MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

gullible consumer

On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed the issues around para-normal or spiritual healing practices. In one of these posts I concluded that these treatments are:

  1. utterly implausible
  2. not supported by good clinical evidence.

What follows seems as simple as it is indisputable: energy healing is nonsense and does not merit further research.

Yet both research and – more importantly – the practice of spiritual healing continue, not only in the developed world but even more so in poor and under-developed countries.

Traditional healers, known in Rwanda as Abarangi or Abacwezi claim to use their spiritual powers to heal sick patients. Recently, they urged their government to acknowledge them through proper regulation. Jean-Bosco Kajongi, the leader of the healers in Rwanda, said Abahereza are like doctors who have been selected by angels. “Umuhereza is someone who gets power from God to treat different diseases but particularly demonic possession such as ‘Amahembe’ and ‘Imandwa’. Sometimes, doctors detect something in the body, do surgery but find nothing. But Abarangi can identify the disease beforehand and heal it. Thus, we want to have legal personality and work with modern doctors because what we cure, they cannot even see it. Therefore, mortality rate would decrease.”

Abahereza claim to have God-given powers to heal any disease, provided that the patient has belief in their powers. Claudine Uwamahoro, a resident of Rulindo district is one of them. “Last year, I was transferred to Kanombe Military Hospital to have my leg cut off after they diagnosed me with cancer. Abarangi told me it was not cancer but rather ‘Imandwa.’ They treated me but I didn’t get healed immediately because I had not yet heeded God’s commandment because they do not use any medicines but only requires you to obey God and respect his commandments.  Now my leg has been healed… Like Jesus came to save us so that we don’t perish, Umurangi also came so that we do not die of diseases that normal medicines cannot treat.”

Another patient agrees: “In 1983, I played football but later, Imandwa disabled me and my legs were paralyzed. I went to various hospitals and was given an assortment of medicines but they could not help. I always had fever; Doctors treated me but could not identify what kind of disease it really was. I even went to traditional healers but they didn’t have a solution. Pastors and priests prayed for me but in vain. Sorcerers also tried but failed. I was possessed by Imandwa and I was cured by Umurangi from Kirehe District. I believe that they have the power from God and when you respect their conditions, they treat and cure you completely.”

According to Alexia Mukahirwa, another witness, Umurangi is very powerful. “I was sick for 16 years. I went to different places and met many doctors. Some told me I had blood infection, others said it was stomach and intestinal infections. I consumed numberless medicines that never helped until I saw the power of Abarangi and believed them. Some people said that I had HIV/AIDS but it was not true. I only weighed 42 kilograms but now I have 68. Abarangi are powerful and may God bless them.”

James Mugabo, who is an “Umuhereza” or priest, said: “Before colonialism, people had their way of treating illness. But we have abandoned everything yet we should not.” The Director General of clinical services in the Ministry of Health responded by stating: “The law and policy are being drafted and will help us to know who does what kind of medicine and their identity. From that, we will know where to localize Abarangi in traditional or alternative.”

Hearing such things, we might smile and think ‘that’s Rwanda – this would not happen in developed countries’. But sadly, it does! These things happen everywhere. I know of healing ceremonies in the UK and the US that are embarrassingly similar to the ones in Rwanda – remember, for instance, the scenes seen on TV where Donald Trump was blessed by some evangelicals to receive the ability to win the election? And now they will probably claim that it worked!

Nothing to do with alternative medicine, you say? Perhaps this website on ‘spiritual homeopathy’ is more relevant then:

START OF QUOTE

What is spiritual homeopathy? It is based on the principle that “like cures like” and “wounds heal wounds” — the underlying wisdom of support groups. A Biblical story which illustrates this principle takes place on the ancient shepherding people’s journey through the desert. When they grew impatient and complained bitterly to Moses, God sent venomous snakes to bite the people. Many died. When the people confessed their sin, God told Moses to put a bronze snake on a pole. Those who were bitten and focused on the bronze snake did not die; they looked and lived.

Many years later Jesus said of his mission, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Chosen One must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes on the Chosen One might have eternal life.” Jesus’ disciple Peter wrote, “By Christ’s wounds you are healed.” In “The Angel that Troubled the Waters,” Thornton Wilder wrote: “Without your wound where would your power be? … In love’s service only the wounded can serve.”

As the Thanksgiving and Christmas season approaches, spiritual homeopathy offers healing to all – because the Babe in the Manger is also the Wounded Healer

END OF QUOTE

I think I rest my case.

 

 

Homeopathic remedies are being marketed and sold as though they are medicines, yet highly diluted preparations contain nothing and do nothing. This means consumers are constantly mislead into believing that they are drugs. This situation seems to be changing dramatically in the US, and hopefully – led by the American example – elsewhere as well.

It has been reported that the US Federal Trade Commission issued a statement which said that, in future, homeopathic remedies have to be held to the same standard as other medicinal products. In other words, American companies must now have reliable scientific evidence for health-related claims that their products can treat specific conditions and illnesses.

The ‘Enforcement Policy Statement on Marketing Claims for Over-the-Counter (OTC) Homeopathic Drugs’ makes it clear that “the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories and there are no valid studies using current scientific methods showing the product’s efficacy.”

However, an [over-the-counter] homeopathic drug claim that is not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence might not be deceptive if the advertisement or label where it appears effectively communicates that: 1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and 2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts. In other words, if no evidence for efficacy exists, companies must advertise this fact clearly on their labelling, and also disclose that claims are today rejected by the majority of the scientific community. Failure to do this will be considered a violation of the FTC Act.

“This is a real victory for reason, science, and the health of the American people,” said Michael De Dora, public policy director for The Center for Inquiry in a statement issued in response to the new act. “The FTC has made the right decision to hold manufacturers accountable for the absolutely baseless assertions they make about homeopathic products.”

The new regulation will make sure that customers are informed explicitly about whether the product they purchase at a pharmacy has any scientific basis. This is important because homeopathic remedies aren’t just ineffective, but they can be dangerous too. The FDA is currently investigating the deaths of 10 babies who were given homeopathic teething tablets that contained deadly nightshade.

“Consumers can’t help but be confused when snake oil is placed on the same pharmacy shelves as real science-based medicine, and they throw away billions of dollars every year on homeopathy based on its false promises,” said De Dora. “The dangers of homeopathy are very real, for when people choose these deceptive, useless products over proven, effective medicine, they risk their health and the health of their families.”

These are clear words indeed; the new regulation is bound to make a dramatic change for homeopathy in the US. The winner will undoubtedly the consumer who can no longer be so openly and shamelessly misled as before. The FTC has set an example for other national regulators who will hopefully follow suit.

This is the title of a lecture I was asked to give yesterday to an audience of palliative cancer care professionals. During the last days, I have therefore thought about the Anderson-tale quite a bit. For those who don’t know the story (is there such a person?), it is a tale about two con-men who promise the emperor new clothes which, they claim, are invisible to anyone who is incompetent or stupid. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that he is, in fact, naked. Finally, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

The story is obviously a metaphor for a scenario where something is generally accepted as being good simply because nobody has the courage or insight to oppose popular opinion – nobody except a naïve child, that is. It is a fitting tale for alternative medicine and a superb one to depict my own personal history.

It got more fascinating the more I thought about it. As a metaphor for alternative medicine it offers at least four different perspectives:

  • The quacks seem to get away with even the most obvious lies.
  • The VIP is too gullible and vain to realise that he is being done.
  • The sycophants are happy to play along because they hope to benefit from not speaking the truth.
  • The child has not yet learnt how to ‘play along’ and therefore speaks the truth without a second thought.

The parallels to the current boom in alternative medicine are, I think, so striking that I do hardly need to explain them. The parallels to my own past, however, might require some explanation.

During the last 25 years, I have met more quacks making false claims than I care to remember. Some virtually sold the emperor clothes that were non-existent. One even offered him a report that suggested that the UK’s ailing healthcare system could be saved by maximizing the use of bogus therapies, such as homeopathy, for serious illnesses – more about that in a minute.

I even once had the honour to meet the emperor, our Queen – and it is not she who I here refer to. She was not at all gullible. The emperor I mean is actually our future emperor, the Queen’s son. He has provided us with ample evidence to doubt his intelligence, and it is he who has fallen for the con-men I refer to.

The sycophants are those ‘experts’ who Charles tends to assemble around him. They do know better, I think, but they do not tell him the truth because they know that people like Charles cannot tolerate any facts that fail to confirm his views. So they duly applaud even the silliest of notions hoping to keep their place in the entourage.

And the naïve child? Yes, of course, that’s me. When I arrived in Exeter 23 years ago, I did think that I was appointed to employ science as a tool to find the truth. Once I had done the research, I shouted: “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” – metaphorically speaking, of course.

And that was something neither the emperor nor the sycophants could tolerate. When I said what had to be said about the ‘Smallwood Report’, the combined effort of the emperor and his sycophants put an end to my activities in Exeter.

Yes, in relation to alternative medicine, the story of THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES could be most interesting!

But did the palliative care experts invite me to tell it?

The more I thought about it, the more I doubted this.

Eventually, I arrived at the conclusion they wanted to hear about the evidence for or against alternative treatments for cancer. A pity really, because arguably the other aspect are much more entertaining.

 

 

A website I recently came across promised to teach me 7 things about acupuncture. This sort of thing is always of interest to me; so I read them with interest and found them so remarkable that I decided to reproduce them here:

1. Addiction recovery

Acupuncture calms and relaxes the mind making it easier for people to overcome addictions to drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol by reducing the anxiety and stress they feel when quitting.

2. Helps the body heal itself

The body contains natural pain relief chemicals, such as endorphins and has an amazing capacity for self-healing. Acupuncture helps stimulate the natural healing mechanisms and causes the body to manufacture pain relieving chemicals.

3. Builds a stronger immune system

The body’s immune system is negatively affected by stress, poor diet, illness and certain medical treatments, but acupuncture targets the underlying imbalances naturally and helps it to regain balance.

4. Eliminate that killer hangover

While it may not have been the best choice to finish off that bottle of wine, acupuncture can help the body detox and flush out the morning side effects.

5. Mood stabilizer

If you find yourself snapping at friends, family, or co-workers for unexplained reasons, acupuncture can get to the root of the problem, find the imbalance and help your body return to a healthier state of mind.

6. Chronic stomach problems

Some people suffer from stomach problems and never find the cause. Acupuncture targets your whole body, including the digestive tract and helps it to work in harmony with the rest of the body’s systems.

7. Coping with death

Grief can have an overwhelming effect on the body and manifest itself physically. Acupuncture helps reduce the anxiety of dealing with loss and help you cope with the stress.

END OF QUOTE

The ‘7 things’ are remarkably mislabelled – they should be called 7 lies! Let me explain:

  1. There are several Cochrane reviews on the subject of acupuncture for various addictions. Here are their conclusions: There is currently no evidence that auricular acupuncture is effective for the treatment of cocaine dependence. The evidence is not of high quality and is inconclusive. Further randomised trials of auricular acupuncture may be justified. There is no clear evidence that acupuncture is effective for smoking cessation.  There is currently no evidence that auricular acupuncture is effective for the treatment of cocaine dependence. The evidence is not of high quality and is inconclusive. Further randomised trials of auricular acupuncture may be justified.
  2. Even if the ‘endorphin story’ is true (in my view, it’s but a theory), there is no good evidence that acupuncture enhances our body’s self-healing mechanisms via endorphins or any other mechanism.
  3. Stronger immune system? My foot! I have no idea where this claim comes from, certainly not from anything resembling good evidence.
  4. Acupuncture for hangover or detox? This is just a stupid joke with no evidential support. I imagine, however, that it is superb marketing.
  5. The same applies to acupuncture to ‘stabilize’ your mood.
  6. Unexplained stomach problems? Go and see a doctor! Here is the conclusion of a Cochrane review related to IBS which is one of the more common unexplained stomach complaint: Sham-controlled RCTs have found no benefits of acupuncture relative to a credible sham acupuncture control for IBS symptom severity or IBS-related quality of life.
  7. I am not aware of any good evidence to show that acupuncture could ease the grieving process; I even doubt that this would be such a good or desirable thing: grieving is a necessary and essential process.

So, what we have here are essentially 7 fat lies. Yes, I know, the literature and the internet are full of them. And I suspect that they are a prominent reason why acupuncture is fairly popular today. Lies are a major marketing tool of acupuncturists – but that does not mean that we should let them get away with them!

Why?

Bogus claims may be good for the cash flow of alternative practitioners, but they are certainly not good for our health and well-being; in fact, they can cost lives!!!

IN THIS SPIRIT, LET ME ADD SEVEN THINGS YOU DO NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ACUPUNCTURE

  1. Traditional acupuncture is based on complete hocus pocus and is therefore implausible.
  2. ‘Western’ acupuncture is based on endorphin and other theories, which are little more than that and at best THEORIES.
  3. Acupuncture is often promoted as a ‘cure all’ which is implausible and not supported by evidence.
  4. Meridians, acupoints chi and all the other things acupuncturists claim to exist are pure fantasy.
  5. For a small list of symptoms, acupuncture is backed up by some evidence, but this is less than convincing and could well turn out to rely on little more than placebo.
  6. The claim of acupuncturists that acupuncture is entirely safe is false.
  7. Acupuncture studies from China cannot be trusted.

Bogus claims of alternative therapists are legion, particularly in homeopathy. But bogus claims are neither ethical nor legal. Homeopathy works for no human condition, and therefore any medical claim made for homeopathy is unethical, false, misleading and illegal.

This is not just my view (after studying the subject for more than two decades) but also that of the UK regulators. In case you doubt it, please read the full notice which the UK ‘Advertising Standards Authority’ has just published (dated 29/9/2016):

This week, our sister organisation, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Compliance team has written to homeopaths across the UK to remind them of the rules that govern what they can and can’t say in their marketing materials, including on their websites.

Homeopathy is based on the principle of treating like with like; in other words a substance which causes certain symptoms can also help remove those symptoms when it is diluted heavily in water before being consumed. Practitioners believe that this stimulates the body to heal itself. However, to date, despite having considered a body of evidence, neither us nor CAP has seen robust evidence that homeopathy works. Practitioners should therefore avoid making direct or implied claims that homeopathy can treat medical conditions.  

We have no intention of restricting the ability of practitioners to advertise legitimate and legal services, nor do we seek to restrict the right of individuals to choose treatment. However, when advertisers make claims about these products or services, in all sectors, they must hold appropriate evidence to back up those claims. If they do not, then we have a responsibility to intervene to protect consumers by ensuring that those ads are amended or withdrawn.

If you are a practicing homeopath, please ensure that you carefully read CAP’s advice and guidance. It includes a non-exhaustive list of the types of claims you can and can’t make. You will then need to make changes, as necessary, to your marketing materials, including on your website, if you have one. 

Further guidance can be found on the Society of Homeopaths’ website. We have worked closely with the Society over the course of the last year, to help them produce detailed guidance to support their members.

If you are a homeopath but have not received a letter from us, please download a copy here, together with supporting FAQs about Advertising Regulation.

I think this notice speaks for itself. All I want to add at this stage is my hope that UK homeopaths comply asap to avoid getting penalised and – much more importantly – to avoid continuing to mislead consumers.

In a recent PJ article, Michael Marshall from the ‘Good Thinking Society’ asked “WHY ON EARTH IS THE NHS SPENDING EVEN A SINGLE PENNY ON HOMEOPATHY?”. A jolly good question, given the overwhelmingly negative evidence, I thought  – but one that must be uncomfortable to homeopaths. Sure enough, a proponent of homeopathy, Jeanette Lindsay from Glasgow, has objected to Marshall’s arguments in a short comment which is a fairly typical defence of homeopathy; I therefore take the liberty of reproducing it here (the 12 references in her text were added by me and refer to my footnotes below):

I wonder if people such as Michael Marshall (The Pharmaceutical Journal 2016;297:101), who would refuse [1] patients the option of NHS homeopathic treatment, have considered the plight of people failed by evidence-based medicine ? [2] Where are those with chronic, disabling conditions to turn when the medicines available on the NHS do not work, or worse, are positively harmful? [3]

Take the instance of a woman with multiple drug allergies who has no means of treating her severe inflammatory arthritis and no suitable analgesia. [4] It has been demonstrated that disease states with immune system involvement are particularly susceptible to the placebo effect but how does one induce this? Current thinking precludes treatment with placebo medicines but it so happens that homeopathic remedies would appear, from the results of clinical trials [5], to be a good substitute. [6] Used properly, there is a good chance that in this case homeopathic treatment may achieve a real therapeutic effect. [7]

Patients who cannot tolerate allopathic [8] treatment do not just go away because they cannot take the prescribed medicine. [9] They suffer and surely deserve a better range of options [10] than those provided by the current obsession with evidence-based medicine. [11] The availability of homeopathic treatment is important and should not be denied until better alternatives become commonplace. [12]

[1] Michael Marshall does not ‘refuse’ homeopathy on the NHS; that is not in his power. He merely questions whether NHS funds should not be spent on treatments that demonstrably do more good than harm.

[2] I am sure he as carefully considered such patients.

[3] Depending on the exact circumstances, such patients have many options: for instance, they could change their physician, have their diagnosis re-considered, or try a non-drug treatment.

[4] An allergy to one drug is rarely (I would even say never) associated with allergies to all drugs for any given condition. Even if this were the case, there are several non-drug treatments for arthritis or other diseases.

[5] I think this is fantasy; there is no good evidence from clinical trials to show that homeopathy is efficacious for either inflammatory or degenerative arthritis.

[6] Is this an admission that homeopathic remedies are placebos?

[7] I am not aware of sound evidence to support this statement.

[8] ‘Allopathic’ is a derogatory term introduced by Hahnemann to defame conventional medicine.

[9] I have never seen a patient who could not tolerate any prescription medicine. I suspect this is fantasy again.

[10] Patients deserve the optimal therapy available for their conditions – that is a therapy that demonstrably generates more good than harm. Homeopathy is clearly not in this category.

[11] An obsession? Yes, perhaps it is an obsession for some dedicated healthcare professionals to provide the best possible treatments for their patients. But the way it is put here, it sounds as though this was something despicable. I would argue that such an ‘obsession’ would be most commendable.

[12] For practically all conditions, symptoms, illesses and diseases that afflict mankind, better alternatives than homeopathy have been available since about 150 years.

It seems to me that Jeanette Lindsay has been harshly disappointed by conventional medicine. Perhaps this is why, one day, she consulted a homeopath and received the empathy, understanding and compassion that she needed to get better. Many homeopaths excel at these qualities; and this is the main reason why their patients swear by them, even though their remedies are pure placebos.

My advice to such patients is: find a physician who has time, empathy and compassion. They do exist! Once you have found such a doctor, you can benefit from the compassion and empathy just as you may have benefitted from the homeopath’s compassion and empathy. But in addition to these benefits (and contrary to what you got from your homeopath), you will also be able to profit from the efficacy of the treatments prescribed.

To put it simply: homeopaths can help patients via non-specific therapeutic effects; responsible physicians can help patients via non-specific therapeutic effects plus the specific effects of the treatments they prescribe.

 

What? Holistic dentistry? Dentists drilling holes in our teeth?

No, it is something quite different; this article tries to explain it in some detail:

… holistic dentistry involves an awareness of dental care as it relates to the entire person, with the belief that patients should be provided with information to make choices to enhance their personal health and wellness…

Some of the philosophies include:

— Alternatives to amalgam/mercury fillings

— Knowing and following proper mercury removal

— Multi-disciplinary, or integrated, health care

— Nutritional and preventive therapies and temporomandibular joint disorder therapy.

Personally, I find this sounds a bit like a string of platitudes designed to lure in new customers and boost the dental business. An awareness that the mouth and its content is part of the whole body is not a philosophy; alternatives to amalgam have existed since decades and are used by ‘normal’ dentists, integrated health care is a con, nutrition is part of conventional healthcare and temporomandibular joint disorders are most certainly an issue for conventional dentistry. Perhaps another article might do a better job at explaining what ‘holistic dentistry’ is all about:

…Holistic dentistry is not considered a specialty of the dental profession, but a philosophy of practice. For those dentists who take the concept to its core, holistic dentistry includes an understanding of each patient’s total well-being, from their specific cosmetic, structural, functional, and health-related dental needs to the concerns of their total body and its wellness. Holistic dentists tend to attract very health-conscious individuals.

Some of the things holistic dentists are especially concerned about are the mercury found in traditional amalgam dental fillings, fluoride in drinking water, and the potential relationship of root canal therapy to disease in other parts of the body. Holistic dentists’ primary focus is on the underlying reasons why a person has dental concerns, and then help correct those issues by strategic changes in diet, hygiene and lifestyle habits.

Natural remedies to prevent and arrest decay and periodontal (gum) disease can also be utilized. Many holistic dentists are skilled in advanced levels of nutritional physiology and use natural means of healing patients, often avoiding the more standard use of systemic antibiotics, pain control management and surgical procedures.

This partly describes what good dentists have always done and partly it seems to be nonsense. For instance, natural remedies for tooth decay and gum disease? Really? Which remedies precisely? I know of no such treatments that are backed by sound evidence. Let me try a third quote; this one is directly from the horse’s mouth (pun intended), i. e. from a holistic dentist:

Holistic Dentistry, many times referred to today as “Biological” or “Biocompatible” Dentistry, is based on the concept that the mouth and oral structures are an integrated part of the body. It is a paradigm or a philosophy within dentistry and not a specialty.

Holistic dentistry supports your choice to live a healthier, more natural and less toxic life. We bridge the gap between conventional clinical dentistry and natural healing modalities. All holistic health care models share basic philosophical foundations. They all promote health and well being through healthful nourishment, elimination of toxins, and the promotion of physical, mental and energetic balance.

As holistic dentists we recognize that the mouth is connected to the body and that it cannot be viewed as an independent system. It is a reflection of the overall health of the body and much can be done to impact it both positively and negatively. Like many conventional dentists we first look to see if the foundation is solid. Are your gums bleeding and swollen? Is this a reflection of poor nutritional habits? Or are there signs of infection and disease? Are the teeth moving? Is there a stable bite? Can you chew comfortably on both sides of your mouth? Do you get frequent headaches? Are your teeth in harmony with your jaw joint? Are there signs of oral cancer?
The Basic Principles of Holistic Dentistry
Proper nutrition for the prevention and reversal of degenerative dental disease.
Avoidance and elimination of toxins from dental materials.
Prevention and treatment of dental malocclusion (bite problems = physical imbalance)
Prevention and treatment of gum disease at its biological basis
We check the condition of the teeth themselves. Is there more filling than tooth structure? Are the fillings made from the most non-toxic materials available? Are they supporting the bite correctly? Will they be there in five years? Is there decay? Does your diet support your oral health? Then together with our patients we formulate a plan to determine what we can do to help you achieve a stable and healthy mouth. This examination can be a first visit scenario in many dental offices.
Holistic dentists also make fillings, take x-rays and use anesthesia to numb your mouth. However we only use mercury-free white fillings. More importantly, we take extra precautions when removing your old silver fillings to minimize your exposure to mercury vapor. Why don’t we use Mercury? Mercury is one of the heavy metal toxins implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease and autism. However according to the American Dental Association, it is a safe filling material and, as recently as two years ago, the Florida board of dentistry attempted to pass legislation to prevent doctors from advertising as mercury-free dentists.

In holistic dentistry we minimize your exposure to toxic substances in every area of our work. Therefore we use a digital computer generated x-ray unit to take your x-rays which reduces your exposure to radiation by as much as 90%. We don’t advocate the indiscriminant use of fluoride in adults or children, for it is a known poison (check the label on your toothpaste tube) and a commonly used pesticide. We have installed distilled water sources in our office to minimize bacterial contamination. We research and attend courses to find the safest and most biocompatible materials available for dental work. Further, because we recognize that each individual has a different threshold of tolerance for dental materials, we sometimes suggest further testing to determine an individual’s ability to tolerate particular restorative material over long periods of time.

Ultimately you are responsible for your own health. You can choose your health care partners consciously. You can reunite with a part of your body that has been disenfranchised and polluted with toxins. You can reclaim your own unity and wholeness by taking the time to notice what goes into your mouth and how it comes out of it. Your mouth is a sacred portal through which breath, mantra and food travel in and out of your body.

See what I mean?

This is more of the same again. PHILOSOPHY? PARADIGM? REUNITE WITH DISENFRANCHISED PARTS OF THE BODY? The more I read about holistic dentistry, the more I suspect that it is the equivalent of integrative/integrated medicine: a smoke-screen for smuggling bogus treatments into conventional care, a bonanza of BS to attract gullible customers, a distraction for highjacking a few core principles from real medicine/dentistry without getting noticed, and a dubious con for maximizing income.

‘Holistic dentistry’ makes not much more sense than holistic banking, holistic hairdressing, holistic pedicure, holistic car-repair, etc., etc. Dentistry, medicine, hairdressing, etc. are either good, not so good, or bad. The term holistic as it is currently used in dentistry is just a gimmick, I am afraid.

If I am wrong, please tell me so, and explain what, in your view, ‘holistic dentistry’ means.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to enjoy food and drink to one’s heart content and, once the pounds are piling up, simply swallow a pill and the weight goes down to normal? There are plenty of such pills on the market, but here I advise you to avoid them – mainly for two reasons.

The first is that they do not work. On this blog, we have discussed this before. The claims made for weight loss supplements are bogus. The manufacturers promise substantial body weight reductions not because their product is effective but because they want your money. So, unless you want to donate your cash to quacks, don’t buy such rubbish.

The second reason is probably even more compelling: weight-loss supplements endanger your health. A new paper tells us more about their risks. This investigation was aimed at identifying banned and discouraged-use ingredients, such as ephedra, 1,3-dimethylamylamine, and beta-methyl-phenylethylamine, in readily available weight loss dietary supplements within a 10-mile radius of Regis University.

A list of banned and discouraged-use ingredients was compiled with the use of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dietary supplement website which provides information on supplement ingredients that are no longer legal or are advised against owing to adverse event reporting. Investigators visited all retail outlet stores within a 10-mile radius of Regis University in Denver, Colorado. Retail chains were not duplicated and only one of each chain was evaluated.

A total of 51 weight loss supplement products from retail stores were found with banned or discouraged-use substances listed on their labels. At least one banned ingredient was found to be listed on the product labels in 17 of the 51 studied supplements (33%). At least one discouraged-use ingredient was found in 46 of the 51 products (90%). Retail outlet stores dedicated to supplements and sports nutrition alone were found to have the greatest number of weight loss supplements that included banned and discouraged-use ingredients.

The authors of this paper draw the following conclusions: the FDA has taken action to remove some weight loss supplements from the market that contain banned ingredients. Unfortunately, based on the findings of this study, it is evident that products containing these ingredients remain on the market today.

You might think that these findings apply only to the US, however, I am afraid, you would be mistaken. People buy such bogus supplements on the Internet where national regulations can easily be circumvented. Thus the trade in weight-loss supplements is thriving regardless of what the FDA or any other regulatory agency might do about them.

The solution is simple: avoid such products!

No, I don’t want to put you off your breakfast… but you probably have seen so many pictures of attractive athletes with cupping marks and read articles about the virtues of this ancient therapy, that I feel I have to put this into perspective:

Cupping burnsI am sure you agree that this is slightly less attractive. But, undeniably, these are also cupping marks. So, if you read somewhere that this treatment is entirely harmless, take it with a pinch of salt.

Cupping has existed for centuries in most cultures, and there are several variations of the theme. We differentiate between wet and dry cupping. The above picture is of wet cupping gone wrong. What the US Olympic athletes currently seem to be so fond of is dry cupping.

The principles of both forms are similar. In dry cupping, a vacuum cup is placed over the skin which provides enough suction to create a circular bruise. Eventually the vacuum diminishes, and the cup falls off; what is left is the mark. In wet cupping, the procedure is much the same, except that the skin is injured before the cup is placed. The suction then pulls out a small amount of blood. Obviously the superficial injury can get infected, and that is what we see on the above picture.

In the homeopathic hospital where I worked ~40 years ago, we did a lot of both types of cupping. We used it mostly for musculoskeletal pain. Our patients responded well.

But why? How does cupping work?

The answer is probably more complex than you expect. It clearly has a significant placebo effect. Athletes are obviously very focussed on their body, and they are therefore the ideal placebo-responders. Evidently, my patients 40 years ago also responded to all types of placebos, even to the homeopathic placebos which they received ‘en masse’.

But there might be other mechanisms as well. A TCM practitioner will probably tell you that cupping unblocks the energy flow in our body. This might sound very attractive to athletes or consumers, and therefore could even enhance the placebo response, but it is nevertheless nonsense.

The most plausible mode of action is ‘counter-irritation’: if you have a pain somewhere, a second pain elsewhere in your body can erase the original pain. You might have a headache, for instance, and if you accidentally hit your thumb with a hammer, the headache is gone, at least for a while. Cupping too would cause mild to moderate pain, and this is a distraction from the muscular pain the athletes aim to alleviate.

When I employed cupping 40 years ago, there was no scientific evidence testing its effects. Since a few years, however, clinical trials have started appearing. Many are from China, and I should mention that TCM studies from China almost never report a negative result. According to the Chinese, TCM (including cupping) works for everything. More recently,also some trials from other parts of the world have emerged. They have in common with the Chinese studies that they tend to report positive findings and that they are of very poor quality. (One such trial has been discussed previously on this blog.) In essence, this means that we should not rely on their conclusions.

A further problem with clinical trails of cupping is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to control for the significant placebo effects that this treatment undoubtedly generates. There is no placebo that could mimic all the features of real cupping in clinical trials; and there is no easy way to blind either the patient or the therapist.

So, we are left with an ancient treatment backed by a host of recent but flimsy studies and a growing craze for cupping fuelled by the Olympic games. What can one conclude in such a situation?

Personally, I would, whenever possible, recommend treatments that work beyond a placebo effect, because the placebo response tends to be unreliable and is usually of short duration – and I am not at all sure that cupping belongs into this category. I would also avoid wet cupping, because it can cause substantial harm. Finally, I would try to keep healthcare costs down; cupping itself is cheap but the therapist’s time might be expensive.

In a nutshell: would I recommend cupping? No, not any more than using a hammer for counter irritation! Will the Olympic athletes care a hoot about my recommendations? No, probably not!

 

We have discussed the subject of urine therapy before. And, as I did then, I again apologise for the vulgar title of my post – but it describes urine therapy just perfectly. My new post is based on what I recently found on a website that is entirely devoted to this strange form of treatment:

Around 4 am, workers at the Keeshav Shrusti Go Shaala at Bhayander, in India, head to the tabelas (cow sheds) to collect the first urine of their 230 cows. They collect 200 litres of gomutra (cow urine), which is then sent to a production unit where it is filtered, bottled and then shipped across the country to be sold at high prices.

The popularity of alternative medicine and a back-to-nature rush has meant that those seeking gomutra as the cure for all ailments — it is touted as a cure for cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, psoriasis among others — has spurred a rise of gomutra products in the Indian market.

A year ago the Indian ‘Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’ even initiated projects to study the anti-cancer and anti-infection properties of various cow products including cow urine and dung. Last September, Maa Gou Products (MGP) approached BigBasket to distribute its range of cow-urine based products, ranging from floor cleaner, tooth powder, balm and face pack.

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Today there are several sites that have been set up specifically to sell cow products. For instance, the one-year-old vendor portal www.gaukranti.org. The site, which retails a range of products, gets 40 per cent of its revenue from cow urine.

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But, not all cow urine bottles are the same or tout the same solutions. Some are used as cleansers; Mumbaikars will recall the Kandivli ccorporator who suggested that KEM Hospital be cleansed daily with cow urine. Some others are meant specifically for weight loss.

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GoArk, for instance, is a weight loss product made by boiling cow urine in an iron pot to which a vapour condensing device is attached. The main difference lies in the source of the cows. Goseva GoArk is prepared from the GIR cow’s urine and GouGanga is from mixed Indian breeds. Bos Indicus, the breed indigenous to the subcontinent, is to be preferred. One expert explains: “foreign breeds such as the Jersey cow have been subjected to genetic modification.” He says that once the gomutra is collected it is filtered around eight times through a piece of cotton cloth. The distillation process, he says, helps ensure that there is no ammonia so that the shelf life is increased. Typically, it’s good to be used up to two years after bottling. The demand for gomutra — whether as a medicine, a face pack or a floor cleanser — is now rising beyond India. There even have been inquiries from the UK, US, Australia and even Arabic countries.

So, watch this space!

 

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