In response to yesterday’s post, I received a lengthy comment from ‘Stan’. Several readers have already commented on it. Therefore, I can make my arguments short. In this post, will repeat Stan’s points each followed by my comments (in bold). Here we go:
Seven Reasons Homœopathy is Not Placebo Effect
Sorry, Stan, but your heading is not proper English; I have therefore changed it for the title of this post.
1. Homeopathic remedies work on babies, animals, plants and people in a coma. Biodynamic farmers use homeopathic remedies to repel pests and treat plant diseases. Some organic ranchers rely on homeopathic remedies to treat their herds. Some “placebo by proxy” effect has been shown for children but its doubtful that it could be shown for a herd of cattle or crops in a field. Farmers can’t rely on wishful thinking to stay in business.
As discussed ad nauseam on this blog, homeopathic remedies do not work on babies or animals better than placebos. I don’t know of any studies with “people in a coma” (if you do, Stan, please let me know). The fact that ranchers rely on homeopathy is hilarious but does not prove anything.
2. The correct curative remedy will initially cause a worsening of the condition being cured if it is given in too strong (i.e. too dilute) a dose. A placebo might only cause a temporary improvement of the condition being treated; certainly not an aggravation.
The ‘homeopathic aggravation’ is a myth created by homeopaths. It disappears if we try to systematically research it; see here, for instance.
3. One can do a “proving” of an unknown homeopathic remedy by taking it repeatedly over several days and it will temporarily cause symptoms that one has never experienced previously – symptoms it will cure in a sick person. This is a repeatable scientific experiment used to determine the scope of a new remedy, or confirm the effects of an already proven remedy. A placebo might possibly have an effect if the individual taking it has been “prepared” by being told what they are taking but it likely wouldnt match previously recorded symptoms in the literature.
Homeopathic provings are rubbish and not reproducible when done rigorously; see here.
4. One can treat simple acute (self-limiting) conditions (e.g. minor burns, minor injuries, insect bites, etc.) and see unusually rapid cures with homeopathic remedies. A placebo might only cause a temporary improvement of the condition being treated while taken. Placebos have been found mostly effective in conditions with a strong psychological component like pain.
You mean like using Arnica for cuts and bruises? Sadly, it does not work.
5. One can get homeopathic treatment for long term chronic (non self-limiting) conditions and see a deep lasting cure, as has been documented clinically for a couple centuries. A placebo might only cause a temporary partial improvement of the condition being treated while the placebo is being taken.
6. There is over 200 years worth of extensive documentation from around the world, of the clinical successes of homeopathy for both acute and chronic conditions of all types. As Dr Hahn has said you have throw out 90% of the evidence to conclude that homeopathy doesnt work. The Sheng et al meta-analysis in 2005 Lancet that was supposedly the death knell of homeopathy used only 8 studies, excluding hundreds of others. Unsurprisingly homeopathy was found wanting. So-called Skeptics see what they want to see in the science. There is relatively little documentation of placebo usage. A few recent studies have been done showing the limited temporary benefits of placebos.
What Hahn wrote is understandably liked by homeopaths but it nevertheless is BS. If you don’t trust me, please rely on independent bodies from across the world.
7. Homeopathic remedies have been shown to have a very weak electromagnetic signature and contain some nano-particles. Some believe this explains their mechanism. An exciting new potential field of research is the subtle cell signalling that has been found to direct the development of stem cells. Scientists have created double-headed planeria worms and this trait has been found to be inherited by their offspring without any change in the genes or epigenetics. Until now we had no idea how a single fertilized ovum could evolve into a complex creature that is bilateral and has multiple cell types. It is possible that the very subtle electromagnetic signature or some other unknown effect of homeopathic remedies is effecting this subtle cell signalling.
The homeopathic nano-myth is nonsense. And so is the rest of your assumptions.
Every conventional drug has “side effects” that match the symptoms for which it is indicated! Aspirin can cause headaches and fever, ritalin can cause hyperactive effects, radiation can cause cancer. Conventional doctors are just practicing bad homeopathy. They are prescribing Partially similar medicines. If their drugs were homeopathic (i.e. similar) to the patients symptoms on all levels they would be curative. Radiation sometimes does cure cancer instead of just suppressing it per usual.
Even if this were true, what would it prove? Certainly not that homeopathy works!
Dr Hahneman did forbid mixing homeopathy and conventional medicine. In his day doctors commonly used extensive blood letting and extreme doses of mercury. Its not Quite as bad now.
You evidently did not read Hahnemann’s writings.
Just because we dont know how extremely dilute homeopathic remedies work, doesn’t discount that they Do work. Homeopathy seems to fly in the face of Known science. In no way is it irrational or unscientific. There are lots of phenomena in the universe that cant be explained yet, like dark energy and dark matter effects and even consciousness!
Not knowing how a treatment works has not stopped science to test whether it works (e.g. Aspirin). In the case of homeopathy, the results of these endeavors were not positive.
The assumption that the moon is made of cheese also flies in the face of science; do you perhaps think that this makes it true?
The actions of homeopathy can and have been well-explained: they are due to placebo effects.
Stan, thank you for this entertaining exercise. But, next time, please remember to supply evidence for your statements.
A ‘manifesto’ is not something that I come across often in my area of research, i.e. so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). This one is in German, I, therefore, translated it for you:
Manifesto for healthy medicine
With the Manifesto for healthy medicine, we, the citizens and patients alliance weil’s hilft! (‘BECAUSE IT HELPS’) demand a fundamental change in our healthcare system, towards a diverse medicine that focuses on people and health. Be part of it! Sign the manifesto and become part of the movement.
It’s of paramount importance, the Manifesto for healthy medicine. About the way we live. It’s about our health. It’s about you and it’s about me.
We want our healthcare system to actually focus on health.
We want a medicine that doesn’t ask what’s missing, but what is possible.
We want a medicine that cares about people, that takes care, gets to the bottom of things, and uses innovative technologies to do so.
We want more bio, so that the chemistry is right, and we want naturopathic procedures and naturally effective medicines to be recognized, promoted, and researched further.
We want research that creates knowledge because, in addition to studies, it also takes into account the experience of physicians and the needs of patients.
We want carers and doctors to be able to work in a way that is good for their patients and for themselves.
We want people from all healthcare professions to work together as equals.
We want a medicine that creates awareness for a good and healthy life because climate protection also begins in one’s own body.
We want an integrative medicine that puts people at the center and self-evidently combines conventional and natural healing methods.
And we want this medicine to be accessible and affordable for everyone.
We fight for a healthy medicine of the future.
Be part of it!
(sorry, if some of it might sound badly translated but the German original is in parts pure gibberish)
Who writes such tosh composed of every thinkable platitude and then pompously calls it a MANIFESTO?
BECAUSE IT HELPS! (weil’s hilft!) is a citizens’ movement that demands a change in the health care system – towards the needs and preferences of patients, towards a holistic view of people, and a focus on health instead of disease. The sensible combination of natural medicine and conventional medicine, an integrative medicine, makes an indispensable contribution to this. This is because it relies fully on the patients and involves them as active partners in the treatment. Modern medicine of the future, therefore, needs the equal cooperation of natural medicine and conventional medicine – in the everyday life of physicians and patients, in the reimbursement by the health insurance companies as well as in research and teaching.
On the information platform www.weils-hilft.de weil’s hilft! informs about current developments in integrative medicine, provides background information, and publishes a podcast once a month. The movement is also active on social media at www.facebook.com/weilshilft and www.instagram.com/weilshilft.
weil’s hilft! is supported by the health and patient organizations GESUNDHEIT AKTIV, KNEIPP-BUND, and NATUR UND MEDIZIN. Together, the alliance represents the interests of more than 220,000 people.
One could easily disclose the funny side of this, the utter stupidity of the arguments, the platitudes, fallacies, misunderstandings, ignorance, etc. Yes, that would hardly be difficult. But it would ignore how worrying this and similar movements are. They systematically misinform consumers with the sole aim of persuading them that the integration of unproven or disproven treatments into medical routine is in their interest. Yet, if we only scratch the surface of their arguments, we realize that it is exclusively in the interest of those who profit from this type of misinformation.
Last September, THE GUARDIAN published an article about the HEAD OF THE ROYAL MEDICAL HOUSEHOLD. I did not know much about this position, so I informed myself:
The royal household has its own team of medics, who are on call 24 hours a day. They are led by Prof Sir Huw Thomas (a consultant at King Edward VII’s hospital [the private hospital in Marylebone often used by members of the royal family, including the late Prince Philip] and St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, and professor of gastrointestinal genetics at Imperial College London), head of the medical household and physician to the Queen – a title dating back to 1557. Thomas has been part of the team of royal physicians for 16 years and became the Queen’s personal physician in 2014. The role is not full-time and does not have fixed hours or sessions but Thomas is available whenever he is needed. Thomas received a knighthood in the 2021 new year honours, and was made Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) – a personal gift of the monarch. At the time of the honour, in an interview with Imperial College London, he said it had been a “busy couple of years in this role,” adding that he felt “very grateful to have been recognised for my service to date”. Thomas added that being the Queen’s personal physician was a “great honour” and “a very enjoyable and rewarding role”. He said: “The nature of the work is interesting because you see how a whole different organisation, the royal household, operates. You very much become part of that organisation and become the personal doctor to the principal people in it, who are patients just like other patients.” …
In previous generations the royal doctor has caused controversy. When the Queen’s grandfather King George V was in his final hours, Lord Dawson, the royal doctor with personal responsibility for the 70-year-old monarch issued a bulletin, declaring: “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close.”
In 1986, four decades after Lord Dawson’s death, his diaries were made public – revealing that he had administered a lethal dose of morphine and cocaine to relieve the King’s pain, but also to ensure that the death could be announced in the morning edition of the Times, rather than “less appropriate evening journals”.
During the last few days, it was difficult to escape all the hoo-hah related to the coronation, and I wondered whether Charles has replaced Prof Thomas in his role as HEAD OF THE ROYAL MEDICAL HOUSEHOLD. It did not take long to find out. There even is a Wiki page on the subject! It provides a list of the recent heads:
List of Heads of the Medical Household
The Head of the Medical Household was first appointed in 1973.
- 1973–1981: Sir Richard Bayliss, KCVO MD FRCP MRCS
- 1981–1989: Sir John Batten, KCVO MD FRCP
- 1989–1993: Sir Anthony Dawson, KCVO MD FRCP
- 1993–2005: Sir Richard Thompson, KCVO DM PRCP
- 2005–2014: Professor Sir John Cunningham, KCVO BM BCh MA DM FRCP
- 2014–2022: Professor Sir Huw Thomas, KCVO MBBS MA PhD
- 2022 – to present: Dr Michael Dixon, LVO, OBE, MA, FRCGP, FRCP
Yes, Michael Dixon! I am sure this will be of interest. Michael Dixon used to be a friend and an occasional collaborator of mine. He has featured prominently in my memoir as well as in my biography of Charles. In addition, he has been the subject of numerous blog posts, e.g.:
- Today, integrative medicine is about to make history, says Dr. Michael Dixon
- My (most forgettable) paper with Dr Michael Dixon
- Boosting immunity against coronavirus? Dr Michael Dixon’s infinite wisdom on the pandemic
- Dr Michael Dixon seems to support homeopathy as a treatment for cancer
- Should homeopathy be blacklisted in general practice? Dr Michael Dixon’s profoundly misleading comments
- Johrei healing and the amazing Dr Dixon (presidential candidate for the RCGP)
- Dr Dixon’s safe herbal medicine
- Remember the ‘Foundation for Integrated Health’? Here is a good summary of its infamous history
- Prince Charles becomes patron of the ‘College of Medicine and Integrated Health’
- Uncharitable charities? The example of ‘YES TO LIFE’
- A treasure trove of fallacies, falsehoods and deceptions
I am sure that many of my readers would like to join me in wishing both Michael and Charles all the best in their new roles.
Social prescribing (SP) has been mentioned here several times before. It seems important to so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), as some enthusiasts – not least King Charles – are trying to use it as a means to smuggle nonsensical treatments into routine healthcare.
SP is supposed to enable healthcare professionals to link patients with non-medical interventions available in the community to address underlying socioeconomic and behavioural determinants. The question, of course, is whether it has any relevant benefits.
This systematic review included all randomised controlled trials of SP among community-dwelling adults recruited from primary care or community setting, investigating any chronic disease risk factors defined by the WHO (behavioural factors: smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol consumption; metabolic factors: raised blood pressure, overweight/obesity, hyperlipidaemia and hyperglycaemia). Random effect meta-analyses were performed at two time points: completion of intervention and follow-up after trial.
The researchers identified 9 reports from 8 trials totalling 4621 participants. All studies evaluated SP exercise interventions which were highly heterogeneous regarding the content, duration, frequency and length of follow-up. The majority of studies had some concerns about the risk of bias. A meta-analysis revealed that SP likely increased physical activity (completion: mean difference (MD) 21 min/week, 95% CI 3 to 39, I2=0%; follow-up ≤12 months: MD 19 min/week, 95% CI 8 to 29, I2=0%). However, SP may not improve markers of adiposity, blood pressure, glucose and serum lipid. There were no eligible studies that primarily target unhealthy diet, smoking or excessive alcohol-drinking behaviours.
The authors concluded that SP exercise interventions probably increased physical activity slightly; however, no benefits were observed for metabolic factors. Determining whether SP is effective in modifying the determinants of chronic diseases and promotes sustainable healthy behaviours is limited by the current evidence of quantification and uncertainty, warranting further rigorous studies.
Great! Regular exercise improves physical fitness.
But do we need SP for this?
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against connecting patients with social networks to improve their health and quality of life. I do, however, object if SP is used to smuggle unproven or disproven SCAMs into EBM. In addition, I ask myself whether we really need the new profession of a ‘link worker’ to facilitate SP. I remember being taught that a good doctor should look after his/her patients holistically, and surely that includes mentioning and facilitating social networks for those who need them.
I, therefore, fear that SP is taking something valuable out of the hands of doctors. And the irony is that SP is favoured by those who are all too quick to turn around and say: LOOK AT HOW FRIGHTFULLY REDUCTIONIST AND HEARTLESS DOCTORS HAVE BECOME. WE NEED MORE HOLISM IN MEDICINE AND THAT CAN ONLY BE PROVIDED BY SCAM PRACTITIONERS!
It has been reported that King Charles refused to pay Prince Andrew’s £ 32,000-a-year bill for his personal healing guru. The Duke of York has allegedly submitted the claim to the Privy Purse as a royal expense having sought the help of a yoga teacher.
However, the claim has reportedly been denied by the King, who is said to have told Andrew the bill will need to be covered using his own money. It comes after sources claimed Andrew has been using the Indian yogi for a number of years for chanting, massages, and holistic therapy in the privacy of his mansion. The healer has reportedly enjoyed month-long stays at a time at the £30 million Royal Lodge in Windsor.
Previously, the Queen seems to have passed the claims. But now Charles is in control. A source said: “While the Queen was always happy to indulge her son over the years, Charles is far less inclined to fund such indulgences, particularly in an era of a cost-of-living crisis. “Families are struggling and would rightly baulk at the idea of tens of thousands paid to an Indian guru to provide holistic treatment to a non-working royal living in his grace and favour mansion. This time the King saw the bill for the healer submitted by Andrew to the Privy Purse and thought his brother was having a laugh.”
How is he going to cope without his guru?
Will he be able to recover from the mysterious condition that prevents him to sweat?
Will his ego take another blow?
How will he be able to afford even the most basic holistic wellness?
How can Charles – who knows only too well about its benefits – be so cruel to his own brother?
Should I start a collection so that Andrew can pay for his most basic needs?
Yes, these are the nagging questions and deep concerns that keep me awake at night!
I have just been asked if, by any chance, the yoga teacher is a 16-year-old female. I have to admit that I cannot answer this question.
In case you have categorized Harry Windsor as an ungrateful brat, you are entirely wrong! He did thank a lot of people – Ophra and Gwyneth Paltrow, for instance. No, I did not read Harry’s bestseller ‘SPARE’. But I did, of course, read the odd report about it simply because it is almost impossible to escape the current press hoo-ha about it.
Most of what I learned is of no interest to me. Some of it, I have to admit, made me concerned about Hary’s wellbeing – after all, we know that chronic drug-taking can severely affect one’s mental health! However, one recent article in Newsweek managed to reassure me on that score:
Among the “professionals, medical experts, and coaches” thanked by the prince for “keeping me physically and mentally strong over the years,” is John Amaral, a Los Angeles-based chiropractor, energy practitioner, author and educator. Amaral is known for his self-developed “energy flow formula,” which combines body and energy work to include mindfulness, meditation and breathing.
This sounded sufficiently relevant for me to look up Amaral. This is what we learn from one website:
Dr. John Amaral is a holistic chiropractor that practices Network Spinal (NSA). This technique helps people release stored tension in their muscles and joints through gentle force adjustments, also known as entrainments. Instead of the traditional cracking or popping of bones that you’re used to seeing at chiropractic offices, John Amaral leverages different energetic intelligences to help people heal physically and emotionally.
Another source tells us the following:
John Amaral is a chiropractor, energy healer and educator who works behind the scenes helping celebrities, entrepreneurs, pro athletes and influencers elevate their energy so they feel and perform their best. John has worked with thousands of people from over 50 countries. He is the Founder of Body Centered Leadership… How much do his sessions cost? According to the Wall Street Journal, a healing session with Amaral will run you $2,500.
And a third website informs us that:
Amaral works with what he calls the “subtle energy body”, which is the energy field around the body that can extend around 3 to 8 feet from the physical body. His work is primarily focused on shifting the tension state of the body and help in freeing up bound-up energy that’s held in different parts of the body. He accesses the energy around the body to achieve this.
In case you have not yet got the drift, take a look at this video; impressive isn’t it?
Yes, Amaral is not cheap but he must be worth it! And because he is such a genial healer, I am confident that we can all relax now knowing that Harry’s health is in such good hands. Personally, I am thrilled by Harry’s hint that there might be a second book in the offing – one with the really dirty linen. I think I might actually buy that one, now that I know how badly he needs the money for keeping healthy.
In recent weeks, I have been thinking a lot about ‘INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE‘. Skeptics mostly see it as a way of smuggling quackery into conventional healthcare. This is undoubtedly true and important. But it occurred to me that there also is a somewhat different perspective that has so far been neglected. Let me try to explain by recounting a story. It is fictive, of course, but the fiction is based on the observation of many cases during previous decades.
The story is about a doctor – let’s call him George – who, to be frank, is not the most gifted of his colleagues. Already at medical school, he was not as dedicated as his teachers would have hoped. In fact, medicine had not been his first choice at all. Yet he ended up as a general practitioner and eventually became a partner in a practice with 5 GPs.
Over the years, it became clear that George lacked something to be a good doctor. He knew his stuff, alright, got most of the diagnoses correct, and made not too many mistakes. But something was not quite right. One could say that, relative to his colleagues, he lacked kindness, dedication, compassion, and empathy. He often found it unnecessary to respect his patients. Sometimes, he even joked about them and about what he perceived as their stupidity.
If we view medicine as being both a science and an art, one might conclude that George was just about alright with the science but notably deficient in the art of healthcare. Most of his patients were aware that something was amiss; many even avoided him and tried to consult one of his colleagues instead. On more than one occasion, patients had told George that they were disappointed with his attitude. Some had even told him to the face that he lacked kindness. Such conversations made George think. He had to admit to himself that his colleagues were better at building good relationships with their patients. Eventually, George decided that something ought to change.
As it happened, George’s wife had a friend who was a Reiki healer. One day, he asked the healer – let’s call her Liz – whether she would like to try working alongside the GPs in his practice. Liz was delighted and accepted. George did not believe for a minute that Reiki was more than hocus-pocus, but he knew that Liz was kind and had loads of the compassion that he was so obviously lacking.
Hence force George and Liz formed a team: George looked after his patients the best he could and whenever he felt that more empathy and compassion were required, he would send the patient to Liz. This partnership changed everything. The patients were content, George was happy, and Liz was beaming.
As some patients frowned at the idea of Reiki, George soon recruited an aromatherapist as well. After that, a lay homeopath and a reflexologist were employed. George’s GP partners (who made little use of the alternative practitioners) were sure that none of these therapies had any specific effects (incidentally, a belief not shared by the practitioners in question who felt they were doing wonders). But for George, the therapists clearly did supplement his limited interpersonal skills. Patients were delighted and the GP practice began to thrive. As for George, he became an increasingly outspoken and prominent advocate of INTEGRATED MEDICINE. The fact that there was no evidence to support it did hardly matter to him; what counted was that it rendered his own incompetence less visible.
About a year later, George convinced his slightly bewildered partners to rename their practice ‘THE INTEGRATIVE HEALTH CENTRE’.
End of story
In case you did not get my point, let me make it more bluntly: INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE can be a way for some doctors to delegate the art of medicine to quacks. Good doctors don’t need to do this because they are able to show compassion and treat their patients as whole human beings. Less gifted doctors, however, find INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE a practical solution to their own incompetence.
So, is INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE a good compromise then?
No, certainly not!
The last thing we need in healthcare is for doctors to start delegating the art of medicine to others. It would be a serious mistake, nothing less than abandoning the core values of medicine to charlatans.
But what is the solution?
Obviously, it is to make sure all doctors are competent. We need to select medical students adequately, tell them much more about the importance of kindness, compassion, empathy, holism, etc., and teach them how to show and use these qualities. We need to train doctors to be competent in both the science and the art of medicine. This has to begin in medical school and must continue throughout their professional career. We need to make sure that doctors like George understand the message; if they prove to be unable to do so, we should direct them to professions where compassion is not essential.
The worst solution we can possibly envisage is to allow charlatans to cover up the incompetence of people like George and call it INTEGRATED MEDICINE.
Camilla spent ten days at the end of October in a sophisticated meditation and fitness center in southern India. Life has recently been hectic for the Queen Consort: at 75, she has been in a non-stop succession of various ceremonies for the funeral of Elizabeth II, always one step behind her husband, not to mention her new status as sovereign… Enough to block her chakras in no time.
She came to the resort with her bodyguards and a handful of friends and was able to take advantage of the tailor-made treatments concocted for her by the master of the house, Dr Issac Mathai, who created this high-end holistic centre on a dozen hectares of scented gardens near Bangalore. The program includes massages, herbal steam baths, yoga, naturopathy, homeopathy, meditation, and Ayurvedic treatments to “cleanse, de-stress, soothe and revitalize the mind, body and soul”, as the establishment’s website states.
Guests are required to follow an individualized, meat-free diet, with organic food from the resort’s vegetable gardens, based on lots of salads or soups – Camilla is said to be a fan of sweet corn soup with spinach. Cigarettes and mobile phones are not allowed, although it is assumed that Camilla must have some privileges due to her status… and the basic rate for the suites, which starts at $950 a night – the price of the rooms varies between $260 and $760, the rate including a consultation with the doctors.
Charles and Camilla have been fans of the Soukya Centre in India for a decade. The place corresponds in every way to their deep-rooted convictions about health. Like her husband, Camilla is a follower of organic food, she also practices yoga and treats her face with creams made from nettle and bee venom. For his part, Charles has long been an advocate of alternative medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and also hypnosis… He even set up a foundation to support complementary medicine by lobbying the British health service to include it in complementary therapies for certain patients, which caused an uproar among the pundits of traditional medicine.
If you suspected I was (yet again) sarcastic about the royal couple, you are mistaken. The text above is only my (slightly shortened) translation of an article published in the French magazine LE POINT (even the title is theirs). I found the article amusing and interesting; so, I looked up the Indian health center. Here are some of the things I found:
The 1st impression is that they are not shy about promotion calling themselves THE WORLD’S BEST AYURVEDA TREATMENT CENTER. The doctor in charge was once a ‘Consultant Physician’ at the Hale Clinic in London, where he treated a number of high-profile people. As his professional background, he offers this:
M.D. (Homeopathy); Hahnemann Post-Graduate Institute of Homeopathy, London M.R.C.H, London; Chinese Pulse Diagnosis and Acupuncture, WHO Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Nanjing, China; Trained (Mind-Body Medicine Programme) at Harvard Medical School, USA
The approach of the center is described as follows:
The fundamental principle underlying Holistic Treatment is that the natural defense and immune system of an individual when strengthened, has the potential to heal and prevent diseases. In the age of super-specialisation where human beings are often viewed as a conglomeration of organs, it is crucial to understand ourselves as multi-dimensional beings with a body, mind and spirit. These interconnected dimensions need to be in perfect harmony to ensure real well-being.
And about homeopathy, they claim this:
Homeopathy originated in 1796 in Germany, and was discovered by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German scientist. Homeopathy is popular today as a non-intrusive, holistic system of medicine. Instead of different medicines for different parts of the body, one single constitutional remedy is prescribed. As a system of medicine, Homeopathy is highly scientific, safe, logical and an extremely effective method of healing. For over 200 years people have used Homeopathy to maintain their good health, and also to treat and cure a wide range of illnesses like allergies, metabolic disorders, atopic dermatitis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Auto-immune disorders.
At this stage, I felt I had seen enough. Yes, you are right, we did not learn a lot from this little exploration. No, hold on! We did learn that homeopathy is highly scientific, safe, logical, and extremely effective!
The question, however, is should we believe it?
Yesterday, L’EXPRESS published an interview with me. It was introduced with these words (my translation):
Professor emeritus at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, Edzard Ernst is certainly the best connoisseur of unconventional healing practices. For 25 years, he has been sifting through the scientific evaluation of these so-called “alternative” medicines. With a single goal: to provide an objective view, based on solid evidence, of the reality of the benefits and risks of these therapies. While this former homeopathic doctor initially thought he was bringing them a certain legitimacy, he has become one of their most enlightened critics. It is notable as a result of his work that the British health system, the NHS, gave up covering homeopathy. Since then, he has never ceased to alert us to the abuses and lies associated with these practices. For L’Express, he looks back at the challenges of regulating this vast sector and deciphers the main concepts put forward by “wellness” professionals – holism, detox, prevention, strengthening the immune system, etc.
The interview itself is quite extraordinary, in my view. While UK, US, and German journalists usually are at pains to tone down my often outspoken answers, the French journalists (there were two doing the interview with me) did nothing of the sort. This starts with the title of the piece: “Homeopathy is implausible but energy healing takes the biscuit”.
The overall result is one of the most outspoken interviews of my entire career. Let me offer you a few examples (again my translation):
Why are you so critical of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow who promote these wellness methods?
Sadly, we have gone from evidence-based medicine to celebrity-based medicine. A celebrity without any medical background becomes infatuated with a certain method. They popularize this form of treatment, very often making money from it. The best example of this is Prince Charles, sorry Charles III, who spent forty years of his life promoting very strange things under the guise of defending alternative medicine. He even tried to market a “detox” tincture, based on artichoke and dandelion, which was quickly withdrawn from the market.
How to regulate this sector of wellness and alternative medicines? Today, anyone can present himself as a naturopath or yoga teacher…
Each country has its own regulation, or rather its own lack of regulation. In Germany, for instance, we have the “Heilpraktikter”. Anyone can get this paramedical status, you just have to pass an exam showing that you are not a danger to the public. You can retake this exam as often as you want. Even the dumbest will eventually pass. But these practitioners have an incredible amount of freedom, they even may give infusions and injections. So there is a two-tier health care system, with university-trained doctors and these practitioners.
In France, you have non-medical practitioners who are fighting for recognition. Osteopaths are a good example. They are not officially recognized as a health profession. Many schools have popped up to train them, promising a good income to their students, but today there are too many osteopaths compared to the demand of the patients (knowing that nobody really needs an osteopath to begin with…). Naturopaths are in the same situation.
In Great Britain, osteopaths and chiropractors are regulated by statute. There is even a Royal College dedicated to chiropractic. It’s a bit like having a Royal College for hairdressers! It’s stupid, but we have that. We also have professionals like naturopaths, acupuncturists, or herbalists who have an intermediate status. So it’s a very complex area, depending on the state. It is high time to have more uniform regulations in Europe.
But what would adequate regulation look like?
From my point of view, if you really regulate a profession like homeopaths, it means that these professionals may only practice according to the best scientific evidence available. Which, in practice, means that a homeopath cannot practice homeopathy. This is why these practitioners have a schizophrenic attitude toward regulation. On the one hand, they would like to be recognized to gain credibility. But on the other hand, they know very well that a real regulation would mean that they would have to close shop…
What about the side effects of these practices?
If you ask an alternative practitioner about the risks involved, he or she will take exception. The problem is that there is no system in alternative medicine to monitor side effects and risks. However, there have been cases where chiropractors or acupuncturists have killed people. These cases end up in court, but not in the medical literature. The acupuncturists have no problem saying that a hundred deaths due to acupuncture – a figure that can be found in the scientific literature – is negligible compared to the millions of treatments performed every day in this discipline. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many cases that are not published and therefore not included in the data, because there is no real surveillance system for these disciplines.
Do you see a connection between the wellness sector and conspiracy theories? In the US, we saw that Qanon was thriving in the yoga sector, for example…
Several studies have confirmed these links: people who adhere to conspiracy theories also tend to turn to alternative medicine. If you think about it, alternative medicine is itself a conspiracy theory. It is the idea that conventional medicine, in the name of pharmaceutical interests, in particular, wants to suppress certain treatments, which can therefore only exist in an alternative world. But in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is only too eager to take advantage of this craze for alternative products and well-being. Similarly, universities, hospitals, and other health organizations are all too willing to open their doors to these disciplines, despite the lack of evidence of their effectiveness.
Advocates of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) often sound like a broken record to me. They bring up the same ‘arguments’ over and over again, no matter whether they happen to be defending acupuncture, energy healing, homeopathy, or any other form of SCAM. Here are some of the most popular of these generic ‘arguments’:
1. It helped me
The supporters of SCAM regularly cite their own good experiences with their particular form of treatment and think that this is proof enough. However, they forget that any symptomatic improvement they may have felt can be the result of several factors that are unrelated to the SCAM in question. To mention just a few:
- Regression towards the mean
- Natural history of the disease
2. My SCAM is without risk
Since homeopathic remedies, for instance, are highly diluted, it makes sense to assume that they cannot cause side effects. Several other forms of SCAM are equally unlikely to cause adverse effects. So, the notion is seemingly correct. However, this ‘argument’ ignores the fact that it is not the therapy itself that can pose a risk, but the SCAM practitioner. For example, it is well documented – and, on this blog, we have discussed it often – that many of them advise against vaccination, which can undoubtedly cause serious harm.
3. SCAM has stood the test of time
It is true that many SCAMs have survived for hundreds or even thousands of years. It is also true that millions still use it even today. This, according to enthusiasts, is sufficient proof of SCAM’s efficacy. But they forget that many therapies have survived for centuries, only to be proved useless in the end. Just think of bloodletting or mercury preparations from past times.
4 The evidence is not nearly as negative as skeptics pretend
Yes, there are plenty of positive studies on some SCAMs This is not surprising. Firstly, from a purely statistical point of view, if we have, for instance, 1 000 studies of a particular SCAM, it is to be expected that, at the 5% level of statistical significance, about 50 of them will produce a significantly positive result. Secondly, this number becomes considerably larger if we factor in the fact that most of the studies are methodologically poor and were conducted by SCAM enthusiasts with a corresponding bias (see my ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME on this blog). However, if we base our judgment on the totality of the most robust studies, the bottom line is almost invariably that there is no overall convincingly positive result.
5. The pharmaceutical industry is suppressing SCAM
SCAM is said to be so amazingly effective that the pharmaceutical industry would simply go bust if this fact became common knowledge. Therefore Big Pharma is using its considerable resources to destroy SCAM. This argument is fallacious because:
- there is no evidence to support it,
- far from opposing SCAM, the pharmaceutical industry is heavily involved in SCAM (for example, by manufacturing homeopathic remedies, dietary supplements, etc.)
6 SCAM could save a lot of money
It is true that SCAMs are on average much cheaper than conventional medicines. However, one must also bear in mind that price alone can never be the decisive factor. We also need to consider other issues such as the risk/benefit balance. And a reduction in healthcare costs can never be achieved by ineffective therapies. Without effectiveness, there can be no cost-effectiveness.
7 Many conventional medicines are also not evidence-based
Sure, there are some treatments in conventional medicine that are not solidly supported by evidence. So why do we insist on solid evidence for SCAM? The answer is simple: in all areas of healthcare, intensive work is going on aimed at filling the gaps and improving the situation. As soon as a significant deficit is identified, studies are initiated to establish a reliable basis. Depending on the results, appropriate measures are eventually taken. In the case of negative findings, the appropriate measure is to exclude treatments from routine healthcare, regardless of whether the treatment in question is conventional or alternative. In other words, this is work in progress. SCAM enthusiasts should ask themselves how many treatments they have discarded so far. The answer, I think, is zero.
8 SCAM cannot be forced into the straitjacket of a clinical trial
This ‘argument’ surprisingly popular. It supposes that SCAM is so individualized, holistic, subtle, etc., that it defies science. The ‘argument’ is false, and SCAM advocates know it, not least because they regularly and enthusiastically cite those scientific papers that seemingly support their pet therapy.
9 SCAM is holistic
This may or may not be true, but the claim of holism is not a monopoly of SCAM. All good medicine is holistic, and in order to care for our patients holistically, we certainly do not need SCAM.
1o SCAM complements conventional medicine
This argument might be true: SCAM is often used as an adjunct to conventional treatments. Yet, there is no good reason why a complementary treatment should not be shown to be worth the effort and expense to add it to another therapy. If, for instance, you pay for an upgrade on a flight, you also want to make sure that it is worth the extra expenditure.
11 In Switzerland it works, too
That’s right, in Switzerland, a small range of SCAMs was included in basic health care by referendum. However, it has been reported that the consequences of this decision are far from positive. It brought no discernible benefit and only caused very considerable costs.
I am sure there are many more such ‘arguments’. Feel free to post your favorites!
My point here is this:
the ‘arguments’ used in defense of SCAM are not truly arguments; they are fallacies, misunderstandings, and sometimes even outright lies.