MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

The question that I hear with unfailing regularity when talking about alternative medicine is WHY IS IT SO POPULAR? I always struggle to find a simple answer – mainly because there is no simple answer. The reasons for patients and consumers to use alternative medicine are complex and multiple. They range from dissatisfaction with conventional medicine to clinging to the last straw. However, one factor is very clearly always involved: the often bafflingly uncritical promotion of quackery by the daily papers – and that even includes those with a reputation for being respectable.

Yesterday’s article in THE TELEGRAPH is as good an example as any. In the following section, I quote excerpts from it and add my own comments in bold. 

It is perhaps easier to list what the naturopath Katrin Hempel doesn’t offer her clients than what she does. Bioresonance and live blood analysis, acupuncture, biopuncture, infusion therapy, oxyvenation…”

Katrin Hempel, B.H.Sc.,ND, Dipl.Ac. describes herself on her website as an energetic, enthusiastic and experienced natural therapist with a great passion and commitment to the health and well-being of her patients. She calls herself a ‘naturopathic doctor’. I am not sure what this actually is but I am fairly sure she has not studied medicine. I do not doubt her enthusiasm, but I do doubt that most of the methods listed above are anything else but pure quackery.

“Germany has a long tradition of natural medicine, so it’s more common to find conventional doctors who have also studied natural medicine and use these modalities. Here we are at least 20 years behind.” That is true only, if one regards the integration of quackery as progress.

“Every cell in the body puts out a certain electromagnetic frequency, that can be measured – a healthy stomach cell sounds different to a healthy brain cell – and the machine can put the right resonance back in, to trigger deep healing.”) This is pure pseudoscience; neither live blood analysis nor bioresonance are supported by good evidence (and don’t even ask about ‘biopuncture’).

The article goes on misleading the reader in the most scandalous way by promoting pure nonsense. To provide a flavour, I will merely cite a few quotes from the ‘naturopathic doctor’:

  • “If your digestion isn’t working properly there is a malabsorption of nutrients”
  • “Bioresonance can pick up a condition before it manifests as a disease.”
  • “Bioresonance measures the electromagnetic output of every cell in the body. If there’s any discrepancy with the healthy frequency for that kind of cell that gives a diagnosis.”
  • “Whatever the problem, at root it will be an imbalance in the cells.”

At no point in this article is there an attempt to challenge or critically analyse this bonanza in quackery; THE TELEGRAPH promotion of dangerous nonsense ends with the cheerful footnote informing the reader that one hour with the ‘naturopathic doctor’ will cost from £100. THE TELEGRAPH does not even shy away to print an address for booking a consultation with the ‘naturopathic doctor’.

But is it really all quackery? Yes it is! The article promotes so many unproven methods that I find it hard to choose one for demonstrating how irresponsible it really is. Let’s take life blood analysis (LBA), for instance; here is what I published about LBA some time ago:

The principle of LBA is fairly simple: a drop of blood is taken from your fingertip, put on a glass plate and viewed via a microscope on a video screen. Despite the claims made for it, LBA is by no means new; using his lately developed microscope, Antony van Leeuwenhoek observed in 1686 that living blood cells changed shape during circulation. Ever since, doctors, scientists and others have studied blood samples in this and other ways.

What is new, however, is what today’s “holistic practitioners” claim to be able to do with LBA. Proponents believe that the method provides information “about the state of the immune system, possible vitamin deficiencies, amount of toxicity, pH and mineral imbalance, areas of concern and weaknesses, fungus and yeast”, as another website puts it.

Others dare to be much more concrete and claim that they can “spot cancer and other degenerative immune system diseases up to two years before they would otherwise be detectable”; or say they can diagnose “lack of oxygen in the blood, low trace minerals, lack of exercise, too much alcohol or yeast, weak kidneys, bladder or spleen”. All this would amount to a remarkable discovery if it were true. But it’s not.

No credible scientific studies have demonstrated the reliability of LBA for detecting any of the above conditions. In what was, to the best of my knowledge, the first attempt to assess the value of this method, a practitioner with several years of experience in LBA tested the samples of 110 patients. Twelve had cancer and the task was to identify their samples without knowing further details. The results could hardly have been more disconcerting – just three of the 12 with confirmed cancer were detected, and the authors concluded that the method “does not seem to reliably detect cancer. Clinical use of the method can therefore not be recommended.”

And, in case you do not trust me, here is a recent Advertising Standards Authority ruling on LBA:

London Natural Therapies is in breach of the UK Advertising Standards Code for making unproven claims on its website about Live Blood Analysis. The CAP Compliance team has contacted London Natural Therapies several times about removing claims implying that Live Blood Analysis could be beneficial for Gastro Intestinal Tract Disorders, Allergies and Hormonal Imbalances after the ASA previously ruled that Live Blood Analysis was not effective in detecting/diagnosing those conditions. Despite repeated requests to remove the problem claims, London Natural Therapies continues to feature them on its website, www.londonnaturaltherapies.co.uk. Because of London Natural Therapies continued non-compliance we took the decision to place its details on this section of the ASA website on 26 June 2012. These details shall remain in place until such time as London Natural Therapies has removed or appropriately amended the claims on its website to ensure compliance with the CAP Code.

This is but one of many examples of truly shoddy journalism published in a daily paper that most people would call ‘respectable’. If anyone cares to look at the less respectable end to the journalistic spectrum, the picture gets even more horrific. The points I am trying to make are simple and, I think, important:

  1. Journalists and editors have a responsibility which, in the realm of alternative medicine, they often disregard most scandalously.
  2. Such poorly researched, unbalanced and uncritical articles can cause very serious harm.
  3. The promotion of quackery may be good for selling copy, but it can also quickly ruin the reputation of a paper.

18 Responses to Irresponsible promotion of quackery even by the ‘respectable’ press

  • Please send that as a letter to the Telegraph.
    Over the years when I have seen how all newspapers have covered medical issues it has made me question whether they are a reliable source of information on any topic.

  • No major media output is ‘respectable’. They function purely to sell their produce. This means pandering to the lowest common denominator and employing lit/arts graduates to write fluff.

    Unfortunately, only writers such as yourself and an army of other bloggers can be relied on to for accuracy and informational content. The common Joe such as myself has to search such sources while the charlatans and the deluded are given free and wide advertising.

  • The author and the editor cannot escape culpability for their wilful dissemination of quackery via The Telegraph:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioresonance_therapy

  • All the appalling advertising and bogus claims wouldn’t work unless people felt some sort of need or desire to turn to someone outside real medicine.

    Imagine someone suffering from tinnitus, as I do – or another complaint that real medicine has no complete answer and cure for. It is at least a blasted nuisance, and at worst can be really depressing. I can sympathise with someone getting to the point of being willing to try snake oil. What’s important is that when they Google “snake oil for tinnitus” they are greeted with plenty of high-ranking search results entitled ‘Snake oil is useless’ from persons such as your good self. How to make that happen?

  • The promotion of quackery may be good for selling copy, but it can also quickly ruin the reputation of a paper.
    It *can*, but does it actually happen? Sure, when a media outlet promotes quackery, I don’t take it seriously, but what use is that when it increases its credibility with the rather large group among us that is prepared to believe just about anything any quack will tell them? If anything, loss of credibility in the eyes of those of us who (try to) think somewhat critically, increases credibility in the eyes of the quack-believer.

    To make things worse, naturoquacks are officially recognised here in Canada. Information from a government website:

    Naturopaths diagnose patients’ diseases and disorders and employ natural methods of healing such as acupuncture and acupressure, spinal manipulation, reflexology, hydrotherapy, herbal medicines, biochemical therapy, clinical nutrition, homeopathy and counselling in their treatment.

    As a result, anyone questioning what these people do, risk being even *less* credible than the quacks themselves. Clearly, my intelligence is too limited to be able to grasp how sticking needles into people would be “natural”, but there you have it. Also, terminology such as “biochemical therapy” and “clinical nutrition” sound rather reassuringly sciencey, and how is an a priori-believing patient to be encouraged to do some critical thinking about this and find out, that these things – in the hands of the quacks – are at the extreme fringes of science?

    I am not advocating being milder about the media. Nonsense is nonsense and there are no valid excuses to say otherwise, but clearly, it is not enough. I can’t help but suspect that quack-belief may be a psychiatric condition that education cannot cure.

  • At next year’s BMA Annual Representative Meeting I shall be calling for ‘Editors of national newspapers to demonstrate integrity and impartiality when reporting matters invoving complementary and alternative medicine, and not to publish articles which promote quackery uncritically .’

    Or sommat like that!

    • Yes please!

      All national newspapers seem to have fallen for this in a big way, but the Telegraph is among the worst, and it gets away with it precisely because it has a reputation as a ‘quality’ paper. This paper is promoting the Bill being pushed through Parliament by Lord Saatchi, which will allow quacks and charlatans to get away with even more than they do now – possibly even murder. It needs to be taken to task in a big way, because people who read the Telegraph think of themselves as the movers and shakers.

  • London Natural Therapies have form with the Advertising Standards Authority:

    London Natural Therapies
    Trading As: http://www.londonnaturaltherapies.co.uk
    Product: Live blood

    Background Information

    Misleading Advertising: London Natural Therapies is in breach of the UK Advertising Standards Code for making unproven claims on its website about Live Blood Analysis.

    The CAP Compliance team has contacted London Natural Therapies several times about removing claims implying that Live Blood Analysis could be beneficial for Gastro Intestinal Tract Disorders, Allergies and Hormonal Imbalances after the ASA previously ruled that Live Blood Analysis was not effective in detecting/diagnosing those conditions.

    Despite repeated requests to remove the problem claims, London Natural Therapies continues to feature them on its website, http://www.londonnaturaltherapies.co.uk. Because of London Natural Therapies continued non-compliance we took the decision to place its details on this section of the ASA website on 26 June 2012. These details shall remain in place until such time as London Natural Therapies has removed or appropriately amended the claims on its website to ensure compliance with the CAP Code.

  • I take issue with such general biased statements against CAM treatments.

    What the hell has the mainstream healthcare to offer? I’m not really interested in writing a whole article on this but still find those relying on “peer reviewed” journals to be just as much in the dark as anyone else!!!

    I’m a botched product of conventional psychiatry and have witnessed horrible practices in many medical specialties.

    For instance, being diagnosed with prostatitis: Push fluids down the prostate and and take a cultrue with an initial “speculation” that you have an infection. Then proceeding to put patient on antibiotics that make the person feel horrible. When the person goes to a ND and gets some CAM treatment and rectal EDTA chelation, the problem is gone in a week.

    Even better, the culture never relieved an acute infection.

    Yes, that’s one story about me.

    So real science BS??? Just a bunch of haughty doctors that are lazy or arrogant and are afraid patients will go elsewhere. Also, with ND’s you don’t get rambled when you ask questions and no authority crap. Hey, I’m the patient/customer and the customer is always right.

    This is why people are totally angry with mainstream medicine that will try to heal you while hurting you and when things don’t work, they’ll say “It’s all in your mind!”. What audacity……….

    Even if I where to take 50 supplements and 30 homeopathic plus all therapies combined from a respected ND, with the possible (less than 1%,) chance of health consequences doesn’t equal a single pill of the nefarious beta blockers, statin monsters, or murderous psychotropics.

    People are carrying information in their pockets and doctors are afraid. Point blank.

    Any rebuttals???

    • Chaim Bochner said:

      I take issue with such general biased statements against CAM treatments.

      That ‘bias’ as you call it is the bias of science and evidence. If you have evidence that refutes, then please feel free to provide it.

      The rest of your comment consists of several tu quoque fallacies, unverified and unverifiable anecdotes and unsubstantiated assertions.

      • Alan,

        Maybe you can help me?

        First, it seems like there aren’t many CAM supporters publishing or commenting on this board… Do people know this site exists? If not, it’s like blowing a trumpet in your sound proof room! Of course you feel the music is beautiful but do the critics also think so?

        Mainly, about science and studies… I really feel that there is an argument I would present where a plausible understanding can enhance science based medicine too.

        Here I go:

        An independent lab financed by the government, for example, would do a real double blind study. Independent will rule out ulterior motives for success or failure of results. Henceforth, this will eliminate the reason to disqualify people that will prove or disprove a study because nobody is betting on any money or prestige.

        Now take a real big subject test like 2-5 thousand people that will follow the EXACT protocol under supervision so they don’t cheat. Not talking about obvious cheating as I’ll explain further. Also these people need to be of same race, color, religion, community, age (not age group).

        The people need to have the same stress level, income level, parental background, stability. More importantly, these people should all have or not have the same ailments (in addition to the one we want to prove or disprove).

        Of course, for example, one group would get water, the other, would get the chemical factor being studied and the study will last a long time (say two years for Hypertension, for example). Fallouts are acceptable because we don’t torture but we will account for it.

        To summarize, we take exact people, doing the exact THINGS (emphasis on the S) for the exact length of the study.

        Now, we have data. Let’s analyze it:

        We found that the ones taking water did not get any improvement in their blood pressure while the ones on the new chemical derivative had a 20-30% reduction in diastolic or systolic pressure after x amount of weeks. An added feature of this test showed a nice breakdown is also showing almost precise regression throughout. We were able to demonstrate that 40% of responders had a 20% improvement in systolic pressure in the first 3 months; we will show the entire breakdown with illustrations in the coming weeks.

        Alan, I hope you woke from your dream… It’s impossible to say “This is science vs This is not science” unless all these characteristics are there + some… How in the heck can a study spanning different people with multiple psychological and physical makeups prove anything? What about standard deviation?

        Well, if a study would show that despite the characteristics, 70% respond, this is science, still not 100% proof, of course… This would happen with the first antibiotic study for pneumonia, for instance.

        Please help me with this dilemma because I’ve read so many studies; even the non-biased ones, and I’m perplexed to the conclusions.

        BTW, we can do the same studies with vaccinated vs non-vaccinated, CAM vs non-CAM. Why do we have to fight? We only CARE about the public. Money, creed, war is ancient and forgone; it’s pre-science.

        Let’s regroup and work together…

        Well, this will not happen because: We do care about money, creed, greed, fame, being controlling, etc… Am I saying anything? Do you hear my pleas?

        These are the silent pleas Americans are begging for. Why is Trump so successful, for now, at least? He is taking peoples minds out of the jails, minds, not people. Think, he says. Once the human thinks he can think wrong but can think right too. If you close the people;s minds, you keep them out and subdue their thought process, you get no bad, but no good. Conformity is pre-science.

        Thanks for allowing me to entertain but understanding is still needed.

        • Chaim Bochner said:

          Alan,

          Maybe you can help me?

          First, it seems like there aren’t many CAM supporters publishing or commenting on this board… Do people know this site exists? If not, it’s like blowing a trumpet in your sound proof room! Of course you feel the music is beautiful but do the critics also think so?

          I’ve no idea why you’re asking me, but there are clearly many CAM supporters commenting here, eg Robert Mathie, Dana Ullman and other less prominent fans. I suspect that many CAM fans also watch Prof Ernst’s blog diligently.

          Mainly, about science and studies… I really feel that there is an argument I would present where a plausible understanding can enhance science based medicine too.

          Here I go:

          Woah! I suggest you go and read about how good quality DBRCTs are currently conducted and why. You might then learn why your proposals are, in the main, unnecessary and nonsense.

    • “Any rebuttals???”

      None needed.
      You have said nothing of interest or importance. Only made us feel sorry for a bitter man with psychiatric issues and chronic, non-bacterial prostatitis who knows nothing about healthcare and even less about quackery. Most people know neither so you’re not unique.
      If you had the sense to read up on simple online literature about this rather common but difficult problem it could have saved you from spending money and time on an idiot filling your butt with make-believe medicine. You would have learned that your problem is one that come and goes, so whatever the quack does, he is usually “successful” sooner or later when the normal periodic improvement comes along. Cultures usually return negative results. Giving antibiotics anyway is a controversial issue, but many consider it necessary to try a course because of the real possibility of a false negative culture. If the culture had been positive, antibiotics would definitely have helped the situation and made it less likely to relapse.
      If you had read up or just listened properly to your doc instead of being all haughty and difficult on yourself, you could perhaps have relaxed, which is usually the best advice for this highly stress-related problem, which seems so common in bitter, frustrated, disillusioned old men. Instead you spent time and money on a charlatan sticking things up your arse and telling tall stories. The problem got better anyway, as it almost inevitably does now and then in this chronic, periodically relapsing problem.
      Next time you get a bout, let’s hope you don’t get sepsis from a fool sticking things up your back passage.
      Instead you might do well by seeing non-quack help for stress and anxiety relief, for example some relaxing cognitive therapy. Read the overview on WP I linked to above. It will give you the information you need about this problem even if there are better and simpler texts also. I think the Mayo clinic has good patient information on this, for example. And remember to have your doctor take another culture, just in case. This time he probably wont recommend Ab’s unless the culture is positive. As you can see on WP, there are also some new treatments being tried out for this difficult, chronic, poorly treatable disease. If all fails there are many things worth trying other than the fantasy magic of “ND” quackery. Good luck, I hope this helps.

      • Björn,

        I read all the link and the content i mostly BS. I know a lot and quite educated.

        What you and medical doctors do is to disimpower the human being; I see it in the response: “bitter man with psychiatric issues and chronic, non-bacterial prostatitis”, “which seems so common in bitter, frustrated, disillusioned old men”, “chronic, periodically relapsing problem”, “As you can see on WP, there are also some new treatments being tried out for this difficult, chronic, poorly treatable disease”…

        I’m not so poor, sad, chronic, pathetic. Thank G-d, I feel empowered now and feeling better da by day.

        You know who the poor and pathetic guys are?

        Medical doctors and patients frustrated with the useless treatment, psychiatrists that don’t know anything but medication dispensing and cannot find another job, psychologists following the medical paradigm that don’t really understand nor know psychoanalysis or Freudian, etc…

        As for cognitive therapy, studies show its not that effective and of course since I’m conscientious, I tried it for a year and found it useless. Only when I abandoned mainstream did I find what I needed: real help from real human people, not the ignorant or arrogant counterpart!

        I’m off over 36% from my psychotropic sh** (excuse me!), and going strong.

        What did the medicine accomplish? Low self esteem, low self confidence, no sex drive or ability, 22+ years of misery living with my wife and not satisfying her, separation leading to divorce, living with my parents, no major raise or promotion in my work, blunt mental capacity, etc…

        My brain is sharpening and I’m going strong thank G-d.

        As for proof and your stupid defense for the urologist “You would have learned that your problem is one that come and goes, so whatever the quack does, he is usually “successful” sooner or later when the normal periodic improvement comes along. Cultures usually return negative results. Giving antibiotics anyway is a controversial issue, but many consider it necessary to try a course because of the real possibility of a false negative culture. If the culture had been positive, antibiotics would definitely have helped the situation and made it less likely to relapse.”, you have no proof!

        Hey, prove me there is a G-d or big bang theory? Well, the fact that things are moving, humans are breathing is enough proof of something, correct? Well, proof of many I spoke to, feeling significantly better with ND, is proof enough for me…

        Also, how many people die from CAM vs medical? Don’t answer because we know the truth.

        I wish I could debate you on national TV and bet you I’d get standing ovations and you’ll leave with bitter shame. Well, take the shame and you’re stupid truths and throw it in the nearest dupstster and smell the coffee…

        As for you saying I said nothing profound, yo didn’t either… I knew everything you mentioned and it’s a big regurgitation of what I always read and see.

        With my rebuttal, it might not be profound, but here’s the difference:

        My rebuttal is based on the truth as of what I truly believe NOW, yours is based on hiding your real inner thinking mind and repeating things you don’t even believe NOW…

        If things change and medicine cwn convince me and at the same time convince me against CAM, I’m open; it’s you and your cronies that are closed minded.

        Sorry about this and I assure you that as long as the moderator allows, I’ll be the last post. So get ready; I am…

        People are with me, hundreds, thousands, maybe millions too. You want to knock CAM, convince people, the educated ones please and you’ll get people on your side.

        There is so much more to say but time is limited…

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