The autum seems to be the season for awards. I recently mentioned the ‘Gloden Plank‘ and now The Skeptic announced the Ockham Awards – the annual awards celebrating the very best work from within the skeptical community. The awards draw attention to people who work hard to promote skepticism. The Ockhams honour outstanding campaigns, activism, blogs, podcasts, and other contributors to the skeptical cause.
Nominations for the 2023 Ockham Awards are now open! Simply complete the nomination form to submit your nominations.
The Rusty Razor is an entirely different award. It recognises individuals or organisations who have been prominent promoters of unscientific ideas within the last year. Last year’s Rusty Razor went to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, set up in 2009 by climate change denier Nigel Lawson. The Foundation has published several reports downplaying the threat of climate change.
Previous Rusty Razor winners included
- Dr Mike Yeadon for his anti-vaccination BS,
- Dr Didier Raoult for his promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19,
- Andrew Wakefield for his ongoing promotion of anti-vaxx misinformation,
- Gwyneth Paltrow for her pseudoscience-peddling wellness empire, Goop.
The awards are, as always, based on the nominations received from the skeptical community. This is your chance to see your skeptic hero and your most prolific charlatan regognised.
Reiki is a Japanese form of energy healing used predominantly for stress reduction and relaxation. It is based on the notion that a mystical “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive.
This study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Elderly Care, Vocational School of Health Services, Mardin Artuklu University, Mardin, Turkey, and the Internal Medicine Nursing Department, Mersin University Faculty of Nursing, Mersin, Turkey. Its aim was to determine the effect of Reiki when applied before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy on levels of anxiety, stress, and comfort. It was designed as a single-blind, randomized, sham-controlled study and conducted between February and July 2021.
- sham Reiki,
- control (no intervention).
A total of 159 patients participated in the study. In groups 1 and 2, Reiki and sham Reiki was applied once for approximately 20 to 25 minutes before gastrointestinal endoscopy.
When the Reiki group was compared to the sham Reiki and control groups following the intervention, the decrease in the levels of patient stress (P < .001) and anxiety (P < .001) and the increase in patient comfort (P < .001) were found to be statistically significant.
The authors concluded that Reiki applied to patients before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy was effective in reducing stress and anxiety and in increasing comfort.
As this paper is behind a paywall, I wrote to the authors and asked for a reprint. Unfortunately, I received no reply at all. Thus, I find it difficult to comment. Yet, the study might be important, particularly because there are not many sham-controlled trials of Reiki.
The abstract merely informs us that Reiki was better than sham Reiki. It does not tell us what constituted the sham intervention. Crucially, we also cannot know whether the patients were adequately blinded or whether they were able to tell the sham from the verum.
In the absence of this information, I am merely able to state that Reiki lacks plausibility and is most unlikely, in my view, to have any specific therapeutic effects. This means that the most likely explanation for the extraordinary results of this study is the de-blinding of some of the patients in group 2 or some other source of bias that cannot be identified from just studying the abstract.
If someone can send me the full paper, I’d be more than happy to clarify the apparent mystery.
Bioenergy (or energy healing) therapies are among the popular alternative treatment options for many diseases, including cancer. Many studies deal with the advantages and disadvantages of bioenergy therapies as an addition to established treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation in the treatment of cancer. However, a systematic overview of this evidence is thus far lacking. For this reason, German authors reviewed and critically examined the evidence to determine what benefits the treatments have for patients.
In June 2022, a systematic search was conducted searching five electronic databases (Embase, Cochrane, PsychInfo, CINAHL and Medline) to find studies concerning the use, effectiveness, and potential harm of bioenergy therapies including the following modalities:
- Therapeutic Touch,
- Healing Touch,
- Polarity Therapy.
From all 2477 search results, 21 publications with a total of 1375 patients were included in this systematic review. The patients treated with bioenergy therapies were mainly diagnosed with breast cancer. The main outcomes measured were:
- quality of life (QoL),
The studies were predominantly of moderate quality and, for the most part, found no effect. In terms of QoL, pain, and nausea, there were some positive short-term effects of the interventions, but no long-term differences were detectable. The risk of side effects from bioenergy therapies appears to be relatively small.
The authors concluded that considering the methodical limitations of the included studies, studies with high study quality could not find any difference between bioenergy therapies and active (placebo, massage, RRT, yoga, meditation, relaxation training, companionship, friendly visit) and passive control groups (usual care, resting, education). Only studies with a low study quality were able to show significant effects.
Energy healing is as popular as it is implausible. What these ‘healers’ call ‘energy’ is not how it is defined in physics. It is an undefined, imagined entity that exists only in the imagination of its proponents. So why should it have an effect on cancer or any other condition?
Energy healing is an umbrella term for a range of paranormal healing practices. Their common denominator is the belief in a mystical ‘energy’ that can be used for therapeutic purposes.
- Forms of energy healing have existed in many ancient cultures. The ‘New Age’ movement has brought about a revival of these ideas, and today energy healing systems are amongst the most popular alternative therapies in the US as well as in many other countries. Popular forms of energy healing include those listed above. Each of these are discussed and referenced in separate chapters of this book.
- Energy healing relies on the esoteric belief in some form of ‘energy’ which is distinct from the concept of energy understood in physics and refers to some life force such as chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or prana in Ayurvedic medicine.
- Some proponents employ terminology from quantum physics and other ‘cutting-edge’ science to give their treatments a scientific flair which, upon closer scrutiny, turns out to be but a veneer of pseudo-science.
- The ‘energy’ that energy healers refer to is not measurable and lacks biological plausibility.
- Considering its implausibility, energy healing has attracted a surprisingly high level of research activity. Its findings are discussed in the respective chapters of each of the specific forms of energy healing.
- Generally speaking, the methodologically best trials of energy healing fail to demonstrate that it generates effects beyond placebo.
- Even though energy healing is per se harmless, it can do untold damage, not least because it significantly undermines rational thought in our societies.
As you can see, I do not entirely agree with my German friends on the issue of harm. I think energy healing is potentially dangerous and should be discouraged.
The tales of Kate Moss’s excesses are legendary. Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll have always been an integral part of the supermodel’s life. Stories of wild behavior, random sexual encounters, and copious drug use seemed endless. Now, it seems she is adding a new element to her tumultuous career:
The supermodel is the latest in the long line of VIPs jumping on the quackery bandwagon by marketing her very own brand of over-priced nonsense. She was reported to have worked with Victoria Young, a homeopath and “spiritual guide”, on the products. There’s a Dawn Tea at £20 for 25 tea bags, “inspired by Kate’s English garden” – “With ingredients like hibiscus, rosemary, and nettle leaf, this first step of the Dawn Ritual gently energizes and strengthens the body”. There’s also a Dusk Tea.
There is also a 100ml bottle called Sacred Mist for £120. It is described as “a unique eau de parfum blended with essential oils for the body and surroundings.” There’s a 30ml bottle for £105 called Golden Nectar, which is pro-collagen. CBD oil drops to “holistically support body, mind, and soul”. A 50ml face cream for £95. A 100ml face cleanser for £52.
The website of Moss’ new enterprise claims that “COSMOSS draws on the extraordinary life experience of Kate Moss — someone whose career and image has touched on and influenced so many others and yet has taken her own, rich journey of transformation gradually and privately. COSMOSS is a celebration of every day exactly as it is, with all its imperfections. Each product has been meticulously crafted with wellbeing in mind, using potent, natural substances. Each ritual opens a door to balance, restoration, and love; each fragrance and infusion recentres and completes. COSMOSS is self-care created for life’s modern journeys to make them beautiful, mesmerising and magical.”
In a far cry from her past, Moss explained: “I’ve been meditating, doing yoga, just being much healthier. All the stuff that can make you feel more grounded and balanced.”
Personally, I am glad to hear that Kate is off cocaine and now into other, less harmful ‘natural substances’. Her customers wellbeing might not improve, but I suspect her bank account might.
Traditional European Medicine (TEM) is an increasingly popular yet ill-defined term. Like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it encompasses all the traditional therapies from the respective region. One website describes it with this very odd graph:
On Medline, I found only very few papers on TEM. One article reported about a congress based on the concept of TEM but confusingly called it ‘European Traditional Medicine (ETM). Here are a few excerpts:
… the aim of this congress is to explore and survey, very old and modern traditional based therapies and treatments curing the principles of scientific medicine (1). Discussions of the links between ETM and other traditional medicines therefore are mandatory, particularly when considering the importance of traditionally based therapies that are still a source of primary health care to about 70 percent of the world’s population. Connections between traditional medicine and human health have been addressed and commented upon by many national and international political and sanitary bodies because: a) the good health of populations requires enlightened management of our social resources, economic relations, and of the natural world, and b) that many of today’s public-health issues have their roots in lack of scientifically sustainable holistic approach to the patient c) many socioeconomic inequalities and irrational consumption patterns that jeopardize the future economic sustainability of health.
In the same context the conventional biomedical approach to health is based on methods of diagnosing and treating specific pathologies: one pathogen = one disease, an approach that does not take into account connections between diseases, humanity, and some psychological aspects of suffering, and other socioeconomic factors such as poverty and education, and even the connections between disease and the environment in which sick people lives (2,3).
Other authors, like the one on this website, are much more concrete. Again, a few excerpts must suffice:
When bloodletting according to Hildegard von Bingen max. 150 ml of blood taken. It is one of the most valuable and fastest detoxification options in TEM. In some people, no blood comes, because the body has no need to excrete something. For others, the doctor may say a lot about human health after the blood has been left for about 2 hours. If the serum is yellowish or whitish, this indicates excess fats. If certain threads form, they are signs of inflammation. Then the doctor gives recommendations for certain herbs and applications.
Wraps and packs
Whether neck wrap or hay flower sack. In TEM, there are many natural remedies made from natural materials (clay, pots) and herbs that support the body’s self-healing powers.
Wyda instead of yoga
Wyda is a holistic philosophy that is about getting in touch with yourself. In doing so, one can relax through flowing exercises and energy sounds, strengthen one’s mind or stimulate the metabolism. The exercises are similar in some ways to yoga. Here you can learn more about European yoga!
In Traditional European Medicine (TEM), the archetype of a human is first determined so that the TEM doctor can coordinate the treatments. There are 4 temperatures:
Sanguine: He is active, open-hearted, energetic and mostly optimistic and cheerful. He is not resentful and does what he enjoys.
Suitable use: cool applications such as chest and liver wrap, whole body rubbings with grape seed and lemon balm oils.
Abandonment: too much sweet and fat, animal foods, sweet alcohol.
Choleric: He has a hot temper, shows leadership qualities, is prone to hyperbole, emotional and outbursts of anger, is extroverted, but often uncontrolled. Suitable application: cooling and calming applications. Massages with thistle, almond and lavender oils.
Avoidance of: too much animal protein, alcohol, hot spices and fatty foods.
Phlegmatic: enjoyment is important to him. He is reliable, can accomplish things, but seldom initiate. To get going causes him problems when he “runs”, then persistently and with energy.
Suitable application: warming and drying applications, warm chest wraps. Abdominal massages with camelina oil, marigold ointment.
Abandonment: too much sweets, milk, whole grains, tropical fruits, pork, too many carbohydrates.
Melancholic: He is an admonisher and a thinker, appreciates beauty and intelligence, is more introverted. He tends to ponder and pessimism, struggling for an activity.
Suitable use: warm applications such as warm chest wraps and liver wrap. Clay in water in the morning relieves gastrointestinal discomfort. Massages with strengthening cedar nut oil.
No: Frozen food, raw food, hard to digest, too much salt and sugar.
Yes, much of this is dangerous nostalgic nonsense that would lead us straight back into the dark ages.
Do we need more of this in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)?
TCM was created by Mao as a substitute for real medicine, at a time when China was desperately short of medicine. The creators of TEM have no such reason or motivation. So, why do they do it?
Some used to think that Deepak Chopra is amongst the biggest charlatans on the planet. Well, they were wrong! And his new venture proves it beyond doubt.
The Lovetuner is a revolutionary approach to reduce stress, relieve anxiety and arrive in the present moment, connecting your exhale with the power of the 528hz frequency. That’s what the ad says, and Dr. Deepak Chopra agrees!
The website contains a short video which is a ‘MUST WATCH’. Please do have a look at it. Deepak will show you how to use the ‘LOVETUNER’. I promise you, it is impressive! In the video, Deepak also states that he is enthusiastic about the LOVETUNER and promises that:
- the LOVETUNER creates the frequency of love;
- the LOVETUNER can replace meditation;
- the LOVETUNER is inviting love into your life;
- the LOVETUNER increases your lung capacity;
- the LOVETUNER increases the coherence of your biofield;
- the LOVETUNER changes the biofield of the surroundings.
I am sure all these claims are based on the most solid of evidence. The fact that none of it has been published should not disturb us; on the contrary, it means that the evidence is so important that BIG PHARMA does not allow it to be published through the usual peer-reviewed channels – hence the video.
For those who are still not convinced, Deepak adds a written text:
“We want the world to be a more loving, peaceful, harmonious, happier and healthier place, right? First, we need to start with ourselves and be the change we want to see in this world. With the Lovetuner this is an easy and fun way to connect with ourselves and the world around us. The Lovetuner is more than just a meditation device – it is a mindset and a global peace and love movement. The Lovetuner teaches you the breath that spiritual gurus across the globe are going to recommend to you. It’s what you’ll find at your yoga retreat, sound bath, and guided meditation, but with the Lovetuner you can be your own guru.”
So, how does the LOVETUNER work? The website provides a most plausible explanation:
The Lovetuner is a revolutionary mindfulness tool that aligns you with the 528hz frequency, the vibration of love. In music, tuning means adjusting the pitch of a tone. In humans, it means adjusting your emotional and physical state to align with your environment – literally “tuning in” and harmonizing with yourself and what is around you. The Lovetuner has a profound effect on the body, mind and spirit.
Our entire universe is comprised of light and sound, frequency and vibration. The connections between music, cosmos and nature have been known since ancient times. In 1978 Hans Cousto, a Swiss mathematician and musicologist, compared the frequencies in planetary orbits, in architectural works, in old and modern measuring systems, in the human body, in music and in medicine and “discovered” their connection. John Lennon used the 528hz frequency for his song “Imagine.” In music, the 528Hz frequency refers to the note “Mi” and is traced back to the expression “Mi-ra gestorum” on the scale, which in Latin means “miracle”.
The 528hz frequency has a healing and health-promoting effect on our body, mind, and soul. Our cells and organs resonate with this frequency. The vibration is transferred to our entire organism where it can unfold its positive effect. It activates and strengthens our natural self-healing powers.
The 528hz frequency has a very special physical and biological importance.
The medical pioneer Dr. Royal Raymond Rife, who researched at the beginning of the 20th century, used many frequencies in his practice of radionics or electromagnetic therapy, but he specifically referred to 528 because of its ability to repair DNA. Dr. Rife used this frequency among hundreds of others for use with his Rife Machine – “Radionics.” He referred to 528 as “DNA repair.”
Molecular genetic investigations have shown that this frequency can be used to repair defective DNA strands or to restore human DNA to its original state. Scientific studies further showed that it increases the UV light absorption in DNA and can cure DNA by removing impurities that cause disease.
Today, the use of non-pharmacological and non-invasive agents is quite common. Sound waves, which are classified as non-invasive means for stimulating auditory cells, also affect non-auditory cells. Since the frequency of 528hz is related to the musical note Mi, effects such as an increase in the ability to repair DNA are observed.
I know, you are dying to know how much the LOVETUNER costs. For just $ 62, it can be yours! I do think that this is a bargain and am deeply thankful to Deepak for alerting me to this life-changing device. Yes, some used to think that Deepak Chopra is amongst the biggest charlatans on the planet. I am sure that his support for the LOVETUNER will make these people change their minds.
It has recently been reported that a Canadian naturopath claims he can treat autism with fecal transplants at a clinic in Mexico. The College of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C. has thus barred him stating that it has taken “extraordinary action” against Jason Klop in response to a complaint from a whistle-blowing former employee, who alleges that he manufactured these products in a “household lab” in B.C. without standard procedures or quality control.
While the complaint is under investigation, Klop cannot manufacture, advertise or sell fecal microbiota transplants (FMT). He’ll also be subject to random on-site audits to make sure he’s not violating his conditions.
This is the first public sign of concrete action by the college since CBC News reported on Klop’s business in January 2020 — nearly 20 months ago. Klop has been charging about $15,000 US for autistic children as young as two years old to have FMT treatment at a clinic near Tijuana. The process isn’t approved as a treatment of autism and carries serious risks of infection.
In a promotional video posted in January, Klop says he believes that “precision manipulation of the gut microbiome will solve every single chronic disease.” He also issued an affidavit boasting that he has a new lab that “produces the best and safest FMT materials in the world” and described the former employee who complained as “manifestly unreliable.” Klop argued that “lives are at stake” if he were to stop what he’s doing and described his therapy as a “life-saving measure.”
Is there any evidence at all for FMT as a treatment of autism? A recent systematic review drew this conclusion: evidence from human studies suggesting beneficial effects of probiotic, prebiotic, and combination thereof, as well as fecal transplants in autism spectrum disorder, is limited and inconclusive.
Two Dutch scientists tested the hypothesis that spiritual training operates like other self‐enhancement tools and contribute to a contingent self‐worth that depends on one’s spiritual accomplishments.
In three studies, a measure of spiritual superiority showed good internal consistency and discriminant validity. Spiritual superiority was distinctly related to spiritual contingency of self‐worth, illustrating that the self‐enhancement function of spirituality is similar to other contingency domains. It was correlated with self‐esteem and, more strongly, with communal narcissism, corroborating the notion of spiritual narcissism. Spiritual superiority scores were consistently higher among energetically trained participants than mindfulness trainees and were associated with supernatural overconfidence and self‐ascribed spiritual guidance.
Spititual superiority is claimed to be a measure to which degree people feel superior to those “who lack the spiritual wisdom they ascribe to themselves.” The measure’s questionnaires ask people to respond on a scale of 1 to 7 to a series of statements. Example statements include “I am more in touch with my senses than most others,” “I am more aware of what is between heaven and earth than most people,” and “The world would be a better place if others too had the insights that I have now.”
Essentially, the studies suggest that the use of spiritual training techniques such as
- energy healing,
- aura reading,
- and meditation
correlate with both narcissism and “spiritual superiority.” By encouraging self-compassion and non-judgmental self-acceptance, spiritual training should presumably make people less concerned with such things. Yet, it seems to have the opposite effect: it enhances the need to feel “more successful, more respected or more loved.”
The authors argue that, “like religiosity, spirituality is a domain that seems like a safe and secure investment for self-worth. One’s spiritual attainments allow lots of room for wishful thinking, thus easily lending themselves to the grip of the self-enhancement motive.” And because spiritual matters are generally “elusive to external objective standards,” that makes them a “suitable domain for illusory beliefs about one’s superiority.”
The causal arrow might work in both directions, the authors argue:
- People use spirituality as a self-esteem booster. It allows them to see themselves as special, and they can achieve progress in the spiritual domain relatively easily, as there are no objectively measurable outcomes.
- Spiritual training attracts people who already feel superior. And the “extensive exploration of one’s personal thoughts and feelings” that spiritual training encourages “may be particularly appealing” to narcissists.
The authors concluded as follows: “The phenomenon of spiritual superiority is widely recognized, both by authors who have written about it and by lay people who have felt the condescension of spiritually ‘enlightened’ others. At the same time, it has not yet been empirically studied before. We developed a measure of spiritual superiority, along with scales for self-proclaimed spiritual guidance, supernatural overconfidence, and spiritual contingency of self-worth. We have demonstrated their reliability and we have presented initial findings on correlations with other variables and differences between types of spiritual training, corroborating the validity of our scales. Our results and our theoretical analysis can stimulate further research into this phenomenon. In the applied domain, this could reveal more insights into the effects of spiritual training, and possibly the conditions and personality characteristics that facilitate genuine spiritual growth. More importantly, our results reveal the sovereignty and tenacity of the self-enhancement motive, showing its operation in a context designed to quiet the ego. This can be understood in terms of dual process models, assuming that self-enhancement is an automatic tendency whereas mindful awareness requires thoughtful processes. Our results thus extend the current body of knowledge on self-enhancement, by including a domain in which self-superiority might be least expected.”
If you think that the papers published on SCAM for humans are bad, you should have a look at those in the veterinary sector. Take for instance this article from the AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association) Journal:
Evidence demonstrates that acupuncture and herbal medicine are useful and effective for the treatment of seizures. In the perspective of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), seizures in dogs and cats can be classified into 6 patterns:
- Obstruction by WindPhlegm,
- Internal Profusion of Phlegm-Fire,
- Stagnation of Blood,
- Liver Blood Deficiency,
- Liver/Kidney Yin Deficiency,
- Yin Deficiency with Blood Deficiency.
This article focuses on how to differentiate and treat these patterns using herbal medicine and acupuncture. An overview of clinical trials is provided, and case examples are also included.
The authors from the ‘Equine Acupuncture Center/University of Florida, USA, concluded that the combination of TCVM and Western medicine (WM) can be an effective therapeutic approach to control seizures and epilepsy. WM is effective for initial control of severe seizures and in identification of the cause of the disease. TCVM can be effectively used for the treatment of milder cases and to help control seizures in those patients that fail to respond to WM.
Having done some research into acupuncture for animals myself, I was particularly interested in this aspect of the paper – interested and disappointed, I have to admit. The sad truth is that, despite the opimistic conclusions of the authors, there is no sound evidence. As no good evidence has emerged since, our own systematic review of 2006 (which was not cited by the authors of the above article) still holds true:
Acupuncture is a popular complementary treatment option in human medicine. Increasingly, owners also seek acupuncture for their animals. The aim of the systematic review reported here was to summarize and assess the clinical evidence for or against the effectiveness of acupuncture in veterinary medicine. Systematic searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, Amed, Cinahl, Japana Centra Revuo Medicina and Chikusan Bunken Kensaku. Hand-searches included conference proceedings, bibliographies, and contact with experts and veterinary acupuncture associations. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. All controlled clinical trials testing acupuncture in any condition of domestic animals were included. Studies using laboratory animals were excluded. Titles and abstracts of identified articles were read, and hard copies were obtained. Inclusion and exclusion of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers. Methodologic quality was evaluated by means of the Jadad score. Fourteen randomized controlled trials and 17 nonrandomized controlled trials met our criteria and were, therefore, included. The methodologic quality of these trials was variable but, on average, was low. For cutaneous pain and diarrhea, encouraging evidence exists that warrants further investigation in rigorous trials. Single studies reported some positive intergroup differences for spinal cord injury, Cushing’s syndrome, lung function, hepatitis, and rumen acidosis. These trials require independent replication. On the basis of the findings of this systematic review, there is no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals. Some encouraging data do exist that warrant further investigation in independent rigorous trials.
The AHVMA-article becomes wholly farcical, once we see the heading the AHVMA-journal has given it:
The AHVMA-journal is the official publication of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, according to their own statement, is the mindful leader elevating the veterinary professional through innovation, education, and advocacy of integrative medicine.
One stated objective of the AHVMA is to advance and educate in the science and art of holistic veterinary medicine. If their new ‘scientific review’ is anything to go by, they seem to have a most bizarre view about science. The question that occurred to me while reading the paper was this: are they not promoting animal abuse, a term defined as any use or treatment of animals that seems unnecessarily cruel, regardless of whether the act is against the law?
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.