Numerous so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) have been touted as the solution for COVID-19. In fact, it is hard to find a SCAM that is not claimed to be useful for corona patients. Crucially, such claims are being made in the complete absence of evidence. A recent paper offers a bibliometric analysis of global research trends at the intersection of SCAM and COVID-19.
SCOPUS, MEDLINE, EMBASE, AMED and PSYCINFO databases were searched on July 5, 2020. All publication types were included, however, articles were only deemed eligible, if they made mention of one or more SCAMs for the potential prevention, treatment, and/or management of COVID-19 or a health issue indirectly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The following eligible article characteristics were extracted: title; author names, affiliations, and countries; DOI; publication language; publication type; publication year; journal (and whether it is TICAM-focused); 2019 impact factor, and TICAMs mentioned.
A total of 296 eligible articles were published by 1373 unique authors at 977 affiliations across 56 countries. The most common countries associated with author affiliation included:
- the United States,
Four journals had published more that 10 papers each on the subject:
- Chinese Traditional and Herbal Drugs,
- Journal of Biomolecular Structure & Dynamics,
- Zhongguo Zhongyao Zazhi (China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica),
- Pharmacological Research
The vast majority of articles were published in English, followed by Chinese. Eligible articles were published across 157 journals, of which 33 were SCAM-focused; a total of 120 journals had a 2019 impact factor, which ranged from 0.17 to 60.392. A total of 327 different SCAMs were mentioned across eligible articles, with the most common ones including:
- traditional Chinese medicine (n = 94),
- vitamin D (n = 67),
- melatonin (n = 16),
- phytochemicals (n = 12),
- general herbal medicine (n = 11).
The Canadian author concluded that this study provides researchers and clinicians with a greater knowledge of the characteristics of articles that been published globally at the intersection of COVID-19 and SCAM to date. At a time where safe and effective vaccines and medicines for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 have yet to be discovered, this study provides a current snapshot of the quantity and characteristics of articles written at the intersection of SCAM therapies and COVID-19.
If anyone repeated the research today, I fear that the number of different SCAMs would have at least doubled. There is simply no form of SCAM that would not have joined the bandwagon of snake-oil salesmen trying to make a quick buck or satisfying their dangerous delusion of a panacea. Today (11/12/2020) my very quick Medline search on just a few SCAMs resulted in the following:
- Herbal medicine: 253
- Dietary supplement: 139
- Acupuncture: 68
- Homeopathy (not mentioned at all above): 20
- Chiropractic: 13
- Naturopathy: 6
One of the most chilling reads during my ‘rough and ready’ trawl through the literature was an article co-authored by a Viennese professor who has featured repeatedly on this blog. Here is its abstract:
Successful homeopathic prescriptions are based on careful individualization of symptoms, either for an individual patient or collectively in the case of epidemic outbreaks. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was initially represented as a severe acute respiratory illness, with eventual dramatic complications. However, over time it revealed to be a complex systemic disease with manifestations derived from viral-induced inflammation and hypercoagulability, thus liable to affect any body organ or system. As a result, clinical presentation is variable, in addition to variations associated with several individual and collective risk factors. Given the extreme variability of pathology and clinical manifestations, a single, or a few, universal homeopathic preventive Do not split medicine(s) do not seem feasible. Yet homeopathy may have a relevant role to play, inasmuch as the vast majority of patients only exhibit the mild form of disease and are indicated to self-care at home, without standard monitoring, follow-up, or treatment. For future pandemics, homeopathy agencies should prepare by establishing rapid-response teams and efficacious lines of communication.
The Canadian author of the above paper did not analyse how many of the papers he included would make therapeutic claims. I suspect that the majority did. In this context, one of the clearest indications of how deluded SCAM practitioners tend to be during these difficult times was provided by this paper:
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by a new coronavirus, first appeared in late 2019. What initially seemed to be a mild influenza quickly revealed itself as a serious and highly contagious disease, and the planet was soon faced with a significant morbidity and mortality associated with this pathogen. For homeopathy, shunned during its 200 years of existence by conventional medicine, this outbreak is a key opportunity to show potentially the contribution it can make in treating COVID-19 patients. This should be done through performance of impeccably controlled, prospective, randomized clinical trials, with publication of their findings in well-ranked conventional medicine journals. If the homeopathy community fails to take advantage of this rare opportunity, it might wait another century for the next major pandemic.
I must admit, I felt vaguely sick while reading it.
In the last few years, several individuals in Germany have, from entirely different angles, taken a fresh look at the evidence on homeopathy and found it to be desperately wanting. Independent of each other, they published articles and books about their research and insights. Here are 5 examples:
In Sachen Homöopathie: Eine Beweisaufnahme, Norbert Aust, 2013
Homöopathie neu gedacht: Was Patienten wirklich hilft, Natalie Grams, 2015
Inevitably, these individuals came into contact with each other and subsequently founded several working-groups to discuss their concerns and coordinate their activities. Thus the INH and the Muensteraner Kreis were born. So, now we have at least three overlapping groups of enthusiastic, multidisciplinary experts who voluntarily work towards informing the German public that paying for homeopathy out of public funds is unethical, nonsensical and not in the interest of progress:
- the GWUP,
- the INH
- and the Muensteraner Kreis.
No wonder then, that the German homeopathic industry and other interested parties got worried. When they realised that (presumably due to the work of these altruistic enthusiasts) the sales figures of homeopathics in Germany had, for the first time since many years, started declining, they panicked.
Their reaction was, as far as I can see, similar to their previous response to criticism: they started a media campaign in an attempt to sway public opinion. And just like before, they have taken to employing PR-people who currently spend their time defaming all individuals voicing criticism of homeopathy in Germany. Their prime targets are those experts who are most exposed to activities of responsibly informing the public about homeopathy via lectures, publications social media, etc. All of us currently receive floods of attack, insults and libellous defamations. As before (innovation does not seem to be a hallmark of homeopathy), these attacks relate to claims that:
- we are incompetent,
- we do not care about the welfare of patients,
- we are habitual liars,
- we are on the payroll of the pharmaceutical industry,
- we aim at limiting patient choice,
- we do what we do because we crave the limelight.
So, what is going to happen?
I cannot read tea leaves but am nevertheless sure of a few things:
- The German homeopathy lobby will not easily give up; after all, they have half a billion Euros per year to lose.
- They will not argue on the basis of science or evidence, because they know that neither are in their favour.
- They will fight dirty and try to defame everyone who stands in their way.
- They will use their political influence and their considerable financial power.
AND YET THEY WILL LOSE!
Not because we are so well organised or have great resources – in fact, as far as I can see, we have none – but because, in medicine, the evidence is invincible and will eventually prevail. Progress might be delayed, but it cannot be halted by those who cling to an obsolete dogma.
The above text is from a blog post I published 17 moths ago. It seems that my prediction was not wrong. Today, I saw two tweets which suggest that, in Germany, homeopathy is continuing to disappear from the realm of conventional medicine:
- Soeben erreicht mich die Nachricht, dass der Vorstand der Bayerischen Landesärztekammer in der Sitzung am 5.12. einstimmig beschlossen hat, die Zusatzweiterbildung Homöopathie aus der ärztlichen Weiterbildungsordnung zu entfernen. EINSTIMMIG!!!
- 11 von 17 Ärztekammern haben die Homöopathie gekickt. Bleiben noch 6. Die nächste Entscheidung steht in Berlin an.
I’ll translate them for you:
- I have just received the news that the Board of the Bavarian Medical Association has unanimously decided in the meeting on 5.12. to remove the additional training in homeopathy from the medical training regulations. UNANIMOUSLY!!!
- 11 of 17 medical associations have kicked homeopathy. That leaves 6. The next decision is due in Berlin.
This means that in most German counties (there is hope that, sooner or later, the other 6 will follow suit), doctors will no longer be able to train in homeopathy and use the title ‘homeopath’.
Yes, it took a while – about 200 years – but it seems that the German medical profession is finally realising that homeopathy is treatment with placebos.
I was alerted to an interview published in an anthroposophical journal with Prof. Dr. med. Harald Matthes. He is the clinical director of the ‘Gemeinschaftskrankenhauses Havelhöhe‘, a hospital of anthroposophic medicine in Berlin where apparently some COVID-19 patients are presently being treated. Anthroposophic medicine is a medical cult created by the mystic, Rudolf Steiner, about 100 years ago that lacks a basis in science, facts or common sense. Here is the two passages from that interview that I find most interesting (my translation/explanation is below):
Es gibt bisher kein spezifisches Covid-19 Medikament aus der konventionellen Medizin. Remdesivir führt in Studien zu keinem signifikant verbesserten Überleben, sondern lediglich zu einer milden Symptomreduktion. Die anfänglich große Studie vor allem an Universitätskliniken mit Hydrochloroquin und Azithromycin erbrachte sogar eine Steigerung der Todesrate. Daher haben anthroposophische Therapiekonzepte mit Steigerung der Selbstheilungskräfte eine große Bedeutung erfahren. Wichtige anthroposophische Arzneimittel waren dabei das Eisen als Meteoreisen oder als Ferrum metallicum praep., der Phosphor, das Stibium sowie das Cardiodoron® und Pneumodoron®, aber auch Bryonia (Zaunrübe) und Tartarus stibiatus (Brechweinstein). Die Erfolge waren sehr gut, da in Havelhöhe bisher kein Covid-19 Patient verstorben ist, bei einer sonstigen Sterblichkeit von ca. 30% aller Covid-19-Intensivpatienten…
100 Jahre Bazillentheorie und die Dominanz eines pathogenetischen Medizinkonzeptes haben zu der von Rudolf Steiner bereits 1909 vorausgesagten Tyrannei im Sozialen geführt. Der Mensch hat ein Mikrobiom und Virom, das unverzichtbar für seine Immunität ist und von der Quantität mächtiger als der Mensch selbst (Mikrobiom 1014 Bakterien mit ca. 1200 Spezies z.B. im Darm bei nur 1012 Körperzellen).
Matthes explains that, so far, no medication has been demonstrated to be effective against COVID-19 infections. Then he continues: “This is the reason why anthroposophic therapies which increase the self-healing powers have gained great importance”, and names the treatments used in his hospital:
- Meteoric Iron (a highly diluted anthroposophic remedy based on iron from meteors),
- Ferrum metallicum praep. (a homeopathic/anthroposophic remedy based on iron),
- Phosphor (a homeopathic remedy based on phosphor),
- Stibium (a homeopathic remedy based on antimony),
- Cardiodoron (a herbal mixture used in anthroposophical medicine),
- Pneumodoron (a herbal mixture used in anthroposophical medicine containing).
Matthes also affirms (my translation):
“The success has so far been very good, since no COVID-19-patient has died in Havelhöhe – with a normal mortality of about 30% of COID_19 patients in intensive care…
100 years of germ theory and the dominance of a pathogenetic concept of medicine have led to the tyranny in the social sphere predicted by Rudolf Steiner as early as 1909. Humans have a microbiome and virom that is indispensable for their immunity and more powerful in quantity than humans themselves (microbiome 1014 bacteria with about 1200 species e.g. in the intestine with only 1012 somatic cells)…”
The first 4 remedies listed above are highly diluted and contain no active molecules. The last two are less diluted and might therefore contain a few active molecules but in sub-therapeutic doses. Crucially, none of the remedies have been shown to be effective for any condition.
The germ theory of disease which Matthes mentions is, of course, a bit more than a ‘theory’; it is the accepted scientific explanation for many diseases, including COVID-19.
I have cold sweats when I think of anthroposophical doctors who seem to take it less than seriously, while treating desperately ill COVID-19 patients. If I were allowed to ask just three questions to Matthes, I think, it would be these:
- How did you obtain fully informed consent from your patients, including the fact that your remedies are unproven and implausible?
- If you think your results are so good, are you monitoring them closely to publish them urgently, so that other centres might learn from them?
- Do you feel it is ethical to promote unprovn treatments during a health crisis via a publicly available interview before your results have been formally assessed and published?
As the world is waiting for the drawn-out process of vote-counting in the US to end, and as Trump has already declared himself to be the winner, it is easy to get emotional about the harm the current POTUS has done (and might do in future) to his country and the world. One comment I read this morning:
Christians have feared the arrival of the Anti-Christ for 2 000 years. And as soon as he appears, they vote for him.
I have to admit that I find it amazing that close to 50% of the US citizens, after observing Trump in action, are not wiser than to vote for him – amazing and frightening!
Yet, we must remain rational.
He might still be voted out!
To remind myself why I, as a scientist, find Donald Trump so deeply objectionable, I have collected a few of his quotes on science. I hope you see my point:
- Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health
- Remember, new “environment friendly” lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful– the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.
- Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!
- The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
- So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too. It sounds interesting…
- And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.
- People are surprised that I understand it [science]. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.
- Some say that and some say differently [global warming]. I mean, you have scientists on both sides of it. My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.
- And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over.
- I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.
- What do I know about it? All I know is what’s on the internet
To this picture, we evidently have to add
NO UNDERSTANDING OF OR RESPECT FOR SCIENCE.
I know of one patient who turned to the Gerson Therapy having been told that she was suffering from terminal cancer and would not survive another course of chemotherapy. Happily, seven years later she is alive and well. So therefore it is vital that, rather than dismissing such experiences, we should further investigate the beneficial nature of these treatments.
HRH The Prince of Wales (2004)
I was reminded of this embarrassing (because displaying profound ignorance) quote when I looked at the website of the ‘GERSON SUPPORT GROUP UK‘ where it is prominently cited. Under the heading ‘SCIENCE & CLINICAL RATIONAL’ the site offers a long article about the Gerson therapy (GT). Allow me to show you a few quotes from it:
Dr Max Gerson’s therapy is based on the belief that insufficient nutrients within the cells and an accumulation of toxins in the tissues lead to a breakdown in healthy cellular function which, if left unchecked, can trigger cancer.
That is interesting, I find, because the statement clearly admits that the GT is not an evidence-based therapy but a belief-based treatment.
The therapy that he developed uses a restrictive, plant-based diet and specific supplements to boost healthy cellular function; and various detoxification procedures, including coffee enemas, to eliminate waste products.
The claims hidden in this sentence remain unproven. There is no evidence that cellular fuction is boosted, nor that the procedures eliminate toxins.
… we only need to look at communities across the globe which exist in a pre-industrialised state to see that, whilst they might be more likely to die from pneumonia or tuberculosis, rates of degenerative illness are a fraction of those in the ‘developed‘ world. The age-adjusted death rate from breast cancer is less than 2 per 100,000 of the population in Thailand, Sri Lanka and El Salvador and around 33 per 100,000 in the UK, US, The Netherlands and numerous other affluent, Western countries.
Correlation is not causation! Pre-industrial societies also watch less TV, eat less ice-cream, read less fashion magazines, etc., etc. Are these habits also the cause of cancer?
… migrant studies show that within two generations the cancer rates of migrants increase rapidly towards Western rates, again underlining the assertion that cancer is caused primarily by diet and lifestyle rather than ‘faulty’ genes.
In no way is this an argument for eating raw vegetable and taking your coffee via the rectum.
In the German scientific golden age of the 1920s and 30s…
Golden age for what, for fascists?
Gerson had used a restricted diet to cure himself of migraines. He then helped another patient to reverse tuberculosis, and many others to reverse a variety of degenerative illnesses, all by similar means. He later developed his therapy to the point where he was able to help individuals reverse cancer.
In this case, Max Gerson was ignorant of the fact that experience and evidence are two fundamentally different things.
Max Gerson developed his therapy in an iterative way, starting with a restrictive plant-based diet, adding vitamins, minerals and enzymes to encourage the oxygenation of the cells and then introducing the coffee enemas to aid detoxification of waste products. What is fascinating is that science has subsequently explained the mechanism of action behind some of his theories. (See Biochemical Basis to the Therapy).
Science has not explained the mechanism of action, not least because the action has never been verified. There are no robust clinical trials of Gerson’s therapy. Evidently, 100 years were not enough to conduct any – or perhaps the proponents know only too well that they would not generate the results they hoped?
Equally interesting is that in 2012 Dr Thomas Seyfried published the results of many years research in Cancer as a Metabolic Disease.
Really? On Medline, I find only two cancer-related papers for Seyfried T. 2012:
Thus, nearly a century after their original proposition that the fundamental cause of cancer was faulty cellular metabolism, it seems that doctors Otto Warburg and Max Gerson might be vindicated.
No, to ‘vindicate’ a therapeutic suggestion one needs several rigorous clinical trials. And for the GT, they remain absent.
So, what does the GT amount to?
- proponents had ~100 years to produce evidence;
- they failed to do so;
- thus the therapy is at best unproven;
- it is also biologically implausible;
- moreover, it is expensive;
- crucially it is not free of serious adverse effects;
- it is promoted only by those who seem to make money from it.
The only controlled clinical trial of a Gerson-like therapy that I know of is this one (rarely cited by Gerson fans):
Conventional medicine has had little to offer patients with inoperable pancreatic adenocarcinoma; thus, many patients seek alternative treatments. The National Cancer Institute, in 1998, sponsored a randomized, phase III, controlled trial of proteolytic enzyme therapy versus chemotherapy. Because most eligible patients refused random assignment, the trial was changed in 2001 to a controlled, observational study.
All patients were seen by one of the investigators at Columbia University, and patients who received enzyme therapy were seen by the participating alternative practitioner. Of 55 patients who had inoperable pancreatic cancer, 23 elected gemcitabine-based chemotherapy, and 32 elected enzyme treatment, which included pancreatic enzymes, nutritional supplements, detoxification, and an organic diet. Primary and secondary outcomes were overall survival and quality of life, respectively.
At enrollment, the treatment groups had no statistically significant differences in patient characteristics, pathology, quality of life, or clinically meaningful laboratory values. Kaplan-Meier analysis found a 9.7-month difference in median survival between the chemotherapy group (median survival, 14 months) and enzyme treatment groups (median survival, 4.3 months) and found an adjusted-mortality hazard ratio of the enzyme group compared with the chemotherapy group of 6.96 (P < .001). At 1 year, 56% of chemotherapy-group patients were alive, and 16% of enzyme-therapy patients were alive. The quality of life ratings were better in the chemotherapy group than in the enzyme-treated group (P < .01).
Among patients who have pancreatic cancer, those who chose gemcitabine-based chemotherapy survived more than three times as long (14.0 v 4.3 months) and had better quality of life than those who chose proteolytic enzyme treatment.
Considering all this, I believe, it would be hard to name a cancer quackery that is less credible than the GT.
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
Steiner with his wife (right) and Ita Wegman, his lover (left).
Anthroposophic medicine was founded by Steiner and Ita Wegman in the early 20th century. Currently, it is being promoted as an extension of conventional medicine. Proponents claim that “its unique understanding of the interplay among physiological, soul and spiritual processes in healing and illness serves to bridge allopathy with naturopathy, homeopathy, functional/nutritional medicine and other healing systems.” Its value has repeatedly been questioned, and clinical research in this area is often less than rigorous.
Anthroposophic education was developed in the Waldorf school that was founded by Steiner in 1919 to serve the children of employees of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Pupils of Waldorf or Steiner schools, as they are also frequently called, are encouraged to develop independent thinking and creativity, social responsibility, respect, and compassion.
Waldorf schools implicitly infuse spiritual and mystic concepts into their curriculum. Like some other alternative healthcare practitioners – for instance, doctors promoting integrative medicine, chiropractors, homeopaths and naturopaths – some doctors of anthroposophic medicine take a stance against childhood immunizations. In a 2011 paper, I summarised the evidence which showed that in the UK, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, Waldorf schools have been at the centre of measles outbreaks due to their stance regarding immunisations.
More recently, a study evaluated trends in rates of personal belief exemptions (PBEs) to immunization requirements for private kindergartens in California that practice alternative educational methods. The investigators used California Department of Public Health data on kindergarten PBE rates from 2000 to 2014 to compare annual average increases in PBE rates between schools.
Alternative schools had an average PBE rate of 8.7%, compared with 2.1% among public schools. Waldorf schools had the highest average PBE rate of 45.1%, which was 19 times higher than in public schools (incidence rate ratio = 19.1; 95% confidence interval = 16.4, 22.2). Montessori and holistic schools had the highest average annual increases in PBE rates, slightly higher than Waldorf schools (Montessori: 8.8%; holistic: 7.1%; Waldorf: 3.6%).
The authors concluded that Waldorf schools had exceptionally high average PBE rates, and Montessori and holistic schools had higher annual increases in PBE rates. Children in these schools may be at higher risk for spreading vaccine-preventable diseases if trends are not reversed.
As the world is hoping for the arrival of an effective vaccine against the corona virus, these figures should concern us.
In response to the recommendation, the health ministry announced the formation of a working group of medical experts to suggest proposals for further regulation of homeopathy. A spokesman said that medicines whose efficiency is not clinically proven should not be procured using public funds, nor prescribed to treat the sick.
Russia has proved a profitable market for foreign suppliers of homeopathic medicine such as French company Boiron, which opened its Russian subsidiary in 2005. “Today, the Russian market is our company’s fourth largest in terms of turnover, after France, the US and Italy. Russia has always been interesting for Boiron because of the large population, and a relatively high incidence of illness and lower level of medicine consumption in comparison with Europe,” general director of Boiron in Russia Irina Nikulina said.
According to figures from Russian pharmaceutical market analysts DSM Group, Boiron sold 35 percent of all the homeopathic medicine sold in Russia last year, or 2.88 billion rubles (USD 49.5 million) worth of medicine. Boiron produces Russia’s most popular homeopathic medicine, called Oscillococcinum, which is marketed to relieve flu symptoms and accounted for 18.98 percent of all homeopathic medicines sold in 2016.
The many international initiatives aimed at minimising the harm done by homeopathy are slowly beginning to yield results. It took many years for politicians to realise that the supposedly harmless homeopathy is, in fact, not harmless at all. Homeopathy causes harm by:
- wasting people’s money,
- distracting patients from effective treatments,
- the ill-conceived advice homeopaths give to patients,
- making a mockery of evidence-based medicine,
- violating the principles of medical ethics,
- undermining rational thinking in society.
One therefore has to applaud Russia’s ‘Commission against Pseudoscience’, hope that the working group does produce robust advice, and support similar initiatives in other countries.
Michael Dixon LVO, OBE, MA, FRCGP has been a regular feature of this blog (and elsewhere). He used to be a friend and colleague until … well, that’s a long story. Recently, I came across his (rather impressive) Wikipedia page. To my surprise, it mentions that Dixon
“has been criticised by professor of complementary medicine and alternative medicine campaigner Edzard Ernst for advocating the use of complementary medicine. Ernst said that the stance of the NHS Alliance on complementary medicine was “misleading to the degree of being irresponsible.” Ernst had previously been sympathetic to building a bridge between complementary and mainstream medicine, co-writing an article with Michael Dixon in 1997 on the benefits of such an approach. Ernst and Dixon write “missed diagnoses by complementary therapists giving patients long term treatments are often cited but in the experience of one of the authors (MD) are extremely rare. It can also cut both ways. A patient was recently referred back to her general practitioner by an osteopath, who was questioning, as it turned out quite correctly, whether her pain was caused by metastates. Good communication between general practitioner and complementary therapist can reduce conflicts and contradictions, which otherwise have the potential to put orthodox medicine and complementary therapy in an either/or situation.”
31) February 2009, 24. “Academics and NHS Alliance clash over complementary medicine”. Pulse Today.
32) ^ Update – the journal of continuing education for General Practitioners, 7th May 1997
I have little recollection of the paper that I seem to have published with my then friend Michael, and it is not listed in Medline, nor can I find it in my (usually well-kept) files; the journal ‘Update’ does not exist anymore and was obviously not a journal good enough for keeping a copy. But I do not doubt that Wiki is correct.
In fact, it is true that, in 1997, I was still hopeful that bridges could be built between conventional medicine and so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). But I had always insisted that they must be bridges built on solid ground and with robust materials.
Put simply, my strategy was to test SCAM as rigorously as I could and to review the totality of the evidence for and against it. Subsequently, one could consider introducing those SCAMs into routine care that had passed the tests of science.
Dixon’s strategy differed significantly from mine. He had no real interest in science and wanted to use SCAM regardless of the evidence. Since the publication of our paper in 1997, he has pursued this aim tirelessly. On this blog, we find several examples of his activity.
And what happened to the bridges?
I’m glad you ask!
As it turns out, very few SCAMs have so far passed the test of science and hardly any SCAM has been demonstrated to generate more good than harm. The material to build bridges is therefore quite scarce, hardly enough for solid constructions. Dixon does still not seem to be worried about this indisputable fact. He thinks that INTEGRATED MEDICINE is sound enough for providing a way to the future. I disagree and still think it is ‘misleading to the degree of being irresponsible’.
Who is right?
Dixon or Ernst?
Opinions about this differ hugely.
Time will tell, I suppose.
These are exceptional times and they need exceptional measures. Therefore, I am yet again deviating from my policy of focussing exclusively on SCAM and welcome my French colleague Dr Lehmann posting a series of articles on the hydroxychloroquine story.
Guest post by Christian Lehmann
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
This pandemic diary was begun just before lock down, already four weeks ago, and yet I have scarcely touched on the elephant in the room. Our personal elephant is called Didier Raoult. White-haired with age, venerable in appearance, he has been number one in the press, constantly in capitals in online news headlines, waking hopes, feeding passions. And arousing the interest of a plethora of epidemiologists of renown, from Valerie Boyer to Donald Trump, by way of Alain Soral and Alexandre Benalla.
Everything begins on 25 February 2020, when the microbiology professor from Marseille posts his famous video “Coronavirus, game over”, since more modestly re-baptised “Coronavirus, towards a way out of the crisis?”.
Standing in front of a student audience out of camera, Didier Raoult reveals “a last-minute scoop, a very important piece of news”: the Chinese, whom he regularly advises, rather than seeking a vaccine or new products have been “repositioning”, trying old molecules, “known, old, without toxicity,” among them chloroquine, which has shown itself to be effective in a daily dose of 500 mg per day “with a spectacular improvement and it is recommended for all clinically positive cases of coronavirus. This is excellent news, it is probably the easiest respiratory infection of all to treat” Here, the whole roomful laughs, with pleasure, with relief, and I remember sharing these sentiments, briefly, but completely. Because this was 26th of February, because like others I felt confusedly that the reassurances with which Agnes Buzyn ( then the French Health Minister) was inundating us were built on sand, and that the virus would only laugh at little notices in airports.
I knew Didier Raoult only by name, as a columnist in Point, I had read some of his articles and I had felt simultaneously soothed by his smooth eloquence, attracted by some of his iconoclastic stances, but also sometimes rather irritated by his Mandarin-style fake cool posturing. At the end of February, I immediately reposted the video in the medical forums, on the walls of worried friends, explaining that, if the suggestions of Didier Raoult were confirmed, we would have escaped with a scare which would soon be dispelled by this “magic bullet”, this “game changer”.
Then between two consultations in my GP’s office, later that afternoon, I watched that video “Game Over” again. How could such an important piece of news have reached me by means of a Youtube video? Where were the overseas publications, the much vaunted Chinese study, the releases from AgenceFrancePresse, Reuters, the first articles from the New York Times and the Guardian, proclaiming from the rooftops that the pandemic we had so much feared was in fact only a technical hitch, easily controllable by a widely available drug. It was at that second viewing that I balked. As a GP who had worked in cardiac resuscitation some years ago, I was brought up short by hearing Didier Raoult talking up a medicine “well known, and devoid of any toxicity”. If chloroquine or Nivaquine, to give it its commercial name, is celebrated for the prevention of malaria, it is also a medicine known for its frightening toxicity as soon as the dose is exceeded, with the risk of irreversible visual damage and extremely serious problems with cardiac rhythm which can prove fatal. To say that chloroquine is without toxicity problems is in fact an error, all the more so because the dose suggested by “the Chinese”, without an iota of proof at this stage, is five times larger than the customary dose, 500 mg instead of 100 mg.
Deeply uneasy, I’m in discussion with doctor friends on Twitter when the video makes its appearance there. We know nothing at this point about Didier Raoult’s past, or about his Marseille Institute. Neither the enmity felt towards him by the Parisian intelligentsia represented by Agnes Buzyn and her husband, nor the fact that his institute has just lost its INSERM and CNRS accreditations, nor the stance adopted by him a month earlier explaining that coronavirus would never escape from China and that it was ridiculous to get worked up about it because “the world has gone mad, something or other happens and three Chinese die and that brings about a world-scale alert”.
Some of us, practitioners and first responders, knew well the toxicity of chloroquine, that it was to be handled with care, and that was about all we said on Twitter. It was already too much. The next day in a 20 minute interview Didier Raoult brushed away his detractors. “Malicious gossip, I don’t give a damn about it. When a medication has been shown to work on 100 people while all the world is busy having a nervous breakdown, and there’s some idiots who say there’s no certainty that it works, I’m not interested! It would honestly be medical misconduct not to use chloroquine to treat Chinese coronavirus”. And he drives the point home. “People who have lived in Africa like me took chloroquine every day. Everybody who went to hot countries took it throughout their time there, and for two months after they came home. Billions of people have taken this medication. And it costs nothing: ten centimes per pill. It is a medication which is extremely reliable and it’s the cheapest imaginable. So this is super amazing news. Everybody who learns about these benefits should fall upon it.” This is no longer a mistake, this is grave medical misconduct. Nobody who knows about therapeutics would use such words so lightly.
Cardiologists, resuscitation specialists, emergency doctors, GPs, public-health specialists, we are all alarmed. Our first warnings are vehement and rational, reaffirming the toxicity of chloroquine in cardiology, and the majority of us insisting on the senseless and significant risk which Didier Raoult is running. Because it is familiar, prescribed for long stays in Africa in packages of 100 tablets, chloroquine is lying around in many medicine cabinets. To declare as a fact that we should “fall upon it” in this agonising pandemic context is to encourage unrestrained self medication, and to endanger life. Incoherent, dangerous, this announcement disturbs us deeply. Incredulous, not for a moment do we imagine just what Didier Raoult will unleash, nor that the nightmare had already begun.