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

Bach Flower Remedies

In the UK, a new post-Brexit regulatory framework is being proposed for food supplements by the government. The nutraceutical sector is estimated to be worth £275bn globally and £4bn in the UK.  A new report claims that “science is starting to point the way to a new sector of nutritional products with increasingly explicable and/or verifiable medicinal benefits, which needs to be reflected in our regulatory framework.” Tory MP George Freeman, one of the authors of the report, was quoted saying:

“We are living through an extraordinary period of technological change – not just in life science but in host of sectors: from AI to robotics to agri-tech, nutraceuticals, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, biofuels, satellites and fusion energy. The UK is indeed a ‘science superpower’. But we have traditionally been woeful at commercialising here in the UK. There are many reasons. But, in recent years, the EU’s increasingly slow, bureaucratic and ‘precautionary’ approach – copied in Whitehall – has made the EU and the UK an increasingly poor place to commercialise new technology.”

If a product like a food or a herbal remedy makes ‘medicinal’ claims, it is currently regulated by the MHRA. If a product only makes general ‘health’ claims, it is regulated by the Department of Health and Social Care in England, by the FSA in Wales and Northern Ireland, and by Food Standards Scotland in Scotland. This ‘patchwork of regulators’ is bound to change as it is deemed to create additional costs and uncertainty for businesses who would like to see the relevant functions brought together in a central regulatory body and a clearer UK landscape.

In response to the task force’s report, PM Boris Johnson stated that bold and ambitious ideas such as these are needed to encourage growth and innovation:

“The Government, through our Better Regulation Committee, is already hard at work on reform of the UK’s regulatory framework. Your bold proposals provide a valuable template for this, illustrating the sheer level of ambitious thinking needed to usher in a new golden age of growth and innovation right across the UK. So we will give your report the detailed consideration it deserves, consult widely across industry and civil society, and publish a response as soon as is practicable.”

Am I the only one who feels more than a little uneasy about all this? I honestly do not see much new science that, according to the report, points to ‘verifiable medicinal benefits’ of food supplements or nutraceuticals. What the report does however point to, I fear, is that the UK government is about to deregulate quackery with a view to making some entrepreneurs wealthy snake oil salesmen at the cost of public health and wealth.

I hope I am mistaken.

Bach flower remedies were invented in the 1920s by Dr. Edward Bach (1886-1936), a doctor homeopath who had previously worked in the London Homeopathic Hospital. They have since become very popular in Europe and beyond. Bach flower remedies are clearly inspired by homeopathy; however, they are not the same because they do not follow the ‘like cures like’ principle and are they potentized. They are manufactured by placing freshly picked specific flowers or parts of plants in water which is subsequently mixed with alcohol, bottled, and sold. Like most homeopathic remedies, they are highly dilute and thus do not contain therapeutic amounts of the plant printed on the bottle.

The aim of this new randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was to compare the efficacy of flower therapy for the treatment of anxiety in overweight or obese adults with that of a placebo. The authors examined improvement in sleep patterns, reduction in binge eating, and change in resting heart rate (RHR).

The study included 40 participants in the placebo group and 41 in the intervention group. Participants were of both genders, from 20 to 59 years of age, overweight or obese, with moderate to high anxiety. They were randomized into two groups:

  1. one group was treated with Bach flower remedies (BFR) (bottles containing 30 mL of 30% hydro-brandy solution with two drops each of Impatiens, White Chestnut, Cherry Plum, Chicory, Crab Apple, and Pine), purchased from Healing® Flower Essences (São Paulo, Brazil)
  2. the other group was given a placebo (same solution without BFR).

All patients were instructed to orally ingest the solutions by placing four drops directly in the mouth four times a day for 4 weeks.

The primary outcome was anxiety (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory [STAI]). Secondary outcomes were sleep (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index [PSQI]), binge eating (Binge Eating Scale [BES]), and RHR (electrocardiogram).

Multivariate analysis showed significant reductions in scores for the following variables in the intervention group when compared with the placebo group: STAI (β = −0.190; p < 0.001), PSQI (β = −0.160; p = 0.027), BES (β = −0.226; p = 0.001), and RHR (β = −0.07; p = 0.003).

The authors concluded that anxiety symptoms, binge eating, and RHRs of the individuals treated with flower therapy decreased, and their sleep patterns improved when compared with those treated with the placebo.

Did the alcohol in the verum preparation had a relaxing effect? No, I was teasing. The amount would have been too small and the effect would have been the same in both groups. But what could have caused the observed outcome? I have to admit that I have no idea.

I read the study several times and could not find a major flaw. Hence it must have been the flower remedy that caused the positive outcome? No, I am teasing again. I find this impossible to imagine. These remedies contain nothing that might explain the results and all previous systematic reviews of all the available trials have all reached a negative conclusion. Before I seriously consider the option that flower remedies are more than placebos, I would like to see an independent replication.

By guest blogger Michael Scholz

For several years, the “flower essences” invented by Dr. Edward Bach had a difficult time in the European Union and especially Germany. The manufacturers were regularly taken to court for violating the EU Health Claim Regulation. This now culminates in the fact that the manufacturer, Nelsons, who sells the “Original Bach Flowers” in Germany, was forced to rename its popular “Rescue” remedies.

What happened?

The “Rescue” remedies were promoted with statements such as “calm and strong through the day” and “recommended use in emotionally exciting situations, e.g. at work” or to “face emotional challenges”. The competitor, Annoyax Nutripharm, regarded this as a health-related statement that is prohibited according to the EU Health Claim Regulation. Since the “Bach Flower Remedies” are not considered to be medicinal products in Germany, they are treated as food supplements, according to a ruling by the Oberlandesgericht (Higher Regional Court) Hamburg in 2007.

As it is strictly forbidden to advertise food supplements with health-related claims that are unproven, Annoyax Nutripharm filed a lawsuit against Nelsons that all the way to the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal High Court of Justice) in Karlsruhe. Since the case concerned European law, the judges in Karlsruhe referred it to the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg.

The judges wanted two questions clarified: 1. Are the “Rescue” remedies to be regarded simply as Brandy due to their alcohol content of 27%? (in which case, health-related claims would be strictly forbidden). 2. Does the product’s name “Rescue” itself constitute a violation of the Health Claims Regulation?

The Luxemburg judges ruled “No” and “Yes”. “No”, it is not Brandy, although the „essences“ consist of a considerable quantity of alcohol, the recommended dose is too small to be intoxicating. But “Yes”, the term “Rescue” does indeed violate the Health Claim Regulation. So the plaintiff won – and what is the result?

When the Health Claims Regulation was enacted in 2005, a transition period until 2022 was established. This applied to all products that were sold using the same brand name and composition before 2005. This now gave the defendant – Nelsons – the opportunity to use Edward Bach’s 135th anniversary for launching an advertising campaign that praises the court-ordered renaming as „modernization“ for the 21st century. And as you see, the new name is a paragon of creativity, innovation & modernism, indeed (//irony:off): “Rescue” becomes – drum roll – “Rescura”. Yes, I looked just like that too…

This pyrrhic victory for the plaintiffs shows how important it is to protect the European citizens against misleading advertising. And – far more important – it is now established through a ruling of the Federal High Court of Justice that “Bach Flowers” are an esoterical concept devoid of medical evidence.

Bach-Flower Remedies (BFRs) are often confused with homeopathics. Like them, they contain no active molecule; unlike them, they are not potentised nor used according to the ‘like cures like’ assumption. Both have in common that they are as popular as implausible.

Few studies have tested BFRs; my own systematic review of controlled clinical trials was published in 2010:

Bach flower remedies continue to be popular and its proponents make a range of medicinal claims for them. The aim of this systematic review was to critically evaluate the evidence for these claims. Five electronic databases were searched without restrictions on time or language. All randomised clinical trials of flower remedies were included. Seven such studies were located. All but one were placebo-controlled. All placebo-controlled trials failed to demonstrate efficacy. It is concluded that the most reliable clinical trials do not show any differences between flower remedies and placebos.

Now a new study has emerged. This trial from the Department of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, DY Patil University – School of Dentistry, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, compared the effects of Bach Flower Therapy (BFT) and music therapy (MT) on the dental anxiety in paediatric patients. A total of 120 children (aged 4-6 years) were selected and randomly allocated to one of three groups:

  • BFT group: Children from this group were administered orally four drops of “rescue remedy” diluted in 40 mL of water 15 min before the treatment. Children were asked to wear headphones without playing any music during the dental treatment
  • MT group: Children from this group were provided with a headphone, and Indian classical instrumental music (Raag Sohni played by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma on santoor) was played during the scheduled dental treatment. Children were also given 40 mL plain water to drink 15 min before the treatment
  • Control group: Children from this group were given 40 mL plain water 15 min before the treatment. During the treatment, children were asked to wear the headphone without playing any music.

All children received oral prophylaxis and fluoride treatment (no further details provided). Dental anxiety was evaluated using

  • North Carolina Behavior Rating Scale (NCBRS), the primary outcome measure,
  • Facial Image Scale (FIS),
  • and physiological parameters.

Significantly better behaviour was seen in children from the BFT group as compared to the control group (P = 0.014). FIS scores measured postoperatively did not show significant differences among the groups.

Table 2: Comparison of North Carolina Behavior Rating Scale scores of child's behavior measured during the dental procedure between the three groups

Table 3: Comparison of postoperative patient-reported dental anxiety as measured by Facial Image Scale among the three groups

Children from the BFT and MT groups showed a significant decrease in the pulse rates intraoperatively from the preoperative period. Intraoperative systolic blood pressure in children from the MT group was significantly lower than both the BFT and the control groups. Diastolic blood pressure significantly increased in the control group intra-operatively, whereas other groups showed a decrease.

The authors concluded that the results of this study demonstrate significant effects of both single dose of BFT and exposure to MT, on reduction of dental anxiety in children aged between 4 and 6 years.

I find these findings most puzzling (like all BFRs, Rescue Remedies do not contain a single active molecule that could explain them) and strongly recommend that we wait until we have an independent replication before accepting these results as trustworthy.

This study by Australian pharmacists, assessed the quality and relevance of community pharmacists’ information gathering (questioning), counselling and product selection when interacting with customers requesting a s0-called alternative medicine (SCAM) product for stress and consequently determine whether Australian pharmacy practice indicates the need for guidelines similar to those provided for ‘pharmacy only’ (S2) and ‘pharmacist only’ (S3) medicines.

A covert simulated patient (SP) was used to investigate the response of pharmacists to a request for a natural product for stress. The SP documented the details of the pharmacist-simulated patient interaction immediately on leaving the pharmacy and then re-entered the pharmacy to debrief the pharmacist. The quality of the interaction was scored as a Total CARE (check, assess, respond, explain) Score, based on anticipated questions and counselling advice. The appropriateness of the product was scored as a Product Efficacy Score, based on evidence-based literature.

Data from 100 pharmacies was provided. Information gathering illustrated by the questioning components Check and Assess (C and A) of the total CARE score by pharmacists was poor. The number of questions asked ranged from zero (13 pharmacists) to 7 (four pharmacists), the average being 3.1 (SD 1.9). Provision of advice was generally better (a description of the suggested product was offered by 87 pharmacists) but was lacking in other areas (duration of use and side effects were explained by only 41 and 16 pharmacists respectively). The most common product suggested was B-group vitamins (57 pharmacists) followed by a proprietary flower essence product (19 pharmacists). A two-step cluster analysis revealed two sub-groups of pharmacists: one cluster (74 pharmacists) with a high Total CARE score provided an appropriate product. The other cluster (20 pharmacists) had a low total CARE score and provided an inappropriate product.

The authors concluded that the pharmacy visits revealed major shortcomings in questioning, counselling and product recommendation. There is a need to develop guidelines for pharmacists to make evidence-based decisions in recommending SCAMs.

This paper offers a host of interesting information. For instance, it reveals that almost all pharmacists recommended at least one product for sale, about half of them recommended more than one. Considering that the evidence for most of the products in question is weak (to say the least), this seems concerning.

The second most recommended product, the ‘Bach Rescue Remedy‘, is perhaps a good case in point. There is no evidence that it has any effect on stress or any other condition. As the product contains no active ingredient, it is also implausible to assume it might work beyond placebo. Yet, many pharmacists are happy not only to sell it to the unsuspecting public, but even to recommend it to a customer who seeks out their advice.

I find this quite intolerable.

The paper thus confirms the point I have made repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere: community pharmacists seem to behave like commercially motivated shopkeepers, yet they are healthcare professionals who have to abide by an ethical code. When confronted with this overt conflict of interest, their vast majority seem to opt for violating their professional ethics in favour of profit.

I fail to understand why, despite these facts being well-known for so long, the professional organisations of pharmacists are doing do very little to rectify this appalling situation.

It is hot, very hot? People have difficulties sleeping at night, not to mention working during the day. If you are one of the millions suffering, do not despair. Luckily, we have so-called alternative medicines (SCAM) that can help.

This article, for instance explains what homeopathy can do for you:

Glonoine:

This is one of the top remedies to consider in heat stroke especially in the following symptoms are present; eyes fixed without expression, glassy eyes, pupils contracted, pulse either barely perceptible or so quick it can’t be counted, loss of speech, face pale, white or yellowish-red; cold sweat, body cold and head hot to the touch.

Belladonna:

It is easy to confuse Belladonna and Glonoine (see above).  They both have cold body with a hot head, fixed or staring eyes etc.  However, there are some differences.  Typically you would see dilated pupils in Belladonna.  In addition, the face will typically be red.  Other symptoms that indicate Belladonna can include involuntary stool or urination, twitching or trembling of the limbs, bending the head backwards and an unusually heavy sleep.

Aconite:

Aconite can also be useful.  Symptoms calling for this remedy can include heat in the whole body (and not as much in the head as in Belladonna and Glonoine), contracted pupils, hard and full pulse.  One way to differentiate Aconite is its characteristic anxiety and restlessness.

Another article recommends acupuncture:

Acupuncture is always a great option, too.  Your practitioner will focus on clearing the heat, and if you have the damp type, they will also resolve the dampness and calm your digestion down.  There are also some really effective Chinese herbal formulas specifically designed for Summerheat.  So be cool and don’t let the hot weather get you down.

And yet another article advises us to use Bach flower remedies:

Into a glass of water, put 4 drops of Rescue Remedy and 2 drops each of Beech and Olive and sip through out the day.  If you’re travelling, into a 500ml bottle of mineral water, put 6-8 drops of Rescue and 3-4 drops of the single remedies into the bottle and sip.

Find it hard to decide which one to try? Let me make the choice easier for you:

  • Homeopathy is ineffective.
  • Acupuncture is ineffective.
  • Bach flower remedies are ineffective.

But you knew that anyway, didn’t you?

During Voltaire’s time, this famous quote was largely correct. But today, things are very different, and I often think this ‘bon mot’ ought to be re-phrased into ‘The art of alternative medicine consists in amusing the patient, while medics cure the disease’.

To illustrate this point, I shall schematically outline the story of a patient seeking care from a range of clinicians. The story is invented but nevertheless based on many real experiences of a similar nature.

Tom is in his mid 50s, happily married, mildly over-weight and under plenty of stress. In addition to holding a demanding job, he has recently moved home and, as a consequence of lots of heavy lifting, his whole body aches. He had previous episodes of back trouble and re-starts the exercises a physio once taught him. A few days later, the back-pain has improved and most other pains have subsided as well. Yet a dull and nagging pain around his left shoulder and arm persists.

He is tempted to see his GP, but his wife is fiercely alternative. She was also the one who dissuaded  Tom from taking Statins for his high cholesterol and put him on Garlic pills instead. Now she gives Tom a bottle of her Rescue Remedy, but after a week of taking it Tom’s condition is unchanged. His wife therefore persuades him to consult alternative practitioners for his ‘shoulder problem’. Thus he sees a succession of her favourite clinicians.

THE CHIROPRACTOR examines Tom’s spine and diagnoses subluxations to be the root cause of his problem. Tom thus receives a series of spinal manipulations and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE ENERGY HEALER diagnoses a problem with Tom’s vital energy as the root cause of his persistent pain. Tom thus receives a series of healing sessions and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE REFLEXOLOGIST examines Tom’s foot and diagnoses knots on the sole of his foot to cause energy blockages which are the root cause of his problem. Tom thus receives a series of most agreeable foot massages and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE ACUPUNCTURIST examines Tom’s pulse and tongue and diagnoses a chi deficiency to be the root cause of his problem. Tom thus receives a series of acupuncture treatments and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE NATUROPATH examines Tom and diagnoses some form of auto-intoxication as the root cause of his problem. Tom thus receives a full program of detox and feels a little improved each time. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore makes another appointment for him.

THE HOMEOPATH takes a long and detailed history and diagnoses a problem with Tom’s vital force to be the root cause of his pain. Tom thus receives a homeopathic remedy tailor-made for his needs and feels a little improved after taking it for a few days. But he is disappointed that the pain in the left shoulder and arm returns. His wife therefore tries to make another appointment for him.

But this time, Tom had enough. His pain has not really improved and he is increasingly feeling unwell.

At the risk of a marital dispute, he consults his GP. The doctor looks up Tom’s history, asks a few questions, conducts a brief physical examination, and arranges for Tom to see a specialist. A cardiologist diagnoses Tom to suffer from coronary heart disease due to a stenosis in one of his coronary arteries. She explains that Tom’s dull pain in the left shoulder and arm is a rather typical symptom of this condition.

Tom has to have a stent put into the affected coronary artery, receives several medications to lower his cholesterol and blood pressure, and is told to take up regular exercise, lose weight and make several other changes to his stressful life-style. Tom’s wife is told in no uncertain terms to stop dissuading her husband from taking his prescribed medicines, and the couple are both sent to see a dietician who offers advice and recommends a course on healthy cooking. Nobody leaves any doubt that not following this complex (holistic!) package of treatments and advice would be a serious risk to Tom’s life.

It has taken a while, but finally Tom is pain-free. More importantly, his prognosis has dramatically improved. The team who now look after him have no doubt that a major heart attack had been imminent, and Tom could easily have died had he continued to listen to the advice of multiple non-medically trained clinicians.

The root cause of his condition was misdiagnosed by all of them. In fact, the root cause was the atherosclerotic degeneration in his arteries. This may not be fully reversible, but even if the atherosclerotic process cannot be halted completely, it can be significantly slowed down such that he can live a full life.

My advice based on this invented and many real stories of a very similar nature is this:

  • alternative practitioners are often good at pampering their patients;
  • this may contribute to some perceived clinical improvements;
  • in turn, this perceived benefit can motivate patients to continue their treatment despite residual symptoms;
  • alternative practitioner’s claims about ‘root causes’ and holistic care are usually pure nonsense;
  • their pampering may be agreeable, but it can undoubtedly cost lives.

After almost a life-time of exposure to seriously compact BS about alternative medicine, you would expect me to be used to it. And it’s true, I usually don’t bat an eyelash when someone writes nonsense about this or that therapy. But every once in a while, I come across an exception, some statement that is outstanding in its ‘naiveness’ (see below) or ground-breaking in its stupidity. When I found this article, for instance, I almost fell off my chair. So, please hold on tight, if you want to read on:

START OF QUOTE

Dr Edward Bach was a qualified allopathic physician. Later he got his degree in homoeopathy. He discovered 38 Bach flower remedies. Bach remedies are prescribed on basis of mental state of the patient it does not mean that this treatment is confined to the mental cases only. It simply means that the patient is cured physically and mentally by the remedy which is prescribed on the basis of mental symptoms only. ADHD is the disorder which shows the spectrum of signs & symptoms in both mental and physical plane hence Bach flower remedies are helpful in treating this condition.

Chestnut Bud

This is the remedy prepared by boiling the young twigs with shoots. This remedy has a lack of sufficient interest in present circumstances. Chestnut Bud relates to a state of a flighty mind, inattention, and a soul not yet grounded in maturity. Learning experiences of either a factual or moral kind are not integrated into the consciousness to the person’s full benefit. Chestnut bud child is restless and impulsive. The child lacks the power of concentration because of mental hurriedness or precipitation of thoughts. Chestnut child exhibits childish and foolish behaviour which we can relate to the remedies like Bufo, Baryta carb etc. These children are reckless, careless, they lack the power of reasoning. Chestnut bud has general weakness of memory, failure to retain learned material, this being either of factual or moral content. Chestnut bud also has naiveness, immaturity of mind/emotions, developmental delay. Children’s are hyperactive and impulsive they may show impulsive movements; lack of serenity and focused gaze. Chestnut bud is also helpful in kids who have symptoms like disobedience, commit anti-social acts, sins, crimes, again and again, factitious disorders and malingering.

Chestnut Bud has general weakness of memory, failure to retain learned material, this being either of factual or moral content. Chestnut Bud also has naiveness, the immaturity of mind/emotions, developmental delay. Children’s are hyperactive and impulsive they may show impulsive movements; lack of serenity and focused gaze. Chestnut bud is also helpful in kids who have symptoms like disobedience, commit anti-social acts, sins, crimes, again and again, factitious disorders and malingering.

Conclusion
Chestnut Bud helps to improve concentration power and moral growth in ADHD patients which are suffering from other behavioural disorders. It improves the power of reasoning. Many other Bach flower remedies depending upon the mental state of the child can be prescribed.

END OF QUOTE

This is a true treasure trove of fallacious reasoning!

My favourite is the opening argument: “Bach remedies are prescribed on basis of mental state of the patient… [which] means that the patient is cured physically and mentally by the remedy…” 

My runner-up is this statement: “ADHD is the disorder which shows the spectrum of signs & symptoms in both mental and physical plane hence Bach flower remedies are helpful in treating this condition.”

What sharp logic!

What tightly argued thought!

I think this is brilliant and totally convincing  (provided you suffer from terminal stupidity).

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