MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

alternative medicine

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I have said it often, and I say it again: I do like well-conducted systematic reviews; and Cochrane reviews are usually the best, i. e. most transparent, most thorough and least biased. Thus, I was pleased to see a new Cochrane review of acupuncture aimed at assessing the benefits and harms of acupuncture in patients with hip OA.

The authors included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compared acupuncture with sham acupuncture, another active treatment, or no specific treatment; and RCTs that evaluated acupuncture as an addition to another treatment. Major outcomes were pain and function at the short term (i.e. < 3 months after randomization) and adverse events.

Six RCTs with 413 participants were included. Four RCTs included only people with OA of the hip, and two included a mix of people with OA of the hip and knee. All RCTs included primarily older participants, with a mean age range from 61 to 67 years, and a mean duration of hip OA pain from two to eight years. Approximately two-thirds of participants were women. Two RCTs compared acupuncture versus sham acupuncture; the other four RCTs were not blinded. All results were evaluated at short-term (i.e. four to nine weeks after randomization).In the two RCTs that compared acupuncture to sham acupuncture, the sham acupuncture control interventions were judged believable, but each sham acupuncture intervention was also judged to have a risk of weak acupuncture-specific effects, due to placement of non-penetrating needles at the correct acupuncture points in one RCT, and the use of penetrating needles not inserted at the correct points in the other RCT. For these two sham-controlled RCTs, the risk of bias was low for all outcomes.

The combined analysis of two sham-controlled RCTs gave moderate quality evidence of little or no effect in reduction in pain for acupuncture relative to sham acupuncture. Due to the small sample sizes in the studies, the confidence interval includes both the possibility of moderate benefit and the possibility of no effect of acupuncture (120 participants; Standardized Mean Difference (SMD) -0.13, (95% Confidence Interval (CI) -0.49 to 0.22); 2.1 points greater improvement with acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture on 100 point scale (i.e., absolute percent change -2.1% (95% CI -7.9% to 3.6%)); relative percent change -4.1% (95% CI -15.6% to 7.0%)). Estimates of effect were similar for function (120 participants; SMD -0.15, (95% CI -0.51 to 0.21)). No pooled estimate, representative of the two sham-controlled RCTs, could be calculated or reported for the quality of life outcome.

The four other RCTs were unblinded comparative effectiveness RCTs, which compared (additional) acupuncture to four different active control treatments. There was low quality evidence that addition of acupuncture to the routine primary care that RCT participants were receiving from their physicians was associated with statistically significant and clinically relevant benefits, compared to the routine primary physician care alone, in pain (1 RCT; 137 participants; mean percent difference -22.9% (95% CI -29.2% to -16.6%); relative percent difference -46.5% (95% CI -59.3% to -33.7%)) and function (mean percent difference -19.0% (95% CI -24.41 to -13.59); relative percent difference -38.6% (95% CI -49.6% to -27.6%)). There was no statistically significant difference for mental quality of life and acupuncture showed a small, significant benefit for physical quality of life.

The effects of acupuncture compared with either advice plus exercise or NSAIDs are uncertain. The authors are also uncertain whether acupuncture plus patient education improves pain, function, and quality of life, when compared to patient education alone.

In general, the overall quality of the evidence for the four comparative effectiveness RCTs was low to very low, mainly due to the potential for biased reporting of patient-assessed outcomes due to lack of blinding and sparse data.

Information on safety was reported in 4 RCTs. Two RCTs reported minor side effects of acupuncture, which were primarily minor bruising, bleeding, or pain at needle insertion sites.

The authors concluded that acupuncture probably has little or no effect in reducing pain or improving function relative to sham acupuncture in people with hip osteoarthritis. Due to the small sample size in the studies, the confidence intervals include both the possibility of moderate benefits and the possibility of no effect of acupuncture. One unblinded trial found that acupuncture as an addition to routine primary physician care was associated with benefits on pain and function. However, these reported benefits are likely due at least partially to RCT participants’ greater expectations of benefit from acupuncture. Possible side effects associated with acupuncture treatment were minor.

This is an excellent review of data that (because of contradictions, methodological limitations, heterogeneity etc.) are not easy to evaluate fairly. The review shows that previous verdicts about acupuncture for osteoarthritis might have been too optimistic. Acupuncture has no or only very small specific therapeutic effects. As we have much better therapeutic options for this condition, it means that acupuncture can no longer be recommended as an effective therapy.

That surely must be big news in the little world of acupuncture!

I have been personally involved in several similar reviews:

In 1997, I concluded that the most rigorous studies suggest that acupuncture is not superior to sham-needling in reducing pain of osteoarthritis: both alleviate symptoms to roughly the same degree.

In 2006, the balance of evidence seemed to have shifted and more positive data had emerged; consequently our review concluded that sham-controlled RCTs suggest specific effects of acupuncture for pain control in patients with peripheral joint OA. Considering its favourable safety profile acupuncture seems an option worthy of consideration particularly for knee OA. Further studies are required particularly for manual or electro-acupuncture in hip OA.

Now, it seems that my initial conclusion of 1996 was more realistic. To me this is a fascinating highlight on the fact that in EBM, we change our minds based on the current best evidence. By contrast, in alternative medicine, as we have often lamented on this blog, minds do not easily change and all too often dogma seems to reign.

The new Cochrane review is important in several ways. Firstly, it affirms an appropriately high standard for such reviews. Secondly, it originates from a research team that has, in the past, been outspokenly pro-acupuncture; it is therefore unlikely that the largely negative findings were due to an anti-acupuncture bias. Thirdly – and most importantly – osteoarthritis has been THE condition for which even critical reviewers had to admit that there was at least some good, positive evidence.

It seems therefore, that yet again a beautiful theory has been slain by an ugly fact.

Remember when an international delegation of homeopaths travelled to Liberia to cure Ebola?

Virologists and other experts thought at the time that this was pure madness. But, from the perspective of dedicated homeopaths who have gone through ‘proper’ homeopathic ‘education’ and have the misfortune to believe all the nonsense they have been told, this is not madness. In fact, the early boom of homeopathy, about 200 years ago, was based not least on the seemingly resounding success homeopaths had during various epidemics.

I fully understand that homeopath adore this type of evidence – it is good for their ego! And therefore, they tend to dwell on it and re-hash it time and again. The most recent evidence for this is a brand-new article entitled ‘Homeopathic Prevention and Management of Epidemic Diseases’. It is such a beauty that I present you the original abstract without change:

START OF QUOTE

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Homeopathy has been used to treat epidemic diseases since the time of Hahnemann, who used Belladonna to treat scarlet fever. Since then, several approaches using homeopathy for epidemic diseases have been proposed, including individualization, combination remedies, genus epidemicus, and isopathy.

METHODS:

The homeopathic research literature was searched to find examples of each of these approaches and to evaluate which were effective.

RESULTS:

There is good experimental evidence for each of these approaches. While individualization is the gold standard, it is impractical to use on a widespread basis. Combination remedies can be effective but must be based on the symptoms of a given epidemic in a specific location. Treatment with genus epidemicus can also be successful if based on data from many practitioners. Finally, isopathy shows promise and might be more readily accepted by mainstream medicine due to its similarity to vaccination.

CONCLUSION:

Several different homeopathic methods can be used to treat epidemic diseases. The challenge for the future is to refine these approaches and to build on the knowledge base with additional rigorous trials. If and when conventional medicine runs out of options for treating epidemic diseases, homeopathy could be seen as an attractive alternative, but only if there is viable experimental evidence of its success.

END OF QUOTE

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I don’t need to stress, I think, that such articles are highly irresponsible and frightfully dangerous: if anyone ever took the message that homeopathy has the answer to epidemic seriously, millions might die.

The reasons why epidemiological evidence of this nature is wrong has been discussed before on this blog; I therefore only need to repeat them:

In the typical epidemiological case/control study, one large group of patients [A] is retrospectively compared to another group [B]. In our case, group A has been treated homeopathically, while group B received the treatments available at the time. It is true that several of such reports seemed to suggest that homeopathy works. But this does by no means prove anything; the result might have been due to a range of circumstances, for instance:

  • group A might have been less ill than group B,
  • group A might have been richer and therefore better nourished,
  • group A might have benefitted from better hygiene in the homeopathic hospital,
  • group A might have received better care, e. g. hydration,
  • group B might have received treatments that made the situation not better but worse.

Because these are RETROSPECTIVE studies, there is no way to account for these and many other factors that might have influenced the outcome. This means that epidemiological studies of this nature can generate interesting results which, in turn, need testing in properly controlled studies where these confounding factors are adequately controlled for. Without such tests, they are next to worthless for recommendations regarding clinical practice.

In essence, this means that epidemiological evidence of this type can be valuable for generating hypotheses which, in turn, need testing in rigorous clinical trials. Without these tests, the evidence can be dangerously misleading.

But, of course, Jennifer Jacobs, the author of the new article, knows all this – after all, she has been employed for many years by the Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, United States!

In this case, why does she re-hash the old myth of homeopathy being the answer to epidemics?

I do not know the answer to this question, but I do know that she is a convinced homeopath with plenty of papers on the subject.

And what sort of journal would publish such dangerous, deeply unethical rubbish?

It is a journal we have discussed several before; its called HOMEOPATHY.

This journal is, I think, remarkable: not even homeopaths would deny that homeopathy is a most controversial subject. One would therefore expect that the editorial board of the leading journal of homeopathy (Impact Factor = 1.16) has a few members who are critical of homeopathy and its assumptions. Yet, I fail to spot a single such person of the board of HOMEOPATHY. Please have a look yourself and tell me, if you can identify such an individual:

Editor

Peter Fisher
FRCP, FFHom, London, UK

Senior Deputy Editor

Robert T. Mathie
BSc (Hons), PhD, London, UK

Deputy Editors

Leoni Bonamin
Paulista University, São Paulo, Brazil

Menachem Oberbaum
Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel

Ethics Adviser

Kate Chatfield
University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK

Editorial Advisory Board

Cees Baas
Centre for Integrative Psychiatry, Groningen, The Netherlands

Stephan Baumgartner
University of Witten-Herdecke, Germany

Iris R. Bell
University of Arizona, USA

Jayesh Bellare
Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India

Philippe Belon
Centre de Recherche et de Documentation Thérapeutique, France

Brian Berman
University of Maryland, School of Medicine, USA

Martien Brands
Centre for Integrative Care, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Michael Carlston
University of California, Santa Rosa, USA

Kusum S. Chand
Pushpanjali Crosslay Hospital, Ghaziabad, India

Martin Chaplin
London South Bank University, UK

Flávio Dantas
University of Uberlândia, Brazil

Peter Darby
Faculty of Homeopathy, UK

Jonathan Davidson
Duke University, USA

Jean-Louis Demangeat
Haguenau Hospital, France

Christian Endler
Interuniversity College Graz/Castle of Seggau, Austria

Madeleine Ennis
Queen’s University Belfast, UK

Edoardo Felisi
Milan, Italy

Peter Gregory
Veterinary Dean, Faculty of Homeopathy, UK

German Guajardo-Bernal
University of Baja California, Mexico

Carla Holandino Quaresma
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Jennifer Jacobs
University of Washington, USA

Wayne Jonas
Samueli Institute, Alexandria, USA

Lee Kayne
Faculty of Homeopathy, UK

Steven Kayne
Glasgow Homoeopathic Hospital, UK

David Lilley
Pretoria, South Africa

Klaus Linde
Technical University, Munich, Germany

Russell Malcolm
Faculty of Homeopathy, UK

Raj K. Manchanda
Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy, New Delhi, India

David Peters
University of Westminster, London, UK

Bernard Poitevin
Association Française pour la Recherche en Homéopathie, France

David Reilly
Glasgow Homoeopathic Hospital, UK

David Riley
Integrative Medicine Institute, Portland, USA

ALB Rutten
Breda, The Netherlands

Jürgen Schulte
University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

Trevor Thompson
University of Bristol, UK

André Thurneysen
Centre de médecines intégrées, Switzerland

Alexander Tournier
Homeopathy Research Institute, UK

Francis Treuherz
London, UK

Robbert van Haselen
International Institute for Integrated Medicine, Kingston, UK

Michel Van Wassenhoven
Unio Homeopathica Belgica, Belgium

Harald Walach
University of Witten-Herdecke, Germany

Fred Wiegant
University of Utrecht, The Netherlands

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I rest my case.

 

Once upon a time, the University of Exeter prided itself of having the ‘1st chair in complementary medicine’ in the country. That was in 1993, when I was appointed to that position. I then recruited a team of motivated researchers, and we soon managed to become the world’s leading research group in our field. Together, we published more papers on alternative medicine in the peer reviewed medical literature than any other team before or since, and we managed to get an international reputation for high-quality critical assessments of alternative medicine. Unfortunately, not all people were happy; some even seemed to be distinctly unhappy because few of our findings were as they had hoped.

In 2012/13, I retired under circumstances that, I am afraid, were not to the credit or integrity of my peers (the full and rather sad story has been told in my memoir). Since then, I have the status of Emeritus Professor; in that role, I give occasional lectures, publish about one book per year, run this blog, and generally enjoy life. There is not much that can bother me these days…

…at least, this is what I thought until I saw this announcement by Exeter University.

It informed me that the University of Exeter has decided to “offer a range of complementary therapies at a discounted rate to Staff at both Streatham and St Lukes Campus.”

Treatments are not cheap but members will receive the following reductions:

  • 60 minutes + treatments £5.00 discount
  • 45 minute treatments £4.00 discount
  • 30 minute treatments £3.00 discount.

You want to know which therapies precisely are on offer?

Here is a selection of the treatments they are providing:

  • Hot Stone Back Massage
  • Reflexology
  • Pregnancy Massage
  • Indian Head Massage
  • Acupressure points
  • Yoga movements
  • Somatic movements
  • Chi  Qong
  • Nutrition based Ayurvedic system of health
  • Tai Yoga massage

Impressive?

Yes, most impressive – particularly as none of the therapies listed above are supported by anything that looks remotely like good evidence!

So, has my University gone raving mad?

Have they joined the legion of charlatans promoting nonsense?

Do they perhaps want to score even more brownie-points with HRH, the Prince of Wales?

One would assume so … but wait … they added a disclaimer to their announcement:

Whilst the University is pleased to welcome complementary practitioners to the campus and support greater access to a range of wellbeing services, we are not in a position to actively condone the effectiveness of such treatments. However, Reed Mews Wellbeing Centre wants to promote choice and encourage individuals to make informed decisions regarding the management of their health needs.

AHHH – I AM SO PLEASED – THAT’S ALRIGHT THEN!

Switzerland seems to be something like the ‘promised land’ for homeopaths – at least this is what many homeopaths seem think. However, homeopaths’ thinking is rarely correct, and the situation of homeopathy in Switzerland is not quite what they believe it to be.

This article explains (my English explanations are below for all those you cannot do German):

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Die Schweiz bekommt die steigenden Gesundheitskosten einfach nicht in den Griff. In den 20 Jahren zwischen 1996 und 2016 haben sie sich um rund 255,2 Prozent erhöht…
Einer der Gründe für den Anstieg: Seit 2017 sind Komplementärmedizinische Methoden wie beispielsweise Homöopathie auch in der Grundversorgung inbegriffen. Das Volk hatte im Jahr 2009 einen entsprechenden Verfassungsartikel angenommen. Damals hoffte man noch, dass mit dem erleichterten Zugang zur Komplementärmedizin die Gesundheitskosten sinken würden.
Doch es kam anders. Die Komplementärmedizin verursachte letztes Jahr zusätzliche Kosten von 30 Millionen Franken, wie Sandra Kobelt, Sprecherin Krankenkassenverbandes Santésuisse, gegenüber BLICK bestätigt.

Die Komplementärmedizin sorgt entsprechend weiter für Diskussionen. Auch, weil zum Beispiel die Wirkung der beliebten Globuli-Kügeli bis heute höchst umstritten bleibt. Doch auch sie werden laut neuem Gesetz in jedem Fall von der Krankenkasse bezahlt, sofern sie von einem Homöopathen mit medizinischem Fachausweis verschrieben wurden…

Aus wissenschaftlicher Sicht macht diese Bevorzugung der Homöopathie wenig Sinn. Denn: In einem Statement aus dem Jahr 2017 bestritten insgesamt 25 europäische Wissenschaftsvereinigungen die Wirksamkeit von Globuli. Darunter auch die Akademien der Wissenschaft Schweiz, die mit den Schweizer Hochschulen zusammenarbeiten. Sie halten fest, dass Homöopathie sogar gefährlich sein kann, da zu ihren Gunsten eine schulmedizinische Therapie aufgeschoben oder gar abgelehnt wird.

Dieser Meinung ist auch Beda Stadler, der ehemalige Leiter des Instituts für Immunologie an der Uni Bern. «Globuli verursachen nur unnötige Gesundheitskosten», sagt er. Man habe das Volk 2009 getäuscht, indem man ihm erzählte, Globuli wären ja günstig. «Doch viele Allergiker setzen die Globuli nicht ab, nachdem sie keine Wirkung festgestellt haben. Stattdessen schlucken sie noch zusätzlich medizinische Tabletten – das verursacht doppelte Kosten», so Stadler.

Homöopathin und Ärztin Doktor Gisela Etter hält dagegen. «Ich erlebe jeden Tag, wie Homöopathie bei Allergikern wirkt. Bei vielen treten die Symptome nach einiger Zeit überhaupt nicht mehr auf», sagt sie. Das Problem: Den Wirkungsmechanismus der Globuli kann die Medizinerin nicht erklären. «Das ist mit den herkömmlichen Naturwissenschaften gar nicht möglich», so Etter…

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Let me try to translate the key points of this article:

  • The costs for healthcare have exploded in Switzerland; an increase of > 255% during the last 10 years.
  • One reason for this development is that, since 2017, the Swiss get various alternative therapies reimbursed, including homeopathy.
  • That move has cost 30 000 000 Francs last year.
  • The efficacy of homeopathic remedies is controversial.
  • Yet they are being paid for by Swiss health insurances, provided they are prescribed by a qualified doctor.
  • This does not make sense from a scientific perspective.
  • In 2017, 25 European scientific societies, including the Swiss academies, stated that homeopathy does not work and can even be dangerous, if it replaces effective treatments.
  • Beda Stadler, former director of the Institute of Immunology, Uni Bern said “Globuli only cause unnecessary healthcare costs”
  • Homoeopath Gisela Etter said “I see every day how homeopathy works for allergies… to explain the mechanism of action is not possible with conventional science.”

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I suppose, we will have to wait for some unconventional science then!

Many charities in the UK (and most other countries) openly promote bogus treatments. After having been reminded of this fact regularly, the UK Charity Commission have decided to look into this issue. Arguably, such charities – I have previously discussed ‘YES TO LIFE’  as an example (in total there are several hundred ‘SCAM charities’ operating in the UK today)-  do not provide a valuable public service and should therefore not benefit from such status and tax privileges. While the commission is contemplating, an article in the NEW SCIENTIST provided more information on this important issue. Here are a few excerpts:

A commission briefing document says the most important issue is the level of evidence it will require to judge whether a provider of complementary therapy dispenses services of benefit to public health, thereby qualifying legally for charitable status. The document says that at present, suitable evidence includes peer-reviewed research in recognised medical journals such as The Lancet or the BMJ, or recognition by the Department of Health or other government regulatory bodies. Personal testimonies and anecdotal evidence are not sufficient to demonstrate efficacy, says the commission, and nor are non-scientific articles and features promoting methods, treatments or therapies.

However, organisations such as the Good Thinking Society have presented evidence that these standards are not being applied rigorously, meaning some organisations may have been granted charitable status without the necessary evidence that their therapies are of benefit to public health. The commission is reassessing how its existing guidelines are enforced. It is also seeking guidance on how to deal with conflicting or inconsistent evidence, or evidence that certain therapies might cause harm – by displacing conventional therapies, for example.

Complementary providers argue that it’s unfair to be judged purely on evidence in mainstream medical journals, as demanded by the Good Thinking Society. “We know there’s a well-being factor with some complementary medicines which could be palliative, or a placebo effect,” says Jayney Goddard, director of The Complementary Medical Association. “These include massage or meditation, for example, which have tremendously supportive effects, but if the evidence isn’t forthcoming, it means those charities currently offering them might not be able to in future.” If the consultation does ultimately result in revocation of charitable status for some providers, Goddard argues that this would make it harder for them to raise donations and benefit from tax breaks that make their services more affordable.

END OF QUOTE

The argument of Jayney Goddard borders on the ridiculous, of course. If treatment X improves well-being beyond placebo and generates more good than harm, it is clearly effective and the above debate does not even apply. But it obviously does not suffice to claim that treatment X improves well-being, it is mandatory to demonstrate it with sound evidence. If, on the other hand, treatment X has not been shown to be effective beyond placebo, it must be categorised as unproven or bogus. And promoting bogus treatments/ideas/concepts (including diverting patients from evidence-based treatments and undermining rational thought in our society at large) is unquestionably harmful both to individual patients and to society as a whole.

SCAM charities are thus dangerous, unethical and an obstacle to progress. They not only should lose their charitable privileges as a matter of urgency, but they should also be fined for endangering public health.

 

 

One thing one cannot say about George Vithoulkas, the ueber-guru of homeopathy, is that he is not as good as his word. Last year, he announced that he would focus on publishing case reports that would convince us all that homeopathy is effective:

…the only evidence that homeopathy can present to the scientific world at this moment are these thousands of cured cases. It is a waste of time, money, and energy to attempt to demonstrate the effectiveness of homeopathy through double blind trials.

… the international “scientific” community, which has neither direct perception nor personal experience of the beneficial effects of homeopathy, is forced to repeat the same old mantra: “Where is the evidence? Show us the evidence!” … the successes of homeopathy have remained hidden in the offices of hardworking homeopaths – and thus go largely ignored by the world’s medical authorities, governments, and the whole international scientific community…

… simple questions that are usually asked by the “gnorant”, for example, “Can homeopathy cure cancer, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, etc.?” are invalid and cannot elicit a direct answer because the reality is that many such cases can be ameliorated significantly, and a number can be cured…

And focussing on successful cases is just what the great Vithoulkas now does.

Together with homeopaths from the  Centre for Classical Homeopathy, Vijayanagar, Bangalore, India, Vithoulkas has recently published a retrospective case series of 10 Indian patients who were diagnosed with dengue fever and treated exclusively with homeopathic remedies at Bangalore, India. This case series demonstrates with evidence of laboratory reports that even when the platelets dropped considerably there was good result without resorting to any other means.

The homeopaths concluded that a need for further, larger studies is indicated by this evidence, to precisely define the role of homeopathy in treating dengue fever. This study also emphasises the importance of individualised treatment during an epidemic for favourable results with homeopathy.

Bravo!

Keeping one’s promise must be a good thing.

But how meaningful are these 10 cases?

Dengue is a viral infection which, in the vast majority of cases, takes a benign course. After about two weeks, patients tend to be back to normal, even if they receive no treatment at all. In other words, the above-quoted case series is an exact description of the natural history of the condition. To put it even more bluntly: if these patients would have been treated with kind attention and good general care, the outcome would not have been one iota different.

To me, this means that “to precisely define the role of homeopathy in treating dengue fever” would be a waste of resources. It’s role is already clear: there is no role of homeopathy in the treatment of this (or any other) condition.

Sorry George.

Few alternative fads have survived as long as the current Kombucha boom. Since decades, it is being hyped as the best thing since sliced bread. Consequently, it has become popular and is now being promoted as a veritable panacea, allegedly curing asthma, cataracts, diabetes, diarrhoea, gout, herpes, insomnia and rheumatism and purported to shrink the prostate and expand the libido, reverse grey hair, remove wrinkles, relieve haemorrhoids, lower hypertension, prevent cancer, and promote general well-being. Kambucha is believed to stimulate the immune system, and help with HIV infection. And – sure enough – it is ideal for detox!!!

One author goes even further and lists no less than 17 indications:

It’s good for your gut:

1. Kombucha contains naturally fermenting probiotics that help maintain healthy gut flora by increasing the number of beneficial organisms.
2. It preserves nutrients and breaks them down into an easily digestible form, which allows you to absorb them better.
3. It enhances the absorption of minerals, particularly calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous and copper.
4. Healthy gut flora improves digestion, fights candida overgrowth, improves mental clarity and stabilizes moods.
5. A healthy gut can also be attributed to reducing or eliminating depression an anxiety.
6. Kombucha contains numerous strains of yeasts and up to 20 different bacterial species (and possibly many more!).

It detoxifies the body:

7. The enzymes and bacterial acids in kombucha ease the burden on the liver by reducing pancreatic load.
8. Kombucha contains glucuronic acid, which binds to toxins and increases their excretion through the kidney or intestines.
9. In 1951, a popular Russian study found that the daily consumption of kombucha was correlated with an extremely high resistance to cancer.
10. It contains vitamin C, a potent detoxifier.

It supports the nervous system:

11. Kombucha contains vitamin B, which has been associated with reducing blood pressure and supporting the nervous system.

It’s anti-ageing and supports the joints:

12. Kombucha contains glucosamines, which are vital for the treatment and prevention of arthritis.
13. Kombucha allegedly eliminates grey hair, increases sex drive and improves eyesight.
14. Kombucha concentrates the antioxidants found in tea. Antioxidants not only fight the environmental toxins known as free radicals, which contribute to illness and disease, but help slow the aging process.
15. Theoretically, powerful antioxidant nutrients can prevent and lessen wrinkles by promoting skin elasticity.

It’s anti-microbial

16. Kombucha is anti-microbial due to it’s acetic and organic acids, proteins, enzymes and bacteriocins. It exerts anti-microbial activity against pathogenic bacteria like E coli and Salmonella. Incidentally, green tea kombucha has a high anti-microbial effect than when made with black tea.

It decreases sugar cravings

17. Emmet from Remedy told us that customers often comment that kombucha reduces their sugar cravings. “My take on this is that kombucha provides a natural energy boost and is therefore a handy antidote for when cravings kick in. It’s also a great way to break the soft drinks habit.”

END OF QUOTE

Sadly, none of these claims are based on anything that even vaguely resembles evidence. My own systematic review of 2003 aimed at locating and critically evaluating all human medical investigations of kombucha regardless of study design. However, no clinical studies were found relating to the efficacy of this remedy. Several case reports and case series raise doubts about the safety of kombucha. They include suspected liver damage, metabolic acidosis and cutaneous anthrax infections. One fatality was on record. I therefore concluded that on the basis of these data it was concluded that the largely undetermined benefits do not outweigh the documented risks of kombucha. It can therefore not be recommended for therapeutic use.

Since then no clinical trials have been published; but more information on the risks of Kombucha has emerged. A case report of a 54-year-old asthmatic woman, for instance. She presented to hospital with a 10-day history of breathlessness. On examination, she was tachypnoeic with mild wheeze. She had preserved peak flows and was saturating at 100% on room air. Investigations revealed severe metabolic lactic acidosis. On further questioning, it transpired that she drank kombucha tea, which has been linked to lactic acidosis. She made a full recovery with supportive management and cessation of the tea.

A case of hepatotoxicity has also been related to Kombucha consumption. Another case report tells the story of a 22 year old male, newly diagnosed with HIV, who became short of breath and febrile within twelve hours of Kombucha tea ingestion. He subsequently became combative and confused, requiring sedation and intubation for airway control. Laboratories revealed a lactate of 12.9 mmol/L, and serum creatinine of 2.1 mg/dL. The authors concluded that consumption of this tea should be discouraged, as it may be associated with life-threatening lactic acidosis.

But how can a simple tea like Kombucha cause such serious problems? The answer lies in the method of preparation which carries the risk of contamination: the Kombucha material is incubated at room temperature in a sugar-containing liquid for 7–12 days. It is hardly surprising that, under such conditions, human pathogens may grow. It follows that, depending on the method of preparation and standards of hygiene, some Kombucha teas may be entirely innocent whilst others carry the risk of contamination and infection. Contaminated batches may act like a ‘biological chain letter’.

Considering all this, here are my instructions for making Kombucha and enjoying it safely.

You will need:

  • 3 litres of filtered water
  • 10 green or black teabags
  • 1 SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast)
  • ½ a cup of sugar

And this is what you need to do:

Boil the filtered water.

Pour over the teabags in a large container.

Add the sugar to the tea, and allow time to brew and cool (about two hours).

Pour the brewed tea into a large, jar and add the SCOBY.

Cover jar with cheesecloth, muslin or paper towel and secure with a rubber band.

Leave to brew for a week or more to taste.

Pour the kombucha into bottles

… and bin the lot.

‘HELLO’ is, of course, a most reliable source of information when it comes to healthcare (and other subjects as well, I am sure). Therefore, I was thrilled to read their report on Meghan Markle’s list of supplements which, ‘HELLO’ claim, she takes for “calming any stress or nerves ahead of the royal wedding on 19 May.” The list includes the following:

  • Magnesium,
  • Vitamin B-12,
  • Multivitamins,
  • ‘Cortisol Manager’ (30 tablets cost US$ 65)
  • Ashwagandha.

Not only does ‘HELLO’ provide us with this most fascinating list, it tells us also what exactly these supplements are best used for:

Magnesium helps to keep blood pressure normal, increase energy, relieves muscle aches and spasms, and calms nerves, all of which will be beneficial to Meghan. Meanwhile, B12 drops will ensure Meghan doesn’t become deficient in the vitamin due to her diet, which is largely plant-based and contains very little animal products, which are one of the main sources of B12.

A multivitamin will provide Meghan with her recommended daily intake of various vitamins and minerals, while Cortisol Manager is a “stress hormone stabiliser”, which is designed to support the body’s natural rise and fall of cortisol, helping promote feelings of relaxation and aid better sleep. The supplement contains L-Theanine, Magnolia, Epimedium and Ashwagandha – although Meghan said she sometimes takes additional doses of the herb, likely at periods of high stress.

Ashwagandha is a herb that helps to moderate the body’s response to stress, bringing inner calm and also boosting energy. The supplement comes from the root of the ashwagandha plant and can be taken in tablet form…

I hope I don’t spoil the Royal wedding if I run a quick reality check on these supplements. Assuming she is generally healthy (she certainly looks it), and now being aware that Meghan eats a mostly plant-based diet, here are the most likely benefits of the above-listed supplements/ingredients:

  • Magnesium: NONE
  • Vitamin B-12: DEBATABLE
  • Multivitamins: NONE
  • L-Theanine: NONE
  • Magnolia: NONE
  • Epimedium: NONE
  • Ashwagandha: NONE

Personally, I find Ashwagandha the most intriguing of all the listed ingredients, not least because Meghan said she sometimes takes additional doses of the herb. Why might that be? There is very little reliable research on this (or any of the other above-listed) remedy; but I found one placebo-controlled study which concluded that Ashwagandha “may improve sexual function in healthy women”.

Before my readers now rush out in droves to the next health food shop, I should issue a stern warning: the trial was flimsy and the results lack independent confirmation.

PS

She also seems to have a weakness for homeopathy

Homeopaths seem prone to getting a few things badly wrong (evidently, if not they would not be homeopaths!). Gonorrhoea is not a viral condition as some of them seem to assume, for instance; it is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. But never mind, we should not be pedantic.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to write about gonorrhoea (but I will come back to it at the end of this blog) nor its homeopathic treatment. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about a specific homeopathic remedy with amazing qualities.

According to this website, Medorrhinum is a powerful and deep-acting medicine, often indicated for chronic ailments… For women with chronic pelvic disorders. Chronic Rheumatism. Great disturbance and irritability of nervous system. Pains intolerable, tensive; nerves quiver and tingle. Children dwarfed and stunted. Chronic catarrhal conditions in children. Nose dirty, tonsils enlarged, thick yellow mucus from nostrils; lips thickened from mouth breathing. State of collapse and Trembling all over. History of sycosis. Often restores a gonorrhoeal discharge. Intensity of all sensations. Oedema of limbs; dropsy of serous sacs. Disseminated sclerosis.

Another website advocates Medorrhinum particularly for children: One of the many uses of this remedy is in the inherited complaints of children. The physician of long and active experience meets many obstinate cases in children. The infant soon emaciates and becomes marasmic, or a child becomes asthmatic, or suffers with vicious catarrh of nose or eyelids, or has ringworm on the scalp or face, or is dwarfed… This remedy will cure, or begin the recovery.

And the US ‘National Center for Homeopathy‘ recommends Medorrhinum for all of the following conditions:

Asthma.
Clonic spasms.
Corns.
Diabetes.
Dysmenorrhea.
Epilepsy.
Eyes, inflammation of.
Favus.
Gleet.
Headache, neuralgic.
Liver, abscess of.
Masturbation.
Ovaries, pains in.
Pelvic cellulitis.
Polypi.
Priapism.
Psoriasis palmaris.
Ptosis.
Renal colic.
Rheumatism.
Sciatica.
Shoulder, pains in.
Stricture.
Urticaria.
Warts.

Do I really need to mention that none of these claims are supported by evidence?

I am sure that, by now, you are keen to learn what Medorrhinum is made from. It is prepared from the urethral discharge of a male patient suffering from gonorrhoea.

No, I kid you not!

For once, we can all consider ourselves lucky that homeopaths tend to dilute their remedies until all of the original substance has disappeared!

You may remember my post entitled “How turn a negative trial into a positive one? Simple, just cheat!

No?

Let me remind you by copying the relevant parts of my original post of 20/2/2018:

…The purpose of their study was to examine the feasibility of Sipjeondaebo-tang (Juzen-taiho-to, Shi-Quan-Da-Bu-Tang) for cancer-related anorexia. A total of 32 participants with cancer anorexia were randomized to either Sipjeondaebo-tang group or placebo group. Participants were given 3 g of Sipjeondaebo-tang or placebo 3 times a day for 4 weeks. The primary outcome was a change in the Anorexia/Cachexia Subscale of Functional Assessment of Anorexia/Cachexia Therapy (FAACT). The secondary outcomes included Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) of anorexia, FAACT scale, and laboratory tests.

The results showed that anorexia and quality of life measured by FAACT and VAS were improved after 4 weeks of Sipjeondaebo-tang treatment. However, there was no significant difference between changes of Sipjeondaebo-tang group and placebo group.

From this, the authors of the study concluded that sipjeondaebo-tang appears to have potential benefit for anorexia management in patients with cancer. Further large-scale studies are needed to ensure the efficacy.

Well, isn’t this just great? Faced with a squarely negative result, one simply ignores it and draws a positive conclusion!

As we all know – and as trialists certainly must know – controlled trials are designed to compare the outcomes of two groups. Changes within one of the groups can be caused by several factors unrelated to the therapy and are therefore largely irrelevant. This means that “no significant difference between changes of Sipjeondaebo-tang group and placebo group” indicates that the herbal mixture had no effect. In turn this means that a conclusion stating that “sipjeondaebo-tang appears to have potential benefit for anorexia” is just fraudulent.

This level of scientific misconduct is remarkable, even for the notoriously poor ..

END OF QUOTE

This article prompted me to do something I have only done once before: I filed an official complaint with the journal. I received a reply that they would look into it. Then there was silence; then came 2 or 3 emails that they are still considering my complaint. Yesterday, I finally received the following response:

Dear Dr. Ernst,

With reference to our correspondence below, thank you again for raising this matter, we appreciate your careful attention to the reporting of this article.  The authors have apologized for the error and said they did not check the abstract carefully enough when revising the article. The board decided that this may be addressed by publishing a corrigendum; please find the notice attached to this email.  Please let us know if you would like to be acknowledged in the notice for raising this issue, e.g. as follows: “This error in the reporting was brought to the attention of the journal by Prof. Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor of Complementary Medicine, University of Exeter.”

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards…

And the attachment reads as follows:

Corrigendum to “Efficacy and Safety of Sipjeondaebo-Tang for Anorexia in Patients with Cancer: A Pilot, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial”
Dear Dr. Ernst,

With reference to our correspondence below, thank you again for raising this matter, we appreciate your careful attention to the reporting of this article. The authors have apologized for the error and said they did not check the abstract carefully enough when revising the article. The board decided that this may be addressed by publishing a corrigendum; please find the notice attached to this email. Please let us know if you would like to be acknowledged in the notice for raising this issue, e.g. as follows: “This error in the reporting was brought to the attention of the journal by Prof. Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor of Complementary Medicine, University of Exeter.”

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards…
Chunhoo Cheon,1 Jeong-Eun Yoo,2 Hwa-Seung Yoo,2 Chong-Kwan Cho,2 Sohyeon Kang,1 Mia Kim,3 Bo-Hyoung Jang,1 Yong-Cheol Shin,1 and Seong-Gyu Ko1

1Department of Preventive Medicine, Korean Medical College, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea 2Dunsan Korean Medicine Hospital of Daejeon University, Daejeon, Republic of Korea 3Department of Cardiovascular and Neurologic Disease (Stroke Center), College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea

In the article titled “Efficacy and Safety of Sipjeondaebo-Tang for Anorexia in Patients with Cancer: A Pilot, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial” [1], there was an error in the conclusion of the Abstract where the text reading “Sipjeondaebo-tang appears to have potential benefit for anorexia management in patients with cancer. Further large-scale studies are needed to ensure the efficacy” should be corrected to “In the present study, Sipjeondaebo-tang did not show a significant effect on anorexia in patients with cancer. Further large-scale studies which compensate for the limitations of this study are needed to assess the efficacy”.

References

1. Chunhoo Cheon, Jeong-Eun Yoo, Hwa-Seung Yoo, et al., “Efficacy and Safety of Sipjeondaebo-Tang for Anorexia in Patients with Cancer: A Pilot, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2017, Article ID 8780325, 9 pages, 2017. doi:10.1155/2017/8780325


So, what should we make of all this?

On the one hand, it is laudable that the Journal does correct the mistake. Bravo!!!

On the other hand, I find it odd that only the authors seem to be found guilty of an ‘error’. Even if it was just a error – and I am happy to give them the benefit of the doubt – there are other parties involved. The reviewers have a responsibility and so does the editor! Should they not own up to it?

In the end, this sorry tale does not restore my confidence in this Journal, quite the opposite. In view of all this, I have to repeat what I stated in my previous post:

I strongly suggest that:

  1. The journal is de-listed from Medline because similarly misleading nonsense has been coming out of this rag for some time.
  2. The paper is withdrawn because it can only mislead vulnerable patients.

PS

Needless to say that my reply to the above-cited email was to uphold my complaint and urge the Journal to publish an adequate response that includes and explains the failures of the reviewers and the editor. So: watch this space!

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