Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will know that advocates of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) are either in complete denial about the risks of SCAM or they do anything to trivialize them. Here is a dialogue between a SCAM proponent (P) and a scientist (S) that is aimed at depicting this situation. The conversation is fictitious, of course, but it is nevertheless based on years of experience in discussing these issues with practitioners of various types of SCAM. As we shall see, the arguments turn out to be perfectly circular.
P: My therapy is virtually free of risks.
S: How can you be so sure?
P: I am practicing it for decades and have never seen a single problem.
S: That could have several reasons; perhaps the patients who experience problems did simply not come back.
P: I find this unlikely.
S: I don’t, and I know of reports where patients had serious complications after the type of SCAM you practice.
P: These are isolated case reports. They do not amount to evidence.
S: How do you know they are isolated?
P: They must be isolated because, in the many clinical trials of my therapy available to date, you will not find any evidence of serious adverse effects.
S: That is true, but it has been repeatedly shown that these trials regularly fail to mention side effects altogether.
P: That’s because there aren’t any.
S: Not quite, clinical trials should always mention adverse effects, and if there were none, they should mention this too.
P: So, you admit that you have no evidence that my therapy causes adverse effects.
S: The thing is, I don’t need such evidence. It is you, the practitioners of this therapy, who should provide evidence that your treatments are safe.
P: We did! The complete absence of reports of side effects constitutes that evidence.
S: Except, there is some evidence. I already told you that there are several case reports of serious problems.
P: But case reports are anecdotes; they are no evidence.
S: Look, here is a systematic review of all the case reports. You cannot possibly deny that this is a concern.
P: It’s still merely a bunch of anecdotes, nothing more.
S: Only because your profession does nothing about it.
P: What do you think we need to do about it?
S: Like other professions, you need to systematically record adverse effects.
P: How would that help?
S: It would give us a rough indication of the size and severity of the problem.
P: This sounds expensive and complicated to organize.
S: Perhaps, but it is necessary if you want to be sure that your therapy is safe.
P: But we are sure already!
S: No, you believe it, but you don’t know it.
P: You are getting on my nerves with your obsession. Don’t you know that the true danger in healthcare is the adverse effects of pharmaceutical drugs?
S: But these drugs are also effective.
P: Are you saying my therapy isn’t?
S: What I am saying is that the drugs you claim to be dangerous do more good than harm, while this is not at all clear with your SCAM.
P: To me, that is very clear. My therapy helps many and harms nobody!
S: How do you know that it harms nobody?
… At this point, we have gone full circle and we can re-start this conversation from its beginning.
There are many patients in general practice with health complaints that cannot be medically explained. Some of these patients attribute their problems to dental amalgam.
This study examined the cost-effectiveness of the removal of amalgam fillings in patients with medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS) attributed to amalgam compared to usual care, based on a prospective cohort study in Norway.
Costs were determined using a micro-costing approach at the individual level. Health outcomes were documented at baseline and approximately two years later for both the intervention and the usual care using EQ-5D-5L. Quality-adjusted life year (QALY) was used as the main outcome measure. A decision analytical model was developed to estimate the incremental cost-effectiveness of the intervention. Both probabilistic and one-way sensitivity analyses were conducted to assess the impact of uncertainty on costs and effectiveness.
In patients who attributed health complaints to dental amalgam and fulfilled the inclusion and exclusion criteria, amalgam removal was associated with a modest increase in costs at the societal level as well as improved health outcomes. In the base-case analysis, the mean incremental cost per patient in the amalgam group was NOK 19 416 compared to the MUPS group, while the mean incremental QALY was 0.119 with a time horizon of two years. Thus, the incremental costs per QALY of the intervention were NOK 162 680, which is usually considered to be cost-effective in Norway. The estimated incremental cost per QALY decreased with increasing time horizons, and amalgam removal was found to be cost-saving over both 5 and 10 years.
The authors concluded that this study provides insight into the costs and health outcomes associated with the removal of amalgam restorations in patients who attribute health complaints to dental amalgam fillings, which are appropriate instruments to inform health care priorities.
The group sizes were 32 and 28 respectively. This study was thus almost laughably small and therefore cannot lead to firm conclusions of any type. In this contest, a recent systematic review might be relevant; it concluded as follows:
On the basis of the available RCTs, amalgam restorations, if compared with resin-based fillings, do not show an increased risk for systemic diseases. There is still insufficient evidence to exclude or demonstrate any direct influence on general health. The removal of old amalgam restorations and their substitution with more modern adhesive restorations should be performed only when clinically necessary and not just for material concerns. In order to better evaluate the safety of dental amalgam compared to other more modern restorative materials, further RCTs that consider important parameters such as long and uniform follow up periods, number of restorations per patient, and sample populations representative of chronic or degenerative diseases are needed.
Similarly, a review of the evidence might be informative:
Since more than 100 years amalgam is successfully used for the functional restoration of decayed teeth. During the early 1990s the use of amalgam has been discredited by a not very objective discussion about small amounts of quicksilver that can evaporate from the material. Recent studies and reviews, however, found little to no correlation between systemic or local diseases and amalgam restorations in man. Allergic reactions are extremely rare. Most quicksilver evaporates during placement and removal of amalgam restorations. Hence it is not recommended to make extensive rehabilitations with amalgam in pregnant or nursing women. To date, there is no dental material, which can fully substitute amalgam as a restorative material. According to present scientific evidence the use of amalgam is not a health hazard.
Furthermore, there is evidence that the removal of amalgam fillings is not such a good idea. One study, for instance, showed that the mercury released by the physical action of the drill, the replacement material and especially the final destination of the amalgam waste can increase contamination levels that can be a risk for human and environment health.
As dental amalgam removal does not seem risk-free, it is perhaps unwise to remove these fillings at all. Patients who are convinced that their amalgam fillings make them ill might simply benefit from assurance. After all, we also do not re-lay electric cables because some people feel they are the cause of their ill-health.
What motivates a doctor to work as an integrative medical practitioner? This is a question I asked myself often. Despite trying to find answers through several methods, I was not very successful. The question does not seem well-researched at all. Here is what I found so far:
Our own 1996 survey of GPs participating in a course at Exeter that was aimed at familiarizing them with so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) found that the main perceived advantage of SCAM, apart from the potential intrinsic value of the techniques themselves, was the time available for establishing a good therapeutic relationship with the patient.
A UK survey from 2001 suggested that doctors are motivated by issues ranging from feeling a responsibility to respond to their patients’ interests and needs to developing “another string to their bow.” Some are attracted to its study in its own right, others by a wish to focus some of their energy away from conventional medical practice, which they may find stressful and unfulfilling. Doctors studying complementary and alternative medicine often call on different personality traits and report a variety of positive benefits from training, including welcoming the opportunity to engage their feelings, trust their intuition, and enjoy therapeutic touch. Comments from attendees at one homoeopathic course were “I started to enjoy seeing patients again,” “Training had improved my conventional history taking,” and “Having another approach made treating heart-sink patients easier.”
A German focus group in 2008 with 17 GP suggested that scientific evidence and patient preference were the main criteria used by these doctors in deciding whether to apply a SCAM or not.
An interview study published in 2011 with Australian doctors provided some details. The researchers invited 43 doctors to participate. Twenty-three agreed to take part in either a face-to-face (n = 7) or telephone (n = 16) interviews. Here is the passage entitled “Motivations to work as an integrative medical practitioner” from their paper:
‘Family of origin health beliefs and practices’ were an important influence on the doctors’ philosophical approach and their decisions to work as an integrative medical practitioner.
…When I grew up it was not uncommon that I would see my aunties and uncles preparing all sorts of things. My auntie laying me on her lap and putting breast milk in my ear and drinking chamomile tea for a sore belly…there was lots of things that influenced me. (Female, 23 years in practice)
…There is a long tradition in [country of origin] of using a herbalist. I heard things from my mum and my grandma and those ideas were there. (Male, 16 years in practice)
The ‘personal or close family illness experiences’ reported by doctors were also influential in motivating them to practice integrative medicine. These experiences included non-conventional approaches to health and illness and the use of CAM as treatment modalities.
…I had my own illness – depression and a very bad back. I’d been on medication for years and I got sick of taking medications and I was given a prognosis of chronic illness with relapses and I really didn’t like it. So I started to look elsewhere and that took me in to the world of mind-body medicine. (Female, 24 years in practice)
Other doctors cited ‘professional experiences’, often early in their careers, of different theoretical approaches to medicine as being a powerful stimulus to practice integrative medicine. These included being inspired by a medical lecturer, an interesting, usually non-conventional experience during a placement as a medical student, and professional experiences of CAM modalities during their residency or early medical career.
…We had this subject Medical Studies 3, where there was a discussion of the French fur trapper in the Yukon who had shot himself in the stomach and the local doctor who was experimenting with various emotional states. There was just that sort of moment, of thinking, that’s the sort of area that I want to work in. (Male, 26 years in practice)
…I found myself doing a clinical attachment at a hospital in Switzerland that used integrated medicine, they had a course and I thought I’ll just do this for interest. I came in contact with an Indian person who did homeopathy and I found his stories quite interesting. (Male, 22 years in practice)
‘Dissatisfaction with the conventional approach to medicine’, which was perceived to be too illness focused or commercialized, was also cited by some doctors as a precursor to adopting an integrative approach to medical practice.
…More and more I’m realising that medicine is a personalised thing. We need to learn the art of treating people individually rather than en masse as a sick lung or a sick toe or a sick whatever because it doesn’t work like that. (Male, 22 years in practice)
…Medicine was hijacked by the market; i.e.: big pharmaceutical companies. And they have seduced the government, the colleges, the universities, general practice, everybody. GPs, in my opinion, have been deskilled. (Female, 19 years in practice).
An Australian survey from 2021 suggested that GPs were attracted to SCAM because they thought it to be relatively safe and effective, offering additional, holistic benefits to patients.
Collectively these investigations suggest that doctors’ motivation to work as integrated medical practitioners vary greatly. They seem to include:
- positive evidence for SCAM’s safety and efficacy,
- having the time to establish a good therapeutic relationship,
- wanting to use all therapeutic options,
- dissatisfaction with conventional medicine,
- patient preferences,
- wanting to practice in a more human and holistic way,
- personal and professional experiences.
But surely, there are other factors as well (from my personal experience in dealing with doctors of integrative medicine, I could list a few that are less than flattering). In any case, I would be most interested to hear your thought and read more published evidence that you might know about.
This systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials were performed to summarize the evidence of the effects of Urtica dioica (UD) consumption on metabolic profiles in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).
Eligible studies were retrieved from searches of PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar databases until December 2019. Cochran (Q) and I-square statistics were used to examine heterogeneity across included clinical trials. Data were pooled using a fixed-effect or random-effects model and expressed as weighted mean difference (WMD) and 95% confidence interval (CI).
Among 1485 citations, thirteen clinical trials were found to be eligible for the current metaanalysis. UD consumption significantly decreased levels of fasting blood glucose (FBG) (WMD = – 17.17 mg/dl, 95% CI: -26.60, -7.73, I2 = 93.2%), hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) (WMD = -0.93, 95% CI: – 1.66, -0.17, I2 = 75.0%), C-reactive protein (CRP) (WMD = -1.09 mg/dl, 95% CI: -1.64, -0.53, I2 = 0.0%), triglycerides (WMD = -26.94 mg/dl, 95 % CI = [-52.07, -1.82], P = 0.03, I2 = 90.0%), systolic blood pressure (SBP) (WMD = -5.03 mmHg, 95% CI = -8.15, -1.91, I2 = 0.0%) in comparison to the control groups. UD consumption did not significantly change serum levels of insulin (WMD = 1.07 μU/ml, 95% CI: -1.59, 3.73, I2 = 63.5%), total-cholesterol (WMD = -6.39 mg/dl, 95% CI: -13.84, 1.05, I2 = 0.0%), LDL-cholesterol (LDL-C) (WMD = -1.30 mg/dl, 95% CI: -9.95, 7.35, I2 = 66.1%), HDL-cholesterol (HDL-C) (WMD = 6.95 mg/dl, 95% CI: -0.14, 14.03, I2 = 95.4%), body max index (BMI) (WMD = -0.16 kg/m2, 95% CI: -1.77, 1.44, I2 = 0.0%), and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) (WMD = -1.35 mmHg, 95% CI: -2.86, 0.17, I2= 0.0%) among patients with T2DM.
The authors concluded that UD consumption may result in an improvement in levels of FBS, HbA1c, CRP, triglycerides, and SBP, but did not affect levels of insulin, total-, LDL-, and HDL-cholesterol, BMI, and DBP in patients with T2DM.
Several plants have been reported to affect the parameters of diabetes. Whenever I read such results, I cannot stop wondering whether this is a good or a bad thing. It seems to be positive at first glance, yet I can imagine at least two scenarios where such effects might be detrimental:
- A patient reads about the antidiabetic effects and decides to swap his medication for the herbal remedy which is far less effective. Consequently, the patient’s metabolic control is insufficient.
- A patient adds the herbal remedy to his therapy. Consequently, his blood sugar drops too far and he suffers a hypoglycemic episode.
My advice to diabetics is therefore this: if you want to try herbal antidiabetic treatments, please think twice. And if you persist, do it only under the close supervision of your doctor.
This is going to be a very short post. Yet, I am sure you agree that my ‘golden rules’ encapsulate the collective wisdom of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):
- Conventional treatments are dangerous
- Conventional doctors are ignorant
- Natural remedies are by definition good
- Ancient wisdom knows best
- SCAM tackles the roots of all health problems
- Experience trumps evidence
- People vote with their feet (SCAM’s popularity and patients’ satisfaction prove SCAM’s effectiveness)
- Science is barking up the wrong tree (what we need is a paradigm shift)
- Even Nobel laureates and other VIPs support SCAM
- Only SCAM practitioners care about the whole individual (mind, body, and soul)
- Science is not yet sufficiently advanced to understand how SCAM works (the mode of action has not been discovered)
- SCAM even works for animals (and thus cannot be a placebo)
- There is reliable evidence to support SCAM
- If a study of SCAM happens to yield a negative result, it is false-negative (e.g. because SCAM was not correctly applied)
- SCAM is patient-centered
- Conventional medicine is money-orientated
- The establishment is forced to suppress SCAM because otherwise, they would go out of business
- SCAM is reliable, constant, and unwavering (whereas conventional medicine changes its views all the time)
- SCAM does not need a monitoring system for adverse effects because it is inherently safe
- SCAM treatments are individualized (they treat the patient and not just a diagnostic label like conventional medicine)
- SCAM could save us all a lot of money
- There is no health problem that SCAM cannot cure
- Practitioners of conventional medicine have misunderstood the deeper reasons why people fall ill and should learn from SCAM
I am sure that I have forgotten several important rules. If you can think of any, please post them in the comments section.
This paper is an evaluation of the relationship between chiropractic spinal manipulation and medical malpractice. The legal database VerdictSearch was queried using the terms “chiropractor” OR “spinal manipulation” under the classification of “Medical Malpractice” between 1988 and 2018. Cases with chiropractors as defendants were identified. Relevant medicolegal characteristics were obtained, including legal outcome (plaintiff/defense verdict, settlement), payment amount, nature of plaintiff claim, and type and location of the alleged injury.
Forty-eight cases involving chiropractic management in the US were reported. Of these, 93.8% (n = 45) featured allegations involving spinal manipulation. The defense (practitioner) was victorious in 70.8% (n = 34) of cases, with a plaintiff (patient) victory in 20.8% (n = 10) (mean payment $658,487 ± $697,045) and settlement in 8.3% (n = 4) (mean payment $596,667 ± $402,534).
Over-aggressive manipulation was the most frequent allegation (33.3%; 16 cases). A majority of cases alleged neurological injury of the spine as the reason for litigation (66.7%, 32 cases) with 87.5% (28/32) requiring surgery. C5-C6 disc herniation was the most frequently alleged injury (32.4%, 11/34, 83.3% requiring surgery) followed by C6-C7 herniation (26.5%, 9/34, 88.9% requiring surgery). Claims also alleged 7 cases of stroke (14.6%) and 2 rib fractures (4.2%) from manipulation therapy.
The authors concluded that litigation claims following chiropractic care predominately alleged neurological injury with consequent surgical management. Plaintiffs primarily alleged overaggressive treatment, though a majority of trials ended in defensive verdicts. Ongoing analysis of malpractice provides a unique lens through which to view this complicated topic.
The fact that the majority of trials ended in defensive verdicts does not surprise me. I once served as an expert witness in a trial against a UK chiropractor. Therefore, I know how difficult it is to demonstrate that the chiropractic intervention – and not anything else – caused the problem. Even cases that seem medically clear-cut, often allow reasonable doubt vis a vis the law.
Apologists will be quick and keen to point out that, in the US, there are many more successful cases brought against real doctors (healthcare professionals who have studied medicine). They are, of course, correct. But, at the same time, they miss the point. Real doctors treat real diseases where the outcomes are sadly often not as hoped. Litigation is then common, particularly in a litigious society like the US. Chiropractors predominantly treat symptoms like back troubles that are essentially benign. To create a fair comparison of litigations against doctors and chiros, one would therefore need to account for the type and severity of the conditions. Such a comparison has – to the best of my knowledge – not been done.
What has been done, however – and I did previously report about it – are comparisons between chiros, osteos, and physios (which seems to be a more level playing field). They show that complaints against chiros top the bill.
Horticultural therapy (HT)?
What on earth is that?
Don’t worry, it was new to me too and I first thought of the treatment of plants.
HT is said to be a “time-proven practice. The therapeutic benefits of garden environments have been documented since ancient times. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and recognized as the “Father of American Psychiatry,” was first to document the positive effect working in the garden had on individuals with mental illness. In the 1940s and 1950s, rehabilitative care of hospitalized war veterans significantly expanded acceptance of the practice. No longer limited to treating mental illness, horticultural therapy practice gained in credibility and was embraced for a much wider range of diagnoses and therapeutic options. Today, horticultural therapy is accepted as a beneficial and effective therapeutic modality. It is widely used within a broad range of rehabilitative, vocational, and community settings. Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. Horticultural therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In vocational horticultural therapy settings, people learn to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions. Horticultural therapists are professionals with specific education, training, and credentials in the use of horticulture for therapy and rehabilitation. Read the formal definition of the role of horticultural therapists.”
As always, the question is DOES IT WORK?
This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate HT for general health in older adults. Electronic databases as well as grey literature databases, and clinical trials registers were searched from inception to March 2021. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-RCTs (QRCTs), and cohort studies about HT for adults aged over 60 were included in this review. Outcome measures were physical function, quality of life, BMI, mood tested by self-reported questionnaire and the expression of the immune cells.
Fifteen studies (thirteen RCTs and two cohort studies) involving 1046 older participants were included. Meta-analysis showed that HT resulted in better quality of life (MD 2.09, 95% CI [1.33, 2.85], P<0. 01) and physical function (SMD 0.82, 95% [0.36, 1.29], P<0.01) compared with no-gardener; the similar findings showed in BMI (SMD -0.30, 95% [-0.57, -0.04], P = 0.02) and mood tested by self-reported questionnaire (SMD 2.80, 95% CI [1.82, 3.79], P<0. 01). And HT might be beneficial for blood pressure and immunity, while all the evidence was moderate-quality judged by GRADE.
The authors concluded that HT may improve physical function and quality of life in older adults, reduce BMI and enhance positive mood. A suitable duration of HT may be between 60 to 120 minutes per week lasting 1.5 to 12 months. However, it remains unclear as to what constitutes an optimal recommendation.
I have considerable problems with this review and its conclusion:
- It is simply untrue that there were 13 RCTs; several of these studies were clearly not randomized.
- Most of the studies are of very poor quality. For instance, they often did not make the slightest attempt to control for non-specific effects, yet they concluded that the observed outcome was a specific effect of HT.
My biggest problem does, however, not relate to methodological issues. My main issue with this paper is one of definition. What is a ‘therapy’ and what not? If we call a bit of gardening a ‘therapy’ are we not descending to the level of those who call a bit of shopping ‘retail therapy’? To put it differently, is HT superior to retail therapy? And do we need RCTs to answer this question?
What is wrong with encouraging people who like gardening to just do it? I, for instance, like drumming; but I do not believe we need a few RCTs to prove that it is healthy. Not every past-time or hobby that makes you feel good is a therapy and needs to be scrutinized as such.
I have published many books, and I am proud of most of them. There is little truly special about this; countless people have written more and better books than I. Yet, I think I outdo them all!
Let me explain.
I was looking on the Amazon site recently and, to my great surprise, there it was:
Yes, I kid you not: a book published in my name that was never written by me. The publication details provided on the Amazon site were unremarkable:
- Publisher : Wentworth Press (25 July 2018)
- Language : German
- Paperback : 78 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0270059261
- ISBN-13 : 978-0270059267
- Dimensions : 15.6 x 0.41 x 23.39 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 715,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- 9,695 in Encyclopaedias (Books)
The narrative description foremost told me one thing: I am not the author of this book:
This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.
This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.
As a reproduction of a historical artifact, this work may contain missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank you for being an important part of keeping this knowledge alive and relevant.
As my name is fairly unique – I have never heard of another chap called EDZARD ERNST – this is most unusual, you must admit.
Naturally, this book fascinated me, and I decided to order a copy.
Yesterday, a hard copy of the book arrived on my doorstep. Now things became a little clearer: it is a re-edition of a German original first published in 1865. Its author is EDUARD ERNST and not Edzard Ernst. The author’s name on the book cover is thus a misprint.
Write to the publisher, of course!
I tried but had little success. It seems that two companies by the name of Wentworth Press existed, one based in Australia and one in the US. Both seem to have gone out of business some time ago – at least I could not find email addresses (if a reader happens to know more, please let me know).
So, it seems that I might be the only author of multiple books who can pride himself that, for one of them, he did not write a single line. I have been plagiarized several times but the opposite has never happened before.
One of the things I like best about this blog is the fact that there is no shortage of comments. Many are excellent but others are quite simply infuriatingly bad. Yet, all of them form important contributions to the attractiveness of the blog.
So, thanks to everyone who has contributed.
And, please, keep up the good work.
Despite their importance, I often do not reply to the comments. Some readers might thus be puzzled by my seemingly paradoxical stance. There are several reasons for it; please let me explain.
You probably noticed that I publish a new post (almost) every day. That means I am quite busy – often too busy to post any replies to your comments. You might have also noticed that there are not just one or two comments from readers. In total, my readers posted well over 60000 comments on my blog. And again, I have to admit that I do often lack the time to formulate my own comments. Rather, I hope that other readers pick up the points someone has made and that, in this way, a constructive debate emerges even without my contribution. To be honest, sometimes the comments are also beyond my area of expertise and, in these instances, I prefer to remain silent.
And then there are the comments that, as mentioned above, are infuriatingly bad. Sometimes they annoy me so much that I spontaneously write a response. More often than I wish, I then come across as rude and unhelpful (for which I apologize). And more often than I want, this error entangles me in an argument that is both futile and unwinnable.
Instead of writing things that I later regret, I should really try to heed the bon mot that is often attributed to Mark Twain:
Yesterday, my new book arrived on my doorstep.
Its full title is CHARLES, THE ALTERNATIVE PRINCE. AN UNAUTHORISED BIOGRAPHY. I guess that it also clarifies its contents. In case you want to know more, here is the full list of topics:
Foreword by Nick Ross v
1. Why this Book? 1
2. Why this Author? 5
3. Words and Meanings 10
4. How Did It All Start? 13
5. Laurens van der Post 17
6. The British Medical Association 25
7. Talking Health 31
8. Osteopathy 37
9. Chiropractic 43
10. The Foundation of Integrated Health 50
11. Open Letter to The Times 56
12. The Model Hospital 62
13. Integrated Medicine 66
14. The Gerson Therapy 73
15. Herbal Medicine 77
16. The Smallwood Report 82
17. World Health Organisation 90
18. Traditional Chinese Medicine 96
19. The ‘GetWellUK’ Study 100
20. Bravewell 106
21. Duchy Originals Detox Tincture 110
22. Charles’ Letters to Health Politicians 115
23. The College of Medicine and Integrated Health 120
24. The Enemy of Enlightenment 126
25. Harmony 132
26. Antibiotic Overuse 142
27. Ayurvedic Medicine 147
28. Social Prescribing 154
29. Homeopathy 160
30. Final Thoughts 169
End Notes 187
In case you want to know more, here is chapter 1 of my book:
Over the past two decades, I have supported efforts to focus healthcare on the particular needs of the individual patient, employing the best and most appropriate forms of treatment from both orthodox and complementary medicine in a more integrated way.
The Prince of Wales 1997
This is a charmingly British understatement, indeed! Charles has been the most persistent champion of alternative medicine in the UK and perhaps even in the world. Since the early 1980s, he has done everything in his power
- to boost the image of alternative medicine,
- to improve the status of alternative practitioners,
- to make alternative therapies more available to the general public,
- to lobby that it should be paid for by the National Health Service (NHS),
- to ensure the press reported favourably about the subject,
- to influence politicians to provide more support for alternative medicine.
He has fought for these aims on a personal, emotional, political, and societal level. He has used his time, his intuition, his influence, and occasionally his money to achieve his goals. In 2010, he even wrote a book, ‘Harmony’, in which he explains his ideas in some detail (discussed in chapter 25, arguably the central chapter of this biography). Charles has thus become the undisputed champion of the realm of alternative medicine. For that he is admired by alternative practitioners across the globe.
Yet, his relentless efforts are not appreciated by everyone (another British understatement!). There are those who view his interventions as counter-productive distractions from the important and never-ending task to improve modern healthcare. There are those who warn that integrating treatments of dubious validity into our medical routine will render healthcare less efficient. There are those who claim that the Prince’s preoccupation with matters that he is not qualified to fully comprehend is a disservice to public health. And there are those who insist that the role of the heir to the throne does not include interfering with health politics.
- So, are Charles’ ideas new and exciting?
- Or are they obsolete and irrational?
- Has Charles become the saviour of UK healthcare?
- Or has he hindered progress?
- Is he a role model for medical innovators?
- Or the laughing stock of the experts?
- Is he a successful reformer of healthcare?
- Or are his concepts doomed to failure?
Charles appears to evade critical questions of this nature. Relying on his intuition, he unwaveringly pursues and promotes his personal beliefs, regardless of the evidence (Box 1). He believes strongly in his mission and is, as most observers agree, full of good intentions. If he even notices any criticism, it is merely to reaffirm his resolve and redouble his efforts. He is reported to work tirelessly, and one could easily get the impression that he is obsessed with his idea of integrating alternative medicine into conventional healthcare.
I have observed Charles’ efforts around alternative medicine for the last 30 years. Occasionally, I was involved in some of them. For 19 years, I have headed the world’s most productive team of researchers in alternative medicine. This background puts me in a unique position to write this account of Charles’ ‘love affair’ with alternative medicine. It is not just a simple outline of Charles’ views and actions but also a critical analysis of the evidence that does or does not support them. In writing it, I pursue several aims:
- I want to summarise this part of medical history, as it amounts to an important contribution to the recent development of alternative medicine in the UK and beyond.
- I hope to explain how Charles and other enthusiasts of alternative medicine think, what motivates them and what logic they follow.
- I will contrast Charles’ beliefs with the published evidence as it pertains to each of the alternative modalities (treatments and diagnostic methods) he supports.
- I want to stimulate my readers’ ability to think critically about health in general and alternative medicine in particular.
My book will thus provide an opportunity to weigh the arguments for and against alternative medicine. In that way, it might even provide Charles with a substitute for a discussion about his thoughts on alternative medicine which, during almost half a century, he so studiously managed to avoid.
In pursuing these aims there are also issues that I hope to avoid. From the start, I should declare an interest. Charles and I once shared a similar enthusiasm for alternative medicine. But, as new evidence emerged, I changed my mind and he did not. This led to much-publicised tensions and conflicts. Yet it would be too easy to dismiss this book as an act of vengeance. It isn’t. I have tried hard to be objective and dispassionate, setting out Charles’ claims as fairly as I can and comparing them with the most reliable evidence. As much as possible:
- I do not want my personal discords with Charles to get in the way of objectivity.
- I do not want to be unfairly dismissive of Charles and his ambitions.
- I do not want to be disrespectful about anyone’s deeply felt convictions.
- I do not aim to weaken the standing of our royal family.
My book follows Charles’ activities in roughly chronological order. Each time we encounter a new type of alternative medicine, I will try to contrast Charles’ perceptions with the scientific evidence that was available at the time. Most chapters of this book are thus divided into four parts
- A short introduction
- Charles’ views
- An outline of the evidence
- A comment about the consequences
While writing this book, one question occurred to me regularly: Why has nobody so far written a detailed history of Charles’s passion for alternative medicine? Surely, the account of Charles ‘love affair’ with alternative medicine is fascinating, diverse, revealing, and important!
I hope you agree.
The nature of evidence in medicine and science
- Evidence is the body of facts, often created through experiments under controlled conditions, that lead to a given conclusion.
- Evidence must be neutral and give equal weight to data that fail to conform to our expectations.
- Evidence is normally used towards rejecting or supporting a hypothesis.
- In alternative medicine, the most relevant hypotheses often relate to the efficacy of a therapy.
- Such hypotheses are best tested with controlled clinical trials where a group of patients is divided into two subgroups and only one is given the therapy to be tested; subsequently the results of both groups are compared.
- Experience does not amount to evidence and is a poor indicator of efficacy; it can be influenced by several phenomena, e.g. placebo effects, natural history of the condition, regression towards the mean.
- If the results of clinical studies are contradictory, the best available evidence is usually a systematic review of the totality of rigorous trials.
- Systematic reviews are methods to minimise random and selection biases. The most reliable systematic reviews are, according to a broad consensus, those from the Cochrane Collaboration.