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

evidence

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The DAILY MAIL is by no means my favourite paper (see, for instance, here, here and here). This week, the Mail published another article which, I thought, is worth mentioning. The Mail apparently asked several UK doctors which dietary supplements they use for their own health (no mention of the number they had to approach to find any fitting into this category). The results remind me of a statement by the Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby in the famous TV series YES MINISTER: “if nobody knows anything then nobody can accuse anybody else of knowing nothing, and so the one thing we do know is that nobody knows anything, and that’s better than us knowing nothing”.

Below, I present the relevant quotes by the doctors who volunteered to be interviewed and add the most up-to date evidence on each subject.

Professor Christopher Eden, 57, is a consultant urological surgeon at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford.

“I take a 1g supplement of vitamin C daily. (The recommended daily amount, or RDA, is 40mg, which is equivalent to a large orange.) This amount of vitamin C makes the urine mildly acidic and increases the levels of an antimicrobial protein called siderocalin, found naturally in urine, which makes the environment less favourable to bad bacteria and reduces the risk of infection.”

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) cannot be recommended for the prevention of urinary tract infections.

Louise Newson, 48, is a GP and menopause specialist based in Stratford-upon-Avon.

“Women going through the menopause or perimenopause may get bowel symptoms such as bloating which are due to hormone imbalances affecting the balance of gut bacteria. Probiotic (good bacteria) supplements correct this imbalance and are also linked to levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which can improve mood. This is important during the menopause. I make sure I take a probiotic daily, specifically one with a high bacteria count including Lactobacillus acidophilus. I look for one that has to be kept in the fridge, as this is a sign of a quality product.”

For … probiotics, prebiotics, acupuncture, homeopathy and DHEA-S, randomized, placebo-controlled trials are scarce and the evidence is unconvincing.

Professor Tony Kochhar, 45, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at London Bridge Hospital.

“Having taken statins for a couple of years, I developed tendonitis, inflammation in the foot, which caused pain around the outside of it. My GP told me to stop taking the statins, which helped, and I now control my condition with diet. I also take a supplement of collagen (a natural protein found in the tendons) to build up tendon structure and reduce pain. I take two 1,200mg collagen supplements daily and it has really helped. Within two weeks of starting them, my pain had gone.”

it is not possible to draw any definitive raccomendations on the use of nutraceutical supplementation in tendinopathies.

Dr Anne Rigg, 51, is a consultant oncologist at London Bridge Hospital.

“One theory is that vitamin D may help control normal breast cell growth and may even stop breast cancer cells from growing. The body creates vitamin D from sunlight on the skin when we are outdoors, but because of the British weather and the rightful use of sunscreen, it’s easy to become deficient. I take the recommended daily dose of 10mcg. [Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are good sources, too, but you’d have to eat them in large amounts to get the recommended daily dosage.] It’s vital not to overdose, as it can increase the risk of kidney stones: the vitamin helps absorb calcium from the diet, which can build up into stones.”

Supplementation with vitamin D did not result in a lower incidence of invasive cancer…

Dr Rob Hogan, 62, is an optometrist at iCare Consulting.

“I’m aware, too, of the increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of sight loss in people over 60. This is where the small central portion of the retina (the macula) at the back of the eye deteriorates. So I take MacuShield, a supplement which, studies have found, can help improve vision and keep the back of the eye healthy. It contains a mixture of natural compounds — lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin — which are antioxidants that have been found in studies to improve vision and eye health. I take one a day, usually with a meal.”

In early AMD, macular pigment can be augmented with a variety of supplements, although the inclusion of MZ may confer benefits in terms of panprofile augmentation and in terms of contrast sensitivity enhancement.

Dr Milad Shadrooh, 37, is a dentist in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

“I take a varied supplement daily to maintain good health and, specifically, healthy teeth. It contains calcium (an adult’s RDA is 700mg, which is equivalent to three 200ml cups of milk) as most people, including me, don’t get enough in their diet.”

calciumsupplements that are used to prevent or treat osteoporosis appear to have beneficial effects on tooth retention as well.

Dr Joanna Gach, 49, is a consultant dermatologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.

“Every so often, I take a multivitamin capsule containing zinc, selenium and biotin. These are all helpful for sorting out my brittle nails and maintaining healthy hair.”

 no evidence supports the use of vitamin supplementation with vitamin E, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin A, retinoids, retinol, retinal, silicon, zinc, iron, copper, selenium, or vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) for improving the nail health of well-nourished patients or improving the appearance of nails affected by pathologic disease.

Luke Cascarini, 47, is a consultant maxillofacial surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

“I take a daily vitamin drink containing a high-dose vitamin B complex, which is necessary for good oral health.”

The published research reveals only a possible relationship between vitamins and minerals and periodontal disease. Vitamin E, zinc, lycopene and vitamin B complex may have useful adjunct benefits. However, there is inadequate evidence to link the nutritional status of the host to periodontal inflammation. More randomized controlled trials are needed to explore this association.

Dr Jenni Byrom, 44, is a consultant gynaecologist at Birmingham’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

“I take evening primrose oil for premenstrual symptoms such as breast pain. I take 1g of evening primrose oil daily and have found it really makes a difference.”

Evening primrose oil has not been shown to improve breast pain, and has had its licence withdrawn for this indication in the UK owing to lack of efficacy (it is still available to purchase without prescription).

Dr Sarah Myhill, 60, is a GP based in Wales.

“I take 10g of vitamin C dissolved in a glass of water every day before I start my shift — and I never get colds. I believe that high doses of vitamin C can kill bad microbes on contact — or, at least, help reduce the severity of infections such as colds and sore throats.”

 vitamin C has minimal or no impact on the duration of common cold or in the number of days at home or out of work.

Jonathan Dearing, 49, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon specialising in sports injuries at BMI Carrick Glen Hospital in Ayrshire.

“I carry a vitamin D oral spray and use it after exercise, as it helps improve muscle recovery by regulating various processes that help them repair and grow.”

… supraphysiological dosages of vitamin D3 have potential ergogenic effects on the human metabolic system and lead to multiple physiological enhancements. These dosages could increase aerobic capacity, muscle growth, force and power production, and a decreased recovery time from exercise. These dosages could also improve bone density. However, both deficiency (12.5 to 50 nmol/L) and high levels of vitamin D (>125 nmol/L) can have negative side effects, with the potential for an increased mortality. Thus, maintenance of optimal serum levels between 75 to 100 nmol/L and ensuring adequate amounts of other essential nutrients including vitamin K are consumed, is key to health and performance. Coaches, medical practitioners, and athletic personnel should recommend their patients and athletes to have their plasma 25(OH)D measured, in order to determine if supplementation is needed. Based on the research presented on recovery, force and power production, 4000-5000 IU/day of vitamin D3 in conjunction with a mixture of 50 mcg/day to 1000 mcg/day of vitamin K1 and K2 seems to be a safe dose and has the potential to aid athletic performance. Lastly, no study in the athletic population has increased serum 25(OH)D levels past 100 nmol/L, (the optimal range for skeletal muscle function) using doses of 1000 to 5000 IU/day. Thus, future studies should test the physiological effects of higher dosages (5000 IU to 10,000 IU/day or more) of vitamin D3 in combination with varying dosages of vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 in the athletic population to determine optimal dosages needed to maximize performance.

Dr Glyn Thomas, 46, is a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist at the Bristol Heart Institute.

“I take a magnesium supplement as it can help address an extra heartbeat — something I suffered with for 20 years.”

Whether magnesium supplementation could have a role in the prevention of AF in the community has not been tested.

_____________________________________________________

Firstly, let me congratulate those colleagues who actually might have got it right:

  1. Dr Hogan
  2. Dr Shadrooh
  3. Mr Cascarini
  4. Mr Dearing

I say ‘MIGHT HAVE GOT IT RIGHT’ because, even in their cases, the evidence is far from strong and certainly not convincing.

Secondly, let me commiserate those who spend their money on unproven supplements. I find it sad that this group amounts to two thirds of all the ‘experts’ asked.

Thirdly, let me remind THE DAILY MAIL of what I posted recently:  journalists to be conscious of their responsibility not to mislead the public and do more rigorous research before reporting on matters of health. Surely, the Mail did us no favour in publishing this article. It will undoubtedly motivate lots of gullible consumers to buy useless or even harmful supplements.

And lastly, let me remind all healthcare professionals that promoting unproven treatments to the unsuspecting public is not ethical.

 

The Clinic for Complementary Medicine and Diet in Oncology was opened, in collaboration with the oncology department, at the Hospital of Lucca (Italy) in 2013. It uses a range of alternative therapies aimed at reducing the adverse effects of conventional oncology treatments.

Their latest paper presents the results of complementary medicine (CM) treatment targeted toward reducing the adverse effects of anticancer therapy and cancer symptoms, and improving patient quality of life. Dietary advice was aimed at the reduction of foods that promote inflammation in favour of those with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

This is a retrospective observational study on 357 patients consecutively visited from September 2013 to December 2017. The intensity of symptoms was evaluated according to a grading system from G0 (absent) to G1 (slight), G2 (moderate), and G3 (strong). The severity of radiodermatitis was evaluated with the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) scale. Almost all the patients (91.6%) were receiving or had just finished some form of conventional anticancer therapy.

The main types of cancer were breast (57.1%), colon (7.3%), lung (5.0%), ovary (3.9%), stomach (2.5%), prostate (2.2%), and uterus (2.5%). Comparison of clinical conditions before and after treatment showed a significant amelioration of all symptoms evaluated: nausea, insomnia, depression, anxiety, fatigue, mucositis, hot flashes, joint pain, dysgeusia, neuropathy.

The authors concluded that the integration of evidence-based complementary treatments seems to provide an effective response to cancer patients’ demand for a reduction of the adverse effects of anticancer treatments and the symptoms of cancer itself, thus improving patient’s quality of life and combining safety and equity of access within public healthcare systems. It is, therefore, necessary for physicians (primarily oncologists) and other healthcare professionals in this field to be appropriately informed about the potential benefits of CMs.

Why do I call this ‘wishful thinking’?

I have several reasons:

  1. A retrospective observational study cannot establish cause and effect. It is likely that the findings were due to a range of factors unrelated to the interventions used, including time, extra attention, placebo, social desirability, etc.
  2. Some of the treatments in the therapeutic package were not CM, reasonable and evidence-based. Therefore, it is likely that these interventions had positive effects, while CM might have been totally useless.
  3. To claim that the integration of evidence-based complementary treatments seems to provide an effective response to cancer patients’ is pure fantasy. Firstly, some of the CMs were certainly not evidence-based (the clinic’s prime focus is on homeopathy). Secondly, as already pointed out, the study does not establish cause and effect.
  4. The notion that it is necessary for physicians (primarily oncologists) and other healthcare professionals in this field to be appropriately informed about the potential benefits of CMs is not what follows from the data. The paper shows, however, that the authors of this study are in need to be appropriately informed about EBM as well as CM.

I stumbled across this paper because a homeopath cited it on Twitter claiming that it proves the effectiveness of homeopathy for cancer patients. This fact highlights why such publications are not just annoyingly useless but acutely dangerous. They mislead many cancer patients to opt for bogus treatments. In turn, this demonstrates why it is important to counterbalance such misinformation, critically evaluate it and minimise the risk of patients getting harmed.

Boiron is the world’s largest manufacturer of homeopathic products. The 2016 sales figures of the company amounted to 614 489 000 Euro. Boiron has recently been very active promoting its products, not least on Twitter where I note about 10 of their promotional tweets every day. I saw the following tweet yesterday:

Acidil temporarily relieves occasional heartburn, acid indigestion, bloating or upset stomach. (link: http://bit.ly/2gCARdu)

This prompted me to look up what this product contains. The ingredients (potencies) are as follows:

  • Abies nigra (4C)
  • Carbo vegetablilis (4C)
  • Nux vomica (4C)
  • Robinia pseudoacacia (4C)

Just to remind you, 4C means the substance is diluted at a rate of 1: 100 000 000. Even the most deadly poison would be ineffective at such a dilution.

So, how can they claim that it is effective?

To find the answer, I did a Medline search and found the only listed trial of Acidil (if anyone knows of further studies, please let me know). Here is its abstract:

BACKGROUND:

It is unclear whether the benefits that some patients derive from complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) are related to the therapies recommended or to the consultation process as some CIM provider visits are more involved than conventional medical visits. Many patients with gastrointestinal conditions seek out CIM therapies, and prior work has demonstrated that the quality of the patient-provider interaction can improve health outcomes in irritable bowel syndrome, however, the impact of this interaction on gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is unknown. We aimed to assess the safety and feasibility of conducting a 2 x 2 factorial design study preliminarily exploring the impact of the patient-provider interaction, and the effect of an over-the-counter homeopathic product, Acidil, on symptoms and health-related quality of life in subjects with GERD.

METHODS:

24 subjects with GERD-related symptoms were randomized in a 2 x 2 factorial design to receive 1) either a standard visit based on an empathic conventional primary care evaluation or an expanded visit with questions modeled after a CIM consultation and 2) either Acidil or placebo for two weeks. Subjects completed a daily GERD symptom diary and additional measures of symptom severity and health-related quality of life.

RESULTS:

There was no significant difference in GERD symptom severity between the Acidil and placebo groups from baseline to follow-up (p = 0.41), however, subjects who received the expanded visit were significantly more likely to report a 50% or greater improvement in symptom severity compared to subjects who received the standard visit (p = 0.01). Total consultation length, perceived empathy, and baseline beliefs in CIM were not associated with treatment outcomes.

CONCLUSION:

An expanded patient-provider visit resulted in greater GERD symptom improvement than a standard empathic medical visit. CIM consultations may have enhanced placebo effects, and further studies to assess the active components of this visit-based intervention are warranted.

The question I have is simple: why are they allowed to make false medical claims?

Is there anyone out there who can answer it?

The ‘CANADIAN COLLEGE OF HOMEOPATHIC MEDICINE’ has posted an interesting announcement:

Homeopathic Treatment of Asthma with Homeopath Kim Elia www.wholehealthnow.com/bios/kim-elia

In asthma, bronchial narrowing results in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and a sense of tightness in the chest. Traditional treatments, such as bronchodilator and steroidal inhalers, reasonably control the condition, but cure is elusive. Side effects and long-term use can eventually be quite damaging, including impairment of immune function and growth rate in children. Homeopathy has an excellent track record in treating this debilitating illness, and offers the hope of weaning off of traditional injurious treatments, replacing them with a far gentler and deeper-acting solution.

About Kim Elia

Students from around the world have expressed appreciation and admiration for Kim’s superb knowledge of the history of homeopathy, his deep understanding of homeopathic prescribing, and his extensive knowledge of materia medica. He is known for his dynamic and distinctive teaching methods which reflect his immense knowledge of the remedies and his genuine desire to educate everyone about this affordable and effective healing modality.

END OF QUOTE

There a few facts that the college seems to have forgotten to mention or even deliberately distorted:

  1. Asthma is a potentially lethal disease; each year, hundreds of patients die during acute asthma attacks.
  2. The condition can be controlled with conventional treatments.
  3. The best evidence fails to show that homeopathy is an effective treatment of asthma.
  4. Therefore, encouraging homeopathy as an alternative for asthma, risks the unnecessary, premature death of many patients.

And who is Kim Elia?

Here is some background (from his own website):

  • Apparently, he was inspired to study homeopathy when he read Gandhi’s quote about homeopathy, “Homeopathy cures a greater percentage of cases than any other method of treatment. Homeopathy is the latest and refined method of treating patients economically and non-violently.” He has been studying homeopathy since 1987 and graduated from the New England School of Homeopathy.
  • Kim is the former Director of Nutrition at Heartwood Institute, California.
  • He was the Director of Fasting at Heartwood.
  • Kim was a trainer at a company providing whole food nutritional supplements.
  • Kim serves as CEO of WholeHealthNow, the distributors of OPUS Homeopathic Software and Books in North America.
  • Kim provides and coordinates software training and support, and oversees new software development with an international team of homeopaths and software developers.
  • He was inspired to create the Historic Homeopathic Timeline, and is responsible for a growing library of recorded interviews and presentations with today’s world renowned homeopaths.
  • Kim was the principal instructor and developer of the four year classical homeopathy program at the Hahnemann Academy in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan.
  • He is currently developing new homeopathy projects.

What the site does not reveal is his expertise in treating asthma.

The Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine claims to be dedicated to the training of homeopaths according to the highest standard of homeopathic education, emphasizing the art and practice of homeopathy as outlined in Hahnemanns’s Organon of the Medical Art. We aim to further the field of homeopathy as a whole through the provision of quality, primary homeopathic care.

If that is what the highest standard of homeopathic education looks like, I would prefer an uneducated homeopath any time!

Even though illegal and unethical, many remedies used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) still contain animal parts. This fact has long concerned critics. Not only is there no evidence that these ingredients have any positive health effects, they also endanger the survival of endangered species. In the past, China has paid lip service to conservation and evidence. However, even these half-hearted pronouncements seem to be a thing of the past.

China’s State Council is now replacing its 1993 ban on the trade of tiger bones and rhino horn. Horns of rhinos or bones of tigers that were bred in captivity can hence force be used “for medical research or clinical treatment of critical illnesses” under the new rules. The fact that no critical illness responds to either of these remedies seems to matter little.  Grave concern has therefore been voiced by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) over China’s announcement.

“It is deeply concerning that China has reversed its 25 year old tiger bone and rhino horn ban, allowing a trade that will have devastating consequences globally”, said Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader. “Trade in tiger bone and rhino horn was banned in 1993. The resumption of a legal market for these products is an enormous setback to efforts to protect tigers and rhinos in the wild. China’s experience with the domestic ivory trade has clearly shown the difficulties of trying to control parallel legal and illegal markets for ivory. Not only could this lead to the risk of legal trade providing cover to illegal trade, this policy will also stimulate demand that had otherwise declined since the ban was put in place.”

Both tiger bone and rhino horn were removed from the TCM pharmacopeia in 1993, and the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies released a statement in 2010 urging members not to use tiger bone or any other parts from endangered species. Even if restricted to antiques and use in hospitals, the WWF argue, this trade would increase confusion by consumers and law enforcers as to which products are and are not legal, and would likely expand the markets for other tiger and rhino products. “With wild tiger and rhino populations at such low levels and facing numerous threats, legalized trade in their parts is simply too great a gamble for China to take. This decision seems to contradict the leadership China has shown recently in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, including the closure of their domestic ivory market, a game changer for elephants warmly welcomed by the global community,” Kinnaird added.

WWF calls on China to set a clear plan and timeline to close existing captive tiger breeding facilities used for commercial purposes. Such tiger farms pose a high risk to wild tiger conservation by complicating enforcement and increasing demand in tiger products.

China’s announcement comes at the precise moment when we learnt from the 2018 edition of the Living Planet Report that, between 1970 and 2014, there was 60% decline, on average, among 16,700 wildlife populations around the world. The Living Planet report, issued every two years to track global biodiversity, is based on the Living Planet Index, put out every two years since 1998 in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and based on international databases of wildlife populations. The two previous reports, in 2014 and 2016, found wildlife population declines of 50% and 58%, respectively, since 1970.

The ‘Schwaebische Tageblatt’ is not on my regular reading list. But this article of yesterday (16/10/2018) did catch my attention. For those who read German, I will copy it below, and for those who don’t I will provide a brief summary and comment thereafter:

Die grün-schwarze Landesregierung lässt 2019 den ersten Lehrstuhl für Naturheilkunde und Integrative Medizin in Baden-Württemberg einrichten. Lehrstuhl für Naturheilkunde und Integrative Medizin

Ihren Schwerpunkt soll die Professur im Bereich Onkologie haben. Strömungen wie Homöopathie oder Anthroposophie sollen nicht gelehrt, aber innerhalb der Lehre beleuchtet werden, sagte Ingo Autenrieth, Dekan der Medizinischen Fakultät in Tübingen am Dienstag der Deutschen Presse-Agentur. «Ideologien und alles, was nichts mit Wissenschaft zu tun hat, sortieren wir aus.»

Die Professur soll sich demnach mit Themen wie Ernährung, Probiotika und Akupunktur beschäftigten. Geplant ist laut Wissenschaftsministerium, die Lehre in Tübingen anzusiedeln; die Erforschung der komplementären Therapien soll vorwiegend am Centrum für Tumorerkrankungen des Robert-Bosch-Krankenhauses in Stuttgart stattfinden. Die Robert-Bosch-Stiftung finanziert die Professur in den ersten fünf Jahren mit insgesamt 1,84 Millionen Euro, danach soll das Land die Mittel dafür bereitstellen.

«Naturheilkunde und komplementäre Behandlungsmethoden werden von vielen Menschen ganz selbstverständlich genutzt, beispielsweise zur Ergänzung konventioneller Therapieangebote», begründete Wissenschaftsministerin Theresia Bauer (Grüne) das Engagement. Sogenannte sanfte oder natürliche Methoden könnten schwere Krankheiten wie etwa Krebs alleine nicht heilen, heißt es in einer Mitteilung des Ministeriums. Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse zeigten aber, dass sie häufig zu Therapieerfolgen beitragen könnten, da sie den Patienten helfen, schulmedizinische Therapien gut zu überstehen – etwa die schweren Nebenwirkungen von Chemotherapien mindern.

Im Gegensatz zur Schulmedizin gebe es bisher aber kaum kontrollierte klinische Studien zur Wirksamkeit solcher Therapien, ergänzte Ingo Autenrieth. Ihre Erforschung am neuen Lehrstuhl solle Patienten Sicherheit bringen und ermöglichen, dass die gesetzlichen Krankenkassen die Kosten dafür übernehmen.

Hersteller alternativer Arzneimittel loben den Schritt der Politik. «Baden-Württemberg nimmt damit eine Vorreiterrolle in Deutschland und in Europa ein», heißt es beim Unternehmen Wala Heilmittel GmbH in Bad Boll. Die Landesregierung trage mit der Entscheidung dem Wunsch vieler Patienten und Ärzte nach umfassenden Behandlungskonzepten Rechnung.

Auch hoffen die Unternehmen, dass Licht in die oft kritische Debatte um Homöopathie gebracht wird. «Wir sehen mit Erstaunen und Befremden, dass eine bewährte Therapierichtung wie die Homöopathie, die Teil der Vielfalt des therapeutischen Angebots in Deutschland ist, diskreditiert werden soll», sagte ein Sprecher des Herstellers Weleda AG mit Sitz in Schwäbisch Gmünd der Deutschen Presse-Agentur. Deshalb begrüße man den Lehrstuhl: «Es ist gut, dass Forschung und Lehre ausgebaut werden, da eine Mehrheit der Bevölkerung Komplementärmedizin wünscht und nachfragt. Es braucht Ärzte, die in diesen Bereichen auch universitär ausgebildet werden.»

Laut Koalitionsvertrag will Baden-Württemberg künftig eine Vorreiterrolle in der Erforschung der Komplementärmedizin einnehmen. Bisher gab es im Südwesten mit dem Akademischen Zentrum für Komplementäre und Integrative Medizin (AZKIM) zwar einen Verbund der Unikliniken Tübingen, Freiburg, Ulm und Heidelberg, aber keinen eigenen Lehrstuhl. Bundesweit existieren nach Angaben der Hufelandgesellschaft, dem Dachverband der Ärztegesellschaften für Naturheilkunde und Komplementärmedizin, Lehrstühle für Naturheilkunde noch an den Universitäten Duisburg-Essen, Rostock und Witten/Herdecke sowie drei Stiftungsprofessuren an der Berliner Charité.

END OF QUOTE

And here is my English summary:

The black/green government of Baden-Wuerttemberg has decided to create a ‘chair of naturopathy and integrated medicine’ at the university of Tuebingen in 2019. The chair will focus in the area of oncology. Treatments such as homeopathy and anthroposophical medicine will not be taught but merely mentioned in lectures. Ideologies and everything that is not science will be omitted.

The chair will thus deal with nutrition, acupuncture and probiotics. The teaching activities will be in the medical faculty at Tuebingen, while the research will be located at the Robert-Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart. The funds for the first 5 years – 1.84 million Euro – will come from the Robert-Bosch Foundation; thereafter they will be provided by the government of the county.

So-called gentle or natural therapies cannot cure serious diseases on their own, but as adjuvant treatments they can be helful, for instance, in alleviating the adverse effects of chemotherapy. There are only few studies on this, and the new chair will increase patient safety and facilitate the reimbursement of these treatments by health insurances.

Local anthroposophy manufacturers like Wala welcomed the move stating it would be in accordance with the wishes of many patients and doctors. They also hope that the move will bring light in the current critical debate about homeopathy. A spokesperson of Weleda added that they ‘note with surprise that time-tested therapies like homeopathy are being discredited. Therefore, it is laudable that research and education in this realm will be extended. The majority of the public want complementary medicine and need doctors who are also university-trained.’

Baden-Wurttemberg aims for a leading role in researching complementary medicine. Thus far, chairs of complementary medicine existed only at the universities of Duisburg-Essen, Rostock und Witten/Herdecke as well as three professorships at the Charité in Berlin.

END OF MY SUMMARY

As I have occupied a chair of complementary medicine for 19 years, I am tempted to add a few points here.

  • In principle, a new chair can be a good thing.
  • The name of the chair is odd, to say the least.
  • As the dean of the Tuebingen medical school pointed out, it has to be based on science. But how do they define science?
  • Where exactly does the sponsor, the Robert-Bosch Stiftung, stand on alternative medicine. Do they have a track-record of being impractical and scientific?
  • In order to prevent this becoming a unrealistic prospect, it is essential that the new chair needs to fall into the hands of a scientist with a proven track record of critical thinking.
  • Rigorous scientist with a proven track record of critical thinking are very rare in the realm of alternative medicine.
  • The ridiculous comments by Wala and Weleda, both local firms with considerable local influence, sound ominous and let me suspect that proponents of alternative medicine aim to exert their influence on the new chair.
  • The above-voiced notion that the new chair is to facilitate the reimbursement of alternative treatments by the health insurances seems even more ominous. Proper research has to be objective and could, depending on its findings, have the opposite effect. To direct it in this way seems to determine its results before the research has started.
  • I miss a firm commitment to medical ethics, to the principles of EBM, and to protecting the independence of the new chair.

Thus, I do harbour significant anxieties about this new chair. It is in danger of becoming a chair of promoting pseudoscience. I hope the dean of the Tuebingen medical school might read these lines.

I herewith offer him all the help I can muster in keeping pseudoscience out of this initiative, in defining the remit of the chair and, crucially, in finding the right individual for doing the job.

Homotoxicology is sometimes praised as the ‘best kept detox secret‘, often equated with homeopathy, and even more often not understood at all.

But what is it really?

Homotoxicology is the science of toxins and their removal from the human body. It offers a theory of disease which describes the severity and duration of an illness or disorder based on toxin-loading relative to our body’s ability to detoxify. In other words, it tells you how sick you’ll get when what stays inside progressively overwhelms our ability to get the garbage out. It explains what you can expect to see as you start removing toxins.

And yes, there is a hierarchy of toxic substances. Homotoxicology says you should remove the gentler ones first. As the body strengthens, it will be able to handle the really bad stuff (i.e., heavy metals). This explains why some people do really well on the same detox treatments that take others out at the knees.

Yes, I know!

This sounds very much like promotional BS!!!

So, what is it really, and what evidence is there to support it?

Homotoxicolgy is a therapy developed by the German physician and homeopath Hans Reckeweg. It is strongly influenced by (but not identical with) homoeopathy. Proponents of homotoxicology understand it as a modern extension of homoeopathy developed partly in response to the effects of the Industrial Revolution, which imposed chemical pollutants on the human body.

„Ich möchte einmal die Homöopathie mit der Schulmedizin verschmelzen H.-H. Reckeweg Küstermann/Auriculotherapie_2008.

According to the assumptions of homotoxicology, any human disease is the result of toxins, which originate either from within the body or from its environment. Allegedly, each disease process runs through six specific phases and is the expression of the body’s attempt to cope with these toxins. Diseases are thus viewed  as biologically useful defence mechanisms. Health, on the other hand, is the expression of the absence of toxins in our body. It seems obvious that these assumptions are not based on science and bear no relationship to accepted principles of toxicology or therapeutics. In other words, homotoxicology is not plausible.
The therapeutic strategies of homotoxicology are essentially threefold:

• prevention of further homotoxicological challenges,
• elimination of homotoxins,
• treatment of existing ‘homotoxicoses’.

Frequently used homotoxicological remedies are fixed combinations of homeopathically prepared remedies such as nosodes, suis-organ preparations and conventional drugs. All these remedies are diluted and potentised according to the rules of homoeopathy. Proponents of homotoxicology claim that they activate what Reckeweg called the ‘greater defence system’— a concerted neurological, endocrine, immunological, metabolic and connective tissue response that can give rise to symptoms and thus excretes homotoxins. Homotoxicological remedies are produced by Heel, Germany and are sold in over 60 countries. The crucial difference between homotoxicology and homoeopathy is that the latter follows the ‘like cures like’ principle, while the former does not. As this is the defining principle of homeopathy, it would be clearly wrong to assume that homotoxicology is a form of homeopathy.

Several clinical trials of homotoxicology are available. They are usually sponsored or conducted by the manufacturer. Independent research is very rare. In most major reviews, these studies are reviewed together with trials of homeopathic remedies which is obviously not correct. Our systematic review purely of studies of homotoxicology included 7 studies, all of which had major flaws. We concluded that the placebo-controlled, randomised clinical trials of homotoxicology fail to demonstrate the efficacy of this therapeutic approach.

So, I ask again: what is homotoxicology?

It is little more than homeopathic nonsense + detox nonsense + some more nonsense.

My advice is to say well clear of it.

Really?

For dogs?

Yes, one (of many) website explains that dogs benefit from acupuncture in 5 different ways:

1. Pain management is one of the most common uses for acupuncture, often in conjunction with a more traditional treatment plan. Strong medical treatments like chemo, which can cause discomfort, are often paired with acupuncture to help make a pet more comfortable and able to fight the illness.

2. Musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, or nerve injuries can respond to acupuncture. It is often employed during rehabilitation after an injury. Carefully monitoring a healing pet is important; without the feeling of pain, a dog can re-injure him or herself with over-activity.

3. Skin problems like allergic dermatitis, granulomas, or hot spots may respond well to acupuncture treatment because increased circulation can improve healing, while pain reduction will reduce a dog’s overgrooming or itching responses.

4. Gastrointestinal problems like nausea and diarrhea can be aided by the increased blood flow from acupuncture. It may also help normalize digestive activity by stimulating digestive secretions.

5. Respiratory problems like asthma and allergies can benefit from the immune-calming, anti-inflammatory capabilities of acupuncture.

But all of this is based on ‘experience’ (or probably more accurately, the wishful thinking of those who earn money by sticking needles into animals), not evidence!

So, what does the evidence tell us about acupuncture for dogs?

The answer is: next to nothing; there are almost no studies. And this is why this recent paper could be important.

This new study was aimed at quantifying changes in gastric and intestinal emptying times in the conscious dog following gastrointestinal acupoint stimulation.

In a randomised, blinded crossover study, six dogs were fed 30×1.5 mm barium-impregnated polyethylene spheres and underwent: (1) no acupuncture (Control); (2) stimulation of target points PC6 and ST36 (Target) and (3) stimulation of non-target points LU7 and BL55 (Sham). Abdominal radiographs were assessed immediately after feeding the spheres and every hour for 12 hours and their number in the stomach and large intestines was counted.

The number of barium-impregnated polyethylene spheres found distal to the stomach was less in the Target group compared to the Control and Sham groups between hours 2 and 4, but no differences between groups were seen for the remainder of the treatment period. The number of spheres found within the colon/rectum was less in the Target group compared to the Control and Sham groups between hours 4 and 6, and compared to the Sham group only at hour 7 but no differences between groups were seen after hour 8.

The authors concluded that acupuncture targeted at the gastrointestinal tract of dogs was associated briefly with slowed gastric emptying and gastrointestinal transit time. This foundational study lays the groundwork for additional studies of acupuncture effects associated with altered physiologic states.

There you have it: the proof has been presented that acupuncture works in dogs; and if it works in animals, it cannot be a placebo!

Hold on, not so quick!

This was a tiny study, and the effects are small, only temporary and of questionable relevance. It is possible (I’d say even likely) that the finding was entirely coincidental.

I think, I wait until we have more and better data.

Samuel Hahnemann invented homeopathy about 200 years ago. His placebos were better than (or not as bad as) the ‘heroic’ medicine of his time which frequently was more dangerous than the disease it aimed to cure. Thus, homeopathy took Germany by storm. When, about 100 years ago, medicine finally became scientific and was able to offer more and more effective treatments, the popularity of homeopathy began to wane. Yet, before its natural demise, during the Third Reich, it received a significant boost from Nazi-greats such as Hess and Himmler. After this nightmare was over, German homeopathy went into another slow decline. But when the New Age movement and the current boom in alternative medicine reached Germany, homeopathy seemed to thrive once again.

In the 1990s evidence-based medicine (EBM) grew into one of the central concepts of medicine. In Germany, however, EBM had a relatively hard time to get established. This might be one of the reasons why homeopathy continued to prosper, despite the arrival of ever clearer evidence that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos. While, in the UK, we had an increasingly lively debate about the uselessness of homeopathy, Germany remained the promised land of homeopathy. Sales figures of homeopathics continued to increase steadily and reached a level of about half a billion Euros per annum.

The golden age of German homeopathy had dawned:

  • The media, often sponsored by homeopathic interest groups, kept on promoting homeopathy largely unopposed.
  • The mighty Carstens Stiftung worked tirelessly to promote it.
  • Homeopathy became established in many medical schools.
  • Homeopathy was available and often advertised in almost all pharmacies.
  • The public was convinced that homeopathy worked.
  • The Heilpraktiker adopted homeopathy fully.
  • The medical and other conventional healthcare professions embraced it to a large degree.
  • The adult education institutes (Volkshochschulen) offered courses.
  • Politicians were squarely on the side of homeopathy,
  • Health insurances, paid for it.

Of course, there were also some (and always had been) opposing voiced and organisations, such as the GWUP (the German sceptic organisation), for example. But somehow, they remained relatively low-key. When, every now and then, courageous journalists dared to think of a critical take on homeopathy, they had to search far and wide to find a German-speaking expert who was willing or able to tell them the truth: that homeopathy is neither biologically plausible nor evidence-based and therefore an expensive, potentially harmful waste of money that makes a mockery of EBM. During this period, journalists (far too) often asked me for some critical comments. I hardly ever published my research in German, but they nevertheless would find me via my Medline-listed papers. I often felt like a very lone voice in a German desert.

For the German homeopathic industry, I evidently was more than just a lone voice. Unbeknown to me, they clubbed together and financed a PR-man/journalist (at the tune of Euro 30 000/year) to write as many defamatory articles about me as he could muster. First, I was bewildered by his activity, then I tried to communicate with him (only to get mis-quoted), and eventually I ignored his writings. Yet, a German investigative journalist found Fritzsche’s one-sided activities offensive and started investigating. His research and subsequent article disclosed the fact that he was being paid by the homeopathic industry. Once I learn about this scandal, I wrote to some of the financiers directly and asked for an explanation. As a result, they discontinued their sponsorship. Shortly afterwards, Fritzsche committed suicide.

At heart, I have always been an optimist and strongly believe that in medicine the truth, in this case the evidence, will always prevail, no matter what obstacles others might put in its way. Recent developments seem to suggest that I might be right.

In the last few years, several individuals in Germany have, from entirely different angles, taken a fresh look at the evidence on homeopathy and found it to be desperately wanting. Independent of each other, they published articles and books about their research and insights. Here are 5 examples:

Die Homöopathie-Lüge: So gefährlich ist die Lehre von den weißen KügelchenChristian Weymayr, Nicole Heißmann, 2012

In Sachen Homöopathie: Eine Beweisaufnahme, Norbert Aust, 2013

Homöopathie neu gedacht: Was Patienten wirklich hilft, Natalie Grams, 2015

Der Glaube an die Globuli: Die Verheißungen der HomöopathieNorbert Schmacke, Bernd Hontschik, 2015

Der wahrscheinlich teuerste Zucker der Welt: Was Sie über Homöopathie und Alternativmedizin wissen sollten, Oliver Grunau, 2017

Inevitably, these individuals came into contact with each other and subsequently founded several working-groups to discuss their concerns and coordinate their activities. Thus the INH and the Muensteraner Kreis were born. So, now we have at least three overlapping groups of enthusiastic, multidisciplinary experts who voluntarily work towards informing the German public that paying for homeopathy out of public funds is unethical, nonsensical and not in the interest of progress:

  • the GWUP,
  • the INH
  • and the Muensteraner Kreis.

No wonder then, that the German homeopathic industry and other interested parties got worried. When they realised that (presumably due to the work of these altruistic enthusiasts) the sales figures of homeopathics in Germany had, for the first time since many years, started declining, they panicked.

Their reaction was, as far as I can see, similar to their previous response to criticism: they started a media campaign in an attempt to sway public opinion. And just like before, they have taken to employing PR-people who currently spend their time defaming all individuals voicing criticism of homeopathy in Germany. Their prime targets are those experts who are most exposed to activities of responsibly informing the public about homeopathy via lectures, publications social media, etc. All of us currently receive floods of attack, insults and libellous defamations. As before (innovation does not seem to be a hallmark of homeopathy), these attacks relate to claims that:

  • we are incompetent,
  • we do not care about the welfare of patients,
  • we are habitual liars,
  • we are on the payroll of the pharmaceutical industry,
  • we aim at limiting patient choice,
  • we do what we do because we crave the limelight.

So, what is going to happen?

I cannot read tea leaves but am nevertheless sure of a few things:

  • The German homeopathy lobby will not easily give up; after all, they have half a billion Euros per year to lose.
  • They will not argue on the basis of science or evidence, because they know that neither are in their favour.
  • They will fight dirty and try to defame everyone who stands in their way.
  • They will use their political influence and their considerable financial power.

AND YET THEY WILL LOSE!

Not because we are so well organised or have great resources – in fact, as far as I can see, we have none – but because, in medicine, the evidence is invincible and will eventually prevail. Progress might be delayed, but it cannot be halted by those who cling to an obsolete dogma.

It has been reported that the faculty of medicine of Lille unversity in France has suspended its degree in homeopathy for the 2018-19 academic year. The university announced its decision on Twitter, and the faculty of medicine’s dean, Didier Gosset, confirmed it to the AFP news agency: “It has to be said that we teach medicine based on proof – we insist on absolute scientific rigour – and it has to be said that homeopathy has not evolved in the same direction, that it is a doctrine that has remained on the margins of the scientific movement, that studies on homeopathy are rare, that they are not very substantial,” he explained. “Continuing to teach it would be to endorse it.”

The decision is, of course, long overdue and must be welcomed. Personally, however, I wonder why defenders of reason like Prof Gosset often employ such unclear lines of argument. Would it not be clearer to make (some of) these simple points?

  1. The assumptions on which homeopathy is based are obsolete and implausible.
  2. It is not that we do not understand homeopathy’s mode of action, but we understand that there cannot be one that does not fly in the face of science.
  3. The clinical evidence fails to show that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are more than placebos.
  4. Homeopathy can cause significant harm, e. g. through neglect.
  5. Homeopathy costs millions which would be much better used for evidence-based treatments.
  6. The practice of homeopathy hinders progress and does not provide benefit for the public.
  7. Teaching homeopathy at university-level is unscientific, unethical and nonsensical.

The French are among the world’s largest consumers of homeopathic remedies. The French social security system does normally reimburse homeopathic therapy. A group of doctors challenged this situation in an open letter in Le Figaro newspaper in March 2018. They called practitioners of homeopathy and other alternative medicines “charlatans”, pointing to a 2017 report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council that stressed, like a plethora of previous reports, the “absence of proof of homeopathy’s efficacy”. They challenged the French medical council to stop allowing doctors to practice homeopathy and asked the social security system to stop paying for it. Subsequently, a group of French homeopaths filed a formal complaint with the medical council against the signatories of this letter.

France’s health ministry has asked France’s National Health Authority to prepare and publish a report on whether homeopathy works and should be paid for by the public purse. It is due to be delivered in February 2019.

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