Yogic Nonsense

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Why a minister’s cure for cancer is worse than the disease

SHOULD YOU PUT your faith in the Union Minister of State for Ayush, Shripad Naik, and decide that instead of chemotherapy, you will do yoga to get cured of cancer, then you will die. If it is slow cancer like that of the prostate, you might see sense before it is too late. If it is a fast acting one, your chances are zero.

This is what Naik said on Sunday, as reported in The Indian Express, “It is a proven fact. We have visited the Bengaluru-based Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA) institute, where many people told us they have been cured of cancer by regular practice of yoga. The institute has found a technique of yoga for the prevention and cure of cancer.” He added that his ministry might endorse this “alternative cure… and prescribe it to people in about a year.” He also promised to confirm the documentation provided before doing so, which is somewhat puzzling if it is a ‘proven fact’.

Let us not find fault with the institute making the claim because history is replete with alternative cancer curers. They are either frauds or victims of delusions that arise out of conviction. I did a story on urine drinkers some years back and I still get WhatsApp messages from one of them, a well-intentioned man, with claims of curing cancer through a urine diet. There have been people who said that they could cancer through wheatgrass, sunlight, by the elimination of parasites in the stomach and powdered shark cartilage. Last year a Bengaluru man fed a cancer patient a diet of concentrated marijuana oil and said he had cured her. All of which is fine and in keeping with man’s fruitless search for a silver bullet against disease. What is wrong is for a minister to come out with a government policy that encourages smoking grass, drinking urine or eating shark cartilage to cure cancer. Anecdotal evidence, which is what has so moved Naik and is usually the only thing that anyone can provide when it comes to such cancer cures, is not science. Every quack’s reputation is built on those. But you only hear of the ones that got cured, all the rest who passed away don’t get a mike thrust in front of their faces to tell their story.

The only way to test whether something works is if it works for everyone. Take 1,000 cancer patients in different stages of the disease, ensure they don’t take any other cancer medicine, make them do those special asanas, note their daily readings and see what happens. A year or two later, if most tumours have vanished in a majority of them, then we can believe it. Then too, only if S-VYASA sends it to a peer reviewed journal of some standing which gets it critiqued by other cancer researchers. Till then, whenever Naik feels compelled to turn his ministry into a storehouse of quackery, he should start breathing rapidly with forceful contractions of the abdomen.