For some time now, I have been using the umbrella term ‘so-called alternative medicine’ (SCAM). As I explain below, I think it is relatively well-suited. But this is not to say that it is the only name for it. Many other umbrella terms have been used in the past.
Is there perhaps one that you prefer?
- Fringe medicine is rarely used today. It denotes the fact that the treatments under this umbrella are not in the mainstream of healthcare. Some advocates seem to find the word derogatory, and therefore it is now all but abandoned.
- Unorthodox medicine is a fairly neutral term describing the fact that medical orthodoxy tends to shun most of the treatments in question. Strictly speaking, the word is also incorrect; the correct term would be ‘heterodox medicine’.
- Unconventional is also a neutral term but it is open to misunderstandings: any new innovation in medicine might initially be called unconventional. It is therefore less than ideal.
- Traditional medicine describes the fact that most of the modalities in question have been around for centuries and thus have a long tradition of usage. However, as the term is sometimes also used for conventional medicine, it is confusing and far from ideal.
- Alternative medicine is the term everyone seems to know and which is most commonly employed in non-scientific contexts. In the late 1980s, some experts pointed out that the word could give the wrong impression: most of the treatments in question are not used as a replacement but as an adjunct to conventional medicine.
- Complementary medicine became subsequently popular based on the above consideration. It accounts for the fact that the treatments tend to be used by patients in parallel with conventional medicine.
- Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) describes the phenomenon that many of the treatments can be employed either as a replacement of or as an adjunct to conventional medicine.
- Holistic medicine denotes the fact that practitioners often pride themselves to look after the whole patient – body, mind, and spirit. This could lead to the erroneous impression that conventional clinicians do not aim to practice holistically. As I have tried to explain repeatedly, any good healthcare always has been holistic. Therefore, the term is misleading, in my view.
- Natural medicine describes the notion that many of the methods in question are natural. The term seems attractive and is therefore good for business. However, any critical analysis will show that many of the treatments in question are not truly natural. Therefore this term too is misleading.
- Integrated medicine is currently popular and much used by Prince Charles and other enthusiasts. As we have discussed repeatedly on this blog, the term is nevertheless highly problematic.
- Integrative medicine is the word used in the US for integrated medicine.
- CAIM (complementary/alternative/integrative medicine) is a term that some US authors recently invented. I find this attempt to catch all the various terms in one just silly.
- So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is the term I tend to use. It accounts for two important facts: 1) if a treatment does not work, it cannot possibly serve as an adequate alternative; 2) if a therapy does work, it should be part of conventional medicine. Thus, there cannot be an ‘alternative medicine’, as much as there cannot be an alternative chemistry or an alternative physics.
Yet,some advocates find ‘SCAM’ derogatory. Intriguingly, my decision to use this term was inspired by Prince Charles, arguably the world’s greatest champion of this sector of healthcare. In his book ‘HARMONY’, he repeatedly speaks of ‘so-called alternative treatments’.
You don’t believe me?
In this case – and in order to save you the expense of buying Charles’ book for checking – let me provide you with a direct quote: “Some so-called alternative treatments seek to work with these functions to aid recovery…” (page 225).
And who would argue that Charles is dismissive about alternative medicine?
This week, it was reported that a UK bookkeeper has pleaded guilty to abusing his position at In-Light Ltd. by making unauthorized bank transfers to Stroud Accounting Solutions Ltd. The fraud amounted to the sizable sum of £67,000.
In-Light Limited is the holding company for the School of Homeopathy, The School of Health, and Yondercott Press. It offers alternative medicine courses, seminars, books, and webinars focusing on nutrition, homeopathy, herbal medicine, yoga, Indian and Chinese Medicine.
On Twitter, the news of these events prompted several comments, e.g.:
Bookkeeper stole stolen funds, then?
That is typical of a skeptic! Nothing but vicious negativity!!!
Instead of displaying such sarcasm and Schadenfreude, we should empathize, I feel. If not with In-Light Ltd., then with the poor bookkeeper. As another, more compassionate Tweet pointed out, the man is surely innocent:
It started out as 7 pence, but he dropped it in his water bottle and shook it and now look what happened…
This, I think, should have been the line of the bookkeeper’s defense counsel. “My client did nothing wrong at all; he accidentally dropped a penny of In-Light Ltd. that was lying around the office into a water bottle. The bottle then got inadvertently shaken and the water/money mixture thus got potentised. Before my client could do anything to avert the disaster, the money had become the sizable sum of £ 67 000 which my client dutifully put on his bank account for safe-keeping. We, therefore, plead not guilty, your honour”
What, you think the owners of In-Light Ltd. would not have believed this story?
But if they believe in homeopathy, they have no choice. If you believe in homeopathy, you believe anything.
And the judge? Well, the judge has to accept that homeopathy is a fact. And a fact for more than 200 years! Thus, potentisation is real. If all else failed, the defense counsel could call expert witnesses …
Prince Charles, for instance.
I was alerted to an article in which some US doctors, including the famous Andrew Weil, promote the idea that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has a lot to offer for people recovering from Covid-19 infections. There would be a lot to argue about their recommendations, but today I will not go into this (I find it just too predictable how SCAM proponents try to promote SCAM on the basis of flimsy evidence; perhaps I am suffering from ‘BS for Covid fatigue’?). What did, however, strike me in their paper was a definition of INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE (IM) that I had not yet come across:
Integrative medicine is defined as healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapies.
Ever since the term IM became fashionable, there have been dozens of definitions of the term (almost as though IM proponents were not quite sure themselves what they were promoting). And ever since I first heard about IM, I felt it was a thinly disguised attempt to smuggle unproven treatments into the routine of evidence-based medicine (EBM). In 2002, I published my 1st comment on the subject. In it, I warned that IM must not become an excuse for using every conceivable untested treatment under the banner of holism. Nineteen years on, this is exactly what has happened, and one definition of IM after the next is soaked in platitudes, falsehoods and misunderstandings.
So, let’s see how reasonable this new definition is. I will try to do this by briefly discussing each element of the two sentences.
- IM is healing-oriented medicine: this is a transparently daft platitude. Does anyone know a medicine that is not oriented towards healing? Healing is the process of becoming well again, especially after a cut or other injury, or of making someone well again. Healing is what medicine has always been and always be aimed at. In other words, it is not something that differentiates IM from other forms of healthcare.
- IM takes account of the whole person: This is the little holistic trick that IM proponents like to adopt. It implies that normal medicine or EBM is not holistic. This implication is wrong. Any good medicine is holistic, and if a sector of healthcare fails to account for the whole person, we need to reform it. (Here are the conclusions of an editorial I published in 2007 entitled ‘Holistic heath care?‘: good health care is likely to be holistic but holistic health care, as it is marketed at present, is not necessarily good. The term ‘holistic’ may even be a ‘red herring’ which misleads patients. What matters most is whether or not any given approach optimally benefits the patient. This goal is best achieved with effective and safe interventions administered humanely — regardless of what label we put on them.) Creating a branch of medicine that, like IM, pretends to have a monopoly on holism can only hinder this process.
- IM includes all aspects of lifestyle: really, all of them? This is nonsense! Good physicians take into account the RELEVANT lifestyles of their patients. If, for instance, my patient with intermittent claudication is a postman, his condition would affect him differently from a patient who is a secretary. But all lifestyles? No! I fear this ‘over the top’ statement merely indicates that those who have conceived it have difficulties differentiating the important from the trivial.
- IM emphasizes the therapeutic relationship: that’s nice! But so do all other physicians (except perhaps pathologists). As medical students, we were taught how to do it, some physicians wrote books about it (remember Balint?), and many of us ran courses on the subject. Some conventional clinicians might even feel insulted by the implication that they do not emphasize the therapeutic relationship. Again, the IM brigade take an essential element of good healthcare as their monopoly. It almost seems to be a nasty habit of theirs to highjack a core element of healthcare and declare it as their invention.
- IM is informed by evidence: that is brilliant, finally there emerges a real difference between IM and EBM! While proper medicine is BASED on evidence, IM is merely INFORMED by it. The difference is fundamental, because it allows IM clinicians to use any un- or disproven SCAM. The evidence for homeopathy fails to show that it is effective? Never mind, IM is not evidence-based, it is evidence-informed. IM physiciance know homeopathy is a placebo therapy (if not they would be ill-informed which would make them unethical), but they nevertheless use homeopathy (try to find an IM clinic that does not offer homeopathy!), because IM is not EBM. IM is evidence-informed!
- IM makes use of all appropriate therapies: and the last point takes the biscuit. Are the IM fanatics honestly suggesting that conventional doctors use inappropriate therapies? Does anyone know a branch of health care where clinicians systematically employ therapies that are not appropriate? Appropriate means suitable or right for a particular situation or occasion. Are IM practitioners the only ones who use therapies that are suitable for a particular situation? This last point really does count on anyone falling for IM not to have the slightest ability to think analytically.
This short analysis confirms yet again that IM is little more than a smokescreen behind which IM advocates try to smuggle nonsense into routine healthcare. The fact that, during the last two decades, the definition constantly changed, while no half decent definition emerged suggests that they themselves don’t quite know what it is. They like moving the goal post but seem unsure in which direction. And their latest attempt to define IM indicates to me that IM advocates might not be the brightest buttons in the drawer.
As though the UK does not have plenty of organisations promoting so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)! Obviously not – because a new one is about to emerge.
In mid-January, THE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE AND INTEGRATED HEALTH (COMIH) will launch the Integrated Medicine Alliance bringing together the leaders of many complementary health organisations to provide patients, clinicians and policy makers with information on the various complementary modalities, which will be needed in a post COVID-19 world, where:
- patient choice is better respected,
- requirements for evidence of efficacy are more proportionate to the seriousness of the disease and the safety of the intervention,
- and where benefit versus risk are better balanced.
We already saw this in 2020 with the College advocating from the very beginning of the year that people should think about taking Vitamin D, while the National Institute for Clinical Excellence continued to say the evidence was insufficient, but the Secretary of State has now supported it being given to the vulnerable on the basis of the balance between cost, benefit and safety.
Elsewhere we learn more about the Integrated Medicine Alliance (IMA):
The IMA is a group of organisations and individuals that have been brought together for the purpose of encouraging and optimising the best use of complementary therapies alongside conventional healthcare for the benefit of all.
The idea for this group was conceived by Dr Michael Dixon in discussion with colleagues associated with the College of Medicine, and the initial meeting to convene the group was held in February 2019.
The group transitioned through a number of titles before settling on the ‘Integrated Medicine Alliance’ and began work on developing a patient leaflet and a series of information sheets on the key complementary therapies.
It was agreed that in the first instance the IMA should exist under the wing of the College of Medicine, but that in the future it may develop into a formal organisation in its own right, but inevitably maintaining a close relationship with the College of Medicine.
The IMA also offers ‘INFORMATION SHEETS’ on the following modalities:
- Alexander Technique
- Herbal Medicine
- Tai Chi
- Yoga Therapy
I find those leaflets revealing. They tell us, for example that the Reiki practitioner channels universal energy through their hands to help rebalance each of the body’s energy centres, known as chakras. About homeopathy, we learn that a large corpus of evidence has accumulated which stands the most robust tests of modern science. And about naturopathy, we learn that it includes ozone therapy but is perfectly safe.
Just for the fun of it – and free of charge – let me try to place a few corrections here:
- Reiki healers use their hands to perform what is little more than a party trick.
- The universal energy they claim to direct does not exist.
- The body does not have energy centres.
- Chakras are a figment of imagination.
- The corpus of evidence on homeopathy is by no means large.
- The evidence is flimsy.
- The most robust tests of modern science fail to show that homeopathy is effective beyond placebo.
- Naturopathy is a hotchpotch of treatments most of which are neither natural nor perfectly safe.
One does wonder who writes such drivel for the COMIH, and one shudders to think what else the IMA might be up to.
Today, HRH the Prince of Wales has his 72th birthday. As every year, I send him my best wishes by dedicating an entire post to a brief, updated summary of his achievements in the area of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).
EARLY INFLUENCE OF LAURENCE VAN DER POST
Aged 18, Charles went on a journey of ‘spiritual discovery’ into the Kalahari desert. His guide was Laurens van der Post (later discovered to be a fraud and compulsive fantasist and to have fathered a child with a 14-year old girl entrusted to him during a sea voyage). Van der Post wanted to awake Charles’ mind and attune it to the ideas of Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’, and it is this belief in vitalism that provides the crucial link to SCAM: virtually every form of SCAM is based on the assumption that some sort of vital force exists. Charles was impressed with van der Post that he made him the godfather of Prince William. After Post’s death, he established an annual lecture in his honour (the lecture series was quickly discontinued after van der Post was discovered to be a fraud).
CHIROPRACTIC and OSTEOPATHY
Throughout the 1980s, Charles lobbied for the statutory regulation of chiropractors and osteopaths in the UK. In 1993, this finally became reality. To this day, these two SCAM professions are the only ones regulated by statute in the UK.
THE BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
In 1982, Prince Charles was elected as President of the British Medical Association (BMA) and promptly challenged the medical orthodoxy by advocating SCAM. In a speech at his inaugural dinner as President, the Prince lectured the medics: ‘Through the centuries healing has been practised by folk healers who are guided by traditional wisdom which sees illness as a disorder of the whole person, involving not only the patient’s body, but his mind, his self-image, his dependence on the physical and social environment, as well as his relation to the cosmos.’ The BMA-officials ordered a full report on alternative medicine which promptly condemned this area as implausible nonsense.
Six years later, a second report, entitled ‘Complementary Medicine – New Approaches to Good Practice’, heralded U-turn stating that: “the demand for non-conventional therapies had become so pressing that organised medicine in Britain could no longer ignore its contribution“. At the same time, however, the BMA set in motion a further chapter in the history of SCAM by insisting that it was “unacceptable” to allow the unrestricted practice of non-conventional therapies, irrespective of training or experience.
THE FOUNDATION OF INTEGRATED HEALTH
In 1993, Charles founded his lobby group which, after being re-named several times, ended up being called the ‘Foundation for Integrated Health’ (FIH). It was closed down in 2010 amidst allegations of money laundering and fraud. Its chief executive, George Gray, was later convicted and went to jail.
In 2001, Charles worked on plans to help build a model hospital of integrated medicine. It was to train doctors to combine conventional medicine and SCAMs, such as homeopathy, Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture, and was to have around 100 beds. The prince’s intervention marked the culmination of years of campaigning by him for the NHS to assign a greater role to SCAM.
In 2001, Charles published an editorial in the BMJ promoting his ideas around integrative medicine. Its title: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS. Ever since, Charles has been internationally recognised as one of the world’s most vociferous champions of integrated medicine.
In 2004, Charles publicly supported the Gerson diet as a treatment for cancer. Prof Baum, an eminent oncologists, was invited to respond in an open letter to the British Medical Journal: ” …Over the past 20 years I have treated thousands of patients with cancer and lost some dear friends and relatives to this dreaded disease…The power of my authority comes with knowledge built on 40 years of study and 25 years of active involvement in cancer research. Your power and authority rest on an accident of birth. I don’t begrudge you that authority but I do beg you to exercise your power with extreme caution when advising patients with life-threatening diseases to embrace unproven therapies.”
THE SMALLWOOD REPORT
In 2005, the ‘Smallwood-Report’ was published; it had been commissioned by Charles and paid for by Dame Shirley Porter to inform health ministers. It stated that up to 480 million pounds could be saved, if one in 10 family doctors offered homeopathy as an “alternative” to standard drugs for asthma. Savings of up to 3.5 billion pounds could be achieved by offering spinal manipulation rather than drugs to people with back pain. Because I had commented on this report, Prince Charles’ first private secretary asked my vice chancellor to investigate the alleged indiscretion; even though I was found to be not guilty of any wrong-doing, all local support at Exeter stopped which eventually led to my early retirement.
WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION
In a 2006 speech, Prince Charles told the World Health Organisation in Geneva that SCAM should have a more prominent place in health care and urged every country to come up with a plan to integrate conventional and alternative medicine into the mainstream. Anticipating Prince Charles’s sermon in Geneva, 13 of Britain’s most eminent physicians and scientists wrote an “Open Letter” which expressed concern over “ways in which unproven or disproved treatments are being encouraged for general use in Britain’s National Health Service.” The signatories argued that “it would be highly irresponsible to embrace any medicine as though it were a matter of principle.”
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM)
In 2007, the People’s Republic of China recorded the visit of Fu Ying, its ambassador in London at the time, to Clarence House, and announced that the Charles had praised TCM. “He hoped that it could be included in the modern medical system . . . and was willing to make a contribution to it.”
In 2009, the Prince held talks with the health Secretary to persuade him to introduce safeguards amid a crackdown by the EU that could prevent anyone who is not a registered health practitioner from selling remedies.
In the same year, Charles urged the government to protect SCAM because “we fear that we will see a black market in herbal products”, as Dr Michael Dixon, medical director of the FIH and Charles’ advisor in SCAM, put it.
UK HEALTH POLITICS
In 2009, the health secretary wrote to the Prince suggesting a meeting on the possibility of a study on integrating SCAM in England’s NHS. The Prince had written to Burnham’s predecessor, Alan Johnson, demanding greater access to SCAM in the NHS alongside conventional medicine. Charles stated that “despite waves of invective over the years from parts of the medical and scientific establishment” he continued to lobby “because I cannot bear people suffering unnecessarily when a complementary approach could make a real difference”.
In June 2014, BBC NEWS published the following text about a BBC4 broadcast entitled ‘THE ROYAL ACTIVIST’ aired on the same day: Prince Charles has been a well-known supporter of complementary medicine. According to a… former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Hain, it was a topic they shared an interest in. He had been constantly frustrated at his inability to persuade any health ministers anywhere that that was a good idea, and so he, as he once described it to me, found me unique from this point of view, in being somebody that actually agreed with him on this, and might want to deliver it. Mr Hain added: “When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 2005-7, he was delighted when I told him that since I was running the place I could more or less do what I wanted to do. I was able to introduce a trial for complementary medicine on the NHS, and it had spectacularly good results, that people’s well-being and health was vastly improved. And when he learnt about this he was really enthusiastic and tried to persuade the Welsh government to do the same thing and the government in Whitehall to do the same thing for England, but not successfully,” added Mr Hain.
In October 2015, the Guardian obtained the infamous “black spider memos” which revealed that Charles had repeatedly lobbied politicians in favour of SCAM.
THE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE
In 2009, it was announced that the ‘College of Integrated Medicine’ (the successor of the FIH) was to have a second base in India. In 2011, Charles forged a link between ‘The College of Medicine’ and an Indian holistic health centre. The collaboration was reported to include clinical training to European and Western doctors in Ayurveda and homoeopathy and traditional forms of medicine to integrate them in their practice. The foundation stone for the extended campus of the Royal College known as the International Institution for Holistic and Integrated Medicine was laid by Dr Michael Dixon in collaboration with the Royal College of Medicine.
In 2020, Charles became the patron of the College of Medicine which, by then, had re-christened itself ‘College of Medicine and Integrated Health’. The College chair, Michael Dixon, was quoted stating: ‘This is a great honour and will support us as an organisation committed to taking medicine beyond drugs and procedures. This generous royal endorsement will enable us to be ever more ambitious in our mission to achieve a more compassionate and sustainable health service.”
DUTCHY ORIGINALS DETOX TINCTURE
In 2011, after the launch of Charles’ range of herbal tinctures, I had the audacity to publicly criticise Charles for selling the Duchy Herbals detox tincture which I named ‘Dodgy Originals Detox Tincture’.
In 2016, speaking at a global leaders summit on antimicrobial resistance, Prince Charles warned that Britain faced a “potentially disastrous scenario” because of the “overuse and abuse” of antibiotics. The Prince explained that he had switched to organic farming on his estates because of the growing threat from antibiotic resistance and now treats his cattle with homeopathic remedies rather than conventional medication. As some of you may be aware, this issue has been a long-standing and acute concern to me,” he told delegates from 20 countries “I have enormous sympathy for those engaged in the vital task of ensuring that, as the world population continues to increase unsustainably and travel becomes easier, antibiotics retain their availability to overcome disease… It must be incredibly frustrating to witness the fact that antibiotics have too often simply acted as a substitute for basic hygiene, or as it would seem, a way of placating a patient who has a viral infection or who actually needs little more than patience to allow a minor bacterial infection to resolve itself.”
In 2017, Charles declared that he will open a centre for SCAM in the recently purchased Dumfries House in Scotland. Currently, the College of Medicine and Integrated Health is offering two-day Foundation Courses at this iconic location. Gabriel Chiu, a US celebrity cosmetic and reconstructive surgeon, and his wife Christine, joined the Prince of Wales as he opened the integrated health and wellbeing centre on the Dumfries House Estate in East Ayrshire in 2019. As he unveiled a plaque, Prince Charles said: “I’m so glad that all of you have been able to get here today, particularly because I could not be more proud to see the opening of this new integrated health centre at Dumfries House. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for the last 35 years. I’m also so proud of all the team at Dumfries House who built it, an all in-house team.”
Generations of royals have favoured homeopathy, and allegedly it is because of this influence that homeopathy became part of the NHS in 1948. Homeopathy has also been at the core of Charles’ obsession with SCAM from its beginning. In 2017, ‘Country News’ published an article about our heir to the throne stating that Prince of Wales has revealed he uses homeopathic treatments for animals on his organic farm at Highgrove to help reduce reliance on antibiotics, the article stated. He said his methods of farming tried wherever possible to ‘‘go with the grain of nature’’ to avoid dependency on antibiotics, pesticides and other forms of chemical intervention.
In the same year, it was revealed that UK farmers were being taught how to treat their livestock with homeopathy “by kind permission of His Royal Highness, The Prince Of Wales”
In 2019, the Faculty of Homeopathy announced that His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales had accepted to become Patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy. Dr Gary Smyth, President of the Faculty of Homeopathy commented, “As the Faculty celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, it is an enormous honour for us to receive the Patronage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and I am delighted to announce this news today.” Charles’ move amazed observers who saw it as a deliberate protest against the discontinuation of reimbursement of homeopathy by the NHS.
In 2020, Charles fell ill with the corona-virus and happily made a swift recovery. It was widely reported that his recovery was due to homeopathy, a notion denied by Clarence House.
Happy Birthday Charles
I know of one patient who turned to the Gerson Therapy having been told that she was suffering from terminal cancer and would not survive another course of chemotherapy. Happily, seven years later she is alive and well. So therefore it is vital that, rather than dismissing such experiences, we should further investigate the beneficial nature of these treatments.
HRH The Prince of Wales (2004)
I was reminded of this embarrassing (because displaying profound ignorance) quote when I looked at the website of the ‘GERSON SUPPORT GROUP UK‘ where it is prominently cited. Under the heading ‘SCIENCE & CLINICAL RATIONAL’ the site offers a long article about the Gerson therapy (GT). Allow me to show you a few quotes from it:
Dr Max Gerson’s therapy is based on the belief that insufficient nutrients within the cells and an accumulation of toxins in the tissues lead to a breakdown in healthy cellular function which, if left unchecked, can trigger cancer.
That is interesting, I find, because the statement clearly admits that the GT is not an evidence-based therapy but a belief-based treatment.
The therapy that he developed uses a restrictive, plant-based diet and specific supplements to boost healthy cellular function; and various detoxification procedures, including coffee enemas, to eliminate waste products.
The claims hidden in this sentence remain unproven. There is no evidence that cellular fuction is boosted, nor that the procedures eliminate toxins.
… we only need to look at communities across the globe which exist in a pre-industrialised state to see that, whilst they might be more likely to die from pneumonia or tuberculosis, rates of degenerative illness are a fraction of those in the ‘developed‘ world. The age-adjusted death rate from breast cancer is less than 2 per 100,000 of the population in Thailand, Sri Lanka and El Salvador and around 33 per 100,000 in the UK, US, The Netherlands and numerous other affluent, Western countries.
Correlation is not causation! Pre-industrial societies also watch less TV, eat less ice-cream, read less fashion magazines, etc., etc. Are these habits also the cause of cancer?
… migrant studies show that within two generations the cancer rates of migrants increase rapidly towards Western rates, again underlining the assertion that cancer is caused primarily by diet and lifestyle rather than ‘faulty’ genes.
In no way is this an argument for eating raw vegetable and taking your coffee via the rectum.
In the German scientific golden age of the 1920s and 30s…
Golden age for what, for fascists?
Gerson had used a restricted diet to cure himself of migraines. He then helped another patient to reverse tuberculosis, and many others to reverse a variety of degenerative illnesses, all by similar means. He later developed his therapy to the point where he was able to help individuals reverse cancer.
In this case, Max Gerson was ignorant of the fact that experience and evidence are two fundamentally different things.
Max Gerson developed his therapy in an iterative way, starting with a restrictive plant-based diet, adding vitamins, minerals and enzymes to encourage the oxygenation of the cells and then introducing the coffee enemas to aid detoxification of waste products. What is fascinating is that science has subsequently explained the mechanism of action behind some of his theories. (See Biochemical Basis to the Therapy).
Science has not explained the mechanism of action, not least because the action has never been verified. There are no robust clinical trials of Gerson’s therapy. Evidently, 100 years were not enough to conduct any – or perhaps the proponents know only too well that they would not generate the results they hoped?
Equally interesting is that in 2012 Dr Thomas Seyfried published the results of many years research in Cancer as a Metabolic Disease.
Really? On Medline, I find only two cancer-related papers for Seyfried T. 2012:
Thus, nearly a century after their original proposition that the fundamental cause of cancer was faulty cellular metabolism, it seems that doctors Otto Warburg and Max Gerson might be vindicated.
No, to ‘vindicate’ a therapeutic suggestion one needs several rigorous clinical trials. And for the GT, they remain absent.
So, what does the GT amount to?
- proponents had ~100 years to produce evidence;
- they failed to do so;
- thus the therapy is at best unproven;
- it is also biologically implausible;
- moreover, it is expensive;
- crucially it is not free of serious adverse effects;
- it is promoted only by those who seem to make money from it.
The only controlled clinical trial of a Gerson-like therapy that I know of is this one (rarely cited by Gerson fans):
Conventional medicine has had little to offer patients with inoperable pancreatic adenocarcinoma; thus, many patients seek alternative treatments. The National Cancer Institute, in 1998, sponsored a randomized, phase III, controlled trial of proteolytic enzyme therapy versus chemotherapy. Because most eligible patients refused random assignment, the trial was changed in 2001 to a controlled, observational study.
All patients were seen by one of the investigators at Columbia University, and patients who received enzyme therapy were seen by the participating alternative practitioner. Of 55 patients who had inoperable pancreatic cancer, 23 elected gemcitabine-based chemotherapy, and 32 elected enzyme treatment, which included pancreatic enzymes, nutritional supplements, detoxification, and an organic diet. Primary and secondary outcomes were overall survival and quality of life, respectively.
At enrollment, the treatment groups had no statistically significant differences in patient characteristics, pathology, quality of life, or clinically meaningful laboratory values. Kaplan-Meier analysis found a 9.7-month difference in median survival between the chemotherapy group (median survival, 14 months) and enzyme treatment groups (median survival, 4.3 months) and found an adjusted-mortality hazard ratio of the enzyme group compared with the chemotherapy group of 6.96 (P < .001). At 1 year, 56% of chemotherapy-group patients were alive, and 16% of enzyme-therapy patients were alive. The quality of life ratings were better in the chemotherapy group than in the enzyme-treated group (P < .01).
Among patients who have pancreatic cancer, those who chose gemcitabine-based chemotherapy survived more than three times as long (14.0 v 4.3 months) and had better quality of life than those who chose proteolytic enzyme treatment.
Considering all this, I believe, it would be hard to name a cancer quackery that is less credible than the GT.
For quite some time now, I have been calling it SCAM – so-called alternative medicine.
Because, if a treatment does not work, it cannot be an alternative. And if it does work, it unquestionably belongs to conventional medicine.
Some people do not like this name and the acronym even less. But how else shall we call it?
The NHI is a generally well-respected organisation; they should know! Here is what they say about the question of naming it:
We’ve all seen the words “complementary,” “alternative,” and “integrative,” but what do they really mean?
This fact sheet looks into these terms to help you understand them better and gives you a brief picture of the mission and role of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) in this area of research. The terms “complementary,” “alternative,” and “integrative” are continually evolving, along with the field, but the descriptions of these terms below are how we at NIH currently define them.
Complementary Versus Alternative
According to a 2012 national survey, many Americans—more than 30 percent of adults and about 12 percent of children—use health care approaches that are not typically part of conventional medical care or that may have origins outside of usual Western practice. When describing these approaches, people often use “alternative” and “complementary” interchangeably, but the two terms refer to different concepts:
If a non-mainstream practice is used together with conventional medicine, it’s considered “complementary.”
If a non-mainstream practice is used in place of conventional medicine, it’s considered “alternative.”
Most people who use non-mainstream approaches also use conventional health care.
In additional to complementary and alternative, you may also hear the term “functional medicine.” This term sometimes refers to a concept similar to integrative health (described below), but it may also refer to an approach that more closely resembles naturopathy (a medical system that has evolved from a combination of traditional practices and health care approaches popular in Europe during the 19th century).
Integrative health care often brings conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. It emphasizes a holistic, patient-focused approach to health care and wellness—often including mental, emotional, functional, spiritual, social, and community aspects—and treating the whole person rather than, for example, one organ system. It aims for well-coordinated care between different providers and institutions.
The use of integrative approaches to health and wellness has grown within care settings across the United States. Researchers are currently exploring the potential benefits of integrative health in a variety of situations, including pain management for military personnel and veterans, relief of symptoms in cancer patients and survivors, and programs to promote healthy behaviors…
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.
He is biased against it!
He cherry-picks the evidence!
He does not understand homeopathy!
If you are one of the many who believe such notions, please read on.
The website of the NHS England has a fairly detailed account of homeopathy. Here is the section entitled ‘What can we conclude from the evidence?‘ – but I recommend reading the full text:
There have been several reviews of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said there’s no evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition.
There’s no evidence behind the idea that substances that cause certain symptoms can also help treat them.
Nor is there any evidence behind the idea that diluting and shaking substances in water can turn those substances into medicines.
The ideas that underpin homeopathy aren’t accepted by mainstream science, and aren’t consistent with long-accepted principles on the way the physical world works.
The Committee’s 2010 report on homeopathy said the “like cures like” principle is “theoretically weak”, and that this is the “settled view of medical science”.
For example, many homeopathic remedies are diluted to such an extent that it’s unlikely there’s a single molecule of the original substance remaining in the final remedy. In cases like these, homeopathic remedies consist of nothing but water.
Some homeopaths believe that, as a result of the succussion process, the original substance leaves an “imprint” of itself on the water. But there’s no known mechanism by which this can occur.
The 2010 report said: “We consider the notion that ultra-dilutions can maintain an imprint of substances previously dissolved in them to be scientifically implausible.”
Some people who use homeopathy may see an improvement in their health condition as the result of a phenomenon known as the placebo effect.
If you choose health treatments that provide only a placebo effect, you may miss out on other treatments that have been proven to be more effective.
Since 1948, homeopathy had been part of the NHS, there were 5 homeopathic NHS hospitals, and the costs for homeopathy were covered. Why would the NHS decision makers suddenly turn against it? They must have loved homeopathy for at least 4 reasons:
- It is inexpensive.
- It has support in high places.
- It did not cause any direct harm.
- It had many supporters who fought tooth and nail for it.
It is therefore hardly reasonable to assume that the NHS is biased against homeopathy. But, why do they now say that it is
- not effective beyond placebo,
- and can cause harm by making people miss out on effective therapies?
The answer is simple: BECAUSE THESE STATEMENTS ARE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY OF THE BEST EVIDENCE AVAILABLE TO DATE.
So, here you are: the NHS now confirms what I (and many other experts) have been saying since years. And we all insist on the fact that this not because we are biased, stupid, uninformed, paid by BIG PHARMA, or want to deprive anyone of anything. We do it for one reason only:
BECAUSE IT’S THE TRUTH!
Michael Dixon LVO, OBE, MA, FRCGP has been a regular feature of this blog (and elsewhere). He used to be a friend and colleague until … well, that’s a long story. Recently, I came across his (rather impressive) Wikipedia page. To my surprise, it mentions that Dixon
“has been criticised by professor of complementary medicine and alternative medicine campaigner Edzard Ernst for advocating the use of complementary medicine. Ernst said that the stance of the NHS Alliance on complementary medicine was “misleading to the degree of being irresponsible.” Ernst had previously been sympathetic to building a bridge between complementary and mainstream medicine, co-writing an article with Michael Dixon in 1997 on the benefits of such an approach. Ernst and Dixon write “missed diagnoses by complementary therapists giving patients long term treatments are often cited but in the experience of one of the authors (MD) are extremely rare. It can also cut both ways. A patient was recently referred back to her general practitioner by an osteopath, who was questioning, as it turned out quite correctly, whether her pain was caused by metastates. Good communication between general practitioner and complementary therapist can reduce conflicts and contradictions, which otherwise have the potential to put orthodox medicine and complementary therapy in an either/or situation.”
31) February 2009, 24. “Academics and NHS Alliance clash over complementary medicine”. Pulse Today.
32) ^ Update – the journal of continuing education for General Practitioners, 7th May 1997
I have little recollection of the paper that I seem to have published with my then friend Michael, and it is not listed in Medline, nor can I find it in my (usually well-kept) files; the journal ‘Update’ does not exist anymore and was obviously not a journal good enough for keeping a copy. But I do not doubt that Wiki is correct.
In fact, it is true that, in 1997, I was still hopeful that bridges could be built between conventional medicine and so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). But I had always insisted that they must be bridges built on solid ground and with robust materials.
Put simply, my strategy was to test SCAM as rigorously as I could and to review the totality of the evidence for and against it. Subsequently, one could consider introducing those SCAMs into routine care that had passed the tests of science.
Dixon’s strategy differed significantly from mine. He had no real interest in science and wanted to use SCAM regardless of the evidence. Since the publication of our paper in 1997, he has pursued this aim tirelessly. On this blog, we find several examples of his activity.
And what happened to the bridges?
I’m glad you ask!
As it turns out, very few SCAMs have so far passed the test of science and hardly any SCAM has been demonstrated to generate more good than harm. The material to build bridges is therefore quite scarce, hardly enough for solid constructions. Dixon does still not seem to be worried about this indisputable fact. He thinks that INTEGRATED MEDICINE is sound enough for providing a way to the future. I disagree and still think it is ‘misleading to the degree of being irresponsible’.
Who is right?
Dixon or Ernst?
Opinions about this differ hugely.
Time will tell, I suppose.