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

integrative medicine

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I know, I have often posted nasty things about integrative medicine and those who promote it. Today, I want to make good for all my sins and look at the bright side.

Imagine you are a person convinced of the good that comes from so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Imagine you believe it has stood the test of time, is natural, holistic, tackles the root problems of illness, etc., etc. Imagine you are such a person.

Your convictions made you support more research into SCAM because you feel that evidence is needed for it to be more generally accepted. So, you are keen to see more studies proving the efficacy of this or that SCAM in the management of this or that condition.

This, unfortunately, is where the problems start.

Not only is there not a lot of money and even fewer scientists to do this research, but the amount of studies that would need doing is monstrously big:

  • There are hundreds of different types of SCAM.
  • Each SCAM is advocated for hundreds of conditions.

Consequently, tens of thousands of studies are needed to only have one trial for each specific research question. This is tough for a SCAM enthusiast! It means he/she has to wait decades to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But then it gets worse – much worse!

As the results of these studies come in, one after the other, you realize that most of them are not at all what you have been counting on. Many can be criticized for being of dismal quality and therefore inconclusive, and those that are rigorous tend to be negative.

Bloody hell! There you have been waiting patiently for decades and now you must realize that this wait did not take you anywhere near the goal that was so clear in your sight. Most reasonable people would give up at this stage; they would conclude that SCAM is a pipedream and direct their attention to something else. But not you! You are single-minded and convinced that SCAM is the future. Some people might even call you obsessed – obsessed and desperate.

It is out of this sense of desperation that the idea of integrative medicine was born. It is a brilliant coup that solves most of the insurmountable problems outlined above. All you need to do is to take the few positive findings that did emerge from the previous decades of research, find a political platform, and loudly proclaim:

SCAM does work.

Consumers like SCAM.

SCAM must be made available to all.

Consumers deserve the best of both worlds.

The future of healthcare evidently lies in integrated medicine.

Forgotten are all those irritating questions about the efficacy of this or that treatment. Now, it’s all about the big issue of wholesale integration of SCAM. Forgotten is the need for evidence – after all, we had decades of that! – now, the issue is no longer scientific, it is political.

And if anyone has the audacity to ask about evidence, he/she can be branded as a boring nit-picker. And if anyone doubts the value of integrated medicine, he/she will be identified as a politically incorrect dinosaur.

Mission accomplished!

The Sunday Times reported yesterday reported that five NHS trusts currently offer moxibustion to women in childbirth for breech babies, i.e. babies presenting upside down. Moxibustion is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where mugwort is burned close to acupuncture points. The idea is that this procedure would stimulate the acupuncture point similar to the more common way using needle insertion. The fifth toe is viewed as the best traditional acupuncture point for breech presentation, and the treatment is said to turn the baby in the uterus so that it can be delivered more easily.

At least four NHS trusts are offering acupuncture and reflexology with aromatherapy to help women with delayed pregnancies, while 15 NHS trusts offer hypnobirthing classes. Some women are asked to pay fees of up to £140 for it. These treatments are supposed to relax the mother in the hope that this will speed up the process of childbirth.

The Nice guidelines on maternity care say the NHS should not offer acupuncture, acupressure, or hypnosis unless specifically requested by women. The reason for the Nice warning is simple: there is no convincing evidence that these therapies are effective.

Campaigner Catherine Roy who compiled the list of treatments said: “To one degree or another, the Royal College of Midwives, the Care Quality Commission and parts of the NHS support these pseudoscientific treatments.

“They are seen as innocuous but they carry risks, can delay medical help and participate in an anti-medicalisation stance specific to ‘normal birth’ ideology and maternity care. Nice guidelines are clear that they should not be offered by clinicians for treatment. NHS England must ensure that pseudoscience and non-evidence based treatments are removed from NHS maternity care.”

Birte Harlev-Lam, executive director of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “We want every woman to have as positive an experience during pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period as possible — and, most importantly, we want that experience to be safe. That is why we recommend all maternity services to follow Nice guidance and for midwives to practise in line with the code set out by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.”

A spokeswoman for Nice said it was reviewing its maternity guidelines. NHS national clinical director for maternity and women’s health, Dr Matthew Jolly, said: “All NHS services are expected to offer safe and personalised clinical care and local NHS areas should commission core maternity services using the latest NICE and clinical guidance. NHS trusts are under no obligation to provide complementary or alternative therapies on top of evidence-based clinical care, but where they do in response to the wishes of mothers it is vital that the highest standards of safety are maintained.”

On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed the strange love affair of midwives with so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), for instance, here. In 2012, we published a summary of 19 surveys on the subject. It showed that the prevalence of SCAM use varied but was often close to 100%. Much of it did not seem to be supported by strong evidence for efficacy. We concluded that most midwives seem to use SCAM. As not all SCAMs are without risks, the issue should be debated openly. Today, there is plenty more evidence to show that the advice of midwives regarding SCAM is not just not evidence-based but also often dangerous. This, of course, begs the question: when will the professional organizations of midwifery do something about it?

Camilla spent ten days at the end of October in a sophisticated meditation and fitness center in southern India. Life has recently been hectic for the Queen Consort: at 75, she has been in a non-stop succession of various ceremonies for the funeral of Elizabeth II, always one step behind her husband, not to mention her new status as sovereign… Enough to block her chakras in no time.

She came to the resort with her bodyguards and a handful of friends and was able to take advantage of the tailor-made treatments concocted for her by the master of the house, Dr Issac Mathai, who created this high-end holistic centre on a dozen hectares of scented gardens near Bangalore. The program includes massages, herbal steam baths, yoga, naturopathy, homeopathy, meditation, and Ayurvedic treatments to “cleanse, de-stress, soothe and revitalize the mind, body and soul”, as the establishment’s website states.

Guests are required to follow an individualized, meat-free diet, with organic food from the resort’s vegetable gardens, based on lots of salads or soups – Camilla is said to be a fan of sweet corn soup with spinach. Cigarettes and mobile phones are not allowed, although it is assumed that Camilla must have some privileges due to her status… and the basic rate for the suites, which starts at $950 a night – the price of the rooms varies between $260 and $760, the rate including a consultation with the doctors.

Charles and Camilla have been fans of the Soukya Centre in India for a decade. The place corresponds in every way to their deep-rooted convictions about health. Like her husband, Camilla is a follower of organic food, she also practices yoga and treats her face with creams made from nettle and bee venom. For his part, Charles has long been an advocate of alternative medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and also hypnosis… He even set up a foundation to support complementary medicine by lobbying the British health service to include it in complementary therapies for certain patients, which caused an uproar among the pundits of traditional medicine.

________________________

If you suspected I was (yet again) sarcastic about the royal couple, you are mistaken. The text above is only my (slightly shortened) translation of an article published in the French magazine LE POINT (even the title is theirs). I found the article amusing and interesting; so, I looked up the Indian health center. Here are some of the things I found:

The 1st impression is that they are not shy about promotion calling themselves THE WORLD’S BEST AYURVEDA TREATMENT CENTER. The doctor in charge was once a ‘Consultant Physician’ at the Hale Clinic in London, where he treated a number of high-profile people. As his professional background, he offers this:

M.D. (Homeopathy); Hahnemann Post-Graduate Institute of Homeopathy, London M.R.C.H, London; Chinese Pulse Diagnosis and Acupuncture, WHO Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Nanjing, China; Trained (Mind-Body Medicine Programme) at Harvard Medical School, USA

The approach of the center is described as follows:

The fundamental principle underlying Holistic Treatment is that the natural defense and immune system of an individual when strengthened, has the potential to heal and prevent diseases. In the age of super-specialisation where human beings are often viewed as a conglomeration of organs, it is crucial to understand ourselves as multi-dimensional beings with a body, mind and spirit. These interconnected dimensions need to be in perfect harmony to ensure real well-being.

And about homeopathy, they claim this:

Homeopathy originated in 1796 in Germany, and was discovered by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German scientist. Homeopathy is popular today as a non-intrusive, holistic system of medicine. Instead of different medicines for different parts of the body, one single constitutional remedy is prescribed. As a system of medicine, Homeopathy is highly scientific, safe, logical and an extremely effective method of healing. For over 200 years people have used Homeopathy to maintain their good health, and also to treat and cure a wide range of illnesses like allergies, metabolic disorders, atopic dermatitis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Auto-immune disorders.

At this stage, I felt I had seen enough. Yes, you are right, we did not learn a lot from this little exploration. No, hold on! We did learn that homeopathy is highly scientific, safe, logical, and extremely effective!

 

The question, however, is should we believe it?

In this paper, a team of US researchers mined opinions on homeopathy for COVID-19 expressed on Twitter. Their investigation was conducted with a dataset of nearly 60K tweets collected during a seven-month period ending in July 2020. The researchers first built text classifiers (linear and neural models) to mine opinions on homeopathy (positive, negative, neutral) from tweets using a dataset of 2400 hand-labeled tweets obtaining an average macro F-score of 81.5% for the positive and negative classes. The researchers applied this model to identify opinions from the full dataset.

The results show that the number of unique positive tweets is twice that of the number of unique negative tweets; but when including retweets, there are 23% more negative tweets overall indicating that negative tweets are getting more retweets and better traction on Twitter. Using a word shift graph analysis on the Twitter bios of authors of positive and negative tweets, the researchers observed that opinions on homeopathy appear to be correlated with political/religious ideologies of the authors (e.g., liberal vs nationalist, atheist vs Hindu).

The authors drew the following conclusions: to our knowledge, this is the first study to analyze public opinions on homeopathy on any social media platform. Our results surface a tricky landscape for public health agencies as they promote evidence-based therapies and preventative measures for COVID-19.

I am not clear on how to interpret this study. What does it show and why is it important? The authors state this:

… our study cannot lead to meaningful conclusions about homeopathy’s overall online landscape. We also enforced the English language constraint while analyzing the tweets which excludes the views and opinions of all the non-English speaking users, who constitute an overwhelming majority of the world’s population. However, our effort is a first step in the direction of examining the support for alternative medicines especially for homeopathy which has not been studied in the past. At least on Twitter, our findings indicate that negative opinions are gaining more traction in the context of COVID-19.

Opinions expressed on Twitter are influenced by an array of entirely different factors many of which are unpredictable or even unknown. Therefore, I am unsure what to make of these findings. Perhaps some of my readers have an idea?

Guest post by Norbert Aust and Viktor Weisshäupl

Readers of this blog may remember the recent study of Frass et al. about the adjunct homeopathic treatment of patients suffering from non-small cell lung cancer (here). It was published in 2020 by the ‘Oncologist’, a respectable journal, and came to stunning results about to the effectiveness of homeopathy.

In our analysis, however, we found strong indications for duplicity: important study parameters like exclusion criteria or observation time were modified post hoc, and data showed characteristics that occur when unwanted data sets get removed.

We, that is the German Informationsnetzwerk Homöopathie and the Austrian ‘Initiative für wissenschaftliche Medizin’, had informed the Medical University Vienna about our findings – and the research director then asked the Austrian Agency for Scientific Integrity (OeAWI) to review the paper. The analysis took some time and included not only the paper and publicly available information but also the original data. In the end, OeAWI corroborated our findings: The results are not based on sound research but on modified or falsified data.

Here is their conclusion in full:

The committee concludes that there are numerous breaches of scientific integrity in the Study, as reported in the Publication. Several of the results can only be explained by data manipulation or falsification. The Publication is not a fair representation of the Study. The committee cannot for all the findings attribute the wrongdoings and incorrect representation to a single individual. However following our experience it is highly unlikely that the principal investigator and lead author, but also the co-authors were unaware of the discrepancies between the protocols and the Publication, for which they bear responsibility. (original English wording)

Profil, the leading news magazine of Austria reported in its issue of October 24, 2022, pp 58-61 (in German). There the lead author, Prof. M. Frass, a member of Edzard’s alternative medicine hall of fame, was asked for his comments. Here is his concluding statement:

All the allegations are known to us and completely incomprehensible, we can refute all of them. Our work was performed observing all scientific standards. The allegation of breaching scientific integrity is completely unwarranted. To us, it is evident that not all documents were included in the analysis of our study. Therefore we requested insight into the records to learn about the basis for the final statement.

(Die Vorwürfe sind uns alle bekannt und absolut unverständlich, alle können wir entkräften. Unsere Arbeit wurde unter Einhaltung aller wissenschaftlichen Standards durchgeführt. Der Vorhalt von Verstößen gegen die wissenschaftliche Intergrität enbehrt jeder Grundlage. Für uns zeigt sich offenkundig, dass bei der Begutachtung unserer Studie nicht alle Unterlagen miteinbezogen wurden. Aus diesem Grunde haben wir um Akteneinsicht gebeten, um die Grundlagen für das Final Statment kennenzulernen.)

The OeAWI together with the Medical University Vienna asked the ‘Oncologist’ for a retraction of this paper – which has not occurred as yet.

Yesterday, L’EXPRESS published an interview with me. It was introduced with these words (my translation):

Professor emeritus at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, Edzard Ernst is certainly the best connoisseur of unconventional healing practices. For 25 years, he has been sifting through the scientific evaluation of these so-called “alternative” medicines. With a single goal: to provide an objective view, based on solid evidence, of the reality of the benefits and risks of these therapies. While this former homeopathic doctor initially thought he was bringing them a certain legitimacy, he has become one of their most enlightened critics. It is notable as a result of his work that the British health system, the NHS, gave up covering homeopathy. Since then, he has never ceased to alert us to the abuses and lies associated with these practices. For L’Express, he looks back at the challenges of regulating this vast sector and deciphers the main concepts put forward by “wellness” professionals – holism, detox, prevention, strengthening the immune system, etc.

The interview itself is quite extraordinary, in my view. While UK, US, and German journalists usually are at pains to tone down my often outspoken answers, the French journalists (there were two doing the interview with me) did nothing of the sort. This starts with the title of the piece: “Homeopathy is implausible but energy healing takes the biscuit”.

The overall result is one of the most outspoken interviews of my entire career. Let me offer you a few examples (again my translation):

Why are you so critical of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow who promote these wellness methods?

Sadly, we have gone from evidence-based medicine to celebrity-based medicine. A celebrity without any medical background becomes infatuated with a certain method. They popularize this form of treatment, very often making money from it. The best example of this is Prince Charles, sorry Charles III, who spent forty years of his life promoting very strange things under the guise of defending alternative medicine. He even tried to market a “detox” tincture, based on artichoke and dandelion, which was quickly withdrawn from the market.

How to regulate this sector of wellness and alternative medicines? Today, anyone can present himself as a naturopath or yoga teacher…

Each country has its own regulation, or rather its own lack of regulation. In Germany, for instance, we have the “Heilpraktikter”. Anyone can get this paramedical status, you just have to pass an exam showing that you are not a danger to the public. You can retake this exam as often as you want. Even the dumbest will eventually pass. But these practitioners have an incredible amount of freedom, they even may give infusions and injections. So there is a two-tier health care system, with university-trained doctors and these practitioners.

In France, you have non-medical practitioners who are fighting for recognition. Osteopaths are a good example. They are not officially recognized as a health profession. Many schools have popped up to train them, promising a good income to their students, but today there are too many osteopaths compared to the demand of the patients (knowing that nobody really needs an osteopath to begin with…). Naturopaths are in the same situation.

In Great Britain, osteopaths and chiropractors are regulated by statute. There is even a Royal College dedicated to chiropractic. It’s a bit like having a Royal College for hairdressers! It’s stupid, but we have that. We also have professionals like naturopaths, acupuncturists, or herbalists who have an intermediate status. So it’s a very complex area, depending on the state. It is high time to have more uniform regulations in Europe.

But what would adequate regulation look like?

From my point of view, if you really regulate a profession like homeopaths, it means that these professionals may only practice according to the best scientific evidence available. Which, in practice, means that a homeopath cannot practice homeopathy. This is why these practitioners have a schizophrenic attitude toward regulation. On the one hand, they would like to be recognized to gain credibility. But on the other hand, they know very well that a real regulation would mean that they would have to close shop…

What about the side effects of these practices?

If you ask an alternative practitioner about the risks involved, he or she will take exception. The problem is that there is no system in alternative medicine to monitor side effects and risks. However, there have been cases where chiropractors or acupuncturists have killed people. These cases end up in court, but not in the medical literature. The acupuncturists have no problem saying that a hundred deaths due to acupuncture – a figure that can be found in the scientific literature – is negligible compared to the millions of treatments performed every day in this discipline. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many cases that are not published and therefore not included in the data, because there is no real surveillance system for these disciplines.

Do you see a connection between the wellness sector and conspiracy theories? In the US, we saw that Qanon was thriving in the yoga sector, for example…

Several studies have confirmed these links: people who adhere to conspiracy theories also tend to turn to alternative medicine. If you think about it, alternative medicine is itself a conspiracy theory. It is the idea that conventional medicine, in the name of pharmaceutical interests, in particular, wants to suppress certain treatments, which can therefore only exist in an alternative world. But in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is only too eager to take advantage of this craze for alternative products and well-being. Similarly, universities, hospitals, and other health organizations are all too willing to open their doors to these disciplines, despite the lack of evidence of their effectiveness.

 

Advocates of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) often sound like a broken record to me. They bring up the same ‘arguments’ over and over again, no matter whether they happen to be defending acupuncture, energy healing, homeopathy, or any other form of SCAM. Here are some of the most popular of these generic ‘arguments’:

1. It helped me
The supporters of SCAM regularly cite their own good experiences with their particular form of treatment and think that this is proof enough. However, they forget that any symptomatic improvement they may have felt can be the result of several factors that are unrelated to the SCAM in question. To mention just a few:

  • Placebo
  • Regression towards the mean
  • Natural history of the disease

2. My SCAM is without risk
Since homeopathic remedies, for instance, are highly diluted, it makes sense to assume that they cannot cause side effects. Several other forms of SCAM are equally unlikely to cause adverse effects. So, the notion is seemingly correct. However, this ‘argument’ ignores the fact that it is not the therapy itself that can pose a risk, but the SCAM practitioner. For example, it is well documented – and, on this blog, we have discussed it often – that many of them advise against vaccination, which can undoubtedly cause serious harm.

3. SCAM has stood the test of time
It is true that many SCAMs have survived for hundreds or even thousands of years. It is also true that millions still use it even today. This, according to enthusiasts, is sufficient proof of SCAM’s efficacy. But they forget that many therapies have survived for centuries, only to be proved useless in the end. Just think of bloodletting or mercury preparations from past times.

4 The evidence is not nearly as negative as skeptics pretend
Yes, there are plenty of positive studies on some SCAMs This is not surprising. Firstly, from a purely statistical point of view, if we have, for instance, 1 000 studies of a particular SCAM, it is to be expected that, at the 5% level of statistical significance, about 50 of them will produce a significantly positive result. Secondly, this number becomes considerably larger if we factor in the fact that most of the studies are methodologically poor and were conducted by SCAM enthusiasts with a corresponding bias (see my ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME on this blog). However, if we base our judgment on the totality of the most robust studies, the bottom line is almost invariably that there is no overall convincingly positive result.

5. The pharmaceutical industry is suppressing SCAM
SCAM is said to be so amazingly effective that the pharmaceutical industry would simply go bust if this fact became common knowledge. Therefore Big Pharma is using its considerable resources to destroy SCAM. This argument is fallacious because:

  1. there is no evidence to support it,
  2. far from opposing SCAM, the pharmaceutical industry is heavily involved in SCAM (for example, by manufacturing homeopathic remedies, dietary supplements, etc.)

6 SCAM could save a lot of money
It is true that SCAMs are on average much cheaper than conventional medicines. However, one must also bear in mind that price alone can never be the decisive factor. We also need to consider other issues such as the risk/benefit balance. And a reduction in healthcare costs can never be achieved by ineffective therapies. Without effectiveness, there can be no cost-effectiveness.

7 Many conventional medicines are also not evidence-based
Sure, there are some treatments in conventional medicine that are not solidly supported by evidence. So why do we insist on solid evidence for SCAM? The answer is simple: in all areas of healthcare, intensive work is going on aimed at filling the gaps and improving the situation. As soon as a significant deficit is identified, studies are initiated to establish a reliable basis. Depending on the results, appropriate measures are eventually taken. In the case of negative findings, the appropriate measure is to exclude treatments from routine healthcare, regardless of whether the treatment in question is conventional or alternative. In other words, this is work in progress. SCAM enthusiasts should ask themselves how many treatments they have discarded so far. The answer, I think, is zero.

8 SCAM cannot be forced into the straitjacket of a clinical trial
This ‘argument’ surprisingly popular. It supposes that SCAM is so individualized, holistic, subtle, etc., that it defies science. The ‘argument’ is false, and SCAM advocates know it, not least because they regularly and enthusiastically cite those scientific papers that seemingly support their pet therapy.

9 SCAM is holistic
This may or may not be true, but the claim of holism is not a monopoly of SCAM. All good medicine is holistic, and in order to care for our patients holistically, we certainly do not need SCAM.

1o SCAM complements conventional medicine
This argument might be true: SCAM is often used as an adjunct to conventional treatments. Yet, there is no good reason why a complementary treatment should not be shown to be worth the effort and expense to add it to another therapy. If, for instance, you pay for an upgrade on a flight, you also want to make sure that it is worth the extra expenditure.

11 In Switzerland it works, too
That’s right, in Switzerland, a small range of SCAMs was included in basic health care by referendum. However, it has been reported that the consequences of this decision are far from positive. It brought no discernible benefit and only caused very considerable costs.

I am sure there are many more such ‘arguments’. Feel free to post your favorites!

My point here is this:

the ‘arguments’ used in defense of SCAM are not truly arguments; they are fallacies, misunderstandings, and sometimes even outright lies. 

 

The ‘Münster Circle‘ is an informal association of multi-disciplinary experts who critically examine issues in and around so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). We exist since June 2016 and are the result of an initiative by Dr Bettina Schöne-Seifert, Professor and Chair of Professor and Chair of Medical Ethics at the University of Münster.

In the past, we have published several documents which have stimulated discussions on SCAM-related subjects. Yesterday, we have published our ‘MEMORANDUM INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE‘. It is a critical analysis of this subject and will hopefully make some waves in Germany and beyond.

Here is its English summary:

The merging of alternative medicine and conventional medicine has been increasingly referred to as Integrative (or Integrated) Medicine (IM) since the 1990s and has largely replaced other terms in this field. Today, IM is represented at all levels.

IM is often characterised with the thesis of the ‘best of both worlds’. However, there is no generally accepted definition of IM. Common descriptions of IM emphasise:

– the combination of conventional and complementary methods,

– the holistic understanding of medicine,

– the great importance of the doctor-patient relationship,

– the hope for optimal therapeutic success,

– the focus on the patient,

– the high value of experiential knowledge.

On closer inspection, the descriptions of IM show numerous inconsistencies. For example, medicine in the hands of doctors is stressed, but it is also emphasised that all relevant professions would be involved. Scientific evidence is emphasised, but at the same time, it is stressed that IM itself includes homeopathy as well as other unsubstantiated treatments and is only ‘guided’ by evidence, i.e. not really evidence-based. It is claimed that IM is to be understood as ‘complementary to science-based medicine’; however, this implies that IM itself is not science-based.

The ‘best of both worlds’ thesis impresses many. However, if one investigates what is meant by ‘best’, one finds that this term is not interpreted in nearly the same way as in conventional medicine. Many claims of IM are elementary components of all good medicine and thus cannot be counted among the characterising features of IM. Finally, it is hard to ignore the fact that the supporters of IM use it as a pretext to introduce unproven or disproven modalities into conventional medicine. Contrary to promises, IM has no discernible potential to improve medicine; rather, it creates confusion and entails considerable dangers. This cannot be in the interest of patients.

Against this background, it must be demanded that IM is critically scrutinised at all levels.

________________________

 

One of my previous posts was about a press release announcing a ‘WORLDWIDE DECLARATION’, and I promised to comment about the actual declaration. This post firstly reproduces this document and secondly provides a few comments on it. Here is the document:

DEFINITIONS

Traditional, complementary and integrative healthcare (TCIH) refers to the respectful collaboration between various systems of healthcare and their health professionals with the aim of offering a person-centred and holistic approach to health.

ABOUT US

We represent a worldwide community of users and health professionals of TCIH with a large diversity of backgrounds and experiences with a common commitment to the advancement and
promotion of TCIH.

THE HEALTHCARE WE DESIRE

• Focuses on the whole person, including physical, mental, social and spiritual dimensions
• Is patient-centred and supports self-healing and health creation
• Is participative and respects individual choices
• Is evidence-based by integrating clinical experience and patient values with the best available research information
• Respects cultural diversity and regional differences
• Is an integral part of community and planetary health
• Uses natural and sustainable resources that are respectful of the health of our planet
• Integrates traditional, complementary and biomedical practices in a supportive and collaborative manner

We appreciate the benefits of conventional / biomedicine. At the same time we recognize its limitations, including:

• The insufficient therapeutic options that biomedicine provides, especially for chronic / non-communicable diseases (NCDs)
• Frequent side effects of biomedical treatments and rising antimicrobial resistance
• Fragmentation of care from increased specialization and the limits of a disease-based model

We are inspired by countries that are successfully integrating TCIH into their healthcare systems. However, we are concerned about:

• Countries that prevent, limit or undervalue the practice of TCIH
• Uninformed or unbalanced media reporting of TCIH
• Insufficient public funding of TCIH research
• Risk of reduced availability of TCIH and unregulated practices in some countries

OUR CALL TO ACTION

All countries

• Ensure full access to TCIH as part of the right to health for all
• Include TCIH into national health systems
• Provide accreditation of TCIH healthcare professionals in accordance with international training standards to ensure high quality care
• Ensure access and safety of TCIH medicines through specific regulatory pathways
• Fund research on TCIH and disseminate reliable information on TCIH to the public

All healthcare professionals

• Foster respectful collaboration between all healthcare professions towards achieving a person-centred and holistic approach to healthcare

_____________________________

And here are my comments.

  • “TCIH”: in the realm of so-called alternative medicine it seems popular to create a new name for the subject at hand; this one is yet another one in a long line of innovations – sadly, it is as nonsensical as most of the previous ones.
  • Person-centred and holistic approach to health: all good healthcare has these qualities.
  • We represent a worldwide community: really? Who exactly are you then, and what is your ligitimization?
  • Whole person, including physical, mental, social and spiritual dimensions: all good healthcare has these qualities.
  • Patient-centred and supports self-healing and health creation: all good healthcare has these qualities.
  • Respects individual choices: all good healthcare has these qualities.
  • Evidence-based: either they do not know what this term means or they are deliberately misleading the public.
  • Integral part of community and planetary health: all good healthcare has these qualities.
  • Natural and sustainable resources that are respectful of the health of our planet: like Rhino horn and similar ingredients of TCM products?
  • Insufficient therapeutic options that biomedicine provides: yes, conventional medicine is far from perfect, but adding something even less perfect to it cannot improve it.
  • Frequent side effects of biomedical treatments and rising antimicrobial resistance: yes, conventional medicine is far from perfect, but adding something even less perfect to it cannot improve it.
  • Full access to TCIH as part of the right to health for all: the ‘right to health for all’ means the right to the most effective therapies not the right to the most bizarre quackery.
  • Accreditation of TCIH healthcare professionals: giving respectability to every quack would not render healthcare better or safer but worse and more dangerous.
  • Access and safety of TCIH medicines through specific regulatory pathways: regulating access to unproven treatments is nothing less than a recipe for disaster.
  • Research on TCIH: yes in some areas, research might be worthwhile, but it must be rigorously testing TCIH and not promoting it uncritically.
  • Disseminate reliable information on TCIH to the public: thank you! This is my main aim in writing the ~2500 posts on this blog. Yet I do often get the impression that this gets disappointingly little support – and frequently the exact opposite – from enthusiasts of TCIH.

Lots of people have commented on King Charles’ swollen hands which can be seen in many pictures, not least the one on the cover of my biography of Charles. The king himself repeatedly referred to his ‘sausage fingers’ and has made light of the issue as far back as 1982. When William was born. At that time, he wrote to a friend: “I can’t tell you how excited and proud I am. He really does look surprisingly appetising and has sausage fingers just like mine.”

Now that he is King, we might need to worry; are his ‘sausage fingers’ a sign of a serious underlying disease?

Swollen fingers are normally due to fluid retention which can have many causes, e.g.:

Charles, The Alternative Prince: An Unauthorised Biography

  • allergy,
  • arthritis,
  • bursitis,
  • carpal tunnel syndrome,
  • diabetes,
  • gout,
  • heart failure,
  • injury,
  • infection,
  • kidney failure,
  • lymphoedema,
  • scleroderma,
  • sickle cell disease,
  • syphilis,
  • tendinitis,
  • tuberculosis.

The list is long and it contains some worrying diseases. Luckily, we can exclude many of them simply because Charles has had ‘sausage fingers’ for so many years. Thus, plausible options could be diabetes and scleroderma. The former can probably be excluded mainly because we would have long known about it.

But what about scleroderma?

Scleroderma (or systemic sclerosis, as it is also called) is a serious autoimmune condition that may be localized or generalized. The latter form is more serious. In 2020, it was noted that Charles’s feet also seemed to be swollen. In addition, his face often looks flushed (see also the cover of my book).

I know far too little about Charles’s health to make even a tentative diagnosis. Some features of scleroderma fit quite well, while others do not. In any case, I do hope Charles’s swellings have a more benign explanation. But, if scleroderma is the cause, the question obviously arises: is there a so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for it?

A recent review stated that some study results have shown that vitamins D and E, probiotics, turmeric, l-arginine, essential fatty acids, broccoli, biofeedback, and acupuncture may be beneficial in systemic sclerosis care. However, large randomized clinical trials have not been conducted. In other words, SCAM has no proven benefit for the condition, and I would not recommend it.

Charles does know that, of course. In the past, he regularly made grand proclamations in favor of SCAM but, as soon as he was really ill, he always employed the best conventional healthcare can offer.

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