MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

commercial interests

The ACUPUNCTURE NOW FOUNDATION (ANF) has featured on this blog before. Today I want to re-introduce them because I just came across one of their articles which I found remarkable. In it, they define what many of us have often wondered about: the most important myth about acupuncture.

Is it acupuncture’s current popularity, its long history, its mode of action, its efficacy, its safety?

No, here is the answer directly from the ANF:

The most important myth that needs to be put to rest is the idea promoted by a small group of vocal critics that acupuncture is nothing more than a placebo. Many cite the fact that studies showing acupuncture to be highly effective were of low quality and that several higher quality studies show that, while acupuncture was clinically effective, it usually does not outperform “sham” acupuncture. But those studies are dominated by the first quality issue cited above; studies with higher methodological rigor where the “real” acupuncture was so poorly done as to not be a legitimate comparison. Yet despite the tendency toward poor quality acupuncture in studies with higher methodological standards, a benchmark study was done that showed “real” acupuncture clearly outperforming “sham” acupuncture in four different chronic pain conditions.3 When you add this study together with the fact veterinary acupuncture is used successfully in many different animals, the idea of acupuncture only being placebo must now be considered finally disproven. This is further supported by studies which show that the underlying physiological pathways activated by acupuncture sometimes overlap, but can be clearly differentiated from, those activated by placebo responses.

Disappointed?

Yes, I was too.

The myth, according to the ANF, essentially is that sceptics do not understand the scientific evidence. And these blinkered sceptics even go as far as ignoring the findings from what the ANF consider to be a ‘benchmark study’! Ghosh, that’s nasty of them!!!

But, no – the benchmark study (actually, it was not a ‘study’ but a meta-analysis of studies) has been discussed fully on this blog (and in many other places too). Here is what I wrote in 2012 when it was first published:

An international team of acupuncture trialists published a meta-analysed of individual patient data to determine the analgesic effect of acupuncture compared to sham or non-acupuncture control for the following 4 chronic pain conditions: back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, headache, and shoulder pain. Data from 29 RCTs, with an impressive total of 17 922 patients, were included.

The results of this new evaluation suggest that acupuncture is superior to both sham and no-acupuncture controls for each of these conditions. Patients receiving acupuncture had less pain, with scores that were 0.23 (95% CI, 0.13-0.33), 0.16 (95% CI, 0.07-0.25), and 0.15 (95% CI, 0.07-0.24) SDs lower than those of sham controls for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache, respectively; the effect sizes in comparison to no-acupuncture controls were 0.55 (95% CI, 0.51-0.58), 0.57 (95% CI, 0.50-0.64), and 0.42 (95% CI, 0.37-0.46) SDs.

Based on these findings, the authors reached the conclusion that “acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option. Significant differences between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo. However, these differences are relatively modest, suggesting that factors in addition to the specific effects of needling are important contributors to the therapeutic effects of acupuncture”.

… even the enthusiastic authors of this article admit that, when compared to sham, the effect size of real acupuncture is too small to be clinically relevant. Therefore one might argue that this meta-analysis confirms what critics have suggested all along: acupuncture is not a useful treatment for clinical routine.

Unsurprisingly, the authors of the meta-analysis do their very best to play down this aspect. They reason that, for clinical routine, the comparison between acupuncture and non-acupuncture controls is more relevant than the one between acupuncture and sham. But this comparison, of course, includes placebo- and other non-specific effects masquerading as effects of acupuncture – and with this little trick (which, by the way is very popular in alternative medicine), we can, of course, show that even sugar pills are effective.

I do not doubt that context effects are important in patient care; yet I do doubt that we need a placebo treatment for generating such benefit in our patients. If we administer treatments which are effective beyond placebo with kindness, time, compassion and empathy, our patients will benefit from both specific and non-specific effects. In other words, purely generating non-specific effects with acupuncture is far from optimal and certainly not in the interest of our patients. In my view, it cannot be regarded as not good medicine, and the authors’ conclusion referring to a “reasonable referral option” is more than a little surprising in my view.

Acupuncture-fans might argue that, at the very minimum, the new meta-analysis does demonstrate acupuncture to be statistically significantly better than a placebo. Yet I am not convinced that this notion holds water: the small residual effect-size in the comparison of acupuncture with sham might not be the result of a specific effect of acupuncture; it could be (and most likely is) due to residual bias in the analysed studies.

The meta-analysis is strongly driven by the large German trials which, for good reasons, were heavily and frequently criticised when first published. One of the most important potential drawbacks was that many participating patients were almost certainly de-blinded through the significant media coverage of the study while it was being conducted. Moreover, in none of these trials was the therapist blinded (the often-voiced notion that therapist-blinding is impossible is demonstrably false). Thus it is likely that patient-unblinding and the absence of therapist-blinding importantly influenced the clinical outcome of these trials thus generating false positive findings. As the German studies constitute by far the largest volume of patients in the meta-analysis, any of their flaws would strongly impact on the overall result of the meta-analysis.

So, has this new meta-analysis finally solved the decades-old question about the effectiveness of acupuncture? It might not have solved it, but we have certainly moved closer to a solution, particularly if we employ our faculties of critical thinking. In my view, this meta-analysis is the most compelling evidence yet to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of acupuncture for chronic pain.

END OF QUOTE

The ANF-text then goes from bad to worse. First they cite the evidence from veterinary acupuncture as further proof of the efficacy of their therapy. Well, the only systematic review in this are is, I think, by my team; and it concluded that there is no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals. Some encouraging data do exist that warrant further investigation in independent rigorous trials.

Lastly, the ANF mentions acupuncture’s mode of action which they seem to understand clearly and fully. Congratulations ANF! In this case, you are much better than the many experts in basic science or neurology who almost unanimously view these ‘explanations’ of how acupuncture might work as highly adventurous hypotheses or speculations.

So, what IS the most important myth about acupuncture? I am not sure and – unlike the ANF – I do not feel that I can speak for the rest of the world, but one of the biggest myths FOR ME is how acupuncture fans constantly manage to mislead the public.

In real medicine, most doctors view telephone consultations as highly problematic and would use them but in emergency situations or when there is no realistic other choice. Not so in homeopathy! Here telephone consultations are actively promoted my many – many who have a financial interest in it, that is.

Take this press-release, for instance; I have slightly abbreviated the text but abstained from correcting the many mistakes to give you a realistic impression of the high standard of the firm offering it.

START OF QUOTE

Solviva Health is an online treatment initiative based on…  homeopathy. Since homeopathy’s introduction by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, the popularity of this system is growing day by day [1]. According to World Health Organization, homoeopathy is the second largest system of medicine in the world [1]. India is one among the top nations to adopt this technique of curing and describes it as a natural way of healing. Solviva Health is an online homeopathic treatment platform that interacts with their patients through online initiatives like emails, video conferencing, web chat, telephonic and all other possible communication sources. The main motto of this initiative is to provide medical services not only to the local people of Mohali but also to extend the reach of this quality treatment to rest of India & all across the world. It’s one amongst very few genuine platforms to avail the world class homeopathic medical services without visiting the doctors…

Whenever you need an expert guidance, the doctor is just a phone call away.

The medical team present under SolvivaHealth is well-known personalities in their respective field. The clinic specializes in Allergies, Polycystic ovarian disease, Female disorders, Rheumatoid arthritis, Joint problems & Child disorders. Suppose, “Before a specified team of doctors has to handle a particular case, the patient can check all the doctors’ detail for testimonial verifications, which are available online on the official website.” As per many sources, homeopathic treatment do not have side-effects and one of the safe & reliable way to tackle Allergies, Asthma, Female Disorders which are usually not having any cure in Allopathy… “Solviva Health provides the much awaited first Indian homeopathy online consultancy treatment services, which allows you to get all the precise treatment at the comfort of your home.”

Solviva Health is one of the first of it’s kind in India that offers treatment via online or telephonic interactions between doctors and patients. They have successfully completed 3 years in offering quality homeopathic treatment services with a patient satisfaction rate of 95%.

END OF QUOTE

I am sure that Hahnemann would be turning in his Parisian grave, if he knew about this. He and most of his followers have always stressed the importance of taking a long and detailed history during an empathetic, personal encounter with the patient.

But there is another important aspect here to consider: telephone consultations are by definition devoid of any physical examination of the patient by the clinician. I know that, generally speaking, homeopaths attach much less importance to physically examining their patients. I always have found this odd and borderline negligent. To omit them completely is no longer borderline but crosses the line into unethical behaviour, I think.

To me, it seems as though Solviva Health (and all the other firms that offer homeopathy by telephone) have found a method of maximising their income, while minimising the already meagre benefit of homeopathy. As we all know, if homeopathy has any positive effects on patients, it is through the personal encounter with an empathetic clinician. Telephone services are likely to be far less effective than fact-to-face consultations at building constructive therapeutic relationships.

Yes, the festive season is upon us and therefore it is high time to discuss detox (yet again). As many of us are filling their fridges to the brim, most of us prepare for some serious over-indulgence. Following alt med logic, this must prompt some counter-measures, called detox.

The range of treatments advocated by detox-fans is weird and wide (see also below):

  • various alternative diets,
  • herbal, vitamins, minerals and other ‘natural’ supplements,
  • various forms of chelation therapy,
  • electromagnetic devices,
  • colonic irrigation and enemas,
  • various forms of skin bruising,
  • cupping,
  • sauna and other means of inducing extensive sweating,
  • homeopathy,
  • ear candles,
  • foot-baths,
  • etc., etc.

I suppose it was to be expected that detox often goes with other crazy beliefs. This website, for instance, shows that it is even associated with anti-vaxx:

START OF QUOTE

Whether you believe vaccines to be harmful or not, one has to admit that all the ingredients added to vaccines cannot be good for anyone, especially children.

As David Wolfe has discussed, vaccines contain the following: sucrose, fructose, dextrose, potassium phosphate, aluminum potassium sulfate, peptone, bovine extract, formaldehyde, FD&C Yellow #6, aluminum lake dye, fetal bovine serum, sodium bicarbonate, monosodium glutamate, aluminum hydroxide, benzethonium chloride, lactose thimerosal, ammonium sulfate, formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, bovine extract), calf serum, aluminum phosphate, aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate, and ethanol.

That is a long scary list and many of these things will not leave the body naturally. Thus, a gentle detox is necessary.

Detoxification Bath

Living Traditionally suggests a detoxification bath with both Zendocrine and epsom salt. Zendocrine is an essential oil mixture made up of tangerine, rosemary, geranium, juniper berry, and cilantro. Rosemary, juniper berry, and cilantro are good choices for detoxification and tangerine and geranium are purifiers.

Garlic

Garlic has been scientifically proven to treat heavy metal poisoning. Organic Lifestyle Magazine suggests consuming three cloves a day to help remove toxins.

Silica

Silica is also good for a heavy metal detox. Natural News states, “Aluminum (Al) is passed out through the urine when one supplements silica. It seems there’s little danger of taking too much, as long as adequate water is consumed and vitamin B1 and potassium levels are maintained.”

One of the best ways to get silica in your system is with the horsetail herb, rye, barley, oats, wheat, and alfalfa sprouts nuts.

Chlorella

Chlorella is one of the best detoxifying substances available. According to Dr. Mercola, “Chlorella is uniquely designed to not bind to the minerals your body naturally needs to function optimally. It does not bind to beneficial minerals like calcium, magnesium, or zinc. It’s almost as if chlorella knows which metals belong in your body and which chemicals need to be removed. Supplementing with chlorella is like unleashing a tiny army inside your body to fight the battle of removing toxins from your tissues and ushering them back outside your body where they belong.”
You can take it in supplement form or add a powdered version to your smoothie.

Probiotics

Probiotics are what is needed to put good bacteria system to rights when it has been thrown off by toxins. “They can provide assistance by decreasing the number of bad bacteria while helping to restore balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut and to keep your body functioning properly.” (LiveStrong)

Some probiotic foods include: organic yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and fermented vegetables.

Omega-3

Omega 3 oils are especially good for cell repair and keeping your brain healthy. This is because of their high fat content is similar to the fats that are naturally part of cell and brain systems. (Daily Mail)

A teaspoon daily should be enough or you could take a supplement.

Cilantro

According to Natural Society, cilantro is a very gentle detoxification tool. It is also effective for removing heavy metals from the brain.
For 2-3 weeks, add a teaspoon of cilantro to your food, smoothie, or just eat it up. You can also substitute with 6-7 drops of cilantro essential oil by adding it to your bath.

END OF QUOTE

Don’t you just adore the sources quoted by the author as evidence for his/her statements?

As I said, the therapies recommended for detox are diverse. Yet, they have one important feature in co<span style=”color: #668a1d;”>mmon: they are not based on anything remotely resembling good evidence. As I stressed in my article of 2012:

The common characteristics of all of these approaches are that they are unproved. Even experts who are sympathetic to alternative medicine and AD admit: ‘while there are hundreds of randomized controlled trials on drug and alcohol detox, there are no such trials of detox programs focusing on environmental toxins … at present, “detox” is certainly more of a sales pitch than a science’. The ‘studies’ of AD that have been published are of such poor methodological quality that no conclusions can be drawn from them.

While there is a total absence of sound evidence for benefit, some of these treatments have been associated with risks which depend on the nature of the treatment and can be particularly serious with diets (malnutrition), supplements (hepatoxicity), chelation (electrolyte depletion) and colonic irrigation (perforation of the colon).

Yet detox is big business’. A recent survey, for instance, suggested that 92% of US naturopaths use some form of detox. To lay people, its principles seem to make sense and, in many of us, the desire to ‘purify’ ourselves is deep rooted. Thus detox-entrepreneurs (including Prince Charles who, several years ago, launched a ‘Detox-Tincture’ via his firm Duchy Originals) are able to exploit a gullible public.

Proponents of detox are keen to point out that ‘a modern science of ‘detoxicology’ seems to be emerging’. If there is such a thing, it should address the following, fundamental questions:

  • What are the toxins and toxicants?
  • What evidence exists that they damage our health?
  • How do we quantify them?
  • How do we diagnose that a patient requires detox?
  • Which treatments are effective in eliminating which toxins?

Currently, there is insufficient evidence to answer any of these questions. Until this situation changes, I do not think a ‘science of detox’ exists at all.

Yesterday I received an electronic Christmas card from two homeopathic institutions called ‘Homeopathic Associates and The Homeopathic College’. It read: WISHING YOU THE BEST OF HEALTH AND HAPPINESS FOR THE NEW YEAR!

Naturally I was puzzled, particularly since I had no recollection of ever having been in contact with them. The card was signed by Manfred Mueller, MA, DHM, RSHom(NA), CCH, and I decided to find out more about this man. It turns out that Manfred Mueller developed The Mueller Method or “Extra-Strength Homeopathy” to meet today’s complex chronic conditions, drug induced disorders, vaccine injuries, toxic overload, radiation-induced health problems, cancers, etc.

Now, this sounds interesting, I thought, and read on. Just a few clicks further, Mueller offers his wisdom on homeopathic cancer treatments in a lengthy article entitled ‘Is Homeopathy an Effective Cancer Treatment?

According to Mueller, the answer to his question is a clear yes. I will spare you the torture of reading the entire paper (if you have masochistic tendencies, you can read it via the link I provided above); instead, I will just copy Mueller’s conclusion:

START OF QUAOTE

Laboratory studies in vitro and in vivo show that homeopathic drugs, in addition to having the capacity to reduce the size of tumors and to induce apoptosis, can induce protective and restorative effects. Additionally homeopathic treatment has shown effects when used as a complementary therapy for the effects of conventional cancer treatment. This confirms observations from our own clinical experience as well as that of others that when suitable remedies are selected according to individual indications as well as according to pathology and to cell-line indications and administered in the appropriate doses according to the standard principles of homeopathic posology, homeopathic treatment of cancer can be a highly effective therapy for all kinds of cancers and leukemia as well as for the harmful side effects of conventional treatment. More research is needed to corroborate these clinical observations.

Homeopathy over almost two decades of its existence has developed more than four hundred remedies for cancer treatment. Only a small fraction have been subjected to scientific study so far. More homeopathic remedies need to be studied to establish if they have any significant action in cancer. Undoubtedly the next big step in homeopathic cancer research must be multiple comprehensive double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials. To assess the effect of homeopathic treatment in clinical settings, volunteer adult patients who prefer to try homeopathic treatment instead of conventional therapy could be recruited, especially in cases for which no conventional therapy has been shown to be effective.

Many of the researchers conducting studies — cited here but not discussed — on the growing interest in homeopathic cancer treatment have observed that patients are driving the demand for access to homeopathic and other alternative modes of cancer treatment. So long as existing cancer treatment is fraught with danger and low efficacy, it is urgent that the research on and the provision of quality homeopathic cancer treatment be made available for those who wish to try it.

END OF QUOTE

Amazing! What could be more wrong than this?

But it’s the season of joy and love; so, let’s not go into the embarrassing details of this article. Instead, I feel like returning the curtesy of Mr Mueller’s Christmas card. Therefore, I have decided to post this open ‘Christmas card’ to him:

Dear Mr Mueller,

thank you for your card, the good wishes, and the links you provided to your websites, articles, etc. I only read the one on cancer but was impressed. It is remarkably misguided, unethical and dangerous. Crucially, it has the potential to shorten the lives of many desperate patients. I therefore urge you to desist making your opinions public or from applying them in your clinical practice. I say this not merely because I am concerned about the patients that have the misfortune to fall into your hands, but also to prevent you from getting into trouble for immoral, unethical or unlawful behaviour.

In this spirit, I wish you happiness for the New Year.

Edzard Ernst

The fact that much of chiropractic might be bogus has frequently been discussed on this blog. A recent press-release provided me with more evidence for this notion. It proudly announced a new book entitled “Beyond the Back: The Chiropractic Alternative For Conditions Beyond Back Pain”

The text claimed that shortly after the launch, the book hit #1 on the Amazon.com best seller list out of all Chiropractor books and also reached #1 for the category of Holistic Medicine.

When I checked (22/12/2016), I was not able to confirm this statement: #47 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Medical eBooks > Alternative & Holistic > Holistic Medicine, #58 in Books > Medical Books > Allied Health Professions > Chiropractic. But let’s not be petty; let’s rather see what the book has to offer.

‘Beyond the Back’ focuses on how Chiropractic care can do so much more than just alleviate back pain, the press-release says. From avoiding knee surgery to resolving athletic injuries, chiropractic care allegedly is a 100% natural health solution for a wide variety of conditions… In fact, in some cases, chiropractors can help their patients get off medications entirely and even avoid surgery, the press-release continues.

In the book itself, the authors claim that chiropractic is effective for a multitude of conditions, including asthma and colic (in fact, the authors try to give the impression that chiropractic is a veritable panacea), and that there is sound evidence for all these indications from hundreds, if not thousands of studies. The authors make it very clear – even on the book cover – that chiropractic is not an adjunct to conventional healthcare but an alternative to it; an idea, of course, that goes back to the founding fathers of chiropractic. As if this were not enough, the book also promotes diagnostic techniques such as applied kinesiology.

Some commentators on this blog have argued that the chiropractic profession is in the midst of giving up much of the nonsense upon it was originally based and to which it has clung on for more than hundred years. This book, written by 9 US authors of the new generation of chiropractors, seems to demonstrate the opposite.

On Amazon, the book currently has one single customer review: Value information and an easy read! I am a strong believer of chiropractic and this makes it easy for me to share this info with my friends ! 

This comment is apt because it makes clear that chiropractic is a belief system. We must not expect rational thoughts or facts from what, in effect, is a religion for many. I can understand this in a way: belief can be a cosy shelter from the truth; it does not require much thinking; it hardly needs any learning, no changing of minds, etc. However, belief can never be a basis for good healthcare. In my view, ‘Beyond The Back’ provides a perfect example of that.

HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES CANNOT POSSIBLY  PLACEBOS BECAUSE THEY WORK IN ANIMALS!

How often have we heard this argument?

And how often have we pointed out that it is wrong on more than one level?

On this blog alone, we have done so here, here, here and here, for instance. But homeopaths and their followers seem to be strangely immune to facts. Presumably, they will therefore also ignore a recent paper that re-confirms what has already been said so often.

This new systematic review assessed the efficacy of homeopathy in cattle, pigs and poultry. Only peer-reviewed publications dealing with homeopathic remedies, which could possibly replace or prevent the use of antibiotics in the case of infective diseases or growth promotion in livestock were included. Search results revealed a total number of 52 trials performed within 48 publications fulfilling the predefined criteria. Twenty-eight trials were in favour of homeopathy, with 26 trials showing a significantly higher efficacy in comparison to a control group, whereas 22 showed no medicinal effect. Cure rates for the treatments with antibiotics, homeopathy or placebo varied to a high degree, while the remedy used did not seem to make a big difference. No study had been repeated under comparable conditions. Consequently, the use of homeopathy cannot claim to have sufficient prognostic validity where efficacy is concerned. When striving for high therapeutic success in treatment, the potential of homeopathy in replacing or reducing antibiotics can only be validated if evidence of efficacy is confirmed by randomised controlled trials under modified conditions.

I think this, together with the previous systematic reviews on the subject, speaks for itself, and there is little to add – except perhaps the bravely outspoken letter by Oliver Kamm in THE TIMES which alludes to the above named paper:

START OF QUOTE

Using highly diluted substances to cure ailments is a better idea than the medieval practices of bloodletting by leeches or administering hemlock as an anaesthetic. That’s the best you can say for homeopathy: it isn’t outright dangerous. As medicine, however, it’s junk. Study after study has confirmed that homeopathic remedies are inert and no more effective than either a placebo or just allowing an illness to run its course.

Now research published in the Veterinary Record concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of homeopathic treatments in livestock, either, as a way to prevent or treat infectious diseases. Two scientists from the university of Kassel in Germany reviewed studies of the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments in cattle, pigs and poultry. They say the “evidence in favour of homeopathy lacks reproducibility and therefore cannot claim to have sufficient prognostic validity”.

Over 200 years, homeopaths have failed to substantiate their claims. It may seem bizarre that anyone in the 21st century could take seriously the notion of homeopathic treatments for animals. But that is to reckon without the Prince of Wales and his lifetime enthusiasm for zaniness on science, medicine, aesthetics and linguistics. He once gave a speech declaring himself proud for having been “accused once of being the enemy of the Enlightenment”. A few months ago he stunned a conference of scientists and public officials by disclosing that he uses only homeopathic remedies when treating his cattle and sheep on his country estate at Highgrove.

Prince Charles’s knowledge of science may be a joke but his contributions to public debate aren’t funny. They bestow prestige on atavistic superstitions that have no place in modern healthcare and animal welfare. NHS guidelines are clear there “is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition”. Likewise in veterinary medicine. Out of more than 20,000 vets licensed in the UK, around 50 practise homeopathy. That is 50 too many. The same is true of the roughly 500 farmers who employ homeopathy. They can’t even claim a placebo effect as the animals are unaware of their purported medical treatment.

Yet the quacks are undaunted. The British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons even claims success in curing dogs of cancer through homeopathy. This is nonsense — and if it persuades farmers and pet owners to forgo evidence-based treatments, it’s also wanton cruelty. It’s past time to shut these people down.”

END OF QUOTE

Actually, the exact quote was slightly different: What we’re dealing with here is the big lie, being perpetrated by corrupt government officials on the payroll of Pharma” (the bold lettering is from the original). It comes from the pen of  who has featured on this blog before (see also here).

Strong words indeed! But not as strong as those of the title of his new article: BRING THE CRIMINALS TO JUSTICE. What were they directed against? They were in protest against the recent rulings of the British Advertising Standards Authority and the American FCT  out-lawing the advertising of bogus claims for homeopathy.

Alan V Schmukler continues his article as follows: “It’s time to hold these people accountable. There are laws in every country against officials taking bribes and malfeasance in office. Write to your legislators and demand that they investigate and bring these criminals to justice. Send them the links to hundreds of homeopathy studies, including disease prevention with homeopathy, at the end of this article.   Tell them that the regulatory agencies are protecting Pharma profits, not the public.

Meanwhile, let us insist that pharmaceutical drugs be labeled honestly, like this:

“This drug was tested by the same company that profits from it, and which company has been fined millions of dollars in the past for lying about test results. This drug does not cure any medical condition, but only suppresses symptoms which may ultimately make the patient sicker. This drug has already  killed or injured X  number of people.”

There are not many homeopaths who can render me speechless; I have been used to a lot. But this man almost did. Almost!

After recovering my self-control, all I want to say to this is: THANK YOU ALAN V SCMUKLER! Not only have you made me laugh harder than when I last watched ‘Faulty Towers’, but, more importantly, you have shown us how deluded some (or could this be ‘all’?) of the leading homeopaths really are.

PS

Alan, if you read this, perhaps you want to have a look a this post.

Yes, to a large extend, quacks make a living by advertising lies. A paper just published confirms our worst fears.

This survey was aimed at identifying the frequency and qualitative characteristics of marketing claims made by Canadian chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths and acupuncturists relating to the diagnosis and treatment of allergy and asthma.

A total of 392 chiropractic, naturopathic, homeopathic and acupuncture clinic websites were located in 10 of the largest metropolitan areas in Canada. The main outcome measures were: mention of allergy, sensitivity or asthma, claim of ability to diagnose allergy, sensitivity or asthma, claim of ability to treat allergy, sensitivity or asthma, and claim of allergy, sensitivity or asthma treatment efficacy. Tests and treatments promoted were noted as qualitative examples.

The results show that naturopath clinic websites had the highest rates of advertising at least one of diagnosis, treatment or efficacy for allergy or sensitivity (85%) and asthma (64%), followed by acupuncturists (68% and 53%, respectively), homeopaths (60% and 54%) and chiropractors (33% and 38%). Search results from Vancouver were most likely to advertise at least one of diagnosis, treatment or efficacy for allergy or sensitivity (72.5%) and asthma (62.5%), and results from London, Ontario were least likely (50% and 40%, respectively). Of the interventions advertised, few are scientifically supported; the majority lack evidence of efficacy, and some are potentially harmful.

[Legend to figure above: Percentage of alternative medicine clinic websites advertising at least one of diagnosis, treatment or efficacy for allergy/sensitivity or asthma. Presenting the data in this way demonstrates that the Canadian naturopath, homeopath and acupuncturist websites studied have >50% rates of making at least one health-related claim for both allergy/sensitivity and asthma.]

The authors concluded that the majority of alternative healthcare clinics studied advertised interventions for allergy and asthma. Many offerings are unproven. A policy response may be warranted in order to safeguard the public interest.

In the discussion section, the authors state: “These claims raise ethical issues, because evidence in support of many of the tests and treatments identified on the websites studied is lacking. For example, food-specific IgG testing was commonly advertised, despite the fact that the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has recommended not to use this test due to the absence of a body of research supporting it. Live blood analysis, vega/electrodiagnostic testing, intravenous vitamin C, probiotics, homeopathic allergy remedies and several other tests and treatments offered all lack substantial scientific evidence of efficacy. Some of the proposed treatments are so absurd that they lack even the most basic scientific plausibility, such as ionic foot bath detoxification…

Perhaps most concerning is the fact that several proposed treatments for allergy, sensitivity or asthma are potentially harmful. These include intravenous hydrogen peroxide, spinal manipulation and possibly others. Furthermore, a negative effect of the use of invalid and inaccurate allergy testing is the likelihood that such testing will lead to alterations and exclusions in diets, which can subsequently result in malnutrition and other physiological problems…”

This survey originates from Canada, and one might argue that elsewhere the situation is not quite as bad. However, I would doubt it; on the contrary, I would not be surprised to learn that, in some other countries, it is even worse.

Several national regulators have, at long last, become aware of the dangers of advertising of outright quackery. Consequently, some measures are now beginning to be taken against it. I would nevertheless argue that these actions are far too slow and by no means sufficiently effective.

We easily forget that asthma, for instance, is a potentially life-threatening disease. Advertising of bogus claims is therefore  much more than a forgivable exaggeration aimed at maximising the income of alternative practitioners – it is a serious threat to public health.

We must insist that regulators protect us from such quackery and prevent the serious harm it can do.

The common cold is one of the indications for which homeopathy is deemed to be effective… by homeopaths that is! Non-homeopaths are understandably critical about this claim, not least because there is no good evidence for it. But, hold on, there is a new study which might change all this.

This study was recently published in COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES IN MEDICINE which is supposed to be one of the better journals in this area. According to its authors, it was conducted “to determine if a homeopathic syrup was effective in treating cold symptoms in preschool children.” Children diagnosed with an upper respiratory tract infection were randomized to receive a commercial homeopathic cold syrup containing allium cepa 6X, hepar sulf calc 12X, natrum muriaticum 6X, phosphorous 12X, pulsatilla 6X, sulphur 12X, and hydrastasis 6X or placebo. Parents administered the study medication as needed for 3 days. The primary outcome was change in symptoms one hour after each dose. Parents also assessed the severity of each of the symptoms of runny nose, cough, congestion and sneezing at baseline and twice daily for 3 days, using a 4-point rating scale. A composite cold score was calculated by combining the values for each of the four symptoms. Among 261 eligible participants, data on 957 doses of study medication in 154 children were analyzed. There was no significant difference in improvement one hour after the dose for any symptom between the two groups. Analysis of twice daily data on the severity of cold symptoms compared to baseline values found that improvements in sneezing, cough and the composite cold score were significantly greater at both the first and second assessments among those receiving the cold syrup compared to placebo recipients.

The authors concluded that the homeopathic syrup appeared to be effective in reducing the severity of cold symptoms in the first day after beginning treatment.

Where to start? There are so many problems with this study that I find it difficult to chose the most crucial ones:

  • The study had a clearly defined primary endpoint; it was not affected by the homeopathic treatment which doubtlessly makes the study a negative trial. The only correct conclusion therefore is that THE HOMEOPATHIC SYRUP FAILED TO AFFECT THE PRIMARY OUTCOME MEASURE OF THIS STUDY. THEREFORE THE TRIAL DID NOT PRODUCE ANY EVIDENCE TO ASSUME THAT THE EXPERIMENTAL TREATMENT WAS EFFICACIOUS.
  • I don’t think that many of the primary or secondary outcome measures are validated or reliable.
  • All the positive results reported in the abstract and the article relate to secondary endpoints which are purely explanatory by nature. They should, in my view, not be mentioned in the conclusions at all.
  • The fact that some results turned out to be positive can be explained by the fact that the investigators ran dozens of tests for statistical significance which means that, by simple chance, some will turn out to produce a positive result.
  • A further explanation for the seemingly positive results might be the fact disclosed in the text of the article that the children in the homeopathy group received more conventional drugs than those in the placebo group.
  • Whatever the reason for these positive results, they certainly had nothing to do with the homeopathic syrup.
  • The study was funded by the company producing the syrup and for which one of the authors was employed as a consultant. This might be an explanation for the abominably poor science. In other words, this paper is not an exercise in testing a hypothesis but one in marketing.

While I might forgive the company for trying to maximise their sales figures, I do find it harder to forgive the authors, reviewers and editors for publishing such overtly false conclusions. In my view, they are all guilty of scientific misconduct.

Alternative medicine suffers from what might be called ‘survey overload’: there are far too much such investigations and most of them are of deplorably poor quality producing nothing of value except some promotion for alternative medicine. Yet, every now and then, one finds a paper that is worth reading, and I am happy to say that this survey (even though it has several methodological shortcomings) belongs in this category.

This cross-sectional assessment of the views of general practitioners towards chiropractors and osteopaths was funded by the Department of Chiropractic at Macquarie University. It was designed as a quantitative descriptive study using an anonymous online survey that included closed and open-ended questions with opportunities provided for free text. The target population was Australian general practitioners. Inclusion criteria included current medical registration, membership of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and currently practicing as a general practitioner in Australia. The data being reported here were collected between May and December, 2014.

There were 630 respondents to the online survey during this period representing a response rate of 2.6 %. Results were not uniform for the two professions. More general practitioners believed chiropractic education was not evidence-based compared to osteopathic education (70 % and 50 % respectively), while the scope of practice was viewed as similar for both professions. A majority of general practitioners had never referred a patient to either profession (chiropractic: 60 %; osteopathy: 66 %) and indicated that they would not want to co-manage patients with either profession. Approximately two-thirds of general practitioners were not interested in learning more about their education (chiropractors: 68 %; osteopaths: 63 %).

The authors concluded that this study provides an indication of the current views of Australian general practitioners towards chiropractors and osteopaths. The findings suggest that attitudes may have become less favourable with a growing intolerance towards both professions. If confirmed, this has the potential to impact health service provision. The results from this cross-sectional study suggest that obtaining representative general practitioner views using online surveys is difficult and another approach is needed to supplement or replace the current recruitment strategy.

The authors do not speculate on the reasons why the attitudes of general practitioners towards chiropractic and osteopathy might have become more critical. Therefore I decided to offer a few possibilities here. The more negative views could be due to:

  • better education of general practitioners,
  • tightening of healthcare budgets,
  • recent ‘bad press’ and loss of reputation (for instance, the BCA’s libel action against Simon Singh),
  • the work of sceptics in informing the public about the numerous bogus claims made by osteopaths and chiropractors,
  • the plethora of overtly bogus claims which nevertheless continue to be made by these practitioners on a daily basis,
  • a more general realisation that these therapies can cause very serious harm,
  • a mixture of the above factors.

Whatever the reasons are, the finding that there now seems to be a growing scepticism (in Australia, but hopefully elsewhere as well) about the value of chiropractic and osteopathy is something that cheers me up no end.

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