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

integrative medicine

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In a previous post, I reported about the ‘biggest ever’, ‘history-making’ conference on integrative medicine. It turns out that it was opened by none other than Prince Charles. Here is what the EXPRESS reported about his opening speech:

Opening the conference, Charles said:

“I know a few people have seen this integrated approach as being in some way opposed to modern medicine. It isn’t. But we need to combine this with a personal approach that also takes account of our beliefs, hopes, culture and history. It builds upon the abilities of our minds and bodies to heal, and to live healthy lives by improving diet and lifestyle.”

Dr. Michael Dixon, Chair of the College of Medicine, said:

“Medicine, as we know it, is no longer affordable or sustainable. Nor is it able to curb the increase in obesity, mental health problems and most long-term diseases. A new medical mindset is needed, which goes to the heart of true healthcare. The advantages and possibilities of social prescription are limitless. An adjustment to the system now will provide a long-term, sustainable solution for the NHS to meet the ever-increasing demand for funding and healthcare professionals.”

_______________________

Charles very kindly acknowledges that not everyone is convinced about his concept of integrated/integrative medicine. Good point your royal highness! But I fear Charles did not quite understand our objections. In a nutshell: it is not possible to cure the many ills of conventional medicine by adding unproven and disproven therapies to it. In fact, it distracts from our duty to constantly improve conventional medicine. And pretending it is all about diet and lifestyle is simply not true (see below). Moreover, it is disingenuous to pretend that diet and lifestyle do not belong to conventional healthcare.

Dr. Dixon’s concern about the affordability of medicine is, of course, justified. But the notion that “the advantages and possibilities of social prescription are limitless” is a case of severe proctophasia, and so is Dixon’s platitude about ‘adjusting the system’. His promotion of treatments like AcupunctureAlexander TechniqueAromatherapyHerbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Hypnotherapy, Massage, Naturopathy, Reflexology, Reiki, Tai Chi, Yoga Therapy will not adjust anything, it will only make healthcare less efficient.

I do not doubt for a minute that doctors are prescribing too many drugs and that we could save huge amounts by reminding patients that they are responsible for their own health while teaching them how to improve it without pills. This is what we learn in medical school! All we need to do is remind everyone concerned. In fact, Charles and his advisor, Michael, could be most helpful in achieving this – but not by promoting a weird branch of healthcare (integrative/integrated medicine or whatever other names they choose to give it) that can only distract from the important task at hand.

Today, a 3-day conference is starting on ‘INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE’ (IM) in London. Dr. Michael Dixon, claims that it is going to be the biggest such conference ever and said that it ‘will make history’. Dixon is an advisor to Prince Charles, chair of the College of Medicine and Integrated Health (CoMIH, of which Charles is a patron), and joint-chair of the congress. The other co-chair is Elizabeth Thompson. Both have been the subject of several previous posts on this blog.

Dixon advertised the conference by commenting: “I am seeing amongst by younger colleagues, the newly trained GPs, that they have a new attitude towards healthcare. They are not interested in whether something is viewed as conventional, complementary, functional or lifestyle, they are just looking at what works for their patients.  Through this conference, we aim to capture that sense of hope, open-mindedness, and patient-centred care”. I believe that this ‘history-making’ event is a good occasion to yet again review the concept of IM.

The term IM sounds appealing, yet it is also confusing and misleading. The confusion starts with the fact that our American friends call it integrative medicine, while we in the UK normally call it integrated medicine, and it ends with different people understanding different things by IM. In conventional healthcare, for instance, people use the term to mean the integration of social and medical care. In the bizarre world of alternative medicine, IM is currently used to signify the parallel use of alternative and conventional therapies on an equal footing.

Today, there are many different definitions of the latter version of IM. Prince Charles, one of the world’s most ardent supporter of IM, used to simply call it ‘the best of both worlds’. A recent, more detailed definition is a ‘healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapies’. This seems to imply that conventional medicine is not healing-orientated, does not account for the whole person, excludes aspects of lifestyle, neglects the therapeutic relationship, is not informed by evidence, and does not employ all appropriate therapies. This, I would argue is a bonanza of strawman fallacies, i.e. the misrepresentation of an opponent’s qualities with a view of defeating him more easily and making one’s own position look superior. Perhaps this is unsurprising – after all, Dixon has been once named ‘a pyromaniac in a field of (integrative) strawmen’.

Perhaps definitions are too theoretical and it is more productive to look at what IM stands for in real life. If you surf the Internet, you can find thousands of clinics that carry the name IM. It will take you just minutes to discover that there is not a single alternative therapy, however ridiculous, that they don’t offer. What is more, there is evidence to show that doctors who are into IM are also often against public health measures such as vaccinations.

The UK ‘Integrated Medicine Alliance’, a grouping within the CoMIH, offers information sheets on all of the following treatments: Acupuncture, Alexander Technique, Aromatherapy, Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Hypnotherapy, Massage, ,Naturopathy, Reflexology, Reiki, Tai Chi, Yoga Therapy. The one on homeopathy, for example, tells us that “homeopathy … can be used for almost any condition either alone or in a complementary manner.” Compare this to what the NHS says about it: “homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos (dummy treatments)”.

This evidently grates with the politically correct definition above: IM is not well-informed about the evidence, and it does use inappropriate treatments. In fact, it is little more than a clumsy attempt to smuggle unproven and disproven alternative therapies into the mainstream of healthcare. It does render medicine not better but will inevitably make it worse, and this is surely not in the best interest of vulnerable patients who, I would argue, have a right to be treated with the most effective therapies currently available.

The conference can perhaps be characterized best by having a look at its sponsors. ‘Gold sponsor’ is WELEDA, and amongst the many further funders of the meeting are several other manufacturers of mistletoe medications for cancer. I just hope that the speakers at this meeting – Dixon has managed to persuade several reputable UK contributors – do not feel too embarrassed when they pass their exhibitions.

 

Guest post by Derk P. Kooi

Political lobbying is not only restricted to major companies, even quackery lobbies extensively in Dutch politics as well as at a European and global level. The EUROpean Complementary and Alternative Medicine Stakeholder Group (EUROCAM) has been active in Europe for some time. EUROCAM recently attracted attention with a statement on antibiotic resistance during the European Antibiotics Awareness Day.[1] EUROCAM claims that Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) could enhance the immune system and could therefore contribute to the fight against antibiotic resistance. An early study conducted by the anthroposophist Erik Baars was referenced, inter alia. However, this medical claim turns out to be pure nonsense.

EUROCAM regularly publishes so-called ‘position papers’ on the contribution CAM could provide to the European health care system. EUROCAM is currently cautious with its medical claims, and rightly so, as it has seriously overstepped the mark in the past. For example, claims about the efficacy of CAM for infections referred to research by Erik Baars, doctor, anthroposophical healthcare lector at the University of Applied Sciences Leiden and researcher at the Louis Bolk Institute. Baars is an associate of the society due to his misleading statements in his publications on the usefulness of CAM, more specifically of the anthroposophical variant.

Where does this fairly unknown club actually come from, what does it do and how seriously should we take it? Well, EUROCAM is an umbrella organisation for various alternative therapists and their patients. We are talking about Ayurveda, homeopathy, osteopathy, anthroposophy, herbal medicine, traditional (Chinese) medicine, Reiki and acupuncture. The Dutch Registry of Complementary Care Professionals (RBCZ) is also affiliated with EUROCAM. Classical homeopath Annemieke Boelsma is the contact person of the RBCZ at EUROCAM.

It is unclear precisely when EUROCAM was created, the LinkedIn page says 2009. The figurehead of the club is “secretary general” Ton Nicolaï. This homeopathic doctor is also well known to Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij, (www.kwakzalverij.nl) the Dutch Society against Quackery. The treasurer of EUROCAM is business administrator Wim Menkveld. Menkveld is on the Advisory Board of the Hortus Botanicus of Leiden. He is also active on the board of the European Patients’ Federation of Homeopathy. EUROCAM thus seems to have originated mainly from Dutch homeopathic circles.

Furthermore, TV producer Miranda Eilert-Ruchtie from Hilversum sits on the EUROCAM board. According to the EUROCAM website, she acts as their “operations manager” and communications advisor. The German Heilprakterin Sonja Maric, an anthropologist and “specialist in Tibetan medicine”, also acts as a communications consultant.

The European Transparency Register shows that in 2020 the total budget of the organisation was 40,498 euros; no more recent data is available. In the year 2018, 5,000 euros were reserved as an honorarium for Mr Nicolaï, for the 0.5 FTE that he works for the organisation. Miranda Eilert-Ruchtie works a number of hours a week for EUROCAM, as a freelancer. Sonja Maric does this on a voluntary basis.

EUROCAM is a member of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the European Union Health Policy Platform. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises the organisation as a non-state actor, which means that both the EU and the WHO consider EUROCAM to be a serious legal entity. In the past, EUROCAM has intervened in public EU consultations in the fields of aging, pharmaceutical strategy, cancer, and digital data and services.

EUROCAM provides the secretariat of the MEP Interest Group on Integrative Medicine and Health, a group of five European parliamentarians who have set themselves the goal of promoting integrative medicine at the European level. Co-chairs are Finish Sirpa Pietikäinen, a European parliamentarian for the Christian Democrats, and French Michèle Rivasi, a European parliamentarian for the Greens. The other members are Luxembourg’s Tilly Metz, the Italian Eleonara Evi, and the Danish Margrete Auken. It is noteworthy that they are European parliamentarians for the Greens. They are all members of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). Eleonara Evi was part of the illustrious Five Star Movement until 2020, known for its anti-vaccination stance. The Member of European Parliament (MEP) Interest Group organises annual events with speakers who are the same people who perform at EUROCAM symposia. These include the aforementioned anthroposophist Erik Baars. Baars worked closely with EUROCAM boss Ton Nicolaï in a European research project on CAM alternatives to antibiotics. More about his bad science later.

The texts EUROCAM produces nowadays (on its website) are carefully written, and the medical claims are carefully formulated. The texts are larded with synonyms for “possible”, known in linguistics as hedging. For example “Several CAM methods have shown high potential to reduce cancer pain”.[2] Generic health claims are also often used to suggest medical benefits, for example in the context of COVID-19, ‘In building and maintaining resistance to infectious illness, CAM modalities as a part of Integrative Medicine & Health can play an important role because they mobilise and stimulate people’s self-regulating capacity, thus increasing their resilience, their immune system.’.[3]

Furthermore, claims are put in the mouths of others, which can be read, for example, in quoting patient expectations: ‘While improving quality of life is the major rationale for CAM use, there is a definite undercurrent of expectation, particularly among the younger patients, that some therapies might have an anticancer effect (prolongation of remission periods) and slow/stagnate tumour growth (prolongation of survival periods), boost the immune system, making it easier to overcome the disease.’.[4]

The educated reader will immediately see through these strategies, but the question is whether the lobbied politicians targeted by EUROCAM understand these subtleties. EUROCAM has not always been so cautious, by the way. In an undated (presumably 2013) interview with the Dutch Association for Classical Homeopathy, “secretary general” Ton Nicolaï made a number of remarkable statements. For example, he claimed at the time that research shows “that for a number of herbal medicines there is a reasonable amount of evidence that scientifically confirms their effectiveness in respiratory infection treatments”. [5] Nicolaï bases his assertion on recent research by Erik Baars conducted as part of a European research programme that aimed to find CAM alternatives to antibiotics.

The report of this project, which ended in 2018, can be found on the EUROCAM website.[6] The authors of this report are, not surprisingly, Erik Baars and Ton Nicolaï. The report contains practically no hard science. Sub-studies focus on, for example, the frequency of antibiotic prescribing among alternative-working GPs and on the best practice of CAM believers. A so-called systematic review of systematic reviews offers good starting points to evaluate Mr Nicolaï’s claim: ‘A systematic review of systematic reviews demonstrates that there are specific, evidence-supported, promising CAM treatments for acute, uncomplicated RTIs [uncomplicated respiratory tract infections, ed.] and that they are safe.’

Here, a medical claim is made, which is weakened by the use of the hedge term “promising”. The conclusion can be summarised with “There would be ‘promising’ CAM treatments for respiratory infections, and they would be safe”. However, surprisingly, the project report does not refer to this “systematic review of systematic reviews”, nor to any of the other concrete results of the project!

Due to the lack of references, we cannot but conclude that the claim is based on a 2019 article by Erik Baars. One of the co-authors is Ton Nicolaï.[7] The article was published in the journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (EBCAM), which has a shady reputation. Even one of the founders of EBCAM states that the peer-review system is a farce, and therefore the majority of the articles published in it are useless nonsense.[8] In this article, besides a large amount of vagueness about the “worldview differences” between CAM and medicine, systematic reviews are discussed about the effectiveness and safety of CAM treatments. From this systematic review of systematic reviews, it is concluded that there are promising CAM treatments for respiratory, urinary tract and skin infections and that there is even evidence that some CAM treatments are effective for respiratory infections, but what is this based on?

The reviews that were looked at were split into Cochrane and non-Cochrane reviews. Among the Cochrane reviews, there is one that would demonstrate the efficacy of CAM. It is a review on the use of immunostimulants for the prevention of respiratory tract infections in children.[9] Of the 35 studies that were analysed, six involve small molecules, such as isoprinosine, levamisole and pidotimod. In other words, regular medicine, if it turns out to work, but describing it as being experimental would be more appropriate. Baars’ article states that the review also contains herbal medicine. This is somewhat exaggerated: only one of the 35 studies deals with herbs. Of the remaining 28 studies, 25 cover bacterial extracts and three thymus extracts. Again: Baars does not make clear what this has to do with the CAM that EUROCAM represents.

In summary, EUROCAM is a small European lobbying organisation with perhaps some influence at both European and WHO level. One keeps coming across the same names. The organisation is currently using woolly, disguising language to mask medical claims and to fend off criticism. In the past, this was different when EUROCAM, by means of Ton Nicolaï among others, made very reprehensible statements about the role of CAM in (respiratory tract) infections. For the time being, this little club does not seem to pose much of a threat, but European politicians should, of course, ignore this hobby club.

 

References

1. ‘Improving patient resilience to reduce the need to rely on anti-infection treatment: the role of Integrative Medicine’. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/statement-on-amr-2021/ (visited on 28 December 2021) 2. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/contribution-of-cam-for-a-better-health/cam-in-the-context-of-cancer/ (visited on 3 October 2021) 3. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/contribution-of-cam-for-a-better-health/cam-in-the-context-of-cancer/ (visited on 3 October 2021) 4. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/contribution-of-cam-for-a-better-health/cam-in-the-context-of-cancer/ (visited on 3 October 2021)

5. Miranda Ruchtie. In gesprek met Ton Nicolaï, CAM integreren in de Europese gezondheidszorg. [In discussion with Ton Nicolaï, integrating CAM into the European health care system]. Nederlandse Vereniging van Klassiek Homeopaten. [Dutch Association of Classical Homeopaths] https://www.nvkh.nl/nieuwsbrieven-nvkh/interview-met-ton-nicolai (visited on 3 October 2021)

6. Erik Baars, et al. Reducing the need for antibiotics, the contribution of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. EUROCAM, 2018. https://cam-europe.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/CAM-AMR-EUROCAM-Post-Conference-Paper-2018.pdf (visited on 3 October 2021)

7. Erik W. Baars et al. The Contribution of Complementary and Alternative Medicine to Reduce Antibiotic Use: A Narrative Review of Health Concepts, Prevention, and Treatment Strategies. Evid. Based Complement. Alternat. Med., 2019:5365608. DOI: 10.1155/2019/5365608

8. Edzard Ernst. “EBCAM: an alt med journal that puzzles me a great deal”, URL: http://edzardernst.com/2016/05/ebcam-an-alt-med-journal-that-puzzles-me-a-great-deal/ (visited on 8 January 2022)

9. B. E. Del-Rio-Navarro, F. J. Espinosa-Rosales, V. Flenady, and J. J. Sienra-Monge, “Cochrane Review: Immunostimulants for preventing respiratory tract infection in children,” Evidence-Based Child Health: A Cochrane Review Journal, 2012, 7 (2), 629–717.

During their cancer treatment path, cancer patients use numerous drugs,e.g.:

  • anticancer medications,
  • supportive drugs,
  • other prescribed medications,
  • herbal remedies,
  • other OTC products.

This puts them at risk of significant drug interactions (DIs).

This study describes potential DIs in cancer patients and their prevalence and predictors.

A cross-sectional study was carried out in two centers in the northern West Bank, Palestine. The Lexicomp® Drug Interactions tool (Lexi-Comp, Hudson OH, USA) was applied to check the potential DIs. In addition, the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) was used to show the results and find the associations.

The final analysis included 327 patients. Most of the participants were older than 50 years (61.2%), female (68.5%), and had a solid tumor (74.6%). The total number of potential DIs was 1753, including 1510 drug-drug interactions (DDIs), 24 drug-herb interactions, and 219 drug-food interactions. Importantly, the prevalence of DDIs was 88.1%. In multivariate analysis, the number of potential DDIs significantly decreased with the duration of treatment (p = 0.007), while it increased with the number of comorbidities (p < 0.001) and the number of drugs used (p < 0.001).

The authors concluded that they found a high prevalence of DIs among cancer patients. This required health care providers to develop a comprehensive protocol to monitor and evaluate DIs by improving doctor-pharmacist communication and supporting the role of clinical pharmacists.

What the investigators did not study was the possibility of herb-herb and herb-non-herbal supplement interactions. The reason for this is probably simple: we know too little about these areas to make reasonable judgments. But even in the absence of such considerations, the prevalence of DDIs among cancer patients was high (88.1%). This means that the vast majority of cancer patients had at least one potential DDI. Over half of them were classified as moderately severe or worse.

The lessons seem to be to:

  • use only truly necessary drugs and omit all remedies that are of doubtful value,
  • educate the public about the risks of interactions,
  • be skeptical about the messages of integrative medicine,
  • consult a healthcare professional who is competent to make such judgments,
  • conduct more rigorous research to increase our knowledge in this complex area.

This study used a US nationally representative 11-year sample of office-based visits to physicians from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS), to examine a comprehensive list of factors believed to be associated with visits where complementary health approaches were recommended or provided.

NAMCS is a national health care survey designed to collect data on the provision and use of ambulatory medical care services provided by office-based physicians in the United States. Patient medical records were abstracted from a random sample of office-based physician visits. The investigators examined several visit characteristics, including patient demographics, physician specialty, documented health conditions, and reasons for a health visit. They ran chi-square analyses to test bivariate associations between visit factors and whether complementary health approaches were recommended or provided to guide the development of logistic regression models.

Of the 550,114 office visits abstracted, 4.43% contained a report that complementary health approaches were ordered, supplied, administered, or continued. Among complementary health visits, 87% of patient charts mentioned nonvitamin nonmineral dietary supplements. The prevalence of complementary health visits significantly increased from 2% in 2005 to almost 8% in 2015. Returning patient status, survey year, physician specialty and degree, menopause, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal diagnoses were significantly associated with complementary health visits, as was seeking preventative care or care for a chronic problem.

The authors concluded that these data confirm the growing popularity of complementary health approaches in the United States, provide a baseline for further studies, and inform subsequent investigations of integrative health care.

The authors used the same dataset for a 2nd paper which examined the reasons why office-based physicians do or do not recommend four selected complementary health approaches to their patients in the context of the Andersen Behavioral Model. Descriptive estimates were employed of physician-level data from the 2012 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) Physician Induction Interview, a nationally representative survey of office-based physicians (N = 5622, weighted response rate = 59.7%). The endpoints were the reasons for the recommendation or lack thereof to patients for:

  • herbs,
  • other non-vitamin supplements,
  • chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation,
  • acupuncture,
  • mind-body therapies (including meditation, guided imagery, and progressive relaxation).

Differences by physician sex and medical specialty were described.

For each of the four complementary health approaches, more than half of the physicians who made recommendations indicated that they were influenced by scientific evidence in peer-reviewed journals (ranging from 52.0% for chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation [95% confidence interval, CI = 47.6-56.3] to 71.3% for herbs and other non-vitamin supplements [95% CI = 66.9-75.4]). More than 60% of all physicians recommended each of the four complementary health approaches because of patient requests. A higher percentage of female physicians reported evidence in peer-reviewed journals as a rationale for recommending herbs and non-vitamin supplements or chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation when compared with male physicians (herbs and non-vitamin supplements: 78.8% [95% CI = 72.4-84.3] vs. 66.6% [95% CI = 60.8-72.2]; chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation: 62.3% [95% CI = 54.7-69.4] vs. 47.5% [95% CI = 42.3-52.7]).

For each of the four complementary health approaches, a lack of perceived benefit was the most frequently reported reason by both sexes for not recommending. Lack of information sources was reported more often by female versus male physicians as a reason to not recommend herbs and non-vitamin supplements (31.4% [95% CI = 26.8-36.3] vs. 23.4% [95% CI = 21.0-25.9]).

The authors concluded that there are limited nationally representative data on the reasons as to why office-based physicians decide to recommend complementary health approaches to patients. Developing a more nuanced understanding of influencing factors in physicians’ decision making regarding complementary health approaches may better inform researchers and educators, and aid physicians in making evidence-based recommendations for patients.

I am not sure what these papers really offer in terms of information that is not obvious or that makes a meaningful contribution to progress. It almost seems that, because the data of such surveys are available, such analyses get done and published. The far better reason for doing research is, of course, the desire to answer a burning and relevant research question.

A problem then arises when researchers, who perceive the use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) as a fundamentally good thing, write a paper that smells more of SCAM promotion than meaningful science. Having said that, I find it encouraging to read in the two papers that

  • the prevalence of SCAM remains quite low,
  • more than 60% of all physicians recommended SCAM not because they were convinced of its value but because of patient requests,
  • the lack of perceived benefit was the most frequently reported reason for not recommending it.

I have previously reported about the ‘Havelhöhe Community Hospital’ in Berlin and its medical director, Prof Harald Matthes. He made headlines two years ago when he claimed that anthroposophical remedies were effective for treating COVID. More recently, Matthes made headlines again when he went on TV claiming that serious adverse effects of COVID vaccinations were 40 times more frequent than generally accepted.

Now a German newspaper reports more about the ‘Havelhöhe Community Hospital’ and its medical director. Here are a few (translated) passages from this remarkable article:

At the Havelhöhe Community Hospital in Berlin, there are considerable shortcomings in the handling of the Corona pandemic … basic protective measures are in part neither adhered to nor monitored. In addition, employees of the anthroposophical clinic are recommended a vaccination regimen for which there is no approval, i.e. the option of “dose splitting with frequency increase,” in which the vaccine usually administered at one time is to be divided among several injections.

However, there is no official basis for this vaccination scheme. “There is no vaccine approved for it, and it does not correspond in any way to the Stiko recommendation,” said Gudrun Widders, the public health officer responsible. “My hair stands on end when I hear that,” says the head of the Berlin-Spandau health department, who is also a member of the Standing Commission on Vaccination.

Visitors of the hospital Havelhöhe can enter buildings and wards without control of the inoculation status or a daily updated test result which is against current regulations in Germany. While other Berlin hospitals such as the Charité imposed bans on visitors, a public concert took place at Havelhöhe Hospital, where the audience did not wear a mask, contrary to the valid Corona protection regulation. Employees of the hospital also report to the taz that many of the hospital staff are lax about wearing masks, even when on duty.

“I can only say something when I see someone,” said hospital director Harald Matthes. “And I don’t see anyone with me in the hospital who walks around without a mask.” Matthes had publicly criticized corona measures as excessive on several occasions.

________________________________

I have said it before and I say it again: in my view, Matthes’ behavior amounts to serious professional misconduct. I, therefore, suggest that his professional body, the Aerztekammer, look into it with a view of preventing further harm.

 

 

 

I was alerted to the following conference announcement:

The MEP Interest Group on Integrative Medicine and Health is delighted to invite you to the event ‘Integrative Medicine and Health in prevention and management of COVID-19 and long COVID’ on Thursday 2 June 16.0018.00 CEST.

This event will give you in-depth information about:

Expert speakers will share their knowledge and insights about how:

• Complementary and Integrative Medicine and Health interventions can improve resilience to COVID-19 infection.

• Promoting resilience and health restoration can reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 or development of Long COVID.

• These interventions can improve the recovery from Long COVID.

Key speakers and topics:

Therapeutic strategies of complementary medicines in the COVID 19 pandemic and Long COVID in addition to conventional medicine

Dr Joanna Dietzel, MD Neurologist, Acupuncturist. Department for integrative & complementary medicine, Institute of social medicine, epidemiology and health economics, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany.

Chinese herbal medicine treatment in cases of infections with SARS-CoV-2 – therapeutic strategies for COVID-19 and Long COVID

Dr Christian Thede, MD, General practitioner, specialised in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. Former lecturer in Chinese medicine, University of Witten-Herdecke, Germany

Instructor for Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine at International Society of Chinese Medicine (SMS).

Traditional and Complementary Medicine contributions to health system resilience during COVID-19 – the WHO perspective

Dr Geetha Kopalakrishna, MD, Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine & Surgery

Technical Officer at Traditional, Complementary & Integrative Medicine, Department of Service Delivery and Safety, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland

Key member of the AYUSH-based COVID-19 response Task Force for the Government of India.

Research programme into integrative medicine’s contribution to improving resilience to COVID-19 infection and reducing the risk of severe COVID-19 or development of Long COVID

Dr Helene M. Langevin, Director at National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland (MD), USA. Previously, Director of the Harvard Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston (MA) and professor of neurological sciences at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont (VT).

Q&A sessions after the presentations.

Resilience to infections: a solution for COVID-19 and other infectious illnesses

Studies show that certain common medical conditions put people at higher risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19. Nearly two-thirds of COVID-19 hospitalizations could be attributed to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure. There is increasing awareness that a health system that focuses on improving health could prevent all these conditions to a large extent.

Long COVID

More than 40% of people who have or had COVID-19 get long COVID, and among people who needed hospitalization, the statistics go up to 57%. The recovery from such post viral syndromes will be greatly helped by offering patients access to complementary and integrative medicine interventions that aim at restoring their health balance.

MEP Interest Group on Integrative Medicine and Health

The event is hosted by the members of the MEP Interest Group on Integrative Medicine & Health:

Michèle Rivasi, Greens/EFA, France

Sirpa Pietikäinen, EPP, Finland

Tilly Metz, Greens/EFA, Luxembourg

Margrete Auken, Greens/EFA, Denmark

Romana Jerković, S&D, Croatia

Manuela Ripa, Greens/EFA, Germany

I had not been aware of the ‘MEP Interest Group on Integrative Medicine & Health‘. Therefore, I looked it up and found this:

The newly established Interest Group on Integrative Medicine & Health continues the work of the former MEP Interest Group on CAM. This group brings together MEPs who work collectively to promote the inclusion of CAM as part of Integrative Medicine & Health in all possible European Parliament public health policy.

Why an Interest Group in the European Parliament?

One in two EU citizens uses complementary medicine either alongside or as an alternative to conventional biomedical care. This high demand is not yet reflected in EU or national health policy or provision. In addition, there is diversity in complementary medicine regulation across the EU. There are differences in who can practice complementary medicine, what qualifications are required and how services are offered and financed. These discrepancies mean that citizens experience practical and attitudinal barriers that limit their access to and use of TCIM.

The health sector in the EU Member States is facing considerable challenges, such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), increasing prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and soaring costs. Complementary medicine can offer a significant contribution to meet these challenges. These modalities are “integrative”, offering patient-centered healthcare, based on evidence-informed integration of conventional biomedicine and complementary medicine. Integrative Medicine and Health focuses on the whole person and considers the individual in its physical, psychological, spiritual, social and environmental context. It is inclusive of all professions and practices that use this approach and meets the demand of EU citizens for a more holistic, patient-centered approach in medicine. At the same time, TCIM is at the center of political and scientific debate. In this context, a forum for discussion on Integrative and Complementary Medicine’s contribution to EU health systems will bring clarity and rationality to this debate.

Aims and objectives of the Interest Group on Integrative Medicine & Health

  • Establish and maintain a forum for discussion and action with all stakeholders regarding Integrative Medicine and Health.
  • Raise awareness of Integrative Medicine and its contribution to more sustainable healthcare systems in the EU and a more holistic approach to health.
  • Focus on the integration of complementary modalities into the health systems of the EU Member States.
  • Protect and promote citizens’ right to choose their own healthcare while providing access to Integrative Medicine and Health information.
  • Advocate for EU involvement in setting unified standards to regulation of Integrative Medicine and Health.

__________________________________

Unified standards? But what about high or perhaps just scientific standards? What about first doing the research and then making claims about CAM or TCIM or however you decide to call it? Has common sense gone out of fashion?

Yes, you guessed it: I am seriously underwhelmed by all this. To show you why, let me list just a few claims from the above two statements that are based purely on wishful thinking:

  • Complementary and Integrative Medicine and Health interventions can improve resilience to COVID-19 infection.
  • These interventions can improve the recovery from Long COVID.
  • Studies show that certain common medical conditions put people at higher risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19.
  • The recovery from such post viral syndromes will be greatly helped by offering patients access to complementary and integrative medicine interventions that aim at restoring their health balance.
  • One in two EU citizens uses complementary medicine either alongside or as an alternative to conventional biomedical care.
  • The health sector in the EU Member States is facing considerable challenges, such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), increasing prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and soaring costs. Complementary medicine can offer a significant contribution to meet these challenges.
  • These modalities are “integrative”, offering patient-centered healthcare, based on evidence-informed integration of conventional biomedicine and complementary medicine.
  • Integrative medicine … meets the demand of EU citizens for a more holistic, patient-centered approach in medicine.

I find all this confusing and concerning in equal measure. I also seriously doubt that the forum for discussion on Integrative and Complementary Medicine will bring clarity and rationality to this debate. If they really wanted a debate, they would need to include a few critical thinkers; can anyone recognize one on the list of speakers? I cannot!

I fear the aim of the group and their meeting is to mislead us all into thinking that CAM, TCIM, etc. generate more good than harm without ever delivering the evidence for that assumption. Therefore, I suggest they rename both the conference as well as their group:

Wishful thinking in prevention and management of COVID-19 and long COVID

and

MEP Interest Group on Wishful Thinking and Promotion of Quackery

 

 

PS

As an antidote to wishful thinking, I recommend reading some proper science papers on the subject. Here are the conclusions of an up-to-date and wishful-thinking-free review on the subject of post-acute infection syndrome:

Unexplained post-acute infection syndromes (PAISs) appear to be an under-recognized feature of a spectrum of infectious diseases in a minority of patients. At present, our understanding of the underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms and etiologic factors is poor and there are no known objective markers or effective therapeutic options. More basic biomedical research is needed. The overlap of symptoms, signs, and general features of the individual PAISs suggests the involvement of shared pathological pathways and the possibility that common diagnostic markers, or even a unified etiological model, might be established.

However, some symptoms or clinical characteristics seem to be trigger-specific or more prevalent in one PAIS than in others, emphasizing the need for cohorts with a well-documented infectious trigger. The overall clinical picture of many PAISs often overlaps with the presentation of post-infectious ME/CFS or fibromyalgia, or resembles other fatiguing, neurological, or rheumatic disorders. Exploiting existing knowledge of these conditions might help guide future scientific discovery and progress in clinical care.

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic uncovered a significant gap in knowledge about post-acute sequelae of infectious diseases and identified the need for better diagnostic care and clinical infrastructure for patients experiencing these long-term effects. In addition to basic biomedical research, more needs to be done to refine diagnostic criteria and obtain more reliable estimates of the prevalence and societal burden of these disorders to help shape health-policy decisions. Moreover, we call for unified nomenclature and better conceptualization of post-acute infection symptoms.

There is much to be done, but the unprecedented amount of attention and resources that have recently been allocated to the study of COVID-19-related pathology brings a promise of much-needed progress in the wider field of unexplained infection-associated chronic disability.

Harad Matthes, the boss of the anthroposophical Krankenhaus Havelhoehe and professor for Integrative and Anthroposophical Medicine at the Charite in Berlin, has featured on my blog before (see here and here). Now he is making headlines again.

Die Zeit‘ reported that Matthes went on German TV to claim that the rate of severe adverse effects of COVID-19 vaccinations is about 40 times higher than the official figures indicate. In the MDR broadcast ‘Umschau’ Matthes said that his unpublished data show a rate of 0,8% of severe adverse effects. In an interview, he later confirmed this notion. Yet, the official figures in Germany indicate that the rate is 0,02%.

How can this be?

Die ZEIT ONLINE did some research and found that Matthes’ data are based on extremely shoddy science and mistakes. The Carite also distanced themselves from Matthes’ evaluation: “The investigation is an open survey and not really a scientific study. The data are not suitable for drawing definitive conclusions regarding incidence figures in the population that can be generalized” The problems with Matthes’ ‘study’ seem to be sevenfold:

  1. The data are not published and can thus not be scrutinized.
  2. Matthes’ definition of a severe adverse effect is not in keeping with the generally accepted definition.
  3. Matthes did not verify the adverse effects but relied on the information volunteered by people over the Internet.
  4. Matthes’ survey is based on an online questionnaire accessible to anyone. Thus it is wide open to selection bias.
  5. The sample size of the survey is around 10 000 which is far too small for generalizable conclusions.
  6. There is no control group which makes it impossible to differentiate a meaningful signal from mere background noise.
  7. The data contradict those from numerous other studies that were considerably more rigorous.

Despite these obvious flaws Matthes insisted in a conversation with ZEIT ONLINE that the German official incidence figures are incorrect. As Germany already has its fair share of anti-vaxxers, Matthes’ unfounded and irresponsible claims contribute significantly to the public sentiments against COVID vaccinations. They thus endangering public health.

In my view, such behavior amounts to serious professional misconduct. I, therefore, feel that his professional body, the Aerztekammer, should look into it and prevent further harm.

What motivates a doctor to work as an integrative medical practitioner? This is a question I asked myself often. Despite trying to find answers through several methods, I was not very successful. The question does not seem well-researched at all. Here is what I found so far:

Our own 1996 survey of GPs participating in a course at Exeter that was aimed at familiarizing them with so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) found that the main perceived advantage of SCAM, apart from the potential intrinsic value of the techniques themselves, was the time available for establishing a good therapeutic relationship with the patient.

A UK survey from 2001 suggested that doctors are motivated by issues ranging from feeling a responsibility to respond to their patients’ interests and needs to developing “another string to their bow.” Some are attracted to its study in its own right, others by a wish to focus some of their energy away from conventional medical practice, which they may find stressful and unfulfilling. Doctors studying complementary and alternative medicine often call on different personality traits and report a variety of positive benefits from training, including welcoming the opportunity to engage their feelings, trust their intuition, and enjoy therapeutic touch. Comments from attendees at one homoeopathic course were “I started to enjoy seeing patients again,” “Training had improved my conventional history taking,” and “Having another approach made treating heart-sink patients easier.”

A German focus group in 2008 with 17 GP suggested that scientific evidence and patient preference were the main criteria used by these doctors in deciding whether to apply a SCAM or not.

An interview study published in 2011 with Australian doctors provided some details. The researchers invited 43 doctors to participate. Twenty-three agreed to take part in either a face-to-face (n = 7) or telephone (n = 16) interviews. Here is the passage entitled “Motivations to work as an integrative medical practitioner” from their paper:

‘Family of origin health beliefs and practices’ were an important influence on the doctors’ philosophical approach and their decisions to work as an integrative medical practitioner.

…When I grew up it was not uncommon that I would see my aunties and uncles preparing all sorts of things. My auntie laying me on her lap and putting breast milk in my ear and drinking chamomile tea for a sore belly…there was lots of things that influenced me. (Female, 23 years in practice)

…There is a long tradition in [country of origin] of using a herbalist. I heard things from my mum and my grandma and those ideas were there. (Male, 16 years in practice)

The ‘personal or close family illness experiences’ reported by doctors were also influential in motivating them to practice integrative medicine. These experiences included non-conventional approaches to health and illness and the use of CAM as treatment modalities.

…I had my own illness – depression and a very bad back. I’d been on medication for years and I got sick of taking medications and I was given a prognosis of chronic illness with relapses and I really didn’t like it. So I started to look elsewhere and that took me in to the world of mind-body medicine. (Female, 24 years in practice)

Other doctors cited ‘professional experiences’, often early in their careers, of different theoretical approaches to medicine as being a powerful stimulus to practice integrative medicine. These included being inspired by a medical lecturer, an interesting, usually non-conventional experience during a placement as a medical student, and professional experiences of CAM modalities during their residency or early medical career.

…We had this subject Medical Studies 3, where there was a discussion of the French fur trapper in the Yukon who had shot himself in the stomach and the local doctor who was experimenting with various emotional states. There was just that sort of moment, of thinking, that’s the sort of area that I want to work in. (Male, 26 years in practice)

…I found myself doing a clinical attachment at a hospital in Switzerland that used integrated medicine, they had a course and I thought I’ll just do this for interest. I came in contact with an Indian person who did homeopathy and I found his stories quite interesting. (Male, 22 years in practice)

‘Dissatisfaction with the conventional approach to medicine’, which was perceived to be too illness focused or commercialized, was also cited by some doctors as a precursor to adopting an integrative approach to medical practice.

…More and more I’m realising that medicine is a personalised thing. We need to learn the art of treating people individually rather than en masse as a sick lung or a sick toe or a sick whatever because it doesn’t work like that. (Male, 22 years in practice)

…Medicine was hijacked by the market; i.e.: big pharmaceutical companies. And they have seduced the government, the colleges, the universities, general practice, everybody. GPs, in my opinion, have been deskilled. (Female, 19 years in practice).

An Australian survey from 2021 suggested that GPs were attracted to SCAM because they thought it to be relatively safe and effective, offering additional, holistic benefits to patients.

___________________________

Collectively these investigations suggest that doctors’ motivation to work as integrated medical practitioners vary greatly. They seem to include:

  • positive evidence for SCAM’s safety and efficacy,
  • having the time to establish a good therapeutic relationship,
  • wanting to use all therapeutic options,
  • dissatisfaction with conventional medicine,
  • patient preferences,
  • wanting to practice in a more human and holistic way,
  • personal and professional experiences.

But surely, there are other factors as well (from my personal experience in dealing with doctors of integrative medicine, I could list a few that are less than flattering). In any case, I would be most interested to hear your thought and read more published evidence that you might know about.

This systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials were performed to summarize the evidence of the effects of Urtica dioica (UD) consumption on metabolic profiles in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).

Eligible studies were retrieved from searches of PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar databases until December 2019. Cochran (Q) and I-square statistics were used to examine heterogeneity across included clinical trials. Data were pooled using a fixed-effect or random-effects model and expressed as weighted mean difference (WMD) and 95% confidence interval (CI).

Among 1485 citations, thirteen clinical trials were found to be eligible for the current metaanalysis. UD consumption significantly decreased levels of fasting blood glucose (FBG) (WMD = – 17.17 mg/dl, 95% CI: -26.60, -7.73, I2 = 93.2%), hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) (WMD = -0.93, 95% CI: – 1.66, -0.17, I2 = 75.0%), C-reactive protein (CRP) (WMD = -1.09 mg/dl, 95% CI: -1.64, -0.53, I2 = 0.0%), triglycerides (WMD = -26.94 mg/dl, 95 % CI = [-52.07, -1.82], P = 0.03, I2 = 90.0%), systolic blood pressure (SBP) (WMD = -5.03 mmHg, 95% CI = -8.15, -1.91, I2 = 0.0%) in comparison to the control groups. UD consumption did not significantly change serum levels of insulin (WMD = 1.07 μU/ml, 95% CI: -1.59, 3.73, I2 = 63.5%), total-cholesterol (WMD = -6.39 mg/dl, 95% CI: -13.84, 1.05, I2 = 0.0%), LDL-cholesterol (LDL-C) (WMD = -1.30 mg/dl, 95% CI: -9.95, 7.35, I2 = 66.1%), HDL-cholesterol (HDL-C) (WMD = 6.95 mg/dl, 95% CI: -0.14, 14.03, I2 = 95.4%), body max index (BMI) (WMD = -0.16 kg/m2, 95% CI: -1.77, 1.44, I2 = 0.0%), and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) (WMD = -1.35 mmHg, 95% CI: -2.86, 0.17, I2= 0.0%) among patients with T2DM.

The authors concluded that UD consumption may result in an improvement in levels of FBS, HbA1c, CRP, triglycerides, and SBP, but did not affect levels of insulin, total-, LDL-, and HDL-cholesterol, BMI, and DBP in patients with T2DM.

Several plants have been reported to affect the parameters of diabetes. Whenever I read such results, I cannot stop wondering whether this is a good or a bad thing. It seems to be positive at first glance, yet I can imagine at least two scenarios where such effects might be detrimental:

  • A patient reads about the antidiabetic effects and decides to swap his medication for the herbal remedy which is far less effective. Consequently, the patient’s metabolic control is insufficient.
  • A patient adds the herbal remedy to his therapy. Consequently, his blood sugar drops too far and he suffers a hypoglycemic episode.

My advice to diabetics is therefore this: if you want to try herbal antidiabetic treatments, please think twice. And if you persist, do it only under the close supervision of your doctor.

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