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

alternative therapist

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In 2007, we published a systematic review summarizing the efficacy of homeopathic remedies used as a sole or additional therapy in cancer care. We have searched the literature using the databases: Amed (from 1985); CINHAL (from 1982); EMBASE (from 1974); Medline (from 1951); and CAMbase (from 1998). Randomized and non-randomized controlled clinical trials including patients with cancer or past experience of cancer receiving single or combined homeopathic interventions were included. The methodological quality of the trials was assessed by Jadad score. Six studies met our inclusion criteria (five were randomized clinical trials and one was a non-randomized study); but the methodological quality was variable including some high-standard studies. Our analysis of published literature on homeopathy thus found insufficient evidence to support the clinical efficacy of homeopathic therapy in cancer care.

Meanwhile, more trials have emerged, not least a dubious study by Frass et al which is currently under investigation. This means that a new evaluation of the totality of the available evidence might be called for. I am pleased to report that such an assessment has just been published.

In this systematic review, the researchers included clinical studies from 1800 until 2020 to evaluate evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathy on physical and mental conditions in patients during oncological treatment.

In February 2021 a systematic search was conducted searching five electronic databases (Embase, Cochrane, PsychInfo, CINAHL, and Medline) to find studies concerning the use, effectiveness, and potential harm of homeopathy in cancer patients.

From all 1352 search results, 18 studies with 2016 patients were included in this SR. The patients treated with homeopathy were mainly diagnosed with breast cancer. The therapy concepts include single and combination homeopathic remedies (used systemically or as mouth rinses) of various dilutions. Outcomes assessed were the influence on toxicity of cancer treatment (mostly hot flashes and menopausal symptoms), time to drain-removal in breast cancer patients after mastectomy, survival, quality of life, global health and subjective well-being, anxiety, and depression as well as safety and tolerance.

The included studies reported heterogeneous results: some studies described significant differences in quality of life or toxicity of cancer treatment favoring homeopathy, whereas others did not find an effect or reported significant differences to the disadvantage of homeopathy or side effects caused by homeopathy. The majority of the studies have low methodological quality.

The authors concluded that, for homeopathy, there is neither a scientifically based hypothesis of its mode of action nor conclusive evidence from clinical studies in cancer care.

I predict that, if we wait another 15 years, we will have even more studies. I also predict that some of them will be less than reliable or even fake. Finally, I predict that the overall result will still be mixed and unconvincing.

Why can I be so sure?

  1. Because homeopathy lacks biological plausibility as a treatment of cancer (or any other condition).
  2. Because highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos.
  3. Because homeopathy has developed into a cult where one is no longer surprised to see studies emerging that are too good to be true.

I have previously reported that a Canadian naturopath, Jason Klop,  is under investigation for selling fecal Microbiota transplants to treat autistic children. Now, there is a new twist in this story.

On Twitter, J.N. Stea summarized it nicely:

This naturopath is fighting a judge so that he can charge parents about $15,000 to give his nephew’s poop to children as a treatment for autism. His lawyer argues that he should be allowed to since naturopathy isn’t scientific anyway.

Klop’s lawyer defends the naturopath against an investigation into his business of selling fecal microbiota transplants to families of autistic children. The College of Naturopathic Physicians (CoN) had banned Klop for selling, advertising, and manufacturing pills made from human feces claiming that Klop has been engaging in conduct not acceptable for a naturopathic physician. Klop’s lawyer, Jason Gratl, argued this was difficult to prove in a field that has a few restrictions and some ambiguous boundaries.

“What does it take to be a naturopath and do something that is not appropriate in a field so wide-ranging and open to interpretation?” the lawyer, Gratl, asked the court suggesting that the lack of scientific evidence supporting the use of fecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT) to treat autism is not necessarily relevant in this instance.

“Naturopaths can rely on science in certain aspects, but they are not bound to science,” Gratl said. He explained that naturopathic practices could be based on anecdotes and historical knowledge. Later, he pointed out that the field also includes homeopathy, which, some believe, involves magical thinking. It is definitely not scientific in its core.” After describing the case as a “tragedy”, Gratl called the allegations against his client “entirely unverfounded and scurrilous.”

I suspect it is nothing new to most readers, yet I find it gratifying to hear from a lawyer that naturopathy

  • is not science,
  • relies on anecdote instead of evidence,
  • and involves magical thinking.

I do think, however, that despite all this, naturopaths should not be allowed to do any odd nonsense that comes to their minds and fills their bank accounts quickly.

Guest post by Ken McLeod

Believe it or not, there are practitioners of a health system with little or no evidence of efficacy and safety who are registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency. That is, so-called Traditional Chinese Medicine, whose practitioners are registered alongside evidence-based practitioners such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists.

Governments who framed the relevant legislation evidently hoped that registration would enable the public to have confidence that they would be treated with evidence-based medicine. Such confidence is misplaced, as has been shown in The Skeptic and elsewhere many times.

Here’s another example of the failure of the health practitioner registration system.

Jamie Lloyd Allan is registered with AHPRA with the Chinese Medical Registration Number CMR0002096457, with no endorsements. He practices at his clinic in eastern Sydney. He advertises at his website meridianremedies.com.au.

And some of his claims are deeply worrying. Allan claims that he uses “Chinese Herbal medicine & Acupuncture in conjunction with testing and removal of accumulated toxins and heavy metals, developing comprehensive individualised herbal antimicrobial and detoxification protocols.”

He claims that “toxins and heavy metals … enter our bodies, disrupt normal healthy cell behaviour, impair our immune system, often contribute and sometimes cause many different types of illnesses and health conditions.”

His claims are designed to generate unfounded worries in people, offering a smorgasbord of claims how he can help people learn [the words and spelling are his]:

• how mercury from common amalgam fillings can be passed from mother to child to grandchild and why preconception detoxification is important;

• how to assess a dentist to know your [sic] getting the best and safest care during amalgam removal;

• about mercury/autism connection, heavy metal accumulation and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Dementia;

• more about mercury, aluminium, cadmium and lead toxicity;

• how heavy metal accumulation acts as an antenna for electromagnetic radiation from devices such as wifi, cell phone, cordless phones, thus focusing the frequencies on the areas where the metals are stored, causing changes in the proteins and even DNA;

• the science behind electromagnetic radiation and how it affects human cells;

• Glyphosate toxicity, and how many of us have it and how it affects our health, and lots more.

Allan goes into the alleged toxicity of mercury amalgam fillings further at his blog. I should not have to say it, but his claims are baseless and have been debunked many times. The US Food and Drug Administration has said that existing evidence shows that dental amalgam is not harmful to the general population (tinyurl.com/589mbrr6). And as Scientific American said “Mercury and Autism: Enough Already! The science shows that they have nothing to do with each other and never have.” (tinyurl.com/mwwdxxak)

Allan also writes extensively on “EMF Sensitivity Wi-Fi and Cell Phone radiation – Heavy Metals and EMF Sensitivity and Autism” – he claims “Autism rates double every 5 years and the only thing that parallels that in our environment is the increase of man made Electro magnetic Radiation and fields largely in the high frequencies from cell phone Wi-Fi, smart meters and other Electro magnetic devices.’ This is unconscionable; scaring potential clients with this, while conveniently forgetting that correlation does not mean causation.

Allan also offers the following techniques as a “Detox for autism”:

• Sauna or heat therapy (far infrared is best) Cold shower straight after to close pores and wash of toxins

• Clay plasters, Clay on scars, then shower

• Ionic Foot Cleanses, Detox baths, Takara foot Pads, or raw white potato strapped on soles of feet

• Fibre + Enemas or colonics, slippery elm, keep bowls [sic] moving

• Liver gall bladder flush with lemon oil

• Exercise, dry skin brush

• Chi Machine for lymph drainage and movement to parasympathetic dominance

• Olive or other healthy oils for swish and spit

• Genetic, vitamin, mineral testing to guide your diet and supplements

• Western and Chinese Herbs to detox bowls [sic], liver, kidney, lymph

• Homeopathic drops & plenty of water orally

• Laser Energetic detox

• Ozonized bath, Epson salt bath

• Enema for detox reactions in kids

• Stronger detox agents DMPS, DMSA, EDTA can be used in case of high-level toxicity. For children, the use of the above mention techniques over DMPS, DMSA and EDTA is preferred first.

“Raw white potato strapped on soles of feet”!! Come on! This is lunacy. And enemas for children? And what qualifications does Allan hold to diagnose and administer these dangerous pharmaceuticals?

Luckily, Allan offers the perfect scanner to diagnose what’s wrong with you, the Oligoscan.

As described, “This a [sic] spectrographic-based test. Every element on the periodic table has its own unique absorption spectra, meaning that different elements absorb certain wavelengths of light, and reflect others. The spectra of lead will be different from that of mercury, or calcium, or any other element. The Oligoscan shines a laser on different points on the hand, and based off of [sic] which wavelengths of light are absorbed or reflected back, the levels of different metals and minerals in the cells of your hand can be determined. This is similar to how astronomers can analyze the wavelengths of light emitted by distant stars to determine their chemical make-up.

“The Oligoscan has the advantage of testing the levels of metals that are actually in your cells, not what you are able to excrete. It tests the heavy metal load of the tissues. This is important because heavy metals have a affinity [sic] for tissues and are often store [sic] there and not in the blood. It can also measure aluminium, which most other tests will miss. Oligoscan results tend to correlate with other accurate tests.”

A search of the TGA’s register of therapeutic goods did not find the Oligoscan listed.

Clearly, Allan is engaged in a process of scaring potential clients with misinformation, then offering diagnostic and treatment processes that are deceptive, ineffective and dangerous, and not listed with the TGA; for all of which he is not qualified.

COMPLAINT PROCESS

A complaint was sent to the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission describing the above issues. (In NSW and Queensland, complaints concerning health care practitioners, registered and unregistered, are lodged with the relevant State authorities, the HCCC and OHO respectively.) We added that “This should not be treated as merely a case of misleading advertising; Allan is clearly endangering the public, so I recommend a thorough audit of his practice, and when my allegations are found to be proven, suitable disciplinary action taken and entered on the AHPRA register.”

The HCCC responded saying “Following consultation with the Chinese Medicine Council of New South Wales, it was decided to refer this matter to the Australian Health Practitioner

Regulation Agency (AHPRA) as AHPRA is the designated agency to manage concerns about advertising. We did not identify any other issues that would require further action by the Commission.” (We approached the Chinese Medicine Council of NSW – their response is quoted in the sidebar.)

The HCCC continued: “The Commission obtained a written response from Mr Allan. In his response to the Commission, Mr Allan stated that he had no record of providing any care and treatment to you.

“Mr Allan acknowledged that his website may have created a misunderstanding about what actual treatments are offered at his clinic, and what was on his website for educational purposes only.

“Mr Allan noted that he has never owned an Oligoscan or used it at his clinic, he has therefore removed that information from his website.

“Mr Allan confirmed that he does not offer the techniques under the heading ‘detox for autism’ at his clinic, the information was for educational purposes only, and he has now removed this information from his website.

“Further, Mr Allan has confirmed that he has removed the information on his website about Glyphosate Toxicity, Toxicity of Mercury Amalgam fillings, Nutrition for Autism, and all avenues of receiving mercury toxicity.

“Mr Allan also stated that he has since edited the information on EMF Sensitivity Wi-Fi and Cell Phone radiation – Heavy Metals and EMF Sensitivity Autism, as well as editing the information contained on the home and about pages of his website.

“Mr Allan stated that he has left the resources section with all the raw studies, and some information contained in other sections, as he feels that they are of use for anybody wanting to learn more about this specialised area.”

So, in spite of the detailed evidence and a call for a thorough audit of his practice, this was treated as merely a case of misleading advertising. This is standard operating procedure; the regulatory authorities cannot get over the divide between advertising and clinical practice. This has been shown in the hundreds of complaints sent to regulators; misleading advertising of dangerous practices and misinformation is simply treated as an advertising issue. The regulators cannot accept that if a practitioner advertises a therapy then they are more than likely using those therapies and, when those therapies have been found to be ineffective, they are engaging in practice in their clinics that deserves more than the dismissive response we received.

The public deserve much better than that.

Note: All of the quotes above were from Allan’s website until he removed them. The relevant pages have, nonetheless, can be accessed via the WayBack Machine, and can be supplied if required.

The Chinese Medicine Council’s position

The Chinese Medical Council were referred to the issues in the main article and were asked the following questions:

• Is the advice and those therapies [offered by Allan] of any concern to the Council?

• Should the complaint to the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission have led to an audit of his practice and when the allegations are proven, should there have been disciplinary action?

A spokesperson for the Chinese Medicine Council of NSW replied: “The Chinese Medicine Council of NSW (the Council) works in collaboration with the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) to receive and manage complaints about registered practitioners in

NSW. Our paramount legal obligation is to protect the public. We deal with practitioners whose conduct, performance or health may represent a risk to the public or is not in the public interest.

“We do this by assessing complaints, promoting compliance with professional standards and delivering programs to ensure practitioners provide safe care to the public and their patients. We do not have the legal power to discipline a NSW practitioner or to deregister them.

“By law, the Council cannot provide information about an individual practitioner. Only information that is publicly available can be disclosed, such as information recorded on the national register of practitioners which is maintained by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), or publication of the outcomes of NCAT [New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal] proceedings.

“Changes to a registered health practitioner’s registration status, such as the imposition of conditions or suspension, are published on the AHPRA online public register.

“The Council will not be making any further public comments at this time.

So, the Chinese Medicine Council have taken no action to protect the public and made no real comment. At least they have promised “Only information that is publicly available can be disclosed”, a statement of breathless inanity.

*‘first published in the Australian Skeptic magazine of June 2022.

I only now learned of the death of one of the most bizarre proponents that the cult of homeopathy has ever produced in its 200-year history. From his official obituary, one would not suspect much weirdness:

John R. Benneth obituary, 1952-2021, Portland, OR
John R. Benneth passed away Nov. 9, 2021 in Chico, Calif., after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

John shepherded the Pixieland Theatre in Lincoln City for many years, writing, directing, and acting in plays that kept audiences coming back. He appeared often on stage in Portland and became a familiar face in local and national commercials. In the mid-1980s he was the host, writer, and creative force behind The Portland Underground, a weekly, live, late-night local access show. He gave many local actors a chance to stretch their improv talents on that and his earlier show, Mysterious Planet. His was the voice of both Portland Talk Radio’s controversial Jack Hammer, and Kandu the Mystic. He later performed regularly as Mark Twain in Virginia City, Nev., and on cruises on Lake Tahoe. John started working as a private investigator in Portland in 1978, and in 1982, he founded the National Missing Children’s Locate Center, helping parents to find their children across the U.S. He later became internationally known for his research into and advocacy for Homeopathic Medicine and was invited to present a treatise on the subject at London’s Oxford University in 2010.
John was a member of both Hawthorne and Washington Masonic lodges and the Scottish Rite of Portland.
He was preceded in death by his parents, John and Bettiana Benneth; and by his wife, Catherine Benneth. He is survived by his brother, David; and his four sons, Horatio, Merlin, Cyrano and Evan.

The ‘Bolen report’ offers a little more, albeit weirdly unreliable information:

John Benneth, PG Hom.- London (Hons) is the renowned discoverer of the link between Homeopathy and Conventional Ionic Chemistry.

The first to accept a notorious challenge to Homeopathy, he forced the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), in 1999, to back down from a spurious offer to award $1,000,000 for a test identifying homeopathic solutes from their liquid aqueous vehicles.

In 2010, by invitation of Nobel laureate physicist Brian Josephson at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, he presented the Supramolecular Chemistry of the Homeopathic Remedy revealing structural changes and the physics of hydrolysis and molecular self assembling chain reactions.

He is the author of Ebola Prophylaxis and Cure detailing the use of FDA approved homeopathic pharmaceuticals in the treatment of hemorrhagic fevers, presented in advance of the reported successful use of homeopathic remedies to cure Ebola.

He is a proponent for the use of homeopathic pharmaceuticals to cure sepsis and other dire conditions for conventional use in hospital emergency and intensive care, and the Ionic Vaccine for the safe and effective non-molecular prevention of epidemic diseases.

To estimate the true extent of Benneth’s eccentricity, we need to read some of the posts by John himself johnbenneth.wordpress.com. Alternatively, we might access some of his appearances on youtube, quackometer, or even just a post I published several years ago.

I am sad that John is gone. I always thought he was mad like a hatter, but he had me in stitches whenever our paths crossed.

In India, the homeopathic remedy, Arsenicum Album 30C (prepared from arsenic trioxide) is widely prescribed and publicly supplied to adults and children for preventing COVID infections. Inorganic arsenic, known as the “king of poisons” is a highly toxic substance with the potential to cause acute as well as chronic injury to multiple organ systems, mainly skin, lung, liver, and kidneys.

Indian researchers present three cases of acute liver injury, leading to the death of one patient with underlying non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) cirrhosis, after consumption of the homeopathic remedy AA30 for COVID-19 prevention.

Case one

A 70-year-old man with compensated non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)-related cirrhosis and diabetes mellitus consumed the homeopathic IB AA30 as prescribed for 12 weeks prior to the onset of symptoms. He presented with jaundice and abdominal distension within four weeks after the onset of loss of appetite and well-being. The patient was not on any other hepatotoxic agents, over-the-counter medications, or herbal and dietary supplements. Investigations revealed the presence of conjugated hyperbilirubinemia, ascites, and abnormal coagulation, suggestive of acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF). Further investigations to identify known causes of acute deterioration of underlying cirrhosis were performed, including a transjugular liver biopsy. All competing causes for acute liver injury were meticulously ruled out. These included infections-tests for immunoglobulin M (IgM) for viral hepatitis A and E; hepatitis B surface antigen and IgM antibody to hepatitis B core antigen; nucleic acid tests via polymerase chain reaction for hepatitis C; IgM for herpes zoster and herpes simplex, cytomegalovirus, parvovirus, Epstein-Barr virus. Complete auto-antibody testing for autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) was negative. The Roussel Uclaf Causality Assessment (RUCAM) demonstrated “probable” (score 7) drug-induced liver injury (DILI) and simplified AIH score was less than 5, revealing the cause of acute liver injury leading to ACLF as the homeopathic remedy, AA30. The liver biopsy revealed multiacinar hepatocyte necrosis, lymphocytic, neutrophilic, and eosinophilic inflammation in the absence of interface hepatitis, which were predominantly portal-based in the background of cirrhosis, suggestive of DILI. Analysis of drugs consumed could not be performed in view of inadequate sample availability. The patient and family consented to arsenic analysis in nail and hair samples which revealed extremely high levels of the heavy metal, supportive of arsenic toxicity and associated liver injury in the patient. Evaluation of hair and hair samples of two family members (below detection limits, method detection limit being 0.1 mg/kg), staying in the same household did not reveal levels signifying cluster arsenic poisoning from water or soil sources. The patient succumbed to complications related to ACLF, nine months after the initial diagnosis.

Case two

A 68-year-old male with systemic hypertension controlled on telmisartan who ingested AA30 as prescribed for four weeks prior to the onset of symptoms. There was no associated jaundice or cholestatic symptoms, but liver tests revealed acute hepatitis with an elevation of liver enzymes. The patient was not on any other hepatotoxic agents, over-the-counter medications, or herbal and dietary supplements. Further investigations did not reveal the presence of underlying chronic liver disease or portal hypertension. All competing causes for acute liver injury were meticulously ruled out similar to the extensive workup that was done in case one. The RUCAM demonstrated “probable” (score 8) DILI and simplified AIH score was less than 5, revealing the cause of acute non-icteric hepatitis as the homeopathic remedy, AA30. The liver biopsy revealed perivenular hepatocyte necrosis, with predominantly portal-based mixed cellular inflammation consisting of plasma cells, eosinophils, lymphocytes, and scattered neutrophils. Additionally, ballooning of hepatocytes was marked with scattered rosettes and moderate interphase hepatitis in the presence of mild portal and sinusoidal fibrosis suggestive of DILI. Acute hepatitis resolved after drug withdrawal and finite course of steroids within three months, without any recurrence on follow-up.

Case three

A 48-year-old overweight woman consumed homeopathic AA30 pills as COVID-19 preventive for one week prior to the onset of her symptoms of cholestatic jaundice. Prior to the development of jaundice, she had nonspecific gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and progressive loss of appetite. Liver tests revealed conjugated hyperbilirubinemia with highly raised liver enzymes. The patient was not on any other hepatotoxic prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or herbal and dietary supplements. Further investigations did not reveal the presence of underlying chronic liver disease or portal hypertension. All competing causes for acute liver injury were meticulously ruled out similar to the extensive workup that was done in case one. The RUCAM demonstrated “probable” (score 7) DILI and simplified AIH score was less than 5, revealing the cause of acute cholestatic hepatitis as the homeopathic remedy, AA30. The liver biopsy revealed spotty, focal hepatocyte necrosis, with predominantly portal-based neutrophilic and eosinophil-rich inflammation, moderate steatosis, and mild interface hepatitis with underlying mild perisinusoidal fibrosis, suggestive of DILI. The acute cholestatic hepatitis resolved after drug withdrawal and a finite course of steroids within six months, without any recurrence on follow-up.

The chemical analysis and toxicology (inductively coupled optical emission spectroscopy and triple-quadrupole gas chromatography with tandem mass spectroscopy method) on two sets of AA30 samples retrieved from case three revealed D-mannose, melezitose, and arsenic respectively, demonstrating batch-to-batch variation due to poor manufacturing practices.

The authors draw the following conclusions: Health regulatory authorities, physicians, general and patient population must be aware of the potential harms associated with the large-scale promotion of untested, alternative medical systems during a medical emergency so as to prevent an “epidemic” of avoidable DILI within the ongoing pandemic. Even though ultra-diluted homeopathic remedies, found ineffective as shown in large-scale meta-analysis, are considered safe for use due to the absence of any active compound beyond 12C dilution. Nonetheless, poor manufacturing practices, use of concentrated tincture formulations, and adulteration and contamination of homeopathic remedies can still pose considerable toxicity in predisposed persons. From a scientific and evidence-based standpoint, it is imperative that the general population and at-risk persons understand that vaccination, and not untested, misleading IBs, remains the best available armamentarium against COVID-19 which helps in fighting back the pandemic.

How often have I pointed out that “the highly diluted homeopathic remedy may be harmless, but the homeopath isn’t”? I think I should amend this message to:
The highly diluted homeopathic remedy may be harmless, but neither the homeopath nor the manufacturer of the remedies is necessarily harmless.

 

I came across an interesting case report recently published in an Austrian magazine. Here is my translation for non-German speakers:

A 42-year-old woman from Vienna has suffered from endometriosis since the age of 13. But it was only 8 years later that she found out what made the first two days of her menstruation so unbearable. She was not allowed to take painkillers to help herself during all that time. Her parents listened to medical “gurus” who distrusted conventional medicine.

“I grew up in a household where almost all illnesses were treated with homeopathy,” she wrote on Twitter. That’s exactly what became the IT expert’s undoing. In a recent interview, she looked back bitterly: “All infections and illnesses were treated with Bach flower remedies or homeopathics. Only in case of accidents or broken bones did my parents drive me to the hospital.” Her father suffered from an auto-immune disease. Because conventional medicine could not help him, he tried alternative approaches. “My parents slowly drifted more and more into this scene. At some point, they stopped listening to ‘normal’ doctors. It went downhill from there.”

As a girl, the Viennese had little chance of standing up to her parents’ “whisperers,” as she calls their esoteric advice. “When I got my period, I was in the worst pain. I fainted every month, even falling off my chair when I did it, once even at school. I vomited until I was so exhausted that I fell asleep.”

She begged her family to finally be allowed to consult a gynecologist. But he didn’t take the teenager seriously at the time and simply wanted to prescribe her the pill without a thorough examination. “I then went to my parents’ homeopathic ‘pill pusher’, who gave me homeopathics against my complaints. I wasn’t allowed to take painkillers because they ‘damage the liver’.” The guru persuaded the young woman that her health problems were her fault. “He said I just didn’t accept myself as a woman and that’s why I was in pain. I thought for a long time that I was just not strong and good enough.”

It wasn’t until she was already in her early 20s that her then-boyfriend took her to a gynecologist who finally took her condition seriously. “The ultrasound showed that I had quite a few cysts in my abdomen.” The diagnosis was also finally certain: she was now officially suffering from endometriosis. She was given the right medicine, and most of the endometriotic growths regressed. But a cyst had wrapped itself tightly around her right ovary, damaging it irrevocably over the years. It had died. “Homeopathy cost me my ovary,” the Viennese woman laments.

The fact that she nevertheless was able to become the mother of two children is thanks to her other ovary, which fortunately remained intact. But the feeling of having been treated wrongly, or not treated at all, for such a long time makes her angry. “I don’t blame my parents today. They have apologized and found their own way out of the gurus’ world of thought and out of the scene,” she emphasizes. “But I blame the people who pretend to be able to cure the majority of all diseases with homeopathy. Yet most of the time they can’t even find the right diagnosis and just give patients some stuff that has no side effects.” She now calls for an end to homeopathy.

_________________________

How many times have I said it?

His remedy might be risk-free, but the homeopath certainly isn’t!

 

Almost 10 years ago, I posted this:

When I decided to become a doctor I, like most medical students, did so mainly to help suffering individuals. When I became a researcher, I felt more removed from this original ideal. Yet I told myself that, by conducting research, I might eventually contribute to a better health care of tomorrow. Helping suffering patients was still firmly on the agenda. But then I realised that my articles in peer-reviewed medical journals somehow missed an important target: in alternative medicine, one ought to speak not just to health care professionals but also to consumers and patients; after all, it is they who often make the therapeutic decisions in this area.

Once I had realised this, I started addressing the general public by writing for The Guardian and other newspapers, giving public lectures and publishing books for a lay audience, like TRICK OR TREATMENT…The more I did this sort of thing, the more I noticed how important this activity was. And when a friend offered to help me set up a blog, I did not hesitate for long.

So, the reason for my enthusiasm for this blog turns out to be the same as the one that enticed me to go into medicine in the first place. I do believe that it is helpful for consumers to know the truth about alternative medicine. Considering the thousands of sources of daily misinformation in this area, there is an urgent need for well-informed, critical information. By providing it, I am sure I can assist people to make better therapeutic decisions. In a way, I am back where I started all those years ago: hoping to help suffering patients in the most direct way my expertise allows.

Helping vulnerable patients often means warning them from dangerous charlatans, and this is precisely what I frequently try to do with this blog. But how successful are my endeavors?

More often than not, I have no idea and can only hope for the best. Sometimes I do get some feedback that is encouraging and motivates me to carry on. Rarely, however, do I witness immediate, tangible success. And this is why the recent story is so remarkable:

  • On 6 June, an Australian acquaintance from the FRIENDS OF SCIENCE IN MEDICINE sent me some material about a planned lecture in the UK by someone promoting dangerous quackery.
  • I looked into it and published a blog post about it a few hours later.
  • A reader then suggested in the comments section of this post alerting the UK press to it.
  • Another reader contacted THE TIMES, and I wrote to several other journalists.
  • THE TIMES turned out to be interested in the story.
  • They did some research and interviewed Michael Marshall from the GOOD THINKING SOCIETY (and myself).
  • Today, THE TIMES published an article about the planned event.
  • Finally, a kind person made the article available to those who don’t want to pay for it.

The whole thing amounts to superb teamwork, in my view. It shows how like-minded people who do not even all know each other can manage to achieve a respectable result with little more than goodwill and dedication.

A respectable result?

Of course, the optimal result would be to stop Barbara O’Neill’s UK lectures. Let’s hope this is what eventually will happen – and please let me know if you know more.

Guest post by Derk P. Kooi

Political lobbying is not only restricted to major companies, even quackery lobbies extensively in Dutch politics as well as at a European and global level. The EUROpean Complementary and Alternative Medicine Stakeholder Group (EUROCAM) has been active in Europe for some time. EUROCAM recently attracted attention with a statement on antibiotic resistance during the European Antibiotics Awareness Day.[1] EUROCAM claims that Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) could enhance the immune system and could therefore contribute to the fight against antibiotic resistance. An early study conducted by the anthroposophist Erik Baars was referenced, inter alia. However, this medical claim turns out to be pure nonsense.

EUROCAM regularly publishes so-called ‘position papers’ on the contribution CAM could provide to the European health care system. EUROCAM is currently cautious with its medical claims, and rightly so, as it has seriously overstepped the mark in the past. For example, claims about the efficacy of CAM for infections referred to research by Erik Baars, doctor, anthroposophical healthcare lector at the University of Applied Sciences Leiden and researcher at the Louis Bolk Institute. Baars is an associate of the society due to his misleading statements in his publications on the usefulness of CAM, more specifically of the anthroposophical variant.

Where does this fairly unknown club actually come from, what does it do and how seriously should we take it? Well, EUROCAM is an umbrella organisation for various alternative therapists and their patients. We are talking about Ayurveda, homeopathy, osteopathy, anthroposophy, herbal medicine, traditional (Chinese) medicine, Reiki and acupuncture. The Dutch Registry of Complementary Care Professionals (RBCZ) is also affiliated with EUROCAM. Classical homeopath Annemieke Boelsma is the contact person of the RBCZ at EUROCAM.

It is unclear precisely when EUROCAM was created, the LinkedIn page says 2009. The figurehead of the club is “secretary general” Ton Nicolaï. This homeopathic doctor is also well known to Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij, (www.kwakzalverij.nl) the Dutch Society against Quackery. The treasurer of EUROCAM is business administrator Wim Menkveld. Menkveld is on the Advisory Board of the Hortus Botanicus of Leiden. He is also active on the board of the European Patients’ Federation of Homeopathy. EUROCAM thus seems to have originated mainly from Dutch homeopathic circles.

Furthermore, TV producer Miranda Eilert-Ruchtie from Hilversum sits on the EUROCAM board. According to the EUROCAM website, she acts as their “operations manager” and communications advisor. The German Heilprakterin Sonja Maric, an anthropologist and “specialist in Tibetan medicine”, also acts as a communications consultant.

The European Transparency Register shows that in 2020 the total budget of the organisation was 40,498 euros; no more recent data is available. In the year 2018, 5,000 euros were reserved as an honorarium for Mr Nicolaï, for the 0.5 FTE that he works for the organisation. Miranda Eilert-Ruchtie works a number of hours a week for EUROCAM, as a freelancer. Sonja Maric does this on a voluntary basis.

EUROCAM is a member of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the European Union Health Policy Platform. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises the organisation as a non-state actor, which means that both the EU and the WHO consider EUROCAM to be a serious legal entity. In the past, EUROCAM has intervened in public EU consultations in the fields of aging, pharmaceutical strategy, cancer, and digital data and services.

EUROCAM provides the secretariat of the MEP Interest Group on Integrative Medicine and Health, a group of five European parliamentarians who have set themselves the goal of promoting integrative medicine at the European level. Co-chairs are Finish Sirpa Pietikäinen, a European parliamentarian for the Christian Democrats, and French Michèle Rivasi, a European parliamentarian for the Greens. The other members are Luxembourg’s Tilly Metz, the Italian Eleonara Evi, and the Danish Margrete Auken. It is noteworthy that they are European parliamentarians for the Greens. They are all members of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). Eleonara Evi was part of the illustrious Five Star Movement until 2020, known for its anti-vaccination stance. The Member of European Parliament (MEP) Interest Group organises annual events with speakers who are the same people who perform at EUROCAM symposia. These include the aforementioned anthroposophist Erik Baars. Baars worked closely with EUROCAM boss Ton Nicolaï in a European research project on CAM alternatives to antibiotics. More about his bad science later.

The texts EUROCAM produces nowadays (on its website) are carefully written, and the medical claims are carefully formulated. The texts are larded with synonyms for “possible”, known in linguistics as hedging. For example “Several CAM methods have shown high potential to reduce cancer pain”.[2] Generic health claims are also often used to suggest medical benefits, for example in the context of COVID-19, ‘In building and maintaining resistance to infectious illness, CAM modalities as a part of Integrative Medicine & Health can play an important role because they mobilise and stimulate people’s self-regulating capacity, thus increasing their resilience, their immune system.’.[3]

Furthermore, claims are put in the mouths of others, which can be read, for example, in quoting patient expectations: ‘While improving quality of life is the major rationale for CAM use, there is a definite undercurrent of expectation, particularly among the younger patients, that some therapies might have an anticancer effect (prolongation of remission periods) and slow/stagnate tumour growth (prolongation of survival periods), boost the immune system, making it easier to overcome the disease.’.[4]

The educated reader will immediately see through these strategies, but the question is whether the lobbied politicians targeted by EUROCAM understand these subtleties. EUROCAM has not always been so cautious, by the way. In an undated (presumably 2013) interview with the Dutch Association for Classical Homeopathy, “secretary general” Ton Nicolaï made a number of remarkable statements. For example, he claimed at the time that research shows “that for a number of herbal medicines there is a reasonable amount of evidence that scientifically confirms their effectiveness in respiratory infection treatments”. [5] Nicolaï bases his assertion on recent research by Erik Baars conducted as part of a European research programme that aimed to find CAM alternatives to antibiotics.

The report of this project, which ended in 2018, can be found on the EUROCAM website.[6] The authors of this report are, not surprisingly, Erik Baars and Ton Nicolaï. The report contains practically no hard science. Sub-studies focus on, for example, the frequency of antibiotic prescribing among alternative-working GPs and on the best practice of CAM believers. A so-called systematic review of systematic reviews offers good starting points to evaluate Mr Nicolaï’s claim: ‘A systematic review of systematic reviews demonstrates that there are specific, evidence-supported, promising CAM treatments for acute, uncomplicated RTIs [uncomplicated respiratory tract infections, ed.] and that they are safe.’

Here, a medical claim is made, which is weakened by the use of the hedge term “promising”. The conclusion can be summarised with “There would be ‘promising’ CAM treatments for respiratory infections, and they would be safe”. However, surprisingly, the project report does not refer to this “systematic review of systematic reviews”, nor to any of the other concrete results of the project!

Due to the lack of references, we cannot but conclude that the claim is based on a 2019 article by Erik Baars. One of the co-authors is Ton Nicolaï.[7] The article was published in the journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (EBCAM), which has a shady reputation. Even one of the founders of EBCAM states that the peer-review system is a farce, and therefore the majority of the articles published in it are useless nonsense.[8] In this article, besides a large amount of vagueness about the “worldview differences” between CAM and medicine, systematic reviews are discussed about the effectiveness and safety of CAM treatments. From this systematic review of systematic reviews, it is concluded that there are promising CAM treatments for respiratory, urinary tract and skin infections and that there is even evidence that some CAM treatments are effective for respiratory infections, but what is this based on?

The reviews that were looked at were split into Cochrane and non-Cochrane reviews. Among the Cochrane reviews, there is one that would demonstrate the efficacy of CAM. It is a review on the use of immunostimulants for the prevention of respiratory tract infections in children.[9] Of the 35 studies that were analysed, six involve small molecules, such as isoprinosine, levamisole and pidotimod. In other words, regular medicine, if it turns out to work, but describing it as being experimental would be more appropriate. Baars’ article states that the review also contains herbal medicine. This is somewhat exaggerated: only one of the 35 studies deals with herbs. Of the remaining 28 studies, 25 cover bacterial extracts and three thymus extracts. Again: Baars does not make clear what this has to do with the CAM that EUROCAM represents.

In summary, EUROCAM is a small European lobbying organisation with perhaps some influence at both European and WHO level. One keeps coming across the same names. The organisation is currently using woolly, disguising language to mask medical claims and to fend off criticism. In the past, this was different when EUROCAM, by means of Ton Nicolaï among others, made very reprehensible statements about the role of CAM in (respiratory tract) infections. For the time being, this little club does not seem to pose much of a threat, but European politicians should, of course, ignore this hobby club.

 

References

1. ‘Improving patient resilience to reduce the need to rely on anti-infection treatment: the role of Integrative Medicine’. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/statement-on-amr-2021/ (visited on 28 December 2021) 2. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/contribution-of-cam-for-a-better-health/cam-in-the-context-of-cancer/ (visited on 3 October 2021) 3. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/contribution-of-cam-for-a-better-health/cam-in-the-context-of-cancer/ (visited on 3 October 2021) 4. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/contribution-of-cam-for-a-better-health/cam-in-the-context-of-cancer/ (visited on 3 October 2021)

5. Miranda Ruchtie. In gesprek met Ton Nicolaï, CAM integreren in de Europese gezondheidszorg. [In discussion with Ton Nicolaï, integrating CAM into the European health care system]. Nederlandse Vereniging van Klassiek Homeopaten. [Dutch Association of Classical Homeopaths] https://www.nvkh.nl/nieuwsbrieven-nvkh/interview-met-ton-nicolai (visited on 3 October 2021)

6. Erik Baars, et al. Reducing the need for antibiotics, the contribution of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. EUROCAM, 2018. https://cam-europe.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/CAM-AMR-EUROCAM-Post-Conference-Paper-2018.pdf (visited on 3 October 2021)

7. Erik W. Baars et al. The Contribution of Complementary and Alternative Medicine to Reduce Antibiotic Use: A Narrative Review of Health Concepts, Prevention, and Treatment Strategies. Evid. Based Complement. Alternat. Med., 2019:5365608. DOI: 10.1155/2019/5365608

8. Edzard Ernst. “EBCAM: an alt med journal that puzzles me a great deal”, URL: http://edzardernst.com/2016/05/ebcam-an-alt-med-journal-that-puzzles-me-a-great-deal/ (visited on 8 January 2022)

9. B. E. Del-Rio-Navarro, F. J. Espinosa-Rosales, V. Flenady, and J. J. Sienra-Monge, “Cochrane Review: Immunostimulants for preventing respiratory tract infection in children,” Evidence-Based Child Health: A Cochrane Review Journal, 2012, 7 (2), 629–717.

I was made aware of an advertisement announcing that the ‘international health lecturer’, Barbara O’Neill, is soon (19-26 June) coming to the UK.

Who is Barbara O’Neill? I hear you ask.

Here is more interesting information about her:

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission conducted an investigation into the professional conduct of Mrs Barbara O’Neill, an unregistered practitioner who provides services as a naturopath, nutritionist and health educator.

Complaints received by the Commission alleged that Mrs O’Neill makes dubious and dangerous health claims that are not evidence based or supported by mainstream medicine, regarding: infant nutrition; causes and treatment of cancer; antibiotics; and vaccinations.  Some of the non-evidence based comments made in Mrs O’Neill’s publications include:

  • raw goat’s milk is an appropriate substitute for breast milk in infant nutrition;
  • cancer is a fungus that can be treated with bicarbonate soda and can be cured by following a program that includes the cancer conquering diet and sodium bicarbonate wraps for the body;
  • pregnant women diagnosed with Strep B do not have to take antibiotics;
  • there are no safe vaccines; vaccinations have caused an epidemic of ADHD, autism, epilepsy and cot death.

The investigation found that Mrs O’Neill has limited qualifications in the area of nutrition and dietetics, which she attained more than 10 years ago. Of particular concern to the Commission is that Mrs O’Neill is providing health advice beyond the limits of her training and experience. Mrs O’Neill considers herself qualified to provide health advice in highly complex and specialised areas such as cancer treatment, use of antibiotics for Strep B and immunisation, in circumstances where it is clear her knowledge is limited.

The investigation also found that Mrs O’Neill does not recognise that she is misleading vulnerable people (including mothers and cancer sufferers) by providing very selective information.  The misinformation has real potential to have a detrimental effect on the health of individuals because Mrs O’Neill also discourages mainstream treatment for cancer, antibiotics and vaccinations.

The investigation determined that Mrs O’Neill breached the Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners under Schedule 3 of the Public Health Regulation 2012 in respect of:

  • Clause 3(1): a health practitioner must provide health services in a safe and ethical manner;
  • Clause 5(1): a health practitioner must not hold himself or herself out as qualified, able or willing to cure cancer or other terminal illnesses;
  • Clause 7(1): a health practitioner must not attempt to dissuade clients from seeking or continuing with treatment by a registered medical practitioner;
  • Clause 12(1): a health practitioner must not engage in any form of misrepresentation in relation to the products or services he or she provides or as to his or her qualifications, training or professional affiliations;
  • Clause 15: a health practitioner must maintain accurate, legible and contemporaneous clinical records for each client consultation.

The Commission is satisfied that Mrs O’Neill poses a risk to the health and safety of members of the public and therefore makes the following prohibition order:

  • Mrs O’Neill is permanently prohibited from providing any health services, as defined in s4 Of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993, whether in a paid or voluntary capacity.

The Commission has determined to make its Statement of Decision publicly available under section 41B(3)(c) of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 but has removed material which it considers to be confidential information.

The full Public Statement of Decision can be read here

____________________________

Barbara has clear and concise messages:

  • Vaccinations have caused an epidemic of ADHD, autism, epilepsy and cot death.
  • Cancer is a fungus that can be treated with bicarbonate soda.

Just what we needed in the UK!?

Or maybe not.

Yes, we did get used to being lied to by our PM. We are also slowly getting used to our NHS being vandalized by our Tory government. But that does not mean that we now should opt to cure cancer with baking soda.

Perhaps it would be better to use existing legislation (e.g. the cancer act) and stop this ‘international health lecturer’ in her tracks?

 

PS

In case you wonder who might organize such an event, it is this one:

Manna House Health Education & Wellness is a community interest company that works with people to improve their health. Manna House has been using natural health principles to help the body heal itself. It was established for the purpose of educating people in the principles and laws of healthful living.

When I first saw this, I was expecting something like If Homeopathy Beats Science (Mitchell and Webb) – YouTube : videos (reddit.com). But no, “Acute Care Homeopathy for Medical Professionals” is not a masterpiece by gifted satirists. It is much better; it is for real! In fact, it is a collaboration between the “Academy of Homeopathy Education” (AHE) and the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH). Together, they published the following announcement:

AHE and AIH are pleased to present a customized educational program designed for busy medical professionals interested in enhancing their practice and expanding the treatment tools available with Homeopathy. Grounded in the original theory and philosophy of Homeopathy, AHE’s quality curriculum empowers practitioners and the material’s inspirational delivery encourages further study towards the mastery of Homeopathy for chronic care.

This course is open to all licensed healthcare providers— medical, osteopathic, naturopathic, dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians, nurse practitioners, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacologists and pharmacists.

Acute-care homeopathy addresses the challenges of 21st-century medical practice.

Among many things, you’ll learn safe and effective ways to manage pain and mitigate antibiotic overuse with FDA-regulated and approved Homeopathic remedies. AHE delivers an integrated learning experience that combines online real-time classroom experiences culminating in a telehealth based clinical internship allowing participants to study from anywhere in the world.

AHE’s team of Homeopathy experts have taught thousands of students around the globe and are known for unparalleled academic rigor, comprehensive clinical training, and robust research initiatives. AHE ensures that every graduate develops the necessary critical thinking skills in homeopathy case taking, analysis, and prescribing to succeed in practice with confidence and competence.

  • Smart and savvy tech support team helps to on-board and train even the most reticent digital participants
  • Academic support professionals provide an educational safety-net
  • Stellar faculty to inspire confidence and encourage students to achieve their best work
  • “Fireside Chats,” forums, and social gatherings build community
  • Tried and true administrative systems keep things running smoothly so you can focus on learning Homeopathy.

All AHE students receive Radar Opus, the leading software package used by professional homeopaths worldwide.

Upon completion of the didactic program, practitioners begin an Acute Care Internship through AHE and the Homeopathy Help Network’s Acute Care Telehealth Clinic “Homeopathy Help Now” (HHN) which sees thousands of cases each year. Upon successful completion of the internship, practitioners will be invited to participate in ongoing supervised practice through HHN.

AHE is part of a larger vision to shape the future of Homeopathy: HOHM Foundation and the Homeopathy Help NetworkAll clinical services are delivered in an education and research-driven model. HOHM’s Office of Research has multiple peer-reviewed publications focused on education, practice, and clinical outcomes. HOHM is committed to funding Homeopathy study and research at every level.

The Academy of Homeopathy Education (AHE) operates in conjunction with HOHM Foundation, a 501c3 initiative committed to education, advocacy, and access. The Homeopathy Help Network is a telehealth clinic providing fee-for-service chronic care as well as donation-based acute care through Homeopathy Help Now.

____________________________

I suspect you simply cannot wait to enroll. To learn more about “Acute Care Homeopathy for Medical Professionals” please fill out the form.

… and don’t forget to pay the fee of US$ 5 500.

No, it’s not expensive, if you think about it. After all, acute-care homeopathy addresses the challenges of 21st-century medical practice.

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