MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Non-validated diagnostic methods, like those in abundant use in alternative medicine, run an unacceptably high risk of producing false positive or false negative diagnoses. The former would be a diagnosis that the patient is, in fact, not suffering from; this enables the charlatan to get rich on treating something that is not even there. The latter would be missing an illness that might even kill the patient. Thus both scenarios are unquestionably harmful.

It is now 21 years ago that I published a review of alternative diagnostic techniques entitled ‘WHICH CRAFT IS WITCHCRAFT?’. Here is the abstract:

The prevalence of complementary medicine in most industrialised countries is impressive and increasing. Discussions of the topic often focus on therapeutic approaches and neglect diagnostic methods specific for complementary medicine. The paper summarises the data available on such “alternative” diagnostics. Scientific evaluations of these are scant, and most techniques have never been properly validated. The ones that have can be demonstrated to be not reproducible, sensitive, or specific. The ones that have not should be regarded as such until shown otherwise by rigorous testing. Therefore it seems that “alternative” diagnostic methods may seriously threaten the safety and health of patients submitted to them. Orthodox doctors should be aware of the problem and inform their patients accordingly.

Exactly 15 years after the publication of this paper, PRINCE CHARLES published his book ‘HARMONY‘ where is covers amongst many other topic also the subject of alternative diagnostics. This is what he tells us about them:

I have also learn from leading experts how we can understand a great deal about the causes of ill health through more traditional methods of diagnosis – for example, through examination of the iris, ears, tongue, feet and pulse, very much the basis of the Indian Ayurvedic system. This is not to say that modern diagnostic techniques do not have a role, but let us not forget what we can gain by using the knowledge and wisdom accumulated over thousands of years by pioneers who did not have access to today’s technology. In fact, an over-reliance can often mean that the subtle signs of imbalance revealed by the examination of the eyes, pulse and tongue are totally missed. Including the fruits of such knowledge, gleaned over 8 000 years of studying the relationship of the human body to the rest of Nature and to the Universe, can but only provide an extra, valuable resource to doctors as they seek to make a full diagnosis. Why persist in denying the immense value of such accumulated wisdom when it can tell us so much about the whole person – mind, body and spirit? Employing the best of the ancient and modern in a truly integrated way is another example of harmony and balance at work.

Charles is talking here about iridology, amongst other methods. Iridologists try to diagnose disease or susceptibility to disease by analysing the colour pattern of a patient’s iris. It happens to be a technique that has repeatedly been put to the test. In 1999, I published a systematic review of the evidence and concluded that the validity of iridology as a diagnostic tool is not supported by scientific evaluations. Patients and therapists should be discouraged from using this method.

Given that the evidence for alternative diagnostic techniques is either negative or absent, why does the heir to the throne advocate using them? Does he not know that he has considerable influence and endangers the health of those who believe him? Why does he call this nonsense valuable? The answer probably is that he does not know better.

There is nothing wrong with Charles’ ignorance, of course. He is not a medic (if he were, his quackery might get him struck off the register!) and does not need to know such things! But, if he is ignorant about certain technicalities, should he write about them? At the very least, when giving such concrete medical advice about diagnostic methods, should he not recruit the expertise of people who do know about such matters?

In Charles’ defence, I should mention that apparently he did ask several physicians for help with his book. Two of those who he acknowledged in HARMONY have been mentioned on this blog before: Mosaraf Ali and Michael Dixon.

I MIGHT BE MISTAKEN, BUT IT SEEMS TO ME THAT CHARLES IS NOT JUST IGNORANT ABOUT MEDICINE BUT ALSO ABOUT THE ART OF CHOOSING EXPERTS.

6 Responses to PRINCE CHARLES: the ‘immense value’ of alternative diagnostic methods

  • Why persist in denying the immense value of such accumulated wisdom when it can tell us so much about the whole person – mind, body and spirit?

    Why? Because it is mostly misconceived in principle and defective in practice.

  • CHARLES IS NOT JUST IGNORANT ABOUT MEDICINE BUT ALSO ABOUT THE ART OF CHOOSING EXPERTS.

    It has been said very many times: X is an unknown person and a spurt is a drip under high pressure.

    • Giving credence to health and medical advice from Prince Charles is like believing such nonsense from Donald Trump or Jenny McArthy. The misinformation is alarming, dangerous and sadly believed by naïve or desperate consumers.

  • What do YOU know, Professor Ernst? You ONLY pontificate about science, research and evidence. Pfffft! Iridology, phrenology, chicken entrails, tea-leaf reading, crystal gazing — these are all VALID methods of alternative diagnosis, in an alternative universe. So I say. By Royal Proclamation.

  • People LOVE to believe things, don’t they?

    So sad that the heir to our throne has daft ideas as well as some good ones.

  • I just picked this up here : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3638199/Charles-controversial-new-U-S-health-guru-Prince-holds-talks-doctor-criticised-peddling-unapproved-treatments.html
    Prince Charles’s charity promoting homeopathy was wound up after being mired in claims of embezzlement and missing funds, but the heir to the throne refuses to abandon his enthusiasm for controversial alternative health treatments.

    I can disclose that the Prince of Wales held private talks last week with an American complementary medicine ‘guru’ who has been criticised by the U.S. authorities for peddling unapproved treatments.

    Dr Andrew Weil was invited to Charles’s London residence, Clarence House, ahead of a conference, called Food: The Forgotten Medicine, which they both attended.

    Prince Charles held private talks last week with an American complementary medicine ‘guru’ who has been criticised by the U.S. authorities for peddling unapproved treatments.

    ‘Although His Royal Highness no longer has a health charity, he remains a passionate advocate of complementary treatments,’ a source tells me.

    ‘He believes they should play a much bigger part in health care in this country.’
    Homeopathy supposedly treats illnesses by using extremely dilute quantities of plants, herbs and minerals, and Dr Weil has been criticised by medical professionals for promoting unverified or ineffective treatments.

    Charles held private talks in 2013 with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the potential role of homeopathy and alternative therapies.

    Charles held private talks in 2013 with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the potential role of homeopathy and alternative therapies

    His company, Weil Lifestyle, was sent a warning letter in 2009 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding ‘Unapproved/Uncleared/Unauthorised Products Related to the H1N1 Flu Virus’.

    The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, which campaigned for greater acceptance of natural and alternative health remedies and had been accused of promulgating ‘quack’ remedies dear to the Prince’s heart, was closed down in 2012.

    It had been tainted when auditors discovered that £253,000 was missing from its accounts.

    The revelation led to the foundation’s finance director, George Gray, being jailed for embezzling the sum over two years.

    Charles held private talks in 2013 with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the potential role of homeopathy and alternative therapies.

    The following year, Hunt said Chinese medicine should be made available on the NHS where there is evidence it helps patients.

    Last year, Professor Edzard Ernst, who has spent two decades trying to debunk the myths of alternative medicine, said Charles’s ‘long love affair’ with ‘quack medicine’ might be putting lives at risk.

    A Clarence House spokesman confirmed the talks with Dr Weil, adding: ‘The Prince of Wales is a keen advocate of an evidence-based integrated approach to healthcare.’

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