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

pseudo-science

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In Germany, homeopathy had a free ride for a very long time. In recent years, however, several doctors, pharmacists, scientists, etc. have started opposing the fact that the public has to pay for ineffective treatments such as homeopathics. As a consequence, homeopaths have begun to fight back. The weapons they chose are often not the most subtle. Now they seem to have reached a new low; the Board of the German Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians (DZVhÄ) has sent an open letter to the Board of the German Society of Internal Medicine (DGIM) and to the participating colleagues of the 127th Congress of the DGIM from April 17 – 20, 2021 in an attempt to stop an invited lecture of a critic of homeopathy.

Here is my translation of the letter:

Dear colleagues on the board of the DGIM,

We were very surprised to read that an ENT colleague will speak on homeopathy at the 127th Congress of Internal Medicine. Dr. Lübbers is known up and down the country as a media-active campaigner against homeopathy. His “awakening experience” he had, according to his own account, when he had to fish homeopathic pills out of the ear of a child with otitis, since then he is engaged – no: not for better education, in the mentioned case of the parents or other users – against the method homeopathy (which was certainly not “guilty” of the improper application!).

It has surely not escaped you that in all media again and again only a small handful of self-proclaimed “experts” – all from the clique of the skeptic movement! – are heard on the subject of homeopathy. A single (!) fighter against homeopathy is a physician who completed her training in homeopathy and practices for a time as a homeopath. All the others come from non-medical and other occupational groups. In contrast, there are several thousand medical colleagues throughout Germany who stand on the ground of evidence-based medicine, have learned conventional medicine, implement it in their practices, and have completed a recognized continuing education program in homeopathy.

In the German Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians – the oldest medical professional association in Germany – 146 qualified internists are currently registered as members, in addition to numerous other medical specialists, all of whom are actively practicing medicine.

Question: Why does the German Society for Internal Medicine invite an ENT specialist, of all people, who lectures on homeopathy without any expertise of his own? Why not at least a specialist colleague in internal medicine? Or even a colleague who could report on the subject from her own scientific or practical experience? For example, on the topic of “hyperaldosteronism,” would you also invite a urologist or orthodontist? And if so, why?

Dear Board of Directors of the DGIM: As an honorary board member of the German Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians e.V.. (DZVhÄ) – and a specialist in internal medicine – I am quite sure that we could immediately name several colleagues with sufficient expertise as homeopathically trained and experienced internists, if you are really interested in a solid and correct discourse on the subject of homeopathy. Under the above-mentioned circumstances, there is, of course, rather the suspicion that it should not be about, but rather exclusively against homeopathy.

If it is planned for a later congress, e.g. in 2022, to deal again with the topic of homeopathy in a truly professionally well-founded and possibly even more balanced form: please contact us at any time! As medical colleagues, we are very interested in a fair and unprejudiced professional discourse.

Yours sincerely

Dr. med. Ulf Riker, Internist – Homeopathy – Naturopathy

2nd chairman DZVhÄ / 1st chairman LV Bayern

________________

What are Riker and the DZVhÄ trying to say with this ill-advised, convoluted, and poorly written letter?

Let me try to put his points a little clearer:

  • They are upset that the congress of internists invited a non-homeopath to give a lecture about homeopathy.
  • The person in question, Dr. Lübbers, is an ENT specialist and, like all other German critics of homeopathy (apart from one, Dr. Grams), does not understand homeopathy.
  • There are thousands of physicians who do understand it and are fully trained in homeopathy.
  • They would therefore do a much better job in providing a lecture.
  • So, would the German internists please invite homeopaths for their future meetings?

And what is Riker trying to achieve?

  • It seems quite clear that he aims to prevent criticism of homeopathy.
  • He wishes to replace it with pro-homeopathy propaganda.
  • Essentially he wants to stifle free speech, it seems to me.

To reach these aims, he does not hesitate to embarrass himself by sending and making publicly available a very stupid letter. He also behaves in a most unprofessional fashion and does not mind putting a few untruths on paper.

Having said that, I will admit that they are in good company. Hahnemann was by all accounts a most intolerant and cantankerous chap himself. And during the last 200 years, his followers have given ample evidence that critical thinking has remained an alien concept for them. Consequently, such behavior seems not that unusual for German defenders of homeopathy. In recent times they have:

Quite a track record, wouldn’t you agree?

But, I think, attempting to suppress free speech beats it all and must be a new low in the history of homeopathy.

 

Energy healing is an umbrella term for a range of paranormal healing practices. Their common denominator is the belief in a mystical ‘energy’ that can be used for therapeutic purposes. Forms of energy healing have existed in many ancient cultures. The ‘New Age’ movement has brought about a revival of these ideas, and today energy healing systems are amongst the most popular alternative therapies in the US as well as in many other countries.

Energy healing relies on the esoteric belief in some form of ‘energy’ which is distinct from the concept of energy understood in physics and refers to some life force such as chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or prana in Ayurvedic medicine. Some proponents employ terminology from quantum physics and other ‘cutting-edge’ science to give their treatments a scientific flair which, upon closer scrutiny, turns out to be but a veneer of pseudo-science. The ‘energy’ that energy healers refer to is not measurable and lacks biological plausibility.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of energy healing (EH) therapy prior to and following posterior surgical correction for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) compared to controls.

Patients were prospectively randomized to one of two groups: standard operative care for surgery (controls) vs. standard care with the addition of three EH sessions. The outcomes included visual analog scales (VAS) for pain and anxiety (0-10), days until conversion to oral pain medication, and length of hospital stay. For the experimental group, VAS was assessed pre- and post-EH session.

Fifty patients were enrolled-28 controls and 22 EH patients. The controls had a median of 12 levels fused vs. 11 in the EH group (p = 0.04). Pre-operative thoracic and lumbar curve magnitudes were similar (p > 0.05). Overall VAS pain scores increased from pre- to post-operative (p < 0.001), whereas the VAS anxiety scores decreased immediately post-operative (p < 0.001). The control and pre-EH assessments were statistically similar. Significant decreases in VAS pain and anxiety scores from pre to post-EH assessments were noted for the EH group. Both groups transitioned to oral pain medication a median of 2 days post-operative (p = 0.11). The median days to discharge were four in the controls and three in the EH group (p = 0.07).

The authors concluded that EH therapy resulted in a decrease in patient’s pre-operative anxiety. Offering this CAM modality may enhance the wellbeing of the patient and their overall recovery when undergoing posterior surgical correction for AIS.

I am getting tired of explaining that this trial design tells us as good as nothing about the effects of the tested therapy per se. As we have discussed ad nauseam on this blog, A+B is always more than B alone. Such trials appear to be rigorous and fool many people, but they are unable to control for context effects, like placebo or attention. Therefore, I need to re-write the conclusions:

The placebo effect and the extra attention associated with EH therapy resulted in a decrease in patients’ pre-operative anxiety. EH itself is most likely bar any effect. Further studies in this area are not required.

Battlefield Acupuncture (BFA) – I presume the name comes from the fact that it is so simple, it could even be used under combat situations – is a form of ear acupuncture developed 20 years ago by Dr Richard Niemtzow. BFA employs gold semipermanent needles that are placed at up to 5 specific sites in one or both ears.  The BFA needles are small conical darts that pierce the outer ear in designated locations and remain in place until they fall out typically within 3–4 days.

The US Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management and the Veterans Health Administration National Pain Management Program Office recently completed a 3-year acupuncture education and training program, which deployed certified BFA trainers for the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration medical centers. Over 2800 practitioners were thus trained to provide BFA. The total costs amounted to $ 5.4 million.

This clearly begs the question:

DOES IT WORK?

 This review aims to investigate the effects and safety of BFA in adults with pain. Electronic databases were searched for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published in English evaluating efficacy and safety of BFA in adults with pain, from database inception to September 6, 2019. The primary outcome was pain intensity change, and the secondary outcome was safety. Nine RCTs were included in this review, and five trials involving 344 participants were analyzed quantitatively. Compared with no intervention, usual care, sham BFA, and delayed BFA interventions, BFA had no significant improvement in the pain intensity felt by adults suffering from pain. Few adverse effects (AEs) were reported with BFA therapy, but they were mild and transitory.

The authors of this review concluded that BFA is a safe, rapid, and easily learned acupuncture technique, mainly used in acute pain management, but no significant efficacy was found in adult individuals with pain, compared with the control groups. Given the poor methodological quality of the included studies, high-quality RCTs with rigorous evaluation methods are needed in the future.

And here are my comments:

  • SAFE? Impossible to tell on the basis of 344 patients.
  • RAPID? True, but meaningless, as it does not work.
  • EASILY LEARNT? True, it’s simple and seems ever so stupid.
  • NO SIGNIFICANT EFFICACY? That I can easily believe.

I am amazed that anyone would fall for an idea as naive as BFA. That it should be the US military is simply hilarious, in my view. I am furthermore baffled that anyone recommends more study of such monumental nonsense.

Why, oh why?

Acupuncture is far-fetched (to put it mildly). Ear acupuncture is positively ridiculous. BFA seems beyond ridiculous and must be the biggest military hoax since general Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin painted façades to fool Catherine the Great into thinking that an area was far richer than it truly was.

 

Previous studies have shown inconclusive results of homeopathy in the treatment of warts. A team of Indian homeopaths aimed to assess the feasibility of a future definitive trial, with a preliminary assessment of differences between effects of individualized homeopathic (IH) medicines and placebos in the treatment of cutaneous warts.

A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (n = 60) was conducted at the dermatology outpatient department of D.N. De Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, West Bengal. Patients were randomized to receive either IH (n = 30) or identical-looking placebo (n = 30). Primary outcome measures were numbers and sizes of warts; the secondary outcome was the Dermatology Life Quality Index (DLQI) questionnaire measured at baseline, and every month up to 3 months. Group differences and effect sizes were calculated on the intention-to-treat sample.

Attrition rate was 11.6% (IH, 3; placebo, 4). Intra-group changes were significantly greater (all < 0.05, Friedman tests) in IH than placebo. Inter-group differences were statistically non-significant (all > 0.05, Mann-Whitney U tests) with small effect sizes-both in the primary outcomes (number of warts after 3 months: IH median [inter-quartile range; IQR] 1 [1, 3] vs. placebo 1 [1, 2]; p = 0.741; size of warts after 3 months: IH 5.6 mm [2.6, 40.2] vs. placebo 6.3 [0.8, 16.7]; p = 0.515) and in the secondary outcomes (DLQI total after 3 months: IH 4.5 [2, 6.2] vs. placebo 4.5 [2.5, 8]; p = 0.935). Thuja occidentalis (28.3%), Natrum muriaticum (10%) and Sulphur (8.3%) were the most frequently prescribed medicines. No harms, homeopathic aggravations, or serious adverse events were reported.

The Indian homeopaths draw the following conclusion: As regards efficacy, the preliminary study was inconclusive, with a statistically non-significant direction of effect favoring homeopathy. The trial succeeded in showing that an adequately powered definitive trial is both feasible and warranted.

INCONCLUSIVE?

No, the findings are not inconclusive at all! Read the results again: they confirm that homeopathy is a placebo therapy.

So, why is this trial worth writing about?

Surely, we did not expect anything else than a negative outcome from such a study?!

No, we didn’t.

But there is still something quite remarkable about this study: I have previously noted that virtually all studies of homeopathy by Indian researchers report positive results. AND THIS ONE DOESN’T!!!

Alright, it tries to hide the fact that the findings were negative, but this already seems to be a step in the right direction. So, well done, my Indian friends!!!

Perhaps one day, you will be able to admit that homeopathy is a placebo therapy?

 

 

The authors of this study claim that, in the aging brain, reduction in the pulsation of cerebral vasculature and fluid circulation causes impairment in the fluid exchange between different compartments and lays a foundation for the neuroinflammation that results in Alzheimer disease (AD). The knowledge that lymphatic vessels in the central nervous system play a role in the clearance of brain-derived metabolic waste products opens an unprecedented capability to increase the clearance of macromolecules such as amyloid β proteins. However, currently, there is no pharmacologic mechanism available to increase fluid circulation in the aging brain.

Based on these considerations, the authors conducted a study to demonstrate the influence of an osteopathic cranial manipulative medicine (OCMM) technique, specifically, compression of the fourth ventricle, on spatial memory and changes in substrates associated with mechanisms of metabolic waste clearance in the central nervous system using the naturally aged rat model of AD.

The rats in the OCMM group received the CV4 technique every day for 7 days for 4 to 7 minutes at each session. Rats were anesthetized with 1.5% to 3% isoflurane throughout the procedure. Rats in the UT group were also anesthetized to nullify any influence of isoflurane in spatial learning. During the CV4 procedure, the operator applied mechanical pressure over the rat’s occiput, medial to the junction of the occiput and temporal bone and inferior to the lambdoid suture to place tension on the dural membrane around the fourth ventricle. This gentle pressure was applied to resist cranial flexion with the aim of improving symmetry in the cranial rhythmic impulse (CRI), initiating a rhythmic fluctuation of the CSF, and improving mobility of the cranial bones and dural membranes. This rhythmic fluctuation is thought to be primarily due to flexion and extension that takes place at the synchondrosis between the sphenoid and basiocciput. The treatment end point was achieved when the operator identified that the tissues relaxed, a still point was reached, and improved symmetry or fullness of the CRI was felt. Currently, there is no quantitative measure for the pressure used in this treatment.

The results showed a significant improvement in spatial memory in 6 rats after 7 days of OCMM sessions. Live animal positron emission tomographic imaging and immunoassays revealed that OCMM reduced amyloid β levels, activated astrocytes, and improved neurotransmission in the aged rat brains.

The authors concluded that these findings demonstrate the molecular mechanism of OCMM in aged rats. This study and further investigations will help physicians promote OCMM as an evidence-based adjunctive treatment for patients with AD.

If there ever was an adventurous, over-optimistic extrapolation, this must be it!

Even assuming that all of the findings can be confirmed and replicated, they would be a very far shot from rendering OCMM an evidence-based treatment for AD:

  • Rats are not humans.
  • Aged rats do not have AD.
  • OCMM is not a plausible treatment.
  • An animal study is not a clinical trial.

I am at a complete loss to see how the findings of this bizarre animal experiment might help physicians promote OCMM as an evidence-based adjunctive treatment for patients with AD.

In the world of homeopathy, Prof Michael Frass is a famous man. He is the First Chairman of the Scientific Society for Homeopathy (WissHom), the president of the Umbrella organization of Austrian Doctors for Holistic Medicine, and the Vicepresident of the Doctors Association for Classical Homeopathy. Frass has featured on this blog before, not least because he has published numerous studies of homeopathy, none of which has ever failed to produce a positive result

This is not just remarkable, in my view, it defies logic and the laws of nature. Even if homeopathy were a supremely effective therapy – a very broad consensus holds that it is not! – one would occasionally expect some negative results. No treatment works under all circumstances

… that is no treatment except homeopathy, according to Frass.

Recently Frass amazed even the world of oncology by publishing a study suggesting that homeopathy can prolong the survival of lung cancer patients. Every oncologist I know was flabbergasted.

Can this be true? This is the question, many people have been asking for some time in relation to Frass’s research.

In my quest to shine more light on it, I was recently alerted to an article by the formidable Austrian investigative journalist, Alwin Schönberger. In 2015, he came across a press release announcing that “HOMEOPATHY HAD BEEN PROVEN TO WORK AFTER ALL” (strikingly similar to one issued in 2018). It came from Austria’s leading manufacturer who was giving an award to an apparently outstanding thesis supervised by Frass. Even today, this piece of research has not been published in the peer-reviewed literature.

Yet, after some difficulties, Schönberger managed to obtain a copy. What he found was surprising, and he thus published his findings in the respected Austrian journal ‘Profil’ (2. Mai 2015 • profil 22).

Frass’s student had been given the task to systematically review all the homeopathy trials published between 2008 and 2012. Contrary to the hype of the press release, the meta-analysis merely suggested a very small effect. When digging deeper, Schönberger found several inconsistencies and mistakes in the analysis. They all were such that they produced a false-positive picture for homeopathy. Upon their correction, homeopathy turned out to be no longer significantly superior to placebo. Frass was then interviewed about it and claimed that the inconsistencies were only ‘errors’ but insisted that homeopathy is not a placebo therapy.

Yes, of course, errors happen in research. But if they all go in one direction and if that direction coincides with the interests of the researchers, we have the right, perhaps even the duty, to be suspicious. The questions that arise from this story are, I think, as follows:

  • Have the errors been corrected?
  • Are there perhaps other errors in Frass’s research?
  • Can we trust anything that Frass says?
  • Is it time to consider an official investigation into Frass’s studies of homeopathy?

 

 

There are plenty of people who find it hard to accept that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are placebos. They religiously believe in the notion that homeopathy works and studiously ignore the overwhelming evidence (plus a few laws of nature). Yet, they pretend to staunchly believe in science and keep on conducting (pseudo?) scientific studies of homeopathy. To me, this seems oddly schizophrenic because, on the one hand, they seem to accept science by conducting trials, while, on the other hand, they reject science by negating the scientific consensus.

The objective of this recent study was to evaluate the quality of life (QoL) of women treated with homeopathy within the Public Health System of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

The study was designed as a prospective randomized controlled pragmatic trial. The patients were divided into two independent groups, one group underwent homeopathic treatment during a 6-month period, while the other did not receive any homeopathic treatment. In both randomized groups, patients maintained their conventional medical treatment as necessary. The World Health Organization Quality of Life abbreviated questionnaire (WHOQOL-BREF) was used for QoL analysis prior to treatment and 6 months later.

Randomization was successful in that it resulted in similar baseline results in three domains of QoL analysis for both groups. After 6 months’ treatment, the investigators noted a statistically significant difference between groups in the physical domain of WHOQOL-BREF: the average score improved to 63.6 ± (SD) 15.8 in the homeopathy group, compared with 53.1 ± (SD) 16.7 in the control group.

The authors concluded that homeopathic treatment showed a positive impact at 6 months on the QoL of women with chronic diseases. Further studies should be performed to determine the long-term effects of homeopathic treatment on QoL and its determinant factors.

I would not be surprised if the world of homeopathy were to celebrate this trial as yet another proof that homeopathy is effective. I am afraid, however, that I might have to put a damper on their excitement:

THIS STUDY DOES NOT SHOW WHAT YOU THINK IT DOES.

Why not?

Regular readers of this blog will have already guessed it: the trail follows the infamous ‘A+B versus B’ design. Some people will think that I am obsessed with this theme – but I am not; it’s just that, in SCAM, it comes up with such depressing regularity. And as this blog is mainly about commenting on newly published research, I am unable to avoid the subject.

So, let me explain it again.

Think of it in monetary terms: you have an amount X, your friend has the same amount X plus an extra sum Y. Who do you think has more money? You don’t need to be a genius to guess, do you?

The same happens in the above ‘A+B versus B’ trial:

  • the patients in group 1 received homeopathy (A) plus usual care (B);
  • the patients in group 2 received usual care (B) and nothing else.

You don’t need to be a genius to guess who might have the better outcomes.

Because of homeopathy?

No! Because of the patients’ expectation, the placebo effect, and the extra attention of the homeopaths. They call this trial design ‘pragmatic’. I feel it is an attempt to mislead the public.

So, allow me to re-write the authors’ conclusion as follows:

The effect of a homeopathic consultation and the administration of a placebo generated a positive impact at 6 months on the QoL of women with chronic diseases. This was entirely predictable and totally unrelated to homeopathy. Further studies to determine the long-term effects of homeopathic treatment on QoL and its determinant factors are not needed.

 

This study was aimed at determining the effectiveness of electroacupuncture or auricular acupuncture for chronic musculoskeletal pain in cancer survivors.

The Personalized Electroacupuncture vs Auricular Acupuncture Comparativeness Effectiveness (PEACE) trial is a randomized clinical trial that was conducted from March 2017 to October 2019 (follow-up completed April 2020) across an urban academic cancer center and 5 suburban sites in New York and New Jersey. Study statisticians were blinded to treatment assignments. The 360 adults included in the study had a prior cancer diagnosis but no current evidence of disease, reported musculoskeletal pain for at least 3 months, and self-reported pain intensity on the Brief Pain Inventory (BPI) ranging from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain imaginable).

Patients were randomized 2:2:1 to:

  1. electroacupuncture (n = 145),
  2. auricular acupuncture (n = 143),
  3. or usual care (n = 72).

Intervention groups received 10 weekly sessions of electroacupuncture or auricular acupuncture. Ten acupuncture sessions were offered to the usual care group from weeks 12 through 24.

The primary outcome was a change in the average pain severity score on the BPI from baseline to week 12. Using a gatekeeping multiple-comparison procedure, electroacupuncture and auricular acupuncture were compared with usual care using a linear mixed model. Noninferiority of auricular acupuncture to electroacupuncture was tested if both interventions were superior to usual care.

Among 360 cancer survivors (mean [SD] age, 62.1 [12.7] years; mean [SD] baseline BPI score, 5.2 [1.7] points; 251 [69.7%] women; and 88 [24.4%] non-White), 340 (94.4%) completed the primary end point. Compared with usual care, electroacupuncture reduced pain severity by 1.9 points (97.5% CI, 1.4-2.4 points; P < .001) and auricular acupuncture reduced by 1.6 points (97.5% CI, 1.0-2.1 points; P < .001) from baseline to week 12. Noninferiority of auricular acupuncture to electroacupuncture was not demonstrated. Adverse events were mild; 15 of 143 (10.5%) patients receiving auricular acupuncture and 1 of 145 (0.7%) patients receiving electroacupuncture discontinued treatments due to adverse events (P < .001).

The authors of this study concluded that, in this randomized clinical trial among cancer survivors with chronic musculoskeletal pain, electroacupuncture and auricular acupuncture produced greater pain reduction than usual care. However, auricular acupuncture did not demonstrate noninferiority to electroacupuncture, and patients receiving it had more adverse events.

I think the authors made a mistake in formulating their conclusions. Perhaps they allow me to correct it:

In this randomized clinical trial among cancer survivors with chronic musculoskeletal pain, electroacupuncture plus usual care and auricular acupuncture plus usual care produced greater pain reduction than usual care alone.

I know, I must sound like a broken record, but – because it followed the often-discussed ‘A+B versus B’ design – this study does simply not show what the authors conclude. In fact, it tells us very little about any effects caused by the two acupuncture versions per se. The study does not control for placebo effects and therefore its results are consistent with acupuncture itself having no effect at all.

Here is an attempt at explaining the ‘A+B versus B’ study design I posted previously:

As regularly mentioned on this blog, there are several ways to design a study such that the risk of producing a negative result is minimal. The most popular one in SCAM research is the ‘A+B versus B’ design…

Imagine you have an amount of money A and your friend owns the same sum plus another amount B. Who has more money? Simple, it is, of course your friend: A+B will always be more than A [unless B is a negative amount]. For the same reason, such “pragmatic” trials will always generate positive results [unless the treatment in question does actual harm]. Treatment as usual plus acupuncture is more than treatment as usual alone, and the former is therefore more than likely to produce a better result. This will be true, even if acupuncture is a pure placebo – after all, a placebo is more than nothing, and the placebo effect will impact on the outcome, particularly if we are dealing with a highly subjective symptom such as fatigue.

Imagine the two interventions had been a verbal encouragement or pat on the shoulder or a pat on the right shoulder for group 1 and one on the left for group 2. The findings could well have been very similar. To provide evidence that acupuncture PRODUCES PAIN REDUCTION, we need proper tests of the hypothesis. And to ‘determine the effectiveness of electroacupuncture or auricular acupuncture for chronic musculoskeletal pain in cancer survivors’, we need a different methodology.

This is, of course, all very elementary. Nothing elaborate or complicated! Scientists know it; editors know it; reviewers know it. Or at least they should know it. Therefore, I am at a loss trying to understand why even journals of high standing publish IMPROPER tests, better known as pseudo-science.

It is hard not to conclude that they deliberately try to mislead us.

It has been reported that the Middlesex University is cutting its ties with the UK’s biggest provider of homeopathy training after it peddled vaccine misinformation and encouraged the use of homeopathic potions made with phlegm to protect against and treat Covid-19. The Centre for Homeopathic Education (CHE) had been validated by the Middlesex University since 2004 and was the only UK homeopathy college to offer a University-accredited degree in homeopathy.

Now the CHE has been criticized for its “actively anti-scientific teaching”. Robbie Turner, a director at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said the unproven medicines being promoted by the college were “highly risky”. He added: “It is not just irresponsible, it’s downright dangerous.”

In webinars offered by the CHE Online, the lecturer Robin Murphy claimed the idea that vaccination was effective at eradicating disease was “delusional” and told students how to buy or make homeopathic “nosodes” made from bodily material of an infected Covid patient. He said the nosodes could help prevent and treat even the most severe cases of Covid, recommended their use among healthcare workers and carers exposed to the virus, and claimed he had helped administer the remedies to up to 200 people, including children. “I treated a 14-year-old girl and I gave her the nosode … she got fevers and chills. I followed up with mercury and between the nosode and mercury, that took care of the case,” he said.

In another case, Murphy said a client locked her son in his bedroom after he was exposed to Covid-19 to make him take the remedy. “If the husband comes home with a positive test and is sick … get the dose to everybody in the family,” Murphy said. “We’ve seen it work. A couple of my patients locked their son in the bedroom and wouldn’t let him come out. We gave him the remedies and everyone’s fine.”

He began the session with a “disclaimer”. “This is medical and historical information and blah blah blah and all this and that,” he said as the slide was shown. “This is for your own information … I feel we’re on solid ground to really help people like this.” Murphy is a regular lecturer at the CHE and director of the Lotus Health Institute in Virginia in the US. His other courses include one on 5G “toxicity”, promoting the debunked theory that 5G is dangerous.

Michael Marshall, project director at the Good Thinking Society, described claims that the vaccine “alternatives” were effective as “tremendously dangerous” and said it was “very concerning” that homeopaths were being taught their use by an accredited college. He said the teachings were “actively anti-science. For some people, the worst-case scenario is that they go on and contract and spread that disease. It fundamentally undermines public health messaging and puts the public at risk.”

The CHE was the largest homeopathy training provider in the UK providing a range of courses including, until last week, a bachelor of science degree validated by Middlesex. Under the 17-year partnership, the university — ranked 121st in the UK in the Good University Guide — would receive a £700 registration fee per student on the part-time, four-year course, and up to £3,500 went to the college in annual tuition fees.

A spokesperson for the University said it was “alarmed to hear about the allegations.”  Middlesex declared it is terminating the partnership with immediate effect.

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.

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