Guest post by Ken McLeod
‘Ayurvedic Medicine,’ or Ayurveda, is an alternative medicine system which originated in India as long as 5,000 years ago, according to its proponents. Science-based medicine refers to it as pseudoscientific and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) characterises it as quackery.  Ayurvedic practitioners claim that its popularity through the ages vindicates it as safe and effective.
That last bit is of course the appeal to antiquity, or the appeal to tradition (also known as argumentum ad antiquitatem.  This proposes that if something was supported by people for a long time it must be valid. That is bunkum; many ancient ideas have long since been discredited; the Earth is not flat, no matter for how long people thought it was.
Nevertheless, ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ has many practitioners and supporters in the supposedly rational West, including Bondi Junction here in Australia. Despite the many warnings about it,  people still go to practitioners, and occasionally they are injured.
One such injury and the consequent complaint to the New South Wales regulator, the Health Care Complaints Commission, (HCCC), has resulted in a Public Warning dated 18 September concerning levels of heavy metals in Ayurvedic Medication. 
The HCCC said:
‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission is concerned about a complaint received regarding the prescription of “Manasamithra Vatika,” (Manasamitram Pills) an Ayurvedic medication.
‘The complaint related to prescription of this medication to a child for treatment of autism.
‘This medication was found to contain concerning levels of lead and other heavy metals.’
That’s all very bland, no headlines there. But then it got into:
“The Commission strongly urges those individuals seeking alternative therapies to be vigilant in their research prior to proceeding with any natural therapy medications or medicines and to discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.”
Not so bland there; that’s very comprehensive; ‘any natural therapy medications or medicines’ and ‘discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.” ‘Note the HCCC’s emphasis on “registered.” That rules out Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners, homeopaths, and other assorted cranks; go to a real doctor.
Surely that is headline material; a regulator responsible for promoting the health of citizens warns them to go to real doctors before going to these quacks.
Then it gets better, (or worse if you are an Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner). At the same time the HCCC issued an Interim Prohibition Order against Mr Rama Prasad (“Ayurveda Doctor Rama Prasad.”)  The HCCC’s Order says:
‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (“the Commission”) is currently investigating Mr Rama Prasad in relation to his prescribing of the Ayurvedic Medication “Manasamithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) to both children and adults and about his claims that his treatments can reverse several aspects of autism in children.
‘The Ayurvedic Medication “Manasmithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) was found to contain elevated levels of lead and other heavy metals.
‘One case with mildly elevated blood level was notified to the South Eastern Sydney Public Health Unit after consuming this product.
‘Clients residing in NSW who are considered to have been placed at possible risk have now been contacted by NSW Health public health personnel.
‘The Commission has issued an interim prohibition order in relation to Mr Rama Prasad, under section 41AA of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 (‘The Act’). Mr Prasad is currently prohibited from providing any health services, either in paid employment or voluntarily, to any member of the public.
‘This interim prohibition order will remain in force for a period of eight weeks and may be renewed where appropriate in order to protect the health or safety of the public.’
That should send chills down the spine of any Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner. A complete Prohibition Order ordering Prasad not to engage in providing any health service as defined in the Act  for eight weeks, which may be renewed or even made permanent, depending on what the investigation finds. The Act includes a comprehensive list of activities that comprise a ‘health service’:
‘health service includes the following services, whether provided as public or private services:
- (a) medical, hospital, nursing and midwifery services,
- (b) dental services,
- (c) mental health services,
- (d) pharmaceutical services,
- (e) ambulance services,
- (f) community health services,
- (g) health education services,
- (h) welfare services necessary to implement any services referred to in paragraphs (a)–(g),
- (i) services provided in connection with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practices and medical radiation practices,
- (j) Chinese medicine, chiropractic, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, physiotherapy, podiatry and psychology services,
- (j1) optical dispensing, dietitian, massage therapy, naturopathy, acupuncture, speech therapy, audiology and audiometry services,
- (k) services provided in other alternative health care fields,
- (k1) forensic pathology services,’
Note the inclusion of ‘health education.’ This is where so many cranks fall foul of the law; setting yourself up as a health educator makes you subject to the Act. Even if you claim to be a master chef, homeopath or Ayurvedic Medicine Practitioner, you are not exempt.
It’s early days yet in this particular saga, and there are many questions to be answered, for example:
- – How did this “medicine” get past Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, (Australia’s equivalent to the US FDA)?
- – Did the TGA list or register it?
- – If not why not? If it was who is responsible?
- – Was this detected only after a child was so sickened that they were taken to hospital?
- – Why is the practitioner concerned still advertising his Ayurvedic medicine courses?  Is this a breach of his Prohibition Order which prohibits ‘health education services’?’
So stay tuned for updates as this case progresses. In the meantime note that an Australian Health regulator is advising the public to seek advice from real doctors before going to alternative therapists, including ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ practitioners. That is a real headline.
 Such as from the Victoria Dept of Health at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/ayurveda
 Health Care Complaints Act 1993 https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1993-105
On this blog, I have discussed the adverse events (AEs) of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) with some regularity, and we have seen that ~ 50% of patients who receive SMT from a chiropractor experience some kind of AE. In addition there are many serious complications. In my book, I discuss, apart from the better-known vascular accidents followed by a stroke or death, the following:
- atlantoaxial dislocation,
- cauda equina syndrome,
- cervical radiculopathy,
- diaphragmatic paralysis,
- disrupted fracture healing,
- dural sleeve injury,
- haemorrhagic cysts,
- muscle abscess,
- muscle abscess,
- neurologic compromise,
- oesophageal rupture
- soft tissue trauma,
- spinal cord injury,
- vertebral disc herniation,
- vertebral fracture,
- central retinal artery occlusion,
- Wallenberg syndrome,
- loss of vision,
- Horner’s syndrome.
Considering this long list, we currently have far too little reliable information. A recent publication offers further information on this important topic.
The aim of this study was to identify beliefs, perceptions and practices of chiropractors and patients regarding benign AEs post-SMT and potential strategies to mitigate them. Clinicians and patients from two chiropractic teaching clinics were invited to respond to an 11-question survey exploring their beliefs, perceptions and practices regarding benign AEs post-SMT and strategies to mitigate them.
A total of 39 clinicians (67% response rate) and 203 patients (82.9% response rate) completed the survey. The results show that:
- 97% of the chiropractors believed benign AEs occur.
- 82% reported their own patients have experienced an AE.
- 55% of the patients reported experiencing benign AEs post-SMT, with the most common symptoms being pain/soreness, headache and stiffness.
- 61.5% of the chiropractors reported trying a mitigation strategy with their patients.
- Yet only 21.2% of patients perceived their clinicians had tried any mitigation strategy.
- Chiropractors perceived that patient education is most likely to mitigate benign AEs, followed by soft tissue therapy and/or icing after SMT.
- Patients perceived stretching was most likely to mitigate benign AEs, followed by education and/or massage
The authors concluded that this is the first study comparing beliefs, perceptions and practices from clinicians and patients regarding benign AEs post-SMT and strategies to mitigate them. This study provides an important step towards identifying the best strategies to improve patient safety and improve quality of care.
The question that I have often asked before, and I am bound to ask again after seeing such results, is this:
If there were a drug that causes temporary pain/soreness, headache and stiffness in 55% of all patients (plus an unknown frequency of a long list of serious complications), while being of uncertain benefit, do you think it would still be on the market?
The definitions of a quack as used in healthcare vary somewhat:
- ignorant, misinformed, or dishonest practitioner of medicine
- untrained person who pretends to be a physician and dispenses medical advice and treatment
- people who claim to be skilled in medicine but are not
- person who dishonestly pretends to have medical skills or knowledge
- one who misrepresents ability and experience in diagnosis and treatment of disease or the effects to be achieved by treatment
Richard Lanigan, in his post entitled Skeptics like Edzard Ernst remind me of Humpty Dumpty in their use of words. They make them up as they go along prefers the the definition from the Oxford dictionary: “a person who dishonestly claims to have special knowledge and skill in some field, typically medicine” (actually, the version of the Oxford dictionary I accessed defines a quack not quite like this but as a person who dishonestly claims to have medical knowledge or skills).
More importantly, Richard claims in an oddly incoherent post that not the chiropractors but the critics of chiropractic are are the true quacks:
It would appear “quacks” are people who pretend to have expertise in subjects they know little about, presumably subjects like, chiropractic medicine or acupuncture. I practice chiropractic, I dont diagnose or treat illness or disease, I dont make medical claims. You may not like chiropractic or understand it, however practicing chiropractic would not appear to conform to the definition of “quackery”, however claiming to have “special knowledge” about chiropractic and having only been trained as a medical practitioner may in fact make you a “quack” professor Ernst. All I do is maintain movement in spinal joints that become stiff from sedentary lifestyles, movement effects function of mechano receptors(nerves) in spinal joints. You may not believe that is possible, you may not believe maintaining joint function is important or that it effects wellbeing, you are perfectly entitled to your opinion, however I am not so confident of you depth and breath knowledge in anatomy and physiology. You might start by asking, why joints were immobility post surgery in the 80s and now post surgical treatment is all about maintaining joint motion as chiropractors have been advocating for years.
If I understand this correctly, this means: any non-chiropractor who criticises chiropractic is a quack. Moreover, it means that, as chiropractic is very rarely criticised by a chiropractor, chiropractors cannot be quacks.
I find this fascinating. It amounts to the legitimisation of any healthcare profession, however bizarre, unproven, disproven or dangerous their practice might be:
- crystal therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- rebirthing practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- applied kinesiologists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- bioresonance practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- Bach flower therapists therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- colour therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- colon therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- dowsers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- ear candle practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- feng shui practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- faith healers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- gua sha practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- iridologists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- homeopaths cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- naprapathy therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- neurolinguistic programmers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- osteopaths cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- pranic healers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- psychic surgeons cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- radionics practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- reflexologists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- Reiki masters cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- shiatsu practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- therapeutic touchers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- vaginal steamers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- etc, etc.
I can, of course, easily see why Richard Lanigan would like this concept to be true. Alas, Richard (and all the other SCAM-enthusiasts who make similar arguments), it does not work like this! A quack might be defined as listed above or in many other ways. But, in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), a quack foremost is a person who habitually misleads the public by making claims that are not supported by sound evidence. And as some wise guy once observed: honest conviction renders a quack only more dangerous. As to the professional background of a quack:
I do not care a hoot!
I have done my best to disclose quackery no matter whether it came from a medic or a SCAM-practitioner, a physio or a nurse, an entrepreneur or a fruitcake, an evangelist or a politician, royalty or commoner. And, believe me, Richard (plus all the other SCAM-enthusiasts who make similar arguments), I will carry on doing so, whether it fits into your little scheme of wishful thinking or not.
Dr Mathias Rath, the German born purveyor of multiple food supplements, and his organisation puzzle me a great deal. As previously reported, the ‘Dr Rath Foundation’ published an article about me. In it, the author got my name right, but not much more. Here is its opening passage [the numbers in square brackets refer to my comments below].
Professor Edzard Ernst: A Career Built On Discrediting Natural Health Science? 
Professor Edzard Ernst, a retired German  physician and academic, has recently  become a prominent advocate of plans that could potentially outlaw  the entire profession of naturopathic doctors  in Germany. Promoting the nonsensical idea that naturopathic medicine somehow poses a risk to public health, Ernst attacks its practitioners as supposedly having been educated in “nonsense” . Tellingly, however, given that he himself has seemingly not published even so much as one completely original scientific trial of his own , Ernst’s apparent attempts to discredit natural healthcare approaches are largely reliant instead on his analysis or review of handpicked negative studies carried out by others .
- When I was appointed at Exeter to research alternative medicine in 1993, I had already been a full professor at Hannover, Germany and subsequently at Vienna, Austria. If anything, coming to Exeter was a big step down in terms of ‘career’, salary, number of co-workers etc. (full details in my memoir)
- I am German-born, became an Austrian citizen in 1990, and since 2000 I am a British national.
- I have been critical about the German ‘Heilpraktiker’ for more than 20 years.
- This refers to the recent ‘Muensteraner Memorandum’ which is the work of an entire team of multidisciplinary experts and advocates reforming this profession.
- ‘Heilpraktiker’ are certainly not doctors; they have no academic or medical background.
- This is correct, and I stand by my statement that educating people in vitalism and other long-obsolete concepts is pure nonsense.
- Since I am researching alternative medicine, I have conducted and published about 40 ‘scientific trials’, and before that time (1993) I have published about the same number again in various other fields.
- This refers to systematic reviews which, by definition, include all the studies available on a defines research question, regardless of their conclusion (their aim is to minimise random and selection biases) .
Rath states about himself that “Dr. Rath heads a research and development institute in nutritional and Cellular Medicine. His institute is conducting basic research and clinical studies to scientifically document the health benefits of micronutrients in fighting a multitude of diseases.”
But this is equally puzzling.
Firstly, because research does not aim ‘to scientifically document the health benefits of ‘ anything; it is for testing hypotheses; Rath surely must know that. Secondly, on Medline, I find dozens of publications by Rath. These refer mostly to mechanistic in-vitro or animal studies about the mode of action of vitamins and other natural compounds.
But ‘clinical studies‘?
Hold on! My Medline searches did deliver one clinical trial – just one – (Rath himself lists more, but they seem to be meaningless observational studies without a control group). It was published as an abstract on his own website. Here is the abstract:
Healing of bone fractures is a prolonged process that can be affected by nutrition. Our objective was to critically evaluate the effect of supplementation with an essential nutrient complex, containing ascorbic acid, lysine, proline, and vitamin B6 on healing time of tibial fractures.
Random double-blind placebo-controlled study
Dr. Jamdar Hospital, Jabalpur, India
Subjects and Intervention:
113 patients with unilateral displaced closed or grade I open tibial fractures were randomized to receive either standard care with placebo or with supplementation with an essential nutrient complex containing ascorbic acid, lysine, proline, and vitamin B6. Qualifying patients, on admission to the study, were clinically examined, radiographs of the affected limbs taken, fractures reduced under anesthesia, and above knee plaster casts applied. Radiographs were taken at each follow-up visit to confirm reduced alignment of fracture and proper callus formation.
Primary Outcome Measure:
The primary outcome measure was the number of weeks required for fracture to be healed. Healing was defined as absence of abnormal mobility at fracture site clinically, absence of pain elicited by stressing the fracture or by walking, and radiographic confirmation of callus formation.
Data analysis demonstrated reduced fracture-healing time associated with experimental supplementation. For PP analysis group, fracture healing time in 75% of the supplemented group of patients (N=21) was 17 weeks or less and 19 weeks or less in 75% of the placebo group patients (N=36). The percentage of patients with fractures healing in 10 weeks or less was 33.3% for the supplemented group and 11.1% for the placebo group. However, the difference in healing time between the two groups did not reach statistical significance.
Results showed encouraging trends that fracture-healing time is reduced by supplementation with an essential nutrient complex containing ascorbic acid, lysine, proline, and vitamin B6. In addition, the nutrient supplemented participants reported improved feeling of well-being with use of the supplement.
This is odd in several ways:
- Even though the conclusions hide it quite well, the trial was in fact negative, i. e. it failed to show a significant difference between the verum and the placebo in the primary outcome measure.
- The trial was never published as a peer-reviewed full paper. The website refers to its publication as a ‘letter to the editor’ (LTTE) in the notorious JACM (a LTTE is not normally peer-reviewed).
- Why was it never properly published?
- Could it be because there was no ethics approval [none was mentioned in the LTTE]?
- Could it be because there was no informed consent [none was mentioned in the LTTE]?
- The LTTE mentions that a larger study with 200 patients is planned. This was 16 years ago, and to date there is no trace of such a trial.
Rath’s latest contribution to the world of science is a paper implying that his supplements could play a role in the fight against the present pandemic; it is entitled ‘Effective and safe global public health strategy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic: Specific micronutrient composition inhibits Coronavirus cell-entry receptor (ACE2) expression’. Here is the abstract which clearly shows that Rath has not a jot of clinical evidence:
Optimum micronutrient intake is the only scientifically proven way to improve general immune resistance against infections, a fact documented in every leading textbook of biology. This study provides scientific evidence that, in addition, specific micronutrient compositions are powerful tools in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both, SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes the current pandemic – and other coronaviruses enter body cells via a specific receptor, the Angiotensin-Converting-Enzyme 2 (ACE2). The ACE2 receptor is expressed by many cell types, including lung epithelial cells as well as endothelial cells of the vascular system.
Based on our earlier research that demonstrated that specific micronutrients can block several mechanisms of viral infections, we tested the efficacy of these natural compounds in suppressing the expression of the ACE2 receptor on human endothelial cells and small airway epithelial cells.
Our results show that a micronutrient composition comprising vitamin C as well as certain amino acids, polyphenols, and trace elements is able to suppress this viral ‘entry door’ into the body under both normal and inflammatory conditions, which are associated with infections.
Thus, vitamin-rich nutrition and micronutrient supplementation should be implemented as effective, safe and affordable public health strategies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and help prevent future outbreaks. Optimizing the micronutrient status of the entire population should form the basis for any global strategy to help prevent future pandemics across the world, including the developing nations.
The Wiki-page on Rath lists 10 (!) legal cases in which he has been involved. This looks like he easily sues people who disagree with his often bizarre views and sales techniques. Considering this suspicion, I better be careful what I say here. Therefore let me conclude by meekly repeating the title of this post which comes from my friend Ben Goldacre who, together with THE GUARDIAN won a famous and expensive legal battle against Rath:
Rath is an example of the worst excesses of the alternative therapy industry.
What I like best about the many supplements sold by Rath is the footnote in the patient leaflets:
THIS PRODUCT IS NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE
When chiropractors try to play medical doctors, their patients are in danger. When they try to play epidemiologists, we might all be in danger. Already in April 2020, the Australian ‘Patrons of Chiropractic Science’ issued a press release on COVID 19 stating:
Good function of the body’s joints, particularly within the spine, may improve neurological function, which is important for an effective natural immune system. Treatment by a qualified and experienced chiropractor offers one of the most effective methods to improve and maintain good spinal joint function. The chiropractic profession attends to many patients, and like all other health workers, the profession truly cares for the welfare of every individual.
Now they have gone further. Their press release of 18/8/2020 states amongst other things:
- Approximately 1.5% of those infected with SARS-CoV-2 may die; all people with a compromised immune system, that being the aged or those suffering a co-morbidity;
- 98.5% of those infected with the COVID-19 virus suffer either no symptoms, mild symptoms or treatable symptoms no worse than seasonal influenza;
- COVID-19 positive test numbers are largely irrelevant, as 98.5% of those testing positive will simply develop natural immunity and recover as the virus moves through the population. Recent studies by the UK based Centre for Evidence Based Medicine confirms increased COVID testing is the primary reason for increased case numbers, which have little relationship to mortality. The focus on case numbers is again designed to engender public fear and compliance;
Patrons of Chiropractic Science demands that the Victorian Government and its senior health officials cease distorting facts, stop blaming Victorian non-compliance for the increased positive testing numbers, and assume full responsibility for the aged care deaths and the current economic damage.
Simple facts: it is critical and more effective to isolate and protect the high-risk groups, effectively quarantine return travellers, but cease the illogical isolation of the vast majority of the population who are not at risk as the virus naturally circulates, and allow them to recommence working to save many businesses and initiate economic recovery.
Implying that regular chiropractic manipulations improve immunity or protect people from the corona virus is bad enough. But the new press release is worse:
- It is not true that only people with impaired immune systems, of old age, or affected by other diseases die of COVID 19.
- It is not true that all of the 98.5% who do not die have treatable symptoms not worse than a flu; an undefined percentage of the survivors suffer from very severe and sometimes long-lasting conditions.
- It is not true that 98.5% of those testing positive will simply develop natural immunity and recover; many will not recover completely, and the question whether mildly affected individuals develop immunity and for how long is as yet unanswered.
- It is not true that COVID testing results are unrelated to mortality; the figures need, of course, careful interpretation; the percentage of positive tests per number of tests done, for instance, should be independent of the frequency of testing.
- It is not true that the vast majority of the population are not at risk, if the virus were to circulate naturally.
All this looks to me as though the ‘Patrons of Chiropractic Science’ are in urgent need of learning some science. Meanwhile, it would be most helpful, if they could keep quiet.
For many years, ‘HOMEOPATHY‘ (the ‘flag-ship’ journal of homeopathy which started its life in 1911 as THE BRITISH JOURNAL OF HOMOEOPATHY) was edited by Peter Fisher. When Peter fired me from its editorial board, it arguably lost its only expert who was critical of homeopathy. Then the journal was transferred from Elsevier to Thieme. When Peter tragically died, the journal lost its editor who, despite everything, had at least tried to keep the most dangerous loons within the homeopathy cult at bay.
Now, under the new editor, this seems no longer possible. The current issue of HOMEOPATHY holds several papers about the role of homeopathy in the present pandemic:
This article provides a view of homeopathic clinical practice in the New York City area in the first few months of 2020 as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic began to evolve in the United States. Key symptoms used to generate a short list of potentially curative remedies are given, and the pandemic syndrome is viewed as appearing in stages or as having various clinical manifestations each with its own main remedy. The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is briefly described, as are the preliminary presenting signs and symptoms of COVID-19 infection. Several clinical examples are given, some with positive laboratory confirmation.
Successful homeopathic prescriptions are based on careful individualization of symptoms, either for an individual patient or collectively in the case of epidemic outbreaks. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was initially represented as a severe acute respiratory illness, with eventual dramatic complications. However, over time it revealed to be a complex systemic disease with manifestations derived from viral-induced inflammation and hypercoagulability, thus liable to affect any body organ or system. As a result, clinical presentation is variable, in addition to variations associated with several individual and collective risk factors. Given the extreme variability of pathology and clinical manifestations, a single, or a few, universal homeopathic preventive Do not split medicine(s) do not seem feasible. Yet homeopathy may have a relevant role to play, inasmuch as the vast majority of patients only exhibit the mild form of disease and are indicated to self-care at home, without standard monitoring, follow-up, or treatment. For future pandemics, homeopathy agencies should prepare by establishing rapid-response teams and efficacious lines of communication.
During the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy, hospital outpatient clinics progressively decreased their activities; in March 2020 they were closed except for emergencies. During this period, the activities of the public Homeopathy Outpatient Clinic of Lucca aimed at guaranteeing therapeutic continuity to patients by means of telephone or video consultations, and searching for homeopathic medicines that best responded to early COVID-19 symptoms. In March 2020, the Complementary Medicine Working Group participated in the organization of a mission of COVID-19 Chinese experts for the online training of professionals working in the Tuscan Healthcare System. The medical staff of the Lucca Clinic also cooperated in telephone health surveillance of infected patients at home, seroprevalence investigations using the capillary blood rapid test, and the implementation of the CLIFICOL (Clinical Files Collection) project.
Why is this a regrettable development?
In my mind, there is little doubt that homeopathy has no role to play in the current pandemic. To state or imply otherwise is not just false but dangerous. It endangers the lives of millions.
Others might see it differently and argue that it is not a bad thing at all. By coming out on the side of the loons within homeopathy, the ‘flag-ship’ journal of homeopathy has done a favour to rational healthcare: it has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that HOMEOPATHY (both the journal and the cult) cannot be taken seriously and can therefore be safely discarded to the waste-basket of medical history.
Steiner with his wife (right) and Ita Wegman, his lover (left).
Anthroposophic medicine was founded by Steiner and Ita Wegman in the early 20th century. Currently, it is being promoted as an extension of conventional medicine. Proponents claim that “its unique understanding of the interplay among physiological, soul and spiritual processes in healing and illness serves to bridge allopathy with naturopathy, homeopathy, functional/nutritional medicine and other healing systems.” Its value has repeatedly been questioned, and clinical research in this area is often less than rigorous.
Anthroposophic education was developed in the Waldorf school that was founded by Steiner in 1919 to serve the children of employees of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Pupils of Waldorf or Steiner schools, as they are also frequently called, are encouraged to develop independent thinking and creativity, social responsibility, respect, and compassion.
Waldorf schools implicitly infuse spiritual and mystic concepts into their curriculum. Like some other alternative healthcare practitioners – for instance, doctors promoting integrative medicine, chiropractors, homeopaths and naturopaths – some doctors of anthroposophic medicine take a stance against childhood immunizations. In a 2011 paper, I summarised the evidence which showed that in the UK, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, Waldorf schools have been at the centre of measles outbreaks due to their stance regarding immunisations.
More recently, a study evaluated trends in rates of personal belief exemptions (PBEs) to immunization requirements for private kindergartens in California that practice alternative educational methods. The investigators used California Department of Public Health data on kindergarten PBE rates from 2000 to 2014 to compare annual average increases in PBE rates between schools.
Alternative schools had an average PBE rate of 8.7%, compared with 2.1% among public schools. Waldorf schools had the highest average PBE rate of 45.1%, which was 19 times higher than in public schools (incidence rate ratio = 19.1; 95% confidence interval = 16.4, 22.2). Montessori and holistic schools had the highest average annual increases in PBE rates, slightly higher than Waldorf schools (Montessori: 8.8%; holistic: 7.1%; Waldorf: 3.6%).
The authors concluded that Waldorf schools had exceptionally high average PBE rates, and Montessori and holistic schools had higher annual increases in PBE rates. Children in these schools may be at higher risk for spreading vaccine-preventable diseases if trends are not reversed.
As the world is hoping for the arrival of an effective vaccine against the corona virus, these figures should concern us.
When I discuss published articles on this blog, I usually focus on recent papers. Not so today! Today I write about a small study we published 17 years ago. It was conducted in Canada by researchers whom I merely assisted in designing the protocol and interpreting the findings.
They trained 8 helpers to pretend being customers of health food stores. They entered individually into assigned stores; the helpers had been informed to browse in the store until approached by an employee. At this time they would declare that their mother has breast cancer. They disclosed information on their mother’s condition, use of chemotherapy (Tamoxifen) and physician visits, only if asked. The helpers would then ask what the employee recommend for this condition. They followed a structured, memorized, pretested questionnaire that asked about product usage, dosage, cost, employee education and product safety or potential for drug interactions.
The helpers recorded which products were recommended by the health food store employees, along with the recommended dose and price per product as well as price per month. Additionally, they inquired about where the employee had obtained information on the recommended products. They also noted whether the employees referred them on to SCAM practitioners or recommended that they consult a physician. Full notes on the encounters were written immediately after leaving the store.
The findings were impressive. Of the 34 stores that met our inclusion criteria, 27 recommended SCAMs; a total of 33 different products were recommended. Here are some further findings:
- Essiac was recommended most frequently.
- The mean cost of the recommended products per month was $58.09 (CAD) (minimum $5.28, median $32.99, maximum $600).
- Twenty-three employees (68%) did not ask whether the patient took prescription medications.
- Fifteen (44%) employees recommended visiting a healthcare professional; these included: naturopaths (9), physicians (5) and nutritionists (1).
- Health food store employees relied on a variety of sources of information. Twelve employees (35%) said they had received their information from books, 5 (15%) from a supplier, 3 (9%) had formal education in SCAM, 2 (6%) had in-store training, and 12 (35%) did not disclose their sources of information.
- Pharmacies and HFS in Greater Wellington provided potentially hazardous advice, recommending products, often branded for pregnancy, which contradicted NZ MOH guidelines. Regulatory reform of CAM products and those who sell them is called for in New Zealand.
- …only about one-quarter [of health food stores (HFSs)] gave appropriate advice regarding possible interactions with warfarin and management of anticoagulation compared with two-thirds of pharmacies.
- HFS promoting herbal products for medical conditions should be regulated in a similar fashion to shops that dispense pharmaceutical products.
- Staff in 25 out of 26 health food stores did not refer the researcher to a medical practitioner; instead they recommended and sold a wide variety of compounds of unproven efficacy
- Store personnel readily provided information and product recommendations, with shark cartilage being the most frequent.
But why do I mention all this today?
The answer is that firstly, I think it is important to warn consumers of the often dangerous advice they might receive in HFSs. Secondly, I feel it would worthwhile to do further research, check whether the situation has changed and repeat a similar study today. Ideally, a new investigation should be conducted in different locations comparing several countries. If you have the possibility to plan and conduct such an experiment, please drop me a line.
I have long cautioned that chiropractic overuse of X-rays is a safety problem. Is this still an issue? A recent paper was aimed at finding out.
The objective of this review was to determine the diagnostic and therapeutic utility of routine or repeat radiographs (in the absence of red flags) of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine for the functional or structural evaluation of the spine. Investigate whether functional or structural findings on repeat radiographs are valid markers of clinically meaningful outcomes. The research objectives required that the researchers determine the validity, diagnostic accuracy and reliability of radiographs for the structural and functional evaluation of the spine.
The investigators searched MEDLINE, CINAHL, and Index to Chiropractic Literature from inception to November 25, 2019. They used rapid review methodology recommended by the World Health Organization. Eligible studies (cross-sectional, case-control, cohort, randomized controlled trials, diagnostic and reliability) were critically appraised. Studies of acceptable quality were included in our synthesis.
Twenty-three papers were critically appraised. No relevant studies assessed the clinical utility of routine or repeat radiographs (in the absence of red flags) of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine for the functional or structural evaluation of the spine. No studies investigated whether functional or structural findings on repeat radiographs are valid markers of clinically meaningful outcomes. Nine low risk of bias studies investigated the validity (n = 2) and reliability (n = 8) of routine or repeat radiographs. These studies provided no evidence of clinical utility.
The authors’ conclusions are clear: We found no evidence that the use of routine or repeat radiographs to assess the function or structure of the spine, in the absence of red flags, improves clinical outcomes and benefits patients. Given the inherent risks of ionizing radiation, we recommend that chiropractors do not use radiographs for the routine and repeat evaluation of the structure and function of the spine.
In the paper, the authors provided further valuable information and background:
In the United States in 2010, the rate of spine radiographs within 5 days of presenting to a chiropractor was 204 per 1000 new patients. An analysis of national trends in the United States suggests that the rate of spinal radiography by chiropractors and podiatrists increased by 14.4% between 2003 and 2015. This increase occurred despite the publication of several evidence-based clinical practice guidelines and clinical prediction rules to assist chiropractors in determining the indication for spine radiographs to assist with diagnosing a pathology. Overall, guidelines suggest that radiographs are indicated when signs and symptoms of potentially serious underlying pathology (red flags) are identified through the clinical history and physical examination. However, on its own, an isolated “red flag” may have a high false positive rate for the diagnosis of underlying spinal pathology, such as cancer. For example, the presence of a solitary “red flag” such as age over 50 years may not be sufficient to warrant taking spine radiographs. Therefore, clinicians are encouraged to combine sound clinical judgement and the assessment of red flags when ordering radiographs.
In the absence of “red flags”, the use of spinal radiographs is not recommended. Nevertheless, factions of chiropractors, including the International Chiropractic Association promote the use of routine or repeat radiographs to assess the structure and function of the spine. This practice which dates back to 1910 was initiated when no evidence was available to guide the judicious use of spine radiographs. Historically, these groups of chiropractors have argued that radiographs are helpful to measure postural abnormalities, identify vertebral misalignment or subluxation and guide treatment with spinal manipulative therapy. The belief that radiographs are useful to detect and correct spine structure and function provides the foundation for many chiropractic technique systems that are still in use today. To our knowledge, approximately 23 chiropractic techniques use spine radiography (including full spine radiography) to guide the clinical management of patients. These include the Gonstead, Chiropractic BioPhysics®, Toggle-Recoil, and National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA) techniques. Proponents of these techniques claim that the use of routine and repeat radiographs is supported by scientific evidence and have published a guideline to assist clinicians with the biomechanical assessment of spinal subluxation in chiropractic clinical practice using radiography. However, these claims have not yet been evaluated for their clinical utility, the benefit a patient gains from a test or treatment. This was a particular concern for the College of Chiropractors of British Columbia (CCBC) which regulates the practice of chiropractic in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The mission of the CCBC is to protect the public by regulating British Columbia’s doctors of chiropractic to ensure safe, qualified and ethical delivery of care.
The references from these two paragraphs can be found in the original paper. One reference the authors did not include was my article of 1998 which, at the time, received plenty of angry responses from chiropractors. Here is its conclusion: DATA SUGGEST AN OVERUSE OF RADIOGRAPHY BY THE CHIROPRACTIC PROFESSION. THIS CONSTITUTES A SAFETY PROBLEM THAT DESERVES TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AND REQUIRES FURTHER RESEARCH.
Twenty-two years later, do I get the impression that the chiropractic profession might not be the fastest in getting its act together?
New German Medicine?
German New Medicine?
What on earth is that?
German New Medicine (GNM) is the creation of Ryke Geerd Hamer (1935-2017), a German doctor. The name is reminiscent of the ‘Neue Deutsche Heilkunde’ created by the Nazis during the Third Reich. Hamer received his medical licence in 1963 but was later struck off because of malpractice. He then continued his practice as a ‘Heilpraktiker’. According to proponents, GNM Therapy is a spoken therapy based on the findings and research of the Germanic New Medicine of Dr.Hamer. On the understanding that every disease is triggered by an isolating and shocking event, GNM Therapy assists in finding the DHS (shocking moment) in our lives that preceded the dis-ease and in turn allowing our bodies to complete its natural healing cycle back to full health. Hamer believed to have discovered the ‘5 laws of nature’:
- The Iron Rule of Cancer
- The two-phased development of disease
- Ontogenetic system of tumours and cancer equivalent diseases
- Ontogenetic system of microbes
- Natures biological meaning of a disease
Hamer also postulated that:
- All diseases are caused by psychological conflicts.
- Conventional medicine is a conspiracy of Jews to decimate the non-Jewish population.
- Microbes do not cause diseases.
- AIDS is just an allergy.
- Cancer is the result of a mental shock.
None of Hamer’s ‘discoveries’ and assumptions are plausible or based on facts, and none of his therapeutic approaches have been shown to be effective.
These days, I do not easily get surprised by what I read about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), but this article entitled ‘Homoeopathy And New German Medicine: Two German Siblings‘ baffled me greatly. Here are a few short excerpts:
… German New Medicine (GNM) like Homoeopathy is one of the gentle healing methods. As siblings, they have some common features as well as their own unique features. So, let’s explore a unique relationship between these two siblings.
1) Holistic aspect:
Both therapeutic methods are believed in holistic concept of body. The disease condition in Homoeopathy and conflict in GNM are very similar in expression as they are reflecting on mental as well as physical level also. In Homoeopathy, Mind, Body and Soul are one of the important trios to understand the Homoeopathic philosophy. While in GNM, Psyche, Brain, Body are important aspect in learning the GNM. Let’s see these trio in their founder’s language,
Dr. Hahnemann in his oragnon of medicine, 6th edition mentioned about a unity of materialistic body and vital force. Last lines of aphorism 15 are as follows, “…although in thought our mind separates these two unities into distinct conceptions for the sake of easy comprehension.
• German New Medicine:
Dr. Ryke Geerd Hamer, founder of GNM said that, “The differentiation between psyche, brain and the body is purely academic. In reality, they are one.”
2) Disease origin concept:
In Homoeopathy, disease originates from the dynamic disturbances and followed by functional and pathological changes.
• German New Medicine:
In GNM, morbid condition starts from conflict in the psyche level and later it reflects on body. The common feature is the disturbance is at the all levels of man.
3) Cause of disease:
In Homoeopathy, among the web of causations, psyche (mind) is also considers as a cause of disease.
• German New Medicine:
So, in GNM, psyche is playing important role in cause of disease. When Conflict starts, its dynamic effect perceived first at mind level.
In Homoeopathy, diathesis is a predisposition for disease condition. i.e. According to the diathesis every individual suffers with their own individual morbid dispositions. Rheumatic diathesis, gouty diathesis, etc. are the examples of diathesis.
• German New Medicine:
In GNM, every individual suffers from the disease condition after the receiving conflict. It is different and depending upon the type of conflict they are receiving. E.g. lung cancer- death fright conflict, cervical cancer –female sexual conflict…
Some similarities and with some own characteristics, these two healing methods are developing at a good length in medical science. The main aim of these both methods is – “to serve the suffering humanity in gentle way”…
Could it be that the author forgot the most striking similarities between GNM and homeopathy? How about these points:
- There is nothing truly gentle about either methods.
- Both are based on bizarre fantasies, far removed from reality.
- Both pretend to be a panacea.
- Both lack proof of efficacy.
- Both have the potential to kill patients (mostly through neglect).
- Both mislead consumers.
- Both are deeply anti-scientific.
- Both dissuade patients from using evidence-based healthcare.
- Both are in conflict with medical ethics.
- Both have cult-like features.
- Both are far from being recognised by proper healthcare.
- Both have been repeatedly in conflict with the law.
- Both were invented by deludes fanatics.