Misinformation by chiropractors is unfortunately nothing new and has been discussed ad nauseam on this blog. It is tempting to ask whether chiropractors have lost (or more likely never had) the ability to ditinguish real information from misinformation or substantiated from unsubstantiated claims. During the pandemic, the phenomenon of chiropractic misinformation has become even more embarrassingly obvious, as this new article highlights.
Chiropractors made statements on social media claiming that chiropractic treatment can prevent or impact COVID-19. The rationale for these claims is that spinal manipulation can impact the nervous system and thus improve immunity. These beliefs often stem from nineteenth-century chiropractic concepts. The authors of the paper are aware of no clinically relevant scientific evidence to support such statements.
The investigators explored the internet and social media to collect examples of misinformation from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand regarding the impact of chiropractic treatment on immune function. They discussed the potential harm resulting from these claims and explore the role of chiropractors, teaching institutions, accrediting agencies, and legislative bodies.
The authors conclude as follows: In this search of public media in Europe, North America, New Zealand, and Australia, we discovered many cases of misinformation. Claims of chiropractic treatment improving immunity conflict with the advice from authorities and the scientific consensus. The science referenced by these claims is missing, flawed or has no clinical relevance. Consequently, their claims about clinical effectiveness are spurious at best and misleading at worst. However, our examples cannot be used to make statements about the magnitude of the problem among practitioners as our samples were not intended to be representative. For that reason, we also did not include an analysis of the arguments provided in the various postings. In view of the seriousness of the topic, it would be relevant to conduct a systematic study on a representative sample of public statements, to better understand these issues. Our search illustrates the possible danger to public health of misinformation posted on social media and the internet. This situation provides an opportunity for growth and maturation for the chiropractic profession. We hope that individual chiropractors will reflect on and improve their communication and practices. Further, we hope that the chiropractic teaching institutions, regulators, and professional organisations will always demonstrate responsible leadership in their respective domains by acting to ensure that all chiropractors understand and uphold their fiduciary duties.
Several previous papers have found similar things, e.g.: Twitter activity about SMT and immunity increased during the COVID-19 crisis. Results from this work have the potential to help policy makers and others understand the impact of SMT misinformation and devise strategies to mitigate its impact.
The pandemic has crystallised the embarrassment about chiropractic false claims. Yet, the phenomenon of chiropractors misleading the public has long been known and arguably is even more important when it relates to matters other than COVID-19. Ten years ago, we published this paper:
Background: Some chiropractors and their associations claim that chiropractic is effective for conditions that lack sound supporting evidence or scientific rationale. This study therefore sought to determine the frequency of World Wide Web claims of chiropractors and their associations to treat, asthma, headache/migraine, infant colic, colic, ear infection/earache/otitis media, neck pain, whiplash (not supported by sound evidence), and lower back pain (supported by some evidence).
Methods: A review of 200 chiropractor websites and 9 chiropractic associations’ World Wide Web claims in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States was conducted between 1 October 2008 and 26 November 2008. The outcome measure was claims (either direct or indirect) regarding the eight reviewed conditions, made in the context of chiropractic treatment.
Results: We found evidence that 190 (95%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims regarding at least one of the conditions. When colic and infant colic data were collapsed into one heading, there was evidence that 76 (38%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims about all the conditions not supported by sound evidence. Fifty-six (28%) websites and 4 of the 9 (44%) associations made claims about lower back pain, whereas 179 (90%) websites and all 9 associations made unsubstantiated claims about headache/migraine. Unsubstantiated claims were made about asthma, ear infection/earache/otitis media, neck pain,
Conclusions: The majority of chiropractors and their associations in the English-speaking world seem to make therapeutic claims that are not supported by sound evidence, whilst only 28% of chiropractor websites promote lower back pain, which is supported by some evidence. We suggest the ubiquity of the unsubstantiated claims constitutes an ethical and public health issue.
It makes it clear that the misleading information of chiropractors is a serious problem. And I find it disappointing to see that so little has been done about it, and that progress seems so ellusive.
This, of course, begs the question, where does all this misinformation come from? The authors of the new paper stated that beliefs often stem from nineteenth-century chiropractic concepts. This, I believe, is very true and it gives us an important clue. It suggests that, because it is good for business, chiro schools are still steeped in obsolete notions of pseudo- and anti-science. Thus, year after year, they seem to churn out new generations of naively willing victims of the Dunning Kruger effect.
We have often heard it said on this blog and elsewhere that chiropractors are making great strides towards reforming themselves and becoming an evidence-based profession. In view of the data cited above, this does not ring all that true, I am afraid. Is the picture that emerges not one of a profession deeply embroiled in BS with but a few fighting a lost battle to clean up the act?
FOUR QUESTIONS TO DC + CRITICAL CHIRO (CC):
1) what does the law say about informed consent for Australian chiros?
2) what info exactly do you have to provide?
3) who monitors it?
4) what published evidence do we have about compliance?
CC then posted this reply:
Here we go again you demand evidence while providing little if any for your own assumptions (poor case studies do not count. The pleural of anecdote does not equal evidence whether it’s from chiro’s or you).
We have been over this many times over many years, I cite research/provide links yet you still find it challenging to take it onboard. It is human nature to feel obligated once making a public statement to defend it no matter how much evidence is sent your way. So not surprising.
“1) what does the law say about informed consent for Australian chiros?”
It is all freely available on the national regulators website (as you know and as I have referenced in the past):
Some research by chiropractors on this topic (cited many times in the past):
Risk Management for Chiropractors and Osteopaths. Informed consent
A Common Law Requirement (2004):
Quick advanced PubMed with filters set to “Chiropractic” AND “Informed consent”.
Not rocket science
Latest paper that you wrote an ill informed blog on and the comments were not going as you expected (So I expected you to double down like Donald Trump with a new blog within days. Your getting predictable).
This paper questions the legal implications of vertebral subluxations with high powered legal input and is a broadside by evidence based chiropractors against vitalistic chiropractors. You respond a snide fantasy informed consent dialogue when you should be supporting the authors:
“2) what info exactly do you have to provide?”
“4) what published evidence do we have about compliance?”
We have discussed this as well. It is a common law requirement for every profession and is checked upon re-registration by AHPRA every year and by the professional indemnity insurers every year. No informed consent, no registration and no professional indemnity insurance.
Checked AHPRA’s panel decisions and went back 5 YEARS and found ONE decision relating to informed consent:
“3) who monitors it?”
Another of your tired old arguments that we have discussed many times over the years.
In the UK there is the “‘Chiropractic Reporting and Learning System’ (CRLS)” but this is set up by the association representing chiropractors and not the registration board that advocates for patients. Right idea and step in the right direction, wrong organization.
Here years ago there was a trial of an adverse event reporting system in a Melbourne emergency department systematically collected relevant AE information on all professions which was sent to the relevant board for investigation.
It was supported by doctors and chiropractors while physio’s were not involved. A doctor involved told me it was killed off by ER doctors who “snivelled” about the extra paperwork.
There is no AE reporting system for physio’s, chiro’s, osteo’s, GP’s in private practice etc.
Over the years you have harped on and on about this topic as if it is a failing purely of the chiropractic profession when we have supported initiatives for its implementation.
You have also kept up with the research even commenting on an chiropractic researcher on AE’s Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde (who you highly regard) yet ignored until you could take issue with two sentences written in a blog then you wrote this hatchet blog:
So you are asking for evidence yet willfully ignore an author who “I have always thought highly of Charlotte’s work”.
Stop the cynical cherry picked blogs and start supporting the researchers and reformers otherwise you are just someone standing on the sidelines blindly throwing grenades. You do not care who you hit or the damage you do to the chiropractors leading the reform you demand yet consistently fail to support.
I thought the tone of this response was oddly aggressive and found that CC had failed to understand some of my questions. Yet the link to the chiro’s code of conduct https://www.chiropracticboard.gov.au/Codes-guidelines/Code-of-conduct.aspx was useful. This is what it says about informed consent:
- the chiro suggests a manipulation of the neck;
- this often involves forcing a spinal joint beyond its physiological range of motion;
- the treatment will be short but needs repeating several times during the coming weeks;
- the expected benefits are a reduction of pain and improvement of motion;
- the total cost of the treatment series will be xy;
- there are many other treatment options for neck pain;
- most of these have a better risk/benefit profile than neck manipulation;
- having no treatment for neck pain at all is likely to lead to full resolution of the problem over time.
Apart from any doubts that chiropractors would actually comply with these requirements, the question remains: is the listed information sufficient? Does it outline a truly a fully informed consent? I think that essential aspects of informed consent are missing.
- The code does not explicidly require an explanation about the possible harms of spinal manipulation (i.e. 50% of all patients will suffer mild to moderate adverse effects lasting 2-3 days, and occasionally patients will have a stroke of which some have died).
- Moreover, the code mentions EXPECTED benefits, but not benefits supported by evidence. Chiros may well EXPECT their treatment to work, but what does the evidence show? As often discussed on this blog, the evidence is negative or very week, depending how you want to interpret it. The code does not require a chiro to inform his patients about this fact.
So, the way I see it, the code does not expressedly demand the chiro to explain his patient that the treatment he is being asked to consent to is
- not supported by sound evidence for effectiveness,
- nor that the treatment is burdened with significant risks.
And what about the other questions listed above? An Australian chiropractor who will remain anonymous gave me the following answers:
Yet, Australian chiropractors claim that they abide by the ethical imperative of informed consent. Are they taking the Mickey?
Perhaps not. Perhaps they are merely trying to make sure they do not lose the majority of their clientele. As I already pointed out in my previous post, fully informed consent would make most chiropractic patients turn round and run a mile.
I was alerted to an outstanding article by an unusual author, a law firm, on the subject of chiropractic. Allow me to quote a few passages from it (without changing a word or adding a comment):
When Katie May passed away suddenly from a stroke at just 34 years old, it was initially ruled an accident. After further investigation, a coroner determined the stroke that claimed the model and single mother’s life was caused by injuries sustained during neck manipulation by a chiropractor. And Ms. May is not the first to be affected by this seemingly harmless procedure…
What health issues can be caused by chiropractic manipulation?
Chiropractors typically use their hands to apply pressure to joints, aiming to help alleviate pain and improve body function. This is referred to as a chiropractic adjustment.
Adjustments are commonly performed for neck and/or back pain. Although the Mayo Clinic says the risk of a serious complication is relatively small, these complications can include:
- A herniated disk, or worsening of an existing herniated disk
- Compression of nerves in the lower spinal column
- Stroke, which can result in paralysis or death
The last item on this list is particularly concerning.
Patients who receive neck manipulation are at risk for a stroke caused by vertebral artery dissection. Located in the neck, the vertebral arteries supply blood to the brain and can be torn by stretching and sudden force applied during a neck adjustment.
How could a chiropractor be responsible for a patient’s injury?
Although the risk of being seriously injured by a chiropractor is low, tragic accidents can and do happen. If you or a loved one believe you have been the victim of medical malpractice, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney.
Explaining how an injury or medical error occurred will help your attorney determine the potential liability of a chiropractor and any other involved parties. A chiropractor’s liability could fall into a legal category such as:
- Failure to Diagnose a Medical Condition – The chiropractor breaches a duty of care to their patients by failing to diagnose an underlying medical condition. This could occur when a patient reveals or exhibits symptoms of a severe issue, such as a stroke, and is not referred for appropriate medical attention.
- Lack of Informed Consent – A patient is treated without being properly informed of the potential risks or side effects, and experiences an injury from that treatment.
- Negligent Manipulation – The patient’s body is adjusted by the chiropractor in such a way that it causes a new injury or worsens an existing injury. This could also include manipulation of a patient who is pregnant and goes into premature labor.
- Chiropractic Induced Injury – A patient suffers injury, permanent irreversible damage such as paralysis or wrongful death as the direct result of a chiropractic manipulation.
To find out whether or not you may have a case, please discuss your concerns with a qualified personal injury attorney.
What should I do if I think I have been injured by chiropractic manipulation?
A personal injury attorney can help recover compensation for victims of medical malpractice, including those who have experienced a chiropractic injury. Surviving loved ones can also pursue their case after a family member’s wrongful death.
An attorney will help you collect documents, photos and other items pertaining to your case – but staying organized early in the process will be helpful. Try to preserve important documents, such as:
- Photographs before and after treatment
- Medical records and medical bills
- Receipts, appointment confirmations and other paperwork from your chiropractor
There is a time limit to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, referred to as a statute of limitations…
The issue of informed consent has made regular appearances on this blog. It is important and has many intriguing aspects, particularly for so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). On the one hand, it is a ‘conditio sine qua non’ for any form of healthcare, while, on the other hand, it is a near impossibility in SCAM practice.
In this new article published in a chiro-journal, the authors review the origins of informed consent and trace the duty of disclosure and materiality through landmark medical consent cases in four common law (case law) jurisdictions. The duty of disclosure has evolved from a patriarchal exercise to one in which patient autonomy in clinical decision making is paramount. Passing time has seen the duty of disclosure evolve to include non-medical aspects that may influence the delivery of care. The authors argue that a patient cannot provide valid informed consent for the removal of vertebral subluxation. Further, vertebral subluxation care cannot meet code of conduct standards because it lacks an evidence base and is practitioner-centered.
The uptake of the expanded duty of disclosure has been slow and incomplete by practitioners and regulators. The expanded duty of disclosure has implications, both educative and punitive for regulators, chiropractic educators and professional associations. The authors discuss how practitioners and regulators can be informed by other sources such as consumer law. For regulators, reviewing and updating informed consent requirements is required. For practitioners it may necessitate disclosure of health status, conflict of interest when recommending “inhouse” products, recency of training after attending continuing professional development, practice patterns, personal interests and disciplinary findings.
The authors conclude that, ultimately such matters are informed by the deliberations of the courts. It is our opinion that the duty of a mature profession to critically self-evaluate and respond in the best interests of the patient before these matters arrive in court.
In their paper, the authors also provide a standard list of items required for ‘informed’ consent:
(1) emphasizing the patient’s role in shared decision-making
(2) disclosure of information
a. explaining the patient’s medical status including diagnosis and prognosis
b. describing the proposed diagnostic and therapeutic intervention, including the likelihood and effect of associated risks and benefits of the proposed action, including material risks
c. discussing alternatives to the proposed intervention, including doing nothing
(3) prompting and answering patient questions related to the proposed course of action (NB. this involves probing for understanding, not simply asking ‘do you have any questions’), and
(4) eliciting the patient’s preference (usually by signature). (NB. A signed form is not consent. The conversation between the clinician and the patient or carer is the true process of obtaining informed consent. The signature on the consent form is proof that the conversation took place and that the patient understood and agreed.)
The authors of this article – I do commend it to all chiropractors – take a mostly judicial view of informed consent (for an ethical perspective on the subject, I recommend our book). They do not discuss, whether chiropractors do, in fact, adhere to the ethical imperative of informed consent. As I have stated before, there is not much research on this issue. But the little that does exist fails to show that chiropractors care much about it.
If it’s an ethical imerative, why do chiropractors not abide by it?
The answer to this question is not difficult to find. Just imagine a conversation between a chiropractor (C) and a patient with neck pain (P):
- P: What’s your diagnisis?
- C: You are suffering from acute neck pain.
- P: Thanks, that much was clear to me. What do you suggest I do?
- C: I will perform a manipulation of your neck, if you agree.
- P: Why would this help?
- C: It can realign the vertebrae that are out of place, simply put.
- P: And my pain will disappear?
- C: Sometimes it does, yes.
- P: But will it disappear quicker than without manipulation.
- C: Some of the evidence says so.
- P: Ok, but what does the most reliable evidence say?
- C: It is not entirely clear cut.
- P: Hmm, that does not sound too good.
- P: So, tell me, are there any risks?
- C: About 50% of patients suffer from minor to moderate pain for 2-3 days afterwards.
- P: That’s a lot!
- P: Anything else?
- C: In some cases, neck manipulation was followed by a stroke.
- P: Gee that’s bad; how often has this happened?
- C: We know of about 500 such cases.
- P: Heavens!
- C: Now, do you want the treatment or not?
- P: How much will you charge?
- C: Only 60 Euros per session.
- P: You mean I have to come back for more, each time risking a stroke?
- C: Well… You don’t have to.
- P: Thanks for the info; I am off. Cherio!
I rest my case.
I want to thank our friend ‘OLD BOB’ for alerting me to Patrick Holford’s comment on a recent trial of vitamin C for COVID-19. Here are three short quotes from Holford:
… Overall, 5 out 26 people (19%) died in the vitamin C group while 10 out of 28 (36%) receiving the placebo died. That means that vitamin C almost halved the number of deaths. Those on vitamin C were 60% more likely to survive.
… Of those most critically ill, 4 people (18%) in the vitamin C group died, compared to 10 (50%) in the placebo group. That’s two-thirds less deaths. Statistically this meant that of those most critically ill who were given vitamin C, they were 80% less likely to die…
… now there is another proven treatment – vitamin C…
And here is the abstract of the actual trial Holford refers to:
Background: No specific medication has been proven effective for the treatment of patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Here, we tested whether high-dose vitamin C infusion was effective for severe COVID-19.
Methods: This randomized, controlled, clinical trial was performed at 3 hospitals in Hubei, China. Patients with confirmed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection in the ICU were randomly assigned in as 1:1 ratio to either the high-dose intravenous vitamin C (HDIVC) or the placebo. HDIVC group received 12 g of vitamin C/50 ml every 12 hours for 7 days at a rate of 12 ml/hour, and the placebo group received bacteriostatic water for injection in the same way. The primary outcome was invasive mechanical ventilation-free days in 28 days(IMVFD28). Secondary outcomes were 28-day mortality, organ failure, and inflammation progression.
Results: Only fifty-six critical COVID-19 patients were ultimately recruited due to the early control of the outbreak. There was no difference in IMVFD28 between two groups. During the 7-day treatment period, patients in the HDIVC group had a steady rise in the PaO2/FiO2 (day 7: 229 vs. 151 mmHg, 95% CI 33 to 122, P=0.01). Patients with SOFA scores ≥3 in the HDIVC group exhibited a trend of reduction in 28-day mortality (P=0.06) in univariate survival analysis. IL-6 in the HDIVC) group was lower than that in the placebo group (19.42 vs. 158.00; 95% CI -301.72 to -29.79; P=0.04) on day 7.
Conclusion: This pilot trial showed that HDIVC might show a potential signal of benefit for critically ill patients with COVID-19, improving oxygenation even though it failed to improve IMVFD28.
The following points are, I think, worth mentioning:
- This was, according to its authors, a PILOT study.
- It was far too small (n=56) to provide reliable results on mortality.
- The trial authors know that and interpret their findings with sufficient caution.
- The primary endpoint, the IMVFD28, showed NO significant difference between the groups.
- The secondary endpoint: HDIVC infusion exhibited a non-significant trend of reduction in 28-day mortality (P=0.06).
- In more severe patients (SOFA score ≥3), univariate survival analysis and Cox regression showed a similar results (P=0.07, HR, 0.32 [95% CI 0.10-1.06]).
And what does all of this mean? It means that, in this pilot study, vitamin C failed to produce a significant result. Only in a subgroup analysis related to a secondary endpoint was there a slight advantage of vitamin C. This effect is, of course, interesting and needs further investigation (I am sure that is happening as we speak). It could have some clinical significance but, just as likely, it could just be due to chance. There is not way of knowing which is which.
In other words, to hype the findings and to even make statements such as ‘now there is another proven treatment, vitamin C’ is not just exaggerated, it is irresponsible.
This begs the question: why does Mr Holford do it? In case you don’t already know about this man, go on the Internet, and you will quickly find possible answers. Here is an excerpt from his Wiki page which might give you a clue:
Patrick Holford is a British author and entrepreneur who endorses a range of controversial vitamin tablets. As an advocate of alternative nutrition and diet methods, he appears regularly on television and radio in the UK and abroad. He has 36 books in print in 29 languages. His business career promotes a wide variety of alternative medical approaches such as orthomolecular medicine, many of which are considered pseudoscientific by mainstream science and medicine.
Holford’s claims about HIV and autism are not in line with modern medical thought, and have been criticised for putting people in danger and damaging public health.
In 2006 Holford was discovered to be using his PR advisor to delete critical content from his Wikipedia page…
Holford has been the subject of criticism for his promotion of medically dubious techniques and products including hair analysis, his support of the now struck off doctor Andrew Wakefield, and advocating the use of “non-drug alternatives for mental health” for which he has been given an award by the Church of Scientology-backed Citizens Commission on Human Rights.
SAY NO MORE!
It is today exactly 8 years that I am writing this blog. To mark the occasion, I am trying to write my shortest post ever. It focusses on a question that has often occupied my mind and rarely leaves the comments sections of this blog: What makes a healthcare professional use a bogus SCAM therapy? Think, for instance, of any practitioner of homeopathy. What makes him or her tick? Why does (s)he practice homeopathy and not real medicine? After years of thinking about it, the answer turns out to be really quite simple. There are only three possibilities:
Practitioners who employ disproven treatments either
try to con you
they have been conned themselves
Think of it, there is no other explanation!
If, however, you do know of another one, please let me know.
AND THANKS FOR MAKING THIS BLOG A SUCCESS.
Prof. Shailendra Ramchandra Vishampayan is the 1st author of the paper we discussed yesterday. He was kind enough to repeatedly join us in the comments section, and I was therefore keen to learn more about him. On his website, he says about himself that he is a renowned academician and famous homeopath, enriched with decades of ideal experiences and quality services. He is registered medical practitioner (M.D), performs all the duties of registered medical practitioner following the law of land in India. Globally he is considered as homeopath and known as “Dr.V”. He is a registered member of Society of Homeopaths (overseas).
Dr. V, is a practicing homeopath with clinical experience of over 20 years. In course of his years of practice he had successfully helped more than 250 happy families globally, with various kinds of cases like thyroid, immune compromised, epilepsy, endocrine disorders, paediatric, gynaecological disorders addictions, psychiatric disorder, children with special needs, pets and plants.
He is famous for his path breaking concept and novel idea of creating an organization called ‘Folk Homeopathy ‘, which is dedicated to professional enrichment of homeopathic practitioners helping them to improve their clinical acumen with spot on prescription.
His practical approach in solving cases has earned him accolades and fame throughout the globe.
Dr. V is the author of ‘Kinder Garten Materia Medica’ a reference book for beginners widely used by homeopathic students in India. It is a book with unique combination of pictorial and pneumonic.
He is a Professor (PG) at D.Y.Patil Homeopathy Medical College (Pune). He has a teaching experience of over 16 years in teaching UG and PG. He has drawn large number of followers through webinars which is accessible throughout the globe. He has given more than 50 international seminar ,workshops and webinars in countries like USA, Ireland, Malaysia, with presentations on Homeopathic approach to female hormonal imbalance cases at OMICS Conference of Alternative Medicine, presentation on Psychiatric cases at Asian Homeopathic League. And various presentation at University of Cyberjaya, Malaysia, California Homeopathic Medical society, San Diego and also at Corte Madera, 98th FOH Congress, Liverpool and Kinvara Co Galway, Ireland.
And on the same site, we also learn that ‘Dr V’ is particularly adept at treating diabetes:
India is now considered as the diabetes capital of the world. Approximately 8.7 percent of Indians between the age of 20 to 70 years are diabetic. This translates to approximately 62.5 million diabetics living in India, according to estimates by the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) The economic burden of managing this disease is also substantial since this is a combination of cost of treatment and loss of productivity in such a high number of diabetics. Diabetes can affect multiple organ systems resulting in a wide range of serious issues in patients. Many of these complications in a diabetic do not have any specific treatment with conventional medicines. However, an indication of the popularity of homeopathy amongst diabetics is that the doctors at our clinic treat approximately two hundred cases of diabetes or diabetes related issues every day. We have, in fact, developed specific diabetes management protocols for patients based on the experience of thousands of cases we have seen over four decades.
This is interesting, I thought, and conducted a few Medline searches to see whether there is any evidence to show that homeopathy is an effective therapy for diabetes. I am afraid, I found no papers of ‘Dr V’ to suggest such an effect. But what I did find was certainly fascinating.
Last year, Italian diabetologists published an review entitled ‘Alternative treatment or alternative to treatment? A systematic review of randomized trials on homeopathic preparations for diabetes and obesity‘. Here is what they reported:
The searches failed to retrieve any trial comparing homeopathic remedies with placebo or any active drug for the treatment of either diabetes or obesity.
These authors commented that
… if homeopathy is used as an alternative to available and effective treatments, the consequences can be catastrophic, particularly in some conditions such as insulin-requiring diabetes. In conclusion, there is no scientific evidence on efficacy and no demonstration of safety of homeopathy in diabetes and obesity…
‘Dr V’ will probably point out that he is a fully qualified doctor and uses homeopathy merely as an adjunct to conventional anti-diabetic treatments; thus he kills nobody.
I certainly hope this is so! But, even in this case, I must still ask: WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE THAT HOMEOPATHY IS AN EFFECTIVE ADJUNCT TO CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE?
I have to thank one of our regular commentators for inspiring me to write this post. He recently contributed this insight about homeopathic provings:
If you didn’t experience anything from a proving you didn’t perform it properly.
It is an argument that, in different forms and shapes, I have heard very often. Essentially it holds that, if an investigation or a test fails to produce the desired result, the methodology must have been faulty. Donald Trump is, I fear, about to use it in the upcoming US election: if he is voted out, he will claim that there was too much fraud going on. Therefore, he cannot accept the result as valid. Thus it is his democratic duty to remain in post, he is likely to claim.
In medicine, the argument has been popular since millennia. In our book TRICK OR TREATMENT?, we recount the story of blood letting. Based on the doctrine of the 4 humours, it was believed for centuries to be a panacea. If someone died after losing litres of blood to the believers in the doctrine, the assumption was not that he had been bled to death, but that he had sadly not received enough of the ‘cure all’. Eventually, some bright chap had the novel idea of running a rigorous test of blood-letting, and it turned out that the patients who had received the treatment had a worse chance of survival than those who had escaped it. Aaaahhh !!!, shouted the blood-letters, this shows that the concept of the scientific test is flawed.
Checking the methodological rigour of clinical studies (or homeopathic provings) can be a tricky and tedious business. It requires proper learning and experience – qualities that SCAM fanatics rarely possess. Amongst other things, one needs to know about:
- trial design,
- sources of bias,
- and the many tricks people use to hide flaws in published studies.
This is not easy and it takes time – lots of time – to acquire the necessary skills. Having discussed such issues with enthusiasts of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for decades, I realise that it would be unrealistic to expect of them to spend all this time learning all these complicated things (they have to make a living, you know!). I therefore propose an entirely new and much simpler method of differentiating between valid and invalid research of SCAM. It rests on merely 2 golden rules:
- Any research methodology is valid, if it produces the desired result.
- Any research methodology is invalid, if it fails to produce the desired result.
In analogy to these two rules, one can easily extrapolate further. For instance, one can state that:
- any person who generates or promotes the desired result is honest;
- any person who contradicts the desired result is corrupt (bought by ‘Big Pharma’).
I am sure my readers all see the beauty of this revolutionary, new system: it’s easy to learn, practical to apply, it avoids controversy and it takes full account of the previously much-neglected needs of the SCAM fraternity.
Black salve is a paste for external use made from a variable mixture of herbal and non-herbal ingredients. It usually contains bloodroot and/or chaparral and/or zinc chloride which are all ingredients that render the products corrosive. This means black salve destroys living cells that come in contact with it.
Black salve is said to originate from native American tribes who used the paste as a treatment for various conditions. It was adopted by conventional medicine during the Victorian era as a treatment for a range of skin problems, including skin cancers. When effective treatments became available, it became obsolete.
Black salve was recently re-discovered by some practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) who now recommend it as a natural treatment for various skin conditions, including cancer. Black salve is readily available, for instance, via the Internet. Several national regulators have issued warnings to consumers not to use it. Consumers have little means of telling what is the nature, quality or strength of the black salve they might be purchasing.
No compelling evidence exists that black salve is efficacious for any condition, especially not for any type of skin cancer. Rigorous clinical trials testing its efficacy are not available. A recent review of the published evidence concluded as follows: Black salve is not a natural therapy. It contains significant concentrations of synthetic chemicals. Black salve does not appear to possess tumour specificity with in vitro and in vivo evidence indicating normal cell toxicity. Black salve does appear to cure some skin cancers, although the cure rate for this therapy is currently unknown. The use of black salve should be restricted to clinical research in low risk malignancies located at low risk sites until a better understanding of its efficacy and toxicity is developed. Where a therapy capable of harm is already being used by patients, it is ethically irresponsible not to study and analyse its effects. Although cautionary tales are valuable, black salve research needs to move beyond the case study and into the carefully designed clinical trial arena. Only then can patients be properly informed of its true benefits and hazards.
Due to its erosive nature, black salve burns away the tissue with which it comes into contact. Numerous case reports of the resulting deformations have been published., Many horrendous pictures of patients maimed by their use of black salve are available on the Internet and give a dramatic impression of the harm caused. Black salve is unquestionably a treatment that can cause considerable damage and should be regarded as unsafe. One paper concluded that it is vital that members of the public are aware of the potential effects and toxicity of commercial salve products.
In conclusion, black salve is not of proven efficacy as a treatment of any condition. It is well documented to cause much harm. Its use should be discouraged. Practitioners who employ or recommend it are, in my view, irresponsible to the extreme.
 Croaker A, King GJ, Pyne JH, Anoopkumar-Dukie S, Liu L. A Review of Black Salve: Cancer Specificity, Cure, and Cosmesis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:9184034. doi:10.1155/2017/9184034
 Ong NC, Sham E, Adams BM. Use of unlicensed black salve for cutaneous malignancy. Med J Aust. 2014;200(6):314. doi:10.5694/mja14.00041
 Saltzberg F, Barron G, Fenske N. Deforming self-treatment with herbal “black salve”. Dermatol Surg. 2009;35(7):1152-1154. doi:10.1111/j.1524-4725.2009.01206.x
 Lim A. Black salve treatment of skin cancer: a review. J Dermatolog Treat. 2018;29(4):388-392. doi:10.1080/09546634.2017.1395795
Guest post by Ken McLeod
‘Ayurvedic Medicine,’ or Ayurveda, is an alternative medicine system which originated in India as long as 5,000 years ago, according to its proponents. Science-based medicine refers to it as pseudoscientific and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) characterises it as quackery.  Ayurvedic practitioners claim that its popularity through the ages vindicates it as safe and effective.
That last bit is of course the appeal to antiquity, or the appeal to tradition (also known as argumentum ad antiquitatem.  This proposes that if something was supported by people for a long time it must be valid. That is bunkum; many ancient ideas have long since been discredited; the Earth is not flat, no matter for how long people thought it was.
Nevertheless, ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ has many practitioners and supporters in the supposedly rational West, including Bondi Junction here in Australia. Despite the many warnings about it,  people still go to practitioners, and occasionally they are injured.
One such injury and the consequent complaint to the New South Wales regulator, the Health Care Complaints Commission, (HCCC), has resulted in a Public Warning dated 18 September concerning levels of heavy metals in Ayurvedic Medication. 
The HCCC said:
‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission is concerned about a complaint received regarding the prescription of “Manasamithra Vatika,” (Manasamitram Pills) an Ayurvedic medication.
‘The complaint related to prescription of this medication to a child for treatment of autism.
‘This medication was found to contain concerning levels of lead and other heavy metals.’
That’s all very bland, no headlines there. But then it got into:
“The Commission strongly urges those individuals seeking alternative therapies to be vigilant in their research prior to proceeding with any natural therapy medications or medicines and to discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.”
Not so bland there; that’s very comprehensive; ‘any natural therapy medications or medicines’ and ‘discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.” ‘Note the HCCC’s emphasis on “registered.” That rules out Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners, homeopaths, and other assorted cranks; go to a real doctor.
Surely that is headline material; a regulator responsible for promoting the health of citizens warns them to go to real doctors before going to these quacks.
Then it gets better, (or worse if you are an Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner). At the same time the HCCC issued an Interim Prohibition Order against Mr Rama Prasad (“Ayurveda Doctor Rama Prasad.”)  The HCCC’s Order says:
‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (“the Commission”) is currently investigating Mr Rama Prasad in relation to his prescribing of the Ayurvedic Medication “Manasamithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) to both children and adults and about his claims that his treatments can reverse several aspects of autism in children.
‘The Ayurvedic Medication “Manasmithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) was found to contain elevated levels of lead and other heavy metals.
‘One case with mildly elevated blood level was notified to the South Eastern Sydney Public Health Unit after consuming this product.
‘Clients residing in NSW who are considered to have been placed at possible risk have now been contacted by NSW Health public health personnel.
‘The Commission has issued an interim prohibition order in relation to Mr Rama Prasad, under section 41AA of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 (‘The Act’). Mr Prasad is currently prohibited from providing any health services, either in paid employment or voluntarily, to any member of the public.
‘This interim prohibition order will remain in force for a period of eight weeks and may be renewed where appropriate in order to protect the health or safety of the public.’
That should send chills down the spine of any Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner. A complete Prohibition Order ordering Prasad not to engage in providing any health service as defined in the Act  for eight weeks, which may be renewed or even made permanent, depending on what the investigation finds. The Act includes a comprehensive list of activities that comprise a ‘health service’:
‘health service includes the following services, whether provided as public or private services:
- (a) medical, hospital, nursing and midwifery services,
- (b) dental services,
- (c) mental health services,
- (d) pharmaceutical services,
- (e) ambulance services,
- (f) community health services,
- (g) health education services,
- (h) welfare services necessary to implement any services referred to in paragraphs (a)–(g),
- (i) services provided in connection with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practices and medical radiation practices,
- (j) Chinese medicine, chiropractic, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, physiotherapy, podiatry and psychology services,
- (j1) optical dispensing, dietitian, massage therapy, naturopathy, acupuncture, speech therapy, audiology and audiometry services,
- (k) services provided in other alternative health care fields,
- (k1) forensic pathology services,’
Note the inclusion of ‘health education.’ This is where so many cranks fall foul of the law; setting yourself up as a health educator makes you subject to the Act. Even if you claim to be a master chef, homeopath or Ayurvedic Medicine Practitioner, you are not exempt.
It’s early days yet in this particular saga, and there are many questions to be answered, for example:
- – How did this “medicine” get past Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, (Australia’s equivalent to the US FDA)?
- – Did the TGA list or register it?
- – If not why not? If it was who is responsible?
- – Was this detected only after a child was so sickened that they were taken to hospital?
- – Why is the practitioner concerned still advertising his Ayurvedic medicine courses?  Is this a breach of his Prohibition Order which prohibits ‘health education services’?’
So stay tuned for updates as this case progresses. In the meantime note that an Australian Health regulator is advising the public to seek advice from real doctors before going to alternative therapists, including ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ practitioners. That is a real headline.
 Such as from the Victoria Dept of Health at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/ayurveda
 Health Care Complaints Act 1993 https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1993-105