The Ozone Cure, Part 2: No M.D. required to test unproven medical claims
When the FDA seized 77 ozone generators from Applied Ozone Systems in Auburn, California recently, it was a reminder to health writers to ask tough questions about unproven medical techniques being touted as miracle cures.
Here are five musts for stories about ozone therapy and similar treatments.
Read the evidence. Often the proponents of fringe treatments at least attempt to shroud their voodoo in science. Ozone pushers often cite two studies that give the therapy the veneer of legitimacy. The first is a study published in 1991 in Blood, "Inactivation of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 by ozone in vitro." The study's vintage is the first clue.
When someone is citing a study that is nearly 20 years old as the key evidence for an unproven therapy, your doubt meter should ring like a church on Palm Sunday. If you actually read this study, you will see that it was very preliminary. It was a laboratory study performed on fluids in vials, not a human study conducted with thousands of patients who actually had HIV. The second study, "Ozone selectively inhibits growth of human cancer cells," was published in 1980 in Science. Now we're talking about three decade. And, again the study was preliminary.
Read the citations. The 1980 study has been cited just once, in a research paper in the PubMed database. If a paper has been around three decades and only cited once, that's a good sign that the science did not progress much. If you read the follow-up study from 2004, you'll see that, again, the study was just a toe dipped in the water. It covered 18 patients, not nearly enough to declare the therapy a success. The researchers argue that more study is needed.
Demand the details. There is also a big difference between what the ozone pushers are doing with these generators and what the science – scant as it is – supports. The 2004 study was designed around a technique called autohemotransfusion. Researchers drew some of a patient's blood, treated it with ozone and then transfused it back into the patient. Contrast that with what the ozone pushers do. They "suffuse" the tissues with ozone via the vagina or the rectum. This is a classic snake oil technique. Dress a phony therapy up in science and hope that people don't look too closely at the fine print.
Check the resumes. I have written about this in numerous posts, but it merits repeating. Do not assume that the people touting a therapy and calling themselves doctors are, indeed, doctors. Ask for their CVs. Call the medical school they claim to have attended. Call the hospital where they did their residency. Check any boards that they claim have given them certifications. Remember the researcher who was behind the controversial prayer-fertility study who ended up going to jail for fraud? Here's an ozone enthusiast's site that lists doctors who treat people with ozone. I picked three states at random and in each one found a "doctor" listed who did not appear to have a medical license.
Talk with experts. If someone is claiming they can cure cancer by blowing ozone where the sun don't shine, call the American Cancer Society and ask for an expert. Then call an established alternative medicine school such as Bastyr University in Seattle. Alternative practitioners don't like to see their field polluted by hucksters.
Good science demands exploration, envelope pushing and constant questioning of the norm. There is a difference, however, between an alternative therapy and a dangerous diversion.