Monday, April 30, 2007

Ralph Moss, Electron Acceptors, and Cancer

For a few decades a few scientists, some of them Nobel laureates, have believed that antioxidants may prevent and even help to treat cancer. Some of the ideas and clinical results have been very promising, but have not received the attention they deserve. Even worse, unsubstantiated and even false claims have been bandied about by some of those who claim to know everything about the antioxidants, which has served to make anyone who touches the subject appear to be disreputable.

The scientist who probably put the most effort into studying cancer and what antioxidants can do to treat it probably was Albert von Szent-Györgyi, some of whose ideas are described in previous posts. Szent-Györgyi certainly had a colorful life. He was married four times; one marriage already troubled by his wife's increasing dominance developed, as they say, "irreconcilable differences" when he was shocked to catch his wife in bed - with another woman. He twice entered into matrimony at an age at which he would have qualified for membership in the AARP if not Social Security payments. But then again, he enjoyed excellent health, and continued working into his 90s, an achievement he attributed to his consuming sizable quantities of Vitamin C and wheat germ, which is very rich in Vitamin E, daily.

The scion of a illustrious family of doctors, Szent-Györgyi studied medicine in Budapest; his first research was of the structure of the skin around the anus; a doctor uncle of his, afflicted with hemorrhoids, had stipulated that he do so in the hope that his nephew's work might help him overcome his painful condition. During the First World War, Szent-Györgyi served with distinction, until he came to conclusion that the war was a fraud; that Europe's old men were wasting Europe's youth on their vanity. Not keen to die for a useless cause, and keen to save his talents for medical research, he shot himself in the arm, reported it as enemy action, and thus escaped from the war. After the war, he wound up at a university in Holland, where at one point his financial conditions was so bleak that he seriously mulled suicide. The tides of fortune changed; he wound up studying biochemistry at Cambridge and then teaching it in Hungary. He came extremely close to identifying the citric acid cycle now known as as the Krebs Cycle, after Sir Hans Krebs who beat him to the discovery. He was the first scientist to isolate Vitamin C from the paprikas for which Hungary is famous, a discovery that earned him the Nobel Prize.

During the 1930s and 1940s he was the rector of the University of Szeged, had some confrontations with the Hungary's pro-Nazi elements, worked as a secret agent for the British during the war, disappeared when he heard that Adolf Hitler literally wanted his head because he'd tried to broker a deal in which Hungary's would have left the war and joined the Allies, was offered the presidency of Hungary by the Russians after they possessed Hungary. After six fruitless months of trying to reach some reasonable modus vivendi with the Russians, Szent-Györgyi left Hungary for the United States, where he ultimately co-founded the National Center for Cancer Research, and spent his last decades pondering cancer as an electronic syndrome, as previously blogged.

One of Szent-Györgyi's close friends was Ralph Moss, who obtained a PhD in Classics at Stanford University before he found employment as a science writer at Sloan-Kettering. He eventually found the atmosphere at Sloan-Kettering uncongenial - science fiction was not his avocation - and left to devote his time to studying and writing about alternatives in medicine; it was on this quest that he met and befriended Szent-Györgyi, and learned about his understandings of cancer and wayward electrons. Moss wrote an excellent biography of Albert Szent-Györgyi, which is well worth reading.

Electron acceptors, which prevent electron donors from donating their electrons to other molecules, or oxidizing them, are, of course, also known as antioxidants. One of Moss's books "Antioxidants Against Cancer" is about the scientific basis for recommending, or not recommending, antioxidants to cancer patients. He's done a first-rate job of poring through myriad journals and papers and establishing which ideas about the use of antioxidants have a solid scientific basis; he references no less than 460 papers on the subject, in other words, every contention is well documented. It certainly isn't a rah-rah book; Moss carefully explains that certain antioxidants are known to worsen certain cancers; this is a field in which carelessness is particularly disastrous.

Dr. Moss's book is full to tidbits that I would desperately want to know if I were fighting cancer; for example:

  • Scientists at the National Institutes of Health conducted a 1,300 patient study that looked into whether a low dose of selenium had any effect on the rate of skin cancer in people with a history of skin cancer over a span of 8 years. The results didn't reveal any significant difference in skin cancer rates; but when they looked at the rates of other cancers, the group taking selenium had a death rate from the more serious cancers such as those of lung, colon, rectum and prostrate that was half of the death rate in the placebo group! Rates of prostrate cancer dropped by 63%!
  • In a study too small to allow any general conclusions to be drawn, one case of breast cancer went into regression when the patient dramatically increased the dosage of the antioxidant she took of her own accord. In another case, a case of liver cancer with metastases cleared up when the same antioxidant was administered. Regrettably, this phenomenon hasn't been studied in sufficient detail to allow scientists to draw any conclusive conclusions, much less make any recommendations.
  • One chemotherapy medication was found to decrease cancer growth by 37%, but when given together with an antioxidant, the decrease in cancer growth was 85%.
I don't want to excerpt Dr. Moss's entire book, but I do know that if I had cancer, I would definitely want to consult his book. Dr. Moss also runs an information service through which advises interested patients about his ideas about alternatives in the treatment of cancer.


Dr. Moss's website:

Dr. Moss's gives Grand Rounds at the University of Arizona.


Ralph Moss: Antioxidants Against Cancer

Ralph Moss: Albert Szent-Györgyi: Free Radical

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