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.
I came across an embarrassingly poor and uncritical article that essentially seemed to promote a London-based clinic specialised in giving vitamins intravenously. Its website shows the full range of options on offer and it even lists the eye-watering prices they command. Reading this information, my amazement became considerable and I decided to share some of it with you.
Possibly the most remarkable of all the treatments on offer is this one (the following are quotes from the clinic’s website):
Stemcellation injections or placenta lucchini (sheep placenta) treatments are delivered intravenously (via IV), although intramuscular (IM) administration is also possible. Stem cells are reported to possess regenerative biological properties.
We offer two types of Stemcellation injections: a non-vegetarian option and a vegetarian-friendly option. Please enquire for further details.
Alongside placenta lucchini, Stemcellation injections at Vitamin Injections London contain a range of other potent active ingredients, including: physiologically active carbohydrate, nucleic acid, epithelial growth factor, amino acids, hydrolysed collagen, concentrated bioprotein and stem cells.
Please visit our Vitamin 101 section to learn more about the ingredients in Stemcellation sheep placenta injections.
Renowned for their powerful regenerating properties, Stemcellation injections can stimulate collagen production as well as:
- Remedy cosmetic problems such as wrinkles, discolouration, pigmentation, eye bags and uneven skin tone;
- Can be undertaken by those who are interested in maintaining their physical activity levels;
- Can be undertaken alongside other IV/IM injections.
Vitamin Injections London is headed by skilled IV/IM Medical Aesthetician and Skin Specialist Bianca Estelle. Our skilled IV/IM practitioners will conduct a full review of your medical history and advise you regarding your suitability for Stemcellation injections.
END OF QUOTES
The only Medline-listed paper I was able to locate on the subject of placenta lucchini injections was from 1962 and did not substantiate any of the above claims. In my view, all of this begs many questions; here are just seven that spring into my mind:
- Is there any evidence at all that any of the intravenous injections/infusions offered at this clinic are effective for any condition other than acute vitamin deficiencies (which are, of course, extremely rare these days)?
- Would the staff be adequately trained to diagnose such cases?
- How do they justify the price tags for their treatments?
- What is a ‘medical aesthetician’ and a ‘skin specialist’?
- Is it at all legal for ‘medical aestheticians’ and ‘skin specialists’ (apparently without medical qualifications) to give intravenous injections and infusions?
- How many customers have suffered severe allergic reactions after placenta lucchini (or other) treatments?
- Is the clinic equipped and its staff adequately trained to deal with medical emergencies?
These are not rhetorical questions; I genuinely do not know the answers. Therefore, I would be obliged, if you could answer them for me, in case you know them.
The DAILY MAIL is by no means my favourite paper (see, for instance, here, here and here). This week, the Mail published another article which, I thought, is worth mentioning. The Mail apparently asked several UK doctors which dietary supplements they use for their own health (no mention of the number they had to approach to find any fitting into this category). The results remind me of a statement by the Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby in the famous TV series YES MINISTER: “if nobody knows anything then nobody can accuse anybody else of knowing nothing, and so the one thing we do know is that nobody knows anything, and that’s better than us knowing nothing”.
Below, I present the relevant quotes by the doctors who volunteered to be interviewed and add the most up-to date evidence on each subject.
Professor Christopher Eden, 57, is a consultant urological surgeon at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford.
“I take a 1g supplement of vitamin C daily. (The recommended daily amount, or RDA, is 40mg, which is equivalent to a large orange.) This amount of vitamin C makes the urine mildly acidic and increases the levels of an antimicrobial protein called siderocalin, found naturally in urine, which makes the environment less favourable to bad bacteria and reduces the risk of infection.”
Louise Newson, 48, is a GP and menopause specialist based in Stratford-upon-Avon.
“Women going through the menopause or perimenopause may get bowel symptoms such as bloating which are due to hormone imbalances affecting the balance of gut bacteria. Probiotic (good bacteria) supplements correct this imbalance and are also linked to levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which can improve mood. This is important during the menopause. I make sure I take a probiotic daily, specifically one with a high bacteria count including Lactobacillus acidophilus. I look for one that has to be kept in the fridge, as this is a sign of a quality product.”
Professor Tony Kochhar, 45, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at London Bridge Hospital.
“Having taken statins for a couple of years, I developed tendonitis, inflammation in the foot, which caused pain around the outside of it. My GP told me to stop taking the statins, which helped, and I now control my condition with diet. I also take a supplement of collagen (a natural protein found in the tendons) to build up tendon structure and reduce pain. I take two 1,200mg collagen supplements daily and it has really helped. Within two weeks of starting them, my pain had gone.”
Dr Anne Rigg, 51, is a consultant oncologist at London Bridge Hospital.
“One theory is that vitamin D may help control normal breast cell growth and may even stop breast cancer cells from growing. The body creates vitamin D from sunlight on the skin when we are outdoors, but because of the British weather and the rightful use of sunscreen, it’s easy to become deficient. I take the recommended daily dose of 10mcg. [Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are good sources, too, but you’d have to eat them in large amounts to get the recommended daily dosage.] It’s vital not to overdose, as it can increase the risk of kidney stones: the vitamin helps absorb calcium from the diet, which can build up into stones.”
Dr Rob Hogan, 62, is an optometrist at iCare Consulting.
“I’m aware, too, of the increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of sight loss in people over 60. This is where the small central portion of the retina (the macula) at the back of the eye deteriorates. So I take MacuShield, a supplement which, studies have found, can help improve vision and keep the back of the eye healthy. It contains a mixture of natural compounds — lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin — which are antioxidants that have been found in studies to improve vision and eye health. I take one a day, usually with a meal.”
In early AMD, macular pigment can be augmented with a variety of supplements, although the inclusion of MZ may confer benefits in terms of panprofile augmentation and in terms of contrast sensitivity enhancement.
Dr Milad Shadrooh, 37, is a dentist in Basingstoke, Hampshire.
“I take a varied supplement daily to maintain good health and, specifically, healthy teeth. It contains calcium (an adult’s RDA is 700mg, which is equivalent to three 200ml cups of milk) as most people, including me, don’t get enough in their diet.”
Dr Joanna Gach, 49, is a consultant dermatologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.
“Every so often, I take a multivitamin capsule containing zinc, selenium and biotin. These are all helpful for sorting out my brittle nails and maintaining healthy hair.”
… no evidence supports the use of vitamin supplementation with vitamin E, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin A, retinoids, retinol, retinal, silicon, zinc, iron, copper, selenium, or vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) for improving the nail health of well-nourished patients or improving the appearance of nails affected by pathologic disease.
Luke Cascarini, 47, is a consultant maxillofacial surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
“I take a daily vitamin drink containing a high-dose vitamin B complex, which is necessary for good oral health.”
The published research reveals only a possible relationship between vitamins and minerals and periodontal disease. Vitamin E, zinc, lycopene and vitamin B complex may have useful adjunct benefits. However, there is inadequate evidence to link the nutritional status of the host to periodontal inflammation. More randomized controlled trials are needed to explore this association.
Dr Jenni Byrom, 44, is a consultant gynaecologist at Birmingham’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
“I take evening primrose oil for premenstrual symptoms such as breast pain. I take 1g of evening primrose oil daily and have found it really makes a difference.”
Evening primrose oil has not been shown to improve breast pain, and has had its licence withdrawn for this indication in the UK owing to lack of efficacy (it is still available to purchase without prescription).
Dr Sarah Myhill, 60, is a GP based in Wales.
“I take 10g of vitamin C dissolved in a glass of water every day before I start my shift — and I never get colds. I believe that high doses of vitamin C can kill bad microbes on contact — or, at least, help reduce the severity of infections such as colds and sore throats.”
Jonathan Dearing, 49, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon specialising in sports injuries at BMI Carrick Glen Hospital in Ayrshire.
“I carry a vitamin D oral spray and use it after exercise, as it helps improve muscle recovery by regulating various processes that help them repair and grow.”
… supraphysiological dosages of vitamin D3 have potential ergogenic effects on the human metabolic system and lead to multiple physiological enhancements. These dosages could increase aerobic capacity, muscle growth, force and power production, and a decreased recovery time from exercise. These dosages could also improve bone density. However, both deficiency (12.5 to 50 nmol/L) and high levels of vitamin D (>125 nmol/L) can have negative side effects, with the potential for an increased mortality. Thus, maintenance of optimal serum levels between 75 to 100 nmol/L and ensuring adequate amounts of other essential nutrients including vitamin K are consumed, is key to health and performance. Coaches, medical practitioners, and athletic personnel should recommend their patients and athletes to have their plasma 25(OH)D measured, in order to determine if supplementation is needed. Based on the research presented on recovery, force and power production, 4000-5000 IU/day of vitamin D3 in conjunction with a mixture of 50 mcg/day to 1000 mcg/day of vitamin K1 and K2 seems to be a safe dose and has the potential to aid athletic performance. Lastly, no study in the athletic population has increased serum 25(OH)D levels past 100 nmol/L, (the optimal range for skeletal muscle function) using doses of 1000 to 5000 IU/day. Thus, future studies should test the physiological effects of higher dosages (5000 IU to 10,000 IU/day or more) of vitamin D3 in combination with varying dosages of vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 in the athletic population to determine optimal dosages needed to maximize performance.
Dr Glyn Thomas, 46, is a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist at the Bristol Heart Institute.
“I take a magnesium supplement as it can help address an extra heartbeat — something I suffered with for 20 years.”
Firstly, let me congratulate those colleagues who actually might have got it right:
- Dr Hogan
- Dr Shadrooh
- Mr Cascarini
- Mr Dearing
I say ‘MIGHT HAVE GOT IT RIGHT’ because, even in their cases, the evidence is far from strong and certainly not convincing.
Secondly, let me commiserate those who spend their money on unproven supplements. I find it sad that this group amounts to two thirds of all the ‘experts’ asked.
Thirdly, let me remind THE DAILY MAIL of what I posted recently: journalists to be conscious of their responsibility not to mislead the public and do more rigorous research before reporting on matters of health. Surely, the Mail did us no favour in publishing this article. It will undoubtedly motivate lots of gullible consumers to buy useless or even harmful supplements.
And lastly, let me remind all healthcare professionals that promoting unproven treatments to the unsuspecting public is not ethical.
‘Doctor’ Colleen Huber (DCH) is the US naturopath who is currently suing Britt Hermes. For me, this is enough reason to do a bit of reading and find out who DCH is and what motivates her. Here is what I found out (I added some * to the quotes [all in italics] and comments below).
DCH has an impressive presence on the Internet. One website, for instance, tells us that DCH is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor* in Tempe, Arizona. Her clinic, Nature Works Best Cancer Clinic, has had the most successful results of any clinic in the world reporting its results over the last 9 years **.
Dr. Huber authored the largest and longest study*** in medical history on sugar intake in cancer patients, which was reported in media around the world in 2014. Her other writing includes her book, Choose Your Foods Like Your Life Depends On Them ****, and she has been featured in the books America’s Best Cancer Doctors and Defeat Cancer. Dr. Huber’s academic writing has appeared in The Lancet *****, the International Journal of Cancer Research ***** and Molecular Mechanisms *****, and other medical journals ******. Her research interests are in the use of therapeutic approaches targeting metabolic aspects of cancer…
*I am puzzled by this title. Is it an official one? I only found this, and it omits the ‘medical’: Currently, 20 states, five Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed laws regulating naturopathic doctors. Learn more about licensure from the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. It seems that Arizona is the only state where the ‘medical’ is allowed. However, don’t take this to mean that DCH went to medical school.
** ‘most successful results of any clinic in the world’? Really? Where are the comparative statistics?
*** the study had all of 317 patients and was published in an obscure, non-Medline listed journal.
**** currently ranked #1,297,877 in Books on Amazon.
***** no such entries found on Medline.
****** sorry, but my Medline search for ‘huber colleen’ located only 2 citations, both on arthritis research conducted in an US Pfizer lab and therefore probably not from ‘our’ DCH.
Another website on or by DCH informs us that her outfit Nature Works Best is a natural cancer clinic located in Tempe, Arizona, that focuses on natural, holistic, and alternative cancer treatments. Our treatments have proved to be an effective alternative to traditional chemotherapy and radiation, which we do not use in our treatments. Rather, we have developed a natural method of treating cancers based on intravenous vitamin therapy which may include Vitamin-C, Baking Soda, and other tumor fighting agents as well as a simple food plan. *
Our team of naturopathic medical doctors have administered an estimated 31,000 IV nutrient treatments, used for all stages and types of tumors. As of July 2014, 80% of patients who completed our treatments alone went into remission, 85% of patients who completed our treatments and followed our food plan went into remission. **
* Give me a break! Vitamin-C and Baking Soda are claimed to have proved to be an effective alternative to traditional chemotherapy and radiation ? I would like to see the data before I believe this!
** Again, I would like to see the data before I believe this!
Finally, a further website proudly repeats that her academic writing has appeared in The Lancet and Cancer Strategies Journal, and other medical journals. It even presents an abstract of her published work; here it is:
Recent recommendations for the more widespread prescription of statin drugs in the U.S. have generated controversy. Cholesterol is commonly thought to be the enemy of good health. On the other hand, previous research has established the necessity of cholesterol in production of Vitamin D and steroid hormones, among other purposes, some of which have been shown to have anti-cancer effect. We compare total serum cholesterol (TC) in cancer survivors vs cancer fatalities, and we assess the value of deliberately lowering TC among cancer patients. We also examined diet in the survivors as well as those who then died of cancer.
In this original previously unpublished research, we conducted a double-blind retrospective case series, in which we looked back at data from all 255 cancer patients who came to and were treated by our clinic with either current dietary information, and/or a recent serum TC level, measured by an unaffiliated laboratory or an unaffiliated clinic over the previous seven years, comparing TC in the surviving cancer patients versus those cancer patients who died during that time.
Surviving cancer patients had 24.0 points higher mean total cholesterol than the mean for deceased cancer patients. A number of dietary differences between cancer survivors and those who then died of cancer were also found to be notable.
Caution is advised before attempting to lower cholesterol in cancer patients with close to normal TC levels. Those cancer patients with higher TC were more likely to survive their cancer.
I don’t know about you, but I am not impressed. Surviving cancer patients had 24.0 points higher mean total cholesterol than the mean for deceased cancer patients. Has DCH thought of the possibility that moribund patients quite simply eat less? In which case, the observed difference would be a meaningless epiphenomenon.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, DCH is currently suing Britt Hermes for libel. Apart from being exceedingly stressful, such an action can also be hugely expensive.
Britt is therefore hoping to do some crowd-funding to assist her financially.
I wish my post has motivated you to donate generously.