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

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The UK ‘Advertising Standards Authority‘ (ASA) received a complaint about an advertisement that stated:

“Homeopathy is used throughout the world to keep healthy … People in the UK have been using it to successfully help with migraine, anxiety, chronic pain, woman’s [sic] health issues, depression, eczema, chronic fatigue, asthma, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other conditions”.

The ‘Good Thinking Society‘ had challenged whether:

  1. the ad discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, namely migraines, chronic pain, women’s health issues, depression, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis; and
  2. the claim “People in the UK have been using [homeopathy] to successfully help with anxiety, chronic pain … eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome … IBS” was misleading and could be substantiated.

The response of the ASA has just been published. Here are the key excerpts from the ASA’s assessment:

1. Upheld

The CAP Code required that marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment was conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. Among other conditions, the ad referred to “migraines”, “chronic pain”, “woman’s [sic] health issues”, “depression”, “asthma”, and “rheumatoid arthritis”, which we considered were conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, and therefore advice, diagnosis or treatment must be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. We noted that the practice was run by a GMC-registered GP, who we considered was a suitably qualified health professional. However, the individual homeopaths were not registered and did not hold the same qualifications. Therefore, Homeopathy UK had not shown that all treatment and diagnoses conducted at the practice would be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. Because Homeopathy UK had not supplied evidence that treatment would always be carried out by a suitably qualified health professional, and because reference to the conditions listed in the ad could discourage consumers from seeking essential treatment under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional, we concluded that the ad had breached the Code.

On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

2. Upheld

We considered that consumers would understand the claim “People in the UK have been using [homeopathy] to successfully help with anxiety, chronic pain … eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome … IBS” to mean that homeopathy could be used to successfully treat those conditions … when we reviewed the evidence provided by Homeopathy UK, we considered that the studies provided did not meet the standard of evidence we required for the types of claims being made, both in terms of adequacy and relevance…

On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 12.1  (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

Action

The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Homeopathy UK to ensure their future marketing communications did not to refer to conditions for which advice should be sought from suitably qualified health professionals. We also told them to ensure they did not make claims for homeopathy unless they were supported with robust evidence.

_____________________________

Am I reading this correctly?

The ASA seems to be saying that homeopaths are not suitably qualified health professionals and, as no therapeutic claims are supported by robust evidence, that claims for homeopathy are improper.

Some time ago, I published ‘The 10 commandments of quackery’. Since then, I discovered that there are several errors that occur with such regularity in the comment section of this blog as well as in most other discussions about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), that – in the hope to improve the logical reasoning of my readers (and often times my own) – it seems timely to publish the

10 ‘commandments’ of rational thought

  1. Thou shalt not confuse popularity of a therapy with its efficacy or safety (appeal to popularity).
  2. Thou shalt not assume that the test of time is a valid substitute for evidence (appeal to tradition).
  3. Thou shalt not believe that natural therapies are necessarily harmless (appeal to nature).
  4. Thou shalt not think that those who question your claim need to prove that you are wrong (reversal of the burden of proof).
  5. Thou shalt not assume that a therapy administered before a symptomatic improvement was necessarily the cause of that outcome (post hoc ergo propter hoc).
  6. Thou shalt not suppose that, because you do not know or understand an issue, it cannot be true (appeal to ignorance).
  7. Thou shalt not misrepresent your opponent’s position in order to make it easier for you to defeat it (straw man fallacy).
  8. Thou shalt not argue that, because others do wrong, you are permitted to do the same (tu quoque fallacy).
  9. Thou shalt not assume that your argument is correct because some authority agrees with you (appeal to authority).
  10. Thou shalt not attack your opponents instead of their arguments (ad hominem).

Yes, I know, one could add a lot more. But these 10 ‘commandments’ relate to the errors in rational thought that I feel would, if taken on board, be most useful in our discussions about SCAM.

A substantial proportion of consumers now use healthcare options known as so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). But why? This study aimed to understand the processes and decisional pathways through which chronic illness patients choose treatments outside of regular allopathic medicine.

It employed Charmaz’s constructivist grounded theory methods to collect and analyze data. Using theoretical sampling, 21 individuals suffering from chronic illness and who had used SCAM treatments participated in face-to-face in-depth interviews conducted in Miami/USA.

Seven overarching themes emerged from the data to describe how and why people with chronic illness choose SCAM treatments:

  • influences,
  • desperation,
  • being averse to allopathic medicine and allopathic medical practice,
  • curiosity and chance,
  • ease of access,
  • institutional help,
  • trial and error.

The author concluded that in selecting treatment options that include SCAM, individuals draw on their social, economic, and biographical situations. Though exploratory, this study sheds light on some of the less examined reasons for SCAM use.

There already is a plethora of research on the reasons why people elect to try SCAM. Our own systematic review of 2011 was, in my view, more informative. Here is the abstract:

The aim of this review is to summarize the published evidence regarding the expectations of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) users. We conducted electronic searches in MEDLINE and a hand search of our own files. Seventy-three articles met our inclusion criteria. A wide range of expectations emerged. In order of prevalence, they included:

  • hope to influence the natural history of the disease;
  • disease prevention and health/general well-being promotion;
  • fewer side effects;
  • being in control over one’s health;
  • symptom relief;
  • boosting the immune system;
  • emotional support;
  • holistic care;
  • improving quality of life;
  • relief of side effects of conventional medicine;
  • good therapeutic relationship;
  • obtaining information;
  • coping better with illness;
  • supporting the natural healing process;
  • availability of treatment.

It is concluded that the expectations of SCAM users are currently not rigorously investigated. Future studies should have a clear focus on specific aspects of this broad question.

As our conclusion stated, the issue is too broad to be easily researchable. The question might need to be narrowed down. And even then, I ask myself, what might such investigations, even if done well, amount to? In what way would the results of such studies benefit anyone? How would they improve the healthcare of the future?

Perhaps someone can help me by suggesting some answers to these questions?

Low back pain must be one of the most frequent reasons for patients to seek out some so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). It would therefore be important that the information they get is sound. But is it?

The present study sought to assess the quality of web-based consumer health information available at the intersection of LBP and CAM. The investigators searched Google using six unique search terms across four English-speaking countries. Eligible websites contained consumer health information in the context of CAM for LBP. They used the DISCERN instrument, which consists of a standardized scoring system with a Likert scale from one to five across 16 questions, to conduct a quality assessment of websites.

Across 480 websites identified, 32 were deemed eligible and assessed using the DISCERN instrument. The mean overall rating across all websites 3.47 (SD = 0.70); Summed DISCERN scores across all websites ranged from 25.5-68.0, with a mean of 53.25 (SD = 10.41); the mean overall rating across all websites 3.47 (SD = 0.70). Most websites reported the benefits of numerous CAM treatment options and provided relevant information for the target audience clearly, but did not adequately report the risks or adverse side-effects adequately.

The authors concluded that despite some high-quality resources identified, our findings highlight the varying quality of consumer health information available online at the intersection of LBP and CAM. Healthcare providers should be involved in the guidance of patients’ online information-seeking.

In the past, I have conducted several similar surveys, for instance, this one:

Background: Low back pain (LBP) is expected to globally affect up to 80% of individuals at some point during their lifetime. While conventional LBP therapies are effective, they may result in adverse side-effects. It is thus common for patients to seek information about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) online to either supplement or even replace their conventional LBP care. The present study sought to assess the quality of web-based consumer health information available at the intersection of LBP and CAM.

Methods: We searched Google using six unique search terms across four English-speaking countries. Eligible websites contained consumer health information in the context of CAM for LBP. We used the DISCERN instrument, which consists of a standardized scoring system with a Likert scale from one to five across 16 questions, to conduct a quality assessment of websites.

Results: Across 480 websites identified, 32 were deemed eligible and assessed using the DISCERN instrument. The mean overall rating across all websites 3.47 (SD = 0.70); Summed DISCERN scores across all websites ranged from 25.5-68.0, with a mean of 53.25 (SD = 10.41); the mean overall rating across all websites 3.47 (SD = 0.70). Most websites reported the benefits of numerous CAM treatment options and provided relevant information for the target audience clearly, but did not adequately report the risks or adverse side-effects adequately.

Conclusion: Despite some high-quality resources identified, our findings highlight the varying quality of consumer health information available online at the intersection of LBP and CAM. Healthcare providers should be involved in the guidance of patients’ online information-seeking.

Or this one:

Background: Some chiropractors and their associations claim that chiropractic is effective for conditions that lack sound supporting evidence or scientific rationale. This study therefore sought to determine the frequency of World Wide Web claims of chiropractors and their associations to treat, asthma, headache/migraine, infant colic, colic, ear infection/earache/otitis media, neck pain, whiplash (not supported by sound evidence), and lower back pain (supported by some evidence).

Methods: A review of 200 chiropractor websites and 9 chiropractic associations’ World Wide Web claims in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States was conducted between 1 October 2008 and 26 November 2008. The outcome measure was claims (either direct or indirect) regarding the eight reviewed conditions, made in the context of chiropractic treatment.

Results: We found evidence that 190 (95%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims regarding at least one of the conditions. When colic and infant colic data were collapsed into one heading, there was evidence that 76 (38%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims about all the conditions not supported by sound evidence. Fifty-six (28%) websites and 4 of the 9 (44%) associations made claims about lower back pain, whereas 179 (90%) websites and all 9 associations made unsubstantiated claims about headache/migraine. Unsubstantiated claims were made about asthma, ear infection/earache/otitis media, neck pain,

Conclusions: The majority of chiropractors and their associations in the English-speaking world seem to make therapeutic claims that are not supported by sound evidence, whilst only 28% of chiropractor websites promote lower back pain, which is supported by some evidence. We suggest the ubiquity of the unsubstantiated claims constitutes an ethical and public health issue.

The findings were invariably disappointing and confirmed those of the above paper. As it is nearly impossible to do much about this lamentable situation, I can only think of two strategies for creating progress:

  1. Advise patients not to rely on Internet information about SCAM.
  2. Provide reliable information for the public.

Both describe the raison d’etre of my blog pretty well.

After yesterday’s post entitled ‘What does a holistic doctor do that a traditional doctor doesn’t?‘, I thought it would only be fair to turn the question around and ask: What does a proper doctor do that a holistic healer doesn’t? The answers will upset a lot of practitioners of alternative medicine (SCAM), but so be it.

So, what does a proper doctor do that a holistic healer doesn’t?

I suggest several answers and hope that the readers of this blog will contribute to further points. Many of them center around safeguarding the public:

  • Proper doctors avoid confusing or misleading the public with titles they do not have.
  • They do have rigorous education and training.
  • They avoid making false therapeutic claims.
  • They adhere to the ethical standards of their profession.
  • They resist the temptation to advertise their services to the consumer.
  • They do their best to identify the cause of their patient’s symptoms.
  • They treat the causes of disease whenever possible.
  • They avoid pretending that they always have all the answers.
  • They abide by the rules of evidence-based medicine.
  • They are aware that almost any effective treatment comes with adverse effects.
  • They try to keep abreast with the rapid advances in medicine.
  • They know that a patient is more than a diagnostic label.
  • They try to treat patients holistically.

At this stage, I can hear some readers shout in anger:

  • Ahh, but that is rubbish!
  • I know doctors who are not at all like that!
  • You are idealizing your profession!
  • This is little more than wishful thinking!

Yes, I know that many patients are disappointed and have had a bad experience with conventional medicine. That is one of the reasons many try SCAM. I know that many doctors occasionally fail to live up to the ideal that I depicted above. And I fear that some do so more often than just occasionally.

This is regrettable and occasionally it is unacceptable. Medicine is populated not by perfect people; it is run by humans like you and me. Humans are fallible. Doctors have bad days just like you and me. If that happens regularly, we need to address the problems that may the cause of the deficit. If necessary, the case has to go before a disciplinary hearing. There are thousands of experts who are dedicated to improving healthcare in the hope of generating progress.

The point I was trying to make is that there is such a thing as an ideal physician. It relies on:

  • rigorous training,
  • ethical codes,
  • post-graduate education,
  • supervision,
  • governance,
  • swift disciplinary procedures,
  • advances brought about through colossal research efforts,
  • etc., etc.

Do ‘holistic healers’ offer all of these safeguards?

The sad answer is no.

For those who disagree, let’s briefly look at a recent example.

John Lawler died in 2017 after being treated by a chiropractor (as discussed on this blog before).

  • Mr. Lawler died because of a tear and dislocation of the C4/C5 intervertebral disc caused by a considerable external force.
  • The pathologist’s report also showed that the deceased’s ligaments holding the vertebrae of the upper spine in place were ossified.
  • This is a common abnormality in elderly patients and limits the range of movement of the neck.
  • There was no adequately informed consent by Mr. Lawler.
  • Mr. Lawler seemed to have been under the impression that the chiropractor, who used the ‘Dr’ title, was a medical doctor.
  • There is no reason to assume that the treatment of Mr. Lawler’s neck would be effective for his pain located in his leg.
  • The chiropractor used an ‘activator’ that applies only little and well-controlled force. However, she also employed a ‘drop table’ which applies a larger and not well-controlled force.

As far as I can see, most of the safeguards and standards that apply to conventional medicine were not in place to safeguard Mr. Lawler. And that includes a timely disciplinary hearing of the case. Mr. Lawler died in 2017! The CCG has been dragging its feet ever since, and, as far as I know, the chiropractor was meanwhile allowed to practise. The HEARING BEFORE THE PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT COMMITTEE OF THE GENERAL CHIROPRACTIC COUNCIL has now been scheduled to commence on 19 April 2021.

I know, it’s just an example. But it should make us think.

When I yesterday reported about Charles’ new paper in a medical journal, I omitted to go into any sort of detail. Merely mumbling ‘this is bait and switch‘ and ‘there is no good evidence that social prescribing is effective‘, is not good enough. Charles deserves better! That’s why today I provide a more detailed analysis of what he wrote on social prescribing.

Social prescribing is a concept that emerged in the UK more than a decade ago [1]. It aims to connect patients to different types of community support, including social events, fitness classes, and social services. Trained professionals, often called link workers or community connections, work with healthcare providers to offer referrals to these types of support. Social prescribing largely exists to fill in healthcare treatment gaps. The basic medical treatment cannot address every concern. Primary care providers don’t always have enough time to get to know their patients and understand the complete picture of their lives.

For example, loneliness can cause stress, which can eventually affect sleep, nutrition, and physical health. Doctors may not be able to offer much help for this problem. That’s where link workers step in. They can provide more specialized support if someone struggles to meet basic wellness or social needs. They get to know a patient’s unique needs and help you take action to meet those needs by referring him or her to helpful resources in the community.[2]

Charles elaborated on social prescribing (or social prescription, as he calls it for some reason) as follows [the numbers in square brackets were added me and refer to my comments below]:

… For a long time, I have been an advocate of what is now called social prescription and this may just be the key to integrating the biomedical, the psychosocial and the environmental, as well as the nature of the communities within which we live and which have such an enormous impact on our health and wellbeing [1]. In particular, I believe that social prescription can bring together the aims of the health service, local authorities, and the voluntary and volunteer sector. Biomedicine has been spectacularly successful in treating and often curing disease that was previously incurable. Yet it cannot hold all the answers, as witnessed, for instance, by the increasing incidence of long-term disease, antibiotic resistance and opiate dependence [2]. Social prescription enables medicine to go beyond pills and procedures and to recognise the enormous health impact of the lives we lead and the physical and social environment within which we live [3]. This is precisely why I have spent so many years trying to demonstrate the vitally important psychosocial, environmental and financial added value of genuinely, sustainable urban planning, design and construction [4].

There is research from University College London, for instance, which shows that you are almost three times more likely to overcome depression if you have a hobby [5]. Social prescription enables doctors to provide their patients with a bespoke prescription that might help them at a time of need …

When we hear that a quarter of 14–16-year-old girls are self-harming and almost a third of our children are overweight or obese, it should make us realise that we will have to be a bit more radical in addressing these problems [5]. And though social prescription cannot do everything, I believe that, used imaginatively, it can begin to tackle these deep-rooted issues [6]. As medicine starts to grapple with these wider determinants of health [7], I also believe that medicine will need to combine bioscience with personal beliefs, hopes, aspirations and choices [8].

Many patients choose to see complementary practitioners for interventions such as manipulation, acupuncture and massage [9]. Surely in an era of personalised medicine, we need to be open-minded about the choices that patients make and embrace them where they clearly improve their ability to care for themselves? [10] Current NHS guidelines on pain that acknowledge the role of acupuncture and mindfulness may lead, I hope, to a more fruitful discussion on the role of complementary medicine in a modern health service [11]. I have always advocated ‘the best of both worlds’ [12], bringing evidence-informed [13] conventional and complementary medicine together and avoiding that gulf between them, which leads, I understand, to a substantial proportion of patients feeling that they cannot discuss complementary medicine with their doctors [14].

I believe it is more important than ever that we should aim for this middle ground [15]. Only then can we escape divisions and intolerance on both sides of the conventional/complementary equation where, on the one hand, the appropriate regulation of the proven therapies of acupuncture and medical herbalism [15] is opposed while, on the other, we find people actually opposing life-saving vaccinations. Who would have thought, for instance, that in the 21st century that there would be a significant lobby opposing vaccination, given its track record in eradicating so many terrible diseases and its current potential to protect and liberate some of the most vulnerable in our society from coronavirus? [16] …

My comments are as follows:

  1. Is Charles not a little generous to his own vision? Social prescribing is not nearly the same as the concept of integrated medicine which he has been pushing for years.
  2. There is no good evidence that social prescribing will reduce ‘of long-term disease, antibiotic resistance, and opiate dependence’.
  3. Here Charles produces a classic ‘strawman fallacy’. Medicine is much more than pills and procedures, and I suspect he knows it (not least because he uses proper medicine as soon as he is really ill).
  4. Charles has not so much ‘demonstrated’ the importance of ‘psychosocial, environmental and financial added value of genuinely, sustainable urban planning, design, and construction’ as talked about it.
  5. That does not necessarily mean that social prescribing is effective; correlation is not causation!
  6. There is no good evidence that social prescribing is effective against self-harm or obesity.
  7. Medicine has been trying to grapple with ‘wider issues’ for centuries.
  8. Medicine has done that for many years but we always had to be mindful of the evidence base. It would be unwise to adopt interventions without evidence demonstrating that they do more good than harm.
  9. Many patients also choose to smoke, drink, or sky-dive. Patient choice is no indicator of efficacy or harmlessness.
  10. Yes, we should embrace them where they clearly improve their ability to care for themselves. However, the evidence all too often fails to show that they improve anything.
  11. As we have seen, this discussion has been going on for decades and was not always helped by Charles.
  12. The best of both worlds can only be treatments that demonstrably generate more good than harm – and that’s called evidence-based medicine. Or, to put it bluntly: in medicine ‘best’ does not signify royal approval.
  13. ‘Evidence-informed’ is an interesting term. Proper medicine thrives to be evidence-based; royal medicine merely needs to be ‘evidence-informed’? This new term seems to imply that evidence is not all that important. Why? Perhaps because, for alternative medicine, it is largely not based on good evidence?
  14. If we want to bridge the gulf, we foremost require sound evidence. Today, plenty of such evidence is available. The problem is that it does often not show what Charles seems to think it shows.
  15. Even the best regulation of nonsense must result in nonsense.
  16. The anti-vaccination sentiments originate to an alarmingly large extent from the realm of alternative medicine.[4]

REFERENCES

[1] Brandling J, House W. Social prescribing in general practice: adding meaning to medicine. Br J Gen Pract. (2009) 59:454–6. doi: 10.3399/bjgp09X421085

[2] Social Prescribing: Definition, Examples, and More (healthline.com)

[3] Schmidt K, Ernst E. MMR vaccination advice over the Internet. Vaccine. 2003 Mar 7;21(11-12):1044-7. doi: 10.1016/s0264-410x(02)00628-x. PMID: 12559777.

I was reminded of an event that I had forgotten which, however, is so remarkable that we should remember it. It relates to nothing less than a homeopath’s attempt to save the world!

The homeopath’s name is Grace DaSilva-Hill. She has been a professional homeopath since 1997, with a clinic in Charing (Kent) and international on Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp video. She practises Sensation Homeopathy as refined by Drs Joshis (Mumbai), and Homeopathic Detox Therapy as developed by Dr Ton Jensen. She is also a practitioner of EFT-Tapping. In 2014, Grace very nearly saved the world with homeopathy – well, at least she gave it her very best try. Here is her original plan:

 

Ocean Remedy

Yes, I agree, that’s hilarious! And it’s hilarious in more than one way:

  1. It is funnier than any comedian’s attempt to ridicule homeopathy.
  2. It is a highly effective approach by homeopaths to discrediting themselves.

But, at the same time, it is also worrying. Homeopaths are taken seriously by many influential people. Think of Prince Charles, for instance, or consider the way German homeopaths have convinced the government of Bavaria to invest in research into the question of how homeopathy can be used to reduce antibiotic resistance.

At the time, the formidable Andy Lewis on his QUACKOMETER commented as follows:

We might dismiss this as the fantasies of a small group of homeopaths. However, such thinking is widespread in homeopathic circles and has consequences. Grace is a well known homeopath in the UK, and in the past, has been a trustee and treasurer for the Ghana Homeopathy Project – an organisation that has been exporting this European form of quackery to West Africa. Grace believes that serious illnesses can be treated by a homeopath. For an article in the journal of the Alliance of Registered Homeoapths, Grace discusses treating such conditions as menigitis, malaria and stroke.

Homeopaths in West Africa have hit the news this week as a group tried to enter Liberia in order to use their spells on people with Ebola. The WHO fortunately tried not let them near any actual sick people and they have been kicking and screaming since. The Daily Mail’s rather dreadful article reported that they

“had used homeopathic treatments on patients, despite the instructions from health officials in the capital Monrovia not to do so. She said she had not felt the need to quarantine herself after returning to India but was monitoring her own condition for any signs of the disease.”

The homeopaths appear to have absolutely no understanding how dangerous and irresponsible their actions have been….

Homeopathy is stupid. Magical thinking. A nonsense. Anything goes. And whilst those doctors in the NHS who insist on spending public money on it without taking a responsible stand against the common and dangerous excesses, they can expect to remain under constant fire from those who think they are doing a great deal of harm.

Meanwhile, the public funding of homeopathy in England has stopped; France followed suit. Surely Grace’s invaluable help in these achievements needs to be acknowledged! If we regularly remind decision-makers and the general public of Grace’s attempt to save the world and similarly barmy things homeopaths are up to, perhaps the rest of the world will speed up the process of realizing the truth about homeopathy!?

The objective of this survey was to determine the prevalence of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) use, barriers to its use, and factors that correlate with increased use.

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) distributed its triannual survey on professional practices and preferences of osteopathic physicians, including questions on OMT, to a random sample of 10,000 osteopathic physicians in August 2018 through Survey Monkey (San Mateo, CA). Follow-up efforts included a paper survey mailed to nonrespondents one month after initial distribution and three subsequent email reminders. The survey was available from August 15, 2018, to November 5, 2018. The OMT questions focused on the frequency of OMT use, perceived barriers, and basic demographic information of osteopathic physician respondents. Statistical analysis (including a one-sample test of proportion, chi-square, and Spearman’s rho) was performed to identify significant factors influencing OMT use.

Of 10,000 surveyed osteopathic physicians, 1,683 (16.83%) responded. Of those respondents, 1,308 (77.74%) reported using OMT on less than 5% of their patients, while 958 (56.95%) did not use OMT on any of their patients. Impactful barriers to OMT use included lack of time, lack of reimbursement, lack of institutional/practice support, and lack of confidence/proficiency. Factors positively correlated with OMT use included female gender, being full owner of a practice, and practicing in an office-based setting.

The authors concluded that OMT use among osteopathic physicians in the US continues to decline. Barriers to its use appear to be related to the difficulty that most physicians have with successfully integrating OMT into the country’s insurance-based system of healthcare delivery. Follow-up investigations on this subject in subsequent years will be imperative in the ongoing effort to monitor and preserve the distinctiveness of the osteopathic profession.

What can one conclude from a three-year-old survey with a 17% response rate?

The answer is almost nothing!

Yet, it seems fair to say that OMT-use by US osteopaths is not huge. It might even be fair to speculate that, in reality, it is smaller than 17%. It stands to reason that the non-responders in this survey were the ones who could not care less about OMT. I would argue that this would be a good thing!

Scientists from Israel and Iceland recently suggested that an extract of spirulina algae has the potential to reduce the chances of COVID-19 patients developing a serious case of the disease. Here is the abstract of their paper:

An array of infections, including the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), trigger macrophage activation syndrome (MAS) and subsequently hypercytokinemia, commonly referred to as a cytokine storm (CS). It is postulated that CS is mainly responsible for critical COVID-19 cases, including acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Recognizing the therapeutic potential of Spirulina blue-green algae (Arthrospira platensis), in this in vitro stimulation study, LPS-activated macrophages and monocytes were treated with aqueous extracts of Spirulina, cultivated in either natural or controlled light conditions. We report that an extract of photosynthetically controlled Spirulina (LED Spirulina), at a concentration of 0.1 µg/mL, decreases macrophage and monocyte-induced TNF-α secretion levels by over 70% and 40%, respectively. We propose prompt in vivo studies in animal models and human subjects to determine the putative effectiveness of a natural, algae-based treatment for viral CS and ARDS, and explore the potential of a novel anti-TNF-α therapy.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the research was conducted in a MIGAL laboratory in northern Israel with algae grown and cultivated by the Israeli company VAXA, which is located in Iceland. VAXA received funding from the European Union to explore and develop natural treatments for coronavirus. Iceland’s MATIS Research Institute also participated in the study.

In a small percentage of patients, infection with the coronavirus causes the immune system to release an excessive number of TNF-a cytokines, resulting in what is known as a cytokine storm. The storm causes acute respiratory distress syndrome and damage to other organs, the leading cause of death in COVID-19 patients. “If you control or are able to mitigate the excessive release of TNF-a, you can eventually reduce mortality,” said Asaf Tzachor, a researcher from the IDC Herzliya School of Sustainability and the lead author of the study. During cultivation, growth conditions were adjusted to control the algae’s metabolomic profile and bioactive molecules. The result is what Tzachor refers to as “enhanced” algae.

Tzachor said that despite the special growth mechanism, the algae are a completely natural substance and should not produce any side effects. Spirulina is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as a dietary substance. It is administrated orally in liquid drops. “This is natural, so it is unlikely that we would see an adverse or harmful response in patients as you sometimes see in patients that are treated with chemical or synthetic drugs,” he said. The algae have been shown to reduce inflammation. Tzachor said that if proven effective, spirulina could also be used against other coronaviruses and influenza. “If we succeed in the next steps,” said Dr. Dorit Avni, director of the laboratory at MIGAL, “there is a range of diseases that can be treated using this innovative solution – as a preventative treatment or a supportive treatment.”

___________________________

This is undoubtedly interesting, and one can only hope that their research is successful. However, it is a far cry from what some journalists are already making of the news. One headline read: “Scientists Discover ‘All-Natural’ COVID Treatment That Can Prevent ‘Cytokine Storm’ In Severe Patients.”

 

 

 

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?

Fair enough!

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?

 

 

 

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