MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

One of the UK’s most ardent promoters of outright unproven and disproven therapies must be Dr Michael Dixon. He has repeatedly and deservedly received a mention on this blog. Steven Novella even called him once a ‘pyromaniac in a field of (integrative) straw men’. This is because Steven felt that Dixon uses phony arguments to promote dodgy therapies. If you find this hard to believe (after all Dixon is a GP who heads important organisations such as the NHS Alliance and the College of Medicine), just look at him dabbling in spiritual healing. Unusual, to say the least, I’d say. If you want to learn more about the strange Dr Dixon, you should read my memoir where he makes several remarkable appearances.

I always delight when I stumble over something that one of my former co-workers (yes, Dixon and I did collaborate for many years) has said to the press. This is why an otherwise silly article in the Daily Mail (yes, I know!) caught my attention; here is the relevant section: Dr Mike Dixon, a GP in Cullompton, Devon, and chairman of the College of Medicine, says he is a ‘fan’ of herbal medicines because they are ‘safe, help to encourage self-care by patients and, in cases such as mint and aloe vera, can be grown by the patients themselves, making them virtually free’.

As I already pointed out, Dixon does tend to promote bizarre concepts. The generalisation that herbal remedies are safe is not just bizarre, it also put the public at risk. One does not need to search long to find an article that makes this clear:

Various reports suggest a high contemporaneous prevalence of herb-drug use in both developed and developing countries. The World Health Organisation indicates that 80% of the Asian and African populations rely on traditional medicine as the primary method for their health care needs. Since time immemorial and despite the beneficial and traditional roles of herbs in different communities, the toxicity and herb-drug interactions that emanate from this practice have led to severe adverse effects and fatalities. As a result of the perception that herbal medicinal products have low risk, consumers usually disregard any association between their use and any adverse reactions hence leading to underreporting of adverse reactions. This is particularly common in developing countries and has led to a paucity of scientific data regarding the toxicity and interactions of locally used traditional herbal medicine. Other factors like general lack of compositional and toxicological information of herbs and poor quality of adverse reaction case reports present hurdles which are highly underestimated by the population in the developing world. This review paper addresses these toxicological challenges and calls for natural health product regulations as well as for protocols and guidance documents on safety and toxicity testing of herbal medicinal products.

Dixon once told me that GPs do not any longer read scientific papers. I think, however, that he should start doing so before the next time he misinform the public and endangers the health of vulnerable people.

21 Responses to Dr Dixon’s safe herbal medicine

  • Offer him a nice salad: Foxglove, Deadly Nightshade, Dieffenbachia, rhubarb leaves, mistletoe and delphiniums. Tell him he’ll be fine so long as he is in harmony with the fairies at the bottom of the garden from which they were picked.

    What a twit.

  • Dr. Dixon may have a point about GPs and scientific papers. Being able to objectively read research papers is a skill that many non-PhD health professionals lack at least in the US. This makes reading the literature only marginally better than not reading it at all.

  • It gets worse…

    RCGP presidential election candidates revealed

    Four senior GPs have been nominated to replace Professor Mike Pringle as Royal College of GPs president later this year ahead of an election in May.

    Dr Michael Dixon, Dr Colin Hunter, Dr Terry Kemple and Dr Mayur Lakhani will contest the election, which takes place on 5 May.

    It would be an utter disaster if Dixon was elected, particularly since he supported Lansley’s NHS ‘reforms’ and his attitude to evidence.

  • How does a demonstrable loony get into positions of authority? Are people so undiscerning as to ignore his wacky ideas?

    • good question!
      educated at Eaton; friend of Prince Charles; might have something to do with it.

      • Professor Edzard is wrong (or playing dangerously with irony).
        Neither the NHS Alliance or the ‘College of Medicine’ can reasonably be described as ‘important organisations’.

        The College of Medicine has been described as a College of Quackery. When it was founded I thought of becoming a member and attended its Inaugural Conference at the Mansion House, (the Lord Mayor’s wife Lady Bird, a ‘cranial osteopath’, was the opening speaker). The conference was sponsored by Nelsons (homeopathic remedy manufacturers).
        I also asked for a copy of the constitution as I do not like to join organisations I really know nothing about.
        After nearly two years of emailing I got a copy.

        I was concerned that whilst there were many appointments of no doubt worthy folk to its various councils and boards it was totally opaque as to who appointed them.
        I got the impresiion the CoM was nothing more than a vehicle for self-aggrandisement.
        No elections to any office appear to have been held save for the purpose of rubber stamping decisions made by an inner cabal, if not an inner individual.
        I also inquired as to how I might be elected to a position on the CoMs ‘Patient Council’. I cannot. All members are appointed.

        The NHS Alliance similarly has a very opaque and unaccountable governanance structure.
        It does not transparently and democratically represent the interests of GPs, but is nothing more than a lobby group for GPs prepared to tolerate autocracy in the interests of undermining the true values of a national health service (a General Medical Service for the Nation was originally proposed by the BMA in 1928).
        How the Alliance gets to appoint its chairman is unclear.
        The BMA is imperfect and I am a critic – but its the best we have got for the true democratic representation of GPs with a General Practice Committee (members by properly audited election), represententatives of Local Medical Committees (in turn, elected by all GPs in a locale), representatives of Divisions (in turn elected by all members in an area) and an overarching Representative Body comprising all the above with all other branches of the profession (including students), and an Council elected by each branch of the profession and constituent UK nations to enact policies established by the RB.
        That is why the BMA is important and the CoM and NHSA never will be.
        Some allege Dr. M. Dixon CBE is suffering from knight starvation.

      • Professor Edzard is wrong (or playing dangerously with irony).
        Neither the NHS Alliance or the ‘College of Medicine’ can reasonably be described as ‘important organisations’.

        The College of Medicine has been described as a College of Quackery. When it was founded I thought of becoming a member and attended its Inaugural Conference at the Mansion House, (the Lord Mayor’s wife Lady Bird, a ‘cranial osteopath’, was the opening speaker). The conference was sponsored by Nelsons (homeopathic remedy manufacturers).
        I also asked for a copy of the constitution as I do not like to join organisations I really know nothing about.
        After nearly two years of emailing I got a copy.

        I was concerned that whilst there were many appointments of no doubt worthy folk to its various councils and boards, it was totally opaque as to who appointed them.
        I got the impresiion the CoM was nothing more than a vehicle for self-aggrandisement.
        No elections to any office appear to have been held save for the purpose of rubber stamping decisions made by an inner cabal, if not an inner individual.
        I also inquired as to how I might be elected to a position on the CoMs ‘Patient Council’. I cannot. All members are appointed.

        The NHS Alliance similarly has a very opaque and unaccountable governanance structure.
        It does not transparently and democratically represent the interests of GPs, but is nothing more than a lobby group for GPs prepared to tolerate autocracy in the interests of undermining the true values of a national health service (a General Medical Service for the Nation was originally proposed by the BMA in 1928).

        How the Alliance gets to appoint its chairman is unclear.

        The BMA is imperfect and I am a critic – but its the best we have got for the true democratic representation of GPs, having a General Practice Committee (members by properly audited election), represententatives of Local Medical Committees (in turn, elected by all GPs in a locale), representatives of Divisions (in turn elected by all members in an area) and an overarching Representative Body comprising all the above with all other branches of the profession (including students), and an Council elected by each branch of the profession and constituent UK nations to enact policies established by the RB.

        That is why the BMA is important and the CoM and NHSA never will be.
        Allegations that Dr. M. Dixon CBE is suffering from knight starvation are impertinent and should not be repeated, even in jest. His ambitions to promote nonsence medicine are not funny.

        • you must be wrong – Dixon is now a candidate for the presidency of the RCGP [see comment above]!!! so he MUST be a good man.

        • This brings us back to why Dixon does not like empirical testing, and says that his own ideas cannot be tested.

          Ask ten English speakers what a College of Medicine is, or look up the words in a dictionary. These empirical tests would produce results very similar to these: it is an accredited educational institution, which you have to qualify to study at or work at, which offers accredited courses leading to qualifications in the field of medicine.

          As you point out, this organisation is nothing of the sort. It is a self-appointed group of people who happen to have a common interest, promoting their own ideas as they see fit. Nothing wrong with that – but why give it the wilfully misleading title of “College of Medicine”?

          There is no difference between what Dixon is doing and a group of people getting together in his local boozer to discuss political issues, issuing decrees they expected to be followed and calling themselves “the Parliament of Cullompton”. What authority would such a parliament have? Where did it get it from? Who elected the members and how? How does it represent Cullompton when no one has been asked to vote for it? Doubtless this body, like Dixon’s gang, would say that it is not a CONVENTIONAL parliament but a new and superior model, but it would be obvious why it would choose to call itself “Parliament of Cullompton” rather than something else – it would be claiming an authority it does not have to mislead people into accepting what it says as having a greater authority than it has.

          I was Dixon’s patient years ago. I remember him shouting at me for not giving him the responses HE wanted to prove HIS point, ignoring the actual situation in front of him. I also know why he has spent the rest of his career promoting falsehoods which he insists cannot be tested – because he knows what would happen if his own previous conduct was tested.

          If there is anything I can do to help take this man down I have a duty to do it, and so does everyone else.

  • GMC good practice guide states at paragraph 3(c) “you must provide effective treatments based on the best available evidence”
    How does he get away with it???????????????????????????????????

    • Diego Fox said:

      GMC good practice guide states at paragraph 3(c) “you must provide effective treatments based on the best available evidence”
      How does he get away with it???????????????????????????????????

      Because the GMC are a) incompetent, b) irresponsible or c) impotent?

  • Anyone who has read “The Citadel” (and every NHS doctor should have) will remember that the hero gets into trouble simply for being professionally associated with a “non registered practitioner”, a euphemism in those days for a quack. These days it seems you’re allowed to be a fully registered practioner whilst actively practising and promoting abject quackery.

  • If Dixon days GPs don’t read papers, then I deduce that he himself does not – which doesn’t lie well with the GMC requirements for continuous professional development and revalidation.

  • There may be legitimate concerns about herbal remedies but let’s see the proof. The link you placed in the original post is a link just to an article outlining concerns. Not even this web site could consider that proof of toxicity. Let’s see some genuine studies that show in a satisfying scientific way just what the risks of herbal treatments actually are, and where around the world people are most likely to be at risk from a herbal treatment. There is no study that I have seen that actually does this, and many create straw men in the form of mixtures and quantities that would never be administered in normal prescriptions. Let’s have some proper scrutiny and not just hand-wringing and tut-tutting. Doctors do prescribe too many drugs in untested combinations. We know this to be true. Let’s concentrate more on that area of medicine.

    • if you don’t like my single reference chosen at random, why don’t you look into any decent book on herbal medicine?

      • It’s just odd that a single reference chosen at random does not actually support the case you’re making, viz. Herbal remedies, as distinct from any combination of herbs and quantities, are dangerous.

        • no! what is odd is that you seem to be unable to find evidence for the risks of herbal medicine; even this very blog has plenty – like here {http://edzardernst.com/2014/08/how-safe-are-herbal-medicines/} and here {http://edzardernst.com/2013/01/contamination-and-adulteration-of-herbal-remedies/} and here {http://edzardernst.com/2013/01/contamination-and-adulteration-of-herbal-remedies/}, for instance. feel free to do a search; that’s what this blog is for.

    • please try to do a search on this blog – I am sure you’ll find plenty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Comments

Note that comments can be edited for up to five minutes after they are first submitted.


Click here for a comprehensive list of recent comments.

Categories