Simply put, in the realm of SCAM, we seem to have two types of people:
- those who don’t care a hoot about evidence;
- those who try their best to follow the evidence.
The first group is replete with SCAM enthusiasts who make their decisions based purely on habit, emotion, intuition etc. They are beyond my reach, I fear. It is almost exclusively the second group for whom I write this blog.
And that could be relatively easy, if the evidence were always accessible, understandable, straight forward, conclusive and convincing. But sadly, in SCAM (as in most other areas of healthcare), the evidence is full of apparent and real contradictions. In this situation, it is often difficult even for experts to understand what is going on; for lay people this must be immeasurably more confusing. Yet, it is the lay consumers who often will take the decision to use or not use this or that SCAM. They therefore need our help.
What can consumers do when they are confronted with contradictory evidence?
How can they distinguish right from wrong?
- Some articles claim that homeopathy works – others say it is just a placebo therapy.
- Some experts claim that chiropractic is safe – others say it can do serious harm.
- Some articles claim that SCAM-practitioners are competent – others say this is not true.
- Some experts claim that SCAM is the future – others stress that it is obsolete.
What can a lay person with no or very little understanding of science do to see through this fog of contradictions?
Let me try to provide consumers with a step by step approach to get closer to the truth by asking a few incisive questions:
- WHERE DID YOU READ THE CLAIM? If it was in a newspaper, magazine, website, etc. take it with a pinch of salt (double the dose of salt, if it’s from the Daily Mail).
- CAN YOU RETRACE THE CLAIM TO A SCIENTIFIC PAPER? This might challenge you skills as a detective, but it is always well-worth finding the original source of a therapeutic claim in order to judge its credibility. If no good source can be found, I advise caution.
- IN WHICH MEDICAL JOURNAL WAS THE CLAIM PUBLISHED? Be aware of the fact that there are dozens of SCAM-journals that would publish virtually any rubbish.
- WHO ARE THE AUTHORS OF THE SCIENTIFIC PAPER? It might be difficult for a lay person to evaluate their credibility. But there might be certain pointers; for instance, authors affiliated to a university tend to be more credible than SCAM-practitioners who have no such affiliations or authors working for a lobby-group.
- WHAT SORT OF ARTICLE IS THE ORIGINAL SOURCE OF THE CLAIM? Is it a proper experimental study or a mere opinion piece? If possible, try to find a good-quality (perhaps even a Cochrane) review on the subject.
- ARE THERE OTHER RESEARCHERS WHO HAVE ARRIVED AT SIMILAR CONCLUSIONS? If the claim is based on just one solitary piece of research or opinion, it clearly weighs less than a consensus of experts.
- DO PUBLICATIONS EXIST THAT DISAGREE WITH THE CLAIM? Even if there are several scientific papers from different teams of researchers supporting the claim, it is important to find out whether the claim is shared by all experts in the field.
Eventually, you might get a good impression about the veracity of the claim. But sometimes you also might end up with a bunch of systematic reviews of which several support, while others reject the claim. And all of them could look similarly credible to your untrained eyes. Does that mean your attempt to find the truth of the matter has been frustrated?
In this case, you would probably consider the following options:
- You could do a simple ‘pea count’; this would tell you whether the majority of reviews is pro or contra the claim. However, this might be your worst bet for arriving at a sound conclusion. The quantity of the evidence usually is far less important than its quality.
- If you have no training to judge the quality of a review, you might just go with the most recent and up-to-date review. This, however, would also be fraught with problems, as you can, of course, not be sure that the most recent one is also the least biased assessment.
- Perhaps you can somehow get an impression about the respectability of the source. If, for instance, there is a recent Cochrane review, I advise to go with that one.
- Look up the profession of the authors of the review. The pope is unlikely to condemn Catholicism; likewise, you will find very few homeopaths who are critical of homeopathy, or chiropractors who are critical of chiropractic, etc. I know this is a very crude ‘last resort’ for replacing an authorative evaluation of the claim. But, if that’s all you have, it is better than nothing. Ask yourself who can normally be trusted more, the SCAM-practitioner or lobbyist who makes a living from the claim or an independent academic who has no such conflict of interest?
If all of this does not help you to decide whether a therapeutic claim is trustworthy or not, my advice has always been to reflect on this: IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS.
Highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos! This is what the best evidence clearly shows. Ergo they cannot be shown in a rigorous study to have effects that differ from placebo. But now there is a study that seems to contradict this widely accepted conclusion.
Can someone please help me to understand what is going on?
In this double-blind, placebo-controlled RCT, 60 patients suffering from insomnia were treated either individualised homeopathy (IH) or placebo for 3 months. Patient-administered sleep diary and Insomnia Severity Index (ISI) were used the primary and secondary outcomes respectively, measured at baseline, and after 3 months.
Five patients dropped out (verum:2,control:3).Intention to treat sample (n=60) was analysed. Trial arms were comparable at baseline. In the verum group, except sleep diary item 3 (P= 0.371), rest of the outcomes improved significantly (all P < 0.01). In the control group, there were significant improvements in diary item 6 and ISI score (P < 0.01) and just significant improvement in item 5 (P= 0.018). Group differences were significant for items 4, 5 and 6(P < 0.01) and just significant (P= 0.014) for ISI score with moderate to large effect sizes; but non-significant (P > 0.01) for rest of the outcomes.
The authors concluded that in this double-blind, randomized, prospective, placebo-controlled, two parallel arms clinical trial conducted on 60 patients suffering from insomnia, there was statistically significant difference measured in sleep efficiency, total sleep time, time in bed, and ISI score in favour of homeopathy over placebo with moderate to large effect sizes. Group differences were non-significant for rest of the outcomes(i.e. latency to fall asleep, minutes awake in middle of night and minutes awake too early). Individualized homeopathy seemed to produce significantly better effect than placebo. Independent replications and adequately powered trials with enhanced methodological rigor are warranted.
I have studied this article in some detail; its methodology is nicely and fully described in the original paper. To my amazement, I cannot find a flaw that is worth mentioning. Sure, the sample was small, the treatment time short, the outcome measure subjective, the paper comes from a dubious journal, the authors have a clear conflict of interest, even though they deny it – but none of these limitations has the potential to conclusively explain the positive result.
In view of what I stated above and considering what the clinical evidence so far tells us, this is most puzzling.
A 2010 systematic review authored by proponents of homeopathy included 4 RCTs comparing homeopathic medicines to placebo. All involved small patient numbers and were of low methodological quality. None demonstrated a statistically significant difference in outcomes between groups.
My own 2011 not Medline-listed review (Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 16(3) September 2011 195–199) included several additional studies. Here is its abstract:
The aim of this review was the critical evaluation of evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy for insomnia and sleep-related disorders. A search of MEDLINE, AMED, CINAHL, EMBASE and Cochrane Central Register was conducted to find RCTs using any form of homeopathy for the treatment of insomnia or sleep-related disorders. Data were extracted according to pre-defined criteria; risk of bias was assessed using Cochrane criteria. Six randomised, placebo-controlled trials met the inclusion criteria. Two studies used individualised homeopathy, and four used standardised homeopathic treatment. All studies had significant flaws; small sample size was the most prevalent limitation. The results of one study suggested that homeopathic remedies were superior to placebo; however, five trials found no significant differences between homeopathy and placebo for any of the main outcomes. Evidence from RCTs does not show homeopathy to be an effective treatment for insomnia and sleep-related disorders.
It follows that the new trial contradicts previously published evidence. In addition, it clearly lacks plausibility, as the remedies used were highly diluted and therefore should be pure placebos. So, what could be the explanation of the new, positive result?
As far as I can see, there are the following possibilities:
- some undetected/undisclosed bias,
- homeopathy works after all.
I would be most grateful, if someone could help solving this puzzle for me (if needed, I can send you the full text of the new article for assessment).
An article referring to comments Prof David Colquhoun and I recently made in THE TIMES about acupuncture for children caught my attention. In it, Rebecca Avern, an acupuncturist specialising in paediatrics and heading the clinical programme at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, makes a several statements which deserve a comment. Here is her article in full, followed by my short comments.
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However, it included some negative quotes from our old friends Ernst and Colquhoun. The first was Ernst stating that he was ‘not aware of any sound evidence showing that acupuncture is effective for any childhood conditions’. Colquhoun went further to state that there simply is not ‘the slightest bit of evidence to suggest that acupuncture helps anything in children’. Whilst they may not be aware of it, good evidence does exist, albeit for a limited number of conditions. For example, a 2016 meta-analysis and systematic review of the use of acupuncture for post-operative nausea and vomiting (PONV) concluded that children who received acupuncture had a significantly lower risk of PONV than those in the control group or those who received conventional drug therapy.[i]
Ernst went on to mention the hypothetical risk of puncturing a child’s internal organs but he failed to provide evidence of any actual harm. A 2011 systematic review analysing decades of acupuncture in children aged 0 to 17 years prompted investigators to conclude that acupuncture can be characterised as ‘safe’ for children.[ii]
Ernst also mentioned what he perceived is a far greater risk. He expressed concern that children would miss out on ‘effective’ treatment because they are having acupuncture. In my experience running a paediatric acupuncture clinic in Oxford, this is not the case. Children almost invariably come already having received a diagnosis from either their GP or a paediatric specialist. They are seeking treatment, such as in the case of bedwetting or chronic fatigue syndrome, because orthodox medicine is unable to effectively treat or even manage their condition. Alternatively, their condition is being managed by medication which may be causing side effects.
When it comes to their children, even those parents who may have reservations about orthodox medicine, tend to ensure their child has received all the appropriate exploratory tests. I have yet to meet a parent who will not ensure that their child, who has a serious condition, has the necessary medication, which in some cases may save their lives, such as salbutamol (usually marketed as Ventolin) for asthma or an EpiPen for anaphylactic reactions. If a child comes to the clinic where this turns out not to be the case, thankfully all BAcC members have training in a level of conventional medical sciences which enables them to spot ‘red flags’. This means that they will inform the parent that their child needs orthodox treatment either instead of or alongside acupuncture.
The article ended with a final comment from Colquhoun who believes that ‘sticking pins in babies is a rather unpleasant form of health fraud’. It is hard not to take exception to the phrase ‘sticking pins in’, whereas what we actually do is gently and precisely insert fine, sterile acupuncture needles. The needles used to treat babies and children are usually approximately 0.16mm in breadth. The average number of needles used per treatment is between two and six, and the needles are not retained. A ‘treatment’ may include not only needling, but also diet and lifestyle advice, massage, moxa, and parental education. Most babies and children find an acupuncture treatment perfectly acceptable, as the video below illustrates.
The views of Colquhoun and Ernst also beg the question of how acupuncture compares in terms of safety and proven efficacy with orthodox medical treatments given to children. Many medications given to children are so called ‘off-label’ because it is challenging to get ethical approval for randomised controlled trials in children. This means that children are prescribed medicines that are not authorised in terms of age, weight, indications, or routes of administration. A 2015 study noted that prescribers and caregivers ‘must be aware of the risk of potential serious ADRs (adverse drug reactions)’ when prescribing off-label medicines to children.[iii]
There are several reasons for the rise in paediatric acupuncture to which the article referred. Most of the time, children get better when they have acupuncture. Secondly, parents see that the treatment is gentle and well tolerated by their children. Unburdened by chronic illness, a child can enjoy a carefree childhood, and they can regain a sense of themselves as healthy. A weight is lifted off the entire family when a child returns to health. It is my belief that parents, and children, vote with their feet and that, despite people such as Ernst and Colquhoun wishing it were otherwise, more and more children will receive the benefits of acupuncture.
[i] Shin HC et al, The effect of acupuncture on post-operative nausea and vomiting after pediatric tonsillectomy: A meta-analysis and systematic review. Accessed January 2019 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26864736
[ii] Franklin R, Few Serious Adverse Events in Pediatric Needle Acupuncture. Accessed January 2019from: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/753934?src=trendmd_pilot
[iii] Aagaard L (2015) Off-Label and Unlicensed Prescribing of Medicines in Paediatric Populations: Occurrence and Safety Aspects. Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology. Accessed January 2019 from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/bcpt.12445
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- GOOD EVIDENCE: The systematic review cited by Mrs Avern was based mostly on poor-quality trials. It even included cohort studies without a control group. To name it as an example of good evidence, merely discloses an ignorance about what good evidence means.
- SAFETY: The article Mrs Avern referred to is a systematic review of reports on adverse events (AEs) of acupuncture in children. A total of 279 AEs were found. Of these, 25 were serious (12 cases of thumb deformity, 5 infections, and 1 case each of cardiac rupture, pneumothorax, nerve impairment, subarachnoid haemorrhage, intestinal obstruction, haemoptysis, reversible coma, and overnight hospitalization), 1 was moderate (infection), and 253 were mild. The mild AEs included pain, bruising, bleeding, and worsening of symptoms. Considering that there is no reporting system of such AEs, this list of AEs is, I think, concerning and justifies my concerns over the safety of acupuncture in children. The risks are certainly not ‘hypothetical’, as Mrs Avern claimed, and to call it thus seems to be in conflict with the highest standard of professional care (see below). Because the acupuncture community has still not established an effective AE-surveillance system, nobody can tell whether such events are frequent or rare. We all hope they are infrequent, but hope is a poor substitute for evidence.
- COMPARISON TO OTHER TREATMENTS: Mrs Avern seems to think that acupuncture has a better risk/benefit profile than conventional medicine. Having failed to show that acupuncture is effective and having demonstrated that it causes severe adverse effects, this assumption seems nothing but wishful thinking on her part.
- EXPERIENCE: Mrs Avern finishes her article by telling us that ‘children get better when they have acupuncture’. She seems to be oblivious to the fact that sick children usually get better no matter what. Perhaps the kids she treats would have improved even faster without her needles?
In conclusion, I do not doubt the good intentions of Mrs Avern for one minute; I just wished she were able to develop a minimum of critical thinking capacity. More importantly, I am concerned about the BRITISH ACUPUNCTURE COUNCIL, the organisation that published Mrs Avern’s article. On their website, they state: The British Acupuncture Council is committed to ensuring all patients receive the highest standard of professional care during their acupuncture treatment. Our Code of Professional Conduct governs ethical and professional behaviour, while the Code of Safe Practice sets benchmark standards for best practice in acupuncture. All BAcC members are bound by these codes. Who are they trying to fool?, I ask myself.
The PGIH (currently chaired by the Tory MP David Tredinnick) was founded in 1992 (in the mid 1990, they once invited me to give a lecture which I did with pleasure). Its overriding aim is to bring about improvements in patient care. The PGIH have conducted a consultation that involved 113 SCAM-organisations and other stakeholders. The new PGIH-report is based on their feedback and makes 14 recommendations. They are all worth studying but, to keep this post concise, I have selected the three that fascinated me most:
Evidence Base and Research
NICE guidelines are too narrow and do not ﬁt well with models of care such as complementary, traditional and natural therapies, and should incorporate qualitative evidence and patient outcomes measures as well as RCT evidence. Complementary, traditional and natural healthcare associations should take steps to educate and advise their members on the use of Measure Yourself Medical Outcome Proﬁles (MYMOP), and patient outcome measures should be collated by an independent central resource to identify for what conditions patients are seeking treatment, and with what outcomes.
Every cancer patient and their families should be offered complementary therapies as part of their treatment package to support them in their cancer journey. Cancer centres and hospices providing access to complementary therapies should be encouraged to make wider use of Measure Yourself Concerns and Wellbeing (MYCaW) to evaluate the beneﬁts gained by patients using complementary therapies in cancer support care. Co-ordinated research needs to be carried out, both clinical trials and qualitative studies, on a range of complementary, traditional and natural therapies used in cancer care support.
The government should run NHS pilot projects which look at non-conventional ways of treating patients with long-term and chronic conditions affected by Effectiveness Gaps, such as stress, arthritis, asthma and musculoskeletal problems, and audit these results against conventional treatment options for these conditions to determine whether cost savings and better patient outcomes could be achieved.
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Here are a few brief comments on those three recommendations.
Evidence base and research
NICE guidelines are based on rigorous assessments of efficacy, safety and costs. Such evaluations are possible for all interventions, including SCAM. Qualitative data are useless for this purpose. Outcome measures like the MYMOP are measures that can and are used in clinical trials. To use them outside clinical trials would not provide any relevant information about the specific effects of SCAM because this cannot account for confounding factors like the natural history of the disease, regression towards the mean, etc. The entire paragraph disclosed a remarkable level of naivety and ignorance about research on behalf of the PGIH.
There is already a significant amount of research on SCAM for cancer (see for instance here). It shows that no SCAM is effective in curing any form of cancer, and that only very few SCAMs can effectively improve the quality of life of cancer patients. Considering these facts, the wholesale recommendation of offering SCAM to cancer patients can only be characterised as dangerous quackery.
Such a pilot project has already been conducted at the behest of Price Charles (see here). Its results show that flimsy research will generate flimsy findings. If anything, a rigorous trial would be needed to test whether more SCAM on the NHS saves or costs money. The data currently available suggests that the latter is the case (see also here, here, here, here, etc.).
Altogether, one gets the impression that the PGIH need to brush up on their science and knowledge (if they invite me, I’d be delighted to give them another lecture). As it stands, it seems unlikely that their approach will, in fact, bring about improvements in patient care.
Today is WORLD CANCER DAY. A good reason, I feel, to remind everyone of the existence of CAM-CANCER, an initiative that I have been involved with from its start (in fact, I was one of its initiators). Essentially, we – that is an international team of CAM-experts – conduct systematic reviews of CAMs often advertised for cancer. We then offer them as a free web resource providing the public with evidence-based information about all sorts of CAMs for cancer.
CAM-Cancer follows a strict methodology to produce CAM-summaries of high quality. Writing, review and editorial processes all follow pre-defined methods and the CAM-Cancer editorial team and Executive Committee ensure that CAM-summaries comply with the guidelines and templates. We are independent from commercial funders and strive to be as objective as possible. Most of the experts are more enthusiastic about the value of CAM than I am, but we do our very best to avoid letting sentiments get in the way of rigorous scientific assessments.
So far, we have managed to publish a respectably large and diverse array of summaries. Here is the full list:
Let me pick out just one of the summaries, Gerson therapy. This topic has led to fierce debates on my blog. The ‘key points’ of the CAM-CANCER summary are as follows:
- Gerson therapy uses a special diet, supplements and coffee enemas with the aim of detoxifying and stimulating the body’s metabolism.
- No substantial evidence exists in the scientific literature to support the claims that the Gerson therapy is an effective alternative therapy for cancer.
- Some evidence exists to suggest that elements of the therapy (coffee enemas in particular) are potentially dangerous if used excessively.
- The specific safety problems, advice to stop conventional cancer therapies and the lack of substantial evidence for efficacy outweigh any benefits associated with the Gerson therapy.
I think this is clear enough and it certainly corresponds well with what I previously wrote about Gerson on this blog. The style of presentation might be different, but the information and conclusions are almost identical.
Altogether, our CAM-CANCER summaries are well-informed, concise, and strictly evidence-based. On this WORLD CANCER DAY, I therefore warmly recommend them to everyone and sincerely hope you make good use of them, for instance, by telling other interested parties about this little-known but precious resource.
Chronic back pain is often a difficult condition to treat. Which option is best suited?
A review by the US ‘Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’ (AHRQ) focused on non-invasive nonpharmacological treatments for chronic pain. The following therapies were considered:
- mind-body practices,
- psychological therapies,
- multidisciplinary rehabilitation,
- mindfulness practices,
- manual therapies,
- physical modalities,
Here, I want to share with you the essence of the assessment of spinal manipulation:
- Spinal manipulation was associated with slightly greater effects than sham manipulation, usual care, an attention control, or a placebo intervention in short-term function (3 trials, pooled SMD -0.34, 95% CI -0.63 to -0.05, I2=61%) and intermediate-term function (3 trials, pooled SMD -0.40, 95% CI -0.69 to -0.11, I2=76%) (strength of evidence was low)
- There was no evidence of differences between spinal manipulation versus sham manipulation, usual care, an attention control or a placebo intervention in short-term pain (3 trials, pooled difference -0.20 on a 0 to 10 scale, 95% CI -0.66 to 0.26, I2=58%), but manipulation was associated with slightly greater effects than controls on intermediate-term pain (3 trials, pooled difference -0.64, 95% CI -0.92 to -0.36, I2=0%) (strength of evidence was low for short term, moderate for intermediate term).
This seems to confirm what I have been saying for a long time: the benefit of spinal manipulation for chronic back pain is close to zero. This means that the hallmark therapy of chiropractors for the one condition they treat more often than any other is next to useless.
But which other treatments should patients suffering from this frequent and often agonising problem employ? Perhaps the most interesting point of the AHRQ review is that none of the assessed nonpharmacological treatments are supported by much better evidence for efficacy than spinal manipulation. The only two therapies that seem to be even worse are traction and ultrasound (both are often used by chiropractors). It follows, I think, that for chronic low back pain, we simply do not have a truly effective nonpharmacological therapy and consulting a chiropractor for it does make little sense.
What else can we conclude from these depressing data? I believe, the most rational, ethical and progressive conclusion is to go for those treatments that are associated with the least risks and the lowest costs. This would make exercise the prime contender. But it would definitely exclude spinal manipulation, I am afraid.
And this beautifully concurs with the advice I recently derived from the recent Lancet papers: walk (slowly and cautiously) to the office of your preferred therapist, have a little rest there (say hello to the staff perhaps) and then walk straight back home.
The claim that homeopathy can cure cancer is so absurd that many people seem to think no homeopaths in their right mind would make it. Sadly, this turns out to be not true. A rather dramatic example is this extraordinary book. Here is what the advertisement says:
The global medical fraternity has been exploring various alternative approaches to cancer treatment. However, this exceptional book, “Healing Cancer: A Homoeopathic Approach” by Dr Farokh J Master, does not endorse a focused methodology, but it paves the way to a holistic homoeopath’s approach. For the last 40 years, the author has been utilising this approach which is in line with the Master Hahnemann’s teachings, where he gives importance to constitution, miasms, susceptibility, and most important palliation. It is a complete handbook, a ready reference providing authentic information on every aspect of malignant diseases. It covers the cancer related topics beginning from cancer archetype, clinical information on diagnosis, prevention, conventional treatment, homoeopathic aspects, therapeutics, polycrest remedies, rare remedies, Indian remedies, wisdom from the repertory, naturopathic and dietary suggestions, Iscador therapy, and social aspects of cancer to the latest researches in the field of cancer. Given the efforts put in by the author in writing this vast book, encompassing decades of clinical experience, this is indeed a valuable addition to the homoeopathic literature. In addition to homoeopaths, this book will indeed be useful for medical doctors of other modalities of therapeutics who also wish to explore a holistic approach to cancer patients since this book is the outcome of author’s successful efforts in introducing and integrating homoeopathy to the mainstream cancer treatment.
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I do wonder what goes on in the head of a clinician who spent much of his life convincing himself and others that his placebos cure cancer and then takes it upon him to write a book about this encouraging other clinician to follow his dangerous ideas.
Is he vicious?
Is he in it for the money?
Is he stupid?
Is he really convinced?
Whatever the answer, he certainly is dangerous!
For those who do not know already: homeopathy is totally ineffective as a treatment for cancer; to think otherwise can be seriously harmful.
Belgian homeopaths, together with the ‘European Committee for Homeopathy’, have published a statement which I find too remarkable to withhold it from you:
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Users of homeopathic medicines can no longer remain silent about the untruths circulating in the media. These lies raise doubts which naïve and gullible people take on board all too easily and then see homeopathy as quackery. None of this is accurate!
Because they fear seeing some of their ‘certainties’ questioned, the SKEPP movement is firing off at anything that current science cannot yet explain with both barrels.
The contents of homeopathic medicines
SKEPP states that a homeopathic medicine is nothing more than a drop of water in a swimming pool and therefore has nothing in it. This is wrong. Tests performed on a high homeopathic potency (30CH) of Gelsemium sempervirens (Yellow Jasmine, a very common homeopathic medicine) have detected 36 micrograms of a specific substance per gram of solution . Opponents denounce homeopathic medicines as being nothing but water. This is wrong. This water, the solvent itself, contains a specific signature of the active ingredient. Basic research has demonstrated this .
By asserting at every opportunity that there is no evidence of the clinical effectiveness of homeopathy, opponents sow doubt. Correction: such proof  does exist. The fact that critics refuse to look at or accept these data speaks volumes about their attitude to science.
What is true, however, is that there is not enough scientific evidence of effectiveness. Science demands a lot of such evidence – and rightly so. There would be more if the universities applied the rules correctly! For example: The Professional Union of Homeopathic Physicians had accepted a double-blind research protocol for fibromyalgia which took account of homeopathy’s individualized approach. This research was to be carried out at the Rheumatology Department of a hospital in Brussels with the agreement of the Rector of the Faculty of Medicine. But the hospital’s ethics committee decided that it would be unethical to test a ‘placebo’ (the homeopathic medicine) versus another placebo! Making an a priori assumption that homeopathic medicine is just a placebo, even before beginning the study, flies in the face of scientific objectivity.
Patients are not stupid!
In the meantime, Pro Homeopathia, the Belgian association of homeopathy patients, is no longer able to contain its members’ exasperation. It has published an article  which denounces in direct terms the accusations of credulity, or even stupidity levelled at patients, in blatant disregard of their therapeutic freedom of choice and their capacity for critical thought.
Dare to ask questions! Why all this misinformation in the press? Why do these ‘experts’, whose opinions on homeopathy above all betray their profound misunderstanding of this discipline, flood the media with fake news? What is the hidden agenda behind this campaign of systematic denigration? Homeopathy and many other complementary medicines only want to collaborate, both in medical practice and in scientific research … fair play! It’s called integrative medicine!
Nanoparticle Characterization of Traditional Homeopathically-Manufactured Cuprum metallicum and Gelsemium Sempervirens Medicines and Controls. Novembre 2018: https://www.thieme-connect.de/DOI/DOI?10.1055/s-0038-1666864)
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance characterization of traditional homeopathically-manufactured copper (Cuprum metallicum) and a plant (Gelsemium sempervirens) medicines and controls. Août 2017: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.homp.2017.08.001
Model validity and risk of bias in randomized placebo-controlled trials of individualised homeopathic treatment. 2016: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2016.01.005 //Clinical verification in homeopathy and allergic conditions. 2012 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.homp.2012.06.002 //Scientific framework of homeopathy 2017. www.lmhi.org/Article/Detail/42)
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For regular readers of this blog, any comment on this little article might well be superfluous. For newcomers, I nevertheless provide a few thoughts. In doing so, I simply follow the three headings used above.
The contents of homeopathic medicines
A homeopathic C30 potency (the one that is used most frequently) is a dilution of 1 part homeopathic stock to 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 parts of diluent. This amounts to little more than one molecule of stock per universe. This is an undeniable fact, and the reference provided (incidentally, the link to it is dead) does not change it in any way. The theory of ‘the memory of water’ is an implausible hypothesis that has no basis in reality. It is believed only by homeopaths, and ‘studies’ that seemingly support it are flimsy, false or biased, and usually only get published in journals such as ‘Homeopathy’ (where also the reference provided appeared).
This is a subject that we have already discussed ad nauseam. Highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos. If someone does not believe this nor all the evidence provided on this blog, they perhaps trust the many independent international bodies that have looked at the totality of the reliable evidence for or against homeopathy. Their verdicts are unanimously negative. (The above-cited decision of the ethics committee is therefore the only one that is ethically possible.)
Patients are not stupid!
That is absolutely correct; patients are certainly not stupid. And their experiences are certainly real. What is often wrong, however, is the interpretation of their experiences. When a patient’s symptoms improve after taking a highly diluted remedy, the perceived improvement is due to a long list of factors that are unrelated to the remedy: placebo, natural history, regression towards the mean, etc.
Patients are not stupid, but the misinformation homeopaths incessantly publish might render them stupid – one more reason why such irresponsible nonsense ought to stop.
Once again, I am indebted to the German homeopathy lobbyist, Jens Behnke (research officer at the Karl and Veronica Carstens-Foundation); this time for alerting me via a tweet to the existence of the ‘Institute for Scientific Homeopathy’ run by Dr K Lenger. Anyone who combines the terms ‘scientific’ and ‘homeopathy’ has my full attention.
The institution seems to be small (too small to have its own website); in fact, it seems to have just one member: Dr Karin Lenger. But size is not everything! Lenger has achieved something extraordinary: she has answered the questions that have puzzled many of us for a long time; she has found the ‘modus operandi’ of homeopathy by discovering that:
- Homeopathy is a regulation therapy that acts (and reacts) as per the principle of resonance to deal hypo- and hyper-functions of pathological pathways.
- As per resonance principle, the fundamental principles of homeopathy have the same frequencies so that the resonance principle can work.
- Pathological pathways are cured by using their highly potentized substrates, inhibitors, and enzymes.
- The efficacy of homeopathy now has a scientific base and is completely explained by applying biochemical and biophysical laws.
Progress at last!
If that is not noteworthy, what is?
But there is more!
This website, for instance, explains that Lenger Karin Dr.rer.nat., pursued Diploma in Biochem, studied Biochemistry at the Universities of Tubingen and Cologne. Her research topics revolved around enzymatic gene regulation, cancer research, enzymatic mechanisms of steroid hormones at the Medical University of Lubeck. In 1987 she became a Lecturer for Homeopathy at DHU ((Deutsche Homöopathie Union = German Homeopathy Union). Since 1995 she worked as a Homeopathic Practitioner and developed the “biochemical homeopathy” by using highly potentized substrates of pathological enzymes for her patients. She detected magnetic photons in high homeopathic potencies by two magnetic resonance methods and developed a model of physical and biochemical function of homeopathy.
Karin Lenger detected magnetic photons in highly diluted and potentized homeopathic remedies. Since the living body is an electromagnetic wavepackage (Einstein), the homeopathic law of Similars (Hahnemann 1755-1843) can be expressed as: the frequencies of the patient must match the frequencies of the remedies. Homeopathy is a regulation therapy curing hypo and hyperfunction of a pathological pathway by resonance: highly potentized substrates, inhibitors, enzymes, receptors of the distinct pathological pathways cure according to biochemical rules: A homeopathic symptom picture is obtained by poisoning a volunteer with a toxin. Simultaneously he develops psychological symptoms, the toxicological pathway and e.g. frequencies I-V. The highly potentized toxin has the frequencies I-V. The patient has symptoms as if he was poisoned by the toxin: during his illness he developed the toxicological pathway, frequencies I-V and psychological symptoms. The potentized toxin cures simultaneously the patient’s frequencies by resonance, his pathological pathway and the psychological symptoms. A stitch of honey bee, apis mellifica, causes a red oedema; a patient developing a red oedema at the finger-joint by rheumatism is cured by highly potentized Apis mellifica. Paralyses caused by a lack of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine bound to the acetylcholine-receptor at the post-synapsis can be healed by using these potentized remedies: the venom of cobra, Naja tripudians containing the receptor’s irreversible inhibitor cobrotoxin, the reversible inhibitor Atropine and Acetylcholine, daily applied. The availability of acetylcholine is maintained by glycolysis and fatty acid oxidation. This can be supported by giving these remedies: Lecithin, Lipasum, Glycerinum, Glucosum and Coenzyme A.
And in case, you are not yet fully convinced, a recent publication is bound to ball you over. Here is its abstract, if you need more, the link allows you to read the full paper as well:
Homeopathy, a holistic therapy, is believed to cure only acute symptoms of a beginning illness according to the Laws of Similars; but not deep, bleeding, septic wounds. The homeopaths refuse to heal according to special medical indications. Based on Lenger’s detection of magnetic photons in homeopathic remedies a biochemical and biophysical model of homeopathic healing was developed Biochemical, pathological pathways can be treated by their highly potentized substrates and inhibitors. Three groups of patients with moderate, severe and septic wounds had been successfully treated with the suitable remedies depending on the biochemical pathological state.
Do I sense a Nobel Prize in the offing?
Lenger’s clinical trial is baffling. But much more impressive are the ‘magnetic photons’ and the reference to Einstein. This is even more significant, if we consider what the genius (Einstein, not Lenger!) is reported to have said about homeopathy: Einstein reflected for a little while and then said: “If one were to lock up 10 very clever people in a room and told them they were only allowed out once they had come up with the most stupid idea conceivable, they would soon come up with homeopathy.”
Most chiropractors claim they can effectively treat a wide range of conditions. I have looked far and wide but I fail to see sound evidence to show that this assumption is true. On a good day, I might agree that chiropractic works for back pain (but this would need to be a very good day and I would need to close at least one eye) – and that’s basically it! Unsurprisingly, chiropractors vehemently disagree with me. Yet, they have an all too obvious conflict of interest in that question and, therefore, they are unlikely to be objective.
One regular commentator of this blog recently reminded me that the UK ‘ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY’ (ASA) state on their website that based on all evidence submitted and reviewed to date, the ASA and CAP accept that chiropractors may claim to treat the following conditions:
- Ankle sprain (short term management)
- Elbow pain and tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) arising from associated musculoskeletal conditions of the back and neck, but not isolated occurrences
- Headache arising from the neck (cervicogenic
- Joint pains
- Joint pains including hip and knee pain from osteoarthritis as an adjunct to core OA treatments and exercise
- General, acute & chronic backache, back pain (not arising from injury or accident)
- Generalised aches and pains
- Mechanical neck pain (as opposed to neck pain following injury i.e. whiplash)
- Migraine prevention
- Minor sports injuries
- Muscle spasms
- Plantar fasciitis (short term management)
- Rotator cuff injuries, disease or disorders
- Shoulder complaints (dysfunction, disorders and pain)
- Soft tissue disorders of the shoulder
- Tension and inability to relax
This is an impressive yet very odd list:
- Why is ‘joint pain’ listed twice?
- Can lateral epicondylitis arise from musculoskeletal conditions of the back and neck?
- What exactly are ‘generalised aches and pains’?
- Isn’t lumbago and backache the same?
- Are ‘minor sports injuries’ (including a cut, bruise or haematoma?) a category that is well-defined?
- What is a ‘soft tissue disorders of the shoulder’
But let’s not be pedantic. Let’s assume these are all defined conditions that need to be treated. The problem still remains that there is hardly any good evidence that they can be effectively treated by chiropractic spinal manipulation (in case you disagree, please post the evidence in the comments section).
And here we come to the crux of the matter, I think.
Chiropractors would say that they use so much more than spinal manipulations.
- For a sport injury, they might apply an ice-pack.
- For the inability to relax, they might give a massage.
- For rotator cuff problems, they might administer exercises.
- For tennis elbow, they might recommend immobilizing the joint.
- Etc., etc.
But that’s not chiropractic!
Yes, it is what we do, insist the chiropractors.
I do not doubt it, but survey after survey shows that chiropractors treat almost all their patients with spinal manipulation. And the history of chiropractic is purely based on spinal manipulation. Yes, today they also use treatments borrowed from other disciplines, yet spinal manipulation is the treatment that defines them.
Let me try an example to make my point clear. Imagine a surgeon who specialises in an obsolete type of operation (e.g. ligation of the mammary artery as a treatment of coronary artery disease). Following the chiro-logic, he could claim that:
- my approach is not ineffective because I do so much more than just operate,
- I also prescribe medications,
- I give dietary advice,
- I give nutritional advice,
- I recommend relaxation,
- I suggest regular exercise.
And the results would, of course, show that many of his patients benefit from all this.
Does that mean our surgeon provides effective care for his patients?
Similarly, crystal healing could be seen as being effective, because some crystal healers tell their obese patients to eat less and exercise more?
So, the above-cited list of claims that the ASA now allows UK chiropractors to make is either way too long or much too short – in any case, it is nonsense. If we base it on the proven effectiveness of spinal manipulation, it must be very short indeed. If we base it on everything chiropractors might do in addition, it is far too short; in this case, it should include everything in the medical textbooks from AIDS to ZOSTER (I cannot imagine many conditions for which life-style advice, exercise or cryotherapy [for pain-control] etc. would not be helpful).
My conclusions from all this are as follows:
- Chiropractors have tried to reinvent themselves by borrowing some treatments from other healthcare professions.
- They have done this, I suspect, to avoid being judged by their largely ineffective hallmark intervention, spinal manipulation. The move may be commercially clever, but it is nevertheless transparently nonsensical and wholly unconvincing.
- Chiropractors must be judged not by the treatments they borrowed and might use occasionally, but by the only therapy that is inherent to chiropractic: spinal manipulation.
- And spinal manipulation is certainly not effective for a wide range of conditions.