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

holistic

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What is osteopathy?

That’s a straightforward question; and it’s one that I am being asked regularly. Embarrassingly, I am not sure I know the optimal answer. A dictionary definition states that osteopathy is ‘a system of medical practice based on a theory that diseases are due chiefly to loss of structural integrity which can be restored by manipulation of the parts supplemented by therapeutic measures (such as use of drugs or surgery).‘ And in my most recent book, I defined it as ‘a manual therapy involving manipulation of the spine and other joints as well as mobilization of soft tissues‘. However, I am aware of the fact that these definitions are not optimal. Therefore, I was pleased to find a short article entitled ‘What is osteopathy?’; it was published on the website of the London-based UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF OSTEOPATHY (UCO).

The UCU has a proud history of ~100 years and a mission stating that they want to continually provide the highest quality education and research for all and the very best care, for each patient, on every occasion. Surely, they must know what osteopathy is.

Here is how they define it:

Osteopathy is a person-centred manual therapy that aims to enable patients to respond and adapt to changing circumstances and to live well.

At the UCO, we believe that osteopathy has the potential to help people change their lives – not only by searching for ways to manage disease, but also by helping patients to discover ways to enhance and maintain their own health and wellbeing.

A core principle of osteopathy is that wellbeing is dependent on how each person is able to function and adapt to changes in physical capability and their environment. Osteopaths are often described as treating the individual rather than the condition: when treating a patient they consider the symptom or injury alongside other biological, physiological and social factors which may be contributing to it.

Osteopaths work to ensure the best possible care for their patients, aiding their recovery and supporting them to help manage their conditions through a range of approaches, including physical manipulation of the musculoskeletal system and education and advice on exercise, diet and lifestyle.

END OF QUOTE

Let’s analyse this text bit by bit:

  1. … a person-centred manual therapy that aims to enable patients to respond and adapt to changing circumstances and to live well. Sorry, but this sounds like a platitude to me. It could apply to any quackery on the planet: Homeopathy is a person-centred manual therapy that aims to enable patients to respond and adapt to changing circumstances and to live well. Faith healing is a person-centred manual therapy that aims to enable patients to respond and adapt to changing circumstances and to live well. Chiropractic is a person-centred manual therapy that aims to enable patients to respond and adapt to changing circumstances and to live well. etc., etc.
  2. … we believe that osteopathy has the potential to help people change their lives – not only by searching for ways to manage disease, but also by helping patients to discover ways to enhance and maintain their own health and wellbeing. Of course, they believe that. Homeopaths, faith healers, chiropractors believe the same about their bogus treatments. But medicine should have more to offer than mere belief.
  3. … wellbeing is dependent on how each person is able to function and adapt to changes in physical capability and their environment. Yes, perhaps. But this statement is too broad to amount to more than a platitude.
  4. Osteopaths are often described as treating the individual rather than the condition: when treating a patient they consider the symptom or injury alongside other biological, physiological and social factors which may be contributing to it. Really? I thought that all great clinicians can be described as treating the individual rather than the condition: when treating a patient they consider the symptom or injury alongside other biological, physiological and social factors which may be contributing to it. (‘The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.’ [William Osler], ‘Reductionism is a dirty word, and a kind of ‘holistier than thou’ self-righteousness has become fashionable.’ [Richard Dawkins])
  5. Osteopaths work to ensure the best possible care for their patients, aiding their recovery and supporting them to help manage their conditions through a range of approaches… What is this supposed to mean? Do non-osteopaths work to ensure the worst possible care for their patients, obstructing their recovery and preventing them to help manage their conditions through a range of approaches? In my view, this sentence is just plain stupid.

What have we learnt from this excursion?

Mainly two things, I think:

  1. Osteopaths and even the UCO seems unable to provide a decent definition of osteopathy. The reason for this odd phenomenon might be that it is not easy to define nonsense.
  2. Osteopaths, like other SCAM-practitioners, may not be all that good at logical thinking, but – by Jove! – they are excellent at touting fallacies.

Need a last minute X-mas present?

I might have just the right thing for you: Healing Courses Online.

They are run by true professionals who clearly know what they are doing: The founders of The Online Bio Energy Healing Training Course are John Donohoe and Patricia Hesnan, both of whom have been working in the alternative complementary healing area for over 25 years. Our healing centre clinic has been involved in teaching, development and trainings since it was first established in 1990, and we continue to promote and hold our regular live training courses.

Healing Courses Online is registered with the CMA (Complementary Medical Association), which is internationally recognized as the leading organization in professional, ethical complementary medicine by professional practitioners, therapists, and the public in general. Having completed this course, you can apply for membership of the CMA which offers a number of benefits including supplying professional accreditation. The CAM industry does not have a single regulatory body at present. With this in mind here at Oisin Centre Limited and Healing Courses Online we provide certification and training of the highest standards and expect our students to adhere to all statutory regulations, standards and codes of ethics regarding professional practice as therapists. You can feel safe in the knowledge that we are an experienced and trusted provider of Energy Healing training courses.

 

AND HERE ARE THE DETAILS AND PRICE-TAGS OF 4 COURSES:

 

A diploma course in energy healing. It includes 58 professional video lessons, 8 PDF lectures in a carefully constructed A, B, C, step-by-step format, allowing you to learn each technique and each application in easy stages. When you have completed the course you receive a Certified Diploma in Energy Healing. Once you have the knowledge and understand how to apply this energy healing therapy you can help yourself and others to activate the body’s own natural process of self-healing.

€97.00 – Was €375.00

A diploma course in sound healing. It includes 37 professional video lessons, 18 PDF lectures in a carefully constructed A, B, C, step-by-step format, allowing you to learn each technique and each application in easy stages. When you have completed the course, you receive a Certified Diploma in Sound Healing. Learn the secrets to sound healing with Tibetan singing bowls, Chinese gong, Tuning forks, the Human Voice, plus energy healing clearing for chakras plus much more.

€69.00 – Was €275.00

A diploma course in animal energy healing. It includes 30 practical video lessons and 5 PDF lectures in a carefully constructed A, B, C, step-by-step format, allowing you to learn each technique and each application in easy stages. When you have completed the course, you receive a Certified Diploma in Animal Healing. This is an ideal course to learn how you can help your pet or any animal so they may be healthy, happy and content.

€59.00 – Was €225.00

SELF HEALING / SELF HELP ONLINE COURSE includes 24 professional video lessons, plus 20 PDF lectures in a carefully constructed A, B, C, step-by-step format, allowing you to learn each technique and each application in easy stages and certification of completion. You can view a video with simple Qi-Gong exercises filmed at picturesque Galway Bay in Ireland. The aim of using singing bowls, crystal bowls, tuning forks, healing music, or the human voice as a self healing modality is to help restore the body to its normal.

€19.99 – Was €199.00

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IN CASE YOU WONDER WHAT YOU CAN DO ONCE YOU HAVE PASSED ONE OF THOSE COURSES, THE COURSE DIRECTORS GIVE IT TO YOU STRAIGHT:

Energy healing can be used as a standalone therapy or in conjunction with many other modalities including counselling, psychotherapy, hypnosis, acupuncture, massage, reflexology, and many more.

As soon as you have completed the course plus a short 10 question test, you will be granted your diploma, which you can download and print. (Your diploma is also automatically sent to your email account.)

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On this blog and elsewhere, my critics regularly complain that I do not have any qualifications in alternative medicine. Therefore, I am tempted to enrol (as a generous and high-value X-mas present to myself) – even though I am still uncertain which of the 4 courses might be best for me (and, of course, I cannot be sure to pass the ’10 question test’!).

How about you?

Will you join me?

Alternative medicine is an odd term (but it is probably as good or bad as any other term for it). It describes a wide range of treatments (and diagnostic techniques which I exclude from this discussion) that have hardly anything in common.

Hardly anything!

And that means there are a few common denominators. Here are 7 of them:

  1. The treatments have a long history and have thus stood the ‘test of time’.
  2. The treatments enjoy a lot of support.
  3. The treatments are natural and therefore safe.
  4. The treatments are holistic.
  5. The treatments tackle the root causes of the problem.
  6. The treatments are being suppressed by the establishment.
  7. The treatments are inexpensive and therefore value for money.

One only has to scratch the surface to discover that these common denominators of alternative medicine turn out to be unmitigated nonsense.

Let me explain:

The treatments have a long history and have thus stood the ‘test of time’.

It is true that most alternative therapies have a long history; but what does that really mean? In my view, it signals but one thing: when these therapies were invented, people had no idea how our body functions; they mostly had speculations, superstitions and myths. It follows, I think, that the treatments in question are built on speculations, superstitions and myths.

This might be a bit too harsh, I admit. But one thing is absolutely sure: a long history of usage is no proof of efficacy.

The treatments enjoy a lot of support.

Again, this is true. Alternative treatments are supported by many patients who swear by them, by thousands of clinicians who employ them as well as by royalty and other celebrities who make the headlines with them.

Such support is usually based on experience or belief. Neither are evidence; quite the opposite, remember: the three most dangerous words in medicine are ‘IN MY EXPERIENCE’. To be clear, experience and belief can fool us profoundly, and science is a tool to prevent us being misled by them.

The treatments are natural and therefore safe.

Here we have two fallacies moulded into one. Firstly, not all alternative therapies are natural; secondly, none is entirely safe.

There is nothing natural about diluting the Berlin Wall and selling it as a homeopathic remedy. There is nothing natural about forcing a spinal joint beyond its physiological range of motion and calling it spinal manipulation. There is nothing natural about sticking needles into the skin and claiming this re-balances our vital energies.

Acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine, etc. are burdened with their fair share of adverse effects. But the real danger of alternative medicine is the harm done by neglecting effective therapies. Anyone who decides to forfeit conventional treatments for a serious condition, and uses alternative therapies instead, runs the risk of shortening their lives.

The treatments are holistic.

Alternative therapists try very hard to sell their treatments as holistic. This sounds good and must be an excellent marketing gimmick. Alas, it is not true.

There is nothing less holistic than seeing subluxations, yin/yang imbalances, auto-intoxications, energy blockages, etc. as the cause of all illness. Holism is at the heart of all good healthcare; the attempt by alternative practitioners to hijack it is merely a transparent attempt to boost their business.

The treatments tackle the root causes of the problem.

Alternative therapists claim that they can identify the root causes of all conditions and thus treat them more effectively than conventional clinicians who merely treat their symptoms. Nothing could be further from the truth. Conventional medicine has been so spectacularly successful not least because we always aim at identifying the cause that underlie a symptom and, whenever possible, treat that cause (often in addition to treating symptoms). Alternative practitioners may well delude themselves that energy imbalances, subluxations, chi-blockages etc. are root causes, but there simply is no evidence to support their deluded claims.

The treatments are being suppressed by the establishment.

The feeling of paranoia seems endemic in alternative medicine. Many practitioners are so affected by it that they believe everyone who doubts their implausible notions and misconceptions is out to get them. Big Pharma’ or whoever else they feel prosecuted by are more likely to smile at such wild conspiracy theories than to fear for their profit margins. And whenever ‘Big Pharma’ does smell a fast buck, they do not hesitate to jump on the alternative band-waggon joining them in ripping off the public by flogging dubious supplements, homeopathics, essential oils, vitamins, flower remedies, detox-remedies, etc.

The treatments are inexpensive and therefore value for money.

It is probably true that the average cost of a homeopathic remedy, an acupuncture treatment or an aromatherapy session costs less than the average conventional treatment. However, to conclude from it that alternative therapies are value for money is wrong. To be of real value, a treatment needs to generate more good than harm; but very few alternative treatments fulfil this criterion. To use a blunt analogy, if someone offers you a used car, it may well be inexpensive – if, however, it does not run and is beyond repair, it cannot be value for money.

As I already stated: alternative medicine is so diverse that its various branches are almost entirely unrelated, and the few common denominators of alternative medicine that do exist are unmitigated nonsense.

Twenty years ago (5 years into my post at Exeter), I published this little article (BJGP, Sept 1998). It was meant as a sort of warning – sadly, as far as I can see, it has not been heeded. Oddly, the article is unavailable on Medline, I therefore take the liberty of re-publishing it here without alterations (if I had to re-write it today, I would not change much) or comment:

Once the omnipotent heroes in white, physicians today are at risk of losing the trust of their patients. Medicine, some would say, is in a deep crisis. Shouldn’t we start to worry?

The patient-doctor relationship, it seems, is at the heart of this argument. Many patients are deeply dissatisfied with this aspect of medicine. A recent survey on patients consulting GPs and complementary practitioners in parallel and for the same problem suggested that most patients are markedly more happy with all facets of the therapeutic encounter as offered by complementary practitioners. This could explain the extraordinary rise of complementary medicine during recent years. The neglect of the doctor-patient relationship might be the gap in which complementary treatments build their nest.

Poor relationships could be due to poor communication. Many books have been written about communications skills with patients. But never mind the theory, the practice of all this may be less optimal than we care to believe. Much of this may simply relate to the usage of language. Common terms such as ‘stomach’, ‘palpitations’, ‘lungs’, for instance, are interpreted in different ways by lay and professional people. Words like ‘anxiety’, ‘depression’, and ‘irritability’ are well defined for doctors, while patients view them as more or less interchangeable. At a deeper level, communication also relates to concepts and meanings of disease and illness. For instance, the belief that a ‘blockage of the bowel’ or an ‘imbalance of life forces’ lead to disease is as prevalent with patients as it is alien to doctors. Even on the most obvious level of interaction with patients, physicians tend to fail. Doctors often express themselves unclearly about the nature, aim or treatment schedule of their prescriptions.

Patients want to be understood as whole persons. Yet modern medicine is often seen as emphazising a reductionistic and mechanistic approach, merely treating a symptom or replacing a faulty part, or treating a ‘case’ rather than an individual. In the view of some, modern medicine has become an industrial behemoth shifted from attending the sick to guarding the economic bottom line, putting itself on a collision course with personal doctoring. This has created a deeply felt need which complementary medicine is all too ready to fill. Those who claim to know the reason for a particular complaint (and therefore its ultimate cure) will succeed in satisfying this need. Modern medicine has identified the causes of many diseases while complementary medicine has promoted simplistic (and often wrong) ideas about the genesis of health and disease. The seductive message usually is as follows: treating an illness allopathically is not enough, the disease will simply re-appear in a different guise at a later stage. One has to tackle the question – why the patient has fallen ill in the first place. Cutting off the dry leaves of a plant dying of desiccation won’t help. Only attending the source of the problem, in the way complementary medicine does, by pouring water on to the suffering plant, will secure a cure. This logic is obviously lop-sided and misleading, but it creates trust because it is seen as holistic, it can be understood by even the simplest of minds, and it generates a meaning for the patient’s otherwise meaningless suffering.

Doctors, it is said, treat diseases but patients suffer from illnesses. Disease is something an organ has; illness is something an individual has. An illness has more dimensions than disease. Modern medicine has developed a clear emphasis on the physical side of disease but tends to underrate aspects like the patient’s personality, beliefs and socioeconomic environment. The body/mind dualism is (often unfairly) seen as a doctrine of mainstream medicine. Trust, it seems, will be given to those who adopt a more ‘holistic’ approach without dissecting the body from the mind and spirit.

Empathy is a much neglected aspect in today’s medicine. While it has become less and less important to doctors, it has grown more and more relevant to patients. The literature on empathy is written predominantly by nurses and psychologists. Is the medical profession about to delegate empathy to others? Does modern, scientific medicine lead us to neglect the empathic attitude towards our patients? Many of us are not even sure what empathy means and confuse empathy with sympathy. Sympathy with the patient can be described as a feeling of ‘I want to help you’. Empathy, on these terms, means ‘I am (or could be) you’; it is therefore some sort of an emotional resonance. Empathy has remained somewhat of a white spot on the map of medical science. We should investigate it properly. Re-integrating empathy into our daily practice can be taught and learned. This might help our patients as well as us.

Lack of time is another important cause for patients’ (and doctors’) dissatisfaction. Most patients think that their doctor does not have enough time for them. They also know from experience that complementary medicine offers more time. Consultations with complementary practitioners are appreciated, not least because they may spend one hour or so with each patient. Obviously, in mainstream medicine, we cannot create more time where there is none. But we could at least give our patients the feeling that, during the little time available, we give them all the attention they require.

Other reasons for patients’ frustration lie in the nature of modern medicine and biomedical research. Patients want certainty but statistics provides probabilities at best. Some patients may be irritated to hear of a 70% chance that a given treatment will work; or they feel uncomfortable with the notion that their cholesterol level is associated with a 60% chance of suffering a heart attack within the next decade. Many patients long for reassurance that they will be helped in their suffering. It may be ‘politically correct’ to present patients with probability frequencies of adverse effects and numbers needed to treat, but anybody who (rightly or wrongly) promises certainty will create trust and have a following.

Many patients have become wary of the fact that ‘therapy’ has become synonymous with ‘pharmacotherapy’ and that many drugs are associated with severe adverse reactions. The hope of being treated with ‘side-effect-free’ remedies is a prime motivator for turning to complementary medicine.

Complementary treatments are by no means devoid of adverse reactions, but this fact is rarely reported and therefore largely unknown to patients. Physicians are regularly attacked for being in league with the pharmaceutical industry and the establishment in general. Power and money are said to be gained at the expense of the patient’s well-being. The system almost seems to invite dishonesty. The ‘conspiracy theory’ goes as far as claiming that ‘scientific medicine is destructive, extremely costly and solves nothing. Beware of the octopus’. Spectacular cases could be cited which apparently support it. Orthodox medicine is described as trying to ‘inhibit the development of unorthodox medicine’, in order to enhance its own ‘power, status and income’. Salvation, it is claimed, comes from the alternative movement which represents ‘… the most effective assault yet on scientific biomedicine’. Whether any of this is true or not, it is perceived as the truth by many patients and amounts to a serious criticism of what is happening in mainstream medicine today.

In view of such criticism, strategies for overcoming problems and rectifying misrepresentations are necessary. Mainstream medicine might consider discovering how patients view the origin, significance, and prognosis of the disease. Furthermore, measures should be considered to improve communication with patients. A diagnosis and its treatment have to make sense to the patient as much as to the doctor – if only to enhance adherence to therapy. Both disease and illness must be understood in their socio-economic context. Important decisions, e.g. about treatments, must be based on a consensus between the patient and the doctor. Scientists must get better in promoting their own messages, which could easily be far more attractive, seductive, and convincing than those of pseudo-science.These goals are by no means easy to reach. But if we don’t try, trust and adherence will inevitably deteriorate further. I submit that today’s unprecedented popularity of complementary medicine reflects a poignant criticism of many aspects of modern medicine. We should take it seriously

As you know, my ambition is to cover all (or at least most) alternative methods on this blog _ by no means an easy task because there is a sheer endless list of treatments and a sizable one of diagnostic techniques. One intervention that we have not yet discussed is ZERO BALANCING.

What is it?

This website explains it fairly well:

Developed by Fritz Smith, MD in the early 1970s, Zero Balancing is a powerful body-mind therapy that uses skilled touch to address the relationship between energy and structures of the body. Following a protocol that typically lasts 30 to 45 minutes,  the practitioner uses finger pressure and gentle traction on areas of tension in the bones, joints and soft tissue to create fulcrums, or points of balance, around which the body can relax and reorganize. Zero Balancing focuses primarily on key joints of our skeleton that conduct and balance forces of gravity, posture and movement. By addressing the deepest and densest tissues of the body along with soft tissue and energy fields, Zero Balancing helps to clear blocks in the body’s energy flow, amplify vitality and contribute to better postural alignment. A Zero Balancing session leaves you with a wonderful feeling of inner harmony and organization.

Did I just say ‘fairly well’? I retract this statement. Zero Balancing turns out to be one of the more nebulous alternative treatments.

The therapy might be defined by lots of nonsensical terminology, but that does not necessarily mean it is rubbish. Judging from the claims made for Zero Balancing, it might even be a most useful therapy. Here are just some of the claims frequently made for zero balancing:

  • Increases feelings of health and well-being
  • Releases stress and improves the flow of energy in our bodies
  • Reduces pain and discomfort
  • Enhances stability, balance and freedom
  • Amplifies the sense of connection, peace and happiness
  • Releases mental, emotional and physical tension
  • Supports us through transitions and transformations
  • Improves quality of life and increases capacity for enjoyment

These claims are testable, and we must, of course, ask by what evidence they are being supported. I did a quick Medline-search to find out.

And the result?

Zero!

… now the rather odd name of the treatment begins to make sense: ZERO BALANCING, ZERO EVIDENCE.

The UK ‘COLLEGE OF MEDICINE’ has recently (and very quietly) renamed itself; it now is THE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE AND INTEGRATED HEALTH (COMIH). This takes it closer to its original intentions of being the successor of the PRINCE OF WALES FOUNDATION FOR INTEGRATED MEDICINE (PWFIM), the organisation that had to be shut down amidst charges of fraud and money-laundering. Originally, the name of COMIH was to be COLLEGE OF INTEGRATED HEALTH (as opposed to disintegrated health?, I asked myself at the time).

Under the leadership of Dr Michael Dixon, OBE (who also led the PWFIM into its demise), the COMIH pursues all sots of activities. One of them seems to be publishing ‘cutting-edge’ articles.

A recent and superb example is on the fascinating subject of ‘holistic dentistry‘:

START OF QUOTE

Professor Sonia Williams … explores how integrated oral health needs to consider the whole body, not just the dentition…

Complementary and alternative approaches can also be considered as complementary to ‘mainstream’ care, with varying levels of evidence cited for their benefit.

Dental hypnosis (British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis) can help support patients including those with dental phobia or help to reduce pain experience during treatment.

Acupuncture in dentistry (British Society of Dental Acupuncture) can, for instance, assist with pain relief and allay the tendency to vomit during dental care.  There is also a British Homeopathic Dental Association.

For the UK Faculty of General Dental Practitioners, holistic dentistry refers to strengthening the link between general and oral health.

For some others, the term also represents an ‘alternative’ form of dentistry, which may concern itself with the avoidance and elimination of ‘toxic’ filling materials, perceived potential harm from fluoride and root canal treatments and with treating dental malocclusion to put patients back in ‘balance’.

In the USA, there is a Holistic Dental Association, while in the UK, there is the British Society for Mercury-free Dentistry. Unfortunately the evidence base for many of these procedures is weak.

Nevertheless, pressure to avoid mercury in dental restorative materials is becoming mainstream.

In summary, integrated health and care in dentistry can mean different things to different people. The weight of evidence supports the contention that the mouth is an integral part of the body and that attention to the one without taking account of the other can have adverse consequences.

END OF QUOTE

Do I get this right? ‘Holistic dentistry’ in the UK means the recognition that my mouth belongs to my body, and the adoption of a few dubious treatments with w ‘weak’ evidence base?

Well, isn’t this just great? I had no idea that my mouth belongs to my body. And clearly the non-holistic dentists in the UK are oblivious to this fact as well. I am sooooooo glad we got this cleared up.

Thanks COMIH!!!

And what about the alternative treatments used by holistic dentists?

The British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis (Scotland) inform us on their website that a trained medical and dental hypnotherapists can help you to deal with a large variety of challenges that you face in your everyday life e.g.

Asthma Migraines
Anxiety & Stress Smoking Cessation
Dental Problems Insomnia
Weight Problems Psychosexual Disorders
Depression Pain Management
Irritable Bowel  And many other conditions

I hasten to add that, for most of these conditions, the evidence fails to support the claims.

The British Society of Dental Acupuncture claim on their website that the typical conditions that may be helped by acupuncture are:

  • TMJ (jaw joint) problems
  • Facial pain
  • Muscle spasm in the head and neck
  • Stress headaches & Migraine
  • Rhinitis & sinusitis
  • Gagging
  • Dry mouth problems
  • Post-operative pain
  • Dental anxiety

I hasten to add that, for most of these conditions, the evidence fails to support the claims.

The British Homeopathic Dental Association claim on their website that studies have shown improved bone healing around implants with Symphytum and reduced discomfort and improved healing time with ulcers and beneficial in oral lichen planus.

I hasten to add that none of these claims are not supported by sound evidence.

The COMIH article is entitled “The mouth reflects whole body health – but what does integrated care mean for dentists?’ So, what does it mean? Judging from this article, it means an amalgam (pun intended) of platitudes, bogus claims and outright nonsense.

Pity that they did not change their name to College of Medicine and Integrated Care – I could have abbreviated it as COMIC!

Doctor Jonas is an important figure head of US ‘Integrative Medicine’. As we discussed in a recent post, he pointed out that many US hospital doctors fail to answer the following questions relating to their chronically ill patients:

  1. “What matters most for this patient?
  2. What is the person’s lifestyle like – their nutrition, movement and sleep?
  3. How does that patient manage their stress?
  4. Does that patient have a good support system at home?
  5. What supplements does that patient take? Has your patient seen any CAM practitioners to cope with their condition?
  6. Why do they want to get well?”

In my previous post, I tried to explain that this is embarrassing – embarrassing for doctor Jonas, I meant.

But Jonas also claims that most US hospital doctors he addressed during his lecture tour, were unable to answer these questions. And that might be embarrassing not for Jonas, but for those physicians. Let’s consider this possibility for a moment.

The way I see it, the doctors in question might not have answered to Jonas for the following reasons:

  • They felt that the questions were simply too daft to bother.
  • They were too polite to tell Jonas what they think of him.
  • They were truly unable to answer the questions.

Here I want to briefly deal with the last category.

I do not doubt for a minute that this category of physician exists. They have little interest in what matters to their patients, don’t ask the right questions, have no time and even less empathy and compassion. Yet nobody can deny that medical school teaches all of these qualities, skills and attitudes. And there is no doubt that good doctors practice them; it is not a choice but an ethical and moral imperative.

So, what went wrong with these doctors?

Probably lots, and I cannot begin to tell you what exactly. However, I can easily tell you that those doctors are not practicing good medicine. Similarly, I can tell you what these doctors ought to do: re-train and be reminded of what medical school has once taught them.

And what about those physicians who advocate ‘integrated medicine’ reminding everyone of the core values of healthcare?

Aren’t they fabulous?

No, they aren’t!

Why?

Because they too have evidently forgotten what they should have learnt at medical school. If not, they would not be able to pretend that ‘integrative medicine’ has a monopoly on core values of all healthcare. Their messages are akin to a new ‘school’ of ship-building insisting that it is beneficial to build ships that do not leak.

What I am trying to say in my clumsy way is this:

DOCTORS WHO PRACTICE BAD MEDICINE SHOULD RE-TRAIN – TOGETHER WITH THOSE PHYSICIANS WHO ADVOCATE ‘INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE‘, BECAUSE THEY BOTH HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT THEY LEARNT AT MEDICAL SCHOOL.

This is a question most clinicians must have asked themselves. The interest of patients in this area is enormous, and many do seek advice from their doctor, nurse, pharmacist, midwife etc. In a typical scenario, a patient might plug up her courage (yes, for many it does take courage) and ask:

What about therapy xy for my condition? My friend suffers from the same problem, and she says the treatment works very well.

The way I see it, there are essentially 4 options for formulating a reply:

1.       Uncompromisingly negative

2.       Evidence-based

3.       Open-minded

4.       Uncritically promotional

Let me explain and address these 4 options in turn.

1.       Uncompromisingly negative

I know that it can be tempting to be wholly dismissive and simply state that all alternative medicine is rubbish; if it were any good, it would have been adopted by conventional medicine. Therefore, alternative medicine is never an alternative; it is by definition implausible, ineffective and often dangerous.

Even if all of this were true, the uncompromisingly negative approach is not helpful, in my experience. Patients need and deserve some empathy and understanding of their position. If we brusque them, they feel insulted and go elsewhere. Not only would we then lose a patient, but we would run a high risk of exposing her to a practitioner who promotes quackery. The disservice seems obvious.

2.       Evidence-based

Clinicians might consider their patient’s question and reply to it by explaining what the current best available evidence tells us about the therapy in question. This can be done with empathy and compassion. For instance (if that is true), the clinician can explain that the treatment in question lacks a scientific basis, that it has nevertheless been tested in clinical trials which sadly do not show that it works. Crucially, the clinician should subsequently explain what effective treatments do exist and discuss a viable treatment plan with the patient.

The problem with this approach is that many, if not most conventional clinicians are fairly clueless about the evidence as it relates to the plethora of alternative therapies. Therefore, an honest discussion around the current best evidence is often difficult or impossible.

3.       Open-minded

This is the approach many clinicians today use as a default position. They basically tell their patient that there is not a lot of evidence for the treatment in question. However, it seems harmless, and therefore – if the patient is really keen on going down this route – why not? This type of response is, I fear, given regardless of the therapy in question and it largely ignores the evidence – some alternative treatments do work, some don’t, some are fairly safe, some aren’t.

Condoning alternative medicine in this way gives the impression of being ‘open-minded’ and ‘patient-centred’. It has the considerable advantage that it does not require any hard work, such as informing oneself about the current best evidence. It’s disadvantage is that it neither correct nor ethical.

4.       Uncritically promotional

Many clinicians go even one decisive step further. Under the banner of ‘integrative medicine’, they openly recommend using ‘the best of both worlds’ as being ‘holistic’, ’empathetic’, ‘patient-centred’, etc. By this, they usually mean employing as many unproven or disproven treatments as alternative medicine has to offer.

This approach gives the impression of being ‘modern’ and in tune with the wishes of patients. Its disadvantages are, however, obvious. Introducing bogus treatments into clinical routine can only render it less effective, more expensive, and less safe. Integrative medicine is therefore not in the best interest of patients and arguably unethical.

Conclusion

So, how should we advise patients on alternative medicine? I know what I would say and probably most of my readers can guess. But I do not want to prejudge the issue; I prefer to hear your views, please.

Electrohomeopathy is a version of homeopathy few people know about. Allow me to explain:

Cesare Mattei (1809–1896), an Italian count, was interested in homeopathy. Mattei believed that fermented plants gave off ‘electrical’ energy that could be used to cure illness. He also believed that every illness had a cure provided in the vegetable kingdom by God. He began to develop his system from 1849. The large bottles are labelled ”Red”, ”Green”, “White”, “Yellow” and “Blue” so the actual ingredients remained a secret. Ointments were made up with ingredients from the small and large bottles. The vial labelled “Canceroso 5” was used for bruises, cancers, chilblains, hair loss, skin diseases and varicose veins, among other conditions. Although dismissed by the medical profession as quackery, Mattei’s system was popular. It formed part of the treatment at St Saviour’s Cancer Hospital in London from 1873.

Wikipedia offers more informing us that:

“… Mattei, a nobleman living in a castle in the vicinity of Bologna studied natural science, anatomy, physiology, pathology, chemistry and botany. He ultimately focused on the supposed therapeutic power of “electricity” in botanical extracts. Mattei made bold, unsupported claims for the efficacy of his treatments, including the claim that his treatments offered a nonsurgical alternative to cancer. His treatment regimens were met with scepticism by mainstream medicine:

The electrohomeopathic system is an invention of Count Mattei who prates of “red”, “blue”, and “green” electricity, a theory that, in spite of its utter idiocy, has attracted a considerable following and earned a large fortune for its chief promoter.

Notwithstanding criticisms, including a challenge by the British medical establishment to the claimed success of his cancer treatments,  electrohomeopathy (or Matteism, as it was sometimes known at the time) had adherents in Germany, France, the USA and the UK by the beginning of the 20th century; electrohomeopathy had been the subject of approximately 100 publications and there were three journals dedicated to it.

Remedies are derived from what are said to be the active micro nutrients or mineral salts of certain plants. One contemporary account of the process of producing electrohomeopathic remedies was as follows:

As to the nature of his remedies we learn … that … they are manufactured from certain herbs, and that the directions for the preparation of the necessary dilutions are given in the ordinary jargon of homeopathy. The globules and liquids, however, are “instinct with a potent, vital, electrical force, which enables them to work wonders”. This process of “fixing the electrical principle” is carried on in the secret central chamber of a Neo-Moorish castle which Count Mattei has built for himself in the Bolognese Apennines… The “red electricity” and “white electricity” supposed to be “fixed” in these “vegetable compounds” are in their very nomenclature and suggestion poor and miserable fictions.

According to Mattei’s own ideas however, every disease originates in the change of blood or of the lymphatic system or both, and remedies can therefore be mainly divided into two broad categories to be used in response to the dominant affected system. Mattei wrote that having obtained plant extracts, he was “able to determine in the liquid vegetable electricity”. Allied to his theories and therapies were elements of Chinese medicine, of medical humours, of apparent Brownianism, as well as modified versions of Samuel Hahnemann‘s homeopathic principles. Electrohomeopathy has some associations with Spagyric medicine, a holistic medical philosophy claimed to be the practical application of alchemy in medical treatment, so that the principle of modern electrohomeopathy is that disease is typically multi-organic in cause or effect and therefore requires holistic treatment that is at once both complex and natural.”

END OF QUOTE

If one would assume that electrohomeopathy is nothing more than a bizarre and long-forgotten chapter in the colourful history of homeopathy, one would be mistaken; it is still used and promoted by enthusiasts who continue to make bold claims. This article, for instance, informs us that:

  • Electro Homeopathic remedies tone up the brain and the nerves through which overall body processes are controlled and strengthen the digestion process.
  • The tablets provide food for the red blood cells and provide nourishment for the white corpuscles of the lymph and the blood.
  • They provide the useful elements to the plasma of the blood and provide required nutrients for the cells of which tissues are made.
  • They enhance the eviction through the skin and other modes and unnecessary substances which disturb the function and health of the body.
  • They cure the diseases and are helpful to the patients who use them.
  • They are curative as well as palliatives.
  • They are helpful in curing the serious diseases whether it is acute or chronic, non-surgical or surgical, for women, men, and children. They provide 100 percent cure.
  • They cure diseases such as tuberculosis, cancer, fistula, and cancer. They can cure these diseases without operation.
  • They cure all type of infectious diseases with certainty and are also helpful in prophylactics in the epidemics.

This article also provides even more specific claims:

Here are the 5 best Electro Homeopathic medicines for curing kidney stones –

  • Berberis Vulgaris – is the best medicine for left-sided kidney stones
  • Cantharis Vesicatoria– is one of the best medicine for kidney stones with burning in urine
  • Lycopodium – is the best remedy for right-sided kidney stones
  • Sarsaparilla – is the best medicine for kidney stones with white sand in urine
  • Benzoic Acid – is best homeopathic medicine for renal calculi…

The aforesaid homeopathic medicines for kidney stones have been found to be very effective in getting these stones out of the system. It does not mean that only these medicines are used.

What all of this highlights yet again is this, I think:

  • There are many seriously deluded people out there who are totally ignorant of medicine, healthcare and science.
  • To a desperate patient, these quacks can seem reasonable in their pretence of medical competence.
  • Loons make very specific health claims (even about very serious conditions), thus endangering the lives of the many gullible people who believe them.
  • Even though this has been known and well-documented for many years, t here seems to be nobody stopping the deluded pretenders in their tracks; the public therefore remains largely unprotected from their fraudulent and harmful acts.
  • In particular, the allegedly more reasonable end of the ‘alt med community’ does nothing to limit the harm done by such charlatans – on the contrary, whether knowingly or not, groups such as doctors of ‘integrative medicine’ lend significant support to them.

The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) has launched a campaign to inform the public that, despite everything non-homeopaths may say and despite the undeniable facts about homeopathy, their remedies are highly effective. This article provides a detailed account of their incompetence.

I saw the image below first on Twitter. It is part of their current campaign and summarises ‘POSITIVE MESSAGES ABOUT HOMEOPATHY’ as the SoH proclaim them. Presumably, they did this piece of work to help their members finding the right arguments when defending the indefensible.

I am not usually prone to laughing fits, but this had me in stiches! It is hilarious, I think; a true masterpiece of comedy.

The masterpiece is almost too perfect to tarnish with my comments; however, I cannot resist. Sorry!

I will take the arguments in turn going clockwise and starting with

‘HOMEOPATHY MEDICINES ARE TESTED SAFELY AND EFFECTIVELY ON HEALTHY HUMANS’

Should this not be ‘homeopathic medicines’? In any case, the remedies (medicines seems too strong a word) are tested in so-called ‘provings’ – yes, safely because they normally contain no active ingredient… and effectively? I cannot see why provings might be ‘effective’; they are pure fantasy.

HOMEOPATHY MAKES A POSITIVE CONTRIBUTION TO INTEGRATED HEALTHCARE

No, as we have discussed often on this blog, adding cow pie to apple pie is not a positive contribution to anything.

HOMEOPATHY HAS BEEN AVAILABLE ON THE NHS SINCE 1948

Appeal to tradition = fallacy.

Appeal to authority = fallacy.

HOMEOPATHY PUTS THE PATIENT AT THE CENTRE OF THEIR HEALTHCARE

This too is false logic, because all good medicine puts the patient at the centre; in addition it is grammatically false English (if I as a non-native speaker may be so bold).

HOMEOPATHY IS USED BY 15% OF UK CITIZENS

I doubt it. But even if this figure is correct, an appeal to popularity is a fallacy and not a logical argument.

HOMEOPATHY IS USED BY 450 MILLION PEOPLE WORLDWIDE

I doubt it. But even if this figure is correct, an appeal to popularity is a fallacy and not a logical argument.

HOMEOPATHY IS A SYSTEM OF NATURAL HEALTHCARE THAT HAS BEEN USED WORLDWIDE FOR 200 YEARS

What is ‘natural’ in endlessly diluting things like ‘Berlin Wall’ and pretending it is a medicine? In any case, the appeal to tradition is yet another fallacy.

HOMEOPATHY DOES NOT CONTRADICT SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS, IT IS PART OF IT

This is where I almost fell off my chair; homeopathy is the opposite of progress, it is a dogma and a belief-system.

HOMEOPATHY IS HOLISTIC

All good medicine is holistic; arguably, homeopathy is not holistic.

HOMEOPATHY IS EFFECTIVE IN BOTH ACUTE AND CHRONIC ILLNESS

Yes, this is what homeopaths believe, but it is not true.

To conclude what better than quoting the person who, a long time ago, said: “HOMEOPATHS ARE THE CLOWNS AMONGST THE HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS” ?

 

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