Edzard Ernst


Are you or a family member ill?

No need to call a doctor or other healthcare professional!

Homeopathy DIY is the answer. The website of the NATIONAL CENTER FOR HOMEOPATHY tells you how and gives you concrete advice for specific conditions – at closer inspection, it turns out to be an instruction for killing off your entire family:


It’s easy to get started using homeopathy at home. You don’t need to be an expert in anatomy, physiology, or pharmacology. You only need to be able to observe your and your family’s symptoms and any changes you might see in those symptoms. By using the information on this site you can quickly learn enough about homeopathy to use it at home to care for yourself and your family to address minor illnesses and injuries that don’t necessarily need a doctor’s care.

Asthma Attack

Asthma attacks occur for a variety of reasons. You can help treat asthma attacks with homeopathic remedies based on the type of attack that it is.

  • Arsenicum album: anxiety, restlessness, unable to lie down because of feeling of suffocation shortly after midnight.
  • Carbo vegetabilis: asthma attach occurs after long, spasmodic coughing spell with gagging or vomiting; patient feels worst after eating or talking; worse in the evening.
  • Ipecacuanha: sudden onset of wheezing and feeling of suffocation; coughs constantly, but unable to bring up mucus; feeling of weight on chest.
  • Nux vomica: attack often follows stomach upset with much belching; patient very irritable.


  • Arnica: injury, shock.
  • China: loss of blood.
  • Carbo vegetabilis: steady oozing of dark blood; cold breath, cold limbs; cold, clammy sweat; air hunger.
  • Ipecac: gushes of bright red blood, nausea, cold sweat.
  • Sabina: threatened abortion and uterine hemorrhage.
  • Phosphorus: profuse nosebleed, especially after vigorous blowing, or any hemorrhage; when small wounds bleed profusely.

Chicken Pox

Chicken pox can be uncomfortable and painful (for both the child and the parent) and the only way to deal with it is to wait for it to run its course. However, homeopathy can help speed up the healing process – and quickly calm the itch and irritation of this childhood illness.

Let’s look at the handful of remedies that are often called for in cases of chicken pox:

  • Aconite: Early cases, with restlessness, anxiety and high fever.
  • Antimonium tart: Delayed or receding, blue or pustular eruptions. Drowsy, sweaty and relaxed; nausea. Tardy eruption, to accelerate it. Associated with bronchitis, especially in children.
  • Belladonna: Severe headache: face flushed; hot skin. Drowsiness with inability to sleep.
  • Mercurius: To be used should vesicles discharge pus.
  • Rhus toxicodendron: Intense, annoying itching. Generally the only remedy required; under its action the disease soon disappears.
  • Sulphur: like with Rhus toxicodendron, rash is extremely annoying; very thirsty and hungry but takes more than can eat.


Croup can be very scary for parents… your child awakens at night coughing and gasping for air. Homeopathy works very well for these young patients.

There are a number of great homeopathic remedies to consider first when you confront this condition late some night:

  • Aconite: This remedy should always be given at the first; it will often prove to be the only one needed, if given right, unless some other remedy is strongly, indicated. Aconite will be called for if there is a high fever, skin dry, much restlessness and distress. Cough and loud breathing during inspiration. Every expiration ends with a hoarse hacking cough.
  • Arsenicum album: For croup with suffocative attacks at night; especially after midnight; croup before or after rashes or hives; patient cannot breath through nose; complaints with much restlessness and thirst, but for less quantity of water; aggravation after drinking.
  • Bromine: Spasms of the larynx, suffocative cough, horse whistling, croupy sound with great effort; rattling breathing; gasping; impeded respiration, heat of the face, much rattling in larynx when coughing.
  • Hepar sulph: If there is a rattling, choking cough, becoming worse particularly in the morning part of the night. Patient tends to be chilly. Cough can be worse from cold drafts or cold room – better warm moist air.
  • Spongia: The cough is dry and silibant; or it sounds like a saw driven through a pine board, each cough corresponding to a thrust of the saw.


…The good news is that a small international team of experienced and heroic homeopaths have arrived in West Africa, and are currently on the ground working hard to examine patients, work out the “genus epidemicus,” and initiate clinical trials. This work is being done alongside the current conventional supportive measures and treatments already in place. We applaud and congratulate this team’s dedication and courage in joining the front lines in treating Ebola with homeopathy. The answer to whether homeopathic medicine has an important role in the Ebola epidemic could be forthcoming quite soon.


The flu can come on suddenly and stop you in your tracks – but there are many homeopathic remedies that can help bring relief and shorten the duration of the flu.

The following are some remedies that can bring relief during the flu:

  • Arsenicum album: great prostration with extreme chilliness and a thirst for frequent sips of warm drinks. The eyes and nose stream with watery, acrid discharges. Feels irritable and anxious.
  • Baptista: gastric flu with vomiting and diarrhea. Comes on suddenly. Feels sore and bruised all over. Profuse perspiration with a high fever and extreme thirst. Feels (and looks) dazed and sluggish.
  • Bryonia: flu comes on slowly. Aching pains in all the joints are worse for the slightest motion. Painful dry cough that makes the head hurt. Extreme thirst at infrequent intervals. Feels intensely irritable and wants to be alone.
  • Eupatorium perfoliatum: the pains are so severe it feels as if the bones are broken. The muscles ache and feel sore and bruised as well. A bursting headache with sore, aching eyeballs. The nose runs with much sneezing, and the chest feels sore and raw. Thirsty for cold water even though it brings on violent chills in the small of the back.
  • Ferrum phosphoricum: a fever develops, a flu is likely but the symptoms aren’t clearly developed yet (and Aconite didn’t help). Take 3 doses every 2-4 hours.
  • Gelsemium: flu comes on slowly especially when the weather changes from cold to warm. The muscles feel weak and achy. There’s a great feeling of heaviness everywhere-the head (which aches dully), limbs, eyelids, etc. No thist at all. Fever alternative with chills and shivers that run up and down the spine. Feels (and looks) apathetic, dull, and drowsy.
  • Mercurius solubilis: fever with copious, extremely offensive perspiration that doesn’t provide any relief (unlike most feverish sweats). The breath smells bad, there’s more salivation than normal and an extreme thirst.
  • Nux vomica: gastric flu with vomiting and diarrhea. The limbs and back ache a great deal. The nose runs during the day and is stopped up at night. Fever with chills and shivering especially after drinking. Very chilly and sensitive to the slightest draught of air or uncovering. Feels extremely impatient and irritable.
  • Pyrogenium: serious flu with severe pains in the back and the limbs and a terrible, bursting headache. Feels beaten and bruised all over. Very restless and feels better on beginning to move. Chills in the back and the limbs with a thumping heart.
  • Rhus toxicodendron: flu in cold, damp weather. Great restlessness: aching and stiffness in the joints is worse for first motion, it eases with continued motion and then they feel weak and have to rest after which they stiffen and have to move again. Pains are better for warmth. Feels anxious and weepy.
At the first sign of a flu Oscillococcinum® can also be taken right at the very beginning of feeling ill but before any symptoms have developed.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFM) starts with a fever and shortly after, the spots appear. The spots are more like blisters and can show up on the soles of the feet, palms of the hands, and/or inside the mouth and back of the throat. The blisters in the mouth can be very painful, especially when your little one is trying to swallow or eat.

A child also might:

  • develop fever, muscle aches, or other flu-like symptoms.
  • become irritable or sleep more than usual.
  • begin drooling (due to painful swallowing).
  • gravitate toward cold fluids.

Try the following remedies when HFM makes an appearance in your house.

  • Mercurius solubis: Mouth sores can be very severe, and the person is very sensitive to hot and cold; may have a fever before getting the blisters and may alternate between getting too hot with perspiration and becoming chilled at night; becoming too hot or too cold makes the person worse in general; blisters tend to be more painful at night; one of the characteristic symptoms of Mercurius is the tendency to drool or to have an excess of saliva in the mouth; the breath may be quite offensive with pus visible on the tonsils or elsewhere in the mouth.
  • Antimonium tart: Chill stage of fever: gooseflesh and icy cold skin; heat stage of fever: clings to those around and wants to be carried; does not want to be touched or looked at; thirstless despite the dry parched tongue; wweat stage of fever: profuse, cold, clammy or sticky; dry, cracked, parched tongue with whitish discoloration in the centre; tongue tip and sides clean, moist and red; thrush; may crave apples or apple juice.
  • Borax: Refuses to talk during fever; desire for cold drinks and cold food during fever; great heat and dryness of mouth with white ulcers (aphthae); white fungus-like growth; tender; ulcers bleed on touch and eating; painful red blisters on tongue; sore mouth prevents infants from nursing; fear of downward motion; startle easily; very sensitive to sudden noises.


While measles is probably best known for its full-body rash, the first symptoms of the infection are usually a hacking cough, runny nose, high fever, and red eyes that can be very sensitive to light. Characteristic markers of measles are Koplik’s spots, small red spots with blue-white centers that appear inside the mouth. The rash first appears on the face and then moves downwards and from the face downward.

  • Euphrasia: Lots of mucus; a mouthful hawked up on cough; clears the throat frequently; cough during the day only and worse in the morning; better lying down; eyes – burning, watery and sensitive to light; eyelids burning, red and swollen; wind and light aggravate; nose – bland, watery unlike the watery discharge of the eyes which burns; throat might be sore with burning pain.
  • Pulsatilla: thirstless; clinging and weepy; warm rooms and becoming warm aggravate; open air ameliorates; low fever and the itchy skin/eruptions are worse for heat; eruptions itching and worse for warmth with white or yellow discharge.
  • Apis: eruptions painful, burning, hot, stinging with swelling where the skin looks shiny/puffy; thirstless; itching better for cold applications and worse for heat, especially heat of bed; if rash is slow to develop or is suppressed; better in general for fresh air, better with cold drinks.
  • Bryonia: Rash/eruptions slow to come out or suppressed; warmth of the bed ameliorates; dryness and dislike of movement; headache has pain behind the eyeballs, bursting and violent, worse for moving; better for cold compresses and pressure; thirsty for large quantities of water all at once; motion aggravates; grumpy bear remedy – want to be left alone; throbbing/pulsating pains; dryness throughout all mucous membranes.


I have only selected conditions that are potentially serious. Originally, I had intended to include all of them in this post, but half way through I gave up: there were just too many.

I am sure that most readers of the above advice would have – like I did – first have giggled a bit and then have felt increasingly angry and eventually slightly depressed: this glimpse into the way homeopaths think is revealing and frightening in equal measure.

I already hear the apologists say: This is unnecessarily alarmist; homeopathic remedies are safe, much safer than conventional medicines. My answer to these two points are as follows:

  1. Homeopathy does not normally harm patients via its remedies but by neglect: it is a non-treatment; and a non-treatment of a serious condition is always life-threatening.
  2. Sure, real medicines have risks, but they also have benefits. Responsible healthcare practitioners use those treatments where the benefits outweigh the risks.

Yes, yes, yes – it’s true: I am the living proof for homeopathy’s incredible efficacy; Much more importantly: so is Samuel Hahnemann! In fact, his case is even more convincing.

This is our story, Sam’s and mine:

We both developed hair loss fairly relatively early in our lives. As dedicated homeopaths, we did not despair. We both knew the solution to our problem only too well: HOMEOPATHY. The treatment had to be holistic, individualised, potentised and energised to activate our vital force; this took a while but then the cure was quick, complete and impressive. We both re-grew a full head of healthy, thick hair.

Hold on, you will say, both Hahnemann and Ernst are almost completely bald!


Yes, of course, we had little choice but to regularly shave off the newly sprouting hair in order to give the image of alopecia.


Don’t ask!

You insist?

Well alright then: BIG PHARMA made us offers that we simply could not refuse. They were apparently very afraid that the immense power of homeopathy would become visible on our scalps for the world to see (much more so in Sam’s case than in mine – he is after all the founder of the homeopathy trade!). So, they offered us fortunes and eventually we agreed to the deals. Sam got himself a young woman and moved from miserable Koethen to glamorous Paris to live the high life; and I retired from my under-paid university post in Exeter and live like ‘Bosch in France’ ever since. (Over time, our wives got used to saving our heads to create the appearance of male baldness, and nobody would have ever known)

Unfortunately, the truth is now seeping out.

Thousands of websites  have sprung up in recent months giving away our secret: homeopathy is the ultimate cure for baldness. Here is one of them:

…Although hair loss is not a life threatening condition but it can be a source of constant stress and worry in the persons affected by it. A person suffering from hair loss possesses lower self esteem and self confidence levels, and also feels embarrassed when in company of other people. Homeopathy can very efficiently deal with cases of hair loss, and produce excellent results. In Homeopathy, a huge number of wonderful medicines are present that are used to tackle hair loss cases. Every kind of hair loss (ranging from hair loss due to anemia / nutritional deficiencies, due to skin disorders, due to mental / physical trauma, due to childbirth or menopause, after acute diseases, to alopecia areata, alopecia totalis or androgenetic alopecia) can be treated with the help of well selected homeopathic medicines. To treat hair loss through homeopathy detail case history of the patient needs to be studied. The cause and site of hair loss are to be noted down along with the constitutional symptoms of the patient which are given prime importance in any kind of case of hair loss. The constitutional symptoms include the eating habits, level of thirst, thermals, mental symptom etc. and these are to be given top position in forming the totality of symptoms while case taking. After the case has been properly evaluated, the case homeopathic medicine is administered to the patient…

So… now the truth is out. Of course, both Sam Hahnemann and I felt embarrassed about taking bribes from BIG PHARMA (the fact that many other alt med gurus also do it for money was no real conciliation), but this sentiment cured the embarrassment of early onset baldness.

Yet another proof that LIKE CURES LIKE!?!

Chiropractors (and other alternative practitioners) tend to treat their patients for unnecessarily long periods of time. This, of course, costs money, and even if the treatment in question ever was indicated (which, according to the best evidence, is more than doubtful), this phenomenon would significantly inflate healthcare expenditure.

This sounds perfectly logical to me, but is there any evidence for it? Yes, there is!

The WSJ recently reported that over 80% of the money that Medicare paid to US chiropractors in 2013 went for medically unnecessary procedures. The federal insurance program for senior citizens spent roughly $359 million on unnecessary chiropractic care that year, a review by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) found.

The OIG report was based on a random sample of Medicare spending for 105 chiropractic services in 2013. It included bills submitted to CMS through June 2014. Medicare audit contractors reviewed medical records for patients to determine whether treatment was medically necessary. The OIG called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to tighten oversight of the payments, noting its analysis was one of several in recent years to find questionable Medicare spending on chiropractic care. “Unless CMS implements strong controls, it is likely to continue to make improper payments to chiropractors,” the OIG said.

Medicare should determine whether there should be a cut-off in visits, the OIG said. Medicare does not pay for “supportive” care, or maintenance therapy. Patients who received more than a dozen treatments are more likely to get medically unnecessary care, the OIG found, and all chiropractic care after the first 30 treatment sessions was unnecessary, the review found. However, a spokesperson for US chiropractors disagreed: “Every patient is different,” he said. “Some patients may require two visits; some may require more.”

I have repeatedly written about the fact that chiropractic is not nearly as cost-effective as chiropractors want us to believe (see for instance here and here). It seems that this evidence is being systematically ignored by them; in fact, the evidence gets in the way of their aim – which often is not to help patients but to maximise their cash-flow.

The risks of consulting a chiropractor have regularly been the subject of this blog (see for instance here, here and here). My critics believe that I am alarmist and have a bee in my bonnet. I think they are mistaken and believe it is important to warn the public of the serious complications that are being reported with depressing regularity, particularly in connection with neck manipulations.

It has been reported that the American model Katie May died earlier this year “as the result of visiting a chiropractor for an adjustment, which ultimately left her with a fatal tear to an artery in her neck” This is the conclusion drawn by the L.A. County Coroner.


According to Wikipedia, Katie tweeted on January 29, 2016, that she had “pinched a nerve in [her] neck on a photoshoot” and “got adjusted” at a chiropractor. She tweeted on January 31, 2016 that she was “going back to the chiropractor tomorrow.” On the evening of February 1, 2016, May “had begun feeling numbness in a hand and dizzy” and “called her parents to tell them she thought she was going to pass out.” At her family’s urging, May went to Cedars Sinai Hospital; she was found to be suffering a “massive stroke.” According to her father, she “was not conscious when we got to finally see her the next day. We never got to talk to her again.” Life support was withdrawn on February 4, 2016.

Katie’s death certificate states that she died when a blunt force injury tore her left vertebral artery, and cut off blood flow to her brain. It also says the injury was sustained during a “neck manipulation by chiropractor.” Her death is listed as accidental.

Katie’s family is said to be aware of the coroner’s findings. They would not comment on whether they or her estate would pursue legal action.

The coroner’s verdict ends the uncertainty about Katie’s tragic death which was well and wisely expressed elsewhere:

“…The bottom line is that we don’t know for sure. We can’t know for sure. If you leave out the chiropractic manipulations of her neck, her clinical history—at least as far as I can ascertain it from existing news reports—is classic for a dissection due to neck trauma. She was, after all, a young person who suffered a seemingly relatively minor neck injury that, unbeknownst to her, could have caused a carotid artery dissection, leading to a stroke four or five days later… Thus, it seems to be jumping to conclusions for May’s friend Christina Passanisi to say that May “really didn’t need to have her neck adjusted, and it killed her.” … Her two chiropractic manipulations might well have either worsened an existing intimal tear or caused a new one that led to her demise. Or they might have had nothing to do with her stroke, her fate having been sealed days before when she fell during that photoshoot. There is just no way of knowing for sure. It is certainly not wrong to suspect that chiropractic neck manipulation might have contributed to Katie May’s demise, but it is incorrect to state with any degree of certainty that her manipulation did kill her.”

My conclusions are as before and I think they need to be put as bluntly as possible: avoid chiropractors – the possible risks outweigh the documented benefits – and if you simply cannot resist consulting one: DON’T LET HIM/HER TOUCH YOUR NECK!

The placebo response might be important in clinical practice, but it is certainly difficult to study and the findings of such investigations can be confusing. This seems to be exemplified by two new trials.

The first study examined the possibility of using theatrical performance tools, including stage directions and scripting, to reproducibly manipulate the style and content of a simulated doctor-patient encounter and influence the placebo response (defined as improvement of clinical outcome in individuals receiving inactive treatment) in experimental pain.

A total of 122 healthy volunteers were exposed to experimental pain using the cold pressor test and assessed for pain threshold and tolerance before and after receiving a placebo cream from a “doctor” impersonated by a trained actor. The actor alternated between two distinct scripts and stage directions. One script emulated a standard doctor-patient encounter (scenario A), while the other emphasized elements present in ritual healing such as attentiveness and strong suggestion (scenario B).

The placebo response size was calculated as the % difference in pain threshold and tolerance after exposure relative to baseline. Subjects demonstrating a ≥30% increase in pain threshold or tolerance relative to baseline were defined as responders. Each encounter was videotaped in its entirety.

Inspection of the videotapes confirmed the reproducibility and consistency of the distinct scenarios enacted by the “doctor”-performer. Furthermore, scenario B resulted in a significant increase in pain threshold relative to scenario A. This increase derived from the placebo responder subgroup; as shown by two-way analysis of variance (performance style, F = 4.30; p = 0.040; η(2) = 0.035; style × responder status interaction term, F = 5.21; p = 0.024) followed by post hoc analysis showing a ∼60% increase in pain threshold in responders exposed to scenario B (p = 0.020).


Performance style and response size in placebo responders and non-responders. Bars represent mean ± SE of % change in CPT threshold of 60 subjects in scenario A: 53 non-responders vs. 7 responders and 62 subjects in scenario B: 51 non-responders and 11 responders. Two-way ANOVA by performance style and responsiveness revealed significant effects of doctor’s performance (F = 4.30; p = 0.040; η2 = 0.035) and responsiveness (F = 134.71; p < 0.001) as well as a significant interaction term (F = 5.21; p = 0.024). p = 0.020, Fisher’s least significant difference post hoc test.

The authors concluded that these results support the hypothesis that structured manipulation of physician’s verbal and non-verbal performance, designed to build rapport and increase faith in treatment, is feasible and may have a significant beneficial effect on the size of the response to placebo analgesia. They also demonstrate that subjects, who are not susceptible to placebo, are also not susceptible to performance style.

In the second study, the authors investigated if an implicit priming procedure, where participants were unaware of the intended priming influence, affected placebo analgesia.

In a double-blind experiment, healthy participants (n = 36) were randomized to different implicit priming types; one aimed at increasing positive expectations and one neutral control condition. First, pain calibration (thermal) and a credibility demonstration of the placebo analgesic device were performed. In a second step, an independent experimenter administered the priming task; Scrambled Sentence Test. Then, pain sensitivity was assessed while telling participants that the analgesic device was either turned on (placebo) or turned off (baseline). Pain responses were recorded on a 0-100 Numeric Response Scale.

Overall, there was a significant placebo effect (p < 0.001), however, the priming conditions (positive/neutral) did not lead to differences in placebo outcome. Prior experience of pain relief (during initial pain testing) correlated significantly with placebo analgesia (p < 0.001) and explained 34% of placebo variance. Trait neuroticism correlated positively with placebo analgesia (p < 0.05) and explained 21% of placebo variance.

The authors concluded that priming is one of many ways to influence behaviour, and non-conscious activation of positive expectations could theoretically affect placebo analgesia. Yet, we found no SST priming effect on placebo analgesia. Instead, our data point to the significance of prior experience of pain relief, trait neuroticism and social interaction with the treating clinician.

The two studies are similar but generate somewhat contradictory results. In the discussion section, the authors of the first paper stress that “replication of our findings in clinical populations; employing professional physicians of both sexes, are necessary in order to establish their generality and possible application in medical training, with the aim of improving patient outcome across diseases and treatment modalities.” This is certainly true. They continue by stating that  “future studies using performance tools in clinical trial settings could demonstrate the potential of borrowing performance principles and techniques from traditional healing and applying them to physician–patient encounters in Western medicine, following certain necessary modifications. Performance tools could thus eventually be incorporated into the systematic training of physicians and medical students, possibly to complement programs in Narrative Medicine and Relational Medicine.”

These ideas are not dissimilar to what we have been discussing on this blog repeatedly. For instance, I have previously tried to explain that “the science and the art of medicine are essential elements of good medicine. In other words, if one is missing, medicine is by definition  not optimal. In vast areas of alternative medicine, the science-element is woefully neglected or even totally absent. It follows, that these areas cannot be good medicine. In some areas of conventional medicine, the art-element is weak or neglected. It follows that, in these areas, medicine is not good either.”

The fact that the two studies above show contradictory findings is not easy to interpret. Possibly, this shows how fragile the placebo response can be. It can be influenced by a multitude of factors related to an experiment or the clinical setting. If that is so, and placebo effects are truly unreliable, it would be yet another argument for not relying on them in clinical routine. In my view, clinicians should try to maximize them where they can. Yet placebo effects are not normally a justification for employing placebo therapies in clinical practice. In other words, the fact that a bogus treatment can generate a placebo response is not a good reason for using it on patients who need help.

Good clinicians have probably always been good ‘performers’. Alternative practitioners tend to be excellent ‘performers’, and I am sure their success is mainly due to this ability. I see little reason why conventional practitioners should not (re-)learn the skills that once upon a time were called ‘good bed-side manners’. Maximizing the placebo effect in this way might maximize the benefit patients experience – and for that we do not require the placebo-therapies of alternative medicine.

A few weeks ago, John Benneth – I am sure you know John, he is one of the few homeopathy-fans who make Dana Ullman look sane – published this note:

I am overwhelmed . . I am being shipped to Paris next week with bioengineer Bronson Ayala assisting to receive from the Conte Foundation homeopathy’s highest award, the Yves Lasne Price, for my research into the homeopathic mechanism, and deliver my thesis, “Physic of the Infinitesimal.”
Wish us luck . .
Au revoir!


Knowing the utter nonsense this man tends to publish on youtube (see for instance here) or elsewhere, I did not assume that there was any truth to it (see also here).

I was wrong!!!

Today I found this on Twitter:

29/09/2016 Paris Prix Yves Lasne décerné à John Benneth l’un des grands chercheurs & journalistes de la recherche fondamentale Homéopathie

The award does actually exist – here is the website.



Unfortunately I did not find any press release or similar announcement of the prize. Therefore, I have to go by the short note on Twitter. It names John Benneth as one of the great scientist of basic research into homeopathy. That was new to me. So, I quickly did a search on PubMed to retrieve some of his work.

Guess how many papers I found?


The inevitable conclusion is that in homeopathy things are, as we all know, upside down; therefore to receive homeopathy’s highest award, one has to prove that one has never published any research into the subject.

It’s all quite logical, if you think of it.

Stable angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease which, in turn, is amongst the most frequent causes of death in developed countries. It is an alarm bell to any responsible clinician and requires causal, often life-saving treatments of which we today have several options. The last thing a patient needs in this condition is ACUPUNCTURE, I would say.

Yet acupuncture is precisely the therapy such patients might be tempted to employ.


Because irresponsible or criminally naïve acupuncturists advertise it!

Take this website, for instance; it informs us that a meta-analysis of eight clinical trials conducted between 2000 and 2014 demonstrates the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of stable angina. In all eight clinical trials, patients treated with acupuncture experienced a greater rate of angina relief than those in the control group treated with conventional drug therapies (90.1% vs 75.7%)….

I imagine that this sounds very convincing to patients and I fear that many might opt for acupuncture instead of potentially invasive/unpleasant but life-saving intervention. The original meta-analysis to which the above promotion referred to is equally optimistic. Here is its abstract:

Angina pectoris is a common symptom imperiling patients’ life quality. The aim of this study is to evaluate the efficacy and safety of acupuncture for stable angina pectoris. Clinical randomized-controlled trials (RCTs) comparing the efficacy of acupuncture to conventional drugs in patients with stable angina pectoris were searched using the following database of PubMed, Medline, Wanfang and CNKI. Overall odds ratio (ORs) and weighted mean difference (MD) with their 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated by using fixed- or random-effect models depending on the heterogeneity of the included trials. Total 8 RCTs, including 640 angina pectoris cases with 372 patients received acupuncture therapy and 268 patients received conventional drugs, were included. Overall, our result showed that acupuncture significantly increased the clinical curative effects in the relief of angina symptoms (OR=2.89, 95% CI=1.87-4.47, P<0.00001) and improved the electrocardiography (OR=1.83, 95% CI=1.23-2.71, P=0.003), indicating that acupuncture therapy was superior to conventional drugs. Although there was no significant difference in overall effective rate relating reduction of nitroglycerin between two groups (OR=2.13, 95% CI=0.90-5.07, P=0.09), a significant reduction on nitroglycerin consumption in acupuncture group was found (MD=-0.44, 95% CI=-0.64, -0.24, P<0.0001). Furthermore, the time to onset of angina relief was longer for acupuncture therapy than for traditional medicines (MD=2.44, 95% CI=1.64-3.24, P<0.00001, min). No adverse effects associated with acupuncture therapy were found. Acupuncture may be an effective therapy for stable angina pectoris. More clinical trials are needed to systematically assess the role of acupuncture in angina pectoris.

In the discussion section of the full paper, the authors explain that their analysis has several weaknesses:

Several limitations were presented in this meta-analysis. Firstly, conventional drugs in control group were different, this may bring some deviation. Secondly, for outcome of the time to onset of angina relief with acupuncture, only one trial included. Thirdly, the result of some outcomes presented in different expression method such as nitroglycerin consumption. Fourthly, acupuncture combined with traditional medicines or other factors may play a role in angina pectoris.

However, this does not deter them to conclude on a positive note:

In conclusion, we found that acupuncture therapy was superior to the conventional drugs in increasing the clinical curative effects of angina relief, improving the electrocardiography, and reducing the nitroglycerin consumption, indicating that acupuncture therapy may be effective and safe for treating stable angina pectoris. However, further clinical trials are needed to systematically and comprehensively evaluate acupuncture therapy in angina pectoris.

So, why do I find this irresponsibly and dangerously misleading?

Here a just a few reasons why this meta-analysis should not be trusted:

  • There was no systematic attempt to evaluate the methodological rigor of the primary studies; any meta-analysis MUST include such an assessment, or else it is not worth the paper it was printed on.
  • The primary studies all look extremely weak; this means they are likely to be false-positive.
  • They often assessed not acupuncture alone but in combination with other treatments; consequently the findings cannot be attributed to acupuncture.
  • All the primary studies originate from China; we have seen previously (see here and here) that Chinese acupuncture trials deliver nothing but positive results which means that their results cannot be trusted: they are false-positive.

My conclusion: the authors, editors and reviewers responsible for this article should be ashamed; they committed or allowed scientific misconduct, mislead the public and endangered patients’ lives.

Hard to believe, but today it is 4 years that I wrote the first post on this blog. Quite honestly, I never expected that this would turn out to be such a fascinating past-time. These 4 years have been busy, entertaining and informative in equal measure:

  • I wrote more than 800 articles,
  • you published more than 22 000 comments,
  • the blog attracted over 1.6 million views,
  • one particular post was read > 600 000 times,
  • I got insulted hundreds of times,
  • we all learnt a lot (I hope),
  • I had to ban just a handful of individuals from commenting,
  • the blog got noticed and cited by people and institutions of influence from across the globe,
  • I never seem to run out of material.

In my very first post of 14/10/2012, I wrote: “…my blog is not going to provide just another critique of alternative medicine; it is going to be different, I hope. The reasons for this are fairly obvious: I have researched alternative medicine for two decades. My team and I have conducted about 40 clinical trials and published more than 100 systematic reviews of alternative medicine. We were by far the most productive research unit in this area. For 14 years, we hosted an annual international conference for researchers in this field. I know many of the leading investigators personally, and I understand their way of thinking. I have rehearsed every possible argument for or against alternative medicine dozens of times. In a nutshell, I am not someone who judges alternative medicine from the outside; I come from within the field. Arguably, I am the only researcher in this area who is willing [or capable?] to state publicly what is wrong with alternative medicine. This is perhaps one of the advantages of being an emeritus professor!”

Today, I still feel that this is probably true.

What is unquestionably true, however, is that I have fun doing this blog – and that is the main reason for continuing dedicating plenty of time to it. On this 4th anniversary, let me once again thank all of you for your contributions and for making this blog such an exciting experience.



When sceptics claim that no positive trials of homeopathy exist, they are clearly mistaken. The truth is that there are plenty of them! But many, if not most are of such poor quality that it is safe to suspect they are false-positives. Here is a recent example of this type of scenario.

This new study investigated the clinical effectiveness of a homeopathic add-on therapy in children with upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). It was designed as a randomized, controlled, multi-national clinical trial. Patients received either on-demand symptomatic standard treatment (ST-group) or the same ST plus a homeopathic medication (Influcid; IFC-group) for 7 days. IFC tablets contain a fixed combination of 6 homeopathic single substances (Aconitum D3, Bryonia D2, Eupatorium perfoliatum D1, Gelsemium D3, Ipecacuanha D3, and Phosphorus D5). IFC was administered according to the following schedule: 8 tablets/day during the first 72 hours, 3 tablets/day during the following 96 hours. Outcome assessment was based on symptom and fever resolution and the Wisconsin Upper Respiratory Symptom Survey-21 (WURSS-21).

A total of 261 paediatric (<12 years) patients (130 IFC-group; 131 ST-group) were recruited in Germany and the Ukraine. The IFC-group used less symptomatic medication, their symptoms resolved significantly earlier, they had higher proportions of fever-free children from day 3 onwards, and the WURSS-assessed global disease severity was significantly less during the entire URTI episode.


Days until symptom resolution (WURSS-21 item 1) in both treatment groups.

The light grey (IFC-group) and dark grey (ST-group) lines are polynomial fit curves. The dashed line estimates the between-group difference in the number of days after which 50% of patients had symptom resolution.


Between-group differences (IFC − ST) with 95% confidence intervals in the proportion of patients without fever during the observational period.

A difference (%) greater than zero indicates a higher proportion without fever in the IFC-group. Day 1 = Baseline.

The authors concluded that IFC as add-on treatment in pediatric URTI reduced global disease severity, shortened symptom resolution, and was safe in use.

On the one hand, this study has many features of a rigorous trial. I am sure that homeopaths will praise its quality, sample size, clever statistical analyses, etc. etc. The trial will therefore be cited by enthusiasts as a poof for homeopathy’s effectiveness and for homeopaths’ laudable research efforts.

On the other hand, one only needs to apply a minimum of critical thinking to find that it has been designed such that it cannot possibly generate a negative result. In fact, the paper turns out to be much more of a marketing exercise than a research effort.

The homeopathic remedy was given as an add-on therapy according to a fairly tedious ritual. It is safe to assume that this ritual created expectations on the parents’ side. These expectations alone suffice to account for the small group differences which seemingly favour homeopathy. The study follows the infamous ‘A+B versus B’ design which (as we have discussed ad nauseam on this blog) is extremely likely to generate false positive findings.

Why do researchers nevertheless plan, conduct and publish such studies (in the case of the paper discussed here, they even published their findings twice! Their previous paper included a larger group of patients of all ages and concluded that the homeopathic treatment shortened URTI duration, reduced the use of symptomatic medication, and was well tolerated.)? The answer can be found, I think, in the small print at the end of the paper:

Declaration of Conflicting Interests: The author(s) declared the following potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Robert van Haselen has received a consultancy fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union. Manuela Thinesse-Mallwitz received a fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union for coordinating the study. Vitaliy Maidannyk received a fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union for coordinating the study. Stephen L. Buskin is a member of the Advisory Board of the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union. Stephan Weber received a fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union for contributing to the study. Thomas Keller received a fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union for contributing to the study. Julia Burkart is an employee of the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union, the study sponsor and manufacturer of Influcid. Petra Klement is an employee of the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union, the study sponsor and manufacturer of Influcid.

Funding: The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The study was funded by Deutsche Homöopathie-Union, Karlsruhe, Germany. Deutsche Homöopathie-Union manufactures the homeopathic medicinal product used in this study and provided the publication fee.


Antrodia cinnamomea (AC) is a fungus which is used in Taiwan as a remedy for cancer, hypertension, hangover and other conditions. There are several commercial AC products and the annual market is worth over $100 million in Taiwan alone.

Several studies have suggested anti-cancer properties in vitro but few clinical trials have been reported. Now Taiwanese researchers published a double-blind, randomized clinical study to investigate whether AC had acceptable safety and efficacy in advanced cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

Patients with advanced and/or metastatic adenocarcinoma, performance status (PS) 0-2, and adequate organ function who had previously been treated with standard chemotherapy were randomly assigned to receive routine chemotherapy regimens with AC (20 ml twice daily) orally for 30 days or placebo. The primary endpoint was 6-month overall survival (OS); the secondary endpoints were disease control rate (DCR), quality of life (QoL), adverse event (AE), and biochemical features within 30 days of treatment.

A total of 37 subjects with gastric, lung, liver, breast, and colorectal cancer (17 in the AC group, 20 in the placebo group) were enrolled in the study. Disease progression was the primary cause of death in 4 (33.3 %) AC and 8 (66.7 %) placebo recipients. Mean OSs were 5.4 months for the AC group and 5.0 months for the placebo group (p = 0.340), and the DCRs were 41.2 and 55 %, respectively (p = 0.33). Most hematologic, liver, or kidney functions did not differ significantly between the two groups, but platelet counts were lower in the AC group than in the placebo group (p = 0.02). QoL assessments were similar in the two groups, except that the AC group showed significant improvements in quality of sleep (p = 0.04).


The above figure shows the survival curves for both groups.

The authors concluded as follows: Although we found a lower mortality rate and longer mean OS in the AC group than in the control group, AC combined with chemotherapy was not shown to improve the outcome of advanced cancer patients, possibly due to the small sample size. In fact, the combination may present a potential risk of lowered platelet counts. Adequately powered clinical trials will be necessary to address this question.

I agree, the survival curve looks promising. But we must not get carried away: this was a tiny sample size and a relatively short treatment period. Thus the difference could be a coincidence or an artefact.

The investigators are sufficiently cautious in the interpretation of their findings, and most of us would probably agree that it is necessary to submit such traditional remedies to proper scientific tests. Yet, I feel a sense of unease when I read such articles.

On the one hand, it is possible that such investigations meaningfully contribute to progress. On the other hand, I wonder whether they merely end up providing a significant boost to the trade of bogus remedies sold at high prices to desperate patients. Do the benefits really out-weigh the risks? We will probably never know.

But to minimize the risk, the authors should now swiftly conduct a more definitive trial and create some clarity about the value or otherwise of this traditional cancer remedy.

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