MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

progress

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Whenever a level-headed person discloses that a specific alternative therapy is not based on good evidence, you can bet your last shirt that a proponent of the said treatment responds by claiming that conventional medicine is not much better.

There are several variations to this theme. Today I want to focus on just one of them, namely the counter-claim that, only a short while ago, conventional medicine was not much better than the said alternative therapy (the implication is that it must be unfair to demand evidence from alternative medicine, while accepting a similar state of affairs in conventional medicine). The argument has recently been formulated by one commentator on this blog as follows:

“Trepanation, leeches for UTI’s, and bloodletting are all historical treatments of medical doctors…It’s hypocritical… to impute mainstream chiropractice to the profession’s beginnings and yet not admit that medicine’s founding and evolution was inbued with consistently scientific rigor.”

Sadly, some people seem to be convinced by such words, and this is why they are being repeated ad nauseam by interested parties. Yet the argument is fallacious for a range of reasons.

  • Firstly, it is based on the classical ‘tu quoque’ fallacy (appeal to hypocrisy).
  • Secondly – unless we happen to be historians – it is not the healthcare of the past that is relevant to our discussions. The question cannot be what this or that group of clinicians used to do; the question is HOW DO THEY TREAT THEIR PATIENTS TODAY?

As soon as we focus on this issue, it is impossible to deny that conventional medicine has made lots of progress and moved light years away from treatments such as trepanation, leeches, bloodletting and many others.

Why?

Why did we make such huge progress?

Because research showed that many of the traditional treatments were ineffective, unsafe and/or implausible (thus demonstrating that hundreds of years of experience – which alternative therapists rate so very highly – is of more than dubious value), and because we consequently developed and tested new therapies and subsequently used those treatments that passed these tests and were proven to do more good than harm.

By contrast, in the last decades, centuries and millennia, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, paranormal healing etc. did make no (or very little) progress. So much so that Hahnemann, for instance, would pass any exam for  homeopathy today. (If you disagree with this statement, please post a list of those treatments that have been given up by alternative therapists in the last 100 years or so.) Come to think of it, it is a hallmark of alternative medicine that it does not progress in the way conventional medicine does. It is almost completely static, a fact, that renders it akin to a dogma or a cult.

But why? Why is there no real progress in alternative medicine?

Don’t tell me that there is no research, research funding, etc. There are now hundreds of studies of homeopathy or chiropractic, thousands of acupuncture, and dozens of paranormal healing, for instance. The trouble is not the paucity of such research but its findings! The totality of the evidence in each of these areas fails to show that the therapy in question is efficacious.

And there we have, I think, another hallmark of alternative medicine: it is an area where research is only acted upon, if its findings are in line with the preconceptions and aspirations of its proponents.

I find this interesting!

It means, amongst other things, that research into alternative medicine tends not to be used for finding the truth or establishing new knowledge; it is mainly employed for the promotion of the therapy in question, regardless of what the truth about it might be (this would disqualify this exercise from being research and qualify it as PSEUDO-RESEARCH). If the research findings are such that they cannot be used for promotion, they are simply ignored or defamed as inadequate.

Trump says he never mocked a disabled journalist.

YET THE WHOLE WORLD SAW HIM DO IT!

UK Brexit politicians such as Boris Johnson claim they never promised £ 350 million per week of EU funds for the NHS.

BUT WE ALL SAW THE PICTURES OF THE CAMPAIGN BUS!

These are just two of the numerous, obvious and highly significant lies that we have been told in recent months. In fact, we have heard so many lies recently that some of us seem to be getting used to them. We even have a new term for the phenomenon: the ‘post-truth society’.

Personally I don’t like the word at all: it seems to reflect a tacit acceptance of lies and their legitimisation.

I find it dangerous to put up with falsehoods in that way. And I think the truth is far too valuable to abandon it without a fight. I will therefore continue to call a lie a lie!

And, by Jove, in alternative medicine, we have no shortage of them:

  • Homeopaths claiming to be able to treat any condition with their ‘high potency remedies’.
  • Chiropractors who claim that spinal manipulation improves health.
  • Healers who state that their paranormal healing affects symptoms.
  • Alternative practitioners who claim that they treat the root cause of diseases.
  • Naturopaths who pretend they can treat childhood conditions.
  • Acupuncturists who say that rebalancing yin and yang affects health.
  • Alternative practitioners who insist they can detox our bodies.
  • Politicians who claim that TCM save lives.
  • Slapping therapists who say they can cure diabetes.
  • Journalists who publish that Paleo-diet can cure inflammatory bowel diseases.
  • Entrepreneurs who promote their unproven products as diabetes cures.
  • Academics who teach homeopathy to medical students.
  • Homeopaths who claim that their remedies are effective alternatives for vaccinations.

Do I need to go on?

These are not ‘post-truths’ – these are just lies, pure and simple.

We must not be lulled into complacency or false tolerance. Lies are lies, and they are wrong and unethical. In many instances they can even kill. To ignore or accept a steady stream of lies is not a solution; on the contrary, it can easily become part of the problem.

So, let’s continue to call them by their proper name – no matter whether they originate from the dizzy heights of world politics or the low lands of quackery.

At a recent conference in Montréal (October 2016), the WFC (World Federation of Chiropractic) and the ACC (Association of Chiropractic Colleges) reached a consensus on education. Consequently, recommendations were produced that offer 12 key ‘take away messages’. I take the liberty of reproducing these statements entitled ‘Training Tomorrow’s Spine Care Experts’ (the square brackets were inserted by me and refer to brief comments I made below).

START OF QUOTE

1. Chiropractic educational institutions have a  responsibility to equip students with the skills and  attributes necessary to become future spinal health care experts. This includes a commitment to astute diagnostic ability, a comprehensive knowledge of spine-related disorders [1], appreciation for the contributions of other health professionals and a commitment to collaborative, patient-centered and evidence-informed care [2].

2. Technological advances [3] provide an opportunity for the chiropractic profession to enhance, evolve and standardize core education and practice. This is relevant to the teaching of chiropractic skills, sharing of learning resources and assessment of performance. Emerging technologies that support the development of clinically-competent practitioners should be embedded within chiropractic programs.

3. The teaching and learning of specialized manual assessment and treatment skills should remain a key distinguishing element of chiropractic curricula.

4. Surveys of the public have a demonstrated a desire for consistency in the provision of chiropractic services. Such consistency need not compromise the identities of individual institutions but will cultivate public trust and cultural authority [4].

5. Globally consistent educational and practice standards will facilitate international portability [5] and promote greater health equity in the delivery of spine care.

6. Chiropractic programs should espouse innovation and leadership in the context of ethical [6], sustainable business [7] practices.

7. Chiropractic educational curricula should reflect current evidence [8] and high quality guidelines [9], and be subjected to regular review to ensure that students are prepared to work in collaborative health care environments.

8. The training of tomorrow’ s spine care experts should incorporate current best practices in education.

9. Interdisciplinary collaboration and strategic partnerships present opportunities to position chiropractors as leaders [10] and integral team players in global spine care.

10. Chiropractic educational institutions should champion the integration of evidence informed clinical practice [11], including clinical practice guidelines, in order to optimize patient outcomes. This will in turn foster principles of lifelong learning and willingness to adapt practice methods in the light of emerging evidence [12].

11. Students, faculty, staff and administrators must all contribute to a learning environment that fosters cultural diversity, critical thinking [13], academic responsibility and scholarly activity.

12. Resources should be dedicated to embed and promote educational research activity in all chiropractic institutions.

END OF QUOTE

And here are my brief comments:

[1] Some chiropractors believe that all or most human conditions are ‘spine-related disorders’. We would need a clear statement here whether the WFC/ACC do support or reject this notion and what conditions we are actually talking about.

[2] ‘Evidence-informed’??? I have come across this term before; it is used more and more by quacks of all types. It is clearly not synonymous with ‘evidence-based’, but aims at providing a veneer of respectability by creation an association with EBM. In concrete terms, asthma, for instance, might, in the eyes of some chiropractors, be an evidence-informed indication for chiropractic. In other words, ‘evidence-informed’ is merely a card blanch for promoting all sorts of nonsense.

[3] It would be good to know which technical advances they are thinking of.

[4] Public trust is best cultivated by demonstrating that chiropractic is doing more good than harm; by itself, this point sounds a bit like PR for maximising income. Sorry, I am not sure what they mean by ‘cultural authority’ – chiropractic as a cult?

[5] ‘International portability’ – nice term, but what does it mean?

[6] I get the impression that many chiropractors do not know what is meant by the term ‘ethics’.

[7] But they certainly know much about business!

[8] That is, I think, the most relevant statement in the entire text – see below.

[9] Like those by NICE which no longer recommend chiropractic for back pain? No? They are not ‘high quality’? I see, only those that recommend chiropractic fulfil this criterion!

[10] Chiropractors as leaders? Really? With their (largely ineffective) manipulations as the main contribution to the field? You have to be a chiropractor to find this realistic, I guess.

[11] Again ‘evidence-informed’ instead of ‘evidence-based’ – who are they trying to kid?

[12] The evidence that has been emerging since many years is that chiropractic manipulations fail to generate more good than harm.

[13] In the past, I got the impression that critical thinking and chiropractic are a bit like fire and water.

MY CONCLUSION FROM ALL THIS

What we have here is, in my view, little more than a mixture between politically correct drivel and wishful thinking. If chiropractors truly want chiropractic educational curricula to “reflect current evidence”, they need to teach the following main tenets:

  • Chiropractic manipulations have not been shown to be effective for any of the conditions they are currently used for.
  • Other forms of treatment are invariably preferable.
  • Subluxation, as defined by chiropractors, is a myth.
  • Spine-related disorders, as taught in many chiropractic colleges, are a myth.
  • ‘Evidence-informed’ is a term that has no meaning; the proper word is ‘evidence-based’ – and evidence-based chiropractic is a contradiction in terms.

Finally, chiropractors need to be aware of the fact that any curriculum for future clinicians must include the core elements of critical assessment and medical ethics. The two combined would automatically discontinue the worst excesses of chiropractic abuse, such as the promotion of bogus claims or the financial exploitation of the public.

But, of course, none of this is ever going to happen! Why? Because it would mean teaching students that they need to find a different profession. And this is why I feel that statements like the above are politically correct drivel which can serve only one purpose: to distract everyone from the fundamental problems in that profession.

‘How to convince someone when facts fail’ – this is the title of a very good and ‘must read’ article by Michael Shermer recently published in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The issue is clearly relevant to numerous discussions we have on this blog. Therefore, I will repeat Shermer’s conclusions here:

If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience,

1. keep emotions out of the exchange,

2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum),

3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately,

4. show respect,

5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and

6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.

These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.

Wise words and good strategies! But, as Shermer himself admits, they unfortunately don’t always work. This blog and the comments made by its readers provide ample examples of failures in this respect.

By and large, I try my very best to adhere to Shermer’s principles. Yet, I do not pretend that I always succeed brilliantly – on the contrary, far too often, I lose my rag. I am not particularly proud of it, but neither am I all that deeply ashamed.

The thing is that any attempt at a respectful and constructive dialogue requires the co-operation of both sides. If the opponent is continually disrespectful, offensive, dishonest, unable to grasp even the simplest concepts, etc., I often just stop the dialogue. If that does not prevent my opponent from being a belligerent nuisance, I have been known to get impatient or even rude. TO ALL WHO I OFFENDED IN 2016, I CAN ONLY SAY THIS: THERE PROBABLY WAS A GOOD REASON FOR MY BEHAVIOUR.

I know, this is not good enough, particularly as I should set an example for others. How can I expect all the commentators on this blog to be respectful and constructive, if I too loose my temper from time to time? The answer is I cannot (by the way, this is one reason why I have passed other people’s outbursts and ,so far, published them largely uncensored; as long as I cannot fully control myself, I must not censor others with the same predicament).

So, here is my resolution for 2017:

I will continue to be provocative (this is part of the ‘raison d’etre’ of this blog) but, at the same time, I will try harder to show respect, politeness and understanding. Crucially, I am herewith asking everyone to PLEASE do likewise. Failing this, I will start censoring those sections of the comments that I consider abusive; and [I almost forgot] I will ban those commentators who repeatedly need censoring.

Meniscus-injuries are common and there is no consensus as to how best treat them. Physiotherapists tend to advocate exercise, while surgeons tend to advise surgery.

Of course, exercise is not a typical alternative therapy but, as many alternative practitioners might disagree with this statement because they regularly recommend it to their patients, it makes sense to cover it on this blog. So, is exercise better than surgery for meniscus-problems?

The aim of this recent Norwegian study aimed to shed some light on this question. Specifically wanted to determine whether  exercise therapy is superior to arthroscopic partial meniscectomy for knee function in  patients with degenerative meniscal tears.

A total of 140 adults with degenerative medial meniscal tear verified by magnetic resonance imaging were randomised to either receiving 12 week supervised exercise therapy alone, or arthroscopic partial meniscectomy alone. Intention to treat analysis of between group difference in change in knee injury and osteoarthritis outcome score (KOOS4), defined a priori as the mean score for four of five KOOS subscale scores (pain, other symptoms, function in sport and recreation, and knee related quality of life) from baseline to two-year follow-up and change in thigh muscle strength from baseline to three months.

The results showed no clinically relevant difference between the two groups in change in KOOS4 at two years (0.9 points, 95% confidence interval −4.3 to 6.1; P=0.72). At three months, muscle strength had improved in the exercise group (P≤0.004). No serious adverse events occurred in either group during the two-year follow-up. 19% of the participants allocated to exercise therapy crossed over to surgery during the two-year follow-up, with no additional benefit.

The authors concluded that the observed difference in treatment effect was minute after two years of follow-up, and the trial’s inferential uncertainty was sufficiently small to exclude clinically relevant differences. Exercise therapy showed positive effects over surgery in improving thigh muscle strength, at least in the short-term. Our results should encourage clinicians and middle-aged patients with degenerative meniscal tear and no definitive radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis to consider supervised exercise therapy as a treatment option.

As I stated above, I mention this trial because exercise might be considered by some as an alternative therapy. The main reason for including it is, however, that it is in many ways an exemplary good study from which researchers in alternative medicine could learn.

Like so many alternative therapies, exercise is a treatment for which placebo-controlled studies are difficult, if not impossible. But that does not mean that rigorous tests of its value are impossible. The present study shows the way how it can be done.

Meaningful clinical research is no rocket science; it merely needs well-trained scientists who are willing to test the (rather than promote) their hypotheses. Sadly such individuals are as rare as gold dust in the realm of alternative medicine.

Recently, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) together with the UK General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) have sent new guidance to over 4,800 UK osteopaths on the GOsC register.  The guidance covers marketing claims for pregnant women, children and babies. It also provides examples of what kind of claims can, and can’t, be made for these patient groups.

Regulated by statute, osteopaths may offer advice on, diagnosis of and treatment for conditions only if they hold convincing evidence.  Claims for treating conditions specific to pregnant women, children and babies  are not supported by the evidence available to date.

The new ASA guidance is intended to help osteopaths talk about the healthcare they provide in a way that complies with the Advertising Codes and to protect consumers from being misled. It provides some basic principles and many examples of claims that are, and aren’t, acceptable. The ASA hopes it will provide greater clarity to osteopaths on how to advertise osteopathic care for pregnant women, children and babies responsibly.

Specifically, the guidance points out that “osteopaths may make claims to treat general as well as specific patient populations, including pregnant women, children and babies, provided they are qualified to do so.  Osteopaths may not claim to treat conditions or symptoms presented as specific to these groups (e.g. colic, growing pains, morning sickness) unless the ASA or CAP has seen evidence for the efficacy of osteopathy for the particular condition claimed, or for which the advertiser holds suitable substantiation. Osteopaths may refer to the provision of general health advice to specific patient populations, providing they do not make implied and unsubstantiated treatment claims for conditions.”

Examples of claims previously made by UK osteopaths which are “unlikely to be acceptable” include:

  • Osteopaths often work with lactation consultations where babies are having difficulty feeding. 
  • Osteopaths are qualified to advise and treat patients across the full breadth of primary care practice.
  • Osteopaths often work with crying, unsettled babies.
  • Birth is a stressful process for babies.
  • Babies’ skulls are susceptible to strain or moulding, leading to asymmetrical or flattened head shapes. This usually resolves quickly but can sometimes be retained. Osteopathy can help.
  • If your baby suffers from excessive crying, sometimes known as colic, osteopathy might help.
  • Children often complain of growing pains in their muscles and joints; your osteopath can treat these pains.
  • Osteopathy can help your baby recover from the trauma of birth; I will gently massage your baby’s skull.
  • Midwives often recommend an osteopathic check-up for babies after birth.
  • Osteopathy can help with breast soreness or mastitis after birth.
  • If your baby is having difficulty breastfeeding, osteopathy might be able to help.
  • Many pregnant women experience pain in the pelvic girdle area.  Osteopaths offer safe, gentle manipulation and stretches.
  • Many pregnant women find osteopathy relieves common symptoms such as nausea and heartburn.
  • Use of osteopathy can limit perineum or pelvic floor trauma.
  • If your baby suffers from constipation then osteopathy could help.
  • Osteopathy can also play an important preventative role in the care of a baby, child or teenager and bring the body back to a state of balance in health.
  • In assessing a newborn baby, an osteopath checks for asymmetry or tension in the pelvis, spine and head, and ensures that a good breathing pattern has been established.
  • Cranial osteopathy releases stresses and strains in the skull and throughout the body.
  • Osteopaths can feel involuntary motion and mechanisms within the body.
  • Cranial osteopathy aims to reduce restrictions in movement.

Elsewhere in the ASA announcement, we find the statement that “The effectiveness of osteopathy for treating some conditions is underpinned by robust evidence”. The two examples provided are rheumatic pain and joint pain. I have to say I was mystified by this. I am not aware of robust evidence for these two indications. Perhaps someone could help me out here and provide some references?

The only condition for which there is enough encouraging evidence is, as far, as I know low back pain – and even here I would not call the evidence ‘robust’. Am I mistaken? If you think so, please supply the evidence with links to the references.

But, in general, the new guidance is certainly a step in the right direction. Now we have to wait and see whether osteopaths change their advertising and behaviour accordingly and what happens to those who don’t.

WATCH THIS SPACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The global Homeopathy Product Market has recently been projected to increase by 18.2% during the forecast period 2016-2024. Considering that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos, this is remarkable, I think.

But why? Why are consumers spending their money on ineffective treatments?

The answer is probably complex, and there are many factors to explain this puzzling phenomenon. One of them is the constant and clever marketing of homeopathy. This website, for instance, claims that homeopathy can be used for first aid. Below I have copied the remedy in question, the potency best suited, and the conditions to be treated.

START OF QUOTE

1. ARNICA MONT. 30 – bruises, contusions, injuries, shock.

2. HYPERICUM 200 – injuries to parts rich in nerve-supply, laceration, also preventive for tetanus.

3. LEDUM PAL 30-punctured wounds, black eye. Also preventive for tetanus.

4. RHUS TOX 30 – sprains and strains, muscular pains.

5. RUT A GRA V. 30 – bruised periosteum, bones and injury to ligaments.

6. CANTHARIS 30 } for burns

7. URTICA URENS 6 } for burns

8 HEPAR SULPH 200 – septic wounds extremely painful and tender.

9. SILICIA 30 – sepsis.

FEVER, HEADACHE, COLD-DRUGS

1. ACONITE NAP. 30 – sudden high fever with chill, bad effects of fear, shock.

2. ARSENIC ALB 30 – colds, food poisoning.

3. BELLADONNA 30 – high fever, sunstroke, earache,

4. BRYONIA ALB. 30 – fever with cold, biliousness and constipation.

5. GELSEMIUM 30•-high fever with chill, influenza, cold.

6. PULSATILLA 30 – for cold, indigestion, after fatty food.

OTHER DRUGS

1 CARBO VEG. 30 – flatulence and indigestion.

2. CHAMOMILLA 30 – teething children with various troubles.

3. CINA 30 – worms

4. COFFF A 30 – sleeplessness 5. GLONOINE 6 – sunstroke, headache, high b16dd-pressure.

6. H AMAMELLIS 30 – bleeding from veins-dark blood.

7. IPECACUANHA 30– nausea vomiting, also for haemorrhages.

8. NUX VOMICA 30- biliousness, constipation, dysentery.

9. PODOPHYLLUM 30 – diarrhoea

10. PHOSPHORUS 30 – haemorrhage with bright red blood.

EXTERNAL APPLICATIONS

1. ARNICA OINT } for injuries where skin not broken

2. HYPERICUM OINT }for injuries where skin not broken

3. CALENDULA OINT. – for open wounds.

4. MULLIEN OIL – for earache

5. PLANTAGO MAJ. for toothache

BESIDES THE ABOVE DRUGS THE TWELVE TISSUE WILL ALSO BE USEFUL AS FIRST-AID DRUGS WHEN

PER INDICATIONS.

HOMEOPATHIC PROPHYLACTICS

Diseases or Condition Preventive medicine
Chicken Pox Ant.tart and Malandrinum
Cholera Ars.alb and Ver.alb.
Diphtheria Diphtherinum
Measles Morbilinum
Herpes Variolinum
Influenza Influenzinum
Whooping Cough Drosera, Pertussin
Mumps Pilocarpine and Parotidinum
Poliomyelitis Lathyrus Sativus and Plumbum
Small Pox Variolinum and Malandrinum
Tetanus Ledum, Hypericum
Typhoid Baptisia Q, Typhoidinum
Vaccination Ill effects Thuja
Rabies Hydrophobinum
Tuberculosis Tuberculinum Bov.

END OF QUOTE

You must admit that this is impressive. Imagine someone reading this – is it not understandable that consumers try homeopathy?

If this website were an exception or an extreme case – but it is not! Information like this is available on the Internet and elsewhere a million times over. And there is no doubt that such information is a risk factor for public health.

What is needed is factual information presented such that consumers can understand it. In my view, this would be an important contribution to public health – so important, in fact, that I have just published a book with exactly this aim. I hope that many consumers will learn about it.

Antrodia cinnamomea (AC) is a fungus which is used in Taiwan as a remedy for cancer, hypertension, hangover and other conditions. There are several commercial AC products and the annual market is worth over $100 million in Taiwan alone.

Several studies have suggested anti-cancer properties in vitro but few clinical trials have been reported. Now Taiwanese researchers published a double-blind, randomized clinical study to investigate whether AC had acceptable safety and efficacy in advanced cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

Patients with advanced and/or metastatic adenocarcinoma, performance status (PS) 0-2, and adequate organ function who had previously been treated with standard chemotherapy were randomly assigned to receive routine chemotherapy regimens with AC (20 ml twice daily) orally for 30 days or placebo. The primary endpoint was 6-month overall survival (OS); the secondary endpoints were disease control rate (DCR), quality of life (QoL), adverse event (AE), and biochemical features within 30 days of treatment.

A total of 37 subjects with gastric, lung, liver, breast, and colorectal cancer (17 in the AC group, 20 in the placebo group) were enrolled in the study. Disease progression was the primary cause of death in 4 (33.3 %) AC and 8 (66.7 %) placebo recipients. Mean OSs were 5.4 months for the AC group and 5.0 months for the placebo group (p = 0.340), and the DCRs were 41.2 and 55 %, respectively (p = 0.33). Most hematologic, liver, or kidney functions did not differ significantly between the two groups, but platelet counts were lower in the AC group than in the placebo group (p = 0.02). QoL assessments were similar in the two groups, except that the AC group showed significant improvements in quality of sleep (p = 0.04).

12906_2016_1312_fig2_html

The above figure shows the survival curves for both groups.

The authors concluded as follows: Although we found a lower mortality rate and longer mean OS in the AC group than in the control group, AC combined with chemotherapy was not shown to improve the outcome of advanced cancer patients, possibly due to the small sample size. In fact, the combination may present a potential risk of lowered platelet counts. Adequately powered clinical trials will be necessary to address this question.

I agree, the survival curve looks promising. But we must not get carried away: this was a tiny sample size and a relatively short treatment period. Thus the difference could be a coincidence or an artefact.

The investigators are sufficiently cautious in the interpretation of their findings, and most of us would probably agree that it is necessary to submit such traditional remedies to proper scientific tests. Yet, I feel a sense of unease when I read such articles.

On the one hand, it is possible that such investigations meaningfully contribute to progress. On the other hand, I wonder whether they merely end up providing a significant boost to the trade of bogus remedies sold at high prices to desperate patients. Do the benefits really out-weigh the risks? We will probably never know.

But to minimize the risk, the authors should now swiftly conduct a more definitive trial and create some clarity about the value or otherwise of this traditional cancer remedy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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