The objective of this survey was to assess the prevalence and types of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) usage as well as the participants’ spirituality/religiousness in an outpatient department for endocrinology and metabolic diseases. All individuals visiting the outpatient department at a German university hospital from April to June 2009 were offered a standardized questionnaire on the use of dietary supplements and other SCAMs as well as their religiousness/spirituality. Demographic and clinical data of 428 respondents were taken from the electronic health record.
Of the respondents, 16.4% (n = 66) classified themselves to be religious/spiritual and 67.9% (n = 273) as not religious/spiritual. The results show that:
- 41.4% of the respondents used supplements and 27.4% additional therapies;
- the use of supplements and other SCAMs was more frequent in people with higher religiousness/spirituality (p = 0.005 and p = 0.01,resp.);
- there were no associations between religiousness/spirituality and the number of consultations, costs for drugs, appraisal of the physicians treatment methods, the perceived effectiveness of prescribed drugs, fear of late complications or of side effects.
The authors concluded that a higher religiousness/spirituality is associated with a more frequent use of supplements or additional therapies in individuals with endocrinopathies or metabolic diseases. As SCAM has been shown to be associated with worse outcome, addressing religiousness/spirituality which stresses the responsibility of the person for his life might offer an additional resource and should be further studied.
This survey has a dismal sample size and even worse response rate and must therefore be taken with more than a pinch of salt. Yet vaguely similar associations have been shown before. For instance, analysing data from the 1995-1996 National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (n=3032), researchers examined the correlations between four aspects of spirituality/religiousness-i.e., spiritual only, religious only, both spiritual and religious, and neither spiritual nor religious-and six measures of SCAM. Compared with spiritual only persons, the odds of using energy therapies were 86% lower for spiritual and religious persons, 65% lower for religious only persons, and 52% lower for neither spiritual nor religious persons. Compared to spiritual only persons, spiritual and religious individuals were 43% more likely to use body-mind therapies in general; however, when this category did not contain prayer, meditation, or spiritual healing, they were 44% less likely. Religious only individuals were disinclined toward SCAM use.
There might be considerable cultural and national differences, of course, but if it is true that religiousness/spirituality is associated with a more frequent use of SCAM, we ought to ask what the nature of the link between the two might be. There are, as far as I can see, three possibilities:
- religiousness/spirituality causes SCAM use;
- SCAM use causes religiousness/spirituality;
- the two are related via one or several other factors.
I see no reason why 1 or 2 should be true. More likely there is a common denominator. The obvious one might be that both religiousness/spirituality and SCAM use are somewhat irrational, more a matter of belief than evidence, and revealing a lack of scepticism or critical thinking. In this case, religiousness/spirituality and SCAM use would simply be two different expressions of the same frame of mind.
What do you think?
During the last few months, I have done little else on this blog than trying to expose misinformation about COVID-19 in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). However, the usefulness and accuracy of most viewed YouTube videos on COVID-19 have so far not been investigated. Canadian researchers have just published a very nice paper that fills this gap.
They performed a YouTube search on 21 March 2020 using keywords ‘coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’, and the top 75 viewed videos from each search were analysed. Videos that were duplicates, non-English, non-audio and non-visual, exceeding 1 hour in duration, live and unrelated to COVID-19 were excluded. Two reviewers coded the source, content and characteristics of included videos. The primary outcome was usability and reliability of videos, analysed using the novel COVID-19 Specific Score (CSS), modified DISCERN (mDISCERN) and modified JAMA (mJAMA) scores.
Of 150 videos screened, 69 (46%) were included, totalling 257 804 146 views. Nineteen (27.5%) videos contained non-factual information, totalling 62 042 609 views. Government and professional videos contained only factual information and had higher CSS than consumer videos (mean difference (MD) 2.21, 95% CI 0.10 to 4.32, p=0.037); mDISCERN scores than consumer videos (MD 2.46, 95% CI 0.50 to 4.42, p=0.008), internet news videos (MD 2.20, 95% CI 0.19 to 4.21, p=0.027) and entertainment news videos (MD 2.57, 95% CI 0.66 to 4.49, p=0.004); and mJAMA scores than entertainment news videos (MD 1.21, 95% CI 0.07 to 2.36, p=0.033) and consumer videos (MD 1.27, 95% CI 0.10 to 2.44, p=0.028). However, they only accounted for 11% of videos and 10% of views.
The authors concluded that over one-quarter of the most viewed YouTube videos on COVID-19 contained misleading information, reaching millions of viewers worldwide. As the current COVID-19 pandemic worsens, public health agencies must better use YouTube to deliver timely and accurate information and to minimise the spread of misinformation. This may play a significant role in successfully managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
I think this is an important contribution to our knowledge about the misinformation that currently bombards the public. It explains not only the proliferation of conspiracy theories related to the pandemic, but also the plethora of useless SCAM options that are being touted endangering the public.
The authors point out that the videos included statements consisting of conspiracy theories, non-factual information, inappropriate recommendations inconsistent with current official government and health agency guidelines and discriminating statements. This is particularly alarming, when considering the immense viewership of these videos. Evidently, while the power of social media lies in the sheer volume and diversity of information being generated and spread, it has significant potential for harm. The proliferation and spread of misinformation can exacerbate racism and fear and result in unconstructive and dangerous behaviour, such as toilet paper hoarding and mask stealing behaviours seen so far in the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, this misinformation impedes the delivery of accurate pandemic-related information, thus hindering efforts by public health officials and healthcare professionals to fight the pandemic.
I suggest to critically evaluate the statements of some UK and US politicians next.
As we have discussed repeatedly, chiropractors tend to be critical of vaccinations. This attitude is easily traced back to DD Palmer, the founding father of chiropractic, who famously wrote about smallpox vaccinations: ‘…the monstrous delusion … fastened on us by the medical profession, enforced by the state boards, and supported by the mass of unthinking people …’
In Canada, the anti-vaccination attitude of chiropractors has been the subject of recent media attention. Therefore, researchers explored the association between media attention and public dissemination of vaccination information on Canadian chiropractors’ websites.
In 2016, an international team of investigators identified all Canadian chiropractors’ websites that provided information on vaccination by extracting details from the regulatory college website for each province using the search engine on their “find a chiropractor” page. The researchers assessed the quality of information using the Web Resource Rating Tool (scores range from 0% [worst] to 100% [best]), determined whether vaccination was portrayed in a positive, neutral or negative manner, and conducted thematic analysis of vaccination content. Now the researchers have revisited all identified websites to explore the changes to posted vaccination material.
Here are their findings:
In July 2016, of 3733 chiropractic websites identified, 94 unique websites provided information on vaccination:
- 59 (63%) gave negative messaging,
- 19 (20%) were neutral,
- 16 (17%) were positive.
The quality of vaccination content on the websites was generally poor, with a median Web Resource Rating Tool score of 19%. Four main themes were identified:
- there are alternatives to vaccination,
- vaccines are harmful,
- evidence regarding vaccination,
- health policy regarding vaccination.
From 2012 to 2016, there was one single Canadian newspaper story concerning anti-vaccination statements by chiropractors, whereas 51 news articles were published on this topic between 2017 and 2019. In April 2019, 45 (48%) of the 94 websites originally identified in 2016 had removed all vaccination content or had been discontinued.
The authors of this investigation concluded that in 2016, a minority of Canadian chiropractors provided vaccination information on their websites, the majority of which portrayed vaccination negatively. After substantial national media attention, about half of all vaccination material on chiropractors’ websites was removed within several years.
I find these findings encouraging. They demonstrate that media attention can produce change for the better. That gives me the necessary enthusiasm to carry on my work in putting the finger on the dangers of chiropractic and other forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). At the same time, the findings of this investigation are also disappointing. About half of all the chiropractors had not removed their misleading content from their websites despite the 51 articles highlighting the problem. This shows, I think, how deeply entrenched this vitalistic nonsense is in the heads of many chiropractor.
This means there is still a lot to do – so, let’s get on with it!
Yes, you read this correctly: 2/3 of the German population revealed themselves to be stupid – at least this is what a survey sponsored by the German Association of Homeopathic Doctors seems to imply.
Hard to believe?
Well, read the press-release for yourself [and if you are not reading German, let me fill you in below]:
Fast zwei Drittel der Bevölkerung in Deutschland würde den Einsatz homöopathischer Arzneimittel zur Behandlung von Covid-19-Erkrankungen befürworten.
Das ist eines von mehreren Ergebnissen einer repräsentativen Umfrage des Instituts für Politik- und Sozialforschung forsa, durchgeführt im Auftrag des Deutschen Zentralvereins homöopathischer Ärzte.
Angst vor Covid-19. Interesse an homöopathischen Methoden.
Befragt wurden insgesamt 1009 Bundesbürger, unter anderem zum Grad ihrer Besorgnis vor einer Erkrankung an Covid-19, ihrem Interesse an Vorsorgemaßnahmen gegen eine Corona-Infektion zusätzlich zu besonderer Hygiene, ihrer Einstellung zu einer Behandlung von Covid-19 mit homöopathischen Arzneimitteln, sowie zur Befürwortung oder Ablehnung staatlicher finanzieller Förderung von Forschungsprojekten zu homöopathischen Vorsorge- und Behandlungsmethoden von Covid-19-Erkrankungen.
61% ziehen homöopathische Behandlung mindestens ernsthaft in Betracht
Mehr als die Hälfte aller Befragten hat bereits Erfahrung mit einer homöopathischen Behandlung bei früheren Erkrankungen gemacht. Noch mehr, nämlich fast zwei Drittel aller Befragten, würden unter der Voraussetzung, dass es in der Vergangenheit schon positive Erfahrungen mit diesem Mittel gab, im Fall einer Erkrankung an Covid-19 eine homöopathische Behandlung für sich selbst oder ihnen nahestehenden Personen auf jeden Fall (26 %) oder eher (34 %) befürworten
Homöopathie soll auch Gelder für Forschungsprojekte erhalten
Auch hinsichtlich der weiteren Erforschung von Methoden zur Vorbeugung gegen eine Infektion mit dem Corona-Virus und der Behandlung von Covid-19 fänden es viele Bürger (42 %) in Deutschland gut oder sehr gut- in der Altersgruppe über 45 Jahren sogar rund oder mehr als die Hälfte – dass staatliche Gelder nicht nur in Forschungsprojekte der konventionellen Medizin gesteckt werden, sondern dass auch Projekte der homöopathischen Medizin gezielt gefördert werden.
Here is the gist of the press-release for non-German speakers:
The German Association of Homeopathic Doctors paid an otherwise respectable agency to run a poll for them; not just any poll, but one that is robust enough to be representative of the entire German population (sample size of 1009!). The questions asked were about homeopathy in the present health crisis. The results show that:
- 61% would seriously consider using homeopathy,
- more than 50% have had positive experience with homeopathy during previous episodes of illness,
- more than 2/3 would consider homeopathy for a corona-virus infection, provided that there has been positive experience with this approach in the past,
- 42% of Germans would find it good or very good, if public funds would also be dedicated to research in homeopathy.
What does that tell us?
It tells us that the Germans are not that stupid after all: they would only consider homeopathy for a corona-virus infection, if there has been positive experience with this approach in the past. As such positive evidence is absent, they would not consider homeopathy!
The poll also tells us that surveys can be spun to generate the most idiotic findings provided the questions that are being asked are phrased in a sufficiently leading way. It moreover tells us that the German Association of Homeopathic Doctors seem to believe that Germans are stupid and do not realise that this survey is a despicable stunt for boosting their failing business. Finally, it tells us that the German Association of Homeopathic Doctors are behaving grossly unethical to promote homeopathy during this pandemic. There is not a jot of evidence that homeopathy might be effective and a lot of evidence to show that promoting useless treatments is dangerous.
Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) President, Assoc Professor Ken Harvey MB BS (Melb), FRCPA, AM congratulates Professor Jon Wardle, nurse and naturopath, with postgraduate qualifications in public health, law and health economics, on being appointed to Southern Cross University’s (SCU) Maurice Blackmore Chair of Naturopathic Medicine in Lismore. Professor Wardle has also been appointed as Foundation Director of the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) funded with $10 Million from the Blackmore Foundation set up to sponsor research into ‘complementary medicine’.
Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Shoemaker BA (Hons), PhD (ANU), researcher in Indigenous literature and culture, said the benefits of basing the NCNM at Southern Cross were enormous, “Being in a region like the Northern Rivers of New South Wales means we have brilliant local networks in this field. We are also supported by a local community who, like the University, are really receptive to trying new things in order to create a healthier future”.
Professor Harvey comments, “Professor Wardle certainly has challenges ahead. The Northern Rivers region is the anti-vax capital of Australia and some naturopaths advise against vaccination. Degree courses in naturopathy such as the Torrens Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) degree, include studies of homeopathy, iridology and flower essence therapy. None have scientific evidence of efficacy”.
FSM has long argued that health care should be based on scientifically sound research, published in peer-reviewed journals of accepted standing. FSM is equally concerned about medical practitioners offering unproven and often exploitative treatments as it is about complementary medicine practitioners. Professor Harvey said, “some naturopaths practicing in Lismore, associated with SCU, work at clinics that use unverified laboratory tests to make dubious diagnoses and recommend treatment programs that lack evidence of efficacy”.
Professor Harvey (and FSM) conclude that there is an urgent need for evidence-based science to be applied to naturopathy. They trust that Professor Wardle will emulate Professor Edzard Ernst, Foundation Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, by applying accepted scientific standards to the evaluation of naturopathic interventions.
The March 24 opening of the NCNM in Lismore will feature a panel discussion on the future of health care with guest speakers: Professor Kerryn Phelps AM, former President of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association, Marcus Blackmore AM, naturopath and Executive Director of Blackmores Ltd, which markets vitamin and herbal products, and Professor Jon Wardle. FSM hopes that the panel will discuss some of the issues raised above.
Sounds exciting, but is Wardle up to the job?
Judging from his publication record, he is certainly a naturopath through and through. He has published lots of papers; as far as I can see most of them are surveys of some sort or another. Many leave me somewhat bewildered. Two examples must suffice:
Objectives: To explore the recommendations of naturopathic medicine for the management of endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, and menorrhagia, drawing on traditional and contemporary sources.
Design: Content analysis.
Setting: Australia, Canada, and the United States of America (USA).
Subjects: Contemporary sources were identified from reviewing naturopathic higher education institutions’ recommended texts, while traditional sources were identified from libraries which hold collections of naturopathic sources. Sources were included if they were published from 1800 to 2016, were in English, published in Australia, Canada, or the USA, and reported on the topic. Included sources were as follows: 37 traditional texts; 47 contemporary texts; and 83 articles from naturopathic periodicals.
Results: Across included sources, the most reported disciplines were herbal medicine, clinical nutrition, mineral medicines, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, and chemical-based medicines. Herbal medicines were extensively reported from all sources for the management of endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, and menorrhagia. Clinical nutrition was only recommended from contemporary sources for all three conditions. Mineral medicines were mentioned in both traditional and contemporary sources, but were only recommended for dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia. There were limited recommendations for homeopathy and hydrotherapy treatments in all conditions across all sources. Chemical-based medicines were only mentioned for dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia, and recommendations ceased after 1922. Recommendations for endometriosis were not present in any of the traditional sources, across all reported disciplines.
Conclusions: The findings of this article provide insights into the documented historical and contemporary treatments within naturopathic medicine for endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, and menorrhagia. While philosophical principles remain the core of naturopathic practice, the therapeutic armamentarium appears to have changed over time, and a number of the original naturopathic treatments appear to have been retained as key elements of treatment for these conditions. Such insights into naturopathic treatments will be of particular interest to clinicians providing care to women, educators designing and delivering naturopathic training, and researchers conducting clinical and health service naturopathic research.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is an increasingly prevalent part of contemporary health care. Whilst there have been some attempts to understand the dynamics of CAM integration in the health care system from the perspective of conventional care providers and patients, little research has examined the view of CAM practitioners. This study aims to identify the experiences of integration within a conventional healthcare system as perceived by naturopaths. Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted using a purposeful sample of 20 practising naturopaths in South East Queensland, Australia to discuss their experiences and perceptions of integrating with conventional medical providers. Analysis of the interviews revealed five broad challenges for the integration of CAM according to naturopaths: competing paradigms between CAM and conventional medicine; co-option of CAM by conventional medical practitioners; the preservation of separate CAM and conventional medical worlds by patients and providers due to lack of formalised relations; negative feedback and biases created through selective or limited experience or information with CAM; and indifferent, reactive and one-sided interaction between CAM and conventional medical providers. Naturopaths support the integration of health services and attempt to provide safe and appropriate care to their patients through collaborative approaches to practice. The challenges identified by naturopaths associated with integration of CAM with conventional providers may impact the quality of care of patients who choose to integrate CAM and conventional approaches to health. Given the significant role of naturopaths in contemporary health-care systems, these challenges require further research and policy attention.
So, is Jon Wardle up to the job?
The answer obviously depends on what the job is.
If it is about publishing 100 more surveys that show nothing of much value and are essentially SCAM-promotion, then he ought to be fine. If it is about rigorously testing which SCAMs generate more good than harm, then ‘Houston, we have a problem’!
About 85% of German children are treated with herbal remedies. Yet, little is known about the effects of such interventions. A new study might tell us more.
This analysis accessed 2063 datasets from the paediatric population in the PhytoVIS data base, screening for information on indication, gender, treatment, co-medication and tolerability. The results suggest that the majority of patients was treated with herbal medicine for the following conditions:
- common cold,
- digestive complaints,
- skin diseases,
- sleep disturbances
The perceived effect of the therapy was rated in 84% of the patients as very good or good without adverse events.
The authors concluded that the results confirm the good clinical effects and safety of herbal medicinal products in this patient population and show that they are widely used in Germany.
If you are a fan of herbal medicine, you will be jubilant. If, on the other hand, you are a critical thinker or a responsible healthcare professional, you might wonder what this database is, why it was set up and how exactly these findings were produced. Here are some details:
The data were collected by means of a retrospective, anonymous, one-off survey consisting of 20 questions on the user’s experience with herbal remedies. The questions included complaints/ disease, information on drug use, concomitant factors/diseases as well as basic patient data. Trained interviewers performed the interviews in pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Data were collected in the Western Part of Germany between April 2014 and December 2016. The only inclusion criterion was the intake of herbal drugs in the last 8 weeks before the individual interview. The primary endpoint was the effect and tolerability of the products according to the user.
And who participated in this survey? If I understand it correctly, the survey is based on a convenience sample of parents using herbal remedies. This means that those parents who had a positive experience tended to volunteer, while those with a negative experience were absent or tended to refuse. (Thus the survey is not far from the scenario I often use where people in a hamburger restaurant are questioned whether they like hamburgers.)
So, there are two very obvious factors other than the effectiveness of herbal remedies determining the results:
- selection bias,
- lack of objective outcome measure.
This means that conclusions about the clinical effects of herbal remedies in paediatric patients are quite simply not possible on the basis of this survey. So, why do the authors nevertheless draw such conclusions (without a critical discussion of the limitations of their survey)?
Could it have something to do with the sponsor of the research?
The PhytoVIS study was funded by the Kooperation Phytopharmaka GbR Bonn, Germany.
Or could it have something to do with the affiliations of the paper’s authors:
1 Institute of Pharmacy, University of Leipzig, Brüderstr. 34, 04103, Leipzig, Germny. email@example.com.
2 Kooperation Phytopharmaka GbR, Plittersdorfer Str. 218, 573, Bonn, Germany. firstname.lastname@example.org.
3 Institute of Medical Statistics and Computational Biology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Cologne, Kerpener Str. 62, 50937, Cologne, Germany.
4 ClinNovis GmbH, Genter Str. 7, 50672, Cologne, Germany.
5 Bayer Consumer Health, Research & Development, Phytomedicines Supply and Development Center, Steigerwald Arzneimittelwerk GmbH, Havelstr. 5, 64295, Darmstadt, Germany.
6 Kooperation Phytopharmaka GbR, Plittersdorfer Str. 218, 53173, Bonn, Germany.
7 Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology, Goethe University Frankfurt, Max-von-Laue-Str. 9, 60438, Frankfurt, Germany.
8 Chair of Naturopathy, University Medicine Rostock, Ernst-Heydemann Str. 6, 18057, Rostock, Germany.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
There are no representative studies using a probability sample examining whether US physicians recommend so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) to their patients. This article fills a void in the current literature for robust data on recommendations for SCAMs by office-based physicians in the US.
Descriptive statistics and multivariable regression analyses of physician-level data were from the 2012 Physician Induction Interview of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS PII), a nationally representative survey of office-based physicians. Weighted response rate among eligible physicians sampled for the 2012 NAMCS PII was 59.7%.
Recommendations by physicians to their patients were recorded for any SCAM, and the following individual SCAMs: massage therapy, herbs/nonvitamin supplements, chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation, yoga, acupuncture, and mind–body therapies.
Massage therapy was the most commonly recommended SCAM (30.4%), followed by chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation (27.1%), herbs/nonvitamin supplements (26.5%), yoga (25.6%), and acupuncture (22.4%). The most commonly recommended SCAMs by general/family practice physicians were chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation (54.0%) and massage therapy (52.6%). Of all U.S. physicians, 53.1% recommended at least one SCAM to patients during the previous 12 months. Multivariable analyses found physician’s sex, race, specialty, and U.S. region to be significant predictors of SCAMrecommendations. Female physicians were more likely than male physicians to recommend massage therapy, herbs/nonvitamin supplements, yoga, acupuncture, and mind–body therapies to patients. Psychiatrists, OB/GYNs, and paediatricians were all less likely to recommend chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation than general and family practitioners.
The authors concluded that, overall, more than half of office-based physicians recommended at least one SCAM to their patients. Female physicians recommended every individual SCAM at a higher rate than male physicians except for chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation. These findings may enable consumers, physicians, and medical schools to better understand potential differences in use of SCAMs with patients.
Yes, I know!
Who cares what type of SCAMs US physicians recommended to their patients 7 years ago?
And who knows what the true figures would have looked like, if the ~40% who did not respond would have been included?
Such surveys usually tell us little of relevance. What is worse, they are misused for exploiting the ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy which hold that, if physicians recommend SCAMs, they must be fine. That this is a fallacy becomes obvious, if we remind ourselves that US physicians also are the main cause for the current opioid crisis in the US (if physicians recommend opioids, they must be fine???).
More importantly, I think, this survey also suggests the following:
- 73% of US physicians do NOT recommend chiropractic/osteopathic manipulations.
- 73% of them do NOT recommend herbal medicine.
- 74% of them do NOT recommend yoga.
- 77% of them do NOT recommend acupuncture.
I wonder why!
This survey investigated how many chiropractors in the Canadian province of Alberta promote a theory of subluxation, which health ailments or improvements were linked to subluxation, and whether the subluxation discourse was used to promote chiropractic for particular demographics.
Using the search engine on the Canadian Chiropractic Associations’ website, the researchers made a list of all clinics in Alberta. They then used Google searches to obtain a URL for each clinic with a website, totalling 324 URLs for 369 clinics. They then searched on each website for “subluxation” and performed content analysis on the related content.
One hundred twenty-one clinics’ websites (33%) presented a theory of vertebral subluxation. The ailments and improvements discussed in relation to subluxation were wide-ranging; they included the following:
- back pain,
- bed wetting
- blood pressure,
- ear infection,
- heart disease,
- hormonal imbalance,
- learning problems,
- menstrual cramps,
- Parkinson’s disease,
- problems with hearing,
- problems with vision,
- prostate cancer,
- respiratory disease,
- sleeping problems,
- spinal decay,
- sudden infant death syndrome,
- and many more.
The marketing of chiropractic for children was observed on 8% of the clinic websites.
The researchers concluded that, based on the controversy surrounding vertebral subluxation, the substantial number of clinic websites aligning their practice with vertebral subluxation should cause concern for regulatory bodies.
Why do so many chiropractors cling so tightly to the long obsolete concept of subluxation? The way I see it there are at least three reasons:
- If they abandoned subluxation, they would quickly become physiotherapists, only with a much reduced scope of practice.
- Using the subluxation myth avoids the need of the knowledge of any complicated pathophysiology.
- Subluxation is ever so good for business, as it renders chiropractic manipulation a cure all.
D. D. Palmer, the magnetic healer who invented chiropractic about 120 years ago, claimed that a vital energy, which he called the “innate”, controls all body functions. In the presence of “vertebral subluxation,” it cannot work adequately, he postulated. In other words, subluxations block the flow of the innate which, in turn, is the cause of all disease. Palmer therefore developed spinal manipulations to correct such subluxations and de-block the flow of the innate. Palmer defined chiropractic as a system of healing based on the premise that the body requires unobstructed flow through the nervous system of innate intelligence. This effectively makes the adjustment of subluxation a panacea.
To put it simply: subluxation is the carte blanche required for making unlimited bogus claims, while ripping off the public.
On this blog and elsewhere, I have repeatedly claimed that as early as 2002 I published data to show that UK homeopaths advise their patients against vaccinations.
So sorry, but this not entirely true!
The truth is that I had forgotten about this article published 1995 in the British Journal of General Practice. As it is quite short and reveals several interesting facts, allow me to provide it here in full:
Homoeopathic remedies are believed by doctors and patients to be almost totally safe. Is homoeopathic advice safe, for example on the subject of immunization? In order to answer this question, a questionnaire survey was undertaken in 1995 of all 45 homoeopaths listed in the Exeter ‘yellow pages’ business directory. A total of 23 replies (51%) were received, 10 from medically qualified and 13 from non-medically qualified homoeopaths.
The homoeopaths were asked to suggest which conditions they perceived as being most responsive to homoeopathy. The three most frequently cited conditions were allergies (suggested by 10 respondents), gynaecological problems (seven) and bowel problems (five). They were then asked to estimate the proportion of patients that were referred to them by orthodox doctors and the proportion that they referred to orthodox doctors. The mean estimated percentages were 1 % and 8%, respectively. The 23 respondents estimated that they spent a mean of 73 minutes on the first consultation.
The homoeopaths were asked whether they used or recommended orthodox immunization for children and whether they only used and recommended homoeopathic immunization. Seven of the 10 homoeopaths who were medically qualified recommended orthodox immunization but none of the 13 non-medically qualified homoeopaths did. One non-medically qualified homoeopath only used and recommended homoeopathic immunization.
Homoeopaths have been reported as being against orthodox immunization and advocating homoeopathic immunization for which no evidence of effectiveness exists. As yet there has been no attempt in the United Kingdom to monitor homoeopaths’ attitudes in this respect. The above findings imply that there may be a problem.
The British homoeopathic doctors’ organization (the Faculty of Homoeopathy) has distanced itself from the polemic of other homoeopaths against orthodox immunization, and editorials in the British Homoeopathic Journal call the abandonment of mass immunization ‘criminally irresponsible’ and ‘most unfortunate, in that it will be seen by most people as irresponsible and poorly based’.’ Homoeopathic remedies may be safe, but do all homoeopaths merit this attribute?
Yes indeed! These findings indicate that there may be a problem with non-medically trained homeopaths in the UK. It is good to see that now (24 years later) the NHS has taken note of it. At the same time, it is not at all good to see that non-medically trained homeopaths and their professional organisations have managed to remain in complete denial of it.
As reported, the Bavarian government has set aside almost half a million Euros for research to determine whether the over-use of antibiotics can be reduced by replacing them with homeopathic remedies. Homeopaths in and beyond Germany were delighted, of course, but many experts were bewildered (see also this or this, if you read German).
While the Bavarians are entering the planning stage of this research, I want to elaborate on the question what methodology might be employed for this task. As far as I can see, there are, depending on the precise research questions, various options.
IN VITRO TESTS OF HOMEOPATHICS
The most straight forward way to find out whether homeopathics are an alternative to antibiotics would be to screen them for antibiotic activity. For this, we would take all homeopathic remedies in several potencies that are commonly used, for instance D12 and C30, and add them to bacterial cultures. To cover even part of the range of homeopathic remedies, several thousand such tests would be required. The remedies that show activity in vitro would then be candidates for further clinical tests.
I doubt that this will generate meaningful findings. As homeopaths would probably point out quickly, they never claimed that their remedies have any antibiotic effects. Homeopathics work not via pharmacological mechanisms (there is none), they stimulate the vital force, the immune system, or whatever mystical force you fancy. Faced with the inevitably negative results of in vitro tests, homeopaths would merely shrug their shoulders and say: ‘we told you so’.
Thus it might be more constructive to go directly into animal models. Such tests could take several shapes and forms. For instance, scientists could infect animals with a bacterium and subsequently treat one group with a high potency homeopathic remedy and the control group with a placebo. If the homeopathic animals survive, while the controls die, the homeopathic treatment was effective.
Such concepts would run into problems on at least two levels. Firstly, any ethics committee worth its name would refuse to pass such a protocol and argue that it is not ethical to infect and then treat animals with two different types of placebo. Secondly, the homeopathic fraternity would explain that homeopathy must be individualised which cannot be done properly in animals. Faced with the inevitably negative results of such animal studies, homeopaths would merely shrug their shoulders and say: ‘we told you so’.
Homeopathy may, according to some homeopaths, defy in vitro and animal tests, but it is most certainly amenable to being tested in clinical trials. The simplest version of a clinical study would entail randomising a group of patients with bacterial infections – say pneumonia – into receiving either individualised homeopathy or placebo. Possibly, one could add a third group of patients being treated with appropriate antibiotics.
The problem here would again be the ethics; no proper ethic committee would pass such a concept (see above). Another problem might be that even the homeopathic fraternity would oppose such a study. Why? Because all but the most deluded homeopaths know only too well that the result of such a trial would be devastatingly negative for homeopathy.
Therefore, homeopaths are likely to go for a different study design, for instance, one where patients suspected to have a bacterial infection are randomised to two groups of GPs. One group of ‘normal’ GPs would proceed as usual, while the other group are also trained in homeopathy and would be free to give whatever they feel is right for each individual patient. With a bit of luck, the ‘normal’ GPs would over-prescribe antibiotics (because that’s what they are apparently doing routinely), while the homeopathic GPs would often use homeopathics instead.
Such a study would indeed generate a result alleging that the use of homeopathy reduces the use of antibiotics. Of course, to be truly ‘positive’ it would need to exclude any clinical outcome such as time to recovery, because that might not be in favour of homeopathy.
The problem might again be the ethics committee. Assuming they are scientifically switched on, they will see through the futility of a trial designed to produce the desired result. They might also argue that science is not for testing one faulty approach (over-prescribing) against another (homeopathy) and insist that science is about finding the best treatment (which is neither of the two).
There are, of course, many other study designs that could be considered. Generally, they fall into two different categories: if they are rigorous tests of a hypothesis, they are sure to produce a result unfavourable to homeopathy. Such studies will therefore be opposed to by the powerful homeopathic fraternity. If, however, studies are flimsily designed to generate a positive finding, they might be liked by homeopaths, yet rejected by scientists and ethicists.
A much easier solution to the question ‘does the use of homeopathy reduce the use of antibiotics’ might be to not do a trial at all, but to run a simple survey. For instance, one could retrospectively assess how many antibiotics 100 homeopathic GPs have prescribed during the last year and compare this to the figure of 100 over-prescribing, ‘normal’ GPs. This type of ‘research’ is a sure winner for the homeopaths. Therefore, I predict that they will advocate this or a similarly flawed concept.
Most politicians are scientifically illiterate to such a degree that they might actually agree to finance such a survey and then confuse correlation with causation by triumphantly stating that the use of homeopathy reduces over-prescribing of antibiotics. Few, I fear, will realise that there is only one method for reducing the over-prescribing of antibiotics: remind doctors what they all learnt in medical school, namely to prescribe antibiotics only in cases where they are indicated. And for that we evidently need no homeopathy or other SCAM.