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

politics

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THE FIRST WORLDWIDE MANIFESTO AGAINST PSEUDOSCIENCE

2750 signatories from 44 countries have signed it [I was number 11] and today is its official launch. I am delighted to present to you the full text of the English version:

 

Let’s be clear: pseudoscience kills. And they are being used with total impunity thanks to European
laws that protect them.
They kill thousands of people, with names and families. People such as Francesco Bonifaz, a 7-yearold boy whose doctor prescribed homeopathy instead of antibiotics. He died in Italy [1]. People like Mario Rodríguez, who was 21 years old and was told to use vitamins to treat his cancer. He died in Spain [2]. People like Jacqueline Alderslade, a 55-year-old woman whose homeopath told her to stop taking her asthma medication. She died in Ireland [3]. People like Cameron Ayres, a 6-month-old baby, whose parents did not want to give their child “scientific medicine”. He died in England [4]. People like Victoria Waymouth, a 57-year-old woman who was prescribed a homeopathic medication to treat her heart problem. She died in France [5]. People like Sofia Balyaykina, a 25-year-old woman, who had a cancer that was curable with chemotherapy but was recommended an “alternative treatment”, a mosquito bite treatment. She died in Russia [6]. People like Erling Møllehave, a 71-year-old man whose acupuncturist pierced and damaged his lung with a needle. He died in Denmark [7]. People like Michaela Jakubczyk-Eckert, a 40-year-old-woman whose therapist recommended the German NewMedicine to treat her breast cancer. She died in Germany [8]. People like Sylvia Millecam, a 45-year-old woman whose New Age healer promised to cure her cancer. She died in the Netherlands [9].

European directive 2001/83/CE has made –and still makes— possible the daily deception of thousands of hundreds of European citizens [10]. Influential lobbyists have been given the opportunity to redefine what a medicine is, and now they are selling sugar to sick people and making them believe it can cure them or improve their health. This has caused deaths and will continue to do so until Europe admits an undeniable truth: scientific knowledge cannot yield to economic interests, especially when it means deceiving patients and violating their rights.

Europe is facing very serious problems regarding public health. Overmedication, multi-resistant bacteria and the financial issues of the public systems are already grave enough, without the additional problem of gurus, fake doctors or even qualified doctors claiming they can cure any disease by manipulating chakras, making people eat sugar or using “quantic frequencies”. Europe must not only stop the promotion of homeopathy but also actively fight to eradicate public health scams. More than 150 pseudo-therapies have been identified as being in use throughout Europe. Thousands of citizens lives depend on this being prevented. In fact, according to a recent research, 25.9 % of Europeans have used pseudo-therapies last year. In other words, 192 million patients have been deceived [11].

Some believe there is a conflict between freedom of choice for a treatment and the removal of pseudo-therapies, but this is not true. According to article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person has a right to medical care. Lying to patients in order to sell them useless products that could kill them breaks their right to correct information about their health. This way, even if a citizen has a right to refuse medical treatment when he or she is properly informed, it is also true that nobody has the right to lie to obtain profit at the expense of someone else’s life. Only in a world in which lying to a sick person would be considered ethical, could homeopathy —or any other pseudo-therapy— be allowed to continue to be sold to citizens.

Effective treatments being replaced by false ones is not the only danger of pseudo-therapies. Obvious delays in therapeutic care occur when a person gets false products instead of medication at the early stages of a disease. Many times, it is then too late by the time they get treated with proper medicine. Moreover, several of these practices have serious effects on their own and may cause damage or even death because of their side effects.

Many pseudo-therapists argue that “the other medicine” comes with side effects as well, which is indeed true. However, the difference resides in that pseudo-therapies cannot cure a disease or improve your health, and because of that patients assume risks in exchange of promises that are a scam, according to the full weight of the scientific evidence available. Lying to a sick person is not another type of medicine, it is simply lying to a sick person.
Every country has to face the pseudo-therapies issue in its own ways. Yet it is not acceptable that European laws protect the distortion of scientific facts so that thousands of citizens can be deceived or even lead to their deaths.

We, the signatories of this manifest, therefore declare that:

1. Scientific knowledge is incompatible with what pseudo-therapies postulate, as in the case
of homeopathy.
2. European laws that protect homeopathy are not acceptable in a scientific and technological
society that respects the right of the patients not to be deceived.
3. Homeopathy is the best known pseudo-therapy, but it is not the only one nor the most
dangerous one. Others, such as acupuncture, reiki, German New Medicine, iridology,
biomagnetism, orthomolecular therapy and many more, are gaining ground and causing
victims.
4. Measures must be taken to stop pseudo-therapies, since they are harmful and result in
thousands of people being adversely affected.
5. Europe needs to work towards creating legislation that will help stop this problem.

Europe being concerned about the misinformation phenomena but at the same time protecting one the most dangerous types of it, health misinformation, is just not coherent. This is why the people signing this manifesto urge the governments of European countries to end a problem in which the name of science is being used falsely and which has already cost too many lives.

 

[1] Homeopathy boy died of encephalitis. Redazione ANSA, 2017.
http://www.ansa.it/english/news/general_news/2017/05/29/homeopathy-boy-died-of-encephalitis-3_13e02493-
4e62-4787-9162-12d831121ef6.html
[2] Grieving dad sues over ‘cure cancer with vitamins’ therapy, The local. Emma Anderson, 2016.
https://www.thelocal.es/20160412/grieving-father-sues-naturopath-over-son-cure-cancer-vitamins-leukaemia
[3] Asthmatic ‘told to give up drugs’. The Irish News, 2001.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/asthmatic-told-to-give-up-drugs-26063764.html
[4] Homeopaths warn of further tragèdies. BBC News, 2000.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/702699.stm
[5] Alternative cure doctor suspended. BBC News, 2007.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/6255356.stm
[6] Футболист рассказал трагичную историю жены. Она умерла от рака в 25 лет. Sport24, 2018.
https://sport24.ru/news/football/2018-08-28-futbolist-rasskazal-tragichnuyu-istoriyu-zheny-ona-umerla-ot-raka-v-25-let
[7] Mand døde efter akupunktur – enke vil nu lægge sag an mod behandleren, TV2, 2018.
http://nyheder.tv2.dk/samfund/2018-01-23-mand-doede-efter-akupunktur-enke-vil-nu-laegge-sag-an-modbehandleren

[8] The price of refusing science-based medical and surgical therapy in breast càncer, Science Blogs, 2012.
https://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2012/08/30/the-price-of-refusing-science-based-medical-and-surgical-therapy-inbreast-cancer
[9] Psychic ‘misled actress to hopeless cancer death’. Expatica. 2004.
http://web.archive.org/web/20070208144309/http://www.expatica.com/actual/article.asp?subchannel_i
d=19&story_id=4821
[10] Directive 2001/83/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 November 2001.
https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/files/eudralex/vol1/dir_2001_83_consol_2012/dir_2001_83_cons_2012_en.pdf
[11] Use of complementary and alternative medicine in Europe: Health-related and sociodemographic
determinants. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. Laura M. Kemppainen et al. 2018.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5989251/

Or perhaps not?
Here is the announcement:

Research by a reputable independent research company done for Securivita a German insurance company shows that those receiving homeopathic care were much better off. Over 15,700 patients were involved in the study which also used a comparison group.

The study showed that in a wide range of patients with various pathological problems that if they had homeopathic care they faired dramatically better than those just getting conventional medicine.

Children having homeopathy treatment from birth, were particularly healthier and with less problems. Over the three year study period, the number of children needing antibiotics decreased by 16.7 per cent in the homeopathy group, whereby it increased by 73.9 per cent in the conventional medical comparison group!

The number of hospitalizations in the comparison group increased by 32.6 per cent whereby in the homeopathy treatment group it decreased by 9.8 per cent!

Adults and children treated homoeopathically had dramatic improvements in allergies, dermatitis, asthma, just to name a few.

These are just a few examples of the remarkable benefits of homeopathic treatment outlined in the study by by the Leipzig Health Forum , an independent analytical institute specializing in health services conducted for Securvita Krankenkasse Insurer.

“We don’t need fewer, but more homeopathic doctors who will continue on this successful path,” says Götz Hachtmann , director of the health insurance company Securvita.

The study is in German and can be found here.

____________________________

Blessed are those who don’t read German (at least in this instance)!

As I am not amongst the blessed, I ought to tell you a bit about the ‘massive’ study. The OHR, the ‘OFFICIAL HOMEOPATHIC RESOURCE’ (btw what makes the OHR ‘official’?) claims that the study can be found here. The OHR is evidently not well enough resourced for translating the German text into English; if they were, they would know that the link goes not to a ‘study’ but to some kind of a glossy marketing brochure about the ‘study’ (there is no actual published scientific paper on the ‘study’). It provides hardly any relevant information; all we learn is that 15 700 individuals who regularly consulted homeopathic physicians were compared over a three year period to an equally sized control group who did not consult homeopathic doctors… And that’s essentially it! No further relevant details are offered.

By contrast, quite a bit of information is offered about the findings, for instance:

  • In the homeopathy group, the hospitalisation rate of depressive patients dropped by 10%, while it increased in controls by 33%.
  • The days off work dropped by 17% vs an increase in controls of 17%.
  • The use of antibiotics decreased by 17% vs an increase of 74%.

And how do they explain these differences?

Yes, you guessed it:

they are due to homeopathy!

One does not need to have a perfumer’s nose to smell a few badly decomposing rats here, for example:

  1. We do not learn how many variables were tested in this ‘study’. Therefore, it is likely that the ‘results’ provided are the positive ones, while the not so positive potential effects of homeopathy remained unmentioned. Perhaps the death rate was higher in the homeopathy group? Perhaps they suffered more heart attacks? Perhaps they had a lower quality of life? Perhaps they caused more costs? Perhaps they committed more suicides? etc. etc.
  2. Even more obvious is the stench of selection bias. The individuals in the homeopathy group were clearly different from the controls to start with. They might have been more health conscious. They clearly were more cautious about antibiotics. They might have been of better general health. They might have been younger. They could have contained more women. They might have been more afraid of going into a hospital. They might have been keener to attend work. In fact, the only variable in which the two groups were comparable is sample size.

Even if we eventually we see this ‘study’ published in a peer-reviewed journal with full methodological details etc., it will not allow even the smartest spin-doctor to establish cause and effect. Its findings would not be more conclusive than those of previously discussed attempts to produce positive evidence for homeopathy. The ‘positive’ findings could have been the result of hundreds of causes, none of which are related to homeopathy.

In a nutshell: this new German ‘study’ is a textbook example for arguing in favour of conducting proper research rather that rampant pseudo-research.

But I must not always be so negative!!!

So, let me try to point out the positive sides of this ‘study’:

The ‘massive independent study’ is a true masterpiece of advertising and marketing for both Securivita and homeopathy.

Well done guys!

I am proud of you!

  • That’s exactly the stuff needed for successfully misleading the public.
  • That’s precisely the info required to increase your cash flow.
  • That’s helpful ‘research’ for convincing politicians.
  • That’s definitely the type of baloney to impresses the Ullmanns of this world.
  • That’s even the sort of ‘science’ which the ‘OFFICIAL HOMEOPATHIC RESOURCE’ cannot recognise for what it truly is:

invalid junk.

This recent review claimed to evaluate the evidence on the use of human and veterinary homeopathy, evidence level 1a studies were considered. Focusing on the external evidence on the use of homeopathy in infections, some evidence level 1a, 1b, 2c studies, and a case report, are described in more detail.

In conclusion, evidence for the effectiveness of human and veterinary homeopathy in general, and in particular, of homeopathic treatment for infections, is available. Especially, individualized homeopathy demonstrates effects at all quality levels according to Cochrane criteria, even in the methodologically high-quality studies. As in most areas of veterinary medicine and medicine, further good/excellent studies are necessary. In compliance with the principles of homeopathy, further methodologically high-quality trials focusing on the homeopathic treatment of infections are the next logical step. The selection of the simile (individually fitting homeopathic medicinal product) by appropriately trained homeopathic doctors/veterinarians is essential for the effectiveness of homeopathy. Implementation of studies at university facilities is a prerequisite for quality assurance. Consequently, further integration of homeopathy at universities is a necessary requirement for the patients’ best interests.

Who wrote this bizarre paper?

The authors who state to have no conflicts of interest are P Weiermayer 1M Frass 2T Peinbauer 3L Ellinger 4

  • 1Tierärztin, Tierarztpraxis Dr. Weiermayer, Diplom der Europ. Akademie für Veterinärhomöopathie (EAVH), Fachtierärztin für Homöopathie, Sprecherin der Sektion Forschung der Wissensch. Gesellsch. für Homöopathie (WissHom), Präsidentin ÖGVH, Wien, Österreich.
  • 2Facharzt für Innere Medizin und Internistische Intensivmedizin, em. Professor für Innere Medizin der Medizinischen Universität Wien, Diplom der Österreichischen Ärztekammer (ÖÄK) für Homöopathie sowie für Begleitende Krebsbehandlung, Wien, Österreich.
  • 3Arzt für Allgemeinmedizin, ÖÄK-Diplom für Homöopathie, Universitätslektor für Allgemeinmedizin und Modulbeauftragter für Komplementärmedizin, Medizinische Fakultät, Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, Österreich.
  • 4Tierärztin, Centaurea, Apeldoorn, Holland.

This already explains quite a lot, I think.

The paper itself is in German, so I will try to make some sense of part of it for you.

In their ‘methods section’, the authors explain that they evaluated meta-analyses and systematic reviews (SRs) of homeopathy for various conditions. Furthermore, they considered the ‘1st and 2nd’ NHMRC reports. Specifically for the question whether homeopathy is the answer to antibiotic resistance, the authors also considered RCTs, observational studies, heath service research and even case-studies. The authors then elaborate at length on the assumptions of homeopathy, on legal issues and on the nature of evidence-based medicine all of which I disregard for the moment (suffice to say that this material has been often and better reviewed before).

When finally discussing the evidence on homeopathy for human conditions, the authors state that, up until 2014, six comprehensive SRs had been published. In their opinion, these are the following 6 papers:

  1. Kleijnen, J., Knipschild, P., Ter Riet, G. (1991): Clinical trials
    of homeopathy. BMJ 302(6772): 316-23.
  2. Linde, K., Clausius, N., Ramirez, G., Melchart, D., Eitel, F.,
    Hedges, L.V., Jonas, W.B. (1997): Are the clinical effects of
    homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 350(9081): 834–843.
  3. Linde, K., Scholz, M., Ramirez, G., Clausius, N., Melchart,
    D., Jonas, W.B. (1999): Impact of study quality on outcome
    in placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy. J Clin Epidemiol 52(7): 631–636.
  4. Cucherat, M., Haugh, M.C., Gooch, M., Boissel, J.P. (2000): Evidence of clinical efficacy of homeopathy. A meta-analysis of clinical trials. HMRAG. Homeopathic Medicines Research Advisory Group. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 56(1): 27–33.
  5. Mathie, R.T., Lloyd, S.M., Legg, L.A., Clausen, J., Moss, S.,Davidson, J.R.T., Ford, I. (2014a): Randomised placebocontrolled trials of individualised homeopathic treatment: systematic review and meta-analysis. Syst Rev 3: 142.
  6. Shang, A., Huwiler-Müntener, K., Nartey, L., Jüni, P., Dörig, S., Sterne, J.A.C., Pewsner, D., Egger, M. (2005): Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy and allopathy. Lancet 366(9487): 726–32.

(As it happens, I have reviewed these papers here and come to very different conclusions)

Without bothering about a critical assessment of these papers, the authors report that all arrived at a positive conclusion, except the last one. They then claim that the ‘1st’ NHMRC report was partly positive but was initially suppressed by the Australian government. Instead it was replaced with the 2nd NHMRC report which was designed to arrive at a wholly negative conclusion. Likewise, the ‘EASAC Statement’ neglected some of the available positive evidence. These facts, the authors believe, discredits all of these negative reports.

The authors then discuss the various reviews by Mathie et al and point out that, in their view, these papers are superior to all other documents as they arrive at very clearly positive conclusions.

Next the authors focus on the field of veterinary homeopathy, while admitting weaker and weaker evidence, inclusing case-reports. This is also where I lost the will to live and gave up my detailed criticism of the text; the task is too tedious and simply not worth it, I felt.

In summary, here are few points relating to the human evidence:

The authors seem to have no intention of conducting an objective, systematic review. Such a project is essentially based on two principles. Firstly, it needs to include all eligible evidence according to pre-defined criteria. Secondly, it must include a critical evaluation of the admitted evidence. This review fails on both of these principles.

There are virtually dozens of systematic reviews which the authors decided to ignore. Here are just six of them:

  1. … homoeopathy as a whole may be considered as a placebo treatment.
  2. We tested whether p-curve accurately rejects the evidential value of significant results obtained in placebo-controlled clinical trials of homeopathic ultramolecular dilutions. Our results suggest that p-curve can accurately detect when sets of statistically significant results lack evidential value.
  3. We found no evidence to support the efficacy of homeopathic medicinal products
  4. … no firm conclusions regarding the effectiveness and safety of homeopathy for the treatment of IBS can be drawn.
  5. Due to both qualitative and quantitative inadequacies, proofs supporting individualized homeopathy remained inconclusive.
  6. … the use of homeopathy currently cannot claim to have sufficient prognostic validity where efficacy is concerned.

Why do they do it? A reasonable reply to this question might be, because their findings did not fit the preconceived ideas of the authors. This omission alone makes the article little more than a poorly conceived marketing brochure.

Even more important is the second omission. The paper  lacks any kind of critical evaluation of the included evidence. On the contrary, the authors praise the evidence that generated what they think was a positive result (even in cases where the actual result was not all that positive; for instance: A meta-analysis of all extractable data leads to rejection of our null hypothesis, but analysis of a small sub-group of reliable evidence does not support that rejection. Reliable evidence is lacking in condition-specific meta-analyses, precluding relevant conclusions) and bash all negative findings. This goes as far as perpetuating untruth about the two NHMRC reports: what they call the 1st report was a draft that had been rejected because it was deemed to be of sub-standard quality. What is here called the ‘2nd’ report is thus the only valid document ever published. Similarly, the authors pretend that the Mathie reviews were all clearly positive and fail to mention even the most obvious problems with these articles, such as the facts that Mathie was paid by a homeopathy-lobby group or that even he included important caveats in his conclusions.

As to the focus of the review, the question whether homeopathy might be a solution to antibiotic resistance, the authors found virtually no compelling evidence from trials directly comparing antibiotics with homeopathy. This seems to bother the authors little – they conclude that “the data demonstrate the potential of a significant reduction of antibiotic usage through homeopathic treatments”. They seem to have reached this conclusion by turning a blind eye to all the evidence that does not fit their preconceived idea.

As the paper is published in German and in a journal which hardly anyone will ever read, one could easily argue that none of all this does really matter because it is merely a storm in a very small tea cup. Perhaps that’s true. But this paper nevertheless might attain some significance because it is already being heavily promoted by the homeopathy lobby. And no doubt, it will thus be cited in the English literature which, in turn, will be read by people who do not read German, unable to check the original and are thus likely to believe the nonsense promoted by Frass and friends.

For this reason, I want to conclude by making it quite clear that

this ‘review’ is a dilettante attempt to white-wash the evidence on homeopathy and mislead the public.

 

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. [1] 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. [2] 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, [3] 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.  [4]

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.”) [5] 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  [6] 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? [7]  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.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_tradition

[3] Such as from the Victoria Dept of Health at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/ayurveda

[4] https://www.hccc.nsw.gov.au/decisions-orders/public-statements-and-warnings/public-warning-under-s94a-of-the-health-care-complaints-act-concerning-levels-of-heavy-metals-in-ayurvedic-medication

[5] https://www.hccc.nsw.gov.au/decisions-orders/media-releases/2020/mr-rama-prasad-ayurveda-doctor-rama-prasad-interim-prohibition-order

[6] Health Care Complaints Act 1993 https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1993-105

[7] https://www.enlightenedevents.com.au/events/certificate-in-clinical-ayurveda-dr-rama-prasad

‘Infodemics’ are outbreaks of false information including rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories. All of these have been common during the COVID-19 pandemic. The detection, assessment, and response to rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories in real time are a challenge.

An international team of researchers followed and examined COVID-19-related rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories circulating on online platforms, including fact-checking agency websites, Facebook, Twitter, and online newspapers, and their impacts on public health. Information was extracted between December 31, 2019 and April 5, 2020, and descriptively analysed. The team performed a content analysis of the news articles to compare and contrast data collected from other sources.

The researchers identified 2,311 reports of rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories in 25 languages from 87 countries. Claims were related to:

  • illness, transmission and mortality (24%),
  • control measures (21%),
  • treatment and cure (19%),
  • cause of disease including the origin (15%),
  • violence (1%),
  • and miscellaneous (20%).

Of the 2,276 reports for which text ratings were available, 1,856 claims were false (82%).

The authors concluded that misinformation fuelled by rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories can have potentially serious implications on the individual and community if prioritized over evidence-based guidelines. Health agencies must track misinformation associated with the COVID-19 in real time, and engage local communities and government stakeholders to debunk misinformation.

These findings are as perplexing as they are frightening. On this blog, we have since the beginning of the pandemic focussed on the SCAM for COVID-19. We have seen that this health crisis provided an occasion for almost any quackery on the planet:

  • homeopaths,
  • supplement salesmen,
  • TCM-practitioners,
  • chiropractors,
  • anti-vaxxers,
  • Siddha-doctors,
  • Vitamin-peddlers,
  • politicians,
  • evangelists,
  • acupuncturists,
  • herbalists,
  • essential oil salesmen.

They all crept out of the woodwork. Their methods may differ, but their aim seems to be the same: to make a fast buck regardless of how many people their activities might kill.

During the last decades, the sales-figures for so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) have been increasing steadily and substantially. A recent report predicts this trend to continue:

… The global market for alternative and complementary medicines is projected to experience substantial growth in the next few years. The rising expenditure of the healthcare facilities is considered as the major factor that is likely to encourage the growth of the overall market in the coming years. In addition, the increasing number of initiatives being taken by Governments across the globe to promote alternative and complementary medicines is projected to accelerate the market’s growth. Thanks to these factors, the global alternative and complementary medicine market is likely to exhibit a promising growth rate in the near future.

A significant rise in the number of initiatives by NGOs and government organizations to encourage the use of alternative and complementary medicines is estimated to bolster global market in the near future. In addition to this, technological advancements in this field and the rising inclination of consumers towards these medicines and practices are likely to offer lucrative growth opportunities for the leading players operating in the alternative and complementary medicine market across the globe. However, the lack of scientific results is expected to hamper the overall growth of the market in the next few years…

From a regional perspective, Europe is considered as one of the leading segment, thanks to the significant revenue contribution in the last few years. This region is expected to account for a large share of the global alternative and complementary medicine market with the rising use of botanicals. In addition to this, the increasing awareness among consumers regarding the availability of effective alternative and complementary medicines and the benefits they offers are expected to encourage the growth of the Europe market in the coming years.

Furthermore, with the rising popularity of medical tourism, the alternative and complementary medicine market in Asia Pacific is projected to witness a steady growth in the next few years. Moreover, the presence of a large number of new players operating in this region is likely to offer promising growth opportunities over the forecast period. The Middle East and Africa segment is anticipated to experience a healthy growth in the alternative and complementary medicine market in the near future.

The global market for alternative and complementary medicines is presently at a highly competitive stage and is predicted to experience an intense level of competition among the leading players in the coming years. The prominent players in the market are focusing on the expansion of the product portfolio so as to attract a large number of consumers across the globe. This is likely to help them in creating a brand name and acquiring a leading position in the global market. Some of the leading players operating in the alternative and complementary medicine market across the globe are Herb Pharm, Yoga Tree, Quantum Touch Inc., Helio USA Inc., Pure encapsulations, Inc., Pacific Nutritional Inc., Deepure Plus, Herbal Hills, Iyengar Yoga Institute, The Healing Company, and Nordic Naturals.

Yes, I know, this is little more than hot air mixed with platitudes and advertisements to purchase the full report. I used to buy such documents for my department and research but was invariably disappointed. They provide are expensive and of very little of value.

Yet, one thing has been confirmed over the years: the prediction of steady growth of the SCAM-industry is rarely wrong (certain sections, such as homeopathy, have been shrinking in some regions, but the industry as a whole is financially healthy). The scientific evidence seems to get less and less convincing, yet consumers buy more and more of these products. They may do little good and have the potential to cause quite a bit of harm, but consumers continue to waste their money on them.

The question is: why?

There are, of course, many reasons. An important one is that the gullible public wants to believe in SCAM, and the SCAM-industry is highly skilled in misleading us. What is worse: many governments, instead of limiting the damage, are mildly or even overtly supportive of the SCAM-industry.

Whenever I contemplate this depressing state of affairs, I realise that my blog is important. It is only a drop in the ocean, I know, but still…

 

 

 

You have probably guessed it: I am not a fan of Donald Trump (he made several previous appearances on this blog, see here, here here and here). There are many things that I dislike about him, and his attitude towards vaccination is but one of them. Researchers from Australia and from my own University (!) have conducted two studies on this subject which I find extraordinary and important. Here is their abstract:

Donald Trump is the first U.S. President to be on the record as having anti-vaccination attitudes. Given his enormous reach and influence, it is worthwhile examining the extent to which allegiance to Trump is associated with the public’s perceptions of vaccine safety and efficacy. In both Study 1 (N = 518) and Study 2 (N = 316), Trump voters were significantly more concerned about vaccines than other Americans. This tendency was reduced to non-significance after controlling for conspiracist ideation (i.e., general willingness to believe conspiracy theories) and, to a lesser degree, political conservatism. In Study 2, participants were later exposed to real Trump tweets that either focused on his anti-vaccination views, or focused on golf (the control condition). Compared to when the same respondents were sampled a week earlier, there was a significant increase in vaccine concern, but only among Trump voters who were exposed to the anti-vaccination tweets. The effects were exclusively negative: there was no evidence that anti-vaccination Trump tweets polarized liberal voters into becoming more pro-vaccination. In line with the social identity model of leadership, Study 2 indicates that some leaders do not simply represent the attitudes and opinions of the group, but can also change group members’ opinions.

I find this paper so important and excellent that I take the liberty of quoting from the authors’ discussion:

Both studies showed that people who voted for Trump in the 2016 Presidential election were more concerned about vaccines than other voters. When it came to general concern about vaccines, this “Trump effect” was entirely accounted for by the fact that Trump voters are not only more politically conservative than other Americans but also (and independently) more predisposed to believe conspiracy theories. In fact, the tendency for Trump voters to have greater concerns about the MMR vaccine in particular was not explained so much by their political conservatism as it was by their conspiracist ideation.

Study 1 illustrates that Trump voters are particularly prone to anti-vaccination attitudes. Study 2 further demonstrates that these attitudes are not static: it shows that a revered, prototypical ingroup member can actively exacerbate this propensity to endorse factually unfounded beliefs.

One overarching debate about the influence of political leaders is the extent to which they shape supporters’ views, or merely reflect them. Study 2 makes clear that the “Trump effect” is not merely a case of Trump holding a mirror to people’s pre-existing views: his messages have the power to change attitudes. As such, future research needs to
take seriously the impact of Trump as a change-agent, one that is impeding the broader campaign to increase vaccination uptake and to eliminate infectious diseases.

________________________

So, the ‘Trump-Effect’ on vaccination attitudes is strongly negative. This leads me to suspect that the ‘Trump-Effect’ on many other issues is just as profoundly detrimental. For the sake not just of public health, let us hope that the US public will dismiss their dangerous president when they go to the ballot in just a few weeks time.

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,
  • haematoma,
  • haematothorax,
  • haemorrhagic cysts,
  • muscle abscess,
  • muscle abscess,
  • myelopathy,
  • neurologic compromise,
  • oesophageal rupture
  • pneumothorax,
  • pseudoaneurysm,
  • soft tissue trauma,
  • spinal cord injury,
  • vertebral disc herniation,
  • vertebral fracture,
  • central retinal artery occlusion,
  • nystagmus,
  • Wallenberg syndrome,
  • ptosis,
  • loss of vision,
  • ophthalmoplegia,
  • diplopia,
  • 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?

 

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? [1]

Professor Edzard Ernst, a retired German [2] physician and academic, has recently [3] become a prominent advocate of plans that could potentially outlaw [4] the entire profession of naturopathic doctors [5] 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” [6]. Tellingly, however, given that he himself has seemingly not published even so much as one completely original scientific trial of his own [7], 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 [8].

  1. 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)
  2. I am German-born, became an Austrian citizen in 1990, and since 2000 I am a British national.
  3. I have been critical about the German ‘Heilpraktiker’ for more than 20 years.
  4. This refers to the recent ‘Muensteraner Memorandum’ which is the work of an entire team of multidisciplinary experts and advocates reforming this profession.
  5. ‘Heilpraktiker’ are certainly not doctors; they have no academic or medical background.
  6. This is correct, and I stand by my statement that educating people in vitalism and other long-obsolete concepts is pure nonsense.
  7. 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.
  8. 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‘?

None!

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.

Design:

Random double-blind placebo-controlled study

Setting:
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.

Results:
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.

Conclusion:
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. Why was it never properly published?
  4. Could it be because there was no ethics approval [none was mentioned in the LTTE]?
  5. Could it be because there was no informed consent [none was mentioned in the LTTE]?
  6. 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.

 

 

 

PS

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

My new book has just been published. Allow me to try and whet your appetite by showing you the book’s introduction:

“There is no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which scientific evidence is lacking.” These words of Fontanarosa and Lundberg were published 22 years ago.[1] Today, they are as relevant as ever, particularly to the type of healthcare I often call ‘so-called alternative medicine’ (SCAM)[2], and they certainly are relevant to chiropractic.

Invented more than 120 years ago by the magnetic healer DD Palmer, chiropractic has had a colourful history. It has now grown into one of the most popular of all SCAMs. Its general acceptance might give the impression that chiropractic, the art of adjusting by hand all subluxations of the three hundred articulations of the human skeletal frame[3], is solidly based on evidence. It is therefore easy to forget that a plethora of fundamental questions about chiropractic remain unanswered.

I wrote this book because I feel that the amount of misinformation on chiropractic is scandalous and demands a critical evaluation of the evidence. The book deals with many questions that consumers often ask:

  • How well-established is chiropractic?
  • What treatments do chiropractors use?
  • What conditions do they treat?
  • What claims do they make?
  • Are their assumptions reasonable?
  • Are chiropractic spinal manipulations effective?
  • Are these manipulations safe?
  • Do chiropractors behave professionally and ethically?

Am I up to this task, and can you trust my assessments? These are justified questions; let me try to answer them by giving you a brief summary of my professional background.

I grew up in Germany where SCAM is hugely popular. I studied medicine and, as a young doctor, was enthusiastic about SCAM. After several years in basic research, I returned to clinical medicine, became professor of rehabilitation medicine first in Hanover, Germany, and then in Vienna, Austria. In 1993, I was appointed as Chair in Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter. In this capacity, I built up a multidisciplinary team of scientists conducting research into all sorts of SCAM with one focus on chiropractic. I retired in 2012 and am now an emeritus professor. I have published many peer-reviewed articles on the subject, and I have no conflicts of interest. If my long career has taught me anything, it is this: in the best interest of consumers and patients, we must insist on sound evidence; not opinion, not wishful thinking; evidence.

In critically assessing the issues related to chiropractic, I am guided by the most reliable and up-to-date scientific evidence. The conclusions I reach often suggest that chiropractic is not what it is often cracked up to be. Hundreds of books have been published that disagree. If you are in doubt who to trust, the promoter or the critic of chiropractic, I suggest you ask yourself a simple question: who is more likely to provide impartial information, the chiropractor who makes a living by his trade, or the academic who has researched the subject for the last 30 years?

This book offers an easy to understand, concise and dependable evaluation of chiropractic. It enables you to make up your own mind. I want you to take therapeutic decisions that are reasonable and based on solid evidence. My book should empower you to do just that.

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9820267

[2] https://www.amazon.co.uk/SCAM-So-Called-Alternative-Medicine-Societas/dp/1845409701/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=449PJJDXNTY60Y418S5J

[3] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Text-Book-Philosophy-Chiropractic-Chiropractors-Adjuster/dp/1635617243/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=DD+Palmer&qid=1581002156&sr=8-1

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