Yes, it’s a new buzz-word in the realm of alternative medicine – actually, not so new; it’s been around for years and seems to attract charlatans of all imaginable types.
But what precisely is it?
The authors of this paper explain: “While the concept of wellness is still evolving, it is generally recognized that wellness is a holistic concept best represented as a continuum, with sickness, premature death, disability, and reactive approaches to health on one side and high-level wellness, enhanced health, and proactive approaches to health and well-being on the other. It is further acknowledged that wellness is multidimensional and includes physiologic, psychological, social, ecologic, and economic dimensions. These multiple dimensions make wellness difficult to accurately assess as multiple subjective and objective measures are required to account for the different dimensions. Thus, the assessment of wellness in individuals may include a variety of factors, including assessment of physiologic functioning, anthropometry, happiness, depression, anxiety, mood, sleep, health symptoms, toxic load, neurocognitive function, socioeconomic status, social connectivity, and perceived self-efficacy.”
Sounds a bit woolly?
I agree! It sounds like a gimmick for getting at the cash of the gullible public.
Is there money to be made with ‘wellness’?
For instance, with so-called ‘wellness retreats’.
Wellness retreats are all the rage. They use all sorts of bogus therapies within luxurious holiday settings for the ‘well to do’ end of our societies.
But is there any science behind this approach?
Few studies have evaluated the effect of retreat experiences, and no published studies have reported health outcomes. The objective of this new study therefore was to assess the effect of a week-long wellness-retreat experience in wellness tourists. The study was designed as a longitudinal observational study without a control group. Outcomes were assessed upon arrival and departure and 6 weeks after the retreat. The intervention was a ‘holistic, 1-week, residential, retreat experience that included many educational, therapeutic, and leisure activities and an organic, mostly plant-based diet’.
The outcome measures included anthropometric measures, urinary pesticide metabolites, a food and health symptom questionnaire, the Five Factor Wellness Inventory, the General Self Efficacy questionnaire, the Pittsburgh Insomnia Rating Scale, the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale, the Profile of Mood States, and the Cogstate cognitive function test battery.
Statistically significant improvements were seen in almost all measures after 1 week. Many of these improvements were also sustained at 6 weeks. There were statistically significant improvements in all anthropometric measures after 1 week, with reductions in abdominal girth, weight, and average systolic and diastolic pressure. Statistically significant improvements were also noted in psychological and health symptom measures. Urinary pesticide metabolites were detected in pooled urine samples before the retreat and were undetectable after the retreat.
The authors concluded that “the retreat experiences can lead to substantial improvements in multiple dimensions of health and well-being that are maintained for 6 weeks. Further research that includes objective biomarkers and economic measures in different populations is required to determine the mechanisms of these effects and assess the value and relevance of retreat experiences to clinicians and health insurers.”
IS THIS GOOD OR BAD RESEARCH?
Let’s apply my checklist from the previous post:
- published in one of the many dodgy CAM journals? YES
- single author? NO
- authors are known to be proponents of the treatment tested? YES
- author has previously published only positive studies of the therapy in question? YES
- lack of plausible rationale for the study? YES
- lack of plausible rationale for the therapy that is being tested? YES
- stated aim of the study is ‘to demonstrate the effectiveness of…’ ? NO
- stated aim ‘to establish the effectiveness AND SAFETY of…’? NO
- text full of mistakes, e. g. spelling, grammar, etc.? NO
- sample size is tiny? YES
- pilot study reporting anything other than the feasibility of a definitive trial? NO
- methods not described in sufficient detail? YES
- mismatch between aim, method, and conclusions of the study? YES
- results presented only as a graph? NO
- statistical approach inadequate or not sufficiently detailed? NO
- discussion without critical input? NO
- lack of disclosures of ethics, funding or conflicts of interest? NO
- conclusions which are not based on the results? YES
To me, this rough and ready assessment indicates that there are too many warning signals for characterising this as a rigorous study. It looks a lot like pseudo-science, I fear.
But these are at best formal markers. More important is the fact that the whole idea of measuring the effects of a ‘wellness retreat’ makes little sense, particularly in the absence of a control group. If we take a few people out of their usual, stressful work-environment and put them into a nice and luxurious holiday atmosphere where they get papered, eat better food, exercise more, sleep better and relax a lot – what would we expect after one week?
Yes, precisely! We would expect that almost anything measurable has changed for the better!
In fact, this result is so predictable that it is hardly worth documenting. Crucially, the outcome has very little to do with wellness, holism, or alternative medicine.
My conclusion: wellness not only attracts charlatans, entrepreneurs and windbags, it also is firmly steeped in pseudoscience.
I did not think that I would be able to write a blog-post today; I was too shocked with the news from America – but now I find myself doing not one but two posts on this sad day. The reason is NATURAL NEWS; they reported well over a year ago that “Donald Trump is more holistic and health oriented than Hillary Clinton.” Here is what they stated:
…What has catapulted Trump to the top of GOP polls? His frank, honest – and admittedly blunt – discussion about illegal immigrants, many of whom he correctly noted were criminals: Rapists, murderers and gang thugs…
But Trump has also distinguished himself from the favored Democratic presidential contender, Hillary Clinton, the latter of whom is having so much difficulty connecting with the party’s progressive base she needs constant re-launches of her campaign just to remain relevant.
For one, “The Donald”, as NaturalNews has reported is a consumer of organic food. His daughter, Ivanka, has said that the whole family consumes mostly fresh, organic meals which she often prepares herself.
In addition, Trump’s children help oversee foods served at the family hotels – meals that include vegan, organic and gluten-free in-room dining choices. And when it can, the hotel chain obtains locally-grown organic foods as a way of giving back to the communities they serve. The family’s diet even has a name: The Trump Wellness Plan, which fits with Trump’s overall health and fitness lifestyle.
As we reported:
For example, a known golf lover, Trump says it’s an ideal way to diminish stress and ponder business tasks while walking. He says, “I find it opens my mind to new possibilities, and I can problem-solve very effectively while I’m on the golf course.”
Clinton, meanwhile, is a Monsanto sycophant and GMO devotee, eschewing the organic, non-genetically modified lifestyle in pursuit of campaign contributions.
In fact, her touting of GMOs and support for the world’s most evil biotech giant is costing her support, at least in early primary states like Iowa. As noted by the Washington Times, some have even dubbed her the “Bride of Frankenfood.”…
END OF QUOTE
Presumably, this is why the scientifically illiterate Trump is concerned about vaccinations – they are not natural, a bit like Frankenfood, he probably feels. He once tweeted: Massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism…. More on Trump’s attitude on vaccinations can be found in David Gorski’s excellent article on the subject.
And this may also explain why Trump is involved in a multi-level marketing (MLM) company selling ‘natural’ nutritional supplements and weight loss products. The full story by Britt Marie Hermes is here.
Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, does not seem to be much better: he doesn’t believe that smoking causes cancer. Either that, or he has been paid to claim that cigarettes, although “not good for you,” don’t kill. More on this one can be found here.
Together the two will get rid of ‘Obama-Care’ and replace it with…? Yes, with what? With vitamin pills, cigarettes and anti-vaxx propaganda?
It looks as though we are in for a rough ride!
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?|
|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.
This is your occasion to meet some of the most influential and progressive people in health care today! An occasion too good to be missed! The future of medicine is integrated – we all know that, of course. Here you can learn some of the key messages and techniques from the horses’ mouths. Book now before the last places have gone; at £300, this is a bargain!!!
The COLLEGE OF MEDICINE announced the event with the following words:
This two-day course led by Professor David Peters and Dr Michael Dixon will provide an introduction to integrated health and care. It is open to all clinicians but should be particularly helpful for GPs and nurses, who are interested in looking beyond the conventional biomedical box.
The course will include sessions on lifestyle approaches, social prescribing, mind/body therapies and cover most mainstream complementary therapies.
The aim of the course will be to demonstrate our healing potential beyond prescribing and referral, to provide information that will be useful in discussing non-conventional treatment options with patients and to teach some basic skills that can be used in clinical practice. The latter will include breathing techniques, basic manipulation and acupuncture, mind/body therapies including self-hypnosis and a limited range of herbal remedies. There will also be an opportunity to discuss how those attending might begin to integrate their everyday clinical practice.
The course will qualify for Continuing Professional Development hours and can provide a first stage towards a Fellowship of the College.
Both Dixon and Peters have been featured on this blog before. I have also commented regularly on the wonders of integrated (or was it integrative?) medicine. And I have even blogged about the College of Medicine and what it stands for. So readers of this blog know about the players as well as the issues for this event. Now it surely must be time to learn more from those who are much better placed than I to teach about bogus claims, phoney theories and unethical practices.
What are you waiting for? Book now – they would love to have a few rationalists in the audience, I am sure.
Prince Charles’s car has been involved in a collision with a deer in the area around Balmoral, THE GUARDIAN reported. Charles remained uninjured but shaken by the incident. The condition of the deer is unknown but might be much worse. The Prince’s Audi was damaged in the collision at the Queen’s Aberdeenshire estate and sent away for repairs. A spokesman for Clarence House declined to comment on the crash.
This is the story roughly as it was reported a few days ago. It is hardly earth-shattering, one might even say that it is barely news-worthy. Therefore, I thought I might sex it up a little by adding some more fascinating bits to it – pure fantasy, of course, but news-stories have been known to get embellished now and then, haven’t they?
Here we go:
As the papers rightly state, Charles was ‘shaken’, and such an acute loss of Royal well-being cannot, of course, be tolerated. This is why his aids decided to make an urgent telephone call to his team of homeopaths in order to obtain professional and responsible advice as to how to deal with this precarious situation. This homeopathic team discussed the case for about an hour and subsequently issued the following consensual and holistic advice:
- Scrape some hair or other tissue of the deer from the damaged car.
- Put it in an alcohol/water mixture.
- Take one drop of the ‘mother tincture’ and put it in 99 drops of water.
- Shake vigorously by banging the container on a leather-bound bible.
- Take one drop of the resultant mixture and put it in 99 drops of water.
- Shake vigorously by banging the container on a leather-bound bible.
- Repeat this procedure a total of 30 times.
- This generates the desired C30 remedy.
- Administer 10 drops of it to the Prince by mouth.
- Repeat the dose every two hours until symptoms subside.
The Prince’s loyal aids followed these instructions punctiliously, and after 24 hours the Prince’s anxiety had all but disappeared. Upon hearing the good news, the homeopaths were delighted and instructed to discontinue the ‘rather potent’ remedy. Now they plan to publish the case in Peter Fisher’s journal ‘Homeopathy’.
The Prince showed himself even more delighted and told a reporter that he “had always known how incredibly powerful homeopathy is.” He added that he has already written to Health Secretary Hunt about homeopathy on the NHS, “it is high time that the NHS employs more homeopathy”, Charles said, “it would save us all a lot of money and might even solve the NHS’s current financial problems with one single stroke.”
The Faculty of Homeopathy is preparing a statement about this event, and the homeopathic pharmacy Ainsworth allegedly is considering marketing a new range of remedies called ROADKILL. The Society of Homeopaths feels somewhat left out but stated that “homeopathy is very powerful and should really be in the hands of professional homeopaths.” A group of homeopathic vets declared that they could have saved the deer, if they had had access to the animal and added “homeopathy works in animals, and therefore it cannot be a placebo.”
Everyone at Balmoral and beyond seems reasonably happy (perhaps not the deer). However, this does not include the local car mechanics charged with the repair of the Audi. They were reported to lack empathy and knowledge about ‘integrative, holistic body work’. Their opposition to following orders went as far as refusing to repair the car according to homeopathic principles: sprinkling ‘Deer C30’, as the new remedy is now called, on the car’s bonnet.
WARNING: THIS MIGHT MAKE YOU LAUGH OUT LOUDLY AND UNCONTROLLABLY.
Deepak Chopra rarely publishes in medical journals (I suppose, he has better things to do). I was therefore intrigued when I saw a recent article of which he is a co-author.
The ‘study‘ in question allegedly examined the effects of a comprehensive residential mind–body program on well-being. The authors describe it as “a quasi-randomized trial comparing the effects of participation in a 6-day Ayurvedic system of medicine-based comprehensive residential program with a 6-day residential vacation at the same retreat location.” They included 69 healthy women and men who received the Ayurvedic intervention addressing physical and emotional well-being through group meditation and yoga, massage, diet, adaptogenic herbs, lectures, and journaling. Key components of the program include physical cleansing through ingestion of herbs, fiber, and oils that support the body’s natural detoxification pathways and facilitate healthy elimination; two Ayurvedic meals daily (breakfast and lunch) that provide a light plant-based diet; daily Ayurvedic oil massage treatments; and heating treatments through the use of sauna and/or steam. The program includes lectures on Ayurvedic principles and lifestyle as well as lectures on meditation and yoga philosophy. The study group also participated in twice-daily group meditation and daily yoga and practiced breathing exercises (pranayama) as well as emotional expression through a process of journaling and emotional support. During the program, participants received a 1-hour integrative medical consultation with a physician and follow-up with an Ayurvedic health educator.
The control group simply had a vacation without any of the above therapies in the same resort. They were asked to do what they would normally do on a resort vacation with the additional following restrictions: they were asked not to engage in more exercise than they would in their normal lifestyle and to refrain from using La Costa Resort spa services. They were also asked not to drink ginger tea or take Gingko biloba during the 2 days before and during the study week.
Recruitment was via email announcements on the University of California San Diego faculty and staff and Chopra Center for Wellbeing list-servers. Study flyers stated that the week-long Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative (SBTI) study would be conducted at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, located at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California, in order to learn more about the psychosocial and physiologic effects of the 6-day Perfect Health (PH) Program compared with a 6-day stay at the La Costa Resort. The study participants were not blinded, and site investigators and study personnel knew to which group participants were assigned.
Participants in the Ayurvedic program showed significant and sustained increases in ratings of spirituality and gratitude compared with the vacation group, which showed no change. The Ayurvedic participants also showed increased ratings for self-compassion as well as less anxiety at the 1-month follow-up.
The authors arrived at the following conclusion: Findings suggest that a short-term intensive program providing holistic instruction and experience in mind–body healing practices can lead to significant and sustained increases in perceived well-being and that relaxation alone is not enough to improve certain aspects of well-being.
This ‘study’ had ethical approval from the University of California San Diego and was supported by the Fred Foundation, the MCJ Amelior Foundation, the National Philanthropic Trust, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Chopra Foundation. The paper’s first author is director of research at the Chopra Foundation. Deepak Chopra is the co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing.
Did I promise too much?
Isn’t this paper hilarious?
Just for the record, let me formulate a short conclusion that actually fits the data from this ‘study’: Lots of TLC, attention and empathy does make some people feel better.
This is hardly something one needs to write home about; and certainly nothing to do a study on!
But which journal would publish such unadulterated advertising?
On this blog, I have mentioned the JACM several times before. Recently, I wrote about the new man in charge of it. I concluded stating WATCH THIS SPACE.
I think the wait is now over – this paper is from the latest issue of the JACM, and I am sure we all agree that the new editor has just shown us of what he is made and where he wants to take his journal.
Just as I thought that this cannot get any better, it did! It did so in the form of a second paper which is evidently reporting from the same ‘study’. Here is its abstract unaltered in its full beauty:
The effects of integrative medicine practices such as meditation and Ayurveda on human physiology are not fully understood. The aim of this study was to identify altered metabolomic profiles following an Ayurveda-based intervention. In the experimental group, 65 healthy male and female subjects participated in a 6-day Panchakarma-based Ayurvedic intervention which included herbs, vegetarian diet, meditation, yoga, and massage. A set of 12 plasma phosphatidylcholines decreased (adjusted p < 0.01) post-intervention in the experimental (n = 65) compared to control group (n = 54) after Bonferroni correction for multiple testing; within these compounds, the phosphatidylcholine with the greatest decrease in abundance was PC ae C36:4 (delta = -0.34). Application of a 10% FDR revealed an additional 57 metabolites that were differentially abundant between groups. Pathway analysis suggests that the intervention results in changes in metabolites across many pathways such as phospholipid biosynthesis, choline metabolism, and lipoprotein metabolism. The observed plasma metabolomic alterations may reflect a Panchakarma-induced modulation of metabotypes. Panchakarma promoted statistically significant changes in plasma levels of phosphatidylcholines, sphingomyelins and others in just 6 days. Forthcoming studies that integrate metabolomics with genomic, microbiome and physiological parameters may facilitate a broader systems-level understanding and mechanistic insights into these integrative practices that are employed to promote health and well-being.
Now that I managed to stop laughing about the first paper, I am not just amused but also puzzled by the amount of contradictions the second article seems to cause. Were there 65 or 69 individuals in the experimental group? Was the study randomised, quasi-randomised or not randomised? All of these versions are implied at different parts of the articles. It turns out that they randomised some patients, while allocating others without randomisation – and this clearly means the study was NOT randomised. Was the aim of the study ‘to identify altered metabolomic profiles following an Ayurveda-based intervention’ or ‘to examine the effects of a comprehensive residential mind–body program on well-being’?
I am sure that others will find further contradictions and implausibilites, if they look hard enough.
The funniest inconsistency, in my opinion, is that Deepak Chopra does not even seem to be sure to which university department he belongs. Is it the ‘Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA.’ as indicated in the 1st paper or is it the ‘Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA’ as listed in the 2nd article?
Does he know from which planet he is?
In part one, we have dealt with three common tricks used by quacks to convince the public to consult them and to keep coming back for more. It has been pointed out to me that some of these tricks are used not just by alternative practitioners but also by real physicians. This is, of course, absolutely true. A quack can be defined as “a person who dishonestly claims to have special knowledge and skill in some field, typically medicine.” Therefore real doctors can be real quacks, of course. I happen to have an interest mainly in alternative medicine; that’s why I write about these type of quacks (if it helps keeping you blood pressure within the limits of normal, I can tell you that I occasionally also published about quackery in mainstream medicine, for instance here).
Anyway, now it is time to continue this series of posts by discussing three further common deceptions used by quacks.
A CURE TAKES A LONG TIME
Imagine a scenario where, even after, several therapy sessions, a patient’s condition has not improved. Let’s assume the problem is back pain, and that it has not improved a bit despite the treatments and the money spent on it. Surely, many patients in such a situation are sooner or later going to give up. They will have had enough! And this is, of course, a serious threat to the practitioner’s cash flow.
Luckily, there is a popular ploy to minimize the risk: the practitioner merely has to explain that the patient’s condition has been going on for a very long time (if, in the above scenario, this were not the case, the practitioner would explain that the pain might be relatively recent but the underlying condition is chronic). This means that a cure will also have to take a very long time – after all, Rome was not built in one day!
This plea to carry on with the ineffective treatments despite any improvement of symptoms is usually not justifiable on medical grounds. It is, however, entirely justifiable on the basis of financial considerations of the practitioners. They rely on their patients’ regular payments and will therefore think of all sorts of means to achieve this aim.
Take my advice and see a clinician who can help you within a reasonable and predictable amount of time.
IT’S DUE TO THE POISONS YOUR DOCTOR GAVE YOU
In the pursuit of a healthy cash-flow, almost all means seem to be allowed – even the fabrication of the bogus notion that the reasons for the patient’s problem were the poisonous drugs prescribed by her doctor who, of course, is in cahoots with BIG PHARMA. Alternative medicine thrives on conspiracy theories, and the one of the evil ‘medical mafia’ is one of the all-time favourites. It enables scrupulous practitioners to instil a good dose of fear into the minds of their patients, a fear that minimises the risk of them returning to real medicine.
My advice is that alternative practitioners who habitually use this or any other conspiracy theory should be avoided at all costs.
The notion that alternative medicine takes care of the whole person is a most attractive and powerful ploy. Never mind that nothing could be further from being holistic than, for instance, diagnosing conditions by looking at a patient’s iris (iridology), or focussing on her spine (chiropractic, osteopathy), or massaging the soles of her feet (reflexology). And never mind that any type of good conventional medicine is by definition holistic. What counts is the label, and ‘holistic’ is a most desirable one, indeed. Nothing sells quackery better than holism.
Most alternative practitioners call themselves holistic and they rub the holism into the minds of their patients whenever and however they can. This insistence on holism has the added advantage that they have seemingly plausible excuses for their therapeutic failures.
Imagine a patient consulting a practitioner with depression and, even after prolonged treatment, her condition is unchanged. Even in such a situation, the holistic practitioner does not need to despair: he will point out that he never treats diagnostic labels but always the whole person. Therefore, the patient’s depression might not have changed, but surely other issues have improved… and, if the patient introspects a little, she might find that her appetite has improved, that her indigestion is better, or that her tennis elbow is less painful (some things always change given enough time). The holism of quacks may be a false pretence, but its benefits for the practitioner are obvious.
My advice: take holism from quacks with a pinch of salt.
I have previously reported about the issue of homeopathy on the NHS in Liverpool here. Since then, the NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has conducted a consultation on whether to continue funding. Personally, I think such polls are a daft waste of resources.
I will explain in a moment; first read the (slightly shortened) summary:
In November 2015, NHS Liverpool CCG Governing Body stated a preference to decommission the homeopathy service and commenced the consultation exercise with the intent to ascertain how the public felt about it. This report was written by the Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, and includes independent analysis of the consultation activities.
The consultation ran from 13th November – 22nd December 2015. The two main methods used were 1) a survey available online and in paper format. It was completed by 743 individual respondents and, of those who provided a valid postcode, 68% (323 individuals) lived within the Liverpool CCG area, 2) a small consultation event held on 4th December 2015 facilitated by Liverpool John Moores University. The event was attended by 29 individuals, the majority of whom were patients and staff from the Liverpool Medical Homeopathic Service. Eighteen of the participants at this event resided in Liverpool.
Two thirds of survey respondents (66%; 380 respondents) said they would never use homeopathy services in the future. The reasons for this included the lack of evidence and scientific basis of homeopathy; negative personal experiences of homeopathy; and believing it was an inappropriate use of NHS funding. Those who would be likely to use it in the future (28%) felt they wanted to be able to choose an alternative to conventional medicine; felt it was value for money for the NHS; appreciated the time, care and holistic consultation; and discussed their own positive experiences. Sixty six per cent of survey respondents (111) who had used homeopathy in the past reported an excellent or good experience. Those who reported a positive experience (66%) felt that homeopathy had improved their health where conventional medicine had not, and participants valued that the homeopathic practitioner had treated their emotional as well as their physical needs. Those who reported a below average or poor experience (31%) felt homeopathy had not improved their medical condition and some felt they had been misled and had not been told the remedy contained no active ingredients.
At the consultation event, the majority of the 29 participants were homeopathy service users and they described a positive experience of homeopathy and the ability to choose ‘holistic’ and non-pharmaceutical treatment. Participants also questioned what services they could use if they were unable to access homeopathy on the NHS and were concerned and angry about the service potentially being decommissioned. A small number of participants at this event agreed with the view that there is a lack of evidence regarding efficacy and felt it was an inappropriate use of NHS funds that would be better spent on other, more effective services.
Of the survey respondents, 73% (541 individuals) chose the option to stop funding all homeopathy services; when including only Liverpool residents in the analysis this decreased to 64%. Twenty three per cent of survey respondents (170 individuals) wanted to continue to fund homeopathy services in Liverpool (either at current levels or to increase the budget); when only including Liverpool residents this proportion increased slightly to 30%. At the end of the consultation event the participants in the room (29 individuals) were asked to vote on their preferred funding option; twenty two participants (76%) wanted to continue the service and increase the maximum funding limit; three participants (14%) wanted to stay with the current situation and three participants (10%) wanted to stop funding the service.
There was some tension in what those in the consultation saw as acceptable and appropriate evidence about the effectiveness of homeopathy. Many participants in the survey and at the event reported their positive experience or anecdotal evidence as “proof” that homeopathy is effective. There was a low understanding about how scientific research is conducted or evaluated. The NHS try to base funding decisions on rigorous, high-quality, unbiased, peer-reviewed research, however, the CCG is required to account of all evidence, including patient experience, when funding or discontinuing services.
Across the survey and the consultation event there was some confusion about what types of treatment come under the heading of “homeopathy”, with participants making reference to a range of herbal remedies and supplements. Iscador (a mistletoe extract) may be, in some cases, provided as a complementary treatment for patients with cancer, however, this is not a homeopathic remedy. There was also discussion (in the event and in the survey responses) about other herbal remedies and supplements.
END OF SUMMARY
So, why do I not think highly about exercises of this kind?
In general, surveys are tricky and often very dodgy research tools. Particularly in alternative medicine, they are as popular as they are useless. The potential problems arise from the way the methodology is often applied. For instance, sampling is crucial. If, like in the present case, no rigorous sampling techniques are applied, the results will inevitably be unreliable in reflecting the views of a population.
The findings of the survey above could easily be little more than a reflection of which camp had a better PR. Homeopaths usually are very good on such occasions at persuading others for homeopathy. In this case, the results show that, despite their best efforts, the overall vote was not positive for homeopathy. What we don’t know is whether this is a reflection on the ‘will of the people’. It could be that the public is much more against funding nonsense than this poll suggests.
I would also argue that letting people vote about the availability of medical interventions is nonsensical. The value of healthcare technologies is not determined by such ‘beauty contests’; the value depends on the scientific evidence, and that is not readily evaluated by non-experts. Imagine: next we might vote for or against bone-marrow transplants; who has the expertise to cast such a vote?
Oh yes, and the ‘small consultation’ – what was that supposed to be. Probably just an exercise in political correctness. Nobody in their right mind can have expected any meaningful insight coming from it.
Finally, I dispute that ‘patients’ experience’ is the same as ‘evidence’, as the summary above seems to claim. This is just nonsense. evidence is something entirely different from experience.
But politicians will disregard all this. They will say ‘the public has decided’ and will stop funding homeopathy on the NHS in Liverpool. More by coincidence than by design, this survey went into the right direction. Now one can only hope that the rest of the country will follow suit – on evidence, not on dodgy pseudo-evidence from surveys.
On this blog, I have repeatedly tried to explain why integrative (or integrated) medicine is such a deceptive nonsense; see for instance here, here and here. Today, I have reason to make another attempt: The International Congress on Integrative Medicine & Health.
In 2012, I published an analysis of the ‘3rd European Congress of Integrated Medicine’ which had taken place in December 2010 in Berlin (in Europe they call it ‘integrated’ and in the US ‘integrative’ medicine). For this purpose, I simply read all the 222 abstracts and labelled them according to their contents. The results showed that the vast majority were on unproven alternative therapies and none on conventional treatments.
The abstracts from the International Congress on Integrative Medicine & Health (ICIMH, Green Valley Ranch Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, May 17–20, 2016) which were just published provide me with the opportunity to check whether this situation has changed. There were around 400 abstracts, and I did essentially the same type of analysis (attributing one subject area to each abstract). And what a tedious task this was! I spotted just two articles of interest, and will report about them shortly.
This time I also assessed whether the conclusions of each paper were positive (expressing something favourable about the subject at hand), negative (expressing something negative about the subject at hand) or neither of the two (surveys, for instance, rarely show positive or negative results).
Here are the results: mind-body therapies were the top subject with 49 papers, followed by acupuncture (44), herbal medicine (37), integrative medicine (36), chiropractic and other manual therapies (26), TCM (19), methodological issues (16), animal and other pre-clinical investigations (15) and Tai Chi (5). The rest of the abstracts were on a diverse array of other subjects. There was not a single paper on a conventional therapy and only 4 focussed on risk assessments.
The 36 articles on integrative medicine deserve perhaps a special mention. The majority of these papers were about using alternative therapies as an add-on to conventional care. They focussed on the alternative therapies used and usually concluded that this ‘integration’ was followed by good results. None of these papers discussed integrative medicine and its assumptions critically, and none of these investigations cast any doubt about the assumption that integrative medicine is a positive thing.
I should also mention that my attributions of the subject areas were not always straight forward. I allowed myself only one subject per paper, but there were, of course, many that could be categorised in more than one subject area ( for instance, a paper on an herbal medicine might be in that category, or in TCM or in pre-clinical). So I tried to attribute the subject that seemed to dominate the abstract in question.
My analysis according to the direction of the conclusions was equally revealing: I categorised 260 papers as positive, 5 as negative and 116 as neither of the two. That means for every negative result there were 52 positive ones. I find this most remarkable.
Essentially, my two analyses of conference abstracts published 6 years apart show the same phenomenon: on the ‘scientific level’, integrative medicine is not about the ‘best of both worlds’ (i. e. the best alternative medicine has to offer integrated with the best conventional medicine offers) – the slogan by which advocates of integrative medicine usually try to ‘sell’ their dubious approach to us. It is almost exclusively about alternative therapies which advocates of integrative medicine aim to smuggle into mainstream healthcare. Critical analysis seems to be unwelcome in this area, and – perhaps worse of all – in the last 6 years, there does not seem to have been any improvement.
And that’s just on the ‘scientific level’, as I said. If you wonder what is happening on the ‘practical level’, you will find that, in the realm of integrative medicine, every quackery under the sun is being promoted at often exorbitant prices to the often gullible and always unsuspecting public. If you don’t believe me, search for ‘integrative medicine clinic’ on the Internet; I promise, you will be surprised!
Personally, I am sometimes amused by the sheer idiocy of all this, but more often I am enraged and ask myself:
- Why are we allowing quackery to make such a spectacular come-back?
- Why is hardly anyone voicing strong objections?
- Is it not our ethical duty to do something about it and try to prevent the worse?
One argument I hear over and over again; it could be called ‘the fallacy of the benign placebo’ and goes like this:
- Alright, I accept that the evidence for xy isn’t brilliant.
- I might even accept it is a pure placebo therapy.
- But that is not important.
- What counts is that it helps suffering patients.
- Who cares about the mechanism?
- As long as a therapy can be shown to be helpful, we should use it!
I am sure you agree, this fallacy is extremely common. What is more, it is damn difficult to argue against. Whatever I used to counter, people would look at me in disbelief thinking: those scientists really sit in their ivory towers and haven’t got a clue about the real issues.
In my frustration of not getting through to many people, I have now thought of THE TELLING TALE OF THE PLACEBO BANKER.
Allow me to explain:
Imagine you are in real difficulties. You lost your job, your wife is ill, your children need feeding, the bills are stacking up – in a word, you need a loan to survive the next few months until things are sorted out.
Luckily, you know a very nice chap who is in charge of your local bank and who has a reputation of trying his utmost to help clients in need. So, you make an appointment and see him. He listens attentively and shows compassion for your situation. He gives you all the time to explain things in full detail and then re-assures you that there is hope: he will help you! At the end of the consultation you leave his office feeling well and optimistic. You even have in your hands a tidy amount of money that will get you through this bad patch. All is fine…because you have seen a real banker who knows his job in such situations consists mainly of two things:
- be kind, listen with empathy and give assurance that makes customers feel good,
- give the necessary credit.
- show compassion and empathy,
- prescribe an effective treatment.
Now, imagine you are in dire straights again. This time you go to a different banker, someone who has the reputation to be even kinder and more ‘holistic’. The consultation proceeds much as the last one. The banker listens, offers help and shows compassion. If anything, this new chap is even better at this task. He is more understanding than the last one, he even explains why you got into difficulties, and he has a full hour just to talk with you. Consequently, you feel really good about the whole thing, and you are happy as he gives you an envelope full of money that will assist you solving your current problems. You go home and feel great…until, three days later, you need to pay your first bill, open the envelope and discover that it contains plenty of notes, but they are all Monopoly money. You discover that you have become the victim of THE PLACEBO BANKER.
The placebo banker is, of course, akin to the placebo therapist who can do little more than:
- show compassion and empathy,
- dish out placebos.
I know, the analogy is not perfect but is explains the fallacy a bit, I hope.
Good banking consists of courteous behaviour and adequate financial assistance.
Good medicine consists of compassion and effective treatments.
If one of the two essential elements is missing, neither the banking nor the medicine can be good or ethical.