There are many proponents of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) who advocate the use of high-dose vitamin D for the prevention or treatment of corona-virus infections. Considering that ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected with Covid-19 further research seems justified, especially as there is clear evidence that vitamin D deficiency is particularly common in these ethnic groups.
However, an international team of experts strongly caution against doses higher than the upper limit (4000 IU/day; 100 µg/day); and certainly of very high doses of vitamin D (in some reports, 10 000 IU/day (250 µg/day) of vitamin D are being promoted) unless under personal medical advice/clinical advice by a qualified health professional. Instead, they advocate the following lifestyle strategies for avoiding vitamin D deficiency and ensuring a healthy, balanced diet.
- Supplementation with vitamin D according to Government guidelines (eg, 400 IU/day (10 µg/day) for the UK;7 600 IU/day (15 µg/day) for the USA (800 IU/day (20 µg/day) for >70 years) and Europe. These recommendations were established to ensure that 25OHD concentrations in the majority of the population are above 25 nmol/L (UK) in order to protect musculoskeletal health or above 30 nmol/L (USA) to minimise the risk of vitamin D deficiency (the USA recommendation was also established to optimise musculoskeletal health in the population using a 25OHD concentration of 50 nmol/L). Supplementation with vitamin D is particularly important during times of self-isolation associated with limited sunlight exposure. This is in line with the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommendations for vitamin D, and the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations for vitamin D, both of which were established under the assumption of minimal exposure to sunlight. Thus, re-emphasis of advice on safe sun exposure (below) and reinforcing government advice on supplements especially when sunlight exposure is low would further boost vitamin D status. The UK SACN, US IOM and EU European Food Safety Agency recommend that vitamin D intake (total from both foods and dietary supplements) should be limited to 4000 IU/day (100 µg/day) for adults, and there is broad international consensus that the general public should avoid higher dose supplements that risk total intake from all sources exceeding this level.
- Consumption of a nutritionally balanced diet, for example, according to the UK Eatwell Guide and US Food Pyramid including vitamin D rich foods, that is, oily fish, red meat, egg yolk and fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals in the UK, as well as fortified milk in the USA and Canada.
- Safe sunlight exposure to boost vitamin D status. Safe sunlight exposure will enable vitamin D production in skin from March through September in the UK, and at most northern latitudes. Dermal synthesis of vitamin D is most efficient with short, regular (daily) exposures when the sun is at its strongest (in the middle of the day). The efficiency of vitamin D synthesis declines well before the threshold for sunburn is reached but the desirable dose is skin-type dependent and so exposure times required differ for different skin types. For the UK about 10 min of exposure at around lunchtime, in-season appropriate clothing, can meet vitamin D needs for white-skinned people; this increases to about 25 min for those of skin type V (ie, South Asian, brown skin tones). What is key is to try to achieve the sunlight exposure without leaving home (eg, in the garden/balcony); and if that is not possible ensure that social distancing is maintained at all times. Increasing the unprotected skin area (skin not protected by clothing or sunscreen) will increase the vitamin D supply from skin while keeping exposure times short and sub-erythemal. Exposing as much skin as temperature and social comfort allow will maximise vitamin D supply through this route. For those of skin type V and VI (brown or black skin) the exposure requirements in UK sunlight are more challenging to achieve than for white-skinned people and oral vitamin D intake is especially important.
- Appropriate diet and lifestyle measures, as emphasised by the WHO at this time, including adequate nutrition to protect the immune system.
- Targeted nutritional advice, for example, for UK Military personnel as advised by the Defence Nutrition Advisory Service, with specific reference to COVID-19.
- Vitamin D—advice for bone health. The Royal Osteoporosis Society provides specific guidelines on the management of vitamin D deficiency in adults with, or at risk of developing, bone disease.
In conclusion, the experts recommend appropriate RCTs to evaluate the effects of vitamin D supplementation on COVID-19 infections. Until there is more robust scientific evidence for vitamin D, they strongly caution against the use of high vitamin D supplementation (greater than the upper limit of 4000 IU/day (100 µg/day)). Rather, they strongly endorse avoidance of vitamin D deficiency in the population (as per the six points above) and complete adherence to government’s advice worldwide on the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.
I am sure that this will not stop self-appointed SCAM-experts to continue recommending mega-doses of vitamin D. Therefore it is perhaps worth reminding consumers that an excess of vitamin D will lead to a condition called hypervitaminosis D. It is characterised by the following symptoms:
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Excessive thirst
- High blood pressure
- Passing large amounts of urine
It can lead to serious complication, including permanent kidney damage.
The researchers identified the top 100 best-selling books and assessed for both the claims they make in their summaries and the credentials of the authors. Weight loss was a common theme in the summaries of nutritional best-selling books. In addition to weight loss, 31 of the books promised to cure or prevent a host of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia.
The nutritional advice given to achieve these outcomes varied widely in terms of which types of foods should be consumed or avoided and this information was often contradictory between books. Recommendations regarding the consumption of carbohydrates, dairy, proteins, and fat in particular differed greatly between books.
To determine the qualifications of each author in making nutritional claims, the highest earned degree and listed occupations of each author was researched and analyzed. Out of 83 unique authors, 33 had an M.D. or Ph.D degree. Twenty-eight of the authors were physicians, three were dietitians, and other authors held a wide range of jobs, including personal trainers, bloggers, and actors. Of 20 authors who had or claimed university affiliations, seven had a current university appointment that could be verified online in university directories.
The authors concluded that this study illuminates the range of the incongruous information being dispersed to the public and emphasizes the need for future efforts to improve the dissemination of sound nutritional advice.
The authors also provide a ‘sample of claims that appear disputable and/or unsubstantiated according to our expertize and opinion’:
1. “Carbs are destroying your brain”—Grain Brain
2. “Have high blood pressure? Hibiscus tea can work better than a leading hypertensive drug-and without the side effects. Fighting off liver disease? Drinking coffee can reduce liver inflammation. Battling breast cancer? Consuming soy is associated with prolonged survival.”—How Not to Die
3. “Zero Belly diet attacks fat on a genetic level, placing a bull’s-eye on the fat cells that matter most: visceral fat, the type of fat ensconced in your belly.”—Zero Belly Diet
4. “SKIP THE CRUNCHES: They just build muscle under the fat…LESS (EXERCISE) IS MORE”—This Is Why You’re Fat (And How to Get Thin Forever)
5. “Eating pasta, bread, potato, and pizza will actually make you happier, healthier, and thinner—for good”—The Carb Lovers Diet
6. “Skip breakfast, stop counting calories, eat high levels of healthy saturated fat, work out and sleep less, and add smart supplements”—The Bulletproof Diet
7. “Modern “improvements” to our food supply—including refrigeration, sanitation, and modified grains—have damaged our intestinal health. Dr. Axe offers simple ways to get these needed microbes, from incorporating local honey and bee pollen into your diet to forgoing hand sanitizers and even ingesting a little probiotic-rich soil”—Eat Dirt
8. “Overeating doesn’t make you fat; the process of getting fat makes you overeat.”—Always Hungry?
9. “Do you have an overall sense of not feeling your best, but it has been going on so long it’s actually normal to you? You may have an autoimmune disease, and this book is the “medicine” you need.”—The Immune System Recovery Plan
10. “Shows you how to grow new receptors for your seven metabolic hormones, making you lose weight and feel great fast!”—The Hormone Reset Diet
11. “The world’s foremost expert on the therapeutic use of culinary spices, takes an in-depth look at 50 different spices and their curative qualities, and offers spice “prescriptions”–categorized by health condition–to match the right spice to a specific ailment.”—Healing Spices
12. “The idea that people simply eat too much is no longer supported by science”—The Adrenal Reset Diet
13. “Most of us think God is not concerned with what we eat, but the Bible actually offers great insight and instruction about the effects of food on our bodies”—Let Food Be Your Medicine
14. “Dieters can actually lose weight by eating foods, nutrients, teas, and spices that change the chemical balance of the brain for permanent weight loss—a major factor contributing to how quickly the body ages. In fact, everyone can take years off their age by changing their brain chemistry.”—Younger (Thinner) You Diet
15. “Weight gain is not about the food, but about the body’s environment. Excess weight is a result of the body being in a toxic, inflammatory state. If your body is not prepared or ‘primed’ for weight loss, you will fight an uphill biochemical battle”—The Prime
16. “Throwing ice cubes in your water to make it more “structured”. Skipping breakfast, as it could be making you fat. Eating up to 75 percent of your calories each day in fat for optimal health, reduction of heart disease, and cancer prevention”—Effortless Healing
To call these statements ‘disputable’ must be the understatement of the year!
I have long been concerned about the dangerous rubbish published in so-called ‘self-help books’. In 1998, we assessed for the first time the quality of books on so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) [Int J Risk Safety Med 1998, 11: 209-215. [for some reason, this article is not Medline-listed]. We chose a random sample of 6 such books all published in 1997, and we assessed their contents according to pre-defined criteria. The findings were sobering: the advice given in these volumes was frequently misleading, not based on good evidence and often inaccurate. If followed, it would have caused significant harm to patients.
In 2006, we conducted a similar investigation the results of which we reported in the first and second editions of our book THE DESKTOP GUIDE TO COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE. This time, we selected 7 best-sellers in SCAM and scrutinised them in much the same way. We found that almost every treatment seemed to be recommended for almost every condition. There was no agreement between the different books which therapy might be effective for which condition. Some treatments were even named as indications for a certain condition, while, in other books, they were listed as contra-indications for the same problem. A bewildering plethora of treatments was recommended for most conditions, for instance:
- addictions: 120 different treatments
- arthritis: 131 different treatments
- asthma: 119 different treatments
- cancer: 133 different treatments
This experience, which we published as a chapter in the above-mentioned book entitled AN EPITAPH TO OPINION-BASED MEDICINE, confirmed our suspicion that books on SCAM are a major contributor to the misinformation in this area.
The new paper by Ioannidis et al adds substantially to all this. It shows that the problem is wide-spread and has not gone away. Since such books have a huge readership, they are a danger to public health. Now that the problem has been identified and confirmed, it is high time, I think, that we do something about it … but I wish I knew what.
Lynne McTaggart and Bryan Hubbard, editors of What Doctors Don’t Tell You and Get Well magazines, are pleased to announce a series of four FREE weekly webinars, via Zoom, starting Thursday, April 2 designed to maximize your health and wellness in every way during these challenging times.
In these free hour-long sessions, Lynne and Bryan will interview a number of pioneering doctors and specialists, who will give you detailed advice about natural substances that kill viruses, the best supplements, foods and exercises to boost your immune system, and the best techniques to stay calm and centered during these challenging times.
Sign up to be sent the link for the live webinar where you can have the ability to ask your questions to these pioneers, get access to the recording of the webinars and receive a handout of helpful relevant tips to that webinar.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
9 am PDST/12pm EDST/5 pm BST/6 pm CSTThis webinar will feature the best substances and supplements proven to prevent the spread of viruses. Joining Lynne and Bryan are noted pioneer Dr. Damien Downing, president of the Society for Environmental Medicine, who was part of a team of orthomolecular doctors who devised a special supplement preventative against the coronavirus; Dr. Sarah Myhill, a British integrative doctor noted expert on vitamin C and other natural virus killers; and Dr. Robert Verkerk PhD, the founder and president of the Alliance for Natural Health and an expert on food and health.
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’!
Yesterday morning, I was listening to the Today Programme on BBC 4 when a man called Matt Adams was given airtime to explain and promote his ‘bionutrient reader’. What he said sounded like pure quackery – but this is quackery outside my area of expertise. Therefore, I looked it up; here is what the website tells us (apart from the fact that, for ~ US$ 400, you can buy the device):
The bionutrient meter is actually, in many ways, a shockingly simple device. It has lights (LEDs – light emitting diodes) that emit light at very specific wavelengths (fancy sciency word for colors), which then bounce off objects (like carrots, or carrot pulp, or spinach, or soil), while some of it is absorbed (turned into other forms of energy like heat) by the object, and then a light sensor in the device reads how much light bounces back (for each wavelength, multiple times, very quickly).
Why this matters (light bouncing off) is because this is actually a characteristic of objects that is directly correlated to the chemical compounds that the object is made of. So in the case of food, there are known correlations between light reflectance, at specific wavelengths, and the amount of different nutrients found in that food (vitamins, antioxidants, and aromatic compounds [things that smell, and also usually contribute to taste and health-giving attributes of food], to name a few). What makes this extra complicated though, is that these light-bouncing characteristics and compounds “overlap” with each other – so we need to look at lots of data to try to parse out what is causing the response we’re seeing.
To me, this does look suspiciously close to quackery to me.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
At the heart of this story is Joseph Mercola, a dietary supplement entrepreneur and osteopath.
His website states that:
EVERYONE can benefit from Dr Mercola’s unparalleled knowledge. For expertise in alternative healthcare and high quality supplemental medicine, it’s hard to beat visionary Dr Joseph Mercola. The Chicago-based health wizard has his own website, Mercola.com (‘Take Control of Your Health’), but you can find so many of his health support products right here at Evolution Organics. Our customers swear by them. They love the diversity of the range, and that the products are priced affordably, meaning that everyone can benefit from Dr Mercola’s vast experience and unmatched know-how. And it’s not just men, women and children who can feel better ‘the Dr Mercola way’ – his brand includes health support products for pets, too.
However, an article in the Washington Post tells a different story; allow me to quote a few excerpts:
The National Vaccine Information Center was founded in 1982 by Barbara Loe Fisher, who has said that her son was injured by a vaccine. The group claimed credit this year for helping to defeat legislation in a dozen states that would have made it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. At the beginning of last year’s flu season, Fisher and Mercola appeared in a YouTube video urging people to be skeptical about flu shots. Mercola claimed that vaccines have been associated with “deaths and permanent neurological complications,” and he said vitamin D supplements were among “far more effective, less expensive and less risky alternatives.” … Fisher said in an interview that Mercola has asked for nothing in exchange for his donations and that the National Vaccine Information Center does not sell or advertise Mercola’s products on its site. “I do not take funding for a quid pro quo,” she said. “When [Mercola] called me, he said, ‘I admire your work. I’d like to help you.’ ” The center’s homepage, which the group says was visited more than 1.2 million times last year, displays Mercola.com’s logo. An affiliated website run by Fisher’s group refers numerous times to Mercola.com as one of the most popular health and wellness websites…
In recent years, the center has been at the forefront of a movement that has led some parents to forgo or delay immunizing their children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles… The Northern Virginia-based National Vaccine Information Center lists Mercola.com as a partner on its homepage and links to the website, where readers can learn about and purchase Mercola’s merchandise…Asked if his companies benefit from his donations to the anti-vaccine group, Mercola said in an email that “being an adversary to powerful industries is not a positive for a business like mine.” …
On this blog, I have repeatedly warned that many so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) practitioners recommend against vaccinations. Specifically implicated are:
- Physicians practising integrative medicine
- Doctors of anthroposophical medicine
We knew about the ‘ideology’ and the misinformation pushing SCAM-related anti-vaccination sentiments. The article in the Washington Post is a stark reminder of the financial interests behind all this. As a result, SCAM-use is associated with low vaccination-uptake (as we have discussed ad nauseam – see for instance here, here, here and here). Anyone who needs more information will find it by searching this blog. Anyone claiming that this is all my exaggeration might look at papers which have nothing to do with me (there are plenty more for those who are willing to conduct a Medline search):
- Lehrke P, Nuebling M, Hofmann F, Stoessel U. Attitudes of homeopathic physicians towards vaccination. Vaccine. 2001;19:4859–4864. doi: 10.1016/S0264-410X(01)00180-3. [PubMed]
- Halper J, Berger LR. Naturopaths and childhood immunizations: Heterodoxy among the unorthodox. Pediatrics. 1981;68:407–410. [PubMed]
- Colley F, Haas M. Attitudes on immunization: A survey of American chiropractors. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 1994;17:584–590. [PubMed]
I am sure this press-release of today will be of interest:
Good Thinking, a charity which aims to promote science and challenge pseudoscience, is bringing the action after the PSA acknowledged that multiple members of the Society of Homeopaths continue to offer CEASE therapy – a purported treatment for autism which is targeted particularly at children and which relies on the false notion that autism is caused by vaccination, and can be cured with homeopathic treatments, high-dosage Vitamin C, and dietary restriction.
The PSA has acknowledged that CEASE therapy is potentially harmful and conflicts with the advice of the NHS in several respects, including with regard to the childhood vaccinations for potentially life-threatening conditions. Nevertheless, the PSA decided on April 1st to approve the Society of Homeopaths’ accreditation for a further year.
Michael Marshall, Project Director of Good Thinking, said: “By being part of the PSA’s Accredited Voluntary Register scheme, the Society of Homeopaths and its members – including those who practice CEASE therapy – can point to the PSA’s logo on their websites and marketing materials as a sign that they are competent, trustworthy and safe. But that badge, and the credibility and legitimacy it confers, only carries any meaning if the PSA takes seriously their duty to protect the public from harmful practices.
“For the PSA to acknowledge that members of the Society of Homeopaths are offering a treatment that the PSA themselves recognise as harmful, and which is targeted at a particularly vulnerable group, and to then reaccredit them all the same makes a mockery of the PSA’s whole accreditation scheme. For PSA accreditation to mean anything at all, the public needs to be confident that when the PSA identify potentially harmful therapies, they take the necessary steps to protect the public, rather than accepting it and, effectively, endorsing it”.
The Society of Homeopaths has been part of the PSA’s Accredited Voluntary Register scheme since 2014. The PSA’s decision to accredit the Society of Homeopaths and its subsequent decisions to re-accredit have been the subject of criticism from both autism rights campaigners and those who support evidence-based medicine.
Marshall said: “The PSA encourage members of the public to choose healthcare practitioners which belong to one of its accredited registers, and even have a tool on their site to find accredited practitioners. That advice is fundamentally undermined by the fact that a patient could, via the PSA’s list of accredited practitioners, find themselves consulting with a homeopath who discourages vaccination and believes they can cure children of autism.”
Good Thinking’s action has drawn support from autism campaigners, such as Emma Dalmayne: “We as autistic people, are bombarded with the discriminatory rhetoric that we are in need of a cure. CEASE is not a cure for our neurological difference, and it is proven to be extremely harmful. The PSA should not endorse the Society of Homeopaths while their members offer this harmful therapy. The Society of
Homeopaths are at present allowing their members to mislead the public, which in turn puts vulnerable autistic children in harm’s way.”
If Good Thinking’s Judicial Review is successful, the PSA will likely be required to revisit their decision to reaccredit the Society of Homeopaths, this time paying proper regard to the need to protect the public and in particular autistic children who are the main targets for CEASE therapy.
As a small charity, Good Thinking have appealed for support in funding their Judicial Review, and are urging supporters to contribute to their crowdfunding campaign, at crowdjustice.com/case/gts-cease-psa/.
· Simon Singh, Science Writer and Chair of Good Thinking: “Only this week we saw Prince Charles become a patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy. We have become accustomed to Prince Charles endorsing dangerous quackery, but we expect more of the PSA. The credibility of the PSA is at stake when it allows the Society of Homeopaths to retain accredited status despite their members offering this clearly harmful therapy.”
· Laura Thomason, Project Manager, Good Thinking: “Since 2017 we have raised concerns with the PSA about Society of Homeopaths members practicing CEASE therapy, and how we felt the actions they took to protect the public were wholly inadequate. We were therefore shocked and dismayed to see the PSA reaccredit the Society of Homeopaths, and believe their decision to do so, in the absence of any real sign from the Society that they are taking the protection of autistic children seriously, to be unlawful.”
· Professor Edzard Ernst: “According to the ‘like cures like’ principle of homeopathy, Dr Tinus Smits, the Dutch homeopath who invented CEASE, claimed that autism must be cured by applying homeopathic doses of the substances which allegedly caused the condition. CEASE therapists thus ‘detoxify’ all assumed causative factors – vaccines, regular medication, environmental toxic exposures, effects of illness, etc. – with homeopathically prepared substances that were administered prior to the onset of autism. The assumptions of CEASE therapy fly in the face of science. There is also no clinical evidence that CEASE therapy is effective in curing autism or alleviating its symptoms. By misleading desperate parents that CEASE therapy works, homeopaths can do untold harm.”
Exactly 20 years ago, I published a review concluding that the generally high and possibly growing prevalence of complementary/alternative medicine use by children renders this topic an important candidate for rigorous investigation. Since then, many papers have emerged, and most of them are worrying in one way or another. Here is the latest one.
This Canadian survey assessed chiropractic (DC) and naturopathic doctors’ (ND) natural health product (NHP) recommendations for paediatric care. It was developed in collaboration with DC and ND educators, and delivered as an on-line national survey. NHP dose, form of delivery, and indications across paediatric age ranges (from newborn to 16 years) for each practitioner’s top five NHPs were assessed. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics, t-tests, and non-parametric tests.
Of the 421 respondents seeing one or more paediatric patients per week, 172 (41%, 107 DCs, 65 NDs) provided 440 NHP recommendations, categorized as:
- vitamins and minerals (89 practitioners, 127 recommendations),
- probiotics (110 practitioners, 110 recommendations),
- essential fatty acids (EFAs: 72 practitioners, 72 recommendations),
- homeopathics (56 practitioners, 66 recommendations),
- botanicals (29 practitioners, 31 recommendations),
- other NHPs (33 practitioners, 34 recommendations).
Indications for the NHP recommendations were tabulated for NHPs with 10 or more recommendations in any age category:
- 596 total indications for probiotics,
- 318 indications for essential fatty acids,
- 138 indications for vitamin D,
- 71 indications for multi-vitamins.
Good evidence regarding the efficacy, safety, and dosing for NHP use in children is scarce or even absent. Therefore, the finding that so many DCs and NDs recommend unproven NHPs for use in children is worrying, to say the least. It seems to indicate that, at least in Canada, DCs and NDs are peddling unproven, mostly useless and potentially harmful children.
In an earlier, similar survey the same group of researchers had disclosed that the majority of Canadian DCs and NDs seem to see infants, children, and youth for a variety of health conditions and issues, while, according to their own admission, not having adequate paediatric training.
Is this a Canadian phenomenon? If you think so, read this abstract:
This systematic review is aimed at estimating the prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)-use by paediatric populations in the United Kingdom (UK).
AMED, CINAHL, COCHRANE, EMBASE and MEDLINE were searched for English language peer-reviewed surveys published between 01 January 2000 and September 2011. Additionally, relevant book chapters and our own departmental files were searched manually.
Eleven surveys were included with a total of 17,631 paediatric patients. The majority were of poor methodological quality. Due to significant heterogeneity of the data, a formal meta-analysis was deemed inappropriate. Ten surveys related to CAM in general, while one was specifically on homeopathy. Across all surveys on CAM in general, the average one-year prevalence rate was 34% and the average lifetime prevalence was 42%. In surveys with a sample size of more than 500, the prevalence rates were considerably lower than in surveys with the sample size of lower than 500. Herbal medicine was the most popular CAM modality, followed by homeopathy and aromatherapy.
Many paediatric patients in the UK seem to use CAM. Paediatricians should therefore have sufficient knowledge about CAM to issue responsible advice.
This means, I fear, that children are regularly treated by SCAM practitioners who are devoid of the medical competence to do so, and who prescribe or recommend treatments of unknown value, usually without the children needing them.
Why are regulators not more concerned about this obvious abuse?
“Most of the supplement market is bogus,” Paul Clayton*, a nutritional scientist, told the Observer. “It’s not a good model when you have businesses selling products they don’t understand and cannot be proven to be effective in clinical trials. It has encouraged the development of a lot of products that have no other value than placebo – not to knock placebo, but I want more than hype and hope.” So, Dr Clayton took a job advising Lyma, a product which is currently being promoted as “the world’s first super supplement” at £199 for a one-month’s supply.
Lyma is a dietary supplement that contains a multitude of ingredients all of which are well known and available in many other supplements costing only a fraction of Lyma. The ingredients include:
- vitamin D3.
Apparently, these ingredients are manufactured in special (and patented) ways to optimise their bioavailabity. According to the website, the ingredients of LYMA have all been clinically trialled with proven efficacy at levels provided within the LYMA supplement… Unless the ingredient has been clinically trialled, and peer reviewed there may be limited (if any) benefit to the body. LYMA’s revolutionary formulation is the most advanced and proven super supplement in the world, bringing together eight outstanding ingredients – seven of which are patented – to support health, wellbeing and beauty. Each ingredient has been selected for its efficacy, purity, quality, bioavailability, stability and ultimately, on the results of clinical studies.
The therapeutic claims made for the product are numerous:
- it will improve your hair, skin and nails (80% improvement in skin smoothness, 30% increase in skin moisture, 17% increase in skin elasticity, 12% reduction in wrinkle depth, 47% increase in hair strength & 35% decrease in hair loss)
- it will support energy levels in both the body and the brain (increase in brain membrane turnover by 26% and increase brain energy by 14%),
- it will improve cognitive function,
- it will enhance endurance (cardiorespiratory endurance increased by 13% compared to a placebo),
- it will improve quality of life,
- it will improve sleep (reducing insomnia by 70%),
- it will improve immunity,
- it will reduce inflammation,
- it will improve your memory,
- it will improve osteoporosis (reduce risk of osteoporosis by 37%).
These claims are backed up by 197 clinical trials, we are being told.
If true, this would be truly sensational – but is it true?
I asked the Lyma firm for the 197 original studies, and they very kindly sent me dozens papers which all referred to the single ingredients listed above. I emailed again and asked whether there are any studies of Lyma with all its ingredients in one supplement. Then I was told that they are ‘looking into a trial on the final Lyma formula‘.
I take this to mean that not a single trial of Lyma has been conducted. In this case, how do we be sure the mixture works? How can we know that the 197 studies have not been cherry-picked? How can we be sure that there are no interactions between the active constituents?
The response from Lyma quoted the above-mentioned Dr Paul Clayton stating this: “In regard to LYMA, clinical trials at this stage are not necessary. The whole point of LYMA is that each ingredient has already been extensively trialled, and validated. They have selected the best of the best ingredients, and amalgamated them; to enable consumers to take them all in a convenient format. You can quite easily go out and purchase all the ingredients separately. They aren’t easy to find, and it would mean swallowing up to 12 tablets and capsules a day; but the choice is always yours.”
It’s kind, to leave the choice to us, rather than forcing us to spend £199 each month on the world’s first super-supplement. Very kind indeed!
Having the choice, I might think again.
I might even assemble the world’s maximally evidence-based, extra super-supplement myself, one that is supported by many more than 197 peer-reviewed papers. To not directly compete with Lyma, I could use entirely different ingredients. Perhaps I should take the following five:
- Vitamin C (it has over 61 000 Medline listed articles to its name),
- Vitanin E (it has over 42 000 Medline listed articles to its name),
- Collagen (it has over 210 000 Medline listed articles to its name),
- Coffee (it has over 14 000 Medline listed articles to its name),
- Aloe vera (it has over 3 000 Medline listed articles to its name).
I could then claim that my extra super-supplement is supported by some 300 000 scientific articles plus 1 000 clinical studies (I am confident I could cherry-pick 1 000 positive trials from the 300 000 papers). Consequently, I would not just charge £199 but £999 for a month’s supply.
But this would be wrong, misleading, even bogus!!!, I hear you object.
On the one hand, I agree.
On the other hand, as Paul Clayton rightly pointed out: Most of the supplement market is bogus.
*If my memory serves me right, I met Paul many years ago when he was a consultant for Boots (if my memory fails me, I might need to order some Lyma).
So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for animals is popular. A recent survey suggested that 76% of US dog and cat owners use some form of SCAM. Another survey showed that about one quarter of all US veterinary medical schools run educational programs in SCAM. Amazon currently offers more that 4000 books on the subject.
The range of SCAMs advocated for use in animals is huge and similar to that promoted for use in humans; the most commonly employed practices seem to include acupuncture, chiropractic, energy healing, homeopathy (as discussed in the previous post) and dietary supplements. In this article, I will briefly discuss the remaining 4 categories.
Acupuncture is the insertion of needles at acupuncture points on the skin for therapeutic purposes. Many acupuncturists claim that, because it is over 2 000 years old, acupuncture has ‘stood the test of time’ and its long history proves acupuncture’s efficacy and safety. However, a long history of usage proves very little and might even just demonstrate that acupuncture is based on the pre-scientific myths that dominated our ancient past.
There are many different forms of acupuncture. Acupuncture points can allegedly be stimulated not just by inserting needles (the most common way) but also with heat, electrical currents, ultrasound, pressure, bee-stings, injections, light, colour, etc. Then there is body acupuncture, ear acupuncture and even tongue acupuncture. Traditional Chinese acupuncture is based on the Taoist philosophy of the balance between two life-forces, ‘yin and yang’. In contrast, medical acupuncturists tend to cite neurophysiological theories as to how acupuncture might work; even though some of these may appear plausible, they nevertheless are mere theories and constitute no proof for acupuncture’s validity.
The therapeutic claims made for acupuncture are legion. According to the traditional view, acupuncture is useful for virtually every condition. According to ‘Western’ acupuncturists, acupuncture is effective mostly for chronic pain. Acupuncture has, for instance, been used to improve mobility in dogs with musculoskeletal pain, to relieve pain associated with cervical neurological disease in dogs, for respiratory resuscitation of new-born kittens, and for treatment of certain immune-mediated disorders in small animals.
While the use of acupuncture seems to gain popularity, the evidence fails to support this. Our systematic review of acupuncture (to the best of my knowledge the only one on the subject) in animals included 14 randomized controlled trials and 17 non-randomized controlled studies. The methodologic quality of these trials was variable but, on average, it was low. For cutaneous pain and diarrhoea, encouraging evidence emerged that might warrant further investigation. Single studies reported some positive inter-group differences for spinal cord injury, Cushing’s syndrome, lung function, hepatitis, and rumen acidosis. However, these trials require independent replication. We concluded that, overall, there is no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals. Some encouraging data do exist that warrant further investigation in independent rigorous trials.
Serious complications of acupuncture are on record and have repeatedly been discussed on this blog: acupuncture needles can, for instance, injure vital organs like the lungs or the heart, and they can introduce infections into the body, e. g. hepatitis. About 100 human fatalities after acupuncture have been reported in the medical literature – a figure which, due to lack of a monitoring system, may disclose just the tip of an iceberg. Information on adverse effects of acupuncture in animals is currently not available.
Given that there is no good evidence that acupuncture works in animals, the risk/benefit balance of acupuncture cannot be positive.
Chiropractic was created by D D Palmer (1845-1913), an American magnetic healer who, in 1895, manipulated the neck of a deaf janitor, allegedly curing his deafness. Chiropractic was initially promoted as a cure-all by Palmer who claimed that 95% of diseases were due to subluxations of spinal joints. Subluxations became the cornerstone of chiropractic ‘philosophy’, and chiropractors who adhere to Palmer’s gospel diagnose subluxation in nearly 100% of the population – even in individuals who are completely disease and symptom-free. Yet subluxations, as understood by chiropractors, do not exist.
There is no good evidence that chiropractic spinal manipulation might be effective for animals. A review of the evidence for different forms of manual therapies for managing acute or chronic pain syndromes in horses concluded that further research is needed to assess the efficacy of specific manual therapy techniques and their contribution to multimodal protocols for managing specific somatic pain conditions in horses. For other animal species or other health conditions, the evidence is even less convincing.
In humans, spinal manipulation is associated with serious complications (regularly discussed in previous posts), usually caused by neck manipulation damaging the vertebral artery resulting in a stroke and even death. Several hundred such cases have been documented in the medical literature – but, as there is no system in place to monitor such events, the true figure is almost certainly much larger. To the best of my knowledge, similar events have not been reported in animals.
Since there is no good evidence that chiropractic spinal manipulations work in animals, the risk/benefit balance of chiropractic fails to be positive.
Energy healing is an umbrella term for a range of paranormal healing practices, e. g. Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Johrei healing, faith healing. Their common denominator is the belief in an ‘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 many countries.
Energy healing relies on the esoteric belief in some form of ‘energy’ which 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 little more than a veneer of pseudo-science.
Considering its implausibility, energy healing has attracted a surprisingly high level of research activity in the form of clinical trials on human patients. Generally speaking, the methodologically best trials of energy healing fail to demonstrate that it generates effects beyond placebo. There are few studies of energy healing in animals, and those that are available are frequently less than rigorous (see for instance here and here). Overall, there is no good evidence to suggest that ‘energy’ healing is effective in animals.
Even though energy healing is per se harmless, it can do untold damage, not least because it can lead to neglect of effective treatments and it undermines rationality in our societies. Its risk/benefit balance therefore fails to be positive.
Dietary supplements for veterinary use form a category of remedies that, in most countries, is a regulatory grey area. Supplements can contain all sorts of ingredients, from minerals and vitamins to plants and synthetic substances. Therefore, generalisations across all types of supplements are impossible. The therapeutic claims that are being made for supplements are numerous and often unsubstantiated. Although they are usually promoted as natural and safe, dietary supplements do not have necessarily either of these qualities. For example, in the following situations, supplements can be harmful:
- Combining one supplement with another supplement or with prescribed medicines
- Substituting supplements for prescription medicines
- Overdosing some supplements, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, or iron
Examples of currently most popular supplements for use in animals include chondroitin, glucosamine, probiotics, vitamins, minerals, lutein, L-carnitine, taurine, amino acids, enzymes, St John’s wort, evening primrose oil, garlic and many other herbal remedies. For many supplements taken orally, the bioavailability might be low. There is a paucity of studies testing the efficacy of dietary supplements in animals. Three recent exceptions (all of which require independent replication) are:
- A trial showing that the dietary supplementation with Maca increased sperm production in stallions.
- A study demonstrating that curcumin supplementation appeared to reduce arthritis pain in dogs.
- An investigation suggesting that royal jelly supplementation can improve the egg quality of hens.
Dietary supplements are promoted as being free of direct risks. On closer inspection, this notion turns out to be little more than an advertising slogan. As discussed repeatedly on this blog, some supplements contain toxic materials, contaminants or adulterants and thus have the potential to do harm. A report rightly concluded that many challenges stand in the way of determining whether or not animal dietary supplements are safe and at what dosage. Supplements considered safe in humans and other cross-species are not always safe in horses, dogs, and cats. An adverse event reporting system is badly needed. And finally, regulations dealing with animal dietary supplements are in disarray. Clear and precise regulations are needed to allow only safe dietary supplements on the market.
It is impossible to generalise about the risk/benefit balance of dietary supplements; however, caution is advisable.
SCAM for animals is an important subject, not least because of the current popularity of many treatments that fall under this umbrella. For most therapies, the evidence is woefully incomplete. This means that most SCAMs are unproven. Arguably, it is unethical to use unproven medicines in routine veterinary care.
I was invited several months ago to write this article for VETERINARY RECORD. It was submitted to peer review and subsequently I withdrew my submission. The above post is a slightly revised version of the original (in which I used the term ‘alternative medicine’ rather than ‘SCAM’) which also included a section on homeopathy (see my previous post). The reason for the decision to withdraw this article was the following comment by the managing editor of VETERINARY RECORD: A good number of vets use these therapies and a more balanced view that still sets out their efficacy (or otherwise) would be more useful for the readership.