This is the title of a lecture I was asked to give yesterday to an audience of palliative cancer care professionals. During the last days, I have therefore thought about the Anderson-tale quite a bit. For those who don’t know the story (is there such a person?), it is a tale about two con-men who promise the emperor new clothes which, they claim, are invisible to anyone who is incompetent or stupid. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that he is, in fact, naked. Finally, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
The story is obviously a metaphor for a scenario where something is generally accepted as being good simply because nobody has the courage or insight to oppose popular opinion – nobody except a naïve child, that is. It is a fitting tale for alternative medicine and a superb one to depict my own personal history.
It got more fascinating the more I thought about it. As a metaphor for alternative medicine it offers at least four different perspectives:
- The quacks seem to get away with even the most obvious lies.
- The VIP is too gullible and vain to realise that he is being done.
- The sycophants are happy to play along because they hope to benefit from not speaking the truth.
- The child has not yet learnt how to ‘play along’ and therefore speaks the truth without a second thought.
The parallels to the current boom in alternative medicine are, I think, so striking that I do hardly need to explain them. The parallels to my own past, however, might require some explanation.
During the last 25 years, I have met more quacks making false claims than I care to remember. Some virtually sold the emperor clothes that were non-existent. One even offered him a report that suggested that the UK’s ailing healthcare system could be saved by maximizing the use of bogus therapies, such as homeopathy, for serious illnesses – more about that in a minute.
I even once had the honour to meet the emperor, our Queen – and it is not she who I here refer to. She was not at all gullible. The emperor I mean is actually our future emperor, the Queen’s son. He has provided us with ample evidence to doubt his intelligence, and it is he who has fallen for the con-men I refer to.
The sycophants are those ‘experts’ who Charles tends to assemble around him. They do know better, I think, but they do not tell him the truth because they know that people like Charles cannot tolerate any facts that fail to confirm his views. So they duly applaud even the silliest of notions hoping to keep their place in the entourage.
And the naïve child? Yes, of course, that’s me. When I arrived in Exeter 23 years ago, I did think that I was appointed to employ science as a tool to find the truth. Once I had done the research, I shouted: “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” – metaphorically speaking, of course.
And that was something neither the emperor nor the sycophants could tolerate. When I said what had to be said about the ‘Smallwood Report’, the combined effort of the emperor and his sycophants put an end to my activities in Exeter.
Yes, in relation to alternative medicine, the story of THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES could be most interesting!
But did the palliative care experts invite me to tell it?
The more I thought about it, the more I doubted this.
Eventually, I arrived at the conclusion they wanted to hear about the evidence for or against alternative treatments for cancer. A pity really, because arguably the other aspect are much more entertaining.
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.
Would you like to see a much broader range of approaches such as nutrition, mindfulness, complementary therapies and connecting people to green spaces become part of mainstream healthcare?
Well, let me tell you about this exciting new venture anyway!
It is being promoted by Dr Dixon’s ‘College of Medicine’ and claims to be “the only accredited Integrative Medicine diploma currently available in the UK… [It] will provide you with an accredited qualification as an integrative medicine practitioner. The Diploma is certified by Crossfields Institute and supported by the College of Medicine and is the only one currently available in the UK. IM is a holistic, evidence-based approach which makes intelligent use of all available therapeutic choices to achieve optimal health and resilience for our patients. The model embraces conventional approaches as well as other modalities centred on lifestyle and mind-body techniques like mindfulness and nutrition.”
Dr Dixon? Yes, this Dr Michael Dixon.
College of Medicine? Yes, this College of Medicine.
Crossfields Institute? Yes this Crossfields Institute which promotes the Steiner/’Waldorf quackery and has Simon Fielding as the chair of trustees.
Simon Fielding? Yes, the Simon Fielding who “devoted much of his professional life to securing the recognition of osteopathy as an independent primary contact healthcare profession and this culminated in the passing of the Osteopaths Act in 1993. He was appointed by ministers as the first chair of the General Osteopathic Council responsible for bringing the Osteopaths Act into force… He is currently vice-chair of the board of trustees of The College of Medicine… In addition Simon has… served as a long term trustee on the boards of The Prince of Wales’s Foundation for Integrated Health… and was the founder chair of the Council for Anthroposophical Health and Social Care.”
You must admit, this IS exciting!
Now you want to know what modules are within the Diploma? Here they are:
- The Modern Context of IM: Philosophy, History and Changing Times in Medicine
- IM Approaches and Management of Conditions (part 1)
- Holistic Assessment: The Therapeutic Relationship, Motivational Interviewing & Clinical Decision Making in Integrative Medicine
- Critical Appraisal of Medicine and IM Research
- Holistic assessment: Social prescribing, a Community Approach in Integrative Medicine
- Managing a Dynamic IM Practice and Developing Leadership Skills
- IM Approaches and Management of Conditions (part 2)
- Independent Study on Innovation in Integrative Medicine
Sounds terrific, and it reminds me a lot of another course Michael Dixon tried to set up 13 years ago in Exeter. As it concerned me intimately, I wrote about this extraordinary experience in my memoir; here is a short excerpt:
…in July 2003… I saw an announcement published in the newsletter of the Prince of Wales’ Foundation for Integrated Health:
“The Peninsula Medical School aims to become the UK’s first medical school to include integrated medicine at postgraduate level. The school also plans to extend the current range and depth of programmes offered by including healthcare ethics and legislation. Professor John Tooke, dean of the Peninsula Medical School, said: ‘The inclusion of integrated medicine is a patient driven development. Increasingly the public is turning to the medical profession for information about complementary medicines. This programme will play an important role in developing critical understanding of a wide range of therapies’.”
When I stumbled on this announcement I was taken aback. Is Tooke envisaging a course for me to run? Has he forgotten to tell me about it? When I inquired, Tooke informed me that the medical school planned to offer a postgraduate “Pathway in Integrated Health” which had been initiated by Dr Michael Dixon, a general practitioner who had at that stage become one of the UK’s most outspoken proponents of spiritual healing and other dubious forms of alternative medicine, and for this reason was apparently very well regarded by Prince Charles.
A few days after I received this amazing news, Dr Dixon arrived at my office and explained with visible embarrassment that Prince Charles had expressed his desire to establish such a course in Exeter. His Royal Highness had already facilitated its funding which, in fact, came from Nelson’s, the manufacturer of homoeopathic remedies. The day-to-day running of the course was to be put into the hands of the ex-director of the Centre for Complementary Health Studies (CCHS), the very unit I had struggled – and even paid – to be separated from almost a decade ago because of its overtly anti-scientific agenda. The whole thing had been in the planning for several months. I was, it seemed, the last to know – but now that I had learnt about it, Dixon and Tooke urged me to contribute to this course by giving a few lectures.
I could no more comply with this request than fly. Apart from anything else, I was opposed in principle to the concept of “integration.” As I saw it, “integrating” quackery with genuine, science-based medicine was nothing less than a profound betrayal of the ethical basis of medical practice. By putting its imprimatur on this course, and by offering it under the auspices of a mainstream medical school, my institution would be encouraging the dangerous idea of equivalence – i.e., the notion that alternative and mainstream medicine were merely two parallel but equally valid and effective methods of treating illness.
To add insult to injury, the course was to be sponsored by a major manufacturer of homoeopathic remedies. In all conscience, this seemed to me to be the last straw. Study after study carried out by my unit had found homoeopathy to be not only conceptually absurd but also therapeutically worthless. If we did not take a stand on this issue, we might just as well all give up and go home…
END OF QUOTE FROM MY MEMOIR
Dixon’s Exeter course was not a brilliant success; I think it folded soon after it was started. Well, better luck up the road in Bristol, Michael – I am sure there must be a market for quackery somewhere!
As predicted, thanks to its high visibility in Rio, to the journalists, editors, photographers, numerous ‘experts’ crawling out of the woodwork, and last but not least the gullible public, cupping has fast become fashionable, ‘cool’ and ‘en vogue’.
Yes! Literally ‘en vogue’!
It has conquered the pages of ‘VOGUE’ (and any quackery that achieves this feast must have a bright future!) where Dr. Alex Moroz, director of the Integrative Sports Medicine program at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Rusk Rehabilitation, offers some extraordinary ‘explanations’. Dr Moroz (yes, he does exist; I looked him up) claims that he uses cupping at home on himself and his family. He believes there’s wisdom in the ancient practice, as well as common sense. Cupping’s effect, he says, is “mechanical, much like a massage,” and though Moroz has not treated professional athletes personally, he says, “It makes sense that it would work for that group of muscular skeletal injuries and problems.”
Moroz believes, furthermore, that cupping’s benefits reach far beyond sports. “For people with muscle-based pain, tightness, spasms, or chronic pain of any sort, it’s a great modality to use. Like other short-term modalities, there’s a curve where you have a small number of people who have rather dramatic results, and then you have a group of people who will not be helped at all,” he says. “Everyone else will fall somewhere in between.”
Dr Moroz has opinions but seems to be remarkably short on the ‘common sense’ he praises and a bit under-developed in the area of evidence.
This is regrettable!
Where on earth can we find some reliable information?
Surely, with all the hype about cupping, there must be someone who is just a trifle more science-based. Of course there is. The ‘London Cupping Clinic’ seems serious enough; they even employ real GPs who explain the ‘SCIENCE OF CUPPING’ as follows:
“[Cupping]… involves, as the name suggests, a series of glass or plastic cups being placed on the recipient’s skin. The cups are heated and come into effect upon cooling; the air trapped between the cup and skin contracts, creating a suction-like effect that pulls the skin upwards, drawing blood to the surface to increase blood flow and give the resulting marks their deep crimson-purple colour. At times, vacuum pumps can be used along with the cups to aid the process of suction.”
Drawing blood to the surface to increase blood flow? Really?
In my quest to find some factual information I stumble across the website of HOLISTIC LIVING TIPS. Yes, I know, ‘holistic living’ does not sound like factual information. Yet I read on and find that…
“…along with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is closely linked to a stressed digestive tract, cupping has been used for stomach pains, diarrhea, gastritis and other common digestive issues. Flowing the energy to help release tension in and around the digestive tract, while aiding the abdomen with added nutrients and oxygen can help stimulate a healthier digestive tract… The most common skin issues cupping has been used for is acne, skinflammation and even herpes. Your capillaries are expanded by cupping and the addition flow of blood helps tone your skin and clear unwanted toxins from the skin to help get rid of acne. Also, wet cupping, where a small cut is made before the cup is applied can reduce acne better because with the incision the therapy can extract more of the toxins from your body. Cupping has also been used for cellulite and varicose veins. An increased flow of blood throughout the skin will help tone and tighten the skin. Also, cupping stimulates and improves the flow of blood, helping reduce varicose veins… Mainly, cupping increases the flow of blood and lymphatic fluid throughout the body. Both of these help your body protect itself from illnesses and toxins. Additionally, cupping can help extract and remove phlegm and congestion from your body. The purpose of cupping is to enhance circulation, help relieve pain, remove heat and pull out the toxins that linger in your body’s tissues. It is not something that everyone is aware of, but just like other Chinese Medicine practices, like acupuncture, it can be an effective and most importantly a natural way, to help treat several conditions and help improve your body’s overall health and function.”
Even considering that we are in the realm of alternative medicine, the claims and explanations currently made for cupping seem impressive. With such a solid base in holistic anatomy and New Age physiology, the future of cupping ought to be delightful.
I can see all sorts of profitable options for those who want to jump on the vacuum-driven bandwagon:
- courses for aspiring cupping therapists [a safe career, as demand is bound to soar]
- DIY books for amateur cuppers
- car seats that give you a love bite while you are driving home from work [very practical for the less than faithful alt med fan]
- vacuum suckers for the dental patient [cupping kills pain and reduces anxiety, they say]
- similar devices for Indian restaurants who offer it for customers to control the well-known digestive problems after a good Vindaloo chicken [Charles’ Dutchy Originals might already be planning the launch]
- cupping walk-in centres for every-day emergencies
- cupping clinics for those who fear the effects of ageing [cupping ‘tightens the skin’, you know]
- a face mask with integrated vacuum cups for teenagers suffering from acne
- shoes that produce a sucking action on the sole of the feet as you walk [thus ingeniously combining cupping with reflexology]
- a 24-hours cupping helpline for the less experienced DIY-cuppers…
There really are no limits (neither to profit nor to fantasy) – the future of cupping is bright!
The UK petition to ban homeopathy for animals has so far achieved well over 3 000 signatures. Remarkably, it also prompted a reaction from the Faculty of Homeopathy which I reproduce here in full:
Homeopathy has a long history of being used successfully in veterinary practice for both domestic and farm animals. The EU recommends its use in its regulations on organic farms and is funding research into veterinary homeopathy as a way of reducing antibiotic use in livestock. It is nonsense to suggest that responsible pet owners and farmers are unable to distinguish between effective and ineffective medicines; they continue to use homeopathy because they see its benefits.
Membership of the Faculty of Homeopathy (VetMFHom) is bestowed on qualified veterinary surgeons who have completed a minimum of three years study of homeopathy and after a rigorous examination procedure. It differentiates the qualified veterinary homeopath from an unlicensed healer.
In a statement, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons said “… homeopathy is currently accepted by society and recognised by UK medicines legislation, and does not, in itself, cause harm to animals”. Before going on to say it could see no justification for banning veterinary surgeons from practising homeopathy.
In an age when antibiotic resistance is such an important issue, veterinary surgeons and farmers who have found they can limit the use of these drugs by using homeopathy should be applauded and not attacked.
Peter Gregory BVSc MRCVS VetFFHom
Veterinary Dean, Faculty of Homeopathy
Such sentiments resonate with those of the UK’s most influential supporter of homeopathy, Prince Charles. Speaking at a global leaders summit on antimicrobial resistance, Prince Charles recently warned that Britain faced a “potentially disastrous scenario” because of the “overuse and abuse” of antibiotics. The Prince explained that he had switched to organic farming on his estates because of the growing threat from antibiotic resistance and now treats his cattle with homeopathic remedies rather than conventional medication. “As some of you may be aware, this issue has been a long-standing and acute concern to me,” he told delegates from 20 countries at The Royal Society in London. “I have enormous sympathy for those engaged in the vital task of ensuring that, as the world population continues to increase unsustainably and travel becomes easier, antibiotics retain their availability to overcome disease… It must be incredibly frustrating to witness the fact that antibiotics have too often simply acted as a substitute for basic hygiene, or as it would seem, a way of placating a patient who has a viral infection or who actually needs little more than patience to allow a minor bacterial infection to resolve itself.”
It seems that both Prince Charles and Peter Gregory believe that homeopathy can be employed to reduce the use of antibiotics in animals. So, let’s analyse this hypothesis a little closer.
The way I see it, the belief must be based on one of two assumptions:
- Homeopathic remedies are effective in treating or preventing bacterial infections.
- If farmers administer homeopathic remedies to their life-stock, they are less likely to administer unnecessary antibiotics.
Assumption No 1 can be rejected without much further debate; there is no evidence whatsoever that homeopathic remedies have antibiotic efficacy. In fact, the consensus today is that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos.
Assumption No 2, however, might be more plausible and therefore deserves further scrutiny. If we do not tell the farmers nor the vets that homeopathic remedies are placebos, if, in other words, we mislead them to think they are efficacious medicines, they might give them to their animals instead of antibiotics. Consequently, the usage of antibiotics in animals would decrease. This strategy sounds plausible but, on second thought, it has many serious drawbacks:
- The truth has a high value in itself which we would disregard at our peril.
- One might not be able to keep the truth from the farmers and even less able to hide it from vets.
- If we mislead farmers and vets, we must also mislead the rest of the population; this means lots of people might start using homeopathic placebos even for serious conditions.
- Misleading farmers, vets and the rest of the population is clearly unethical.
- Misleading farmers and vets in this way might not be necessary; if there is abuse of antibiotics in farming, we ought to tackle this phenomenon directly.
- Misleading farmers and vets might be dangerous for at least two reasons: firstly, animals who truly need antibiotics would not receive adequate treatment; secondly, farmers and vets might eventually become convinced that homeopathy is efficacious and would therefore use it in all sorts of situations, even for serious diseases of humans.
Whichever way I twist and turn the assumption No 2, I fail to arrive at anything remotely sensible. But this leaves me with a huge problem: I would have to conclude that both the Veterinary Dean, Faculty of Homeopathy and the heir to the throne are bonkers… and, surely, this cannot be right either!!!
I am sure that most of us have had enough of the endless discussions, information and foremost disinformation about Brexit; we truly had to endure them ad nauseam. And here I come with a post about the very subject.
Have I lost my senses?
Bear with me and find out for yourself.
There has been little mention of alternative medicine in the debates about last week’s referendum. For the Remain campaigners, there was perhaps no reason to go into this divisive topic because, in their view, all would stay as it is. And the ‘Brexiters’ obviously had other things on their minds. It seemed almost as though they were too busy inventing new lies on a daily basis. To me, it seems fairly obvious though that, in the realm of alternative medicine, quite a lot could change after disastrous vote to leave the EU .
My main fears are twofold;
- Politicians who are short-sighted enough to campaign for Brexit might also be sufficiently stupid to go for unproven medicine. This fear seems to be confirmed by Nigel Farage who once claimed that BIG HARMA was lobbying in Brussels to put alternative medicine producers out of business. But we should take that with a pinch of salt, of course; anything this man says is hardly worth taking any notice of, in my view.
- Consumers who are gullible enough to believe the false arguments of the Brexiters might also be sufficiently naïve to believe the fallacies and falsehoods of alternative medicine promoters.
So, are there reasonable predictions as to how Brexit might impact on the alternative medicine scene in Britain? I searched for some evidence on this question and was surprised how little there was to be found.
Dr Jan Knight from Knight Scientific, a medical research company, was quoted saying: “A lot of the complementary/alternative medicine lobby are rubbing their hands because they think they’ll be able to do anything, but I don’t think the regulations will change.”
The excellent QUACKOMETER published an entire article on the subject which is well worth reading and essentially agrees with this view. Here are its conclusions: “EU laws about alternative medicine are not that great in number. The UK is free to choose who it licenses as a medical practitioner. It can allow chiropractors and osteopaths to have statutory regulation and does so. It can fund any such treatment publicly if it so wished without EU interference. It can police the sale of products on the High Street by funding Trading Standards and training them (but it chooses not to.) The UK government can come up with its own schemes to register herbalists and homeopaths and in doing so misleads the public about them. In short, it is possible to suggest that the UK governments do indeed exercise sovereignty over how alternative medicine manifests itself, how well the public is protected and how much public money is spent on it. Leaving the EU is not going to make much difference that way. Although I do suspect that staying might indeed over the years steadily increase the level of regulation around the matter. Successive UK governments have not done a lot. The EU just a little more.”
Perhaps the regulatory framework might not change a lot. But what about the prevalence of alternative medicine usage? It seems difficult to predict in which direction it will go. The reason is that I see influences in both directions.
FACTORS THAT COULD INCREASE THE USE OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
The Brexiters managed to style themselves as the anti-establishment. It is obvious that much of alternative medicine understands itself as an anti-establishment movement within healthcare. This means there could be a natural affinity between the two. On second thought, however, I think we can reject this possibility. The reason is that the Brexiters’ anti-establishment stance was nothing but a campaign ploy; in truth it is as genuine as a 4£ note.
What is much more real, in my view, is the well-documented inability of the Brexiters to correctly interpret the evidence (one could put this more simply by pointing out their ability to twist and turn the truth such that it suits their aims). These are qualities which I have often observed in promoters of alternative medicine, and it is this type of affinity that eventually might stimulate a general upwards trend of alternative medicine in the UK.
In a similar vein, we have to account for the influence of our future king. Prince Charles clearly has an alternative bee under his bonnet. Once we are outside the EU, it is likely that his influence on health politicians and other decision makers will be felt more powerfully. The Prince of Wales might even revive the ‘Smallwood Report’ which he commissioned to convince politicians that money could be saved by using more alternative therapies in the NHS. Charles and his views usually generate bewilderment on the EU-level, while here in the UK we still have many who take him seriously. His influence in a post-Brexit Britain is likely to be strengthened and will therefore be a factor that has the potential to boost alternative medicine in the UK.
FACTORS THAT COULD DECREASE THE USE OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
It has been reported that our suicidal move out of the EU has led to a contraction of wealth in Britain which is bigger than anything seen since 1921. Apparently, £ 120 billion have been wiped off the value of the stock market within just a few hours. To assume that this will hit only those who are rich enough to own shares, is more than naïve. It will hit all Brits and might even drive us into another recession.
Such developments are, of course, most unwelcome but nevertheless important in relation to alternative medicine usage. Those who employ alternative treatments usually pay for them out of their own pocket. Alternative medicine has always been a bit of a luxury item for those who had more money than sense. The consequence is that financially hard times are almost automatically associated with a reduction of alternative medicine use.
All of this is, of course, akin to an exercise in reading tea leafs. But if I am correct, we will now see a significant decrease in the demand for alternative medicine in the ‘Disunited Kingdom’. Once the financial misery is over – and that could take many years – Prince Charles and other ‘irrationalists’ might succeed in bringing about a moderate increase in the use of unproven treatments.
It has been reported in most newspapers that Prince Charles has proposed a solution to the problem of antibiotic over-use in animals and humans. He told an international gathering of scientists and government officials in London that he treats his own cows and sheep with homeopathy. Many people reacted with dismay. I, however, plead for more understanding of this thoroughly good-willed man.
In fact, I intend to go one step further.
We have often heard that he is a considerate and caring man. We ought to give him the benefit of the doubt. I have tried therefore to empathise with his situation, put myself into his shoes and repeat the considerations that made him say what he said. My empathy went so far that I tried to re-live and formulate his thoughts in the first person singular (or should I have used the ‘Royal We’?). The result is the following little monologue where I categorised the considerations under 7 headings.
I wonder why they invited me to give a speech. True, I am a farmer at heart and I know all about husbandry, but I have no real expertise in the field of antibiotics.
Perhaps it is an occasion to tell them a bit about homeopathy. Yes, that subject would surely fascinate the audience!
THE INTELLECTUAL ENVIRONMENT
They tell me that the conference will be packed with very bright people. That sort of thing always makes me a bit self-conscious. Perhaps I should decline the invitation after all? Sometimes, I have the impression that people make fun at me.
No, I must not think like that – after all, I have had a very expensive education too, and I know my stuff.
Homeopathy is such a wonderful subject. I must try to win them over and make them appreciate its beauty. These experts should realize that homeopathy is the future.
I have heard rumours that some blinkered scientists doubt that homeopathy works. But my advisors tell me that it is best to ignore this sort of thing. And my advisors know their stuff even better than I.
This conference is going to have a very high impact. The press will be there. It will be reported across the world. And government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies (why can we not have more holistic doctors in position like these; I must remember to discuss this with Michael Dixon asap); she once called homeopathy ‘rubbish’ – enough to throw her in the Tower!
Mustn’t think like that! On the contrary, I will make sure they all get the message. I will bowl them over! The press will surely be on my side. This will be a victory for homeopathy.
Mother might be upset; she does not like me to stick my neck out like that…goes on about constitutional role and such trivia…she thinks we should not put our nose into things that are none of our business. And the Royal PR team will not like it either. They do what they can to distract from the image of ‘THE MEDDLING PRINCE’ might think that my speech is a hindrance to their efforts. I better don’t tell anyone in advance about this, they might try to stop me.
But now I feel quite unstoppable.
This is what I will tell them about homeopathy: “It was one of the reasons I converted my farming operation to an organic – or agro-ecological – system over 30 years ago and why we have been successfully using homeopathic – yes, homeopathic – treatments for my cattle and sheep as part of a programme to reduce the use of antibiotics.” I think this will convince everyone. Who needs science when there is powerful rhetoric like this?
What if it does not go well? They will not dare to contradict me, I am the future King, for heaven’s sake! Even if they disagree, they will not show it. They just don’t have the guts. And anyway, I will not take questions, I never do enter into any debate on homeopathy. It is simply too tedious to argue with people who do not understand the issues involved.
It is decided – I’ll do it. I’ll do it for homeopathy and for the good of mankind. If they then chose to misunderstand me, that’s their problem, and my people will issue a statement for the press saying “Homeopathy is used on a case-by-case basis at Home Farm, in combination with more conventional medicine, to minimise dependence on antibiotics.”
*In case you are a lawyer hired by HRH to check out this post: it is pure satire through and through, there is not a factual sentence here; if you want to sue me, please find another reason.
Non-validated diagnostic methods, like those in abundant use in alternative medicine, run an unacceptably high risk of producing false positive or false negative diagnoses. The former would be a diagnosis that the patient is, in fact, not suffering from; this enables the charlatan to get rich on treating something that is not even there. The latter would be missing an illness that might even kill the patient. Thus both scenarios are unquestionably harmful.
It is now 21 years ago that I published a review of alternative diagnostic techniques entitled ‘WHICH CRAFT IS WITCHCRAFT?’. Here is the abstract:
The prevalence of complementary medicine in most industrialised countries is impressive and increasing. Discussions of the topic often focus on therapeutic approaches and neglect diagnostic methods specific for complementary medicine. The paper summarises the data available on such “alternative” diagnostics. Scientific evaluations of these are scant, and most techniques have never been properly validated. The ones that have can be demonstrated to be not reproducible, sensitive, or specific. The ones that have not should be regarded as such until shown otherwise by rigorous testing. Therefore it seems that “alternative” diagnostic methods may seriously threaten the safety and health of patients submitted to them. Orthodox doctors should be aware of the problem and inform their patients accordingly.
Exactly 15 years after the publication of this paper, PRINCE CHARLES published his book ‘HARMONY‘ where is covers amongst many other topic also the subject of alternative diagnostics. This is what he tells us about them:
I have also learn from leading experts how we can understand a great deal about the causes of ill health through more traditional methods of diagnosis – for example, through examination of the iris, ears, tongue, feet and pulse, very much the basis of the Indian Ayurvedic system. This is not to say that modern diagnostic techniques do not have a role, but let us not forget what we can gain by using the knowledge and wisdom accumulated over thousands of years by pioneers who did not have access to today’s technology. In fact, an over-reliance can often mean that the subtle signs of imbalance revealed by the examination of the eyes, pulse and tongue are totally missed. Including the fruits of such knowledge, gleaned over 8 000 years of studying the relationship of the human body to the rest of Nature and to the Universe, can but only provide an extra, valuable resource to doctors as they seek to make a full diagnosis. Why persist in denying the immense value of such accumulated wisdom when it can tell us so much about the whole person – mind, body and spirit? Employing the best of the ancient and modern in a truly integrated way is another example of harmony and balance at work.
Charles is talking here about iridology, amongst other methods. Iridologists try to diagnose disease or susceptibility to disease by analysing the colour pattern of a patient’s iris. It happens to be a technique that has repeatedly been put to the test. In 1999, I published a systematic review of the evidence and concluded that the validity of iridology as a diagnostic tool is not supported by scientific evaluations. Patients and therapists should be discouraged from using this method.
Given that the evidence for alternative diagnostic techniques is either negative or absent, why does the heir to the throne advocate using them? Does he not know that he has considerable influence and endangers the health of those who believe him? Why does he call this nonsense valuable? The answer probably is that he does not know better.
There is nothing wrong with Charles’ ignorance, of course. He is not a medic (if he were, his quackery might get him struck off the register!) and does not need to know such things! But, if he is ignorant about certain technicalities, should he write about them? At the very least, when giving such concrete medical advice about diagnostic methods, should he not recruit the expertise of people who do know about such matters?
In Charles’ defence, I should mention that apparently he did ask several physicians for help with his book. Two of those who he acknowledged in HARMONY have been mentioned on this blog before: Mosaraf Ali and Michael Dixon.
I MIGHT BE MISTAKEN, BUT IT SEEMS TO ME THAT CHARLES IS NOT JUST IGNORANT ABOUT MEDICINE BUT ALSO ABOUT THE ART OF CHOOSING EXPERTS.
Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, gave a lecture on the subject of veterinary homeopathy in the mid-1810s. Ever since, homeopathy has been used for treating animals. Von Boennighausen, a Dutch lawyer and early convert to homeopathy, was one of the first influential proponents of veterinary homeopathy.
However, veterinary medical schools tended to take a very dim view of homoeopathy, and the number of veterinary homeopaths initially remained small. In the 1920ies, veterinary homoeopathy was revived in Germany. Members of the “Studiengemeinschaft für tierärztliche Homöopathie” (Study Group for Veterinary Homoeopathy), which was founded in 1936 and had Nazi support, started to investigate this approach.
Today, veterinary homeopathy is popular, not least because of the general boom in alternative medicine. Prince Charles has become one of its most prominent advocate. In his book HARMONY, he writes:
“…one of the big arguments used against homeopathy is that it does not really work medically. The criticism is that people simply believe they feel they are going to feel better and so they think they are better. They have responded to the so-called ‘placebo effect’. It is for this reason that critics of homeopathy argue that it is a trick of the mind and its remedies are nothing more than sugar pills. What none of those who take this view ever seem to acknowledge is that these remedies also work on animals, which are surely unlikely to be influenced by the placebo effect. I certainly remember that when I started to introduce homeopathic remedies on the Duchy Home Farm, farm staff who had no view either way reported that the health of an animal that had been treated had improved so I wonder what it is that prevents the medical profession from even considering the evidence that now exists of trials of homeopathic treatments carried out on animals? It is not the quackery they claim it to be. Or if it is, then I have some very clever cows in my shed!”[I do love this quote; it so very clearly shows the frightfully muddled thinking of this man.]
In many countries, veterinary homeopaths have their own professional organisations. In other countries, however, veterinarians are banned from practicing homeopathy. In the UK, only veterinarians are allowed to use homeopathy on animals, but ironically anyone regardless of background can use it on human patients. In the US, homeopathic vets are organised in the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.
But what do homeopathic vets treat? One website informs us that the conditions frequently treated are: arthritis, lameness, cruciate rupture, chronic diarrhoea, atopy, allergy, autoimmune disorders (auto-immune), periodic ophthalmia (moon blindness, moonblindness, recurrent uveitis, recurrent ophthalmia, ERU), head shaking (headshaking, head-shaking), hip dysplasia, COPD, sweet itch, laminitis, corneal ulcer, elbow dysplasia, RAO, DJD, OCD, bone cysts, pasteurellosis (pasteurella), chlamydia, cryptosporidia, pneumonia, meningitis, mastitis, ringworm, epilepsy, pyoderma, eczema, dermatitis, eosinophilic myositis, eosinophilic granuloma, rodent ulcer, miliary eczema (miliary dermatitis), kidney problems, liver problems (hepatopathy), cystitis.
Now I can almost hear you shout: WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE???
May I refer you to a previous post on the matter?
It discussed a review aimed to assess risk of bias and to quantify the effect size of homeopathic interventions compared with placebo for each eligible peer-reviewed trial. Judgement in 7 assessment domains enabled a trial’s risk of bias to be designated as low, unclear or high. A trial was judged to comprise reliable evidence, if its risk of bias was low or was unclear in specified domains. A trial was considered to be free of vested interest, if it was not funded by a homeopathic pharmacy.
The 18 RCTs found by the researchers were disparate in nature, representing 4 species and 11 different medical conditions. Reliable evidence, free from vested interest, was identified in only two trials:
- homeopathic Coli had a prophylactic effect on porcine diarrhoea (odds ratio 3.89, 95 per cent confidence interval [CI], 1.19 to 12.68, P=0.02);
- individualised homeopathic treatment did not have a more beneficial effect on bovine mastitis than placebo intervention (standardised mean difference -0.31, 95 per cent CI, -0.97 to 0.34, P=0.35).
The authors conclusions are clear: Mixed findings from the only two placebo-controlled RCTs that had suitably reliable evidence precluded generalisable conclusions about the efficacy of any particular homeopathic medicine or the impact of individualised homeopathic intervention on any given medical condition in animals.
…homeopaths…will try to claim that [the review] was a biased piece of research conducted, most likely, by notorious anti-homeopaths who cannot be trusted. So who are the authors of this new publication?
They are RT Mathie from the British Homeopathic Association and J Clausen from one of Germany’s most pro-homeopathic institution, the ‘Karl und Veronica Carstens-Stiftung’.
At this stage, some of my readers are quite angry, I imagine. They might wonder how to protect defenceless animals from homeopathic quacks. But how?
Simple! Just sign the petition to ban veterinary homeopathy! I mean it – please do!!!