Few subjects are sadder than cancer sufferers succumbing to quackery. The supposed miracle water being sold to cancer patients by a Taranaki company is worse than a false cure. It could be harmful in the judgment of a medical expert the Herald on Sunday has consulted.

Dr Nick Kim from Massey University's school of public health has found the water to be laced with chlorine such as you get in household bleach, and salt. Far more salt than is good for the human body if the recommended dose of the "cure" is taken.

After an eight-week course (costing $1600) patients would have ingested 500g of salt, which would be damaging to their kidneys, heart and blood pressure whatever it might be doing to their cancer. It fails the national standard for safe drinking water, let alone any measure of natural remedies.

Te Kiri Gold's inventor, Taranaki farmer Vernon Coxhead, tells cancer sufferers it is a "game changer".

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Coxhead's intentions are good. Interviewed for our report today. The potion he calls Te Kiri Gold grew out of experiments on his farm. He genuinely believes the chlorine and salt change the molecular structure of the body's immune system, enabling it to reach cancers. Dr Kim agrees hypochlorite could kill cancer cells but indiscriminately, killing healthy tissue too.

The combination of the good intentions of a true believer and the desperate vulnerability of terminal cancer patients is a tragic one. Dr Kim calls for a government agency to police such products and he is right.

For the patients, it will seem there is nothing to lose. Whatever harm the concoction might do to their good organs will seem worth it if it kills the cancer. After all, the medically approved treatments like chemotherapy do visible damage to good organs. So if patients want to try everything, why not?

Because desperate, dying people are easy prey for vultures who might not have the pure motives of Vernon Coxhead. Snake oil salesmen are never far away from a lucrative market.

Information is always preferable to prohibition and we hope the investigation the Herald has made of Coxhead's product will deter cancer sufferers from trying it and give them second thoughts if they are taking it.

Medical science is making good strides in immunotherapies today. They are probably a better bet than the experiments of an enthusiastic amateur with neither medicine nor science on his side.