Looking at some ancient papers of mine, I came across a short BMJ paper from 1994. Here is a passage from it:

… A standard letter (on departmental letterhead) was written (in German) to all 189 firms that we identified as marketing herbal drugs in Germany. It asked (among other questions) for reprints of articles reporting controlled clinical trials on the company’s product(s).

Only 19 replies had reached us six weeks later. Four of these included at least one reprint. Twelve respondents regretted not knowing of clinical trials on their drug(s). In three cases we had written to a wrong address (one
instance) or to a firm which did not market phytomedicines (two instances).

These data, though far from conclusive, do not give the impression that research is in proportion to either prevalence or financial tumover of herbal remedies…

I wonder what the results would be, if we repeated this little excercise today, 30 years afteer the original investigation. I fear that the findings would be much the same or perhaps even worse. I also suspect that they would be similar regardless of the country we chose. Those who sell herbal remedies have very little incentive to do expensive clinical trials to test whether the products they earn their money with actually work. They may be doing well without it and ask themselves, why spend money on research that might not show what we hope and could easily turn out to jeopardize our financial success?

But the problem is by no means confined to  herbal manufacturers (who would arguably have an important share to initiate and sponsor research). Even though fundamental questions remain unanswered, research into herbal medicine is scarce across the board.

To see whether this statement is true, I did a very quick Medline search. It showed that, in 2023, just over 13 000 papers on herbal medicine emerged. Of those, just 460 were listed as clinical trials. The latter figure is almost certainly considerably smaller than the true amount because Medline is over-generous in classifying papers as clinical trials. I thus estimate that only around 200 clinical trials of herbal medicine are conducted each year. Considering that we are dealing with thousands of herbs and ten thousands of herbal products, this figure is an embarrassment for the sector – which, as we have seen just days ago, is doing extremely well in finacial terms.

7 Responses to 30 years ago: research by manufacturers of herbal remedies is deplorable

  • … why spend money on research that might not show what we hope and turn out to jeopardize our financial success?

    I’d say a variety on Sinclair’s law applies here:

    “It is difficult to make someone understand something when their salary depends on their ignorance about that something.”

  • “Ignorance is bliss!”

    Actually we are dealing with a mafia. Yes, we do. And, like with those gangs from Sicily and New York, it always is better not to know, you know?

    There is a fundamental reason why it is good NOT to know. It is a legal reason.

    Especially in Germany we are faced with a funny (or not) situation: The manufacturers of, say, homeopathic remedies, produce a huge amount of products. Of course these are totally worthless because of being ineffective. But they are produced, and they are sold. But why are they sold? Because the citizens are made believe that these remedies are effective.

    Now, who makes people think that these homeopathic remedies are effective? In the case of the one-ingredient-remedies the manufacturers are forbidden to make indication-related health claims. But who then does? An armada of writers! Some of them even have huge web-sites. Really very huge web-sites. They are full of articles, perhaps thousands or tens of thousands, filled with the wildest claims. Yes, the writers write. They can invent whatever lie they want, they are allowed that. And journalists, on their part of the gang service, also may write huge piles of utter crap.

    Not so long ago we found some interesting glitches of claims. Let’s see:

    THUJA kann helfen

    Mit Homöopathie kann man den Körper während der Covid-Impfung unterstützen.
    Allgemeinarzt Dr. Markus Wiesenauer:
    “Thuja D12 kann als Globuli vor der Impfung eingenommen werden.
    Mögliche Nebenwirkungen treten schwächer oder gar nicht auf.”

    Translated with

    THUJA can help

    Homeopathy can support the body during the Covid vaccination.
    General practitioner Dr. Markus Wiesenauer:
    “Thuja D12 can be taken as globules before the vaccination.
    Possible side effects are less severe or do not occur at all.”

    Not so long ago. In 2021. Illegal claims. By a high-ranking function of the Carstens-Stiftung, a PR mill for the homeopathy industry and their profiteers in the MD and naturopaths scene.

    Of course it is better for the homeopathy industry NOT to know this. They could be asked some unpleasant questions. But, who knows? No-one knows. And that is good the way it is. Legally good, I mean.

    And so we have the manufacturers, who do not know. We have the liars and lie-spreading mafiosi, and we have all the distributing “news” media. And each of these scenes play their roles. Honestly, knowing something is no good for the legal health. One could be sued.

    And so each of these scenes has its own part in the orchestra, each playing its own instrument. That is instrumental. Pun intended.

    Which leaves one topic, the one Edzard Ernst addressed: the studies. Studies, you know, bear a high risk. The risk of knowledge. So it is better NOT to know the negative results of studies. Which means that about a great number of studies we never are told. Only those few, where this or that effect was magically painted with the magic of statistics, they are mentioned here or there. And, of course, used and twisted by PR agents like the Carstens-Stiftung or the HRI PR-mill of Alexander Tournier et al.

    It really is better not to know.

    And I never told you this, of course…

    • What is the value then of the question: “Fragen Sie Ihren Arzt oder Apothekerin”?

      • “What is the value then of the question: “Fragen Sie Ihren Arzt oder Apothekerin”?”

        Zero. Absolutely zero.

        Until now we were not told the full truth, but the pandemic shows the real face of the whole healthcare system. Even medical doctors, even university clinics mess up so badly, that the healthcare system is a lethal danger to patients.

        Mortality risk in surgical patients with COVID-19 compared to those without is increased almost 10-fold.

        “COVID-19 and Mortality in the Global Surgical Population: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”
        Published:March 09, 2024 DOI:

        Look how many wear a mask in clinics. Perhaps less than 1 percent. Even in neonatal emergency units.

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