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

fraud

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There are skeptics who keep claiming that there is no research in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). And there are plenty of SCAM enthusiasts who claim that there is an abundance of good research in SCAM.

Who is right and who is wrong?

I submit that both camps are incorrect.

To demonstrate the volume of SCAM research I looked into Medline to find the number of papers published in 2020 for the SCAMs listed below:

  • acupuncture 2 752
  • anthroposophic medicine 29
  • aromatherapy 173
  • Ayurvedic medicine 183
  • chiropractic 426
  • dietary supplement 5 739
  • essential oil 2 439
  • herbal medicine 5 081
  • homeopathy 154
  • iridology 0
  • Kampo medicine 132
  • massage 824
  • meditation 780
  • mind-body therapies 968
  • music therapy 539
  • naturopathy 68
  • osteopathic manipulation 71
  • Pilates 97
  • qigong 97
  • reiki 133
  • tai chi 397
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine 15 277
  • yoga 698

I think the list proves anyone wrong who claims there is no (or very little) research into SCAM.

As to the enthusiasts who claim that there is plenty of good evidence, I am afraid, I disagree with them too. The above-quoted numbers are perhaps impressive to some SCAM proponents, but they are not large. To make my point more clearly, let me show you the 2020 volumes for a few topics in conventional medicine:

  • psychiatry 668,492
  • biologicals 300,679
  • chemotherapy 109,869
  • radiotherapy 17,964
  • rehabilitation 21,751
  • rehabilitation medicine 21,751
  • surgery 256,958

I think we can agree that these figures make the SCAM numbers look pitifully small.

But the more important point is, I think, not the quantity but the quality of the SCAM research. As this whole blog is about the often dismal rigor of SCAM research, I do surely not need to produce further evidence to convince you that it is poor, often even very poor.

So, both camps tend to be incorrect when they speak about SCAM research. The truth is that there is quite a lot, but sadly reliable studies are like gold dust.

But actually, when I started writing this post and doing all these Medline searches to produce the above-listed volumes of SCAM research, I was thinking of a different subject entirely. I wanted to see which areas of SCAM were research-active and which are not. This is why I chose terms for my list that do not overlap with others (yet we need to realize that the figures are not precise due to misclassification and other factors). And in this respect, the list is interesting too, I find.

It identifies the SCAMs that are remarkably research-inactive:

  • anthroposophic medicine
  • iridology
  • naturopathy
  • osteopathy
  • Pilates
  • qigong

Perhaps more interesting are the areas that show a relatively high research activity:

  • acupuncture
  • dietary supplements
  • essential oils
  • herbal medicine
  • massage
  • meditation
  • mind-body therapies
  • TCM
  • yoga

This, in turn, suggests two things:

  1. It is not true that only commercial interests drive research activity.
  2. The Chinese (TCM and acupuncture) are pushing the ferociously hard to conquer SCAM research.

The last point is worrying, in my view, because we know from several independent studies that Chinese studies are often the flimsiest and least reliable of all the SCAM literature. As I have suggested recently, the unreliability of SCAM research might one day be its undoing: This self-destructive course of SCAM might be applauded by some skeptics. However, if you believe (as I do) that there are a few good things to be found in SCAM, this development can only be regrettable. I fear that the growing dominance of Chinese research will help to speed up this process.

This week, it was reported that a UK bookkeeper has pleaded guilty to abusing his position at In-Light Ltd. by making unauthorized bank transfers to Stroud Accounting Solutions Ltd. The fraud amounted to the sizable sum of  £67,000.

In-Light Limited is the holding company for the School of Homeopathy, The School of Health, and Yondercott Press. It offers alternative medicine courses, seminars, books, and webinars focusing on nutrition, homeopathy, herbal medicine, yoga, Indian and Chinese Medicine.

On Twitter, the news of these events prompted several comments, e.g.:

Bookkeeper stole stolen funds, then?

That is typical of a skeptic! Nothing but vicious negativity!!!

Instead of displaying such sarcasm and Schadenfreude, we should empathize, I feel. If not with In-Light Ltd., then with the poor bookkeeper. As another, more compassionate Tweet pointed out, the man is surely innocent:

It started out as 7 pence, but he dropped it in his water bottle and shook it and now look what happened…

This, I think, should have been the line of the bookkeeper’s defense counsel. “My client did nothing wrong at all; he accidentally dropped a penny of In-Light Ltd. that was lying around the office into a water bottle. The bottle then got inadvertently shaken and the water/money mixture thus got potentised. Before my client could do anything to avert the disaster, the money had become the sizable sum of £ 67 000 which my client dutifully put on his bank account for safe-keeping. We, therefore, plead not guilty, your honour

What, you think the owners of In-Light Ltd. would not have believed this story?

But if they believe in homeopathy, they have no choice. If you believe in homeopathy, you believe anything.

And the judge? Well, the judge has to accept that homeopathy is a fact. And a fact for more than 200 years! Thus, potentisation is real. If all else failed, the defense counsel could call expert witnesses …

Prince Charles, for instance.

Yesterday, someone posted a disparaging comment about Indian research into homeopathy; he claimed that it was unreliable. I agreed, but later I thought ‘HOW ARROGANT OF ME!’. So, I decided to do a little research – actually, it turned out to be a little more than just ‘a little’.

I searched Medline for ‘homeopathy, study, India’. This resulted in 101 hits. Of these 101 articles, 31 contained data published by Indian authors providing evidence at least vaguely related to the effectiveness of homeopathy. I decided to include these in my analysis. Below I quote first the title of each paper followed by (in brackets) the sentence from the 31 abstracts that best describes the direction of the results.

  1. Multimorbidity After Surgical Menopause Treated with Individualized Classical Homeopathy: A Case Report (She was treated with individualized classical homeopathy and followed up for 31 months. She was relieved of the vasomotor symptoms and psychological disturbances of climacteric syndrome, her weight reduced, the ultrasound scan showed absence of lipomatosis/gall bladder disease/hepatic steatosis. Blood tests showed reduction of thyroid stimulating hormone and a balance in the lipid status. Individualized classical homeopathy may have a role in the climacteric syndrome and comorbidities after surgical menopause.)
  2. Therapeutic evaluation of homeopathic treatment for canine oral papillomatosis (The current study proves that the combination of homeopathy drugs aids in fastening the regression of canine oral papilloma and proved to be safe and cost-effective.)
  3. Deep vein thrombosis cured by homeopathy: A case report (The present case report intends to record yet another case of DVT in an old patient totally cured exclusively by the non-invasive method of treatment with micro doses of potentized homeopathic drugs selected on the basis of the totality of symptoms and individualization of the case.)
  4. Diabetic retinopathy screening uptake after health education with or without retinal imaging within the facility in two AYUSH hospitals in Hyderabad, India: A nonrandomized pilot study (AYUSH hospitals could provide a feasible and acceptable location for providing DR screening services.)
  5. Individualised Homeopathic Therapy in ANCA Negative Rapidly Progressive Necrotising Crescentic Glomerulonephritis with Severe Renal Insufficiency – A Case Report (A 60-year-old Indian woman was treated with classical homeopathy for ANCA-negative RPGN, and after one year of treatment, serum creatinine and other parameters indicating renal injury dropped steadily despite the withdrawal of immunosuppressive drugs; renal dialysis, which was conducted twice a week initially, was made rarer and stopped after one year. Classical homeopathy may be considered a potential therapeutic modality in severe pathologies.)
  6. Improvements in long standing cardiac pathologies by individualized homeopathic remedies: A case series (… individualized homeopathic therapy was instituted along with the conventional medicines and the results were encouraging. The changes in the laboratory diagnostic parameters (single-photon emission computed tomography, electrocardiograph, echocardiography and ejection fraction as the case may be) are demonstrated over time. The key result seen in all three cases was the preservation of general well-being while the haemodynamic states also improved.)
  7. Could Homeopathy Become An Alternative Therapy In Dengue Fever? An example Of 10 Case Studies (We present a retrospective case series of 10 Indian patients who were diagnosed with dengue fever and treated exclusively with homeopathic remedies at Bangalore, India. This case series demonstrates with evidence of laboratory reports that even when the platelets dropped considerably there was good result without resorting to any other means.)
  8. Homeopathic Treatment of Vitiligo: A Report of Fourteen Cases (In 14 patients with vitiligo treated with individualized homeopathy, the best results were achieved in the patients who were treated in the early stages of the disease. We believe that homeopathy may be effective in the early stages of vitiligo, but large controlled clinical studies are needed in this area.)
  9. An Exploratory Study of Autonomic Function Investigations in Hemophiliacs on Homoeopathy Medications Using Impedance Plethysmography (Homoeopathic medicines used as an adjunct was associated with decrease in parasympathetic modulations.)
  10. Embryonic Zebrafish Model – A Well-Established Method for Rapidly Assessing the Toxicity of Homeopathic Drugs: – Toxicity Evaluation of Homeopathic Drugs Using Zebrafish Embryo Model (Our findings clearly demonstrate that no toxic effects were observed for these three homeopathic drugs at the potencies and exposure times used in this study. The embryonic zebrafish model is recommended as a well-established method for rapidly assessing the toxicity of homeopathic drugs.)
  11. Treatment of hemorrhoids with individualized homeopathy: An open observational pilot study (Under classical homeopathic treatment, hemorrhoids patients improved considerably in symptoms severity and anoscopic scores. However, being observational trial, our study cannot provide efficacy data. Controlled studies are required.)
  12. Patients’ preference for integrating homeopathy (PPIH) within the standard therapy settings in West Bengal, India: The part 1 (PPIH-1) study (A favorable attitude toward integrating homeopathy into conventional healthcare settings was obtained among the patients attending the homeopathic hospitals in West Bengal, India.)
  13. Patients’ Preference for Integrating Homoeopathy Services within the Secondary Health Care Settings in India: The Part 3 (PPIH-3) Study (A total of 82.40% (95% confidence interval = 79.23, 85.19) of the participants were in favor of integrating homoeopathy services.)
  14. Obstetrics and gynecology outpatient scenario of an Indian homeopathic hospital: A prospective, research-targeted study (The most frequently treated conditions were leucorrhea (20.5%), irregular menses (13.3%), dysmenorrhea (10%), menorrhagia (7.5%), and hypomenorrhea (6.3%). Strongly positive outcomes (+3/+2) were mostly recorded in oligomenorrhea (41.7%), leucorrhea (34.1%), polycystic ovary (33.3%), dysmenorrhea (28%), and irregular menses (22.2%). Individualized prescriptions predominated (95.6%).)
  15. Relative Apoptosis-inducing Potential of Homeopa-thic Condurango 6C and 30C in H460 Lung Cancer Cells In vitro: -Apoptosis-induction by homeopathic Condurango in H460 cells (Condurango 30C had greater apoptotic effect than Condurango 6C as claimed in the homeopathic doctrine.)
  16. Beliefs, attitudes and self-use of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy medicines among senior pharmacy students: An exploratory insight from Andhra Pradesh, India (Pharmacy students held favorable attitude and beliefs about AYUSH use.)
  17. Integrative nanomedicine: treating cancer with nanoscale natural products (Taken together, the nanoparticulate research data and the Banerji Protocols for homeopathic remedies in cancer suggest a way forward for generating advances in cancer treatment with natural product-derived nanomedicines.)
  18. Evidence of an Epigenetic Modification in Cell-cycle Arrest Caused by the Use of Ultra-highly-diluted Gonolobus Condurango Extract (Condurango 30C appeared to trigger key epigenetic events of gene modulation in effectively combating cancer cells, which the placebo was unable to do.)
  19. Calcarea carbonica induces apoptosis in cancer cells in p53-dependent manner via an immuno-modulatory circuit (Our results indicated a “two-step” mechanism of the induction of apoptosis in tumor cells by calcarea carbonica)
  20. Post-cancer Treatment with Condurango 30C Shows Amelioration of Benzo[a]pyrene-induced Lung Cancer in Rats Through the Molecular Pathway of Caspa- se-3-mediated Apoptosis Induction: -Anti-lung cancer potential of Condurango 30C in rats (The overall result validated a positive effect of Condurango 30C in ameliorating lung cancer through caspase-3-mediated apoptosis induction and EGFR down-regulation.)
  21. The potentized homeopathic drug, Lycopodium clavatum (5C and 15C) has anti-cancer effect on hela cells in vitro (Thus, the highly-diluted, dynamized homeopathic remedies LC-5C and LC-15C demonstrated their capabilities to induce apoptosis in cancer cells, signifying their possible use as supportive medicines in cancer therapy.)
  22. Ameliorating effect of mother tincture of Syzygium jambolanum on carbohydrate and lipid metabolic disorders in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rat: Homeopathic remedy (The result of the present study indicated that the homeopathic drug S jambolanum (mother tincture) has a protective effect on diabetic induced carbohydrate and lipid metabolic disorders in STZ-induced diabetic animal.)
  23. SEM studies on blood cells of Plasmodium berghei infected Balb/c mice treated with artesunate and homeopathic medicine China (The combination of artesunate and China was found to be very effective and did not cause any alteration on the surface of blood cells as observed in SEM.)
  24. Induction of apoptosis of tumor cells by some potentiated homeopathic drugs: implications on mechanism of action (These data indicate that apoptosis is one of the mechanisms of tumor reduction of homeopathic drugs.)
  25. TDZ-induced high frequency shoot regeneration in Cassia sophera Linn. via cotyledonary node explants (Regenerated plantlets were successfully acclimatized and hardened off inside the culture room and then transferred to green house with 100 % survival rate.)
  26. Modulation of Signal Proteins: A Plausible Mechanism to Explain How a Potentized Drug Secale Cor 30C Diluted beyond Avogadro’s Limit Combats Skin Papilloma in Mice (We tested the hypothesis if suitable modulations of signal proteins could be one of the possible pathways of action of a highly diluted homeopathic drug, Secale cornutum 30C (diluted 10(60) times; Sec cor 30). It could successfully combat DMBA + croton oil-induced skin papilloma in mice as evidenced by histological, cytogenetical, immunofluorescence, ELISA and immunoblot findings.)
  27. Can homeopathy bring additional benefits to thalassemic patients on hydroxyurea therapy? Encouraging results of a preliminary study (The homeopathic remedies being inexpensive and without any known side-effects seem to have great potentials in bringing additional benefits to thalassemic patients; particularly in the developing world where blood transfusions suffer from inadequate screening and fall short of the stringent safety standards followed in the developed countries.)
  28. Effect of homeopathic medicines on transplanted tumors in mice (These findings support that homeopathic preparations of Ruta and Hydrastis have significant antitumour activity. The mechanism of action of these medicines is not known at present.)
  29. Inhibition of chemically induced carcinogenesis by drugs used in homeopathic medicine (These studies demonstrate that homeopathic drugs, at ultra low doses, may be able to decrease tumor induction by carcinogen administration.)
  30. Can homeopathic treatment slow prostate cancer growth? (The findings indicate that selected homeopathic remedies for the present study have no direct cellular anticancer effects but appear to significantly slow the progression of cancer and reduce cancer incidence and mortality in Copenhagen rats injected with MAT-LyLu prostate cancer cells.)
  31. Ameliorating effect of microdoses of a potentized homeopathic drug, Arsenicum Album, on arsenic-induced toxicity in mice (The results lend further support to our earlier views that microdoses of potentized Arsenicum Album are capable of combating arsenic intoxication in mice, and thus are strong candidates for possible use in human subjects in arsenic contaminated areas under medical supervision.)

So, 31 of 31 yield positive results and conclusions – 100%!

When I suggested that Indian research into homeopathy is suspect, I was merely speculating on the basis of reading such papers for many years. I had not seen a systematic analysis to justify my harsh judgment; in fact, I don’t think that such a review is currently available (which would make this post the first of its kind). I had no idea how true my seemingly disrespectful remark would turn out to be. There is not one paper from India that does not suggest positive findings for homeopathy. I find this truly remarkable!

You can, of course, interpret my findings in two very different ways:

  • Either you assume that homeopathy is hugely effective and works always and for everything under every experimental condition.
  • Or you conclude that Indian research into homeopathy is suspect and far from trustworthy.

If you believe the first option to be true, I fear that you must be as deluded as homeopathic remedies are diluted.

Unintended consequences are outcomes of a purposeful action that are not intended or foreseen. They exist almost everywhere and often have effects that are the opposite of what was intended.

Just look at our current misery, the pandemic, for instance. Practically all epidemiologists advocated stricter and earlier preventative measures than the ‘anti-lockdown’ brigade in politics and elsewhere wanted and implemented. Had we listened to the epidemiologists, we would almost certainly have had fewer lockdowns and less economic downturn. The unintended consequences of the political decisions to be slow and less than strict with lockdowns are what we can currently observe in many countries:

  • repeated, longer, and less and less effective lockdowns,
  • huge economic damage,
  • more deaths,
  • more long-term illness;
  • financial hardship for many,
  • more psychological problems and frustration.

But I am not here to moan about politicians not listening enough to scientists. I want to vent my anger and concern about much of the research that is currently being published in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).

What is happening here – slightly simplified and exaggerated to make my point – is (as often discussed previously) roughly this:

  • more and more enthusiasts of SCAM feel that they should conduct and publish some research;
  • they are largely ignorant of or willfully ignore the accepted standards of science;
  • they have little interest in cause and effect or critical thinking;
  • they aim to promote and not to test SCAM;
  • several SCAM journals have realized that there is good money to be earned from publishing utter rubbish;
  • more and more papers are being published that are flawed to the point of being meaningless;
  • the few relevant SCAM papers with sound science get drowned out and become all but invisible;
  • outsiders glancing at the literature get the impression that SCAM is swamped with rubbish and thus an area that is best avoided;
  • consequently, SCAM research is fast losing all credibility and is becoming the laughing stock of proper scientists;
  • eventually, the notion that ‘ALL SCAM IS RUBBISH’ must filter through into public life;
  • in the end, the pseudo-researchers of SCAM will have provided the nail in SCAM’s coffin.

The INTENDED consequence was to promote SCAM.

The UNINTENDED consequence will be to destroy SCAM.

This self-destructive course of SCAM might be applauded by some skeptics. However, if you believe (as I do) that there are a few good things to be found in SCAM, this development can only be regrettable.

What can be done to avert such a negative outcome?

I wish I knew!

But four productive steps might be the following:

  1. make sure researchers are adequately trained and supervised to do sound science;
  2. motivate funding agencies to stop supporting pseudo-science;
  3. ensure that journal editors and reviewers realize they have the responsibility to avoid publishing nonsense
  4. motivate Medline to de-list a few of the worst SCAM journals.

 

“Today, scientists note that the glycyrrhizic acid contained in this plant prevents the development of a new coronavirus, which the whole world is fighting against. Moreover, even a small concentration of an aqueous extract of licorice root has a neutralizing effect.”

These are the words of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan. The plant he referred to is licorice. With is the promotion of a herbal solution for the pandemic, he is in good company:

  • Thailand’s health ministry approved the use of Andrographis Paniculata, commonly known as green chiretta, to treat patients who are in the early stages of a Covid-19 infection.
  • The health authorities of Tamil Nadu distributed herbal medicine to the general public as a preventive measure against Coronavirus disease.
  • Madagascar claims to have a cure for Covid-19, the herbal tea named Covid-Organics has the plant artemisia as an ingredient.
  • China has been using TCM alongside conventional treatment methods to treat Covid-19 patients. Some of the herbal formulations used in the treatment are:
    • Jinhua Qinggan Granule
    • Sheganmahuang decoction
    • Lianhuaqingwen capsule
    • Maxingshigan decoction
    • Xuebijing Injection
  • Indonesia is testing two herbal medicines: Cordyceps militaris, a fungus common in the Himalayas, and a herbal formulation comprising Ginger, gripeweed, Ngai camphor, and Andrographis paniculata.

And what about some evidence? In 2020, Medline listed 302 articles on herbal medicine for COVID-19. Here I selected just 10 of them to give you a flavor:

1st article

COVID-19 is the most recently discovered coronavirus infectious disease and leads to pandemic all over the world. The clinical continuum of COVID-19 varies from mild illness with non-specific signs and symptoms of acute respiratory disease to extreme respiratory pneumonia and septic shock. It can transmit from animal to human in the form of touch, through the air, water, utensils, fomite and feco-oral route blood. The pathogenesis and clinical features of COVID-19 be the same as the clinical manifestation associated epidemic Fever. In Unani medicine, various herbal drugs are described under the caption of epidemic disease. Great Unani scholar also Avicenna (980-1037 AD) recommended that during epidemic condition movement should be restricted, self-isolation, fumigation around the habitant with perfumed herbs (Ood, Kafoor, Sumbuluttib, Saad Kofi, Loban, etc.), and use of appropriate antidotes (Tiryaqe Wabai) and vinegar (Sirka) as prophylaxis. Herbal approach is based on single (Unnab-Ziziphus jujuba, Sapistan-Cordia myxa, Bahidana-Cydonia oblonga, Khatmi-Althea officinalis, Khubazi-Malva sylvestris, Zafran-Crocus sativus, Sibr-Aloe barbedensis, Murmuki-Commiphora myrrha, Darchini-Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Qaranfal-Syzygium aromaticum, Rihan-Oscimum sanctum, Habtus Sauda-Nigella sativa, Aslus Sus-Glycyrrhiza glabra, Maghze Amaltas-Cassia fistula and Adusa-Adhatoda vasica) and compound drugs (Habbe Bukhar, Sharbat Khaksi, Sharbat Zanjabeel, Naqu Nazla, Majoon Chobchini, Jawrish Jalinus and Khamira Marvareed) most of them are claimed for anti-viral, anti-pyretic, blood purifier, cardioprotective and expectorant activities. Traditionally most of the herbal practitioners are using it.

2nd article

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), viral diseases continue to rise, and pose a significant public health problem. Novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. The pathogenesis and clinical manifestations of COVID-19 is close to Amraz-e-Wabai (epidemic diseases) which was described by Hippocrates, Galen, Aristotle, Razes, Haly Abbas, Avicenna, Jurjani etc. Presently, there is no specific or challenging treatment available for COVID-19. Renowned Unani Scholars recommended during epidemic situation to stay at home, and fumigate the shelters with aromatics herbs like Ood kham (Aquilaria agallocha Roxb.), Kundur (Boswellia serrata Roxb), Kafoor (Cinnamomum camphora L.), Sandal (Santalum album L), Hing (Ferula foetida L.) etc. Use of specific Unani formulations are claimed effective for the management of such epidemic or pandemic situation like antidotes (Tiryaqe Wabai, Tiryaqe Arba, Tiryaqe Azam, Gile Armani), Herbal Decoction (Joshandah), along with Sharbate Khaksi, Habbe Bukhar, Sharbate Zanjabeel, Khamira Marwareed, Jawarish Jalinus, and Sirka (vinegar). Such drugs are claimed for use as antioxidant, immunomodulatory, cardiotonic, and general tonic actions. The study enumerates the literature regarding management of epidemics in Unani medicine and attempts to look the same in the perspective of COVID-19 prevention and management.

3rd article

Unani system of medicine is based on the humoral theory postulated by Hippocrates, according to him the state of body health and disease are regulated by qualitative and quantitative equilibrium of four humours. Amraz-e-Waba is an umbrella term which is used in Unani medicine for all types of epidemics (smallpox, measles, plague, Hameer Saifi, influenza, Nipaha, Ebola, Zika, and 2019 novel coronavirus, etc.) mostly fatal in nature. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a severe acute respiratory infection, and the pathogenesis and clinical features resemble with those of Nazla-e-Wabaiya (influenza) and Zatul Riya (pneumonia) which were well described many years ago in Unani text such as high-grade fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, running nose, dry cough, respiratory distress, alternate and small pulse, asthenia, foul smell from breath, insomnia, frothy stool, syncope, coldness in both upper and lower extremities, etc. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global emergency pandemic. Unani scholars like Hippocrates (370-460 BC), Galen (130-200 AD), Rhazes (865-925 AD), and Avicenna (980-1037 AD) had described four etiological factors for Amraz-e-Waba viz., change in quality of air, water, Earth, and celestial bodies, accordingly mentioned various preventive measures to be adopted during epidemics such as restriction of movement, isolation or “quarantena”, and fumigation with loban (Styrax benzoin W. G. Craib ex Hartwich.), sandalwood (Santalum album L.), Zafran (Crocus sativus L.), myrtle (Myrtus communis L.), and roses (Rosa damascena Mill.) and use of vinegar (sirka) and antidotes (Tiryaq) as prophylaxis, and avoiding consumption of milk, oil, sweet, meat, and alcohol. This review focuses and elaborates on the concept, prevention, and probable management of COVID-19 in the light of Amraz-e-Waba.

4th article

Background: Current recommendations for the self-management of SARS-Cov-2 disease (COVID-19) include self-isolation, rest, hydration, and the use of NSAID in case of high fever only. It is expected that many patients will add other symptomatic/adjuvant treatments, such as herbal medicines.

Aims: To provide a benefits/risks assessment of selected herbal medicines traditionally indicated for “respiratory diseases” within the current frame of the COVID-19 pandemic as an adjuvant treatment.

Method: The plant selection was primarily based on species listed by the WHO and EMA, but some other herbal remedies were considered due to their widespread use in respiratory conditions. Preclinical and clinical data on their efficacy and safety were collected from authoritative sources. The target population were adults with early and mild flu symptoms without underlying conditions. These were evaluated according to a modified PrOACT-URL method with paracetamol, ibuprofen, and codeine as reference drugs. The benefits/risks balance of the treatments was classified as positivepromisingnegative, and unknown.

Results: A total of 39 herbal medicines were identified as very likely to appeal to the COVID-19 patient. According to our method, the benefits/risks assessment of the herbal medicines was found to be positive in 5 cases (Althaea officinalis, Commiphora molmol, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Hedera helix, and Sambucus nigra), promising in 12 cases (Allium sativumAndrographis paniculataEchinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea, Eucalyptus globulus essential oil, Justicia pectoralis, Magnolia officinalisMikania glomerataPelargonium sidoidesPimpinella anisumSalix sp, Zingiber officinale), and unknown for the rest. On the same grounds, only ibuprofen resulted promising, but we could not find compelling evidence to endorse the use of paracetamol and/or codeine.

Conclusions: Our work suggests that several herbal medicines have safety margins superior to those of reference drugs and enough levels of evidence to start a clinical discussion about their potential use as adjuvants in the treatment of early/mild common flu in otherwise healthy adults within the context of COVID-19. While these herbal medicines will not cure or prevent the flu, they may both improve general patient well-being and offer them an opportunity to personalize the therapeutic approaches.

5th article

Recently, the novel life-threatening coronavirus infection (COVID-19) was reported at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China, and spread throughout the world in little time. The effective antiviral activities of natural products have been proved in different studies. In this review, regarding the effective herbal treatments on other coronavirus infections, promising natural products for COVID-19 treatment are suggested. An extensive search in Google Scholar, Science Direct, PubMed, ISI, and Scopus was done with search words include coronavirus, COVID-19, SARS, MERS, natural product, herb, plant, and extract. The consumption of herbal medicine such as Allium sativum, Camellia sinensis, Zingiber officinale, Nigella sativa, Echinacea spp. Hypericum perforatum, and Glycyrrhiza glabra, Scutellaria baicalensis can improve the immune response. It seems that different types of terpenoids have promising effects in viral replication inhibition and could be introduced for future studies. Additionally, some alkaloid structures such as homoharringtonine, lycorine, and emetine have strong anti-coronavirus effects. Natural products can inhibit different coronavirus targets such as S protein (emodin, baicalin) and viral enzymes replication such as 3CLpro (Iguesterin), PLpro (Cryptotanshinone), helicase (Silvestrol), and RdRp (Sotetsuflavone). Based on previous studies, natural products can be introduced as preventive and therapeutic agents in the fight against coronavirus.

6th article

Background: The aim of the present review is to provide basic knowledge about the treatment of Coronavirus via medicinal plants. Coronavirus (COVID-19, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV) as a viral pneumonia causative agent, infects thousands of people in China and worldwide. There is currently no specific medicine or vaccine available and it is considered a threat to develop effective novel drug or anti-coronavirus vaccine treatment. However, natural compounds to treat coronaviruses are the most alternative and complementary therapies due to their diverse range of biological and therapeutic properties.

Methods: We performed an open-ended, English restricted search of Scopus database, Web of Science, and Pubmed for all available literature from Jan-March, 2020, using terms related to phytochemical compounds, medicinal plants and coronavirus.

Results: The view on anti-coronavirus (anti-CoV) activity in the plant derived phytochemicals and medicinal plants give the strong base to develop a novel treatment of corona virus activity. Various phytochemicals and medicinal plant extracts have been revised and considered to be the potential anti-CoV agents for effective control and future drug development. We discuss some important plants (Scutellaria baicalensis, Psorothamnus arborescens, Glycyrrhiza radix, Glycyrrhiza uralensis , Lycoris radiate, Phyllanthus emblica, Camellia sinensis, Hyptis atrorubens Poit, Fraxinus sieboldiana, Erigeron breviscapus, Citri Reticulatae Pericarpium, Amaranthus tricolor, Phaseolus vulgaris, Rheum palmatum, Curcuma longa and Myrica cerifera) emerged to have broad spectrum antiviral activity.

Conclusion: Nigella sativa has potent anti-SARS-CoV activity and it might be useful souce for developing novel antiviral therapies for coronaviruses.

7th article

COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by WHO on March 11, 2020. No specific treatment and vaccine with documented safety and efficacy for the disease have been established. Hence it is of utmost importance to identify more therapeutics such as Chinese medicine formulae to meet the urgent need. Qing Fei Pai Du Tang (QFPDT), a Chinese medicine formula consisting of 21 herbs from five classical formulae has been reported to be efficacious on COVID-19 in 10 provinces in mainland China. QFPDT could prevent the progression from mild cases and shorten the average duration of symptoms and hospital stay. It has been recommended in the 6th and 7th versions of Clinical Practice Guideline on COVID-19 in China. The basic scientific studies, supported by network pharmacology, on the possible therapeutic targets of QFPDT and its constituent herbs including Ephedra sinicaBupleurum chinensePogostemon cablinCinnamomum cassiaScutellaria baicalensis were reviewed. The anti-oxidation, immuno-modulation and antiviral mechanisms through different pathways were collated. Two clusters of actions identified were cytokine storm prevention and angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor binding regulation. The multi-target mechanisms of QFPDT for treating viral infection in general and COVID-19 in particular were validated. While large scale clinical studies on QFPDT are being conducted in China, one should use real world data for exploration of integrative treatment with inclusion of pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic and herb-drug interaction studies.

8th article

In December 2019, a novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, causing the disease COVID-19, spread from Wuhan throughout China and has infected people over 200 countries. Thus far, more than 3,400,000 cases and 240,000 deaths have occurred worldwide, and the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the globe. While numbers of cases in China have been steadying, the number of infections outside China is increasing at a worrying pace. We face an urgent need to control the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, which is currently expanding to a global pandemic. Efforts have focused on testing antiviral drugs and vaccines, but there is currently no treatment specifically approved. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is grounded in empirical observations and the Chinese people use TCM to overcome these sorts of plagues many times in thousands of years of history. Currently, the Chinese National Health Commission recommended a TCM prescription of Qing-Fei-Pai-Du-Tang (QFPDT) in the latest version of the “Diagnosis and Treatment guidelines of COVID-19” which has been reported to provide reliable effects for COVID-19. While doubts about TCM still exist today, this review paper will describe the rationalities that QFPDT is likely to bring a safe and effective treatment of COVID-19.

9th article

The fight against the novel coronavirus pneumonia (namely COVID-19) that seriously harms human health is a common task for all mankind. Currently, development of drugs against the novel coronavirus (namely SARS-CoV-2) is quite urgent. Chinese medical workers and scientific researchers have found some drugs to play potential therapeutic effects on COVID-19 at the cellular level or in preliminary clinical trials. However, more fundamental studies and large sample clinical trials need to be done to ensure the efficacy and safety of these drugs. The adoption of these drugs without further testing must be careful. The relevant articles, news, and government reports published on the official and Preprint websites, PubMed and China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) databases from December 2019 to April 2020 were searched and manually filtered. The general pharmacological characteristics, indications, adverse reactions, general usage, and especially current status of the treatment of COVID-19 of those potentially effective drugs, including chemical drugs, traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs), and biological products in China were summarized in this review to guide reasonable medication and the development of specific drugs for the treatment of COVID-19.

10th article

Objective: To analysis the medication characteristics of the prescriptions issued via open channel by the National and Provincial Health Committee and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine in treating coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Methods: We collected the data of traditional Chinese medicine related to treatment plans published by the National and Provincial Health Committee and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine from the start of COVID-19 outbreak to February 19, 2020. The frequency analysis, cluster analysis and association analysis were performed.

Results: The study collected 4 national and 34 regional prevention and treatment plans, 578 items, 84 traditional Chinese formulations, 60 Chinese patent medicines, and 230 Chinese herbs. The high frequently used herbs were Liquorice, Scutellariabaicalensis, Semen armeniacaeamarae, and Gypsum. The commonly used traditional formulations included Maxing Shigan decoction, Yin Qiao powder, and Xuanbai Chengqi decoction. The Chinese patent drugs included Angong Niuhuang pill, Xuebijing injection, and Lianhua Qingwen capsule. The most common paired medications were Ephedra and Semen armeniacaeamarae, Fructusforsythiae and Liquorice. Two core combinations and one novel formula were discovered in the study.

Conclusions: Yin Qiao powder and Huopo Xialing decoction are the basic formulations for Weifen syndrome of COVID-19. In addition, Maxing Shigan decoction, Liang Ge powder, Qingwen Baidu decoction and Da Yuan decoction are the basic formulations for Qifen syndrome of COVID-19. The main medication characteristics are clearing heat, entilating lung, removing toxicity and removing turbidity. It shows that removing toxicity and eliminating evil are the prescription thought in treating epidemic disease of traditional Chinese medicine.

Confused?

Me too!

What seems to emerge is this:

  • ‘Herbalists and Co’ did not wait long to jump on the corona bandwagon.
  • They managed to confuse not just you and me, but even politicians, presidents, and their advisers.
  • They produced a plethora of articles implying that an endless array of herbs might be effective.
  • In doing so, no clear consensus emerged as to which herbs are the most promising.
  • Sound evidence seems to be not available.
  • Clinical trials are slow to start or not even planned.
  • Everything is based on more or less wild extrapolation.
  • Much of what is being published is borderline irresponsible.
  • YET, IT MUST BE GOOD FOR BUSINESS!

The aim of this investigation was to evaluate the marketing practices, beliefs and health claims regarding the use of colloidal silver in Finland. Contents of three company websites selling colloidal silver were reviewed, and the claims used in the marketing of colloidal silver were compared to the scientific information about silver. In Facebook posts and discussion about colloidal silver were analyzed.

In Finland, the marketing of colloidal silver products on websites selling the products did not follow the regulations of authorities; several scientifically unfounded claims about the efficacy and medical use of colloidal silver were found. After the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) documentary and an intervention by authorities, contents of the websites were changed, but still questionable information and misleading claims could be found. In the analyzed Facebook groups attitudes towards medical use of colloidal silver were uncritically positive, internal use was highly promoted and the restrictions of use were considered unjustified.

The authors concluded that the use of quackery products such as colloidal silver can be dangerous, and their use and marketing should be controlled and restricted.

The authors stress that silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) are potentially toxic due to their small size and Ag+-release capabilities, and the use of colloidal silver products containing AgNPs can cause a wide variety of adverse effects such as argyria.

WebMD cautions that despite promoters’ claims, silver has no known function in the body and is not an essential mineral supplement. Colloidal silver products were once available as over-the-counter drug products. In 1999 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that these colloidal silver products were not considered safe or effective. Colloidal silver products marketed for medical purposes or promoted for unproven uses are now considered “misbranded” under the law without appropriate FDA approval as a new drug. There are currently no FDA-approved over-the-counter or prescription drugs containing silver that are taken by mouth. However, there are still colloidal silver products being sold as homeopathic remedies and dietary supplements.

On this blog, we have discussed that colloidal silver is nevertheless marketed aggressively by crooks (see here and here). The message that emerges from all this seems clear: do not fall for the plethora of false claims made by irresponsible entrepreneurs who want your money and risk your health. Keep your money and health by staying away from colloidal silver and similar SCAMs.

The state of acupuncture research has long puzzled me. The first thing that would strike who looks at it is its phenomenal increase:

  • Until around the year 2000, Medline listed about 200 papers per year on the subject.
  • From 2005, there was a steep, near-linear increase.
  • It peaked in 2020 when we had a record-breaking 20515 acupuncture papers currently listed in Medline.

Which this amount of research, one would expect to get somewhere. In particular, one would hope to slowly know whether acupuncture works and, if so, for which conditions. But this is not the case.

On the contrary, the acupuncture literature is a complete mess in which it gets more and more difficult to differentiate the reliable from the unreliable, the useful from the redundant, and the truth from the lies. Because of this profound confusion, acupuncture fans are able to claim that their pet-therapy is demonstrably effective for a wide range of conditions, while skeptics insist it is a theatrical placebo. The consumer might listen in bewilderment.

Yesterday (18/1/2021), I had a quick (actually, it was not that quick after all) look into what Medline currently lists in terms of new acupuncture research published in 2021 and found a few other things that are remarkable:

  1. There were already 100 papers dated 2021 (today, there were even 118); that corresponds to about 5 new articles per day and makes acupuncture one of the most research-active areas of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).
  2. Of these 100 papers, only 7 were clinical trials (CTs). In my view, clinical trials would be more important than any other type of research on acupuncture. To see that they amount to just 7% of the total is therefore disappointing.
  3. Twelve papers were systematic reviews (SRs). It is odd, I find, to see almost twice the amount of SRs than CTs.
  4. Eighteen papers referred to protocols of studies of SRs. In particular protocols of SRs are useless in my view. It seems to me that the explanation for this plethora of published protocols might be the fact that Chinese researchers are extremely keen to get papers into Western journals; it is an essential boost to their careers.
  5. Seven papers were surveys. This multitude of survey research is typical for all types of SCAM.
  6. Twenty-four articles were on basic research. I find basic research into an ancient therapy of questionable clinical use more than a bit strange.
  7. The rest of the articles were other types of publications and a few were misclassified.
  8. The vast majority (n = 81) of the 100 papers were authored exclusively by Chinese researchers (and a few Korean). In view of the fact that it has been shown repeatedly that practically all acupuncture studies from China report positive results and that data fabrication seems rife in China, this dominance of China could be concerning indeed.

Yes, I find all this quite concerning. I feel that we are swamped with plenty of pseudo-research on acupuncture that is of doubtful (in many cases very doubtful) reliability. Eventually, this will create an overall picture for the public that is misleading to the extreme (to check the validity of the original research is a monster task and way beyond what even an interested layperson can do).

And what might be the solution? I am not sure I have one. But for starters, I think, that journal editors should get a lot more discerning when it comes to article submissions from (Chinese) acupuncture researchers. My advice to them and everyone else:

if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

2020 was certainly a difficult year (please note, I am trying a British understatement here). From the point of view of running this blog, it was sad to lose James Randi (1928 – 2020) who had been the hero of so many sceptics worldwide, and to learn of the passing of Frank Odds (1945-2020) who was a regular, thoughtful commentator here.

Reviewing the topics we tackled, I could mention dozens. But let me pick out just a few themes that I feel might be important.

HOMEOPATHY

Homeopathy continued to have a rough time; the German medical profession has finally realised that homeopathy is treatment with placebos and the German Green Party no longer backs homeopathy. In India, the Supreme Court ruled: Homeopathy must not be sold as a cure of Covid-19, and in the US improved labeling on homeopathic products were introduced. To make matters worse I issued A CHALLENGE FOR ALL HOMEOPATHS OF THE WORLD.

NOVEL SCAMs

On this blog, I like to write about new so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) that I come accross. Blood letting is not exactly new, but Oh look! Bloodletting is back! Many other ‘innovations’ were equally noteworthy. Here is merely a very short selection of modalities that were new to me:

COVID-19

Unquestionably the BIG subject (not just) in SCAM was – is and will be for a while – the pandemic. It prompted quacks of any type to crawl out of the woodwork misleading the public about their offerings. On 24 January, I wrote for the first time about it: Coronavirus epidemic: Why don’t they ask the homeopaths for help? Thereafter, every charlatan seemed to jump on the COVID bandwaggon, even Trump: Trump seems to think that UV might be the answer to the corona-pandemic – could he mean “ultraviolet blood irradiation”?  It became difficult to decide who was making a greater fool of themselves, Trump or the homeopaths (Is this the crown of the Corona-idiocy? Nosodes In Prevention And Management Of COVID -19). Few SCAM entrepreneurs (Eight new products aimed at mitigating COVID-19. But do they really work?) were able to resist the opportunity. Snakeoil salesmen were out in force and view COVID-19 as an ‘opportunity’. It is impossible to calculate what impact all this COVID-quackery had, but I fear that many people lost their lives at least in part because of it.

VACCINATION

The unavoidable consequence of the pandemic was that the anti-vaxx brigade sensed that their moment had arrived. Ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield: “Better to die as a free man than live as a slave” (and get vaccinated against Covid-19). Again the ‘charlatan in chief’ made his influence felt through the ‘Trump-Effect’ on vaccination attitudes. Unsurprisingly, the UK ‘Society of Homeopath’ turned out to be an anti-vaxx hub that endangers public health. And where there is anti-vaxx, chiropractors are seldom far: Ever wondered why so many chiropractors are profoundly anti-vax?. All this could be just amusing, but sadly it has the potential to cost lives through Vaccine hesitancy due to so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).

ETHICS

I happen to believe that ethics in SCAM are an important, yet much neglected topic. It is easy to understand why this should be so: adhering to the rules of medical ethics would all but put an end to SCAM. This applies to chiropractic (The lack of chiropractic ethics: “valid consent was not obtained in a single case”), to homeopaths (Ethical homeopathy) and to most other SCAM professions. If I had a wish for the next year(s), it would be that funding agencies focus on research into the many ethical problems posed by the current popularity of SCAM.

CONCLUSION

If I had another wish, it would be that critical thinking becomes a key subject in schools, universities and adult education. Why do so many people make irrational choices? One answer to this question is, because we fail to give this subject the importance it demands. The lack of critical thinking is the reason why we elect leaders who are compulsory lyers, make wrong choices about healthcare, and continue to destroy the planet as though there is no tomorrow. It is high time that we, as a society, realise how fundamentally important critical thinking truly is.

OUTLOOK

Yes, 2020 was difficult: Brexit, COVID-19, anti-vaxx, etc. But it was not all bad (certainly not for me personally), and there is good reason for hope: the globally malign influence of Trump is about to disappear, and we now have several effective vaccines. Common sense, decency and science might triumph after all.

HEALTHY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

I often hear that my ambitions to inform the public and inspire critical thinking are hopeless: there are simply too many quacks trumpeting nonsense, and their collective influence is surely bigger than mine. This can be depressing, of course. And because I often feel that I am fighting an unwinnable battle, stories like this are so importand and up-lifting.

Denby Royal was a ‘holistic nutritionist’, then she became a critic of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Here is the story about her transformation:

… I had gone to holistic nutrition school. I was running my own nutrition consulting business. And suddenly I didn’t believe in any of it anymore. How did this flip flop come to pass?

… As a holistic nutritionist, I was an active participant in what I now consider alternative medicine tomfoolery, specifically pushing supplements on a clientele of the “worried well” who often mistook wellness enthusiasts like me for medical experts. I want to be clear that I wasn’t knowingly deceiving anyone—I really did believe in the solutions I was offering my clients… To holistic nutrition enthusiasts and people who believe in a certain kind of alt wellness, these “natural” and “holistic” products seem more trustworthy than what mainstream medicine offers. The truth is, they often lack sufficient, peer-reviewed, reliable scientific evidence of their supposed effectiveness.

Did I have rock-solid evidence that these products would do what their labels promised they would do? Not really. Sure, I read studies here and there that found specific health benefits for some of the products. But I rarely mentioned the fine print (if I knew it at all)—that the sample sizes of many of these studies often were so small that the results couldn’t be generalized to a larger population, that the studies’ authors sometimes noted that more research was needed to support any findings on the effects they found, or that systematic reviews later found that many studies were poorly constructed or at risk for bias, making their findings even less compelling than they seemed initially. And in some cases, study authors themselves note that their findings are merely jumping off points, and that more long-term studies are needed in order to draw more solid conclusions…

Was I relying on strong, valid evidence? Nah, not really. But at the time, I thought what I had was better than strong evidence: Faith in a lifestyle and a dogmatic belief that all things traditional and mainstream were unhealthy or harmful, and therefore, that all things unconventional and alternative were curative and would bring about “wellness.”

In an effort to expand my product knowledge I researched a lot of the different supplements available. I was using all the best bias-confirming websites where other homeopathic medicine enthusiasts evangelized their favorite remedies, their enthusiasm and insistence, and anecdotal evidence standing in for what typically shows us that a product is safe and effective—clinical trials and FDA approval.

When their arguments and reasoning started to sink in, I realized that my faith in the healing powers of supplements may have been overzealous at best, unfounded at worst. My world crumbled like a piece of raw gluten-free paleo cheesecake. It started to sink in: Where there was a morsel of convincing medical information blended with enough compelling nonsense and communicated with enough conviction, I believed it, hook, line, and sinker.

When I started to notice the holes in the fabric of holistic nutrition, the fabric looked, well, pretty threadbare. I subsequently disconnected from social media and distanced myself from the entire culture. I took a good look at how I was personally and publicly communicating my relationships with food and wellness. After spending my twenties experimenting with all kinds of specialty diets, I was left feeling exhausted, anxious, underweight, overweight, and fed-up.

And so that last domino fell when I took away the thing that was propping it up for me: social media. Instagram is a playground for wellness influencers, including, at the time, me. My Instagram account was the best way to advertise my nutrition consulting business, so maintaining a certain persona there felt completely crucial to my success, and eventually, my identity. It was a world full of beautifully curated accounts of thin yogis gathering wild herbs in nature or making raw desserts with ingredients that cost more than my entire monthly food budget. I started to feel like the alternative wellness community I was part of—myself included—was an echo chamber, where we stockpiled likes and positive comments to build a wall that would keep out ideas that challenged our status quo. In fact, the more reassurance I received from my online community, the harder I believed in our gospel.

As I was disentangling my beliefs from everything I was learning by looking at the actual evidence, I realized that my education to become a holistic nutritionist hadn’t prepared me to understand health and wellness as completely and comprehensively as I’d once thought. Sure, I’d spent a some time studying the pathology of disease, and a little longer learning about how each bodily system works to get your human suit from point A to point B, but I am only slightly closer to being a medical professional than I am to becoming a professional cricket player. First of all, in total, my entire formal education as a holistic nutritionist was 10 months long. Second of all, that education was intended to complement—not replace—traditional medical treatment. But as soon as I finished the program, I could immediately start taking on clients. And lots of potential clients out there are just like the way I used to be—wishing they looked or felt different and in search of the panacea, willing (if not eager) to defer to an expert.

There may have been many people willing to look to me as an expert, but here’s the thing: in my school, there were no residency or clinical hours required to prepare us for the real world or to take on clients—unlike dietitians here in Canada, who must obtain a bachelor’s degree in Nutritional and Food Sciences, qualify to complete a rigorous post-degree internship program and register with a provincial dietetics organization, or get a master’s degree. We received a certificate, and that was that. It was a credential that wholeheartedly fell short of resembling anything close to making me an authority on the subject of health as it relates to food and diet. But most people in the general public can’t be expected to understand the ins and outs of how experts are credentialed and licensed—many of us assume that someone calling themselves something that we associate with authority is, in fact, an authority we can trust.

The brief education that I received to become a holistic nutritionist did provide me with valuable stepping stones and a general understanding of how the body works. My program discouraged students from saying “treat,” “heal,” “prevent,” or “cure.” Generally speaking holistic nutrition programs don’t provide the training and medical education that registered dietitians receive, which enables them to give sound, ethical medical nutrition advice, nor are they required by law, the way dietitian programs are, to provide it. In fact, in 2015 graduates of the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition were barred from identifying as Registered Holistic Nutritionists, and since then must use the title “Holistic Nutritional Consultant.”

… With what I do have from my classroom education, I can analyze a lifestyle that needs some fine-tuning and provide guidance on how to structure a solid meal plan. That’s about it. After years of self-diagnosis and hashtagging all my fad-diet escapades (for this, I greatly apologize to all those I have alienated with my profuse self-righteousness), I can at least say I have a deep appreciation for those who are actually on the front lines in the fight against unproven medical remedies and the potential damage it may do to those who use it to the exclusion of traditional medicine.

The influence of these remedies is not harmless, and I have seen firsthand in many different examples and situations how it can lure people away from real, evidence-based help in their times of need. I am fortunate enough that within my practice I had enough foresight to turn away individuals who required more guidance than I was capable of giving. But along the way I made many embarrassing and conjectural recommendations. Like I said, I was far from knowingly deceiving anyone. I firmly held the belief that alternative medicine, no matter the cost, was an investment in a healthful future. My own medicine cabinet, an arsenal full of supplements, tincture, and powders, was a personal testament to how deeply I was devoted to holistic nutrition.

This essay is a firm farewell from a world I disconnected from long ago. The person that over years I let myself become through naiveté, not doing my own research, and a misguided desire to be different. So here I am now, officially having left the church of woo, bidding the world of alternative health adieu.

_________________________________

Reading Denby’s account, I was reminded of many themes we have previously discussed on this blog. One issue that perhaps needs more focus is this notion:

I was far from knowingly deceiving anyone.”

I have not yet met a SCAM practitioner who says:

“I am in the business of  deceiving my patients.”

The reasons for this are simple:

  1. if they knowingly deceive, they would not tell us,
  2. and if they don’t know that they are deciving their patients, they cannot possibly admit to it.

The way Denby repeatedly assures us that she was far from knowingly deceiving anyone sounds charmingly naive and is, in my experience, very typical for SCAM practitioners. It depicts them as honorable people. Yet, in actual fact, it is neither charming nor honorable. It merely demonstrates the fact that they were perhaps not ruthlessly dishonest but all the more dangerous.

Let me explain this with a deliberately extreme example:

  • A man with a chronic condition – say type 2 diabetes – consults a SCAM practitioner who is knowingly deceiving him claiming that her SCAM effectively treats his condition. The patient follows the advice but, since he is not totally convinced (deception is rarely perfect), consults his doctor who puts him straight. This patient will therefore survive.
  • The same chap consults a SCAM practitioner who is deeply convinced of the effectiveness of her SCAM and thus not knowingly deceiving her patient when she claims that it is effective for his diabetes. Her conviction is so strong that the patient blindly believes her. Thus he stops his conventional medication and hopes for the best. This patient could easily die.

In a nutshell:

‘Honest’ conviction might render a quack more socially acceptable but also more dangerous to her patients.

 

On this blog we have seen just about every variation of misdemeanors by practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Today, I will propose a scale and rank order of these lamentable behaviours. As we regularly discuss chiropractic and homeopathy here, I decided to use these two professions as examples (but I could, of course, have chosen almost any other SCAM).

  1. Treating conditions which are not indicated: SCAM practitioners of all types are often asked by their patients to treat conditions which their particular SCAM cannot not affect. Instead of honestly saying so, they frequently apply their SCAM, wait for the natural history of the condition to do its bit, and subsequently claim that their SCAM was effective.
  2. Over-charging: asking too much money for services or goods is common (not just) in SCAM. It raises the question, what is the right price? There is, of course, no easy answer to it. Over-charging is therefore mostly a judgement call and not something absolute.
  3. Misleading a patient: there are numerous ways in which patients can be misled by their SCAM practitioners. A chiropractor who uses the Dr title, without explaining that it is not a medical title, is misleading his/her patients. A homeopath who implies that the remedy he/she is selling is a proven treatment is also misleading his/her patients.
  4. Being economical with the truth: the line between lying (see below) and being economical with the truth is often blurred. In my view, a chiropractor who does not volunteer the information that acute back pain, in most cases, resolves within a few days regardless of whether he/she mapipulates the patient’s spine or not, is economical with the truth. Similarly, a homeopath who does not explain up front that the remedy he/she prescribes does not contain a single active molecule is economical with the truth.
  5. Employing unreasonably long series of therapy: A chiropractor or homeopath, who treats a patient for months without any improvement in the patient’s condition, should suggest to call it a day. Patients should be given a treatment plan at the first consultation which includes the information when it would be reasonable to stop the SCAM.
  6. Failing to refer: A chiropractor or homeopath, who treats a patient for months without any improvement in the patient’s condition should refer the patient to another, better suited healthcare provider. Failing to do so is a serious disservice to the patient.
  7. Unethical behaviour: there are numerous ways SCAM practitioners regularly violate healthcare ethics. The most obvious one, as discussed often before on this blog, is to cut corners around informed consent. A chiropractor might, for instance, not tell his/her patient before sarting the treatment that spinal manipulation is not supported by sound evidence for efficacy or safety. A homeopathy might not explain that homeopathy is generally considered to be implausible and not evidence-based.
  8. Neglect: medical neglect occurs when patients are harmed or placed at significant risk of harm by gaps in their medical care. If a chiropractor or a homeopath, for instance, claim to be able to effectively treat asthma and fail to insist that all prescribed asthma medications must nevertheless be continued – as both often do – they are guilty of neglect, in my view. Medical neglect can be a reason for starting legal proceedings.
  9. Lying: knowingly not telling the truth can also be a serious legal issue. An example would be a chiropractor who, after beeing asked by a patient whether neck manipulation can cause harm, answers that it is an entirely safe procedure which has never injured anyone. Similarly, if a homeopaths informs his/her patient that the remedy he/she is prescribing has been extensively tested and found to be effective for the patient’s condition, he must be lying. If these practitioners believe what they tell the patient to be true, they might not technically be lying, but they would be neglecting their ethical duty to be adequately informed and they would therefore present an even greater danger to thier patients.
  10. Abuse: means to use something for the wrong purpose in a way that is harmful or morally wrong. A chiropractor who tells the mother of a healty child that they need maintenance care in order to prevent them falling ill in the future is abusing her and the child, in my view. Equally, I think that a homeopath, who homeopathically treats a disease that would otherwise be curable with conventional treatments, abuses his patient.
  11. Fraud: fraud is a legal term referring to dishonest acts that intentionally use deception to illegally deprive another person or entity of money, property, or legal rights. It relies on the use of intentional misrepresentation of fact to accomplish the taking. Arguably, most of the examples listed above are fraud by this definition.
  12. Sexual misconduct: the term refers to any behaviour which is sexual in nature and which is unwelcome and engaged in without consent. It ranges from unwanted groping to rape. There is, for instance, evidence that sexual misconduct is not a rarety in the realm of chiropractic. I have personally served once as an expert witness against a SCAM practitioner is a court case at the Exeter Crown Court.

The 12 categories listed above are not nearly as clearly defined as one would wish, and there is plenty of overlap. I am not claiming that my suggested ‘scale of misdemeanors by SCAM practitioners‘ or the proposed rank order are as yet optimal or even adequate. I am, however, hoping that readers will help me with their suggestions to improve them. Perhaps your input might then generate a scale of practical use for the future.

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