MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Monthly Archives: April 2020

When I first saw this press-release, I thought it was a hoax. After all, it came from a most dubious homeopathic source. Then I read it again and was no longer sure.

What do you think?

Here it is in full:

Santa Clara, Cuba, April 3,2020 (Prensa Latina) The homeopathic medicine Prevengho-VIR began to be administered as a measure to confront the Covid-19 in this province of central Cuba.

Dr. Mirtha Rosa Hernandez, head of the Department of the Elderly in Villa Clara, reported that the supply of the preparation began in the Grandparents’ Homes and Elderly Homes of the territory, which has 184,000 people over 60 years old, 23.9 percent of the local universe. The medicine is administered by doctors and nurses of the basic working group where the Grandparents’ Homes and Nursing Homes are located in the 13 municipalities of this province.

This homeopathic medicine comes in a 10-milliliter bottle, and the daily dosage is 5 drops, thrice a day; while on the tenth day a reactivation of the initial dose is performed. It is aimed at preventing the respiratory diseases in this risk group, in addition to other medical conditions, such as dengue.

In the upcoming days it will be extended to the Maternal Homes. It is administered by the doctors and the nurses from the basic work group of the senior homes.

She said, that besides avoiding the new coronavirus the formula is also aimed at preventing respiratory diseases in this risk group, in addition to others such as dengue fever.

This medicine can also be administered to children under 10 years old, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and patients with liver disorders.

Combination Medicine
Anas berberiae 200
Baptisia tinctora 200
Bascilinum 30
Pyrogenum 200
Eupetorium perf 200
Influezinum 200
Arsenicum Album 200

As I said, I was not sure whether this was for real. Is it possible that even officials are so stupid, brainwashed or gullible to go for homeopathy in such a serious situation?

In an attempt to find out, I did a little search and quickly found that the story has been reported by multiple media. This, for instance, is what the Miami Herald reported:

As scientists around the world speed up clinical trials to find a cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, the Cuban government will begin distributing a homeopathic remedy to the elderly and other vulnerable people to “prevent” the spread of the disease, a top health official said.

Dr. Francisco Durán, national director of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, said in a press conference on Sunday that “sublingual drops” of the compound PrevengHo-Vir “prevent different diseases such as influenza, the common cold, dengue, and emerging viral infections such as this one.”

On Monday, Durán tried to correct his statements and said that the product “does not prevent contagion” but rather “increases resistance, the body’s defenses against a certain virus.”

Several state media outlets reported that PrevengHo-Vir is already being used in various Cuban provinces to treat the elderly and other groups vulnerable to the coronavirus. There is no internet record of PrevengHo-Vir, other than press reports about the announcement of its distribution in Cuba.

So, it’s not a hoax!

In this case, let me try to predict what will happen next:

  • When the pandemic is over, the Cubans will publish mortality rates achieved with their homeopathic prevention [A].
  • They will compare them to data from a cohort that did not receive the homeopathic treatment [B].
  • Neither of the data-sets will be transparent and nobody will be able to check its reliability.
  • The comparison will yield a significant difference in favour of homeopathy.
  • The Cubans will use this to market their remedy.
  • The world of homeopathy will use it as a proof that homeopathy is effective (it wouldn’t be the first time).

Nothing wrong with that, some will say. Others who understand research methodology will, however, point out that these data are less than convincing.

In such case/control studies, one large group of patients [A] is compared to another group [B]. Group A has been treated homeopathically, while group B received no homeopathy. Any difference in outcome between A and B might be due to a range of circumstances that are unrelated to the homeopathic treatment, for instance:

  • group A might have been less ill than group B,
  • group A might have been better nourished,
  • group A might have benefited from better hygiene,
  • group A might have received better care,
  • group B might have received treatments that made the situation not better but worse,
  • the researchers might have prettified the data to make group A look better.

Such concerns are not totally unfounded; after all, Cuba seems to have a long history of making irresponsible claims for their homeopathic products.

Today is the official publication date of my new book ‘DON’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU THINK‘. It is essentially a crash course in critical thinking. To give you a flavour, here is an excerpt from its preface:

… So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is a complex and controversial subject. Many people pretend to be experts in SCAM, but few know even the basic facts about it. Many consumers talk about SCAM, but few can be bothered to look behind the smokescreen of misleading claims. Many feel emotionally attached to SCAM, but few manage to think rationally about it. Many religiously believe in SCAM, but few show concern about the evidence. Many are desperate for help, but few seem to mind getting ripped off…

Enthusiasts of SCAM tend to hope for less side-effects, symptom relief, a cure of their condition, improvements in quality of life, and protection from illness. Such high expectations are usually based on misinformation, often even on outright lies. The disappointing truth is that not many SCAMs are truly effective in treating or preventing disease, and that none is totally harmless. In fact, the dangers of SCAM are multi-fold and potentially serious:

  • harm due to adverse effects such as toxicity of an herbal remedy, stroke after chiropractic manipulation, pneumothorax after acupuncture (see chapter 3.2);
  • harm caused by bogus diagnostic techniques (see chapter 4.4);
  • harm of using materials from endangered species (see chapter 3.15);
  • harm through incompetent advice by SCAM providers (see chapter 4.5);
  • harm due to using SCAM instead of an effective therapy for serious conditions (see chapter 4.5);
  • harm due to the high costs of SCAM (see chapter 3.8);
  • harm due to SCAM undermining evidence-based medicine (see chapter 5.4);
  • harm caused by inhibiting medical progress and research (see chapter 5.1).

In this book, I address these issues in detail and explain how consumers get manipulated into believing things that are evidently wrong. Using plenty of real-life examples, I outline how the constant flow of misinformation, coupled with motivated ignorance, motivated reasoning, and cognitive bias can produce a form of wishful thinking that is detached from reality. In the interest of my readers’ health, I aim to correct some of these false beliefs and fallacious thought processes.

My book consists of 35 concise essays each of which addresses one commonly held belief about SCAM. The essays can be read as stand-alone articles; occasionally, this necessitates a degree of repetition which, however, is minimal. The text avoids technical jargon and is therefore easy to follow. For those who want to dig deeper into the scientific evidence, links are provided to numerous papers that might prove to be helpful. A glossary is added at the end to explain some terms that might be unfamiliar.

This book is meant to stimulate critical thinking not just about SCAM, but also in a more general way. Science deniers employ similar techniques no matter whether they focus on health, climate change, evolution or other subjects. Exposing their techniques for what they are is thus important.

  • They ignore the scientific consensus.
  • They cherry-pick their evidence.
  • They rely on poor quality studies, opinion and anecdotes.
  • They invent conspiracy theories.
  • They defame their opponents.
  • They point out that science has been wrong before.
  • They say, ‘science does not know everything’.

Critical thinking is the best, perhaps even the only protection we have from being fooled and, crucially, from fooling ourselves. If my book enables you to question nonsense, call out untruths, correct falsehoods, ridicule stupidity, and disclose fake news, it surely was worth the effort.

 

Resveratrol is one of the most popular dietary supplements. It is an antioxidant found in red grape skin, Japanese knotweed, blueberries and other berries. Resveratrol is available as dietary supplements from red wine extracts, grape seed extracts, Japanese knotweed extracts and other plants. The amount and purity of resveratrol in supplements varies significantly; absorption in the gut is low.

While, for many supplements, there is no or very little research, this one has a huge amount. So, has reseveratrol any proven health effects demonstrated in clinical trials?

The answer is encouraging.

This abstract provides a useful summary:

Resveratrol is a polyphenolic nutraceutical that exhibits pleiotropic activities in human subjects. The efficacy, safety, and pharmacokinetics of resveratrol have been documented in over 244 clinical trials, with an additional 27 clinical trials currently ongoing. Resveretrol is reported to potentially improve the therapeutic outcome in patients suffering from diabetes mellitus, obesity, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, multiple myeloma, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases, inflammatory diseases, and rhinopharyngitis. The polyphenol is reported to be safe at doses up to 5 g/d, when used either alone or as a combination therapy. The molecular basis for the pleiotropic activities of resveratrol are based on its ability to modulate multiple cell signaling molecules such as cytokines, caspases, matrix metalloproteinases, Wnt, nuclear factor-κB, Notch, 5′-AMP-activated protein kinase, intercellular adhesion molecule, vascular cell adhesion molecule, sirtuin type 1, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator 1α, insulin-like growth factor 1, insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 3, Ras association domain family 1α, pAkt, vascular endothelial growth factor, cyclooxygenase 2, nuclear factor erythroid 2 like 2, and Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1. Although the clinical utility of resveratrol is well documented, the rapid metabolism and poor bioavailability have limited its therapeutic use. In this regard, the recently produced micronized resveratrol formulation called SRT501, shows promise. This review discusses the currently available clinical data on resveratrol in the prevention, management, and treatment of various diseases and disorders. Based on the current evidence, the potential utility of this molecule in the clinic is discussed.

This is a comprehensive review but it fails to critically assess the quality of the clinical trials. Once we do that, we are likely to get disappointed. Many studies are just not up to the mark.

And if we consult a Cochrane review, our enthusiasm for resveratrol disappears completely: Currently, research is insufficient for review authors to evaluate the safety and efficacy of resveratrol supplementation for treatment of adults with T2DM [type 2 diabetes mellitus]. The limited available research does not provide sufficient evidence to support any effect, beneficial or adverse, of four to five weeks of 10 mg to 1000 mg of resveratrol in adults with T2DM. Adequately powered RCTs reporting patient-relevant outcomes with long-term follow-up periods are needed to further evaluate the efficacy and safety of resveratrol supplementation in the treatment of T2DM.

So, for the time being, I might just continue to obtain my resveratrol in very small but regular doses from red wine, I think.

 

 

Yes, this blog is about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – but today is an exception.

There has been much news coverage of potential treatments of coronavirus. Some of the candidates such as hydroxychloroquine, have even been tested in clinical trials. However, due to the preliminary nature of these studies, the value of of the drugs remains uncertain.

What is needed in our present dire situation is a large and rigorous trial of already licensed drugs that might have a positive effect. With a bit of luck, such a study could save thousands of lives.

Unfortunately, setting up a trial of this nature is difficult and takes time.

Now the UK’s government has announced that the world’s largest randomised clinical trial of potential coronavirus treatments has been running since 19 March. It was designed, planned, approved and implemented in record time. The study is aimed at testing several promising treatments. If the findings are positive, they will be given to NHS patients as quickly as possible.

Almost 1,000 patients from 132 different UK hospitals have to date been recruited. The trial is testing a number of medicines recommended by an expert panel advising the Chief Medical Officer for England. They include:

  • Lopinavir-Ritonavir, commonly used to treat HIV
  • Dexamethasone, a type of steroid use in a range of conditions to reduce inflammation
  • Hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria

Adult patients who have been admitted to hospital with COVID-19 are being invited to take part. The trial is designed such that, as further promising drugs are identified, they can be added to the study within days. Patients who volunteer are randomly allocated to

  1. standard care alone,
  2. or to standard of care plus one of the additional drugs.

The data will be analysed on a rolling basis so that any beneficial treatments are identified as soon as possible.

This study seems like an excellent idea. I do hope it is successful and manages to find a drug that increases the chances of survival. I keep my fingers crossed.

 

PS

Please note that the scientists did not include homeopathy or other SCAMs into their trial.

Guest post by Kevin Smith

A family member of my household has been aghast to receive in the post yesterday a letter suggesting that, if they develop symptoms of coronavirus, they should take homeopathic remedies.

If this had been from some quack pharmacy doing a random mailshot, it would have been bad enough. But, astonishingly, it has come from the NHS! The letter is not on headed notepaper and is unsigned (it is in the format of a ‘factsheet’), thus is doesn’t contain the sender’s address; however, the envelope’s address label displays both my family member’s NHS number and the name of their GP practice. Moreover, the franking refers to a PO Box number that is owned by the NHS teaching hospital in our area. So it has certainly come from the NHS.

I believe that the family member who received it has been targeted because, in the past, a GP referral had been made for them to consult an NHS homeopath at this hospital.

Yes, very sadly, homeopaths have managed to exist within the NHS in the local area. I had assumed that, with the NHS recently cracking down on homeopathy, such quacks would have been excised – but this looks not to be the case, given the sending of this letter.

Here’s the text of the letter. Read it and see if you are as astonished – indeed as enraged – as I certainly am, and as is the family member to whom it was sent.

Guidance on Coronavirus (updated)

Prevention:

Daily probiotics, Regular handwashing, Stat dose of Covid-19 nosode 200c if it becomes available, Vit C & Zinc supplementation

Stress avoidance (Constitutional homeopathic prescribing & lifestyle)

Avoid incidental paracetamol use (ie no symptomatics for stress headaches etc)

Contact:

Add Ecchinacea, tincture 5 drops in water, twice daily, for no more than 4 consecutive days

Prodromal (ie before symptoms emerge):

Avoidance of incidental paracetamol use.

Stop work. Rest. Isolation. (+ Gelsemium 2 hourly, and/or Covid-19 nosode if it becomes available)

If you develop symptoms of Coronavirus: then avoid Paracetamol, Ibuprofen or Aspirin and take one of the following every hour, sucked in the mouth:

Camphora 30c (tablets or pillules) chills, cough, changeable fever

Bryonia 30c (tablets or pillules) fever, painful dry cough

Arsenicum album 30c (tablets or pillules) washed out feeling, chilliness, restless or agitated

Veratrum album 30c (diarrhoea, chills and fatigue)

Bryonia and Camphora are the most commonly indicated for Covid-19 from experience so far. Order them directly from one of the UK Homeopathic Pharmacies listed.

7 grammes / 8 grammes = 60 tablets or pillules

14 grammes / 15 grammes = 120 tablets or pillules

That’s the front page of the letter. Overleaf, it lists 11 homeopathic suppliers (across the UK), complete with contact details.

Additionally, the letter was accompanied by a pink slip, containing the following text:

If you find that you need to use any of the treatments outlined here, it is very important that you provide detailed feedback to us, so that we can adapt and improve our advice to others if necessary. Email (feedback only) [email protected]

What to make of this communication? Remember, this was from the NHS! What to do about it? COMMENTS WELCOME!

Here is an open letter published yesterday, initiated by SENSE ABOUT SCIENCE and signed by many UK scientists and other experts. If you agree with it, you can still add your name to the signatories (see below):

 

 

Dear Mr Johnson

We urge you to start publishing the government’s evolving plans for coronavirus testing, and the evidence they are based on.

Testing is key to understanding the risks and to how people can get back to work and normal life. It is what major decisions will be based on, but there are also limits to what it can tell us.

People are frustrated and confused about the scientific and logistical challenges of testing and what the government is doing about it. The internet and media are awash with rumours and the public are valiantly trying to work their way through fragments of information. People in senior positions in healthcare, in government departments, in research and in the related industries are struggling to see whether their input is needed and how to give it.

Why is testing delayed? Is there a shortage of tests? Is there a shortage of chemicals? Do they only work 30% of the time? Will there be tests to see whether someone’s had the virus? Can people test themselves or does it have to be done by a clinic? These are just a handful of the many questions being asked. Scientists and government representatives are trying to answer them but it’s a losing battle with volume and reach.

The UK government’s response to this epidemic started by levelling with people in a clear way about the emerging evidence and transparency on the government’s evolving thinking about that evidence. Of course, continuing to tell people what is happening has become complex and challenging. But that won’t be brought under control by limiting communication to behavioural instructions or by your efforts to clamp down on misinformation. The government cannot clamp down on misinformation without substituting information in its place. Would the government please maintain its commitment to evidence transparency and put its evolving plans and evidence on testing on an open site where the public, experts and government agencies can follow them and to which those who are trying to address confusion can direct people.

Yours faithfully

Tracey Brown OBE, director, Sense about Science

Carl Heneghan, director, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine

Justine Roberts, CEO, Mumsnet

Emma Friedmann, campaign director, FACSaware

Professor Sarah Harper, The Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford

Mairead MacKenzie, Independent Cancer Patient Voices

Rose Woodward, Founder, Patient & Advocate, Kidney Cancer Support Network

Dr Bu’Hussain Hayee PhD FRCP AGAF, Clinical Lead for Gastroenterology

I.Chisholm-Bunting, School of Nursing and Allied Health

Rachael Jolley, editor in chief, Index on censorship

Caroline Fiennes, director, Giving Evidence

Dr Ritchie Head, director, Ceratium

Tommy Parker, KiActiv

Professor Annette Dolphin FRS, FMedSci, President of British Neuroscience Association

Dr James May, Vice Chair, Healthwatch and GP

Peter Johnson, Patient representative with respiratory conditions

A. P. Dawid, FRS Emeritus Professor of Statistics, University of Cambridge

Stafford Lightman FMedSci FRS, Professor of Medicine, University of Bristol

Dr Christie Peacock CBE PhD FRAgS FRSB Hon DSc, Founder and Chairman, Sidai Africa (Kenya) Ltd

Caroline Richmond, Medical journalist

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky FAcSS, Chair in Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol

Hugh Pennington CBE, Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology, University of Aberdeen

Prof. Wendy Bickmore FRS, FRSE, FMedSci, Director: MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh

Benjamin Schuster-Böckler, PhD, Research Group Leader, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

Dr Max Pemberton, Daily Mail columnist and NHS Doctor

Diana Kornbrot, Emeritus Professor of Mathematical Psychology, University of Hertfordshire

Professor Patrick Eyers, Chair in Cell Signalling, University of Liverpool

Lelia Duley, Emeritus Professor, University of Nottingham

Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor University of Exeter

Ianis Matsoukas, Biomedical Sciences, University of Bolton

Dr Lorna Gibson, Radiology Registrar, New Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

Sylvia Schröder, Senior Research Fellow, UCL

Dr Emma Dennett, St George’s University of London.

Ellie Wood, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

Sophie Faulkner, clinical doctoral research fellow / occupational therapist

Dr Maya Hanspal, research assistant, UK Discovery Lab

Dr John Baird, University of Aberdeen

Martin Stamp, managing director, Ionic Information

Saša Jankovic, Journalist

Kate Ravilious, Freelance Science Writer

Charise Johnson, policy advisor

Dr Sophie Millar, University of Nottingham

Bissera Ivanvoa, Research Assistant in Linguistics, The University of Leeds

Baroness Jolly, House of Lords

Dr. Simon Keeling MSc, PhD, RMet, FRMetS, The weather centre

Laurie van Someren, Aleph One Ltd

Prof Chris Kirk, former Hon. Sec. Royal Society of Biology.

Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Wilber Sabiiti,Senior Research fellow in Medicine, University of St Andrews

Prof. Bob Brecher, Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics, University of Brighton

Dr Sabina Michnowicz, UCL Hazard Centre

David Orme, Research Assistant, Cortex Lab

Rebecca Dewey PhD, Research Fellow in Neuroimaging

Dr Ricky Nathvani, Imperial College London.

Rita F. de Oliveira, Senior lecturer Sport and Exercise Science, London South Bank University

Prof Christopher C French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London

Kirstie Tew, Lead Scientist, KiActiv®

Dr Ben Martynoga, Freelance writer

Nigel Johnson, Patient representative with respiratory conditions

Dr Mimi Tanimoto – Science Communications Consultant

Till Bruckner, TranspariMED

Lesley-Anne Pearson, The University of Dundee

Sue O’Connell, retired consultant microbiologist, Health Protection Agency

Hao Ni, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, UCL, The Turing Fellow, the Alan Turing Institute

Dr Simon Underdown, FSA, FRSB, Director – Centre for Environment and Society

Matthew A Jay, PhD Student in Legal Epidemiology, University College London

Michael Butcher, Chairman, dataLearning Ltd

Professor Tom Crick, Swansea University

Dr J K Aronson, Consultant Physician and Clinical Pharmacologist, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine

Dr Thomas O’Mahoney, Anglia Ruskin University

Professor Ianis G. Matsoukas PhD (Biomedical Sciences), University of Bolton

Emeritus Professor Nigel Brown, Blackah-Brown Consulting

Danae Dodge, Ask for Evidence Ambassador

Ieuan Hughes, Department of Paediatrics, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke’s Hospital

Mandy Payne, Freelance Medical Editor

Lyssa Gold, University of St Andrews

Please email [email protected] with your name and description if you wish to add yourself to the letter.

‘Acupuncture in the Treatment of COVID-19: An Exploratory Study’ is the title of a paper that I was alerted to. Here is its abstract:

The coronavirus COVID-19 has presented a serious new threat to humans
since the first case was reported in Wuhan, China on 31 December 2019.
By the end of February 2020 the virus has spread to 57 countries with
nearly 86,000 cases, and there is currently no effective vaccination
available. Chinese herbal medicine has been used in this epidemic with
encouraging results, but with concerns regarding disturbance of patients’
digestive function. This study aims to explore the role of acupuncture in
treating COVID-19 by investigating relevant current literature along with
classical Chinese medicine texts on epidemics. Based on this analysis,
acupuncture points and strategies are suggested for practitioners to use
as a guide to treatment.

The paper is largely devoid of what I would call evidence. Here are a few excerpts to give you a flavour:

Epidemic qi attacks the body rapidly and violently,
therefore clinical features can change dramatically and vary
significantly between cases. Severe symptoms can develop
within just a few days. The following clinical possibilities
should be borne in mind:
• Once damp-cold becomes significant, it can: a) block
the Lungs causing dypnoea; b) attack the Pericardium
causing chest tension, nausea, cold sweat and shock;
c) cause Kidney yang failure, inducing haematuria,
dehydration, abnormal urination and weight loss; and
d) damage the Stomach and Spleen, leading to vomiting
and diarrhoea.
• Once damp-cold turns to heat, it will occlude the Lungs
and yangming (Stomach and Large Intestine) resulting
in fever, coughing, chest tension and shortness of breath,
fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, bloating,

diarrhoea or constipation, eventually destroying the
body’s yin and evolving into endogenous wind syndrome.

How can one avoid contracting such a ferocious epidemic
virus? The Nei jing (Inner Classic) provides the answer:
people with strong zheng (upright) qi will avoid the
worst effects of epidemic infection despite the fact
that everybody, no matter their age or gender, may be
affected.24 Because each individual has a different physical
constitution, the manifestations of the disease will vary,
and so a single herbal prescription cannot be universally
effective for every patient. Acupuncture is conducted
with patients on a one-to-one basis, and is oriented more
to provide symptomatic relief than the generic herbal
decoctions applied during epidemic periods. The relevant
acupuncture protocols, based on the Chinese government
four-stage differentiation scheme for treating COVID-19,
are outlined below.

Oddly, the authors come closest to providing actual clinical evidence in their strange and somewhat lengthy conclusions:

… Historically, acupuncture has been used effectively to treat epidemic
infectious diseases, and despite historical neglect, it could
become a crucial weapon in the battle against COVID-19
and other future epidemics. Of course, practitioners should
ensure that they are properly protected when working with
infected patients, which means wearing a protective suit
and administering acupuncture in a hospital environment
(which brings its own challenges).
Inspiring evidence of the role of acupuncture has been
appearing since the beginning of March 2020. Professor
Zou Xu is a critical care medical expert from Guangdong
TCM hospital. As one of the supporting medical staff in
Wuhan Leishenshan hospital, he always takes acupuncture
needles during his ward inspections to help COVID-19
infected patients, especially those with acute symptoms
such as shortness of breath, coughing, dizziness, insomnia,
restlessness, palpitations, diarrhoea or vomiting. The
effect of his acupuncture was often instantaneous. A 72
year old female patient with high blood pressure and
diabetic chronic illness complained of a lower back ache,
whereupon Zou needled the point Taixi KID-3 and the
patient was able to stand upright immediately. Zou
explains that acupuncture can improve the patients’
oxygen supply and consumption, helping them regain
yuan-original qi while blocking the toxicity attacking the
Lung. Most importantly, acupuncture is not aiming to
destroy the epidemic qi, but instead it can influence the
conditions of its survival in the body.31 Zou’s team was in
charge of 16 patients, of which six patients
volunteered for Chinese medicine treatment alone;
as of 1st March 2020, all six have fully recovered and
have been discharged from hospital. In another ‘Report
from the Front Line in Wuhan’, Professor Liu Li Hong has
also documented the work of his team treating patients
with COVID-19 in Wuhan, emphasising the importance
of acupuncture in helping patients immediately with
symptoms such as stuffiness in the chest, shortness of
breath, abdominal discomfort, itchy throat, cough,
dizziness, pain and sweating.

In my view, this sentence alone merits an admission to my ‘corona-virus quackery club’ (CVQC): Historically, acupuncture has been used effectively to treat epidemic infectious diseases, and despite historical neglect, it could become a crucial weapon in the battle against COVID-19 and other future epidemics. And, of course, there are plenty other acupuncturists claiming similar things on the Inernet.

So:

Welcome to the CVQV, traditional acupuncturists!

During the last 30 years, I must have read a few thousand studies of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Some made me angry because of their methodological flaws or wrong conclusions. A few impressed me. Many made me giggle. But none has ever caused me to laugh out so long as this one entitled ‘A STUDY ON THE PROPHYLACTIC EFFICACY OF HOMOEOPATHIC PREVENTIVE’.

Here is its abstract:

Homoeopathy has established its supremacy in the control of infectious viral diseases. The widespread acclaim in this regard is now supported by this study. The study was conducted in the Chikungunya fever hit areas of Kerala. The genus epidemicus was selected after detailed analysis of the first cases of Chikungunya. This preventive medicine was widely distributed in the disease prevalent areas. A survey was conducted for the evaluation of prophylactic efficacy. The study showed a very high significant effect of Homeopathic medicine in the prevention of Chikungunya fever.

You are, of course, correct to defend the Indian authors: it is unfair to judge a study purely on its abstract. So, let’s have a look at the rest. After a lengthy introduction, the heart of the full paper discloses the amazing details of the study.

Here I present the unabridged text of the study; the only part I have omitted is the introduction:

Aims and Objectives

1. To assess the efficacy of Homoeopathic medicine in the prevention of Chikungunya.
2. To determine the magnitude of incidence, clinical features, mortality , social & economic impact of the Chikungunya epidemic.

Conclusion

The Homoeopathic preventive medicine distributed for Chikungunya epidemic was highly effective.

THAT’S ALL!

As so often in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), the Australians are setting an example. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) is the national organisation responsible for implementing the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (the National Scheme) across Australia. Yesterday, the Ahpra have issued an important press-release. Here is an excerpt:

… While the vast majority of health practitioners are responding professionally to the COVID-19 emergency and focusing on providing safe care, Ahpra and National Boards are seeing some examples of false and misleading advertising on COVID-19.

During these challenging times, it is vital that health practitioners only provide information about COVID-19 that is scientifically accurate and from authoritative sources, such as a state, territory or Commonwealth health department or the World Health Organization (WHO). According to these authoritative sources, there is currently no cure or evidence-based treatment or therapy which prevents infection by COVID-19 and work is currently underway on a vaccine.

Other than sharing health information from authoritative sources, registered health practitioners should not make advertising claims on preventing or protecting patients and health consumers from contracting COVID-19 or accelerating recovery from COVID-19. To do so involves risk to public safety and may be unlawful advertising. For example, we are seeing some advertising claims that spinal adjustment/manipulation, acupuncture and some products confer or boost immunity or enhance recovery from COVID-19 when there is no acceptable evidence in support.

Advertisers must be able to provide acceptable evidence of any claims made about treatments that benefit patients/health consumers. We will consider taking action against anyone found to be making false or misleading claims about COVID-19 in advertising. If the advertiser is a registered health practitioner, breaching advertising obligations is also a professional conduct matter which may result in disciplinary action, especially where advertising is clearly false, misleading or exploitative. There are also significant penalties for false and misleading advertising claims about therapeutic products under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989.

Patients and health consumers should treat any advertising claims about COVID-19 cautiously and check authoritative sources for health information about COVID-19, such as state, territory and Commonwealth health departments.

As always, patients and health consumers should ask their practitioner for information to support any advertising claims before making decisions about treatment. Patients and health consumers should receive accurate and truthful messages so they can make the right choices about their health.

Many of my posts during the last weeks have dealt with this problem. The sad truth is that charlatans of all types are trying to exploit the fear of consumers during the current crisis for making a fast buck. This is despicable, unethical, unprofessional and possibly criminal.I do hope that the authorities of other countries follow the Australian example.

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