MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

regulation

1 2 3 5

A recent article in the Guardian revealed that about one third of Australian pharmacists are recommending alternative medicines with little-to-no evidence for their efficacy, including useless homeopathic products and potentially harmful herbal products.

For this survey of 240 Australian pharmacies, mystery shoppers were sent in to speak to a pharmacist at the prescription dispensing counter and ask for advice about feeling stressed. The results show that three per cent of the pharmacists recommended homeopathic products, despite a comprehensive review of all existing studies on homeopathy finding that there is no evidence they work in treating any condition and that ‘people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments’. Twenty-six percent of all pharmacists recommended Bach flower remedies to relieve stress. A comprehensive review of all existing studies on Bach flower remedies found no difference between the remedies and placebos. Fifty-nine per cent of people were just told the complementary and alternative product recommended to them worked, and 24% were told the product was scientifically proven, without any evidence being provided to them.

Asked about these findings, Dr Ken Harvey, a prominent Australian expert, said they demonstrated that some pharmacists were failing in their professional duty to consumers. “Pharmacists are giving crazy advice, and it is dangerous in some cases,” he said. “My view is that pharmacists, if they are going to sell these products, need to have a big shining sign over the shelves of the complementary and alternative medicine section that says ‘these products have not been assessed by the government regulators to see if they work, please talk to pharmacist’.Pharamacists are giving poor advice and they clearly have a conflict of interest,” Harvey said.

If you had hoped that in other countries pharmacists behave more responsibly, I must disappoint you. The information available shows that, when it comes to alternative medicine, pharmacists across the globe act much more like shop-keepers than like health care professionals. They are in the habit of putting profit before their duty to abide by the rules of evidence-based practice. And, in doing do, they violate their own ethical codes so regularly that I ask myself why they bothered to even implement one.

On this blog I have written so often about this issue that one could come to the conclusion that I have a bee under my bonnet:

The truth, however, is not that I am the victim of a bee.

The truth is that this is a very important public health issue.

The truth is that pharmacists show little signs of even trying to get to grips with it.

The truth is that pharmacists who sell bogus medicines put profit before professional ethics.

The truth is that such behaviour is not that of health care professionals but that of shop-keepers.

The truth is that I intend to carry on reminding these pharmacists that they are behaving like charlatans.

According to our friend Dana Ullman, “homeopathy has had a long tradition within Russia. Even though it was not officially recognized during the Communist regime, it was tolerated. And perhaps in part because it did not receive governmental sanction, the Russian people developed a trust in homeopathy. Due to the fact that homeopathic physicians worked outside of governmental medicine, homeopathy was a part of Russia’s “new economy”. People had to pay for homeopathic care, rather than receive it for free.

Homeopathy is still the minority practice. I was told that there are approximately one million medical doctors in Russia and its surrounding republics, with 15,000 medical doctors who use homeopathic medicines regularly, and about 3,000 medical doctors who specialize in classical homeopathy.”

But the ‘free ride’ of homeopathy seems to come to an end. We have seen this happening, for instance in the US, UK, Australia, and Germany. And now it is happening also in Russia:

It has just been reported that the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) has labelled homeopathic medicine a health hazard. The organization is now petitioning Russia’s Ministry of Health to abandon the use of homeopathic medicine in the country’s state hospitals, the RBC news outlet reported Monday.

A RAS committee warns that some patients were rejecting standard medicine for serious conditions in favour of homeopathic remedies, a move that almost inevitably puts their lives in danger. The committee also noted that, because of sloppy quality control during the manufacturing processes, some unlicensed homeopathic remedies contain toxic substances which harm patients in a direct fashion.

“The principles of homeopathy contradict known chemical, physical and biological laws and persuasive scientific trials proving its effectiveness are not available,” the committee stated in its report.

The move forms part of a growing backlash against homeopathy in Russia. Last month, students at the First Moscow State Medical University filed a petition to ban homeopathic principles from being taught in medical schools. Russia’s Federal Customs Service also introduced new rules in November 2016, forcing manufacturers to prove the effectiveness of any homeopathic products that they wish to sell.

To this, I have little to add; perhaps just this: ABOUT TIME TOO!

I am sure this  FDA press-release will interest many readers (we reported about this case before):

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that its laboratory analysis found inconsistent amounts of belladonna, a toxic substance, in certain homeopathic teething tablets, sometimes far exceeding the amount claimed on the label. The agency is warning consumers that homeopathic teething tablets containing belladonna pose an unnecessary risk to infants and children and urges consumers not to use these products.

In light of these findings, the FDA contacted Standard Homeopathic Company in Los Angeles, the manufacturer of Hyland’s homeopathic teething products, regarding a recall of its homeopathic teething tablet products labeled as containing belladonna, in order to protect consumers from inconsistent levels of belladonna. At this time, the company has not agreed to conduct a recall. The FDA recommends that consumers stop using these products marketed by Hyland’s immediately and dispose of any in their possession. In November 2016, Raritan Pharmaceuticals (East Brunswick, New Jersey) recalled three belladonna-containing homeopathic products, two of which were marketed by CVS.

“The body’s response to belladonna in children under two years of age is unpredictable and puts them at unnecessary risk,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. ”We recommend that parents and caregivers not give these homeopathic teething tablets to children and seek advice from their health care professional for safe alternatives.”

Homeopathic teething products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safety or effectiveness. The agency is unaware of any proven health benefit of the products, which are labeled to relieve teething symptoms in children. In September 2016, the FDA warned against the use of these products after receiving adverse event reports.

Consumers should seek medical care immediately if their child experiences seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, or agitation after using homeopathic teething products.

The FDA encourages health care professionals and consumers to report adverse events or quality problems experienced with the use of homeopathic teething products to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program:

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The Agency is also responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

END OF PRESS RELEASE

Well, this will be irritating to many homeopathy-fans, not least to our friend Dana Ullman. He likes to publish articles alleging that the US authorities have recently taken to being ever so unfair to the homeopathic industry. I commented recently on his paper entitled “Extreme Bias in FTC’s Ruling on Homeopathic Medicine” where he displays the well-known biases and ignorance of his trade in exemplary fashion, including the often firm anti-vaccination stance of homeopaths. Dana can also not resist claiming that ‘the Swiss government’s “Health Technology Assessment” on homeopathic medicine is much more comprehensive than any previous governmental report written on this subject to date’ and – how could it be otherwise? – is sufficient proof that homeopathy works.

In case you believe in what Ullman says, you ought to read the intriguing evidence about Ullman after being called as an expert witness in an US class action. On this occasion, the judge stated:

The Defendant presented the testimony of Gregory Dana Ullman who is a homeopathic practitioner. He outlined the theory of homeopathic treatment and presented his opinion as to the value and effectiveness of homeopathic remedies. The Court found Mr. Ullman’s testimony to be not credible. Mr. Ullman’s bias in favor of homeopathy and against conventional medicine was readily apparent from his testimony. He admitted that he was not an impartial expert but rather is a passionate advocate of homeopathy. He posted on Twitter that he views conventional medicine as witchcraft. He opined that conventional medical science cannot be trusted.
[…]
Mr. Ullman’s testimony was unhelpful in understanding the purported efficacy of the ingredients of SnoreStop to reduce the symptoms of snoring. Although he is familiar with the theory of homeopathic treatment, his opinions regarding its effectiveness was unsupported and biased. The Court gave no weight to his testimony.(Rosendez v. Green Pharmaceuticals)

Say no more!

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.

Actually, the exact quote was slightly different: What we’re dealing with here is the big lie, being perpetrated by corrupt government officials on the payroll of Pharma” (the bold lettering is from the original). It comes from the pen of  who has featured on this blog before (see also here).

Strong words indeed! But not as strong as those of the title of his new article: BRING THE CRIMINALS TO JUSTICE. What were they directed against? They were in protest against the recent rulings of the British Advertising Standards Authority and the American FCT  out-lawing the advertising of bogus claims for homeopathy.

Alan V Schmukler continues his article as follows: “It’s time to hold these people accountable. There are laws in every country against officials taking bribes and malfeasance in office. Write to your legislators and demand that they investigate and bring these criminals to justice. Send them the links to hundreds of homeopathy studies, including disease prevention with homeopathy, at the end of this article.   Tell them that the regulatory agencies are protecting Pharma profits, not the public.

Meanwhile, let us insist that pharmaceutical drugs be labeled honestly, like this:

“This drug was tested by the same company that profits from it, and which company has been fined millions of dollars in the past for lying about test results. This drug does not cure any medical condition, but only suppresses symptoms which may ultimately make the patient sicker. This drug has already  killed or injured X  number of people.”

There are not many homeopaths who can render me speechless; I have been used to a lot. But this man almost did. Almost!

After recovering my self-control, all I want to say to this is: THANK YOU ALAN V SCMUKLER! Not only have you made me laugh harder than when I last watched ‘Faulty Towers’, but, more importantly, you have shown us how deluded some (or could this be ‘all’?) of the leading homeopaths really are.

PS

Alan, if you read this, perhaps you want to have a look a this post.

Yes, to a large extend, quacks make a living by advertising lies. A paper just published confirms our worst fears.

This survey was aimed at identifying the frequency and qualitative characteristics of marketing claims made by Canadian chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths and acupuncturists relating to the diagnosis and treatment of allergy and asthma.

A total of 392 chiropractic, naturopathic, homeopathic and acupuncture clinic websites were located in 10 of the largest metropolitan areas in Canada. The main outcome measures were: mention of allergy, sensitivity or asthma, claim of ability to diagnose allergy, sensitivity or asthma, claim of ability to treat allergy, sensitivity or asthma, and claim of allergy, sensitivity or asthma treatment efficacy. Tests and treatments promoted were noted as qualitative examples.

The results show that naturopath clinic websites had the highest rates of advertising at least one of diagnosis, treatment or efficacy for allergy or sensitivity (85%) and asthma (64%), followed by acupuncturists (68% and 53%, respectively), homeopaths (60% and 54%) and chiropractors (33% and 38%). Search results from Vancouver were most likely to advertise at least one of diagnosis, treatment or efficacy for allergy or sensitivity (72.5%) and asthma (62.5%), and results from London, Ontario were least likely (50% and 40%, respectively). Of the interventions advertised, few are scientifically supported; the majority lack evidence of efficacy, and some are potentially harmful.

[Legend to figure above: Percentage of alternative medicine clinic websites advertising at least one of diagnosis, treatment or efficacy for allergy/sensitivity or asthma. Presenting the data in this way demonstrates that the Canadian naturopath, homeopath and acupuncturist websites studied have >50% rates of making at least one health-related claim for both allergy/sensitivity and asthma.]

The authors concluded that the majority of alternative healthcare clinics studied advertised interventions for allergy and asthma. Many offerings are unproven. A policy response may be warranted in order to safeguard the public interest.

In the discussion section, the authors state: “These claims raise ethical issues, because evidence in support of many of the tests and treatments identified on the websites studied is lacking. For example, food-specific IgG testing was commonly advertised, despite the fact that the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has recommended not to use this test due to the absence of a body of research supporting it. Live blood analysis, vega/electrodiagnostic testing, intravenous vitamin C, probiotics, homeopathic allergy remedies and several other tests and treatments offered all lack substantial scientific evidence of efficacy. Some of the proposed treatments are so absurd that they lack even the most basic scientific plausibility, such as ionic foot bath detoxification…

Perhaps most concerning is the fact that several proposed treatments for allergy, sensitivity or asthma are potentially harmful. These include intravenous hydrogen peroxide, spinal manipulation and possibly others. Furthermore, a negative effect of the use of invalid and inaccurate allergy testing is the likelihood that such testing will lead to alterations and exclusions in diets, which can subsequently result in malnutrition and other physiological problems…”

This survey originates from Canada, and one might argue that elsewhere the situation is not quite as bad. However, I would doubt it; on the contrary, I would not be surprised to learn that, in some other countries, it is even worse.

Several national regulators have, at long last, become aware of the dangers of advertising of outright quackery. Consequently, some measures are now beginning to be taken against it. I would nevertheless argue that these actions are far too slow and by no means sufficiently effective.

We easily forget that asthma, for instance, is a potentially life-threatening disease. Advertising of bogus claims is therefore  much more than a forgivable exaggeration aimed at maximising the income of alternative practitioners – it is a serious threat to public health.

We must insist that regulators protect us from such quackery and prevent the serious harm it can do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

START OF QUOTE

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

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

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

END OF QUOTE

I think I rest my case.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have published many articles on the risks of various alternative treatments (see for instance here, here, here, here, here and here) – not because I am alarmist but because I have always felt very strongly that, for a researcher into alternative medicine, the most important issue must be to make sure users of these therapies are as safe as possible. Usually I differentiated between direct and indirect risks. The former relate to the risks of the treatment and include, for instance, liver damage caused by a herbal remedy or stroke due to neck manipulation. The latter are mainly due to the poor, often irresponsible advice given by many therapists.

A recent article adopted the same terminology when reviewing the risks of alternative medicine specifically for cancer patients. As the indirect risks are often neglected, I will here quote the relevant section of this paper in full:

…Health care physicians and oncology experts have an ethical responsibility to initiate the communication regarding the use of complementary therapies with cancer patients. However, according to data obtained from this literature review, oncology doctors and physicians will discuss complementary therapies only when a patient him/herself raises this issue within a consultation. This passive attitude was linked to a lack of sufficient scientific evidence for positive outcomes of complementary therapies found in high quality randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Oncology nurses, on the other hand, sometimes actively promote complementary modalities that they find to correspond with their vision of holistic care.

According to the included studies, complementary providers often differ from conventional health care providers in their understanding of treatment concepts, philosophies and diagnostic procedures. This leads to different models of disease causality (cells, blood, nerves vs. energy, vital force, meridians) and treatment philosophy (reductionism vs. holism). As many complementary providers are philosophically oriented towards personal and spiritual growth, patients may feel guilty if the disease continues to advance despite the patients’ best spiritual and mental efforts. According to Broom and colleagues, such philosophies may also give patients false hope of recovery.

Another indirect risk connected to the combination of conventional and complementary treatment in cancer care is the lack of regulation and standardized education in many countries. Currently, there are, for example, no standard training requirements for complementary providers working in cancer care or any other health care setting in the EU. According to Mackareth et al., complementary providers in England need specific training to learn how to practice safely.

Moreover, there is a need for common medical terminology to bridge the communication gap between health care providers working outside the conventional health care system. Common medical terminology may reduce the existing communication gap between conventional and complementary providers about mutual patients. To minimize communication gap between physicians, oncology experts and complementary providers, a medical complementary record should include a treatment plan with conventional and complementary diagnosis, explanation of terminology, possible treatment interactions, description of the complementary treatment plan and goals. If possible, the quality of any complementary supplement given should be reported.

END OF QUOTE

As I said, I find it important to discuss the indirect risks of alternative medicine, and I am therefore pleased that the authors of this article addressed them. At the same time, I find their text remarkably tame.

Why are they not more open and forceful about what, after all, amounts to a serious public health issue? The answer might be simpler than expected: most of them are affiliated with the ‘National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NAFKAM), UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway’. Could it be that open warnings about outright quackery is not what suits this unit?

So, what might be an open and frank approach to discussing the indirect risks of alternative medicine? In my view, it should make several points abundantly clear and transparent:

  • Alternative practitioners (APs) are usually not trained to advise patients responsibly, particularly in cases serious disease.
  • The training of APs is often inadequate and sometimes resembles more to brain-washing than to proper education.
  • Consequently, APs often woefully over-estimate what their therapy can achieve.
  • The patients of APs are often desperate and ready to believe even the tallest tales.
  • APs have a huge conflict of interest – in order to make a living they need to treat as many patients as possible and are therefore not motivated to refer them to more suitable care.
  • APs are frequently in denial when it comes to the risks of their treatments.
  • APs are not educated such that they understand the full complexities of serious illness.
  • As a result, APs far too often misguide their patients to make tragically wrong choices thus putting their health at serious risk.
  • In most countries, the regulators turn a blind eye to this huge problem.

These are by no means trivial  points, and they have nothing to do with a ‘turf war’ between conventional and alternative medicine. They relate to our ethical duty to keep our patients as safe as we can. It has been estimated that, in oncology alone, 1 – 5% of deaths are due to patients opting to have alternative instead of conventional treatments. This amounts to an unbearably high absolute number of patients dying prematurely due to the indirect risks of alternative medicine.

It is high time, I think, that we tackle this issue systematically and seriously.

1 2 3 5
Recent Comments

Note that comments can now be edited for up to five minutes after they are first submitted.


Click here for a comprehensive list of recent comments.

Categories