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

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For all of you who, like myself, like the occasional glass or two of wine:

THERE IS GOOD NEWS!

Wine is the latest alternative measure against COVID-19.

This, at least, is what an article sent to me seems to suggest:

At the end of the year, American researchers showed in-vitro that polyphenols in grapes and wine disrupt the way the Sars-Cov2 virus that causes Covid-19 replicates and spreads.

The Taiwan Medical University found that the tannins in wine effectively inhibit the activity of two key enzymes of the virus, which can no longer penetrate cell tissue.

“Of all the natural compounds we have tested in the laboratory, tannic acid is the most effective,” said Mien-Chie Hung, a molecular biologist and president of the university, on TVBS. He also recalled the good results obtained with experimental tannic acid treatments in 2003 during the SARS pandemic.

Now I understand why I haven’t caught the bug yet, I thought to myself, while pouring a large glass of red Bordeaux, my favorite. After yet another glass, I began to feel bad. No, not because of an alcohol overdose. Because I omitted something that might be not unimportant: I should really have told you who sent me the article. It was a source entirely devoted to the promotion of wine, a source related to my wine merchant.

Ah well, I thought, pouring a further glass.

When, many hours later, I had finally sobered up, I decided to conduct a few Medline searches. This is when I found this:

Greatly encouraged, I poured another glass.

 

 

 

PS

As, in my experience, COVID deniers are not the brightest buttons in the drawer, I should point out that THIS POST IS MEANT TO BE SATIRE.

I have decided to herewith start

The ‘WORST PAPER OF 2022’ competition

And I have already come across an article that I can nominate for it. It is entitled ‘What is the goal of science? ‘Scientific’ has been co-opted, but science is on the side of chiropractic. It is worth reading it in full, but in case you are in a hurry, I have extracted some bon mots for you:

  • Most of what chiropractors do in natural health care is scientific; it just has not been proven in a laboratory at the level we would like.
  •  It might be useful to review scientific method here. First, you make an observation, then pose a testable question based on that observation. You state your hypothesis, then design and perform an experiment, collect data and draw a conclusion.
  • A lot of our information is based on observations or hypotheses, and that is not a bad thing.
  • [conventional] medicine fails to be scientific because it ignores clinical observations out of hand.
  •  the majority of the observations that we in the natural health community work with are not even taken seriously. We would like to think that this is not because the medical “scientific” journals sell ads to drug companies.
  • we have multibillion-dollar corporations controlling our observations and our conversations about health — not very scientific.
  • When something is labeled anecdotal, to the medical community it means it is unimportant. That is not necessarily true; it means a lot of people have made the same observation.
  • [the pharma industries] have positioned themselves to be the ones who decide what is or is not true in our health care system.
  • Combining the “anecdotal” information from colleagues and one’s individual clinical observations, elegant and effective models for disease and strategies for treatment begin to emerge.
  • everyone in natural health care knows to combine therapies and the effects are often cumulative. For example, many asthmatics respond to magnesium supplementation. Some respond to taking vitamin C or another antioxidant. Most of us know that combining the two supplements increases favorable results.
  • drugs have side effects and often harm the patient. They often work against each other. We don’t have that problem with vitamins and minerals; you will not harm the patient.
  • we are not treating a disease, we are correcting a deficiency. If the asthmatic is deficient in magnesium, symptoms will improve. Giving magnesium is not a treatment of the asthma; it is fixing infrastructure.
  • We don’t really treat disease; we improve infrastructure.
  • When our patients improve, we know we are on the right track. That is what the scientific method is all about.
  • Finding errors in physiology and correcting them may produce results where medicine has failed so miserably. We are following scientific method, but studies are expensive and some things, even though they seem to hold up anecdotally, have not been proven.

As the year is still young, this paper might not actually win the competition but I hope you agree that it is a worthy competitor.

Some of you will ask what is there to win in the ‘WORST PAPER OF 2022’ competition? I agree: a competition without a prize is no fun. Therefore, I suggest donating to the winner one of my books that best fits his/her subject. I am sure this will over-joy him or her.

Now we only need to determine how we identify the winner. I suggest that I continue blogging about nominated papers (I hope to identify about 10 in total), and towards the end of the year, I let my readers decide democratically.

THE GUARDIAN published an interesting article about vaccination hesitancy yesterday. Here is a short passage from it:

One major missing piece of the puzzle, currently under consideration, is a strategy that gets to the bottom of why 5 million people remained unvaccinated, especially those in communities with an ingrained distrust of authority.

No 10 even turned to an artificial intelligence (AI) company earlier in the year to determine the causes of vaccine hesitancy, but Whitehall sources acknowledge there is still a lack of understanding about how many of the unvaccinated remain so because of entrenched anti-vax ideology, misconceptions that could be turned around, a lack of time or transport to get to vaccine centres, or just apathy.

Yesterday, it was also reported in DER STANDARD that the Austrian Science Minister Martin Polaschek has commissioned a study from Statistics Austria, which for the first time was to look at the vaccination status of the population according to socio-economic characteristics.

The study yielded fascinating findings that might shed some light on the phenomenon of ‘entrenched anti-vax ideology’:

  • Across all age groups, the proportion of vaccinated persons, including recovered persons, is 67%.
  • Slightly less than four percent of the population are only recovered, and about 30% are neither one nor the other.
  • There are no marked differences between men and women.
  • The willingness to vaccinate is strongly related to the level of education.
  • The vaccination rate in the group of 25-64 year-olds with a university degree is about 84% and thus significantly higher than among those who have only basic education (68%).
  • In this age group, it also seems important whether someone has a job (76%) or not (69%).
  • People employed in the information and communication sector (85%) and public administration (83%) are the most likely to be vaccinated.
  • Workers in agriculture and forestry (67%) and construction (65%) are the least likely to accept vaccinations.
  • Health and social services personnel have a vaccination rate of 79%.
  • More than half of the 600,000 schoolchildren had already been vaccinated, and in the upper secondary school it was even 72%.
  • The rate among teachers is also high, at 85%.
  • 86% of the approximately 395,000 students at universities had been vaccinated.
  • As 92% of all medical students were vaccinated.
  • The vaccination rate among Austrian nationals, at about 70%, is clearly higher than that of people without an Austrian passport (52%).
  • The difference between those born in Austria and those not born in Austria is only five percentage points.
  • The willingness to be vaccinated is higher among people from Turkey (73%) than among those born in Austria (68%).
  • Among Germans and Afghans, it is around 72%.
  • People from Romania (43%) and the Russian Federation (45%) have the lowest vaccination rates.
  • The percentage of vaccinated people is highest among those between 75 and 84 years.

Similar findings have, of course, been reported from other countries. However, what seems new to me here is the finding that vaccination rates are strongly correlated to the level of education: the anti-vax brigade tends to be uneducated and ignorant. If confirmed, this suggests that education might be a way to make them accept vaccinations.

PS

Of course, correlation is not causality. But there seems to be a dose-response relationship between education and willingness to vaccinate. This makes a causal effect more likely.

 

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THOSE WHO KNOW NOTHING MUST BELIEVE EVERYTHING

 

 

This systematic review summarized the evidence of the effects of dance/movement therapy (DMT) on mental health outcomes and quality of life in breast cancer patients.

Ninety-four articles were found. Only empirical interventional studies (N = 6) were selected for the review:

  • randomised controlled trials (RCT) (n = 5)
  • non-RCT (n = 1).

Data from 6 studies including 385 participants who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, were of an average age of 55.7 years, and had participated in DMT programmes for 3–24 weeks were analysed.

In each study, the main outcomes that were measured were

  • quality of life,
  • physical activity,
  • stress,
  • emotional and social well-being.

Different questionnaires were used for the evaluation of outcomes. The mental health of the participants who received DMT intervention improved: they reported a better quality of life and decreased stress, symptoms, and fatigue.

The authors concluded that DMT could be successfully used as a complimentary therapy in addition to standard cancer treatment for improving the quality of life and mental health of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. More research is needed to evaluate the complexity of the impact of complimentary therapies. It is possible that DMT could be more effective if used with other therapies.

The American Dance Therapy Association defines DMT as a multidimensional approach that integrates body awareness, creative expression, and the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual to improve health and well-being. The European Association of Dance Movement Therapy adds “spiritual integration” to this list. The types of dance used in the primary studies varied (from traditional Greek to belly dancing), and for none was there more than one study. No study of eurythmy (the anthroposophical dance therapy) was included.

I do not find it hard to imagine that DMT helps some cancer patients. Yet, I find the rigor of both the review and the primary studies somewhat wanting. The review authors, for instance, claimed that they followed the PRISMA guidelines; this is, however, not the case. The primary studies tested DMT mostly against no therapy at all which means that no attempts were made to control for non-specific effects.

I think the most obvious conclusion is that, during their supportive care, cancer patients can benefit from

  • attention,
  • empathy
  • movement,
  • self-expression,
  • social interaction,
  • etc.

This, however, is not the same as claiming that DMT is the best option for them.

By guest blogger Ken Harvey

Loretta Marron was the catalyst. The ‘critical thinking’ bug hit her as a child, reinforced by a BSc in Physics. If something didn’t sound logical, she couldn’t let it go. She had to check. She killed many a party by disputing misinformation – with evidence.

TV advertisements for magnetic underlays got her going, then homeopathic remedies, followed by ‘natural’ cures for cancer. To investigate outlandish claims and submit complaints, she needed to consult with experts. These included Professors John Dwyer (Medicine and Immunology) and Alastair MacLennan (Obstetrics and Gynaecology). They were always willing to help.

They also had concerns about universities teaching pseudoscience, such as ‘subluxation theory’ in chiropractic and ‘meridians’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In late 2011, Professor Dwyer proposed that Loretta join forces with Professors Alastair MacLennan, Marcello Costa (neuroscientist), and Rob Morrison (science communicator) to form a new organisation promoting scientific evidence in health care. Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) was born. John Dwyer was the inaugural President and Loretta Marron Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

The aim was to emphasise the importance of basing Australian health care on scientifically sound research and established scientific knowledge published in peer-reviewed journals of accepted standing. Valuing scientific rigour is especially important in an age where unsubstantiated health claims are rampant and scientific consensus is ‘imbalanced’ by the views of extremists.

FSM’s focus is helping consumers and health professionals to make more informed choices about medical interventions, medicines, and medical devices. We do this by submitting complaints about unethical practice, analysing policy, making submissions, encouraging regulators to act, and being a credible source of expertise for the media and others. We also encourage tertiary institutions and medicine and health sciences students to critically appraise therapeutic products and services as part of the courses offered.

Currently, FSM has more than 1,200 leading scientists, clinicians, lawyers, and consumer advocates as supporters. We also work closely with organisations such as Australian Skeptics and Choice (Australian Consumers Association).

I took over as President from John Dwyer in 2019. Loretta remains FSM CEO. The founding members continue their involvement as consultants. Ten years on, it’s worth reflecting on what has been achieved and the ongoing challenges.

An appendix lists some of the areas in which FSM has been involved and the outcomes achieved (often with the help of others).

Unethical promotion of therapeutic goods and services remain an ongoing concern. The advertising of therapeutic goods is subject to provisions in the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, first promulgated in 1999. Until July 2018, complaints about alleged Code violations were heard by the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Complaints Resolution Panel (CRP), thereafter by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

FSM members submitted numerous complaints to the CRP and analysed the outcome. If a complaint was upheld, the CRP could only ‘recommend’ that it be removed. If it was not, the complaint was referred to the TGA for action. We found that certain companies consistently ignored the determinations of the CRP and, when referred to the TGA, took resulting action.

In July 2018, FSM engagement with numerous consultations and reviews eventually resulted in the TGA taking over the advertising complaint system. The TGA was given stronger investigative and compliance powers and a revised, legally enforceable advertising code. However, given the TGA’s previous track record, we continued to submit complaints, including many previously upheld by the CRP, but for which promotion continued.

An analysis of the first 12 months of the new system found that the TGA had classified most complaints as ‘low priority’. These were either ignored or closed by sending the advertiser a ‘Regulatory Obligation letter’ which stated that no further action would be taken. While the letter sometimes worked, often it did not. Stronger compliance powers were rarely used. The new complaint system was also less transparent than the one it replaced. For those low priority complaints with published outcomes, no details of the product, advertiser, or alleged Code violation were published, and no follow-up was recorded. Of 121 higher priority complaints, 79% failed to meet their key performance indicator, time to closure in 60–90 days. These included complaints about dangerous sports supplements and ineffective weight loss and hangover products.

In August 2020, an independent review of the first two years of the TGA’s compliant system was published. The study noted an unexpectedly high volume of complaints since the TGA took over the advertising complaints system, producing a large and growing backlog. A government-appointed consultant (ThinkPlace Pty Ltd) stated that providing more resources would not be in the public interest. Instead, they recommended a more cost-effective and efficient approach: amalgamating all complaints into an information database from which the TGA could consider compliance priorities.

As a result, complaints were closed by sending complainants a letter stating that their complaints will be used for ‘intelligence’ to set priorities. The TGA said risk assessment informed whether a complaint was converted into a case for investigation or stored in their information database to determine future compliance priorities. Therapeutic goods associated with COVID-19 were declared ‘priority 1’, while weight loss, hangover, and four other products groups were said to be ‘priority 2’.

A focus on COVID-19 stimulated the TGA to deal with some of these complaints more effectively. However, apart from token action on individual products, no systemic action was taken on weight loss, hangover products and many other objects of our complaints.

More recently, the TGA’s complaint database for 2018 -2020 has been removed and replaced by a new database containing only a few complaints pre-2021. In addition, the fields of many ‘products’ and ‘responsible person’, are missing. The TGA say that migration of data to the new system is continuing. Meanwhile, complainants now only receive an automated acknowledgment.

Transparency remains a problem as there is no clear indication of how many complaints the TGA receives, what they are about, how many are filed for ‘intelligence’’, how many are actioned, and what outcome eventuates.

Given this lamentable state of affairs, in association with Australian Skeptics, it is proposed to publish reports on all complaints submitted to the TGA in 2022 and their outcomes. Past experience shows that documenting problems, pointing out underlying issues and putting forward solutions can produce progress. But patience and persistence are required.

FSM has grappled with unethical advertising of pseudo-medical interventions. Controls differ for practitioners regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and those regulated by State and Territory Health Complaints Commissioners. The former includes medical practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, chiropractors, osteopaths, and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. The latter includes naturopaths, homeopaths, and practitioners of western herbal medicine.

FSM has held regular meetings with AHPRA senior managers. We have also met several of their national boards and attended stakeholder forums. Chiropractic was an initial focus. Many practitioners advertised that chiropractic care in pregnancy could shorten labour duration and prevent caesarean delivery – despite the absence of evidence. Pregnant women were warned that labour often resulted in the newborn babe’s spinal misalignment, which could lead to numerous problems unless put right by regular chiropractic adjustments. It was also claimed that chiropractic ‘adjustments’ could improve attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, infantile colic, and ear infection.

In 2015, FSM submitted hundreds of complaints to AHPRA, alleging that chiropractic websites were in breach of both s.133 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009 and the Chiropractic Board of Australia’s Guidelines for advertising regulated health services. These provisions prohibit advertising which is false, misleading, or deceptive, creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, or can encourage the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services.

Five years have passed since the Chiropractic Board first asked practitioners to ensure that their websites met legal advertising requirements. Over this time, the Board’s sole approach to this problem was educational. Although chiropractors consistently had the highest advertising complaints of all practitioners (38 per 1,000 chiropractors in 2013–14), no penalties nor disciplinary action had been applied for advertising offences.

FSM argued that repeated advertising offences required appropriate penalties. We also pointed out that some practitioners now invited patients to consult them about services they were no longer permitted to advertise. We said that limitations should be placed on chiropractic practice which lacked evidence.

AHPRA responded that, although it could act on misleading advertising, it had no power to restrict the scope of practice of chiropractors (or other registered practitioners). We said that, if lack of good evidence makes it illegal to publicly advertise a treatment, then it should be equally illegal to offer it to patients privately; after all, the real harm is caused by the treatment, not the advertising.

In 2019, following damning publicity and further representations, the Victorian Health Minister eventually instructed Safer Care Victoria (SCV) to undertake an independent review of the practice of chiropractic spinal manipulation on children under 12 years. The result was a recommendation that spinal manipulation should not be provided to children under 12 years of age, for general wellness or for the management of conditions such as hyperactivity disorders, infantile colic, or ear infections.

The Chiropractic Board has also stated that chiropractors are not trained to apply any direct treatment to an unborn child and should not deliver any treatment to the unborn child. Neither should they provide materials, information or advice that is anti-vaccination in nature. After numerous complaints from FSM members, the Chiropractic Board finally referred a prominent anti-vax chiropractor, Simon Floreani, to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). His registration was suspended for 6 months, and conditions placed on his re-registration.

FSM has not just been concerned about chiropractors. We have complained (with varied success) about medical practitioners promoting stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis, Traditional Chinese Medical practitioners claiming that acupuncture can treat infertility and dubious laboratory tests used in complementary and alternative medicine.

In conclusion, the peddling of unproven and sometimes dangerous remedies has existed throughout human history.

There will always be companies (and individuals) who put the pursuit of profit before ethical behaviour. There will always be advocates for de-regulation and regulators captured by industry. To protect consumers there must be opposing forces. That is the role that FSM is proud to play, along with colleagues from the sceptical community and consumer movements.

Appendix

FSM activities and outcomes (often in association with others), 2011-2021.

  1. Removal of extravagant claims for acupuncture from the World Health Organization website and instigation of a WHO evidence review.
  2. Involvement in the 2015 Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for Natural Therapies. This led to removal of cover for therapies that lacked evidence such as homeopathy, iridology, reflexology and naturopathy (currently being reviewed again to see if additional evidence exits).
  3. Removal of unproven/disproven courses or modules from Australian universities.
  4. Removal of continuing professional development (CPD) points required annually by relevant registered practitioners for a number of AltMed courses.
  5. Following complaints to the TGA, removal of some illegal medicines not on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).
  6. De-listing some complementary medicines and medical devices (such as ‘bio-resonance’ machines) lacking evidence.
  7. Getting the TGA to declare two products of self-declared ‘Foods for special medical purposes’ illegal therapeutic goods and have them removed from the market-place.
  8. Publishing academic articles, in peer-reviewed journals, documenting regulatory problems investigated and solutions suggested.
  9. Publishing articles in lay media on current problems including in The Conversation, MJA Insight and Pearls and Irritations (around 200 over the last 5 years).
  10. Responding to consultation requests from the TGA, Medical Boards, National Medicines Policy Review, and others.
  11. Achieving the suspension of anti-vax chiropractor Simon Floreani’s registration.
  12. Stimulating the Chiropractic Board to publish standards on pregnancy and paediatric care.
  13. Responsible for the setting up of AHPRA’s ‘Advertising Compliance’ section, including their pilot auditing system (yet to report).
  14. Responding to requests for information from journalists.
  15. Correction of misinformation from the Victorian government’s ‘Better Health’ Channel.
  16. Providing a complaints avenue for people who want to remain anonymous.

The ‘Control Group Cooperative Ltd‘ is a UK Company (Registration Number: 13477806) is registered at 117 Dartford Road, Dartford, Kent DA1 3EN, UK. On its website, it provides the following statement:

The Vaccine Control Group is a Worldwide independent long-term study that is seeking to provide a baseline of data from unvaccinated individuals for comparative analysis with the vaccinated population, to evaluate the success of the Covid-19 mass vaccination programme and assist future research projects. This study is not, and will never be, associated with any pharmaceutical enterprise as its impartiality is of paramount importance.

The VaxControlGroup is a community cooperative, for the people. All monies raised will be re-invested into the project and its community.

Volunteers for this study are welcome from around the world, providing they have not yet received any of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccinations and are not planning to do so.

So, the Vaccine Control Group (VCC) aims at recruiting people who refuse COVID vaccinations. The VCC issues downloadable and printable COVID-19 Vaccine self exemption forms that you can complete (either online or by hand) supplied by: Professionals for Medical Informed Consent and Non-Discrimination (PROMIC). The form contains the following text:

COVID-19 vaccines, that have been administered to the public under emergency use authorisation, have been
associated with moderate to severe adverse events and deaths in a small proportion of recipients. There are currently insufficient available long-term safety data from Phase 3 trials and post-marketing surveillance to be able to predict which population sub-groups are likely to be most vulnerable to these reactions. However, clinical assessments have identified a range of conditions or medical histories that are associated with increased risk of serious adverse events (see Panel B). Individuals with such medical concerns, along with those who have already had COVID-19 and acquired natural immunity, have justifiable grounds to not consent to COVID-19 vaccination. Such individuals may choose to use alternate approaches to reduce their risk of developing serious COVID-19 disease and associated viral transmission. UK and international law enshrines an individual’s right to refuse any medical treatment or intervention without being subjected to penalty, restriction or limitation of protected rights or freedoms, as this would otherwise constitute coercion.

I do wonder, after reading this, what scientific value this ‘study’ might have (nowhere could I find relevant methodological details about the ‘study’). In search of an answer, I found ‘Doctors & Health Professionals supportive of this project’. The only one supportive of the VCC seems to be Prof Harald Walach who offers his support with these words:

A vaccine control group, especially for Covid-19 vaccines, is extremely useful, even necessary, for the following reasons:

    1. We are dealing with a vaccination technology that has never been used in humans before.
    2. All studies that have planned a control group long term, i.e. longer than only 6 weeks, have meanwhile been compromised, i.e. there are no real control groups around, because those originally allocated to the control group have mostly been vaccinated now. So there are no real control groups available.
    3. Covid-19 vaccinations are one of the biggest experiments on mankind ever conducted – without a control group. Hence those, who are either not willing to be vaccinated or have not yet been vaccinated are our only chance to understand whether the vaccines are safe or whether symptoms reported after vaccination are actually due to the vaccination or are only an incidental occurrence or random fluctuation.

Comparing unvaccinated people and those with a vaccination history regarding Covid-19 vaccines long term is important to determine long-term safety, because in many instances in the past some problems only were seen after quite some time. This can happen, if auto-immune processes are triggered, which often occur only in very few people. Hence, it is also important to have a long-term observation period and a large number of people participating.

Prof. Dr. Dr. phil. Harald Walach

This does not alleviate my doubts about the scientific value at all. Prof Walach, promoter of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and pseudoscientist of the year 2012, has in the past drawn our attention to his odd activities around COVID and vaccinations. Here are three recent posts on the subject:

In view of all this, I do wonder what the VCC is truly about.

It couldn’t be a front for issuing dodgy exemption certificates, could it?

Ovariohysterectomy (OH) is one of the most frequent elective surgical procedures in routine veterinary practice. The aim of this study was to evaluate analgesia with Arnica montana 30cH during the postoperative period after elective OH.

Thirty healthy female dogs, aged 1 to 3 years, weighing 7 to 14 kg, were selected at the Veterinary Hospital in Campo Mourão, Paraná, Brazil. The dogs underwent the surgical procedure with an anaesthetic protocol and analgesia that had the aim of maintaining the patient’s wellbeing. After the procedure, they were randomly divided into three groups of 10. One group received Arnica montana 30cH; another received 5% hydroalcoholic solution; and the third group, 0.9% NaCl saline solution. All animals received four drops of the respective solution sublingually and under blinded conditions, every 10 minutes for 1 hour, after the inhalational anaesthetic had been withdrawn. The Glasgow Composite Measure Pain Scale was used to analyse the effect of therapy. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) followed by the Tukey test was used to evaluate the test data. Statistical differences were deemed significant when p ≤0.05.

The results show that the Arnica montana 30cH group maintained analgesia on average for 17.8 ± 3.6 hours, whilst the hydroalcoholic solution group did so for 5.1 ± 1.2 hours and the saline solution group for 4.1 ± 0.9 hours (p ≤0.05).

The authors concluded that these data demonstrate that Arnica montana 30cH presented a more significant analgesic effect than the control groups, thus indicating its potential for postoperative analgesia in dogs undergoing OH.

I do not have access to the full article (I was fired by the late Peter Fisher from the editorial board of the journal ‘HOMEOPATHY’) which puts me in a somewhat difficult position:

  • not reporting this study could be construed as an anti-homeopathy bias,
  • and reporting it handicaps me as I cannot assess essential details.

So, if anyone has access, please send the full paper to me and I will then study it and revise this post accordingly.

Judging from the abstract, I have to say that the results seem far too good to be true. I doubt that any oral remedy can have the effect that is being described here – let alone one that has been diluted (sorry, potentised) at a rate of 1: 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000. That fact alone reduces the plausibility of the finding to zero.

At this stage, I do wonder who peer-reviewed the study and ask myself whether the rough data have been checked for reliability.

Long-COVID syndrome is a condition that will affect a large proportion of those who survived a COVID-19 infection. According to a recent meta-analysis, it is associated predominantly with poor quality of life, persistent symptoms including fatigue, dyspnea, anosmia, sleep disturbances, and mental health problems.

At present, we are still struggling to understand the exact causes and mechanisms of this condition. Therefore, its optimal treatment is as yet uncertain. Governments around the world have therefore made sizable research funds available to make progress in this area, and research in this area is frantically active.

Regardless of the evidence, practitioners and entrepreneurs of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) are gearing up to jump on this bandwagon by declaring that their offerings are a solution to this growing problem. Indeed, many of them have already done so. Here are just three sites that I found today which are promoting homeopathy for long COVID:

One hardly needs to mention that homeopathy is not supported by sound evidence in the management of long-Covid (or any other condition for that matter). Neither does one need to stress that homeopaths are just one example, and virtually all other SCAM providers are promoting their services in the absence of evidence.

A recent review of the literature stated this:

Patients with long COVID commonly refer to taking ‘the stack’ or ‘the supplement stack’, which includes high-dose vitamin C and D, niacin (nicotinic acid), quercetin, zinc, selenium, and sometimes also magnesium. Further research is needed to confirm or refute the impact of supplements in long COVID. Examples of noteworthy interactions with supplements include: niacin causing an increased risk of bleeding events when combined with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, increased risk of rhabdomyolysis together with statins, and quercetin causing inhibition and induction of various human cytochrome P450 enzymes.

Why then are SCAM providers promoting SCAM for long-COVID?

This is a daft question if there ever was one.

It seems obvious they do it because:

  • they are believers who don’t care about evidence,
  • they are in it for the money,
  • or both.

Some time ago, this homeopath already indicated, that SCAM providers should see COVID as an opportunity: For homeopathy, shunned during its 200 years of existence by conventional medicine, this outbreak is a key opportunity to show potentially the contribution it can make in treating COVID-19 patients. We should perhaps not hold our breath to see the emergence of convincing evidence, but we should be prepared to warn the public of getting exploited by charlatans who disregard both ethics and evidence.

The 13th European Congress for Integrative Medicine is about to take place online between 4 and 7 November 2021. It will host 125+ speakers presenting from around the world. The programme will cover the following topics.

Even looking at the more detailed list of lectures, I did not find a single contribution on conventional medicine (“Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with…” [see below]) or a lecture that is remotely critical of integrative medicine. The definition of INTEGRATED MEDICINE (IM) adopted here seems similar to the US definition we recently discussed. Here is the European definition:

Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with evidence-informed complementary medicine and therapies to achieve the optimum health and wellbeing of the patient. Focusing on a holistic, patient-centred approach to healthcare, it takes into consideration the patient’s physical and psychological wellbeing and treats the whole person rather than just the disease.

Allow me to do a quick analysis of this definition by looking at its key elements:

  • Evidence-informed: While proper medicine is BASED on evidence, IM is merely INFORMED by it. The difference is fundamental. It allows IM clinicians to use any un- or disproven so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) they can think of or invent. The evidence for homeopathy fails to show that it is effective? Never mind, IM does not need to be evidence-based, it is evidence-informed. IM physicians 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!
  • Therapies that achieve optimum health and wellbeing. This is odd because the website also states that “therapies can include anything from acupuncture, yoga, massage, aromatherapy, herbal medicine, nutrition, exercise along with many more approaches, tailored to the needs of the individual” indicating that virtually anything can be included. Anyway, “optimum health and wellbeing” seems a strange and unachievable criterion. In fact, it is nothing but a ‘bait and switch‘ salesmen’s trick.
  • Holistic: This is a little trick that IM proponents love. With it, they imply that normal medicine is not holistic. However, this implication is demonstrably 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 is grossly misleading and can only hinder this process.
  • Patient-centred: This is the same mean little trick in a different guise. They imply that conventional medicine is not patient-centred. Yet, all good medicine is, of course, patient-centred. To imply otherwise is just daft.
  • Consideration of the patient’s physical and psychological wellbeing and treating the whole person rather than just the disease: Same trick yet again! The implication is that physical and psychological wellbeing and the whole person are not all that relevant in conventional medicine where only disease labels are being treated.

Altogether, this definition of IM is unworthy of anyone with the slightest ability to think critically. I find it much worse than the latest US definition (which already is fairly awful). In fact, it turns out to be a poorly disguised bonanza of strawman fallacies combined with ‘bait and switch’ deception.

How can this be?

How can a professional organisation engage in such mean trickery?

Perhaps a look at the list of speakers will go some way towards answering the question. Have a good look, you might recognize many individuals as members of our ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME.

PS

Registration costs £ 249 (standard rate)

PPS

Perhaps I should also mention at least 4 of the many commercial sponsors of the conference:

  • Boiron
  • Helixor
  • Iscador
  • Weleda

 

 

The global market for dietary supplements has grown continuously during the past years. In 2019, it amounted to around US$ 353 billion. The pandemic led to a further significant boost in sales. Evidently, many consumers listened to the sly promotion by the supplement industry. Thus they began to be convinced that supplements might stimulate their immune system and thus protect them against COVID-19 infections.

During the pre-pandemic years, the US sales figures had typically increased by about 5% year on year. In 2020, the increase amounted to a staggering 44 % (US$435 million) during the six weeks preceding April 5th, 2020 relative to the same period in 2019. The demand for multivitamins in the US reached a peak in March 2020 when sales figures had risen by 51.2 %. Total sales of vitamins and other supplements amounted to almost 120 million units for that period alone. In the UK, vitamin sales increased by 63 % and, in France, sales grew by around 40–60 % in March 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year.

Vis a vis such impressive sales figures, one should ask whether dietary supplements really do produce the benefit that consumers hope for. More precisely, is there any sound evidence that these supplements protect us from getting infected by COVID-19? In an attempt to answer this question, I conducted several Medline searches. Here are the conclusions of the relevant clinical trials and systematic reviews that I thus found:

Confused?

Me too!

Does the evidence justify the boom in sales of dietary supplements?

More specifically, is there good evidence that the products the US supplement industry is selling protect us against COVID-19 infections?

No, I don’t think so.

So, what precisely is behind the recent sales boom?

It surely is the claim that supplements protect us from Covid-19 which is being promoted in many different ways by the industry. In other words, we are being taken for a (very expensive) ride.

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