The current BMJ has an article entitled UK could have averted 240 000 deaths in 2010s if it matched other European nations. Here is its staring passage:
The UK has fallen far behind its international peers on a range of health outcomes and major policy reforms are required to reverse this, a report1 has concluded.
Analysts from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) calculated that there would have been 240 000 fewer deaths in the UK between 2010 and 2020 if the UK matched average avoidable mortality in comparable European nations.
The report says the UK’s poor outcomes are partly down to people’s inability to access healthcare in a timely manner, a problem that has intensified since the pandemic.
To tackle this, the progressive think tank has put forward a 10 point plan to shift the NHS from a sickness service to a prevention service. It says primary care should be placed at the heart of a “prevention first” NHS with a nationwide rollout of neighbourhood health hubs to deliver integrated health and care services in every local area…
Isn’t that the nonsense Charles III, Michael Dixon, THE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE AND INTEGRATED HEALTH and many others promote? The integrated health we discussed so often before, e.g.:
- Prince Charles becomes patron of the ‘College of Medicine and Integrated Health’
- The ‘All-Party Parliamentary Group for Integrated Healthcare (PGIH) have just published a new report – and it’s full of surprises
- Eurocam press release in favor of integrated medicine
- A new definition of ‘INTEGRATED MEDICINE’
- Integrative medicine: one of the most colossal deceptions in healthcare today
- INTEGRATED MEDICINE: a disservice to patients?
- Integrated/integrative medicine: a paradise for charlatans?
The UK ‘Integrated Medicine Alliance’ 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.” Is the BMJ thus promoting homeopathy and similar dubious treatments?
The answer is, of course, NO!
The BMJ supports INTEGRATED HEALTH as defined not by quacks but by real experts: “Integrated care, also known as integrated health, coordinated care, comprehensive care, seamless care, or transmural care, is a worldwide trend in health care reforms and new organizational arrangements focusing on more coordinated and integrated forms of care provision. Integrated care may be seen as a response to the fragmented delivery of health and social services being an acknowledged problem in many health systems.”
I have often wondered why quacks use established terms, give it a different meaning and use it for confusing the public. I suppose the answer is embarrassingly simple: they thrive on confusion, want to hide the fact that they have no convincing arguments of their own, and like to use the established terminology of others in order to push their agenda and maximize their benefits.
This randomised, double blind controlled trial compared the efficacy of curcumin versus omeprazole in improving patient reported outcomes in people with dyspepsia.
The interventions were:
- curcumin alone (C),
- omeprazole alone (O),
- curcumin plus omeprazole (C+O).
Patients in the combination group received two capsules of 250 mg curcumin, four times daily, and one capsule of 20 mg omeprazole once daily for 28 days.
Main outcome measure was unctional dyspepsia symptoms on days 28 and 56, assessed using the Severity of Dyspepsia Assessment (SODA) score. Secondary outcomes were the occurrence of adverse events and serious adverse events.
A total of 206 patients were enrolled in the study and randomly assigned to one of the three groups; 151 patients completed the study. Demographic data (age 49.7±11.9 years; women 73.4%), clinical characteristics and baseline dyspepsia scores were comparable between the three groups. Significant improvements were observed in SODA scores on day 28 in the pain (−4.83, –5.46 and −6.22), non-pain (−2.22, –2.32 and −2.31) and satisfaction (0.39, 0.79 and 0.60) categories for the C+O, C, and O groups, respectively. These improvements were enhanced on day 56 in the pain (−7.19, –8.07 and −8.85), non-pain (−4.09, –4.12 and −3.71) and satisfaction (0.78, 1.07, and 0.81) categories in the C+O, C, and O groups, respectively. No significant differences were observed among the three groups and no serious adverse events occurred.
The authors concluded that curcumin and omeprazole had comparable efficacy for functional dyspepsia with no obvious synergistic effect.
This study, which was funded by the Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine Fund, has been picked up by the press and is being lauded as a solid proof of efficacy. Its authors too are not half proud of their splendid trial:
This multicentre randomised controlled trial provides highly reliable evidence for the treatment of functional dyspepsia. PPIs, widely used and approved for over-the-counter use, were compared with curcumin, a popular herbal remedy. The study design, including double blind randomisation, minimised biases. Participants met strict criteria, underwent endoscopy and were tested for H pylori infection. Furthermore, we implemented measures to minimise biases by ensuring that the individuals administering the drugs, participants receiving the drugs and individuals conducting the assessment remained blinded to the type of medications administered to the participants. The trial was carried out in hospitals, and certified individuals used standardised questionnaires for assessments. Statistical methods were appropriate and followed accepted principles.
Two follow-up appointments were scheduled, and blood tests showed no abnormal symptoms or liver function abnormalities. However, participants with high body mass index indicated a trend towards liver function impairment in the curcumin group, suggesting the need for larger studies. Some participants did not provide follow-up information, which is a study weakness. However, the number of participants who provided this information was sufficient for statistical analysis and the majority of the participants attended the follow-up visit. Therefore, it can be deduced from the results that even if the number of participants followed after drug administration increased, the study findings would not be significantly different. Another limitation of this study was the absence of long term follow-up data for all patients after treatment. This is a question that will require further investigation.
The strength of the study lies in its relevance to daily clinical practice, providing additional drug options in addition to PPIs alone, without added side effects. The study was unbiased, partially funded by government organisations and the first well designed trial comparing curcumin with PPI for functional dyspepsia, with confirmation through endoscopy and ruling out H pylori infection. Limitations of this study included the small number of patients who were lost to follow-up and the lack of long term follow-up data.
However, I am far less impressed.
Curcumin is bright yellow and has a very distinct taste/smell. Even though curumin was given in capsules, patients can easily tell what they are taking. I therefore doubt that they were adequately blinded. In fact, the authors seem to agree when they state the following:
We observed that despite improvements in pain and non-pain scores, there was no significant improvement in the SODA satisfaction scores in the O and C+O groups (table 3). A possible explanation for this observation could be related to the taste and/or smell of curcumin, which might have caused reduced pleasantness for the participants while ingesting it. This potential discomfort could offset the improvements in pain and non-pain symptoms, leading to the non-significant change in satisfaction score. Further studies may be needed to explore this hypothesis as well as to improve the palatability of curcumin.
Sadly, the success of blinding (which under such circumstances should always be tested) was not reported and probably not even quantified. If many patients were de-blinded, it seems inevitable that their expectation influenced the results. In other words, the much-lauded effect of curcumin might just be due to placebo and curcumin might be entirely useless. Or, to put it bluntly, the trial was not nearly as good as many made it out to be.
Sad to see that the reviewers of a reputable journal failed to pick up on this significant flaw.
King Charles III is an enthusiastic, albeit uncritical proponent of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Does that boost his popularity in the general population? Or does it have the opposite effect? I am not aware of reliable data on this issue, yet I suspect it is neither here nor there. So, his waning popularity is probably caused by other factors.
A survey of more than 2,000 adult Brits found that overall, 62% want to keep the monarchy and 59% of people thought Charles was “personally doing a good job”.. At first glance, this looks not too bad for Charles and William but a more detailed analysis is far less optimistic: among 18 to 24-year-olds, only 30% say the monarchy is “good for Britain”. This “remarkable difference between generations”, demonstrates that younger people are much less supportive on remaining a monarchy and more sceptical about the Royal Family representing good value for money.
A decade ago, the same YouGov tracking survey found 17% preferred an elected head of state, which in this latest survey has risen to 26%. On the question whether Britain should continue to be a monarchy or be replaced with an elected head of state, the poll found:
- 62% wish no change,
- 26% want an elected head of state,
- 11% don’t know.
On the question whether the Royal Family is good value for money, 75% of the over-65s believe they are, but only 34% of 18 to 24-year-olds feel the same. And while 80% of the over-65s want Britain to stay as a monarchy, that figure falls to 37% for the 18 to 24-year-olds. There is also less support for the royals in Scotland or Wales than in England, where London has higher levels of people against the monarchy than elsewhere in the country.
Historian and royal commentator Ed Owens says the lack of support among the young should “certainly be of concern” to the Royal Family. But he says it will be difficult for the royals to turn this around, when many of the factors are outside their control. Dr Owens says opposition to the monarchy is part of a wider sense of “disenchantment” for younger generations about issues such as unaffordable housing, stagnant wages and student debt. “The system doesn’t seem to be working for them, so why should they celebrate an institution that seems to be at the heart of that system?” says Dr Owens.
Graham Smith, chief executive of the anti-monarchy campaign Republic, said the survey showed a “general trend of falling support, and that younger people will not be won back to the monarchist cause. Sooner rather than later we’ll see support for the monarchy fall below 50%.”
When the 1st edition of my book about about Charles’ (at the time, he was still ‘Prince of Wales’) love affair with SCAM came out, it was reviewd by the Daily Mail. They courageously asked Charles’ press office for a comment on it. A Clarence House spokesperson then told the journalist: ‘The Prince of Wales believes in combining the best of evidence based, conventional medicine with an holistic approach to healthcare – treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms of disease and taking into account the effects on health of factors such as lifestyle, the environment and emotional well-being.’ I know this is not all that meaningful and just a (fairly daft and uninformed) formular for getting rid of a tedious request, yet – for what it’s worth – it does not indicate that, in the realm of SCAM, Charles is all that open to change. More recent activities of King Charles seem to support this impression.
With regards to his overall popularitiy in the UK, this might mean that Charles will continue to lose the support of skeptics, while gaining the one of SCAM enthusiasts.
And the net result of this?
I fear it will almost be negligible.
I missed this paper when it first came out in 2022. Yet, it seems potentially quite important and I, therefore, feel like discussing it here:
President of the UNESCO Committee on Bioethics Stefan Semplici called on the governments of all countries to ensure free and wider access of their citizens to alternative medicine and pay for this therapy through health insurance. Alternative medicine based on tradition – traditional medicine, in many poor countries is the only treatment option for the population. In developed countries, and especially in China and India, it enjoys well-deserved prestige (for example, acupuncture and herbal medicine) and is often integrated into the public health system.
The International Committee on Bioethics of UNESCO announced the recognition of these alternative therapies as an option for medical practice and, at the same time, as part of the identity of the cultural traditions of various nations. The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights includes the right to the highest attainable standard of health (Article 14), the right to respect for pluralism and cultural diversity (Article 12) and traditional knowledge (Article 17). The purpose of this document is to establish criteria for the respect and acceptability of different types of medicine without compromising the assurance of quality and patient safety that is essential in all treatments.
In order to adapt the traditions of traditional therapies to advances in medicine, this international organization calls on governments and the scientific community to collaborate with practitioners of alternative therapies to evaluate their effectiveness and safety and develop therapeutic standards and protocols for integrating traditional medicine into healthcare system. The UNESCO International Bioethics Committee believes that these methods should be seen as complementary to modern medicine, and not just an alternative to it.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is an agency of the United Nations aimed at promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences, and culture. UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC) is a body of 36 independent experts that follows progress in the life sciences and its applications in order to ensure respect for human dignity and freedom.
I have to say that I rarely have seen an announcement in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that is more confusing and less well thought through. The UNESCO Committee on Bioethics wants:
- alternative therapies as an option for medical practice,
- the highest attainable standard of health,
- to collaborate with practitioners of alternative therapies to evaluate their effectiveness and safety.
When I first read these lines, I asked myself: who on earth wrote such nonsense? It was certainly not written by someone who understands healthcare, SCAM, and evidence-based medicine.
As discussed almost permanently on this blog, most forms of SCAM have not been shown to generate more good than harm. This means that employing them ‘as an option in medical practice’ cannot possibly produce ‘the highest attainable standards of health’. In fact, the UNESCO plan would lead to lower not higher standards. How can a committee on bioethics not realize that this is profoundly unethical?
Collaboration with practitioners of alternative therapies to evaluate SCAM’s effectiveness and safety sounds a bit more reasonable. It ignores, however, that tons of evidence already exist but fail to be positive. Why do these experts in bioethics not advocate to first make a sober assessment of the published literature?
I must say that the initiative of the UNESCO Committee on Bioethics puzzles me a lot and disturbs me even more.
I’d be keen to learn what you think of it.
“The decline of homeopathy, the ‘medicine’ that doesn’t cure anything” is the title of a remarkable article in EL PAIS of which I take the liberty of showing you a few key passages:
In the more than 200 years that have passed since its invention, no one has been able to prove that homeopathy is actually capable of curing anything with its alleged medicines that have no active ingredients…
…EL PAÍS reached out to some of its main promoters, such as the pharmaceutical company Boiron, leader in the sector; the Spanish Association of Homeopathy Pharmacists and the Spanish Society of Homeopathic Doctors. In the absence of a response from all three, the explanations are given by experts who are more critical of the discipline.
Many people who used to consume homeopathy were not even aware that this was the case. Fernando Frías, one of the activists who worked to undermine the discipline’s remaining prestige, recalls that people did not believe them when they were told that compounds with diluted Berlin Wall were sold to overcome the feelings of oppression and anxiety. This was actually commercialized under the premise that “like cures like”: if the Berlin Wall oppressed, a piece of it diluted in water should remedy it. “Many were under the impression that it was just a natural therapy and that we were making things up to attack it,” says Frías…
… There has been a lot of debate about how to regulate an alleged drug whose only effect is, in truth, the placebo effect. In 2001, the European Parliament issued a directive that covered its use in countries with a homeopathic tradition; sources explain that this happened due to the pressure exerted by both the industries and the governments of countries where pseudoscience is deep-rooted, such as France (where Boiron is headquartered) or Germany, where its consumption is much higher than in others, such as Spain.
“Having regard to the particular characteristics of these homeopathic medicinal products, such as the very low level of active principles they contain and the difficulty of applying to them the conventional statistical methods relating to clinical trials, it is desirable to provide a special, simplified registration procedure for those homeopathic medicinal products which are placed on the market without therapeutic indications in a pharmaceutical form and dosage which do not present a risk for the patient,” states the directive.
In its more than two centuries of history, this is not the first time that homeopathy loses ground. Still, Frías warns, it cannot be ruled out that at some point something will come up that will make it fashionable again. “Look at the example of chemtrails [the condensation trails left by airplanes that some conspiracy theorists believe are a way of poisoning the population from the air]. It seemed that no one remembered them anymore, but now they’re back,” he says. Frías cites the astrophysicist and disseminator Javier Armentia, who states that beliefs are like a rubber duck: no matter how much they sink, they always resurface. “Especially if there is money behind,” he adds.
As reported previously, homeopathy and other forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) have come under fire in Spain. In 2017, ‘HOMEOPATHY PLUS‘ reported that “in a reversal of the 2015 Royal Legislative Decree, the Minister of Health has withdrawn homeopathic remedies and outlawed the practice in Spain’s national health services.” In 2018, more than 400 people signed an open letter triggered by the case of a cancer patient who died after preferring homeopathy to regular treatment. “Let’s be clear: pseudoscience kills,” begins the letter. Since then, the struggle of Spanish rational thinkers to stop misleading information about SCAM in general and homeopathy, in particular, has only intensified.
Spain is thus joining other European countries in opposing misinformation about homeopathy. Contrary to what some have claimed (for instance, in the comments section of this blog), most of the opponents do not want to restrict the public’s choice. People who wish to use homeopathy should be able to do so (but should pay for it themselves). However, the choice must be based on evidence-based information.
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.
After all these years, I am still fascinated by what proponents of homeopathy try to tell others about their trade. Recently I found a long article in this vein. It is aimed at an audience of HEILPRAKTIKER and their patients. It should therefore be responsible, thorough, and evidence-based (yes, I am an optimist).
“With this article”, the authors state, “we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of homeopathy and help people make informed decisions about their health. Whether you already have experience with homeopathy or simply want to inform yourself, we hope that this article will provide you with valuable insights and information” (my translation).
Here I present to you just the relatively short section dedicated to the ‘pros and cons’ of homeopathy. Here we go:
Advantages of homeopathy:
- Holistic approach: homeopathy considers the human being as a whole and takes into account both physical and emotional aspects. It aims to support individual balance and the body’s self-healing powers.
- Gentle and non-invasive treatment: Homeopathic remedies are usually taken as globules, drops, or tablets and are therefore easy and convenient to use. They rarely cause side effects and are generally well tolerated.
- Individualized treatment: In homeopathy, each patient is considered unique and treatment is based on individual symptoms and characteristics. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, but a personalized approach.
- Support for chronic diseases: Homeopathy can be an alternative or complementary treatment for chronic conditions where conventional medicines offer limited relief. It can help improve quality of life and promote overall well-being.
Limitations of homeopathy:
- Placebo effect: Much of the effect of homeopathy is attributed to the placebo effect. It is argued that the improvements patients experience occur because of belief in the efficacy of the remedies and positive expectations, rather than due to a specific effect of the diluted substances.
- Lack of scientific evidence: The scientific evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy is limited and controversial. Many studies have failed to demonstrate benefits beyond the placebo effect. There is a lack of well-conducted randomized controlled trials that clearly show the effectiveness of homeopathy.
- Delay or rejection of conventional treatments: In some cases, the choice of homeopathy as the sole method of treatment may lead to delays in the diagnosis and timely treatment of serious or acute illnesses. It is important that serious illnesses are examined by a doctor and treated appropriately.
- Difficulties in standardization: Homeopathy involves a variety of remedies used in different potencies and dilutions. This makes standardization and the conduct of reproducible studies difficult. There are also controversial debates about whether the dilutions go beyond the extent to which molecules of the original substance are still present.
I am sure that you have heard the BS about the alleged advantages of homeopathy often enough. Therefore, I will here not bother to comment on them again. More interesting, in my view, are the limitations of homeopathy, as seen by its proponents. Please allow me, therefore, to discuss them briefly.
- The authors state that “it is argued that the improvements patients experience occur because of belief in the efficacy of the remedies and positive expectations”. This sounds as though this is a mere aberrant opinion or at least an ongoing debate amongst scientists. In fact, it is the scientific consensus supported by tons of evidence.
- This is the same point expressed differently.
- The admission that “the choice of homeopathy as the sole method of treatment may lead to delays in the diagnosis and timely treatment” is yet another way of stating that homeopathy is not effective. What is, however, not expressed clearly enough, in my view, is the fact that homeopathic treatment usually amounts to medical neglect which is unethical and can cause serious harm, in extreme cases even death.
- It is not true that the range of potencies renders “the conduct of reproducible studies difficult”. There are plenty of examples to demonstrate this, for instance, this study. “There are also controversial debates about whether the dilutions go beyond the extent to which molecules of the original substance are still present.” Yes, I did translate this correctly. I am sorry to say that this sentence does make no sense in German or in English.
What I find particularly interesting is that the authors do not mention disadvantages that non-homeopaths would rate as quite important, e.g.:
- The assumptions of homeopathy fly in the face of science.
- Hahnemann strictly forbade homeopathy to be combined with ‘allopathy’ (yet proponents now claim this option to be an advantage).
- Treating a patient with homeopathy violates even the most basic rules of medical ethics.
- Homeopaths have no choice but to lie to their patients on a daily basis.
- Many homeopaths have the nasty habit of advising their patients against using effective treatments, e.g. vaccinations.
- Homeopathy undermines rational thinking in a general way.
In summary, the authors’ “aim to provide a comprehensive overview of homeopathy and help people make informed decisions about their health” has not been reached.
The well-known Dr. Chris van Tulleken recently joined forces with Professor Michael Heinrich and Dr. Anthony Booker from the University College London School of Pharmacy to test a range of herbal products on sale in the UK. They bought over 70 herbal products from various high street stores and internet retailers. Some of the products were ‘THR’ (traditional herbal registration) herbal medicines, and some were marketed as food supplements. They then analyzed their chemistry to see whether each one really contained what the label says. The three popular herbal remedies we tested were:-
- Milk thistle (Silybum marianum),
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba),
- Evening primrose (Oenothera).
The team at UCL used two different methods of analysis to verify the identity of these herbal products and extracts. High-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC) is a sophisticated technique for the analysis of herbal products and is one of the most commonly used methods in the industry. HPTLC analysis creates a chemical fingerprint of the product which the researchers can then compare to an accepted reference standard for the herb. They look for a broad spectrum of ‘marker compounds’ these are the pharmacologically active and/or chemical constituents within a plant that can be used to verify its potency or identity. For complex samples or where additional confirmation is required, researchers often turn to ¹H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (¹H-NMR) which allows individual samples to be compared in detail against other samples or to the whole group.
In every THR product tested, the product contained what was claimed on the label. However, the food supplements showed a wide range of quality.
- Of the food supplement products labeled as Ginkgo, 8 out of 30 (27%) contained little or no ginkgo extract.
- 36% of the food supplement milk thistle products contained no detectable milk thistle. Although this is quite a small sample size it is still a startling result. Furthermore, in one case of milk thistle, unidentified adulterants suspected to be synthetic compounds were present in place of milk thistle.
- All of the evening primrose food products we tested did contain what the packet claimed.
The researchers concluded that their investigation shows that a regulatory system for herbal products, like the THR scheme, ensures that people have access to safe herbal medicine products. So, if you are considering buying herbal products then do look out for the THR mark– otherwise, you might not just be wasting your money, you might be consuming other, potentially dangerous, ingredients.
This is an interesting investigation. The researchers should be commended for it! However, I disagree with some of their conclusions. Here is why:
- The investigation merely tested the quality of the products and NOT THEIR SAFETY! To claim that the THR ensures access to safe herbal medicines is incorrect. A product might be of adequate quality but can still be unsafe. The THR only implies safety because the herbal has been used for years without problems being noted. This is not the same as ensuring that it is safe. A direct test of safety is usually not available.
- The recommendation to buy a product with a THR mark is also somewhat misleading. It implies that these products are effective. I fail to see convincing evidence that either MILK THISTLE, GINKGO, or EVENING PRIMROSE are effective for any disease or condition. Thus the responsible recommendation should, in my view, be to NOT buy them regardless of whether they are of good quality or not.
Richard Rasker has been one of our most loyal commentators with hundreds of sensible contributions to his credit. And now he has published a book! “This book”, he writes in his introduction, “is perhaps best described as a kind of travel guide for exploring different worlds, some of which are probably familiar, while others may be completely alien to you. Some of those worlds only exist in the minds of people, while others are very real indeed, yet often go unnoticed or have unexpected things to offer. This journey is also my personal exploration, during which I try to look through the eyes of the inhabitants of worlds that are wildly different from my own, to try and understand why those people believe certain things, and why I myself believe different things.”
Richard is not a medic, he is a man who understands science and empathizes with the many people who try to make sense of the often confusing concepts of healthcare. In his book, he takes the reader by the hand and carefully guides him or her through some of the issues that are of concern to so many of us. The journey takes us to so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and beyond. At its end, the reader is wiser, more knowledgeable, and has learned the art of critical thinking.
Most chapters start with a story or anecdote that enables the reader to identify with the subject at hand. This serves the purpose of focusing the reader’s mind on the issue at hand which is then explained in full detail. The fact that Richard is not a medic turns out to be a strength of this book. Richard is not even tempted (as medics invariably are) to use jargon or to assume that the reader has prior knowledge of the subject. Instead, he starts from first principles and makes it impossible to get lost on the journey. What may seem complicated and confusing thus becomes clear and straightforward; what might have appeared to be dry and off-putting thus becomes lively and fascinating.
The range of topics that this book tackles is vast. It covers much of SCAM, of course. But it also includes topics that are way beyond SCAM, such as radiation and vaccination. In essence, the book deals with most things that people concerned about their health tend to worry about. Because Richard is a gifted writer who can render things simple without making them unduly simplistic, the book is a joy to read.
In my view, this book is a MUST-READ for anyone who wants to find his/her way safely through the maze of seemingly complex problems in healthcare.
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.