure most diseases." For a mere £16 ($29) a month, anyone can be protected from nearly every disease.* Rath's vitamin business reportedly brings in millions of dollars a year.*
Rath has found an ally in this war on the "drug cartel" in South Africa's health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, "who has made it clear she favours the healthy properties of garlic, lemon, beetroot and olive oil and will not back the use of the antiretrovirals which have stopped the death toll [from AIDS] in the west."* There are an estimated 5 million people with AIDS in South Africa. According to the Guardian:
Médecins sans Frontières, which runs three HIV clinics in Khayelitsha treating nearly 2,000 people with Aids drugs, said yesterday that after three years, four out of every five people on the treatment were still alive. Without drugs, half would have died within a year. Those who died mostly had advanced Aids before starting treatment. Only four deaths could be directly linked to drug toxicity.
Critics of Rath's micronutrient theories are condemned as lapdogs of the drug industry. Among those critics are the Swiss Study Group for Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer. As noted above, Rath claims that micronutrients can prevent cancer. According to the Swiss report:
After examining the literature and other available information, the Swiss Study Group for Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer (SKAK) and the Swiss Cancer League (SCL) have found no proof that the vitamin preparations of Dr. Matthias Rath have any effect on human cancer....
So far there are only a few studies that indicate a causal link between micronutrients and cancer. A cancer-curing effect has not been documented for any of these substances. Nor is there any proof that the preparations sold by Matthias Rath, some with high dosages, are useful in cancer prevention – leave alone curing cancer. Rath still owes proof regarding the correctness of his claims. Proof of effect cannot be provided by analogy with in vitro, animal or cell experiments. Because there is no proof for effect nor for the harmlessness of the preparations, SKAK advises against their use.
The monthly cost for Dr. Rath's cancer cure is 350-770 CHF (Swiss Francs) or $285-$627.
According to the Guardian:
Rulings banning his strident publicity leaflets and website claims by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK and the Food and Drug Administration in the US, together with detailed and damning critiques from the Swiss study group for complementary and alternative methods in cancer and the British Medical Journal, have not softened his messianic tone.
According to Dr. Stephen Barrett, "in 2005, the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa ordered the Dr. Rath Foundation Africa to stop advertising that dietary supplements are safer and more effective than chemotherapy against HIV infections."
Rath may be a quack but he is quack with a pedigree. According to his website, he was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1955. His website doesn't mention what medical school he graduated from but after graduation he was employed by the University Clinic of Hamburg and the German Heart Center in Berlin. He became friends with Linus Pauling who was impressed with Rath's work on the connection between vitamin C deficiency and liproprotein(a). In 1990 he became the first Director of Cardiovascular Research at the Linus Pauling Institute in Palo Alto, California. Pauling, as most people know, became an advocate of massive daily doses (10,000 mg) of vitamin C. Because he was a two-time Nobel laureate and one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century, Pauling attracted many followers who worship at the vitamin C altar. What many people either don't know or choose to ignore is that many scientists believe that the studies he based his belief on were flawed. "The Mayo Clinic conducted three double-blind studies involving a total of 367 patients with advanced cancer. The studies, reported in 1979, 1983, and 1985, found that patients given 10,000 mg of vitamin C daily did no better than those given a placebo. Moreover, high doses of vitamin C can have significant adverse effects. High oral doses can cause diarrhea. High intravenous [IV] dosage has been reported to cause kidney failure due to clogging of the kidney tubules by oxalate crystals" (Barrett: 2000).The defenders of vitamin C point out that the Mayo studies didn't introduce vitamin C intravenously, which is necessary, they say, for it to be toxic to cancer cells. (As I understand it, the evidence for vitamin C being toxic to cancer cells is based on in vitro studies and it is not necessarily the case that what works in vitro will work in vivo.) Stephen Lawson of the Linus Pauling Institute says that diarrhea does not occur with intravenous vitamin C and that "the question of whether or not high-dose vitamin C has value as adjunctive cancer therapy is still open" (personal correspondence).
Pauling once said that the key to having good ideas is to have lots of ideas and throw away the bad ones.* The problem, of course, is how to recognize the bad ones. With this is mind, there is some irony that Pauling thought of Rath as his successor.*
1 The Dr. Rath Health Foundation website does not state that Rath took out an advertisement in the paper. The website implies that the New York Times did a feature on Rath. In one of his diatribes against the pharmaceutical industry, he claims: "From the New York Times and other leading newspapers around the world, the information that the AIDS epidemic is an immune deficiency that can be controlled by vitamins and other natural means has reached the four corners of the world." The website makes no mention that the reference is to a paid advertisement, not a news story.
See also HIV/AIDS denial.
New Goldacre, Ben. 2009. Bad Science. HarperPerennial. Available in the UK with a chapter on Matthias Rath. An earlier edition does not have the chapter on Matthias Rath due to Rath's suing Goldacre and publisher fear. That chapter has been made available to the public by Dr. Goldacre. Click here to read it on his website and here to get a PDF version.
Matthias Rath's Cancer Treatment Criticized by Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Dr. Matthias Rath's Cellular Health™. Swiss Study Group for Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer (SCAC)
Discredited doctor's 'cure' for Aids ignites life-and-death struggle in South Africa by Sarah Boseley (May 14, 2005) The Guardian
Bad Medicine by Dianne Kohler-Barnard in Business Day
Germany also told Rath to stop adverts - Cape Argus
Reuters. June 13, 2008. "The Cape High Court ruled against German physician Matthias Rath and U.S. doctor David Rasnick, a former member of Mbeki's AIDS advisory council, in response to a case brought by the lobby group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the South African Medical Association (SAMA).The two bodies accused Rath of conducting illegal clinical trials among poor blacks and profiteering by selling and distributing unregistered vitamin treatments among poor communities."
CapeTimes. September 5, 2005. "The Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the Medicines Control Council (MCC) will be taken to court if they do not take immediate action to stop the Dr Rath Health Foundation conducting illegal medical experiments on HIV-positive Khayelistsha residents."
SundayTimes.Zambia. "The controversial Dr. Rath Health Foundation has used people with HIV as human guinea pigs in a series of illegal medical experiments, touting cocktails of vitamin tablets as a treatment for the disease."
News24.com. August 29, 2005. "German Aids dissident and vitamin entrepreneur Dr Matthias Rath's campaign against antiretrovirals has been dealt a blow by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Rath may not advertise - not even in pamphlets - without the approval of the advertising authorities.
However, the Rath Foundation said it would ignore the ruling."
CapeTimes. August 16, 2005. Anthony Rees, a former employee of the Dr Rath Foundation, alleges that the vitamin entrepreneur Matthias Rath would try to censor anyone who criticised his organisation. Rath is suing Rees for defamation.
CapeTimes. August 17, 2005. Rath is suing a few other people, too. "Controversial vitamin entrepreneur Matthias Rath is suing the Cape Times, former education minister Kader Asmal, and others in the Cape High Court for damages over the publication of alleged "offensive" remarks against his Dr Rath Foundation." Asmal said that Rath was "a dangerous charlatan", his activities were "quackery", he was incapable of showing virtues of compassion and caring for ill people, and compared him to "the late unlamented (Joseph) Goebbels".