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

economic evaluation

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WARNING: SATIRE

This is going to be a very short post. Yet, I am sure you agree that my ‘golden rules’ encapsulate the collective wisdom of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):

  1. Conventional treatments are dangerous
  2. Conventional doctors are ignorant
  3. Natural remedies are by definition good
  4. Ancient wisdom knows best
  5. SCAM tackles the roots of all health problems
  6. Experience trumps evidence
  7. People vote with their feet (SCAM’s popularity and patients’ satisfaction prove SCAM’s effectiveness)
  8. Science is barking up the wrong tree (what we need is a paradigm shift)
  9. Even Nobel laureates and other VIPs support SCAM
  10. Only SCAM practitioners care about the whole individual (mind, body, and soul)
  11. Science is not yet sufficiently advanced to understand how SCAM works (the mode of action has not been discovered)
  12. SCAM even works for animals (and thus cannot be a placebo)
  13. There is reliable evidence to support SCAM
  14. If a study of SCAM happens to yield a negative result, it is false-negative (e.g. because SCAM was not correctly applied)
  15. SCAM is patient-centered
  16. Conventional medicine is money-orientated
  17. The establishment is forced to suppress SCAM because otherwise, they would go out of business
  18. SCAM is reliable, constant, and unwavering (whereas conventional medicine changes its views all the time)
  19. SCAM does not need a monitoring system for adverse effects because it is inherently safe
  20. SCAM treatments are individualized (they treat the patient and not just a diagnostic label like conventional medicine)
  21. SCAM could save us all a lot of money
  22. There is no health problem that SCAM cannot cure
  23. Practitioners of conventional medicine have misunderstood the deeper reasons why people fall ill and should learn from SCAM

QED

I am sure that I have forgotten several important rules. If you can think of any, please post them in the comments section.

This study describes the use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) among older adults who report being hampered in daily activities due to musculoskeletal pain. The characteristics of older adults with debilitating musculoskeletal pain who report SCAM use is also examined. For this purpose, the cross-sectional European Social Survey Round 7 from 21 countries was employed. It examined participants aged 55 years and older, who reported musculoskeletal pain that hampered daily activities in the past 12 months.

Of the 4950 older adult participants, the majority (63.5%) were from the West of Europe, reported secondary education or less (78.2%), and reported at least one other health-related problem (74.6%). In total, 1657 (33.5%) reported using at least one SCAM treatment in the previous year.

The most commonly used SCAMs were:

  • manual body-based therapies (MBBTs) including massage therapy (17.9%),
  • osteopathy (7.0%),
  • homeopathy (6.5%)
  • herbal treatments (5.3%).

SCAM use was positively associated with:

  • younger age,
  • physiotherapy use,
  • female gender,
  • higher levels of education,
  • being in employment,
  • living in West Europe,
  • multiple health problems.

(Many years ago, I have summarized the most consistent determinants of SCAM use with the acronym ‘FAME‘ [female, affluent, middle-aged, educated])

The authors concluded that a third of older Europeans with musculoskeletal pain report SCAM use in the previous 12 months. Certain subgroups with higher rates of SCAM use could be identified. Clinicians should comprehensively and routinely assess SCAM use among older adults with musculoskeletal pain.

I often mutter about the plethora of SCAM surveys that report nothing meaningful. This one is better than most. Yet, much of what it shows has been demonstrated before.

I think what this survey confirms foremost is the fact that the popularity of a particular SCAM and the evidence that it is effective are two factors that are largely unrelated. In my view, this means that more, much more, needs to be done to inform the public responsibly. This would entail making it much clearer:

  • which forms of SCAM are effective for which condition or symptom,
  • which are not effective,
  • which are dangerous,
  • and which treatment (SCAM or conventional) has the best risk/benefit balance.

Such information could help prevent unnecessary suffering (the use of ineffective SCAMs must inevitably lead to fewer symptoms being optimally treated) as well as reduce the evidently huge waste of money spent on useless SCAMs.

Low back pain (LBP) is influenced by interrelated biological, psychological, and social factors, however current back pain management is largely dominated by one-size fits all unimodal treatments. Team based models with multiple provider types from complementary professional disciplines is one way of integrating therapies to address patients’ needs more comprehensively.

This parallel-group randomized clinical trial conducted from May 2007 to August 2010 aimed to evaluate the relative clinical effectiveness of 12 weeks of monodisciplinary chiropractic care (CC), versus multidisciplinary integrative care (IC), for adults with sub-acute and chronic LBP. The primary outcome was pain intensity and secondary outcomes were disability, improvement, medication use, quality of life, satisfaction, frequency of symptoms, missed work or reduced activities days, fear-avoidance beliefs, self-efficacy, pain coping strategies, and kinesiophobia measured at baseline and 4, 12, 26 and 52 weeks. Linear mixed models were used to analyze outcomes.

In total, 201 participants were enrolled. The largest reductions in pain intensity occurred at the end of treatment and were 43% for CC and 47% for IC. The primary analysis found IC to be significantly superior to CC over the 1-year period (P = 0.02). The long-term profile for pain intensity which included data from weeks 4 through 52, showed a significant advantage of 0.5 for IC over CC (95% CI 0.1 to 0.9; P = 0.02; 0 to 10 scale). The short-term profile (weeks 4 to 12) favored IC by 0.4, but was not statistically significant (95% CI – 0.02 to 0.9; P = 0.06). There was also a significant advantage over the long term for IC in some secondary measures (disability, improvement, satisfaction, and low back symptom frequency), but not for others (medication use, quality of life, leg symptom frequency, fear-avoidance beliefs, self-efficacy, active pain coping, and kinesiophobia). No serious adverse events resulted from either of the interventions.

The authors concluded that participants in the IC group tended to have better outcomes than the CC group, however, the magnitude of the group differences was relatively small. Given the resources required to successfully implement multidisciplinary integrative care teams, they may not be worthwhile, compared to monodisciplinary approaches like chiropractic care, for treating LBP.

The obvious question is: what were the exact treatments used in both groups? The authors provide the following explanations:

All participants in the study received 12 weeks of either monodisciplinary chiropractic care (CC) or multidisciplinary team-based integrative care (IC). CC was delivered by a team of chiropractors allowed to utilize any non-proprietary treatment under their scope of practice not shown to be ineffective or harmful including manual spinal manipulation (i.e., high velocity, low amplitude thrust techniques, with or without the assistance of a drop table) and mobilization (i.e., low velocity, low amplitude thrust techniques, with or without the assistance of a flexion-distraction table). Chiropractors also used hot and cold packs, soft tissue massage, teach and supervise exercise, and administer exercise and self-care education materials at their discretion. IC was delivered by a team of six different provider types: acupuncturists, chiropractors, psychologists, exercise therapists, massage therapists, and primary care physicians, with case managers coordinating care delivery. Interventions included acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM), spinal manipulation or mobilization (SMT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exercise therapy (ET), massage therapy (MT), medication (Med), and self-care education (SCE), provided either alone or in combination and delivered by their respective profession. Participants were asked not to seek any additional treatment for their back pain during the intervention period. Standardized forms were used to document the details of treatment, as well as adverse events. It was not possible to blind patients or providers to treatment due to the nature of the study interventions. Patients in both groups received individualized care developed by clinical care teams unique to each intervention arm. Care team training was conducted to develop and support group dynamics and shared clinical decision making. A clinical care pathway, designed to standardize the process of developing recommendations, guided team-based practitioner in both intervention arms. Evidence based treatment plans were based on patient biopsychosocial profiles derived from the history and clinical examination, as well as baseline patient rated outcomes. The pathway has been fully described elsewhere []. Case managers facilitated patient care team meetings, held weekly for each intervention group, to discuss enrolled participants and achieve treatment plan recommendation consensus. Participants in both intervention groups were presented individualized treatment plan options generated by the patient care teams, from which they could choose based on their preferences.

This is undoubtedly an interesting study. It begs many questions. The two that puzzle me most are:

  1. Why publish the results only 12 years after the trial was concluded? The authors provide a weak explanation, but I would argue that it is unethical to sit on a publicly funded study for so long.
  2. Why did the researchers not include a third group of patients who were treated by their GP like in normal routine?

The 2nd question is, I think, important because the findings could mostly be a reflection of the natural history of LBP. We can probably all agree that, at present, the optimal treatment for LBP has not been found. To me, the results look as though they indicate that it hardly matters how we treat LBP, the outcome is always very similar. If we throw the maximum amount of care at it, the results tend to be marginally better. But, as the authors admit, there comes a point where we have to ask, is it worth the investment?

Perhaps the old wisdom is not entirely wrong (old because I learned it at medical school some 50 years ago): make sure LBP patients keep as active as they can while trying to ignore their pain as best as they can. It’s not a notion that would make many practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) happy – LBP is their No 1 cash cow! – but it would surely save huge amounts of public expenditure.

One argument that we hear regularly in the comment sections of this blog and elsewhere goes something like this:

“Why worry about a bit of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM like homeopathy or chiropractic, or Reiki, or Bach flower remedies, or detox, etc.)? Why should it bother us? Why not let everyone use what they want? Why not be a bit more tolerant?”

Tolerance is defined as sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own. It is, of course, a quality that normally should be welcomed, taught, and celebrated. So, why not be more tolerant with enthusiasts of pseudoscientific SCAM?

In my view, there are several reasons.

  1. Ineffective therapies harm patients. The public tends to believe that SCAM is inherently safe. This is, of course, not true – think of chiropractic, for instance. But some treatments seem entirely harmless. Homeopathy might be a good example; its remedies contain nothing and therefore homeopathy can do no harm. Sadly, this is not true either. If a patient uses homeopathy to treat a serious condition, she is likely to harm herself by not treating that condition effectively. In extreme cases, this course of action can be fatal.
  2. Ineffective therapies are a waste of resources. It seems obvious that the money spent on something that does not work is money wasted. This is true whether we buy a car that is beyond repair or a SCAM that does not work beyond placebo.
  3. Pseudoscience makes a mockery of evidence-based medicine. If we are tolerant towards useless SCAM and accept that some people make money on, and mislead the public about SCAM, we basically send out a message that evidence is of secondary importance. This would weaken the trust in evidence-based medicine which, in turn, is bound to render healthcare less effective and stand in the way of progress.
  4. Pseudoscience undermines rationality and one form of irrationality begets another. Perhaps the biggest danger of tolerating promoters of quackery is that this undermines rational thinking far beyond the realm of healthcare. “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” wrote Voltaire. I fear that he might have been correct.

In my view, tolerance about pseudoscientific, implausible, ineffective, or harmful SCAMs is misplaced. On the contrary, I feel that it is our duty to limit the harm they do to the public, patients, and progress by exposing them for what they are.

So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) use has been increasingly prevalent among Americans, whereas its relationship with medical non-adherence is unknown. Using the National Health Interview Survey, this analysis evaluated the use of SCAM modalities and their association with cost-related nonadherence to medical care (CRN) among older Americans by gender strata.

Americans, aged 50 or above in the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, were included to evaluate the use of SCAM modalities and their association with CRN. SCAM modalities were categorized as the use of the following in the past 12 months:

  • 1) herbal supplements;
  • 2) chiropractic or osteopathic manipulations;
  • 3) massage;
  • 4) Yoga, tai chi, or qigong;
  • 5) Mantra/mindfulness/spiritual meditation,
  • 6) acupuncture;
  • 7) mind-body therapy;
  • 8) other SCAM modalities including homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional healers, energy healing therapy, biofeedback, hypnosis, and craniosacral therapy.

CRN was defined as needing medical care but not receiving it due to costs and/or having medical care delayed due to costs in the past 12 months. The investigators developed a multivariable logit model to assess the association of the use of SCAM modalities and CRN controlling for patients age, gender, race, ethnicity, insurance status (Medicare, Medicaid, VA/Tri-care, no-insurance, or private insurance), and comorbid conditions (diabetes, arthritis, back and neck problems, heart condition, stroke, lung and breathing problems, and cancer).

A total of 16,360 older Americans were included in the analysis, with 11,278 (68.9%) reporting at least one SCAM modality use, and 1,992 (12.2%) of them reported CRN. Among the 8 SCAM modalities, compared to those not using SCAM, those who used chiropractic were 94% more likely (p=0.01), those who used Mantra/mindfulness/spiritual meditation were 106% more likely (p<0.01), and those using other modalities were 42% more likely (p=0.07) to report CRN. In contrast, those who used mind-body therapy were 43% less likely (p=0.04) to report CRN. The other 4 modalities did not achieve statistically significant levels although the odds ratios were mostly greater than 1.

The authors argue that the differential association between the SCAM modality use and CRN suggested a complex relationship between the utilization of SCAM and patients’ non-adherence to medical care. It is possible that the out-of-pocket payments for those services significantly increased patients’ cost burden and thus made the use of other medical care unaffordable, and it’s also possible that those who already had low resources were more likely to seek SCAM to substitute for more expensive conventional care. Either of these scenarios would present a serious challenge.

The authors concluded that both men and women are more likely to report financial distress while using various SCAM modalities.

These findings are not easy to interpret. To me, they suggest that, in the US, many consumers have been persuaded to prioritize SCAM over conventional medicine, even if they can ill afford it. It throws a dim light on the US society where some folks seem to struggle to pay for what is essential while continuing to afford the superfluous.

In my view, in a just and non-decadent society, conventional healthcare must be free for everyone at the point of delivery, and SCAM is at best an extra that those who want it should pay out of their own pocket.

I was alerted to an interesting article about homeopathy in Switzerland. Its author points out that homeopathy is paid for by health insurance in Switzerland because of anything remotely related to evidence but because of a referendum in 2009. At the time, one of the arguments of the proponents was that health care costs would tend to decrease if more so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) would be paid for by the public purse. This is what Jacques de Haller, the president of the medical association, claimed: because SCAM is comparatively cheap and helps to prevent more expensive consultations, the total cost of health care would decrease.

This rather naive assumption was also one made in 2005 by the ‘Smallwood-Report’, commissioned by Charles and paid for by Dame Shirley Porter, specifically to inform health ministers. It stated that up to 480 million pounds could be saved if one in 10 family doctors offered homeopathy as an alternative to standard drugs. Savings of up to 3.5 billion pounds could be achieved by offering spinal manipulation rather than drugs to people with back pain. (Because I had commented on this report, Prince Charles’ first private secretary asked the vice-chancellor of Exeter University, Steve Smith, to investigate. Even though I was found to be not guilty of any wrongdoing, specifically of violating confidentiality, all local support stopped which led to my decision to retire early.)

In Switzerland, the assumption that SCAM saves money was refuted in 2019 by the Swiss health insurance association Santésuisse in a proper cost analysis. According to this analysis, doctors who also prescribed homeopathy caused 22% more costs per patient than those practicing conventional medicine. As it turned out, SCAM would be charged in addition to existing conventional medical services. Consequently, from a point of view of health economics, SCAM should not be called “alternative”, but rather “additive”, Santésuisse wrote at the time.

More evidence comes from a German study (authored by proponents of homeopathy!) that confirms these findings. Integrated care contracts for homeopathy by German health insurers were shown to result in higher costs across all diagnoses.

The recognition that homeopathy lacks sound evidence has already led to an end of reimbursement in the UK and France. Both in Germany and Switzerland, strong pro-homeopathy lobbies have so far succeeded in preventing similar actions. Yet, there is no doubt that, in these and other countries, the writing is on the wall.

This systematic review assessed the effect of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), the hallmark therapy of chiropractors, on pain and function for chronic low back pain (LBP) using individual participant data (IPD) meta-analyses.

Of the 42 RCTs fulfilling the inclusion criteria, the authors obtained IPD from 21 (n=4223). Most trials (s=12, n=2249) compared SMT to recommended interventions. The analyses showed moderate-quality evidence that SMT vs recommended interventions resulted in similar outcomes on

  • pain (MD -3.0, 95%CI: -6.9 to 0.9, 10 trials, 1922 participants)
  • and functional status at one month (SMD: -0.2, 95% CI -0.4 to 0.0, 10 trials, 1939 participants).

Effects at other follow-up measurements were similar. Results for other comparisons (SMT vs non-recommended interventions; SMT as adjuvant therapy; mobilization vs manipulation) showed similar findings. SMT vs sham SMT analysis was not performed, because data from only one study were available. Sensitivity analyses confirmed these findings.

The authors concluded that sufficient evidence suggest that SMT provides similar outcomes to recommended interventions, for pain relief and improvement of functional status. SMT would appear to be a good option for the treatment of chronic LBP.

In 2019, this team of authors published a conventional meta-analysis of almost the same data. At this stage, they concluded as follows: SMT produces similar effects to recommended therapies for chronic low back pain, whereas SMT seems to be better than non-recommended interventions for improvement in function in the short term. Clinicians should inform their patients of the potential risks of adverse events associated with SMT.

Why was the warning about risks dropped in the new paper?

I have no idea.

But the risks are crucial here. If we are told that SMT is as good or as bad as recommended therapies, such as exercise, responsible clinicians need to decide which treatment they should recommend to their patients. If effectiveness is equal, other criteria come into play:

  • cost,
  • risk,
  • availability.

Can any reasonable person seriously assume that SMT would do better than exercise when accounting for costs and risks?

I very much doubt it!

I am pleased to report that our ‘resident homeopathic doctor’ from Germany, Dr. Heinrich Huemmer, posted a review of my new book on Amazon. As his comments are in German, I translated them which was not easy because they are confusing and confused. Now that it’s done, I cannot resist the temptation to show them to you (the references were inserted by me, and refer to my comments below):

First of all, the author, who as a scientist [1] once had a thoroughly positive attitude towards homeopathy [and in a meta-analysis even attested to it significantly positive results in a certain clinical picture [2]], explains the principles and procedures in homeopathy in a clear and objective manner.
In explaining the principle of potentization, however, Ernst’s one-dimensional and completely unscientific matter-bound, quasi-medieval understanding of science shines through for the first time. With the assertion, “both the dilution and the similarity rule contradict the laws of nature” he clearly reveals his unscientific thinking, whereby he could have easily relativized this by an inserted differentiation “presently, known laws of nature”. [3] And not even the following sentence “…we understand very well that it can function only if the known laws of nature would be invalid” is agreed by critically thinking natural scientists. [3] Also the assertion: “The totality of this evidence does not show that homeopathic remedies would be no more than placebo”, is countered by a well-known – belonging to the skeptic movement – expert of the homeopathic study situation with the remark: “Furthermore, you should read my statements and those of the INH more carefully again: Our statement is that there is no robust/reliable/convincing evidence for efficacy beyond placebo. ALSO NOT “NONE” but “none conclusive”, which yes makes a difference in absolute numbers. Just like “no beer” is different than “not a good beer”. ” [4] Since patients usually turn to homeopathy only when so-called scientific medicine negates their illnesses and accordingly has nothing to offer them [5], Ernst’s reference to the fact that patients could “endanger their health” is to be seen as a cheap attempt at discrediting. [6] The reference that this assessment comes from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council is not without a particularly piquant note, since this NHMRC may have to be held responsible for a particularly infamous attempt at scientific fraud to the disadvantage of homeopathy. [7] Also, the alleged “fact” that “[positive] experiences […] are the result of a long, empathetic, sympathetic encounter with a homoeopath…” can be disproved by immediate – also diagnostically verified – cures, which occurred immediately without a long admission or which failed to appear even after several intensive anamneses under most sympathetic admission against all expectations…..[8] Finally Ernst’s argument “the benefit-cost-argument of homeopathy is not positive” is an absolute air number, because the saving of 1 €/patient and year (in case of abolition of the homeopathy-reimbursement) would not even allow a free new glasses-nose-pad…. [9]

________________________

  1. I am not sure where Homeopathy Heinrich Huemmer (HHH) got the claim from that I, as a scientist, once had a thoroughly positive attitude towards homeopathy. This is not even remotely true! As a very young clinician (40 years ago), I once was quite impressed by homeopathy, never as a scientist (for full details, see my memoir). What HHH seems to display here is his very own misunderstanding about science and scientists: if they are for real (i.e. not pseudoscientists like many of those who research homeopathy), scientists try not to let their personal attitudes get in the way of good science.
  2. I presume that HHH refers here to this meta-analysis: Homeopathy for postoperative ileus? A meta-analysis. I fear that HHH has yet to learn how to read a scientific paper. Our conclusions were: There is evidence that homeopathic treatment can reduce the duration of ileus after abdominal or gynecologic surgery. However, several caveats preclude a definitive judgment. These results should form the basis of a randomized controlled trial to resolve the issue. 
  3. This made me laugh! Does HHH think that only the handful of homeopathic loons who claim that homeopathy has a scientific basis in the unknown laws of nature are truly scientific? And all the rest are unscientific?
  4. I doubt that anyone can understand this passage, perhaps not even HHH. My conclusion that “the totality of this evidence does not show that homeopathic remedies are more than placebo”  merely expresses what even most homeopaths would admit and is unquestionably correct.
  5. This statement is untrue in more than one way. Firstly, responsible clinicians never tell a patient that they have nothing more to offer, simply because this is never the case – there is always something a good clinician can do for his/her patient, even if it is just in terms of palliation or moral support. Secondly, we know that German patients opt to use homeopathy for all sorts of reasons, including as first-line therapy and not as a last resort.
  6. In the book, I refer (and reference the source) to the phenomenon that many homeopaths discourage their patients from vaccination. Unfortunately, this is no ‘cheap attempt’, it is the sad reality. HHH does not even try to dispute it.
  7. HHH does not like the NHMRC report. Fair enough! But he omits to mention that, in the book, I list a total of 4 further official verdicts. Does HHH assume they are all fraudulent? Is there perhaps a worldwide conspiracy against homeopathy?
  8. We all know that HHH is enormously proud of his only publication to which he refers here (on this blog, he must have mentioned it a dozen times). However, in the book, I refer to an RCT for making my point. Which is more convincing, a case report or an RCT?
  9. Here HHH simply demonstrates that he has not understood the concept of cost-effectiveness.

So, what we have here is a near-perfect depiction of a homeopath’s way of thinking. But there is worse in HHH’s comment< I fear.

My book (of 224 pages) scrutinizes – as even its title states – not one but 40 types of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM); 20 of the most effective and 20 of the most dangerous SCAMs. In addition, it covers (in ~ 50 pages) many general topics (like ‘WHAT IS EVIDENCE? or WHY IS SCAM SO POPULAR?). It includes over 200 references to published papers. Yet, HHH reviews and judges the book by commenting exclusively on the meager 5 pages dedicated to homeopathy!

If that does not exemplify the limitations of the homeopathic mind, please tell me what does.

THANK YOU, HHH, FOR MAKING THIS SO CLEAR TO US!

We live in truly grim times! Let me therefore try to cheer you up a little. Here is a story that might make you smile.

In 1981, I moved back from London to Munich. While still in London, I had written an article on garlic for a German medical journal. It was published just as we arrived in our new home. Here is it’s English abstract:

Garlic has had a firm place in folk medicine since ancient times. More recent results are summarized here which show that extracts of the plant have an antimicrobial action, they are capable of lowering blood cholesterol and of reducing secondary vascular changes. They raise fibrinolytic activity and inhibit thrombocyte aggregation. Therefore the plant contains highly active therapeutic principles which appear to be particularly suitable for prophylaxis of arteriosclerosis.

Yes, you are quite right, this paper is nothing to write home about. So, why do I consider it ‘most consequential‘? Here is what happened:

My wife and I had barely arrived in our new home, when a man phoned (he had gone to a lot of trouble to find my number) and said: “I know you are the leading expert on garlic; I urgently need to talk to you”. Never correct a man’s mistake, if it’s in your favour, I thought, and we made an appointment for a meeting at the Munich train station hotel.

When I met him a few days later, he ordered me a coffee (which later I had to pay for) and explained that he had worked his whole life (he was about 50, I guessed) for the pharmaceutical industry and had now decided that this was enough. He thus planned to set up his own pharmaceutical company. He already had a photocopy machine in his basement, he proudly told me, and a wife who was willing to work as hard as he was. Specifically, his plan was to launch a garlic pill, and for that he needed my advice. I told him what he wanted to know, and we parted after about two hours promising to stay in contact.

The man’s name was Kuno Lichtwer.

During the weeks that followed, he often phoned me to pick my brain. One day, he told me that he had everything in place: he had found a supplier of the materials, a manufacturer to produce the pills and even registered a name for it:

KWAI

Then he popped the question that was foremost on his mind: ‘What do you think, Dr Ernst, should I risk it and go ahead with this or not?’. I had started to like that man; he was going to lose all his savings on a crazy idea, I felt. So, I told him: ‘If I were you, I would not do it. There are already plenty of garlic pills on the market. You are risking to lose everything.’ Then there was a long pause; eventually, he thanked me for my honest advice and hung up.

Weeks later he phoned again to tell me that he had truly appreciated my brutally direct advice, thought long and hard about it, but went ahead with his plan anyway. Would I now accept the position of ‘medical advisor’ to Lichwer Pharma? I was surprised, but accepted this new post. Thereafter, I advised him the best I could. We even conducted and published the very first clinical trial with his product. It was a rather flimsy study (we had no funds at all), but did suggest a positive result.

Each time Mr Lichtwer called me, he was elated; things were not just going well, they were booming! He was evidently hugely gifted in promoting KWAI. Then he invited me several times to come to Berlin where Lichtwer Pharma was based for business meetings. Proudly, he showed me that meanwhile his firm had moved out of his basement into a proper building. The next I knew was that he had a dozen employees. Lichtwer seemed unstoppable. This went on for 2 or 3 years, if I remember correctly.

During all this time, we had never talked about money, and my work for him had always been unpaid – that is, until one day just before Christmas he phoned and explained that he had moved his firm to yet a bigger building and hired yet more staff. He also realised that I deserved some renumeration for my advice; therefore, he had put a cheque in the post. When I told my wife about it, we both celebrated in anticipation of the substantial windfall. Two days later, his letter arrived. He very kindly thanked me for years of work and included a cheque of 500 DM (about 150 DM per year of work). A few months later, his firm had grown so big that a full time medical and research director was badly needed. He informed me that he had found a highly experienced expert and invited me to meet the new man, Prof Schulz.

No, I did not feel hard done by! On the contrary, I was happy that my prediction had been grossly wrong and that my friend Kuno was doing so well. In addition, I was also relieved, because my research at the University did not give me nearly enough time to look adequately after the now substantial firm of Lichtwer Pharma.

Thereafter, Lichtwer’s garlic pill went from strength to strength. Several larger studies confirmed our initial results that garlic positively influenced blood lipids (in 2000, our systematic review concluded: The available data suggest that garlic is superior to placebo in reducing total cholesterol levels. However, the size of the effect is modest, and the robustness of the effect is debatable. The use of garlic for hypercholesterolemia is therefore of questionable value). One day, I read somewhere that KWAI had become the most consumed pill in Germany (even beating Aspirin). Then Lichtwer Pharma went international and added several further herbal products to its portfolio. In 1991, Lichtwer Pharma was estimated to be worth 100 Million DM. Several years later, the firm had almost 400 employees and a yearly turnover of 353 Million DM.

To his credit, Kuno Lichtwer never entirely forgot me. When I had moved to the UK, he even came to Exeter, was entertained by my University, and made a donation of £100 000 towards a ‘Lichtwer Research Fellowship’ for my department. I am not sure whether Kuno Lichtwer is still alive. If he is, he would probably agree that, had I offered him 10 000 DM of my savings during our 1st meeting in 1981 (he did hint at that possibility), he would have gladly made me a partner in his enterprise.

But, as they say: money is not everything.

And a good story to tell is also not bad.

Today, HRH the Prince of Wales has his 72th birthday. As every year, I send him my best wishes by dedicating an entire post to a brief, updated summary of his achievements in the area of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).

EARLY INFLUENCE OF LAURENCE VAN DER POST

Aged 18, Charles went on a journey of ‘spiritual discovery’ into the Kalahari desert. His guide was Laurens van der Post (later discovered to be a fraud and compulsive fantasist and to have fathered a child with a 14-year old girl entrusted to him during a sea voyage). Van der Post wanted to awake Charles’ mind and attune it to the ideas of Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’, and it is this belief in vitalism that provides the crucial link to SCAM: virtually every form of SCAM is based on the assumption that some sort of vital force exists. Charles was impressed with van der Post that he made him the godfather of Prince William. After Post’s death, he established an annual lecture in his honour (the lecture series was quickly discontinued after van der Post was discovered to be a fraud).

CHIROPRACTIC and OSTEOPATHY

Throughout the 1980s, Charles lobbied for the statutory regulation of chiropractors and osteopaths in the UK. In 1993, this finally became reality. To this day, these two SCAM professions are  the only ones regulated by statute in the UK.

THE BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION

In 1982, Prince Charles was elected as President of the British Medical Association (BMA) and promptly challenged the medical orthodoxy by advocating SCAM. In a speech at his inaugural dinner as President, the Prince lectured the medics: ‘Through the centuries healing has been practised by folk healers who are guided by traditional wisdom which sees illness as a disorder of the whole person, involving not only the patient’s body, but his mind, his self-image, his dependence on the physical and social environment, as well as his relation to the cosmos.’ The BMA-officials ordered a full report on alternative medicine which promptly condemned this area as implausible nonsense.

Six years later, a second report, entitled ‘Complementary Medicine – New Approaches to Good Practice’, heralded U-turn stating that: “the demand for non-conventional therapies had become so pressing that organised medicine in Britain could no longer ignore its contribution“. At the same time, however, the BMA set in motion a further chapter in the history of SCAM by insisting that it was “unacceptable” to allow the unrestricted practice of non-conventional therapies, irrespective of training or experience.

THE FOUNDATION OF INTEGRATED HEALTH

In 1993, Charles founded his lobby group which, after being re-named several times, ended up being called the ‘Foundation for Integrated Health’ (FIH). It was closed down in 2010 amidst allegations of money laundering and fraud. Its chief executive, George Gray, was later convicted and went to jail.

MOSARAF ALI

In 2001, Charles worked on plans to help build a model hospital of integrated medicine. It was to train doctors to combine conventional medicine and SCAMs, such as homeopathy, Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture, and was to have around 100 beds. The prince’s intervention marked the culmination of years of campaigning by him for the NHS to assign a greater role to SCAM.

INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE

In 2001, Charles published an editorial in the BMJ promoting his ideas around integrative medicine. Its title: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS. Ever since, Charles has been internationally recognised as one of the world’s most vociferous champions of integrated medicine.

GERSON DIET

In 2004, Charles publicly supported the Gerson diet as a treatment for cancer. Prof Baum, an eminent oncologists, was invited to respond in an open letter to the British Medical Journal: ” …Over the past 20 years I have treated thousands of patients with cancer and lost some dear friends and relatives to this dreaded disease…The power of my authority comes with knowledge built on 40 years of study and 25 years of active involvement in cancer research. Your power and authority rest on an accident of birth. I don’t begrudge you that authority but I do beg you to exercise your power with extreme caution when advising patients with life-threatening diseases to embrace unproven therapies.”

THE SMALLWOOD REPORT

In 2005, the ‘Smallwood-Report’ was published; it had been commissioned by Charles and paid for by Dame Shirley Porter to inform health ministers. It stated that up to 480 million pounds could be saved, if one in 10 family doctors offered homeopathy as an “alternative” to standard drugs for asthma. Savings of up to 3.5 billion pounds could be achieved by offering spinal manipulation rather than drugs to people with back pain. Because I had commented on this report, Prince Charles’ first private secretary asked my vice chancellor to investigate the alleged indiscretion; even though I was found to be not guilty of any wrong-doing, all local support at Exeter stopped which eventually led to my early retirement.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION

In a 2006 speech, Prince Charles told the World Health Organisation in Geneva that SCAM should have a more prominent place in health care and urged every country to come up with a plan to integrate conventional and alternative medicine into the mainstream. Anticipating Prince Charles’s sermon in Geneva, 13 of Britain’s most eminent physicians and scientists wrote an “Open Letter” which expressed concern over “ways in which unproven or disproved treatments are being encouraged for general use in Britain’s National Health Service.” The signatories argued that “it would be highly irresponsible to embrace any medicine as though it were a matter of principle.”

TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM)

In 2007, the People’s Republic of China recorded the visit of Fu Ying, its ambassador in London at the time, to Clarence House, and announced that the Charles had praised TCM. “He hoped that it could be included in the modern medical system . . . and was willing to make a contribution to it.”

HERBAL MEDICINE

In 2009, the Prince held talks with the health Secretary to persuade him to introduce safeguards amid a crackdown by the EU that could prevent anyone who is not a registered health practitioner from selling remedies.

In the same year, Charles urged the government to protect SCAM because “we fear that we will see a black market in herbal products”, as Dr Michael Dixon, medical director of the FIH and Charles’ advisor in SCAM, put it.

UK HEALTH POLITICS

In 2009, the health secretary wrote to the Prince suggesting a meeting on the possibility of a study on integrating SCAM in England’s NHS. The Prince had written to Burnham’s predecessor, Alan Johnson, demanding greater access to SCAM in the NHS alongside conventional medicine. Charles stated that “despite waves of invective over the years from parts of the medical and scientific establishment” he continued to lobby “because I cannot bear people suffering unnecessarily when a complementary approach could make a real difference”.

In June 2014, BBC NEWS published the following text about a BBC4 broadcast entitled ‘THE ROYAL ACTIVIST’ aired on the same day: Prince Charles has been a well-known supporter of complementary medicine. According to a… former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Hain, it was a topic they shared an interest in. He had been constantly frustrated at his inability to persuade any health ministers anywhere that that was a good idea, and so he, as he once described it to me, found me unique from this point of view, in being somebody that actually agreed with him on this, and might want to deliver it. Mr Hain added: “When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 2005-7, he was delighted when I told him that since I was running the place I could more or less do what I wanted to do. I was able to introduce a trial for complementary medicine on the NHS, and it had spectacularly good results, that people’s well-being and health was vastly improved. And when he learnt about this he was really enthusiastic and tried to persuade the Welsh government to do the same thing and the government in Whitehall to do the same thing for England, but not successfully,” added Mr Hain.

In October 2015, the Guardian obtained the infamous “black spider memos” which revealed that Charles had repeatedly lobbied politicians in favour of SCAM.

THE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE

In 2009, it was announced that the ‘College of Integrated Medicine’ (the successor of the FIH) was to have a second base in India. In 2011, Charles forged a link between ‘The College of Medicine’ and an Indian holistic health centre. The collaboration was reported to include clinical training to European and Western doctors in Ayurveda and homoeopathy and traditional forms of medicine to integrate them in their practice. The foundation stone for the extended campus of the Royal College known as the International Institution for Holistic and Integrated Medicine was laid by Dr Michael Dixon in collaboration with the Royal College of Medicine.

In 2020, Charles became the patron of the College of Medicine which, by then, had re-christened itself ‘College of Medicine and Integrated Health’. The College chair, Michael Dixon, was quoted stating: ‘This is a great honour and will support us as an organisation committed to taking medicine beyond drugs and procedures. This generous royal endorsement will enable us to be ever more ambitious in our mission to achieve a more compassionate and sustainable health service.”

DUTCHY ORIGINALS DETOX TINCTURE

In 2011, after the launch of Charles’ range of herbal tinctures, I had the audacity to publicly criticise Charles for selling the Duchy Herbals detox tincture which I named ‘Dodgy Originals Detox Tincture’.

ANTIBIOTIC OVERUSE

In 2016, speaking at a global leaders summit on antimicrobial resistance, Prince Charles warned that Britain faced a “potentially disastrous scenario” because of the “overuse and abuse” of antibiotics. The Prince explained that he had switched to organic farming on his estates because of the growing threat from antibiotic resistance and now treats his cattle with homeopathic remedies rather than conventional medication. As some of you may be aware, this issue has been a long-standing and acute concern to me,” he told delegates from 20 countries “I have enormous sympathy for those engaged in the vital task of ensuring that, as the world population continues to increase unsustainably and travel becomes easier, antibiotics retain their availability to overcome disease… It must be incredibly frustrating to witness the fact that antibiotics have too often simply acted as a substitute for basic hygiene, or as it would seem, a way of placating a patient who has a viral infection or who actually needs little more than patience to allow a minor bacterial infection to resolve itself.”

DUMFRIES HOUSE

In 2017, Charles declared that he will open a centre for SCAM in the recently purchased Dumfries House in Scotland. Currently, the College of Medicine and Integrated Health is offering two-day Foundation Courses at this iconic location. Gabriel Chiu, a US celebrity cosmetic and reconstructive surgeon, and his wife Christine, joined the Prince of Wales as he opened the integrated health and wellbeing centre on the Dumfries House Estate in East Ayrshire in 2019. As he unveiled a plaque, Prince Charles said: “I’m so glad that all of you have been able to get here today, particularly because I could not be more proud to see the opening of this new integrated health centre at Dumfries House. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for the last 35 years. I’m also so proud of all the team at Dumfries House who built it, an all in-house team.”

HOMEOPATHY

Generations of royals have favoured homeopathy, and allegedly it is because of this influence that homeopathy became part of the NHS in 1948. Homeopathy has also been at the core of Charles’ obsession with SCAM from its beginning. In 2017, ‘Country News’ published an article about our heir to the throne stating that Prince of Wales has revealed he uses homeopathic treatments for animals on his organic farm at Highgrove to help reduce reliance on antibiotics, the article stated. He said his methods of farming tried wherever possible to ‘‘go with the grain of nature’’ to avoid dependency on antibiotics, pesticides and other forms of chemical intervention.

In the same year, it was revealed that UK farmers were being taught how to treat their livestock with homeopathy “by kind permission of His Royal Highness, The Prince Of Wales

In 2019, the Faculty of Homeopathy announced that His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales had accepted to become Patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy. Dr Gary Smyth, President of the Faculty of Homeopathy commented, “As the Faculty celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, it is an enormous honour for us to receive the Patronage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and I am delighted to announce this news today.” Charles’ move amazed observers who saw it as a deliberate protest against the discontinuation of reimbursement of homeopathy by the NHS.

In 2020, Charles fell ill with the corona-virus and happily made a swift recovery. It was widely reported that his recovery was due to homeopathy, a notion denied by Clarence House.

_______________________

Happy Birthday Charles

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