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

doctors

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In a recently published study, the willingness to be vaccinated of parents of underage children and persons without underage children was examined. The study was based on a random sample (telephone survey, n = 2014, survey between 12.11.2020 and 10.12.2020).
The results revealed that parents consistently show a lower propensity to vaccinate with a COVID-19 vaccine than respondents without minor children (54.1% vs. 71.1%). Fathers showed a more pronounced own willingness to vaccinate than mothers. Furthermore, men were more willing than women to have their own child vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine.
The overall sample also showed that a rejection of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) was associated with a significantly higher willingness to be vaccinated. There was also a significant correlation between the attitude towards homeopathy and one’s own willingness to be vaccinated. If homeopathy was supported, the willingness to vaccinate was lower. This correlation between the attitude towards homeopathy and willingness to vaccinate was also evident in the sub-sample of parents. Among the parents, it was again the women who significantly more often had a positive attitude towards homeopathy than men, who more often do not think anything of it.

This new evidence ties in neatly with many of my previous posts on the subject of SCAM and vaccination, for instance:

Collectively, this evidence tells us that:

  • the effect has been shown in many different ways,
  • it can therefore be assumed to be real,
  • it is not confined to COVID vaccinations,
  • it is not confined to one particular branch of SCAM,
  • it even affects MDs (who surely should know better) dabbling in SCAM,
  • it has a long history,
  • it is prevalent in many, if not most countries,
  • it does real harm.

So, the next time someone tells you that SCAM and SCAM practitioners have a positive influence on public health, tell them to think again.

 

I have said it often before, and I will say it again:

Homeopathy and other ineffective so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) are dangerous mostly because they might replace effective treatments.

The tragic death of an Austrian boy is a stark reminder of this fact. Even though this happened a decade ago, I only just came across this case. It was, to the best of my knowledge, never published in English. Allow me, therefore, to summarize it here:

In 2011, a judge sentenced a couple from East Tyrol to a one-year suspended sentence. Their son, who suffered from a rare congenital immune system disorder (SCID*), had been treated only with homeopathy until he died. The doctor who treated the boy in this way received the same sentence.** The verdicts took into account that the parents and the family doctor did not act out of sheer ignorance, but had been informed about the nature of the disease and its consequences.

The parents told the court that they had previously had extremely negative experiences with conventional medicine when their first two children, who suffered from the same condition, had died. When their third child fell ill, the parents took him to a clinic where a bone marrow transplant was to be carried out, which, according to an expert witness, would have had a 95 % chance of curing the boy. Because the parents were put off by the sight of other children in the hospital, they took their son home again and withheld all further conventional treatments or appropriate examinations. Instead, they instructed their family doctor to cure the boy with homeopathy. The doctor refrained from administering antibiotics when the illness worsened due to an infection and failed to admit the boy to a hospital when he became severely ill.

The child then died of sepsis. The autopsy revealed that he was malnourished and one of his ear canals as well as his lungs were necrotic with inflammation.

______________________

It is hard not to be repulsed and nauseated by such stories. They show how dangerously unreasonable some homeopaths and their followers are. And they remind us that even a seemingly harmless SCAM will cost lives in the hands of such fanatics.

 

* Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) is a group of rare disorders caused by mutations in different genes involved in the development and function of infection-fighting immune cells. Infants with SCID appear healthy at birth but are highly susceptible to severe infections. The condition is fatal, usually within the first year or two of life, unless infants receive immune-restoring treatments, such as transplants of blood-forming stem cells, gene therapy, or enzyme therapy.

**Personally, I find the sentence for the doctor far too lenient. One could argue that the parents had been punished by the loss of their child and thus deserve merci, but the doctor?

Remember the 10:23 Campaign? It was an awareness and protest campaign against homoeopathy organised by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, a non-profit organisation, to oppose the sale of homoeopathic products in the UK. It consisted of volunteers publicly taking overdoses of homeopathic remedies. With their actions, they wanted to demonstrate that homeopathic remedies are devoid of active ingredients and physiological effects. Suicide by homeopathy, they showed us, was impossible.

But they were mistaken – it is possible after all!

A few days ago, it was reported that an Italian doctor has died of a COVID-19 infection. This is tragic, no doubt, but in itself, it is not all that newsworthy in the context of this blog. What makes it remarkable is the fact that the doctor was a convinced homeopath who had refused to get vaccinated and was adamant that homeopathy would protect him.

Domenico Giannola, a doctor homeopath from Cinisi, died of complications due to Covid-19 at Palermo’s Cervello hospital. Dr. Giannola had not been vaccinated and after he got infected with COVID-19, he had tried to treat himself with homeopathic remedies.

Domenico Giannola was a well-known advocate of anthroposophical and homeopathic medicine. In a Youtube video from last year, he described his ‘methods of treatment. As he had a preexisting heart condition, he was a high-risk patient.

After he fell ill, he had been in home isolation for several days and was followed by the special continuity care unit (Usca) of the Palermo hospital. He had always insisted that he had no intention of becoming infected and would treat himself at home with lactoferrin and homeopathic remedies. Lactoferrin is one of the components of the immune system of the body; it has antimicrobial activity against bacteria and fungi.

As his condition worsened, Domenico Giannola was eventually transported to the emergency room of the Cervello hospital in Palermo by a 118 ambulance. He died an hour after his arrival at the hospital.

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I find such reports tragic beyond words. At the same time, they are deeply worrying. A question that one needs to ask is this: if some homeopaths do this to themselves, what are they capable of inflicting on their patients?

 

The 13th European Congress for Integrative Medicine is about to take place online between 4 and 7 November 2021. It will host 125+ speakers presenting from around the world. The programme will cover the following topics.

Even looking at the more detailed list of lectures, I did not find a single contribution on conventional medicine (“Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with…” [see below]) or a lecture that is remotely critical of integrative medicine. The definition of INTEGRATED MEDICINE (IM) adopted here seems similar to the US definition we recently discussed. Here is the European definition:

Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with evidence-informed complementary medicine and therapies to achieve the optimum health and wellbeing of the patient. Focusing on a holistic, patient-centred approach to healthcare, it takes into consideration the patient’s physical and psychological wellbeing and treats the whole person rather than just the disease.

Allow me to do a quick analysis of this definition by looking at its key elements:

  • Evidence-informed: While proper medicine is BASED on evidence, IM is merely INFORMED by it. The difference is fundamental. It allows IM clinicians to use any un- or disproven so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) they can think of or invent. The evidence for homeopathy fails to show that it is effective? Never mind, IM does not need to be evidence-based, it is evidence-informed. IM physicians know homeopathy is a placebo therapy (if not they would be ill-informed which would make them unethical), but they nevertheless use homeopathy (try to find an IM clinic that does not offer homeopathy!), because IM is not EBM. IM is evidence-informed!
  • Therapies that achieve optimum health and wellbeing. This is odd because the website also states that “therapies can include anything from acupuncture, yoga, massage, aromatherapy, herbal medicine, nutrition, exercise along with many more approaches, tailored to the needs of the individual” indicating that virtually anything can be included. Anyway, “optimum health and wellbeing” seems a strange and unachievable criterion. In fact, it is nothing but a ‘bait and switch‘ salesmen’s trick.
  • Holistic: This is a little trick that IM proponents love. With it, they imply that normal medicine is not holistic. However, this implication is demonstrably wrong. Any good medicine is holistic, and if a sector of healthcare fails to account for the whole person, we need to reform it. (Here are the conclusions of an editorial I published in 2007 entitled ‘Holistic heath care?‘: good health care is likely to be holistic but holistic health care, as it is marketed at present, is not necessarily good. The term ‘holistic’ may even be a ‘red herring’ which misleads patients. What matters most is whether or not any given approach optimally benefits the patient. This goal is best achieved with effective and safe interventions administered humanely — regardless of what label we put on them.) Creating a branch of medicine that, like IM, pretends to have a monopoly on holism is grossly misleading and can only hinder this process.
  • Patient-centred: This is the same mean little trick in a different guise. They imply that conventional medicine is not patient-centred. Yet, all good medicine is, of course, patient-centred. To imply otherwise is just daft.
  • Consideration of the patient’s physical and psychological wellbeing and treating the whole person rather than just the disease: Same trick yet again! The implication is that physical and psychological wellbeing and the whole person are not all that relevant in conventional medicine where only disease labels are being treated.

Altogether, this definition of IM is unworthy of anyone with the slightest ability to think critically. I find it much worse than the latest US definition (which already is fairly awful). In fact, it turns out to be a poorly disguised bonanza of strawman fallacies combined with ‘bait and switch’ deception.

How can this be?

How can a professional organisation engage in such mean trickery?

Perhaps a look at the list of speakers will go some way towards answering the question. Have a good look, you might recognize many individuals as members of our ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME.

PS

Registration costs £ 249 (standard rate)

PPS

Perhaps I should also mention at least 4 of the many commercial sponsors of the conference:

  • Boiron
  • Helixor
  • Iscador
  • Weleda

 

 

Guest post by Emeritus Professor Alastair MacLennan AO, MB ChB, MD, FRCOG, FRANZCOG

The sale and promotion of a therapeutic drug in most countries require rigorous assessment and licencing by that country’s therapeutic regulatory body. However, a new surgical technique can escape such checks and overview unless the technique is subject to local medical ethics review in the context of a research trial. New medical devices in Australia such as carbon dioxide or Er-YAG lasers can be listed on its therapeutic register without critical review of their efficacy and safety. Thermal injury to the postmenopausal vaginal wall in the hope of rejuvenating it has become a lucrative fad for some surgeons outside formal well-conducted clinical trials.

There are many published studies of this technique but the large majority are small, uncontrolled and observational. The few randomised controlled trials using sham controls show a placebo effect and debatable clinical efficacy with limited follow-up of adverse effects. A review of these therapies in July 2020 published by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence summarised apparent claims for some efficacy in terms of vaginal dryness, dyspareunia, sexual function, and incontinence but noted confounding in the study’s designs such as concurrent breast cancer treatments, local oestrogen therapy and lubricants (!). Most studies had very limited follow up for adverse events but elsewhere the literature has reported burns, infection, increased dyspareunia and scarring. There is no physiological mechanism by which burning atrophic vaginal epithelium will magically rejuvenate it.

A recent well-conducted randomised sham-controlled trial with a 12-month follow-up of Fractional Carbon Dioxide Laser for the treatment of vaginal symptoms associated with menopause has been published in JAMA by Li et al has shown no efficacy for this treatment(2).

At 12 months, there was no difference in overall symptom severity based on a 0-100 scale (zero equals no symptoms), with a reduction in symptom severity of 17.2 in the treatment group compared with 26.6 in the sham group.

The treatment had no impact on quality of life. “Sexual activity rates and quality of sex were not significantly different between the groups at baseline or 12 months”. The study compared 46 paired vaginal wall biopsies, taken at baseline and six months into treatment, and no significant histological improvement with laser was evident.

“The annual cost of laser treatment to the individual for management of vaginal menopausal symptoms was reported to be AUD$2,733, and because there is no demonstrable difference versus sham treatment, it cannot be considered to be cost-effective.”

Although one could still call for more quality sham-controlled randomised trials in different circumstances there is no justification for touting this therapy commercially. Complications following this therapy outside of ethical trials could become the next medico-legal mine-field.

Vaginal atrophy in the years after menopause is almost universal and is primarily due to oestrogen deficiency. The efficient solution is local vaginal oestrogen or systemic hormone replacement therapy. However, the misreporting of the Women’s Health Initiative and Million Women’s Study has created exaggerated fear of oestrogen therapies and thus a market for alternative and often unproven therapies (3). The way forward is education and tailoring of hormonal therapies to minimise risk and maximise efficacy and quality of life and not to resort to quackery.

References

1. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ipg697/documents/overview

2. Li FG, Maheux-Lacroix S, Deans R et al. Effect of Fractional Carbon Dioxide Laser vs Sham Treatment on Symptom Severity in Women With Postmenopausal Vaginal Symptoms A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2021;326:1381-1389.

3. MacLennan AH. Evidence-based review of therapies at the menopause. Int J Evid Based Healthc 2009; 7: 112-123.

The bad news for German homeopathy just keeps on coming. As I reported, recent events must be depressing for homeopaths, e.g.:

And now this:

After heated debates in the run-up, the Bavarian Medical Association decided yesterday to ditch the postgraduate education program in homeopathy for its doctors. This means that, of the 17 regional medical associations in Germany, 12 have now discontinued their further education efforts in homeopathy. The ones that have not yet done so are:

  • Baden-Württemberg,
  • Rhineland-Palatinate,
  • Saxony,
  • Thuringia,
  • Westphalia-Lippe.

In the past months, homeopaths had collected 11,597 signatures in favor of maintaining the additional qualification of homeopathy. The ~ 400 doctors in Bavaria, who have acquired ‘homeopathy’ as an additional title, will be permitted to continue to use it.

The spokesperson of the Information Network Homeopathy, Dr. Christian Lübbers, welcomed the decision of the Medical Association. It was a “landslide victory for patient safety”, he said. The Bavarian regional chairman of the German Central Association of Homeopathic Doctors, Dr. Ulf Riker, regretted the outcome of the vote and added: “We will consider legal steps very seriously.” I would advise against such a step which would only render homeopaths more ridiculous than they already are.

Yes, it’s bad news for German homeopaths – very bad news indeed. Of course, homeopathy fans will claim that it is all a sinister conspiracy against them. Sadly, they are unable to realize that the only driving force behind the long-overdue decline of German homeopathy is the evidence: HOMEOPATHY DOES NOT WORK BEYOND PLACEBO and therefore it has no place in the evidence-based medicine of the 21st century.

This shocking paper presents 5 cases of patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 infections, 2 of them hospitalized in the intensive care unit, who were successfully treated with homeopathy. All 5 patients responded to homeopathic treatment in an unexpectedly short time span (in fact, it took up to 8 days), improving both physically and mentally.

The authors concluded that the present case series emphasizes the rapidity of response among moderate to severely ill patients to homeopathic treatment, when conventional medical options have been unable to relieve or shorten the disease. The observations described should encourage use of homeopathy in treating patients with COVID-19 during the acute phase of the disease.

If I hear about patients suffering from a cold, or tennis elbow, or otitis, or back pain, or allergy who responded to homeopathic treatment in an unexpectedly short time span, I tend to giggle and usually consider it a waste of time to explain that the observed outcome most likely is not a RESPONSE to homeopathic treatment but a non-causally related by-product. Correlation is not causation! What caused the outcome was, in fact, the natural history of the condition which would have improved even without homeopathy. To make this even clearer, I sometimes ask the homeopath: HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT THE PATIENT WOULD NOT HAVE IMPROVED EVEN FASTER IF YOU HAD NOT GIVEN HIM THE HOMEOPATHIC REMEDY? This question sometimes (sadly not always) leads to the realization that homeopathy may not have caused the outcome.

But when, in the middle of a pandemic during which millions of people died and continue to die, someone writes in a medical journal that 5 COVID patients responded to homeopathic treatment in an unexpectedly short time span, I feel compelled to disclose the statement as pure, unethical, irresponsible, and dangerous quackery.

The 5 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized at a tertiary medical center in Jerusalem for moderate to severe
COVID-19-related symptoms. Each of them requested homeopathic treatment in addition to conventional therapy from the hospital’s ‘Center for Integrative Complementary Medicine’. All 5 patients were over 18 years old and had confirmed COVID-19 infection at the time of admission. They received their homeopathic medications as small round pills (globules); no further information about the homeopathic treatment was provided. Similarly, we also do not learn whether some patients who did not receive homeopathy recovered just as quickly (I am sure that worldwide thousands did), or whether some patients who did get homeopathic remedies failed to recover.

To make matters worse, the authors of this paper state this:

Several conclusions are evident from the cases presented:
1 homeopathy’s effect may be expected within minutes or, at most, hours;
2 contrary to classical homeopathic consultations, which may extend over an hour, correct medications for patients with acute COVID-19 symptoms may be determined in minutes;
3 there were no observable adverse effects to homeopathic treatment of COVID-19;
4 therapy can be administered via telehealth services, increasing safety of treating patients with active infection;
5 patient satisfaction was high; scoring their experience of homeopathic therapy on a 7-point scale, ranging
from “It greatly improved my condition” to “It greatly aggravated my condition,” all 5 patients indicated it
had greatly improved their condition.

The possibility that the outcomes are not causally related to the homeopathic treatment seems to have escaped the authors. The harm that can be done by such an article seems obvious: fans of homeopathy might be misled into assuming that homeopathy is an effective therapy for COVID infections and other serious conditions. It is not hard to imagine that this error would cost many lives.

The authors state in their article that, to the best of their knowledge, this is the first time that a tertiary medical center has permitted homeopathic therapy of patients under treatment for COVID-19-related illness.

I sincerely hope that it is also the last time!

They say, one has to try everything at least once – except line-dancing and incest. So, when I was invited to co-organize a petition, I considered it and thought: WHY NOT?

Here is the text (as translated by myself) of our petition to the German Medical Association:

 

 

Dear President Dr Reinhardt,

Dear Ms Lundershausen,

Mrs Held,

Dear Ms Johna,

We, the undersigned doctors, would like to draw your attention to the insistence of individual state medical associations on preserving “homeopathy” as a component of continuing medical education. We hope that you, by virtue of your office, will ensure a nationwide regulation so that this form of sham treatment [1], as has already happened in other European countries, can no longer call itself part of medicine.

We justify our request by the following facts:

  1. After the landmark vote in Bremen in September 2019 to remove “homeopathy” from the medical training regulations, 10 other state medical associations have so far followed Bremen’s example. For reasons of credibility and transparency, it would be desirable if the main features of the training content taught were not coordinated locally in the future, but centrally and uniformly across the country so that there is no “training tourism”. Because changes to a state’s own regulations of postgraduate training are only binding for the examination committee of the respective state, this does not affect national regulations but is reduced to only a symbolic character without sufficient effects on the portfolio of medical education nationwide.
  2. Medicine always works through the combination of a specifically effective part and non-specific placebo effects. By insisting on a pseudo-medical methodology – as is “homeopathy” represents in our opinion – patients are deprived of the specific effective part and often unnecessarily deprived of therapy appropriate to the indication. Tragically, it happens again and again that the “therapeutic window of opportunity” for an appropriate therapy is missed, tumors can grow to inoperable size, etc.
  3. Due to the insistence of individual state medical associations on the “homeopathic doctrine of healing” as part of the medical profession, we are increasingly exposed to the blanket accusation that, by tolerating this doctrine, we are supporting and promoting ways of thinking and world views that are detached from science. This is a dangerous situation, which in times of a pandemic manifests itself in misguided aggression reflected not just in vaccination skepticism and vaccination refusal, but also in unacceptable personal attacks and assaults on vaccinating colleagues in private practice.
[1] Homöopathie – die Fakten [unverdünnt] eBook : Ernst, Edzard, Bretthauer, Jutta: Amazon.de: Kindle-Shop

Responsible:

Dr. med. Dent. Hans-Werner Bertelsen

Prof. Dr. med. Edzard Ernst

George A. Rausche

You can sign the petition here:

Petition an die Bundesärztekammer › Sachverständiger kriminalistische Forensik, Foto- Videoforensik, digitale Forensik und der Identifikation lebender Personen nach Bildern (rauscher.xyz)

 

The General Chiropractic Council (GCC) regulates chiropractors in the UK, Isle of Man, and Gibraltar to ensure the safety of patients undergoing chiropractic treatment. The GCC sets the standards of chiropractic practice and professional conduct that all chiropractors must meet.

By providing a lengthy ruling in the case of the late John Lawler and his chiropractor, Arlene Scholten, the GCC has recently established new standards for chiropractors working in the UK, Isle of Man, and Gibraltar (see also today’s article in The Daily Mail). If I interpret the GCC’s ruling correctly, a UK chiropractor is henceforth allowed to do all of the following things without fearing to get reprimanded, as long as he or she produces evidence that the deeds were done not with malicious intentions but in a state of confusion and panic:

  • Treat a patient with treatments that are contraindicated.
  • Fail to obtain informed consent.
  • Pose as a real doctor without informing the patient that the practitioner is just a chiropractor who has never been near a medical school.
  • Cause the death of a patient by treatment to the neck.
  • Administer first aid in a way that makes matters worse.
  • Tell lies to the ambulance men who consequently failed to employ a method of transport that would save the patient’s life.
  • Keep inaccurate patient records that conceal what treatments were administered.

In previous years, the job of a chiropractor had turned out to be demanding, difficult, and stressful. This was due not least to the GCC’s professional standards which UK chiropractors were obliged to observe. The code of the GCC stated prominently that “our overall purpose is to protect the public.

All this is now a thing of the past.

The new ruling changed everything. Now, UK chiropractors can relax and can happily pursue their true devotion, namely to keep their bank manager happy, while not worrying too much about the welfare and health of their patients.

In the name of all UK chiropractors, I herewith express my thanks to the GCC for unashamedly protecting first and foremost the interests of their members, while tacitly discarding medical ethics and evidently not protecting the public.

MAKE CHIROPRACTIC GREAT AGAIN!

Spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) is widely used worldwide to treat musculoskeletal and many other conditions. The evidence that it works for any of them is weak, non-existent, or negative. What is worse, SMT can – as we have discussed so often on this blog –  cause adverse events some of which are serious, even fatal.

Spinal epidural hematoma (SEH) caused by SMT is a rare emergency that can cause neurological dysfunction. Chinese researchers recently reported three cases of SEH after SMT.

  1. The first case was a 30-year-old woman who experienced neck pain and numbness in both upper limbs immediately after SMT. Her symptoms persisted after 3 d of conservative treatment, and she was admitted to our hospital. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) demonstrated an SEH, extending from C6 to C7.
  2. The second case was a 55-year-old man with sudden back pain 1 d after SMT, numbness in both lower limbs, an inability to stand or walk, and difficulty urinating. MRI revealed an SEH, extending from T1 to T3.
  3. The third case was a 28-year-old man who suddenly developed symptoms of numbness in both lower limbs 4 h after SMT. He was unable to stand or walk and experienced mild back pain. MRI revealed an SEH, extending from T1 to T2.

All three patients underwent surgery after failed conservative treatment and all recovered to ASIA grade E on day 5, 1 wk, and day 10 after surgery, respectively. All patients returned to normal after 3 mo of follow-up.

The authors concluded that SEH caused by SMT is very rare, and the condition of each patient should be evaluated in full detail before operation. SEH should be diagnosed immediately and actively treated by surgery.

These cases might serve as an apt reminder of the fact that SMT (particularly SMT of the neck) is not without its dangers. The authors’ assurance that SEH is VERY RARE is a little puzzling, in my view (the paper includes a table with all 17 previously published cases). There is, as we often have mentioned, no post-marketing surveillance, surgeons only see those patients who survive such complications long enough to come to the hospital, and they publish such cases only if they feel like it. Consequently, the true incidence is anyone’s guess.

As pointed out earlier, the evidence that SMT might be effective is shaky for most indications. In view of the potential for harm, this can mean only one thing:

The risk/benefit balance for SMT is not demonstrably positive.

In turn, this leads to the conclusion that patients should think twice before having SMT and should inquire about other therapeutic options that have a more positive risk/benefit balance. Similarly, the therapists proposing SMT to a patient have the ethical and moral duty to obtain fully informed consent which includes information about the risk/benefit balance of SMT and other options.

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