For sale online: cure or killer?
October 09, 2006
Hydrogen peroxide is a wonder drug to some, lethal to others...
...The theory is that by releasing extra oxygen inside the body, hydrogen peroxide kills viruses and bacteria. Despite the well-publicised safety warnings, Donald Worden, from Texas, mixes five drops of concentrated 35 per cent hydrogen peroxide in a glass of water every morning and drinks it. The 71-year-old adds the same hydrogen peroxide to his bath, cleans his vegetables with it and sells it on an internet website, despite being asked to stop by the FDA. “I haven’t had a cold or flu or seen a doctor for an illness since I’ve been selling this stuff — about seven years now,” says Worden. He claims to receive up to 80 orders for it a month.
To many, Worden appears to be part of a strange subculture of people convinced that ingesting H2O2 is helping them to live longer and healthily. Yet emerging studies suggest that the premise, at least, for this hunch is not as far-fetched as it may sound.
This year, Professor Benny Chain and his colleagues in the department of immunology and molecular pathology at University College London published findings in New Scientist that immune cells react much more strongly to dead cancer cells if they have been killed with hypochlorous acid — the active compound in bleach.
“We think that hydrogen peroxide might work just as well as hypochlorous acid,” says Professor Chain. “We haven’t yet tested this on humans and are only beginning trials on mouse tumour models, but I hope that it is eventually developed as a treatment.”
In a previous study, published in the journal Science three years ago, biochemists at Oregon State University (OSU) described how hydrogen peroxide acts as a switch inside cells to trigger cell division and programmed cell death. Signals that cause a cell to divide or self-destruct are essential to maintaining healthy tissue and organs, they said.
In cancer cells, the signals to self-destruct stop working and uncontrolled growth occurs. “Hydrogen peroxide, it turns out, has a dual role in battling disease and controlling cell function,” says Professor Andrew Karplus, an OSU biochemist.
None of this surprises Dr Patrick Kingsley, a specialist in environmental medicine who has a private clinic in Loughborough and has been administering H2O2 for about 20 years. He says that small studies into the efficacy of the treatment began to emerge in 1919 “when somebody from the Indian Army reported in The Lancet that hydrogen peroxide was preventing a serious bout of flu”.
One of only a handful of British practitioners of the therapy, Dr Kingsley says that he has used it “extensively” with patients suffering from conditions as diverse as MS, fungal infections, respiratory problems and cancer. “Hydrogen peroxide oxygenates the body and tidies up by clearing out chemicals,” he says. “It does amazing things to some patients.”
He says that the 3 per cent solution used by therapists is diluted in saline to 0.03 per cent, which is “not strong enough to bleach your hair” and “would only cause a cough as a person tried to eliminate rubbish from their lungs if it was administered too high”.
Meanwhile, the debate about the treatment’s safety rages on. Like Dr Shortt, doctors in North Carolina, Missouri and Tennessee have had their licences suspended for treating patients with intravenous hydrogen peroxide. David Thomas, a senator from South Carolina and a partner in the law firm that represented Dr Shortt, says that he, his wife and his mother have all undergone the therapy: “My wife was told that she probably had MS, and the treatment has improved her condition. She’s walking again.”
In July, Janet Bate received a settlement of $200,000 from Dr Shortt after the death of her husband, Michael, who had incurable prostate cancer. She and her husband paid Dr Shortt at least $26,000 (£14,000) in the hope that intravenous hydrogen peroxide therapy would help him to live longer.
“Longevity physician. The irony makes me laugh now. He sure hastened my husband’s death,” she says. “I remember him turning to me and saying ‘Shortt has made a terrible mistake. I’m a dead man. Janet, I’m a dead man walking’.”
USES OF HYDROGEN PEROXIDE
Five per cent H2O2 solutions are used to bleach human hair — hence the phrase “peroxide blonde”
Three per cent H2O2 solutions are used as antiseptics for cleaning wounds and removing dead tissue
You can buy 3 per cent H2O2 as a mouthwash but most over-the-counter peroxide solutions are not suitable for ingestion
H202 will bleach or discolour many fabrics
H202 was previously used in domestic cleaning products but has largely been replaced by sodium hypochlorite, which is a more stable oxidising agent