MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

medical ethics

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The NHMRC report on homeopathy is the most thorough, independent and reliable investigation into the value of homeopathy ever. As its conclusions are devastatingly negative about the value of homeopathy, it is hardly surprising that homeopaths tried everything and anything to undermine it. This new article gives what I believe to be a fair account of the allegations and their validity:

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Since the NHMRC declared homeopathy to be ineffective in treating any health condition, a number of disputes have been made by major organisations in favour of homeopathy. Australia’s two peak industry organisations, Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) and the AHA, both argue in their letters to the NHRMC that the position was prejudiced based on a draft position statement leaked in 2012 stating it is unethical for health practitioners to treat patients using homeopathy, for the reason that homeopathy (as a medicine or procedure) has been shown not to be efficacious [19,20]. Furthermore, both the CMA and AHA highlight serious concerns regarding the prelude to and instigation of the work of the NHMRC’s HWC as well as the conduct of the review itself to finalise their conclusion on the use of homeopathy. Several grave issues were raised in both letters with five common key flaws cited: (1) no explanation was provided as to why level 1 evidence including randomised control trials were excluded from the review; (2) the database search used was not broad enough to capture complementary medicine and homeopathic specific content, and excluded non-human and non-English studies; (3) no homeopathic expert was appointed in the NHMRC Review Panel; (4) prior to publication, the concerns raised over the methodology and selective use of data by research contractor(s) engaged for the HWC review were abandoned for unknown reasons; and (5) no justification was provided as to why only systematic reviews were used [19,20]. Other serious accusations made by the AHA in their response letter to the NHMRC involved the blatant bias of the NHMRC evident by: the leakage of their draft position statement in April 2011 and early release of the HWC Draft Review regarding homeopathy to the media; no discussion of prophylactic homeopathy i.e. preventative healthcare; and no reference to the cost-effectiveness, safety, and quality of homeopathic medicines [19].

Despite the NHMRC findings being strongly disputed, they are further supported by positions taken by a number of large and respected organisations. For example, in 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised against the use of homeopathic medicines for various serious diseases following significant concerns being raised by major health authorities, pharmaceutical industries, and consumers regarding its safety and quality [21]. They reported the clinical effects were compatible with placebo effects [21]. Similarly, in Australia, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) further supports the NHMRC findings by stating in their position statement released in 2012 that there is limited efficacy evidence regarding most complementary medicines, thereby posing a risk to patient health [22]. More recently, in May 2015, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RACGPs) strongly advocated in their position statement against general practitioners prescribing homeopathic medicines, and pharmacists against supporting or recommending it, given the lack of evidence regarding its efficacy [23]. This is particularly pertinent to conventional vaccines given the recent case between the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) vs. Homeopathy Plus! Australia Pty Ltd. The Federal Court found Homeopathy Plus! Australia Pty Ltd guilty of contravening the Australian Consumer Law by engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct through claiming that homeopathic remedies were a proven, safe, and effective alternative to the conventional vaccine against whooping cough [24].

The positions of the NHMRC, WHO, AMA, and the RACGPs regarding homeopathy is further supported by Cochrane reviews, which provide high-quality evidence with minimal bias [25]. Of the twelve homeopathy Cochrane reviews available in the database, only seven address homeopathic remedies directly and were related to the following conditions: irritable bowel syndrome [26], attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or hyperkinetic disorder [27], chronic asthma [28], dementia [29], induction of labour [30], cancer [31], and influenza [32]. Given most of these reviews were authored by homeopaths, bias against homeopathy is unlikely [26-32]. The overarching conclusions from these reviews fail to reveal compelling evidence regarding the efficacy of homeopathic remedies [26-32]. For example, Mathie, Frye and Fisher show that there is “no significant difference between the effects of homeopathic Oscillococcinum® and placebo in prevention of influenza-like illness: risk ratio (RR) = 0.48, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.17-1.34, p-value = 0.16 [31]. The key reasons given for this failure to provide compelling evidence relate to low quality or unclear data, and lack of replicability, suggesting homeopathic remedies are unlikely to have clinical effects beyond placebo [26-32].

Sadly, the ACCC vs. Homeopathy Plus! Australia Pty Ltd is not the only case that has made headlines in Australia in recent years. An article in the Journal of Law and Medicine coincided with the NHMRC report regarding the number of deaths attributable to favouring homeopathy over conventional medical treatment in recent years [33]. One such case was that of Jessica Ainscough, who passed away earlier this year after losing her battle with a rare form of cancer “epithelioid sarcoma“ after rejecting conventional treatment in favour of alternative therapies [34]. Although doctors recognise Ms. Ainscough’s right to choose her own cancer treatments and understand why she refused the disfiguring surgery to save her life, they fear her message may influence others to reject conventional treatments that could ultimately save their lives [35]. Another near death case was that of an eight-month-old boy whose mother was charged with “reckless grievous bodily harm and failure to provide for a child causing danger to death” after ceasing conventional medical and dermatological treatment for her son’s eczema as advised by her naturopath (an umbrella term that includes homeopathy) [36]. The all-liquid treatment plan left the boy severely malnourished and consequently, he now suffers from developmental issues [37]. This case is rather similar to that of R vs. Sam in 2009, where the parents of a nine-month-old girl were convicted of manslaughter by criminal negligence after favouring homeopathic treatment over conventional medical treatment for their daughter’s eczema. The girl died from septicaemia after her eczema became infected [36,37].

[references are provided in the original document]

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The NHMRC report stated that

Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner. Those who use homeopathy should tell their health practitioner and should keep taking any prescribed treatments.

Few other reports have previously expressed our concerns about homeopathy so clearly – little wonder then that the world of homeopathy was (and still is) up in arms.

The last time something similar happened was during the Third Reich when homeopathy had been evaluated thoroughly by leading scientists and the conclusions turned out to be just as devastatingly negative. At the time, German homeopaths allegedly made the report disappear, and all we have today about this comprehensive research programme is a very detailed eye witness report of a homeopath who had been intimately involved in the research.

Today, it is thankfully no longer possible to make major research documents disappear. So, homeopaths have to think of other strategies to defend their trade. In the case of the NHMRC report, they act like all cults tend to do and resort to misleading statements and slanderous allegations. This, I feel, is unsurprising and will inevitably turn out to be unsuccessful.

In my view, the website of ‘FOODS 4 BETTER HEALTH’ should be more aptly called FOOD FOR QUICKER DEATH. At least this is the conclusion that came to my mind after reading their post on ‘Apricot Seeds: Nutrition, Health Benefits, and Their Role in Cancer Treatment’.

Under the heading ‘Apricot Seeds for Cancer Treatment’, we find the following explanations:

“Laetrile is a drug made from amygdalin. Apple seeds, Lima beans, plums, and peaches also contain amygdalin. Although laetrile isn’t a vitamin, it is labeled as amigdalina B17 or vitamin B17.

Dr. Kanematsu Sugiura received highest honors from the Japan Medical Association for his outstanding contributions in cancer research. He found that laetrile prevented the spread of malignant lung tumors in 10 to 20% of laboratory mice. Meanwhile, the mice given plain saline showed that lung tumor spread in 80 to 90% of the subjects. The study shows that laetrile reduces the spread of cancer and isn’t a cure for cancer.

According to a study published in the Public Library of Science, amygdalin blocks the growth of bladder cancer cells. The researchers studied the growth, proliferation, clonal growth, and cell cycle progression.

According to another study published in the International Journal of Immunopharmacology, the viability of human cervical cancer HeLa cell line was significantly inhibited by amygdalin. The researchers found apoptosis in amygdalin-treated HeLa cells.

However, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed no substantial benefit of amygdalin on cancer patients. In fact, the blood cyanide levels of patients who received the substance intravenously increased alarmingly. But, the levels were relatively low in patients who received an oral dose.

A study conducted in 2002 at the Kyung Hee University in Korea found amygdalin to be helpful in killing prostate cancer cells. A similar study conducted on rats also linked the compound with pain relief, thus decreasing pain in cancer patients.

Amygdalin is considered as an alternative treatment for cancer. Since research so far has shown mixed and inconclusive results, apricot seeds may be helpful in the treatment of cancer, but shouldn’t be the only means to treat cancer. It is best to use it as a supplement with other cancer medications.”

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Cancer patients who read this sort of thing – and sadly the Internet offers plenty more of such irresponsible texts – might well decide to try Laetrile or start regularly consuming apricot seeds instead of chemotherapy or other effective cancer treatments. This decision would almost certainly hasten their deaths for two reasons:

  • Amygdalin is NOT an effective treatment for cancer.
  • It is highly toxic and would almost certainly kill some patients after chronic use.

To state, as the author of the above article does, that “research so far has shown mixed and inconclusive results” is irresponsible. The only thing that matters and the only message relevant for vulnerable patients is this: RESEARCH HAS NOT SHOWN THAT THIS STUFF WORKS FOR CANCER.

The website of ‘HOMEOPATHY 360’ has just published a new post offering a handy instruction for killing patients suffering from acute appendicitis. If you do not believe me – I don’t blame you, I too found it hard to believe – read this short excerpt advocating homeopathy for this life-threatening condition (for readers without a medical background: if acute appendicitis is not treated promptly, the inflamed appendix might burst, spilling faecal material into the abdominal cavity, resulting in a life-threatening peritonitis):

The post is entitled “A Cure of Acute Appendicitis Using Frequent Homeopathic Doses in Solution

Here is the abstract:

“Placing centesimal potencies in solution and prescribing them frequently for acute conditions is not widely practiced. It can be superior to dry doses in many cases, where a persistent mild medicinal action is preferred to a strong aggravation. By prescribing dissolved doses of Arnica Montana 1m, a case of acute appendicitis was cured quickly. This suggests that centesimal potencies given frequently in solution may be more efficacious, prompt and gentle than treatment with dry doses.”

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Here are more details demonstrating that the author has done his homework:

“When treating a patient with acute medical condi­tion, in certain cases we fail to cure. Even though our case taking, evaluation, analysis, remedy and potency selection seem correct. What is the cause? In the Organon 5th edition (1833) Dr. Hahnemann introduced olfaction and dissolved centesimal remedies as a new method of administering doses. Around the year 1840 Hahnemann began to introduce LM potencies into his practice. From 1840 to 1843 he used both centesimal and LM potencies side by side in medicinal solutions. By these methods he hoped to avoid unwanted aggravations and provide rapid cure.

In some acute cases the aggravation can be discouragingly pro­longed and often cannot be discerned from the patient’s own disease. Many times we change the original prescrip­tion which could very well have been the simillimum. In acute diseases, a dry dose will many times produce an un­necessary aggravation because of the patient’s increased susceptibility. I have much experience now with what I call a “watery dose.” To prepare it, one or two globules of size 10 are diluted in 15ml. of distilled water in which 5 drops of alcohol added with 20 to 30 succussions. From this solution 10 drops are added to another 15 ml of water, and from this solution 5 to 10 drops dose repeated according to the severity of the disease. In such diluted solutions the correct number of drops must be precise. Every time be­fore taking the dose the solution is succussed 5 to 10 times. The same solution can be used for several days or weeks. Hahnemann recommended using carefully measured and dosed solutions with sensitive patients. Many times I have used this method with great success. It is not necessary to take 4 oz. to 8 oz. of water, Just fifteen ml. of distilled water is sufficient. This technique of dosing is also known as a split dose because it uses one or two pills in a solution that is then split over several days or weeks.

The results using this type of dosing can be very dif­ferent from dry doses. There is continuous amelioration of the complaints without aggravation. This comes closer to the ideal of strengthening the weakened vital force than is seen when we simply produce a similar stronger artificial disease in the patient.”

The author also provides a detailed case history of a patient who survived this treatment (of course, without mentioning that acute appendicitis can, in rare cases, have a spontaneous recovery).

MY ADVICE:

I would not recommend Arnica or any other homeopathic remedy for routine use in acute appendicitis (or any other condition) – unless, of course, you want to kill a maximum number of your patients suffering from this medical/surgical emergency.

Alternative medicine is deeply rooted in the notion of ‘detox’. This website is one of thousands and displays some of the issues in an exemplary fashion:

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…There are more than 80,000 chemicals used in the industrialized world. Accumulate enough of these toxins and you might suffer, at the very least, fatigue, headaches, muscle soreness, bloating, depression and, at the worst, chronic disease and cancer… This is why regular detoxification is so important in our modern world. It helps your body eliminate toxic waste stored in your tissues. Plus you’ll get:

  • More energy
  • Stronger immunity
  • Faster fat burning
  • Fewer allergies
  • Fewer aches and pains
  • Healthier skin, hair and nails

You’ll find plenty of detoxification kits – or “detox in a box” – at pharmacies and health-food stores. But there is little if any scientific evidence that any of these quick fixes work. Instead, you’re better off using natural detoxification methods that are safe and reliable. Here’s what I recommend:

Step 1: Live without Toxins

There are many natural ways to rid yourself of toxins to look and feel your best:

  • Limit your exposure to hormones. If you eat grain-fed meat, eat only lean cuts and trim off the fat. If you eat grass-fed beef, it’s okay to eat the fat – it’s good for you.
  • Reduce your intake of caffeine, grains, carbohydrates and sugar. They make it harder for your body to fully process estrogen.
  • Stretch and massage your limbs. This will release acids and toxins stored in your own tissues so your body can eliminate them.
  • Hit the sauna. Perspiring in the heat releases toxins through your skin.

Step 2: Eat Purifying Foods

Did you know there are everyday foods that act as detoxifiers to help your body discard built-up toxins? Foods rich in vitamin C like fruits, berries and fresh vegetables will help do the trick, along with fiber-rich nuts, seeds and grains.

Signs You Need to Detox

  • You have unexplained headaches or back pain
  • You have joint pain or arthritis
  • Your memory is failing
  • You’re depressed or lack energy
  • You have brittle nails and hair
  • You’re suffering from psoriasis
  • You have abnormal body odor, a coated tongue or bad breath
  • You’ve experienced an unexplained weight gain
  • You have frequent allergies

Grapefruit is another food that binds to toxins and helps flush them from your body. It contains a flavonoid called naringenin, a potent antioxidant that decreases your body’s insulin resistance to help prevent diabetes, and reprogram your liver to melt excess fat, instead of storing it.

Why is this important to detoxification? Because toxins tend to collect in the fat around your tissues, like your liver, and eating grapefruit will help you stop this process.

Another food that can help clean out your body is garlic. Garlic increases phagocytosis. This boosts the ability of your white blood cells to fight the effects of toxins in your body.

Eating three cloves of fresh garlic per day will help you detox. If you don’t like the smell of garlic, you can get odorless aged garlic supplements at any health food store.

There’s also chlorella. You can find in most health-food stores, and C. Pyreneidosa is the form with the best metal-absorbing properties.

Most people can tolerate high doses of it with great success. Take 1 gram with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can increase the dose to up to 3 grams 3 to 4 times a day.

Another option is fresh cilantro, one of the best detoxifiers for your central nervous system. It mobilizes so much mercury, it can’t always carry it out of the body fast enough. So use it in combination with chlorella.

Eat organic cilantro, make a pesto or tea, or buy a tincture. Take 2 drops 2 times a day before meals or 30 minutes after taking chlorella. Increase your dose to up to 10 drops three times a day.

Step 3: Cleanse Your Internal Organs

Herbs can help clear toxins from your bloodstream, restore liver function and help flush out your kidneys. Detoxifying your liver a couple of times a year can also lower your cholesterol.

Here’s a list of herbal products that work well:

Milk thistle – I recommend 200 mg in capsule form twice a day. Look for dried extract with a minimum of 80 percent silymarin – the liver-cleaning active ingredient.

Alfalfa – This herb has been known to lower cholesterol by 25 percent in lab animals. It’s a good source of protein, vitamins A, D, E, B-6 and K, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, trace minerals and digestive enzymes.

Dandelion – This root stimulates bile and acts as a diuretic for excess water. Asians use it to treat hepatitis, jaundice, swelling of the liver, and deficient bile secretion. Use 4-10 grams of the dried leaf or 4 to 10 milliliters (1:1) of fluid extract.

Sarsaparilla – This is one of my favorite teas. It tastes great and acts as an effective blood detox. Native Americans have used it as a restorative tonic for centuries. Use 1-4 grams of the dried root, or 8-12 milliliters (2 to 3 teaspoons) (1:1) liquid extract, or 250 milligrams (4:1) of solid extract.

Burdock Root – This ancient remedy is a diuretic and a diaphoretic. It increases urine and perspiration production by exercising and strengthening these natural purging systems.

Step 4: Cleanse Your Colon

For an effective, natural way to flush out your colon, find and take the following herbs in combination:

  • Cascara Sagrada bark
  • Aloe leaf
  • Marshmallow root
  • Flax seed
  • Rhubarb root
  • Slippery Elm bark

Take them all at once, but be careful not to take too much because you could get some gurgling and it could loosen up your stool. They’re pretty powerful when you use them in this combination.

Step 5: Rid Your Tissues of Heavy Metals

These two compounds will remove chemicals and keep your body clean and pure like it’s supposed to be.

DMSA – This is a compound that removes heavy metal toxins (its real name is meso-2, 3-dimercaptosuccinic acid, but forget that tongue twister… it’s known simply as DMSA).

DMSA has receptor sites that the toxins bind to. The toxins reside inside the cells of the body and DMSA cannot enter the cells. Instead glutathione (your body’s natural toxin remover) residing in the cell pushes the metals out of the cell, where they’re picked up by DMSA and excreted.

DMSA should be taken in on-again/off-again cycles – ideally, three days on and 11 days off because your body needs 11 days to regenerate its glutathione levels.

Activated Charcoal – This is a form of carbon that’s been processed into a fine, black powder. It’s odorless, tasteless, safe to consume and very potent.

In fact, you can take a small amount of charcoal and wipe out decades of toxic heavy metals like arsenic, copper, mercury and lead that have been building up in your body.

You can find activated charcoal in any health-food store. It’s relatively inexpensive and easy to take. Because it’s a powder, you can take it just like you would your favorite protein drink, mixed into a liquid.

Take 20-30 grams a day of powdered activated charcoal (in divided doses) mixed with water over a period of 1-2 weeks.

Step 6: Detoxify Naturally with Citrus Pectin

Modified citrus pectin is made from the inner peel of citrus fruits and is one of the most powerful detoxifying substances I’ve found in the world. It’s also been proven to work in human clinical studies.

In one U.S.D.A. study, scientists gave modified citrus pectin to people for six days and measured the amount of toxins excreted in their urine before taking it and 24 hours after taking it. Here’s what they found:

  • The amount of deadly arsenic excreted increased by 130 percent
  • Toxic mercury excreted increased by 150 percent
  • Cadmium excreted increased by 230 percent
  • Toxic lead excreted increased by 560 percent4

What’s great about modified citrus pectin is that while it eliminates toxic metals and pesticides, it doesn’t deplete your body of zinc, calcium or magnesium. However, consult your physician before taking modified citrus pectin capsules and caplets to make sure they are the kind used in clinical studies and the proper dosage.

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This text is so full of unproven notions, disproven theories, implausible assumptions and misunderstood science that I cannot possible address them all here (almost as bad as Prince Charles’ famous ‘detox tincture’). I will therefore only focus on the author’s final CITRUS PECTIN recommendation which apparently is even supported by real evidence. The study cited might have been this one:

This clinical study was performed to determine if the oral administration of modified citrus pectin (MCP) is effective at lowering lead toxicity in the blood of children between the ages of 5 and 12 years. Hospitalized children with a blood serum level greater than 20 microg/dL, as measured by graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GFAAS), who had not received any form of chelating and/or detoxification medication for 3 months prior were given 15 g of MCP (PectaSol) in 3 divided dosages a day. Blood serum and 24-hour urine excretion collection GFAAS analysis were performed on day 0, day 14, day 21, and day 28.  This study showed a dramatic decrease in blood serum levels of lead (P = .0016; 161% average change) and a dramatic increase in 24-hour urine collection (P = .0007; 132% average change). The need for a gentle, safe heavy metal-chelating agent, especially for children with high environmental chronic exposure, is great. The dramatic results and no observed adverse effects in this pilot study along with previous reports of the safe and effective use of MCP in adults indicate that MCP could be such an agent. Further studies to confirm its benefits are justified.

Apart from the fact that it was published in one of the most notorious altmed journals ever, one ought to mention that it has been rightly criticised for its many and fatal flaws:

• Although the trial was conducted at a university hospital, there is no mention of the study’s approval by an institutional review board  

• The study’s criteria for inclusion and exclusion were not noted.  Although the authors state the MCP product was used for other children not in the study, their results were not included because they did not fit the inclusion criteria. 

• The study had no control/placebo group, although the article states the study was conducted at a hospital that works with lead-poisoned individuals where it is reasonable to assume a group control would be available. 

• Aside from baseline blood levels, only discharge levels were reported.  Presumably, weekly measurements were taken in order to monitor progress and determine when to discharge, but that data was not reported.

There are one or two other human studies on this subject but all of them are of a similar calibre as the one above.

I think this story provides several important lessons:

  • the detox notion is hugely popular in alternative medicine;
  • it is alarmist and takes advantage of our fear to get poisoned by modern life;
  • it is packaged into sciency language in order to appear plausible to lay people;
  • one hardly needs to scratch the surface to find that the ‘science’ is, in fact, pseudoscience of the worst kind;
  • alternative detox thus turns out to be little more than a cunning but dishonest and unethical sales pitch.

If your life-style is unhealthy, don’t think that detox will help, but change your ways.

If the air that you breathe or the water that you drink are polluted, don’t think that detox is the solution, but punish the government that is responsible for these disasters and vote for someone more responsible.

Detox, as used in alternative medicine, is stupid, unethical nonsense promoted by charlatans of the worst kind; don’t fall for it!!!

The fact that some alternative medicine (the authors use the abbreviation ‘CAM’) practitioners recommend against vaccination is well-known and often-documented. Specifically implicated are:

As a result, children consulting homeopaths, naturopaths or chiropractors are less likely to receive vaccines and more likely to get vaccine-preventable diseases. These effects have been noted for several childhood infections but little is known about how child CAM-usage affects influenza vaccination.

A new nationally representative study fills this gap; it analysed ∼9000 children from the Child Complementary and Alternative Medicine File of the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. Adjusting for health services use factors, it examined influenza vaccination odds by ever using major CAM domains: (1) alternative medical systems (AMS; eg, acupuncture); (2) biologically-based therapies, excluding multivitamins/multi-minerals (eg, herbal supplements); (3) multi-vitamins/multi-minerals; (4) manipulative and body-based therapies (MBBT; eg, chiropractic manipulation); and (5) mind-body therapies (eg, yoga).

Influenza vaccination uptake was lower among children ever (versus never) using AMS (33% vs 43%; P = .008) or MBBT (35% vs 43%; P = .002) but higher by using multivitamins/multiminerals (45% vs 39%; P < .001). In multivariate analyses, multivitamin/multimineral use lost significance, but children ever (versus never) using any AMS or MBBT had lower uptake (respective odds ratios: 0.61 [95% confidence interval: 0.44-0.85]; and 0.74 [0.58-0.94]).

The authors concluded that children who have ever used certain CAM domains that may require contact with vaccine-hesitant CAM practitioners are vulnerable to lower annual uptake of influenza vaccination. Opportunity exists for US public health, policy, and medical professionals to improve child health by better engaging parents of children using particular domains of CAM and CAM practitioners advising them.

There is hardly any need to point out that CAM-use is associated with low vaccination-uptake. We have discussed this on my blog ad nauseam – see for instance here, here, here and here. Too many CAM practitioners have an irrational view of vaccinations and advise against their patients against them. Anyone who needs more information might find it right here by searching this blog. Anyone claiming that this is all my exaggeration might look at these papers, for instance, which have nothing to do with me (there are plenty more for those who are willing to conduct a Medline search):

  • Lehrke P, Nuebling M, Hofmann F, Stoessel U. Attitudes of homeopathic physicians towards vaccination. Vaccine. 2001;19:4859–4864. doi: 10.1016/S0264-410X(01)00180-3. [PubMed]
  • Halper J, Berger LR. Naturopaths and childhood immunizations: Heterodoxy among the unorthodox. Pediatrics. 1981;68:407–410. [PubMed]
  • Colley F, Haas M. Attitudes on immunization: A survey of American chiropractors. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 1994;17:584–590. [PubMed]

One could, of course, argue about the value of influenza vaccination for kids, but the more important point is that CAM practitioners tend to be against ANY immunisation. And the even bigger point is that many of them issue advice that is against conventional treatments of proven efficacy.

In a previous post I asked the question ‘Alternative medicine for kids: when is it child-abuse?’ I think that evidence like the one reported here renders this question all the more acute.

How often have I pointed out that most studies of chiropractic (and other alternative therapies) are overtly unethical because they fail to report adverse events? And if you think this is merely my opinion, you are mistaken. This new analysis by a team of chiropractors aimed to describe the extent of adverse events reporting in published RCTs of Spinal Manipulative Therapy (SMT), and to determine whether the quality of reporting has improved since publication of the 2010 Consolidated Standards Of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) statement.

The Physiotherapy Evidence Database and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched for RCTs involving SMT. Domains of interest included classifications of adverse events, completeness of adverse events reporting, nomenclature used to describe the events, methodological quality of the study, and details of the publishing journal. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics. Frequencies and proportions of trials reporting on each of the specified domains above were calculated. Differences in proportions between pre- and post-CONSORT trials were calculated with 95% confidence intervals using standard methods, and statistical comparisons were analysed using tests for equality of proportions with continuity correction.

Of 7,398 records identified in the electronic searches, 368 articles were eligible for inclusion in this review. Adverse events were reported in 140 (38.0%) articles. There was a significant increase in the reporting of adverse events post-CONSORT (p=.001). There were two major adverse events reported (0.3%). Only 22 articles (15.7%) reported on adverse events in the abstract. There were no differences in reporting of adverse events post-CONSORT for any of the chosen parameters.

The authors concluded that although there has been an increase in reporting adverse events since the introduction of the 2010 CONSORT guidelines, the current level should be seen as inadequate and unacceptable. We recommend that authors adhere to the CONSORT statement when reporting adverse events associated with RCTs that involve SMT.

We conducted a very similar analysis back in 2012. Specifically, we evaluated all 60 RCTs of chiropractic SMT published between 2000 and 2011 and found that 29 of them did not mention adverse effects at all. Sixteen RCTs reported that no adverse effects had occurred (which I find hard to believe since reliable data show that about 50% of patients experience adverse effects after consulting a chiropractor). Complete information on incidence, severity, duration, frequency and method of reporting of adverse effects was included in only one RCT. Conflicts of interests were not mentioned by the majority of authors. Our conclusion was that adverse effects are poorly reported in recent RCTs of chiropractic manipulations.

The new paper suggests that the situation has improved a little, yet it is still wholly unacceptable. To conduct a clinical trial and fail to mention adverse effects is not, as the authors of the new article suggest, against current guidelines; it is a clear and flagrant violation of medical ethics. I blame the authors of such papers, the reviewers and the journal editors for behaving dishonourably and urge them to get their act together.

The effects of such non-reporting are obvious: anyone looking at the evidence (for instance via systematic reviews) will get a false-positive impression of the safety of SMT. Consequently, chiropractors are able to claim that very few adverse effects have been reported in the literature, therefore our hallmark therapy SMT is demonstrably safe. Those who claim otherwise are quite simply alarmist.

A recent post discussed a ‘STATE OF THE ART REVIEW’ from the BMJ. When I wrote it, I did not know that there was more to come. It seems that the BMJ is planning an entire series on the state of the art of BS! The new paper certainly looks like it:

Headaches, including primary headaches such as migraine and tension-type headache, are a common clinical problem. Complementary and integrative medicine (CIM), formerly known as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), uses evidence informed modalities to assist in the health and healing of patients. CIM commonly includes the use of nutrition, movement practices, manual therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, and mind-body strategies. This review summarizes the literature on the use of CIM for primary headache and is based on five meta-analyses, seven systematic reviews, and 34 randomized controlled trials (RCTs). The overall quality of the evidence for CIM in headache management is generally low and occasionally moderate. Available evidence suggests that traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture, massage, yoga, biofeedback, and meditation have a positive effect on migraine and tension headaches. Spinal manipulation, chiropractic care, some supplements and botanicals, diet alteration, and hydrotherapy may also be beneficial in migraine headache. CIM has not been studied or it is not effective for cluster headache. Further research is needed to determine the most effective role for CIM in patients with headache.

My BS-detector struggled with the following statements:

  • integrative medicine (CIM), formerly known as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) – the fact that CIM is a nonsensical new term has been already mentioned in the previous post;
  • evidence informed modalities – another new term! evidence-BASED would be too much? because it would require using standards that do not apply to CIM? double standards promoted by the BMJ, what next?
  • CIM commonly includes the use of nutrition – yes, so does any healthcare or indeed life!
  • the overall quality of the evidence for CIM in headache management is generally low and occasionally moderate – in this case, no conclusions should be drawn from it (see below);
  • evidence suggests that traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture, massage, yoga, biofeedback, and meditation have a positive effect on migraine and tension headaches – no, it doesn’t (see above)!
  • further research is needed to determine the most effective role for CIM in patients with headache – this sentence does not even make the slightest sense to me; have the reviewers of this article been asleep?

And this is just the abstract!

The full text provides enough BS to fertilise many acres of farmland!

Moreover, the article is badly researched, cherry-picked, poorly constructed, devoid of critical input, and poorly written. Is there anything good about it? You tell me – I did not find much!

My BS-detector finally broke when we came to the conclusions:

The use of CIM therapies has the potential to empower patients and help them take an active role in their care. Many CIM modalities, including mind-body therapies, are both self selected and self administered after an education period. This, coupled with patients’ increased desire to incorporate integrative medicine, should prompt healthcare providers to consider and discuss its inclusion in the overall management strategy. Low to moderate quality evidence exists for the effectiveness of some CIM therapies in the management of primary headache. The evidence for and use of CIM is continuously changing so healthcare professionals should direct their patients to reliable and updated resources, such as NCCIH.

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE BMJ?

IT USED TO BE A GOOD JOURNAL!

I recently got this comment which might seem reasonable to some readers:

“What is most humorous about the author and this website is how he knocks the hell out of alternative medicine and therapies yet never provides readers with any alternatives, despite claiming to be an expert. For example: it’s like needing new tyres for your car and the salesman keeps on telling you that, I’m sorry this tyre, that tyre, and that tyre is not suitable for your car either. So you ask We’ll what tyre do you recommend then and he says… No comment. Anyone can pick holes in anything that’s easy, but to offer alternatives and provide useful workable information, to complete the equation that’s what is really needed. So all the author is doing is adding negativity and problems to this world without providing any real solutions.”

Reasonable?

Not really!

Why not?

There are several reasons, for instance:

  1. Legitimate criticism is not the same as “knocking the hell” out of something.
  2. Responsible physicians do not offer ‘real solutions’ via the Internet without knowing the full details of the patient they are talking to. In my view, this would not be ethical.

“Yeah, pull the other one!” I hear my opponents mumble. “There must be general solutions to the problems you are discussing on this blog that do not need any knowledge about specific patients!”

Perhaps, let’s see.

Let me go through 5 recent posts and let me try – in deviation from my usual stance – to offer some solutions that are reasonable, ethical and responsible.

  • here I knocked the hell out of Bowen technique advertised for “a wide range of acute and chronic conditions, including back pain, sciatica, neck, shoulder and knee problems, arthritis, asthma, migraine, sports injuries and stress”. My solution: if you suffer from any of these problems, see a good physician, get a proper diagnosis and an evidence-based treatment that fits your special needs.
  • here I knocked the hell out of alternative therapies for chronic pain. My solution: if you suffer from any of these problems, see a good physician, get a proper diagnosis and an evidence-based treatment that fits your special needs.
  • Here I knocked the hell out of homeopathy which allegedly is employed “all over the world [by] doctors, nurses, midwives, vets  and other healthcare professional  who integrate  CAM therapies into their daily  practice because they see effectiveness.” My solution: if you suffer from any of these problems, see a good physician, get a proper diagnosis and an evidence-based treatment that fits your special needs.
  • Here I knocked the hell out of ‘Brain Dust’, an “adaptogenic elixir to maintain healthy systems for superior states of clarity, memory, creativity, alertness and a capacity to handle stress”. My solution: if you suffer from any of these problems, see a good physician, get a proper diagnosis and an evidence-based treatment that fits your special needs.
  • Here I knocked the hell out of homeopathy for allergic rhinitis. My solution: if you suffer allergic rhinitis, see a specialist, get a proper diagnosis and an evidence-based treatment that fits your special needs.

Sorry, am I boring you?

Yes, that’s why I don’t usually offer ‘real solutions’.

I rest my case.

You might think that the question asked in the title of this post is a bit impertinent. Let’s see whether you change your mind after reading on.

“Come along for a ten minute taster sessions and experience the Bowen Technique.
It is appropriate for a wide range of acute and chronic conditions, including back pain, sciatica, neck, shoulder and knee problems, arthritis, asthma, migraine, sports injuries and stress. Ten-minute taster sessions will be offered so that you can experience the therapy first hand. Many find their aches and pains melt away!” 

It is with these exact words that the Royal College of Nursing advertises a session on Bowen Technique to be held during their major conference on Saturday 13 – Wednesday 17 May 2017, Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre.

You may not have heard of the Bowen Technique, one of the more exotic types of alternative medicine. So, let me fill you in:

According to proponents, it is “a system of subtle and precise mobilizations called “Bowen moves” over muscles, tendons, nerves and fascia. The moves are performed using the thumbs and fingers applying only gentle, non invasive pressure. A treatment consists of a series of specific sequences of moves called procedures, with frequent pauses to allow time for the body to respond.”

Wikipedia explains: “recipients are generally fully clothed. Each session typically involves gentle rolling motions along the muscles, tendons, and fascia. The therapy’s distinctive features are the minimal nature of the physical intervention and pauses incorporated in the treatment. Proponents claim these pauses allow the body to “reset” itself. In 2015 the Australian Government’s Department of Health published the results of a review of alternative therapies that sought to determine if any were suitable for being covered by health insurance; Bowen Technique was one of 17 therapies evaluated for which no clear evidence of effectiveness was found.”

Medline lists just one single trial of Bowen Technique; it is not a clinical trial with patients but a study with healthy volunteers; here is its abstract:

The hamstring muscles are regularly implicated in recurrent injuries, movement dysfunction and low back pain. Links between limited flexibility and development of neuromusculoskeletal symptoms are frequently reported. The Bowen Technique is used to treat many conditions including lack of flexibility. The study set out to investigate the effect of the Bowen Technique on hamstring flexibility over time. An assessor-blind, prospective, randomised controlled trial was performed on 120 asymptomatic volunteers. Participants were randomly allocated into a control group or Bowen group. Three flexibility measurements occurred over one week, using an active knee extension test. The intervention group received a single Bowen treatment. A repeated measures univariate analysis of variance, across both groups for the three time periods, revealed significant within-subject and between-subject differences for the Bowen group. Continuing increases in flexibility levels were observed over one week. No significant change over time was noted for the control group.

So, whichever way we look at it, there is no evidence whatsoever that Bowen Technique is helpful for patients suffering from any condition. This clearly means that therapeutic claims made for it are bogus, and that the way the Royal College of Nursing advertised it is misleading to the point of being unethical. By definition, the promotion of bogus treatments is quackery. Ergo, the Royal College of Nursing is promoting quackery.

If that is so, there is of course another question that needs an answer: Why does the Royal College of Nursing promote quackery?

As I see it, there are several possibilities, for instance:

  • They see nothing wrong with the Bowen session.
  • They don’t know better.
  • They don’t adhere to EBM.
  • They don’t care.
  • They were asked to run the session by someone with influence.
  • They believe that nurses want this sort of thing.
  • They think it’s trendy.

I would be fascinated to hear from someone who knows the correct answer.

Shiatsu is one of those alternative therapies where there is almost no research. Therefore, every new study is of interest, and I was delighted to find this new trial.

Italian researchers tested the efficacy and safety of combining shiatsu and amitriptyline to treat refractory primary headaches in a single-blind, randomized, pilot study. Subjects with a diagnosis of primary headache and who experienced lack of response to ≥2 different prophylactic drugs were randomized in a 1:1:1 ratio to receive one of the following treatments:

  1. shiatsu plus amitriptyline,
  2. shiatsu alone,
  3. amitriptyline alone

The treatment period lasted 3 months and the primary endpoint was the proportion of patients experiencing ≥50%-reduction in headache days. Secondary endpoints were days with headache per month, visual analogue scale, and number of pain killers taken per month.

After randomization, 37 subjects were allocated to shiatsu plus amitriptyline (n = 11), shiatsu alone (n = 13), and amitriptyline alone (n = 13). Randomization ensured well-balanced demographic and clinical characteristics at baseline.

The results show that all the three groups improved in terms of headache frequency, visual analogue scale score, and number of pain killers and there was no between-group difference in the primary endpoint. Shiatsu (alone or in combination) was superior to amitriptyline in reducing the number of pain killers taken per month. Seven (19%) subjects reported adverse events, all attributable to amitriptyline, while no side effects were related with shiatsu treatment.

The authors concluded that shiatsu is a safe and potentially useful alternative approach for refractory headache. However, there is no evidence of an additive or synergistic effect of combining shiatsu and amitriptyline. These findings are only preliminary and should be interpreted cautiously due to the small sample size of the population included in our study.

Yes, I would advocate great caution indeed!

The results could easily be said to demonstrate that shiatsu is NOT effective. There is NO difference between the groups when looking at the primary endpoint. This plus the lack of a placebo-group renders the findings uninterpretable:

  • If we take the comparison 2 versus 3, this might indicate efficacy of shiatsu.
  • If we take the comparison 1 versus 3, it would indicate the opposite.
  • If we finally take the comparison 1 versus 2, it would suggest that the drug was ineffective.

So, we can take our pick!

Moreover, I do object to the authors’ conclusion that “shiatsu is a safe”. For such a statement, we would need sample sizes that are about two dimensions greater that those of this study.

So, what might be an acceptable conclusion from this trial? I see only one that is in accordance with the design and the results of this study:

 

POORLY DESIGNED RESEARCH CANNOT LEAD TO ANY CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THERAPEUTIC EFFICACY OR SAFETY. IT IS A WASTE OF RESOURCES AND A VIOLATION OF RESEARCH ETHICAL.

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