The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to seven companies for illegally selling dietary supplements that claim to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent cardiovascular disease or related conditions, such as atherosclerosis, stroke or heart failure, in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). The FDA is urging consumers not to use these or similar products because they have not been evaluated by the FDA to be safe or effective for their intended use and may be harmful.
The warning letters were issued to:
- Essential Elements (Scale Media Inc.);
- Calroy Health Sciences LLC;
- BergaMet North America LLC;
- Healthy Trends Worldwide LLC (Golden After 50);
- Chambers’ Apothecary;
- Anabolic Laboratories, LLC.
“Given that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., it’s important that the FDA protect the public from products and companies that make unlawful claims to treat it. Dietary supplements that claim to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent cardiovascular disease and related conditions could potentially harm consumers who use these products instead of seeking safe and effective FDA-approved treatments from qualified health care providers,” said Cara Welch, Ph.D., director of the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “We encourage consumers to remain vigilant when shopping online or in stores to avoid purchasing products that could put their health at risk.”
Under the FD&C Act, products intended to diagnose, cure, treat, mitigate or prevent disease are drugs and are subject to the requirements that apply to drugs, even if they are labeled as dietary supplements. Unlike drugs approved by the FDA, the agency has not evaluated whether the unapproved products subject to the warning letters announced today are effective for their intended use, what the proper dosage might be, how they could interact with FDA-approved drugs or other substances, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.
The FDA advises consumers to talk to their doctor, pharmacist or other health care provider before deciding to purchase or use any dietary supplement or drug. Some supplements might interact with medicines or other supplements. Health care providers will work with patients to determine which treatment is the best option for their condition.
If a consumer thinks that a product might have caused a reaction or an illness, they should immediately stop using the product and contact their health care provider. The FDA encourages health care providers and consumers to report any adverse reactions associated with FDA-regulated products to the agency using MedWatch or the Safety Reporting Portal.
The FDA has requested responses from the companies within 15 working days stating how they will address the issues described in the warning letters or provide their reasoning and supporting information as to why they think the products are not in violation of the law. Failure to correct violations promptly may result in legal action, including product seizure and/or injunction.
This systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression investigated the effects of individualized interventions, based on exercise alone or combined with psychological treatment, on pain intensity and disability in patients with chronic non-specific low-back pain.
Databases were searched up to January 31, 2022, to retrieve respective randomized clinical trials of individualized and/or personalized and/or stratified exercise interventions with or without psychological treatment compared to any control.
The findings show:
- Fifty-eight studies (n = 10084) were included. At short-term follow-up (12 weeks), low-certainty evidence for pain intensity (SMD -0.28 [95%CI -0.42 to -0.14]) and very low-certainty evidence for disability (-0.17 [-0.31 to -0.02]) indicates superior effects of individualized versus active exercises, and very low-certainty evidence for pain intensity (-0.40; [-0.58 to -0.22])), but not (low-certainty evidence) for disability (-0.18; [-0.22 to 0.01]) compared to passive controls.
- At long-term follow-up (1 year), moderate-certainty evidence for pain intensity (-0.14 [-0.22 to -0.07]) and disability (-0.20 [-0.30 to -0.10]) indicates effects versus passive controls.
Sensitivity analyses indicate that the effects on pain, but not on disability (always short-term and versus active treatments) were robust. Pain reduction caused by individualized exercise treatments in combination with psychological interventions (in particular behavioral-cognitive therapies) (-0.28 [-0.42 to -0.14], low certainty) is of clinical importance.
The certainty of the evidence was downgraded mainly due to evidence of risk of bias, publication bias, and inconsistency that could not be explained. Individualized exercise can treat pain and disability in chronic non-specific low-back pain. The effects in the short term are of clinical importance (relative differences versus active 38% and versus passive interventions 77%), especially in regard to the little extra effort to individualize exercise. Sub-group analysis suggests a combination of individualized exercise (especially motor-control-based treatments) with behavioral therapy interventions to boost effects.
The authors concluded that the relative benefit of individualized exercise therapy on chronic low back pain compared to other active treatments is approximately 38% which is of clinical importance. Still, sustainability of effects (> 12 months) is doubtable. As individualization in exercise therapies is easy to implement, its use should be considered.
Johannes Fleckenstein, the 1st author from the Goethe-University Frankfurt, Institute of Sports Sciences, Department of Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology, sees in the study “an urgent health policy appeal” to strengthen combined services in care and remuneration. “Compared to other countries, such as the USA, we are in a relatively good position in Germany. For example, we have a lower prescription of strong narcotics such as opiates. But the rate of unnecessary X-ray examinations, which incidentally can also contribute to the chronicity of pain, or inaccurate surgical indications is still very high.”
Personally, I find the findings of this paper rather unsurprising. As a clinician, many years ago, prescribing exercise therapy for low back pain was my daily bread. None of my team would have ever conceived the idea that exercise does not need to be individualized according to the needs and capabilities of each patient. Therefore, I suggest rephrasing the last sentence of the conclusion: As individualization in exercise therapies is easy to implement, its use should be standard procedure.
A review conducted in 2015 reported community pharmacists are willing to adopt a professional role in counselling consumers about the appropriate and safe use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) but faced multiple barriers in doing so. This current review aimed to update and extend these findings, by identifying studies published since 2015 that reported on pharmacists across any setting.
Eligible studies published between January 01, 2016, and December 31, 2021, were identified across 6 databases (PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, EMBASE, ScienceDirect and MEDLINE). A grounded theory approach was used to thematically synthesize the data extracted.
A total of 64studies representing pharmacists across 30 countries were included for review. The study designs varied and included:
- cross-sectional surveys (n = 36),
- qualitative studies (n = 14),
- pseudo-patient studies (n = 3).
Eight studies reported on practice and/or bioethical responsibilities and 19 studies documented factors that would enable pharmacists to fulfill these responsibilities, while 37 studies reported on both.
The authors concluded that these findings indicate research about pharmacists’ responsibilities associated with SCAM is evolving from gap analysis towards research that is proactive in advocating for change in multiple areas. These findings can be used to inform a consensus discussion among pharmacists and key stakeholders regarding a set of professional responsibilities that would serve in the development of: a clearly defined role and associated practice standards, and competency requirements that inform educational learning objectives for inclusion in undergraduate, post-graduate and continuing professional pharmacy education.
I am puzzled why so many researchers in this specific area seem to avoid clearer language plainly stating the essential, simple, and undeniable facts. I am equally puzzled why so few pharmacists speak out.
It is obvious that community pharmacists are firstly healthcare professionals and only secondly shopkeepers. As such, they have important professional and ethical duties. Foremost, they are obliged to inform their customers responsibly – and responsible means telling them about the evidence for or against the SCAM product they are about to purchase. This duty also entails that pharmacists must inform themselves about the best current evidence. In turn, this means they must stop tolerating the current plethora of under- or post-graduate SCAM courses that are not evidence-based.
As we have discussed ad nauseam on this blog, none of this is actually happening (except in very few laudable cases)!
By and large, pharmacists continue to go along with the double standards of a) evidence for conventional drugs and b) fairy tales for SCAM. In the interest of progress, patient safety, and public health, it is time that pharmacists wake up and remind themselves that they are not commercially orientated shopkeepers but ethical healthcare professionals.
In recent weeks, I have been thinking a lot about ‘INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE‘. Skeptics mostly see it as a way of smuggling quackery into conventional healthcare. This is undoubtedly true and important. But it occurred to me that there also is a somewhat different perspective that has so far been neglected. Let me try to explain by recounting a story. It is fictive, of course, but the fiction is based on the observation of many cases during previous decades.
The story is about a doctor – let’s call him George – who, to be frank, is not the most gifted of his colleagues. Already at medical school, he was not as dedicated as his teachers would have hoped. In fact, medicine had not been his first choice at all. Yet he ended up as a general practitioner and eventually became a partner in a practice with 5 GPs.
Over the years, it became clear that George lacked something to be a good doctor. He knew his stuff, alright, got most of the diagnoses correct, and made not too many mistakes. But something was not quite right. One could say that, relative to his colleagues, he lacked kindness, dedication, compassion, and empathy. He often found it unnecessary to respect his patients. Sometimes, he even joked about them and about what he perceived as their stupidity.
If we view medicine as being both a science and an art, one might conclude that George was just about alright with the science but notably deficient in the art of healthcare. Most of his patients were aware that something was amiss; many even avoided him and tried to consult one of his colleagues instead. On more than one occasion, patients had told George that they were disappointed with his attitude. Some had even told him to the face that he lacked kindness. Such conversations made George think. He had to admit to himself that his colleagues were better at building good relationships with their patients. Eventually, George decided that something ought to change.
As it happened, George’s wife had a friend who was a Reiki healer. One day, he asked the healer – let’s call her Liz – whether she would like to try working alongside the GPs in his practice. Liz was delighted and accepted. George did not believe for a minute that Reiki was more than hocus-pocus, but he knew that Liz was kind and had loads of the compassion that he was so obviously lacking.
Hence force George and Liz formed a team: George looked after his patients the best he could and whenever he felt that more empathy and compassion were required, he would send the patient to Liz. This partnership changed everything. The patients were content, George was happy, and Liz was beaming.
As some patients frowned at the idea of Reiki, George soon recruited an aromatherapist as well. After that, a lay homeopath and a reflexologist were employed. George’s GP partners (who made little use of the alternative practitioners) were sure that none of these therapies had any specific effects (incidentally, a belief not shared by the practitioners in question who felt they were doing wonders). But for George, the therapists clearly did supplement his limited interpersonal skills. Patients were delighted and the GP practice began to thrive. As for George, he became an increasingly outspoken and prominent advocate of INTEGRATED MEDICINE. The fact that there was no evidence to support it did hardly matter to him; what counted was that it rendered his own incompetence less visible.
About a year later, George convinced his slightly bewildered partners to rename their practice ‘THE INTEGRATIVE HEALTH CENTRE’.
End of story
In case you did not get my point, let me make it more bluntly: INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE can be a way for some doctors to delegate the art of medicine to quacks. Good doctors don’t need to do this because they are able to show compassion and treat their patients as whole human beings. Less gifted doctors, however, find INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE a practical solution to their own incompetence.
So, is INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE a good compromise then?
No, certainly not!
The last thing we need in healthcare is for doctors to start delegating the art of medicine to others. It would be a serious mistake, nothing less than abandoning the core values of medicine to charlatans.
But what is the solution?
Obviously, it is to make sure all doctors are competent. We need to select medical students adequately, tell them much more about the importance of kindness, compassion, empathy, holism, etc., and teach them how to show and use these qualities. We need to train doctors to be competent in both the science and the art of medicine. This has to begin in medical school and must continue throughout their professional career. We need to make sure that doctors like George understand the message; if they prove to be unable to do so, we should direct them to professions where compassion is not essential.
The worst solution we can possibly envisage is to allow charlatans to cover up the incompetence of people like George and call it INTEGRATED MEDICINE.
I was fascinated to find a chiropractor who proudly listed ‘the most common conditions chiropractors help kids with‘:
- Vision problems
- Skin conditions
- Sinus problems
- Loss of hearing
- Ear Infections
- Hip, leg, or foot pain
- Poor coordination
- Breastfeeding difficulties
- Arm, hand, or shoulder pain
- Anxiety and nervousness
The birth process, even under normal conditions, is frequently the first cause of spinal stress. After the head of the child appears, the physician grabs the baby’s head and twists it around in a figure eight motion, lifting it up to receive the lower shoulder and then down to receive the upper shoulder. This creates significant stress on the spine of the baby.
“Spinal cord and brain stem traumas often occur during the process of birth but frequently escape diagnosis. Infants often experience lasting neurological defects. Spinal trauma at birth is essentially attributed to longitudinal traction, especially when this force is combined with flexion and torsion of the spinal axis during delivery.” ~Abraham Towbin, MD
Growth patterns suggest the potential for neurological disorders is most critical from birth to two years of age, as this time is the most dynamic and important phase of postnatal brain development. Over sixty percent of all neurological development occurs after birth in the child’s first year of life. This is why it is so important to bring your child to a local pediatric chiropractor to have them checked and for your child to get a chiropractic adjustment during the first year of their life. Lee Hadley MD states “Subluxation alone is a rational reason for Pediatric Chiropractic care throughout a lifetime from birth.”
As our children continue to grow, the daily stresses can have a negative impact on an ever growing body. During the first few years of life, an infant often falls while learning to walk or can fall while tumbling off a bed or other piece of furniture. Even the seemingly innocent act of playfully tossing babies up in the air and catching them often results in a whiplash-like trauma to the spine, making it essential to get your baby checked by a pediatric chiropractor every stage of his/her development as minor injuries can present as major health concerns down the road if gone uncorrected.
On the Internet, similar texts can be found by the hundreds. I am sure that many new parents are sufficiently impressed by them to take their kids to a chiropractor. I have yet to hear of a single case where the chiropractor then checked out the child and concluded: “there is nothing wrong; your baby does not need any therapy.” Chiropractors always find something – not something truly pathological, but something to mislead the parent and to earn some money.
Often the treatment that follows turns out to be a prolonged and thus expensive series of sessions that almost invariably involve manipulating the infant’s fragile and developing spine. There is no compelling evidence that this approach is effective for anything. In addition, there is evidence that it can do harm, sometimes even serious harm.
And that’s the reason why I have mentioned this topic before and intend to continue doing so in the future:
- There is hardly a good reason for adults to consult a chiropractor.
- There is no reason to take a child to a chiropractor.
- There are good reasons for chiropractors to stop treating children.
But let’s be a bit more specific. Let’s deal with the above list of indications on the basis of the reliable evidence:
- Vision problems – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Skin conditions – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Bedwetting – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Sinus problems – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- ADD/ADHD – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Stomachaches – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Asthma – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Allergies – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Loss of hearing – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Ear Infections – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Hip, leg, or foot pain – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Constipation – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Poor coordination – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Breastfeeding difficulties – no good evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Arm, hand, or shoulder pain – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Anxiety and nervousness – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Colic – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Scoliosis – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
I rest my case.
One of the numerous conditions chiropractors, osteopaths, and other manual therapists claim to treat effectively is tension-type headache (TTH). For this purpose, they (in particular, chiropractors) often use high-velocity, low-amplitude manipulations of the neck. They do so despite the fact that the evidence for these techniques is less than convincing.
This systematic review evaluated the evidence about the effectiveness of manual therapy (MT) on pain intensity, frequency, and impact of pain in individuals with tension-type headache (TTH).
Medline, Embase, Scopus, Web of Science, CENTRAL, and PEDro were searched in June 2020. Randomized clinical trials that applied MT not associated with other interventions for TTH were selected. The level of evidence was synthesized using GRADE, and Standardized Mean Differences (SMD) were calculated for meta-analysis.
Fifteen studies were included with a total sample of 1131 individuals. The analyses show that high-velocity, low-amplitude techniques were not superior to no treatment in reducing pain intensity (SMD = 0.01, low evidence) and frequency (SMD = -0.27, moderate evidence). Soft tissue interventions were superior to no treatment in reducing pain intensity (SMD = -0.86, low evidence) and frequency of pain (SMD = -1.45, low evidence). Dry needling was superior to no treatment in reducing pain intensity (SMD = -5.16, moderate evidence) and frequency (SMD = -2.14, moderate evidence). Soft tissue interventions were not superior to no treatment and other treatments on the impact of headache.
The authors concluded that manual therapy may have positive effects on pain intensity and frequency, but more studies are necessary to strengthen the evidence of the effects of manual therapy on subjects with tension-type headache. Implications for rehabilitation soft tissue interventions and dry needling can be used to improve pain intensity and frequency in patients with tension type headache. High velocity and low amplitude thrust manipulations were not effective for improving pain intensity and frequency in patients with tension type headache. Manual therapy was not effective for improving the impact of headache in patients with tension type headache.
So, this review shows that:
- soft tissue interventions are better than no treatment,
- dry needling is better than no treatment.
These two results fail to impress me. Due to a placebo effect, almost any treatment should be better than no therapy at all.
ALMOST, because high-velocity, low-amplitude techniques were not superior to no treatment in reducing the intensity and frequency of pain. This, I feel, is an important finding that needs an explanation.
As it is only logical that high-velocity, low-amplitude techniques must also produce a positive placebo effect, the finding can only mean that these manipulations also generate a negative effect that is strong enough to cancel the positive response to placebo. (In addition, they can also cause severe complications via arterial dissections, as discussed often on this blog.)
Perhaps; let me, therefore, put it simply and use the blunt words of a neurologist who once was quoted saying this:
DON’T LET THE BUGGARS TOUCH YOUR NECK!
Guest post by Norbert Aust and Viktor Weisshäupl
Readers of this blog may remember the recent study of Frass et al. about the adjunct homeopathic treatment of patients suffering from non-small cell lung cancer (here). It was published in 2020 by the ‘Oncologist’, a respectable journal, and came to stunning results about to the effectiveness of homeopathy.
In our analysis, however, we found strong indications for duplicity: important study parameters like exclusion criteria or observation time were modified post hoc, and data showed characteristics that occur when unwanted data sets get removed.
We, that is the German Informationsnetzwerk Homöopathie and the Austrian ‘Initiative für wissenschaftliche Medizin’, had informed the Medical University Vienna about our findings – and the research director then asked the Austrian Agency for Scientific Integrity (OeAWI) to review the paper. The analysis took some time and included not only the paper and publicly available information but also the original data. In the end, OeAWI corroborated our findings: The results are not based on sound research but on modified or falsified data.
Here is their conclusion in full:
The committee concludes that there are numerous breaches of scientific integrity in the Study, as reported in the Publication. Several of the results can only be explained by data manipulation or falsification. The Publication is not a fair representation of the Study. The committee cannot for all the findings attribute the wrongdoings and incorrect representation to a single individual. However following our experience it is highly unlikely that the principal investigator and lead author, but also the co-authors were unaware of the discrepancies between the protocols and the Publication, for which they bear responsibility. (original English wording)
Profil, the leading news magazine of Austria reported in its issue of October 24, 2022, pp 58-61 (in German). There the lead author, Prof. M. Frass, a member of Edzard’s alternative medicine hall of fame, was asked for his comments. Here is his concluding statement:
All the allegations are known to us and completely incomprehensible, we can refute all of them. Our work was performed observing all scientific standards. The allegation of breaching scientific integrity is completely unwarranted. To us, it is evident that not all documents were included in the analysis of our study. Therefore we requested insight into the records to learn about the basis for the final statement.
(Die Vorwürfe sind uns alle bekannt und absolut unverständlich, alle können wir entkräften. Unsere Arbeit wurde unter Einhaltung aller wissenschaftlichen Standards durchgeführt. Der Vorhalt von Verstößen gegen die wissenschaftliche Intergrität enbehrt jeder Grundlage. Für uns zeigt sich offenkundig, dass bei der Begutachtung unserer Studie nicht alle Unterlagen miteinbezogen wurden. Aus diesem Grunde haben wir um Akteneinsicht gebeten, um die Grundlagen für das Final Statment kennenzulernen.)
The OeAWI together with the Medical University Vienna asked the ‘Oncologist’ for a retraction of this paper – which has not occurred as yet.
On 14 October 2012, I published the very first article on this blog:
Why another blog offering critical analyses of the weird and wonderful stuff that is going on in the world of alternative medicine? The answer is simple: compared to the plethora of uncritical misinformation on this topic, the few blogs that do try to convey more reflected, sceptical views are much needed; and the more we have of them, the better.
But my blog is not going to provide just another critique of alternative medicine; it is going to be different, I hope. The reasons for this are fairly obvious: I have researched alternative medicine for two decades. My team and I have conducted about 40 clinical trials and published more than 100 systematic reviews of alternative medicine. We were by far the most productive research unit in this area. For 14 years, we hosted an annual international conference for researchers in this field. I know many of the leading investigators personally, and I understand their way of thinking. I have rehearsed every possible argument for or against alternative medicine dozens of times.
In a nutshell, I am not someone who judges alternative medicine from the outside; I come from within the field. Arguably, I am the only researcher in this area who is willing [or capable?] to state publicly what is wrong with alternative medicine. This is perhaps one of the advantages of being retired and writing a blog in an entirely private capacity…
Ten years later, much has happened but I am still at it – and what is more, I am enjoying it.
The blog has been a success, I think. We had
- almost 3 000 posts,
- ~30 guest bloggers,
- and ~70 000 comments.
I know that many journalists and others use the blog as a source of information on so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – if you search it for acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, or any other SCAM, you find plenty of evidence. So, the blog has now become a much-frequented database.
Yet, the blog is more than that. It is foremost a place to discuss controversial issues. Its 10th anniversary is a good occasion to thank:
- all regular commentators,
- the many guest bloggers,
- and foremost the man who persuaded me in the first place to give it a go, and who now looks after all the technical bits.
Yesterday, L’EXPRESS published an interview with me. It was introduced with these words (my translation):
Professor emeritus at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, Edzard Ernst is certainly the best connoisseur of unconventional healing practices. For 25 years, he has been sifting through the scientific evaluation of these so-called “alternative” medicines. With a single goal: to provide an objective view, based on solid evidence, of the reality of the benefits and risks of these therapies. While this former homeopathic doctor initially thought he was bringing them a certain legitimacy, he has become one of their most enlightened critics. It is notable as a result of his work that the British health system, the NHS, gave up covering homeopathy. Since then, he has never ceased to alert us to the abuses and lies associated with these practices. For L’Express, he looks back at the challenges of regulating this vast sector and deciphers the main concepts put forward by “wellness” professionals – holism, detox, prevention, strengthening the immune system, etc.
The interview itself is quite extraordinary, in my view. While UK, US, and German journalists usually are at pains to tone down my often outspoken answers, the French journalists (there were two doing the interview with me) did nothing of the sort. This starts with the title of the piece: “Homeopathy is implausible but energy healing takes the biscuit”.
The overall result is one of the most outspoken interviews of my entire career. Let me offer you a few examples (again my translation):
Why are you so critical of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow who promote these wellness methods?
Sadly, we have gone from evidence-based medicine to celebrity-based medicine. A celebrity without any medical background becomes infatuated with a certain method. They popularize this form of treatment, very often making money from it. The best example of this is Prince Charles, sorry Charles III, who spent forty years of his life promoting very strange things under the guise of defending alternative medicine. He even tried to market a “detox” tincture, based on artichoke and dandelion, which was quickly withdrawn from the market.
How to regulate this sector of wellness and alternative medicines? Today, anyone can present himself as a naturopath or yoga teacher…
Each country has its own regulation, or rather its own lack of regulation. In Germany, for instance, we have the “Heilpraktikter”. Anyone can get this paramedical status, you just have to pass an exam showing that you are not a danger to the public. You can retake this exam as often as you want. Even the dumbest will eventually pass. But these practitioners have an incredible amount of freedom, they even may give infusions and injections. So there is a two-tier health care system, with university-trained doctors and these practitioners.
In France, you have non-medical practitioners who are fighting for recognition. Osteopaths are a good example. They are not officially recognized as a health profession. Many schools have popped up to train them, promising a good income to their students, but today there are too many osteopaths compared to the demand of the patients (knowing that nobody really needs an osteopath to begin with…). Naturopaths are in the same situation.
In Great Britain, osteopaths and chiropractors are regulated by statute. There is even a Royal College dedicated to chiropractic. It’s a bit like having a Royal College for hairdressers! It’s stupid, but we have that. We also have professionals like naturopaths, acupuncturists, or herbalists who have an intermediate status. So it’s a very complex area, depending on the state. It is high time to have more uniform regulations in Europe.
But what would adequate regulation look like?
From my point of view, if you really regulate a profession like homeopaths, it means that these professionals may only practice according to the best scientific evidence available. Which, in practice, means that a homeopath cannot practice homeopathy. This is why these practitioners have a schizophrenic attitude toward regulation. On the one hand, they would like to be recognized to gain credibility. But on the other hand, they know very well that a real regulation would mean that they would have to close shop…
What about the side effects of these practices?
If you ask an alternative practitioner about the risks involved, he or she will take exception. The problem is that there is no system in alternative medicine to monitor side effects and risks. However, there have been cases where chiropractors or acupuncturists have killed people. These cases end up in court, but not in the medical literature. The acupuncturists have no problem saying that a hundred deaths due to acupuncture – a figure that can be found in the scientific literature – is negligible compared to the millions of treatments performed every day in this discipline. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many cases that are not published and therefore not included in the data, because there is no real surveillance system for these disciplines.
Do you see a connection between the wellness sector and conspiracy theories? In the US, we saw that Qanon was thriving in the yoga sector, for example…
Several studies have confirmed these links: people who adhere to conspiracy theories also tend to turn to alternative medicine. If you think about it, alternative medicine is itself a conspiracy theory. It is the idea that conventional medicine, in the name of pharmaceutical interests, in particular, wants to suppress certain treatments, which can therefore only exist in an alternative world. But in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is only too eager to take advantage of this craze for alternative products and well-being. Similarly, universities, hospitals, and other health organizations are all too willing to open their doors to these disciplines, despite the lack of evidence of their effectiveness.
It has been reported that a father accused of withholding insulin from his eight-year-old diabetic daughter and relying on the healing power of God has been committed to stand trial for her alleged murder.
Jason Richard Struhs, his wife Kerrie, and 12 others from a fringe religious group have been charged over the death of type 1 diabetic Elizabeth Rose Struhs. Police alleged she had gone days without insulin and then died. The police prosecutor detailed statements from witnesses and experts, including pediatric consultant Dr. Catherine Skellern, who said Elizabeth’s death “would have been painful and was over a prolonged period of days”.
“There is [also] body-worn camera footage at the scene … where Jason Struhs has recounted the events of the week leading up to the death of Elizabeth,” said the prosecutor. “This details the decision that Jason Struhs has made to stop the administration of insulin, and he stated that he knew the consequences, and he stated in that recording that he will ‘probably go to jail like they put Kerrie in jail’.”
During the hearing, Struhs, who appeared from jail by videolink, mainly sat with his head bowed and hands clasped against his forehead as magistrate Clare Kelly described the evidence against him. “It is said that Mr. Struhs, his wife Kerrie Struhs, and their children, including Elizabeth, were members of a religious community… The religious beliefs held by the members of the community include the healing power of God and the shunning of medical intervention in human life.” She also described a statement from Skellern suggesting Elizabeth would have spent her final days suffering from “insatiable thirst, weakness and lethargy, abdominal pain, incontinence, and the onset of impaired levels of consciousness”. The evidence read into court was an attempt by prosecutors to firm up an additional charge of torture. She said a post-mortem found Elizabeth’s cause of death was diabetic ketoacidosis, caused by a lack of insulin. “It is a life-threatening condition, which requires urgent medical treatment,” Kelly said.
Cases like these are tragic, all the more so because they might have been preventable with more information and critical thinking. They make me desperately sad, of course, but they also convince me that my work with this blog should continue.