Edzard Ernst

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

Today, a 3-day conference is starting on ‘INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE’ (IM) in London. Dr. Michael Dixon, claims that it is going to be the biggest such conference ever and said that it ‘will make history’. Dixon is an advisor to Prince Charles, chair of the College of Medicine and Integrated Health (CoMIH, of which Charles is a patron), and joint-chair of the congress. The other co-chair is Elizabeth Thompson. Both have been the subject of several previous posts on this blog.

Dixon advertised the conference by commenting: “I am seeing amongst by younger colleagues, the newly trained GPs, that they have a new attitude towards healthcare. They are not interested in whether something is viewed as conventional, complementary, functional or lifestyle, they are just looking at what works for their patients.  Through this conference, we aim to capture that sense of hope, open-mindedness, and patient-centred care”. I believe that this ‘history-making’ event is a good occasion to yet again review the concept of IM.

The term IM sounds appealing, yet it is also confusing and misleading. The confusion starts with the fact that our American friends call it integrative medicine, while we in the UK normally call it integrated medicine, and it ends with different people understanding different things by IM. In conventional healthcare, for instance, people use the term to mean the integration of social and medical care. In the bizarre world of alternative medicine, IM is currently used to signify the parallel use of alternative and conventional therapies on an equal footing.

Today, there are many different definitions of the latter version of IM. Prince Charles, one of the world’s most ardent supporter of IM, used to simply call it ‘the best of both worlds’. A recent, more detailed definition is a ‘healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapies’. This seems to imply that conventional medicine is not healing-orientated, does not account for the whole person, excludes aspects of lifestyle, neglects the therapeutic relationship, is not informed by evidence, and does not employ all appropriate therapies. This, I would argue is a bonanza of strawman fallacies, i.e. the misrepresentation of an opponent’s qualities with a view of defeating him more easily and making one’s own position look superior. Perhaps this is unsurprising – after all, Dixon has been once named ‘a pyromaniac in a field of (integrative) strawmen’.

Perhaps definitions are too theoretical and it is more productive to look at what IM stands for in real life. If you surf the Internet, you can find thousands of clinics that carry the name IM. It will take you just minutes to discover that there is not a single alternative therapy, however ridiculous, that they don’t offer. What is more, there is evidence to show that doctors who are into IM are also often against public health measures such as vaccinations.

The UK ‘Integrated Medicine Alliance’, a grouping within the CoMIH, offers information sheets on all of the following treatments: Acupuncture, Alexander Technique, Aromatherapy, Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Hypnotherapy, Massage, ,Naturopathy, Reflexology, Reiki, Tai Chi, Yoga Therapy. The one on homeopathy, for example, tells us that “homeopathy … can be used for almost any condition either alone or in a complementary manner.” Compare this to what the NHS says about it: “homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos (dummy treatments)”.

This evidently grates with the politically correct definition above: IM is not well-informed about the evidence, and it does use inappropriate treatments. In fact, it is little more than a clumsy attempt to smuggle unproven and disproven alternative therapies into the mainstream of healthcare. It does render medicine not better but will inevitably make it worse, and this is surely not in the best interest of vulnerable patients who, I would argue, have a right to be treated with the most effective therapies currently available.

The conference can perhaps be characterized best by having a look at its sponsors. ‘Gold sponsor’ is WELEDA, and amongst the many further funders of the meeting are several other manufacturers of mistletoe medications for cancer. I just hope that the speakers at this meeting – Dixon has managed to persuade several reputable UK contributors – do not feel too embarrassed when they pass their exhibitions.

 

I came across an interesting case report recently published in an Austrian magazine. Here is my translation for non-German speakers:

A 42-year-old woman from Vienna has suffered from endometriosis since the age of 13. But it was only 8 years later that she found out what made the first two days of her menstruation so unbearable. She was not allowed to take painkillers to help herself during all that time. Her parents listened to medical “gurus” who distrusted conventional medicine.

“I grew up in a household where almost all illnesses were treated with homeopathy,” she wrote on Twitter. That’s exactly what became the IT expert’s undoing. In a recent interview, she looked back bitterly: “All infections and illnesses were treated with Bach flower remedies or homeopathics. Only in case of accidents or broken bones did my parents drive me to the hospital.” Her father suffered from an auto-immune disease. Because conventional medicine could not help him, he tried alternative approaches. “My parents slowly drifted more and more into this scene. At some point, they stopped listening to ‘normal’ doctors. It went downhill from there.”

As a girl, the Viennese had little chance of standing up to her parents’ “whisperers,” as she calls their esoteric advice. “When I got my period, I was in the worst pain. I fainted every month, even falling off my chair when I did it, once even at school. I vomited until I was so exhausted that I fell asleep.”

She begged her family to finally be allowed to consult a gynecologist. But he didn’t take the teenager seriously at the time and simply wanted to prescribe her the pill without a thorough examination. “I then went to my parents’ homeopathic ‘pill pusher’, who gave me homeopathics against my complaints. I wasn’t allowed to take painkillers because they ‘damage the liver’.” The guru persuaded the young woman that her health problems were her fault. “He said I just didn’t accept myself as a woman and that’s why I was in pain. I thought for a long time that I was just not strong and good enough.”

It wasn’t until she was already in her early 20s that her then-boyfriend took her to a gynecologist who finally took her condition seriously. “The ultrasound showed that I had quite a few cysts in my abdomen.” The diagnosis was also finally certain: she was now officially suffering from endometriosis. She was given the right medicine, and most of the endometriotic growths regressed. But a cyst had wrapped itself tightly around her right ovary, damaging it irrevocably over the years. It had died. “Homeopathy cost me my ovary,” the Viennese woman laments.

The fact that she nevertheless was able to become the mother of two children is thanks to her other ovary, which fortunately remained intact. But the feeling of having been treated wrongly, or not treated at all, for such a long time makes her angry. “I don’t blame my parents today. They have apologized and found their own way out of the gurus’ world of thought and out of the scene,” she emphasizes. “But I blame the people who pretend to be able to cure the majority of all diseases with homeopathy. Yet most of the time they can’t even find the right diagnosis and just give patients some stuff that has no side effects.” She now calls for an end to homeopathy.

_________________________

How many times have I said it?

His remedy might be risk-free, but the homeopath certainly isn’t!

 

Quackademia is a lovely term for describing quackery at the academic level. The name may be amusing but the phenomenon isn’t. And this seems to be nowhere more true than in the US. The Certificate in Holistic Health and Healing Arts (HHHA) at the University of New Mexico allegedly “lays the groundwork for careers in holistic health and the healing arts while familiarizing students with practices that promote self-healing, longevity, and vitality.” To me, it seems to be a prime example of quackademia. Here is a selection of the courses offered by the HHHA:

INTRODUCTION TO HEALING ARTS

HHHA 101 (3 credits)

This entirely-online class grounds students in the foundation of Holistic Health and Healing Arts, introducing a wide range of healing modalities so that students can discover what works best for them. Often offered in Fall semester and asynchronously online.

This course is required for the HHHA Certificate.

MEDITATION, CONSCIOUSNESS, and SELF-HEALING

HHHA 102 (3 credits)

This course invites students to explore the deeply rejuvenating effects of meditation and mindfulness.  Often offered fall semester.

This course is required for the HHHA Certificate. 

HATHA YOGA

HHHA 104 (3 credits)

Students practice of fundamental and accessible asanas and discuss philosophy and ethics through the lens of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. Students will also lead practices and discussions of their choosing. Often offered in spring.

This course is required for the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Diploma.

TAI-JI/QIGONG

HHHA 105 (3 credits)

Students practice meditative movements that restore vitality, improve balance, increase strength and promote the wellbeing of mind, body, and spirit. Often offered over Summer semester.

YOGA FOR WELLNESS

HHHA 110 (1-3 Credits)

This beginner-friendly movement class will focus on stress reduction, flexibility, and general wellbeing. Offered varying semesters, usually face-to-face.

INTRODUCTION TO ORIENTAL MEDICINE

HHHA 116 (3 credits)

This class illuminates the fundamentals of this ancient system of medicine which emphasizes the interconnectedness of the body and the world. Often offered in Fall semester.

DREAMS, VISIONS, AND ARTMAKING

HHHA 117 (3 credits)

Students are led on a journey of self-discovery through guided visualizations. The images and intuition students tap into serve as fodder for their own creative work. Often offered in Fall semester, face-to-face.

AYURVEDA

HHHA 118 (3 credits)

This class introduces the ancient Indian healing modality called “The Science of Life” and guides students to an awareness of their constitutions (doshas). Students learn the nutritional and lifestyle approaches that can help create greater energetic balance. Often offered in Fall semester.

YOGA STYLES AND SAFETY

HHHA 120 (3 credits)

This class explores the different styles of yoga as well as ways of sequencing and cuing poses. Students show their understanding of class concepts through practice teaching. Often offered in Fall semester.

This course is required for the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Diploma.

YOGA FOR COMMON CONDITIONS

HHHA 121

 (3 credits)

The class will prepare future yoga teachers and/or interested yoga students to design classes for themselves and others that safely accommodate many underlying injuries and conditions, observing, in the process, that a class that accommodates students with underlying conditions is a class for everyone. Often offered in Fall semester.

This course is required for the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Diploma.

REIKI HEALING I

HHHA 146 (3 credits)

This introduction to energy work helps students to develop their energetic sensitivity and spiritual awareness while learning hands-on and intention-based techniques that encourage bodies to heal themselves. Often offered in Fall semester, face-to-face.

REIKI HEALING II

HHHA 147 (3 credits)

This class builds on the principles introduced in Reiki Healing I. Often offered in Fall semester, face-to-face.

INTRODUCTION TO HOMEOPATHY

HHHA 148 (3 credits)

Students learn the philosophical underpinnings and practical applications of homeopathy, a complete therapeutic system of medicine that aims to promote general health and reinforce the body’s own natural healing capacity. Often offered in Spring semester and asynchronously online.

YOGA AND PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CHAKRAS

HHHA 263 (3 credits)

Guided by Anodea Judith’s seminal Eastern Body, Western Mind, students explore the energetics as well as the biomechanics and alignment of the body chakra by chakra. Students will show their mastery of the concepts covered through practice teaching and reflective written assignments. May be offered spring or fall.

This course is required for the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Diploma.

This amount of cheer nonsense taught at the university level beats everything I have seen before. Perhaps it is not that unusual in the US, yet after having been a university professor in three European countries, I find it truly baffling. Call me old-fashioned, but I had always assumed that the educational function of universities was about teaching knowledge and facts rather than myths and delusions. Universities must be the guardians of reason, not its destructors! How long will it be, I ask myself, until the first US university introduces a course in the design of flying carpets or a diploma in telekinesis?

Prof. Fabricio Benedetti is one of the world’s leading experts in the study of placebo effects. I have mentioned his excellent work before, for instance, here where he cautioned that quackery has today one more weapon on its side, which is paradoxically represented by the hard science–supported placebo mechanisms. Now he has expressed his concerns even more clearly in an article entitled “Alternative and natural medicine quackery is on the rise. Here’s why the placebo effect is part of the problem”. Here are a few excerpts from this excellent paper:

For several decades now, many scientists, including me, have been working hard to reveal the full power and scope of the placebo effect — the amazing ability of a simple sugar pill or other non-pharmaceutical “fake intervention” to improve someone’s quality of life. This research has been crucial to giving scientific credibility to a powerful psychological effect. But the advances of science have also backfired, spawning an alternative industry that preys on the vulnerable…

All this means that some alternative medicines can indeed have positive outcomes for patients, though not necessarily through the mechanisms that the therapy’s inventors supposed, but rather through a placebo effect. This holds true for treatments ranging from strange talismans to acupuncture — studies have shown that pain relief is about the same for patients receiving true acupuncture with needles, for example, as for those receiving sham acupuncture with trick needles.

The scientific advances in understanding placebo are fascinating. But one unfortunate outcome of all this work is that profit-seeking companies and individuals now have a new weapon: It is no longer necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of their proposed therapies; it is enough to assert that these work because of the placebo effect. I receive myriad eccentric proposals for new therapies, ranging from talismans and concoctions to mascots and weird rituals. Their inventors claim that these are capable of inducing substantial health benefits and often seek my endorsement. These proposals have stepped up sharply in recent years. Sadly, the science of the placebo effect is fueling this new breed of pseudoscience…

So, if a salesperson says: “This concoction (or ritual or talisman) will reduce your pain,” it is not necessarily a lie, as the placebo effect may indeed stimulate pain-relieving circuits in the brain. But anyone could truthfully use these words, within limits.

These marketers often overstate the size of the possible response, claim to provide a “cure” rather than pain relief or incorrectly suggest that only their own expensive products will have this effect. Even worse, they may present the products as an alternative to more effective traditional medications for serious conditions such as cancer. In other words, they prey on the vulnerable by making undeliverable promises, purportedly backed by the science of placebo.

Even if taking a placebo can reduce symptoms such as pain, this isn’t always the best course of action. An apparently trivial pain may, for example, be the first sign of something far more serious. Treating the pain alone may prevent diagnosis by a physician or delay important medical treatments…

…Education, communication and honesty are the best friends of medical practice. Patients and health care professionals deserve to know what placebos can and cannot do.

The research and medical communities must be more transparent about the efficacy of many conventional pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatments, by acknowledging that some of them are useful whereas some others are not. Many over-the-counter products have doubtful efficacy, for example. Honesty will boost patients’ trust and confidence in medicine, which are the best antidotes to quackery.

 

BRAVO PROF BENEDETTI!

Almost 10 years ago, I posted this:

When I decided to become a doctor I, like most medical students, did so mainly to help suffering individuals. When I became a researcher, I felt more removed from this original ideal. Yet I told myself that, by conducting research, I might eventually contribute to a better health care of tomorrow. Helping suffering patients was still firmly on the agenda. But then I realised that my articles in peer-reviewed medical journals somehow missed an important target: in alternative medicine, one ought to speak not just to health care professionals but also to consumers and patients; after all, it is they who often make the therapeutic decisions in this area.

Once I had realised this, I started addressing the general public by writing for The Guardian and other newspapers, giving public lectures and publishing books for a lay audience, like TRICK OR TREATMENT…The more I did this sort of thing, the more I noticed how important this activity was. And when a friend offered to help me set up a blog, I did not hesitate for long.

So, the reason for my enthusiasm for this blog turns out to be the same as the one that enticed me to go into medicine in the first place. I do believe that it is helpful for consumers to know the truth about alternative medicine. Considering the thousands of sources of daily misinformation in this area, there is an urgent need for well-informed, critical information. By providing it, I am sure I can assist people to make better therapeutic decisions. In a way, I am back where I started all those years ago: hoping to help suffering patients in the most direct way my expertise allows.

Helping vulnerable patients often means warning them from dangerous charlatans, and this is precisely what I frequently try to do with this blog. But how successful are my endeavors?

More often than not, I have no idea and can only hope for the best. Sometimes I do get some feedback that is encouraging and motivates me to carry on. Rarely, however, do I witness immediate, tangible success. And this is why the recent story is so remarkable:

  • On 6 June, an Australian acquaintance from the FRIENDS OF SCIENCE IN MEDICINE sent me some material about a planned lecture in the UK by someone promoting dangerous quackery.
  • I looked into it and published a blog post about it a few hours later.
  • A reader then suggested in the comments section of this post alerting the UK press to it.
  • Another reader contacted THE TIMES, and I wrote to several other journalists.
  • THE TIMES turned out to be interested in the story.
  • They did some research and interviewed Michael Marshall from the GOOD THINKING SOCIETY (and myself).
  • Today, THE TIMES published an article about the planned event.
  • Finally, a kind person made the article available to those who don’t want to pay for it.

The whole thing amounts to superb teamwork, in my view. It shows how like-minded people who do not even all know each other can manage to achieve a respectable result with little more than goodwill and dedication.

A respectable result?

Of course, the optimal result would be to stop Barbara O’Neill’s UK lectures. Let’s hope this is what eventually will happen – and please let me know if you know more.

This article almost left me speechless:

The back-to-back waves of the COVID-19 pandemic have made a devastating impact globally. The conventional healthcare system is going through serious pressure as cases of the disease continue to spread and the numbers of hospitalizations are increasing every moment. It is becoming hard and challenging because the hospital resources are limited in number as compared with the rate of daily hospitalizations. There are significant shortages of patient care facilities and medical care providers, and on top of that, conventional healthcare systems do not have any proven treatments for COVID-19 patients. Experimental drugs like hydroxychloroquine, followed by remdesivir, ritonavir/lopinavir, and favipiravir are being administered under emergency use authorization (EUA). There is evidence that these experimental medications are causing adverse drug reactions, thus claiming the lives of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients. And those patients who survive the EUA medications and hospitalizations are left with iatrogenic immunosuppressive states leading to increased susceptibility towards secondary life-threatening infections like fungal diseases. In this scenario, complementary and alternative medical systems (CAMS) are providing commendable results with negligible adverse effects or iatrogenic issues in patients with COVID-19. There are several clinical cases recorded and published by various independent homoeopathic doctors and researchers worldwide. But unfortunately, because of a biased medical model and greed for monopolies, these effective treatment methods are not given equal opportunity as their conventional counterparts.

I think the best way to react to this nonsense might be to remind us what the only RCT of homeopathy for COVID showed.

This randomized, double-blind, two-armed, parallel, single-center, placebo-controlled study investigated the effectiveness and safety of the homeopathic medicine, Natrum muriaticum LM2, for mild cases of COVID-19.

Participants aged > 18 years, with influenza-like symptoms and a positive COVID test were recruited and randomized (1:1) into two groups that received different treatments during a period of at-home isolation. One group received the homeopathic medicine Natrum muriaticum, prepared with the second degree of the fifty-millesimal dynamization (LM2; Natrum muriaticum LM2), while the other group received a placebo.

The primary endpoint was time until recovery from COVID-19 influenza-like symptoms. Secondary measures included a survival analysis of the number and severity of COVID-19 symptoms (influenza-like symptoms plus anosmia and ageusia) from a symptom grading scale that was informed by the participant, hospital admissions, and adverse events. Kaplan-Meier curves were used to estimate time-to-event (survival) measures.

Data from 86 participants were analyzed (homeopathy, n = 42; placebo, n = 44). There was no difference in time to recovery between the two groups (homeopathy, n = 41; placebo, n = 41; P = 0.56), nor in a sub-group that had at least 5 moderate to severe influenza-like symptoms at the beginning of monitoring (homeopathy, n = 15; placebo, n = 17; P = 0.06). Secondary outcomes indicated that a 50% reduction in symptom score was achieved significantly earlier in the homeopathy group (homeopathy, n = 24; placebo, n = 25; P = 0.04), among the participants with a basal symptom score ≥ 5. Moreover, values of restricted mean survival time indicated that patients receiving homeopathy might have improved 0.9 days faster during the first five days of follow-up (P = 0.022). Hospitalization rates were 2.4% in the homeopathy group and 6.8% in the placebo group (P = 0.62). Participants reported 3 adverse events in the homeopathy group and 6 in the placebo group.

The authors concluded that the results showed that Natrum muriaticum LM2 was safe to use for COVID-19, but there was no statistically significant difference in the primary endpoints of Natrum muriaticum LM2 and placebo for mild COVID-19 cases. 

Another relevant study compared the antibody response of homeopathic and conventional vaccines and placebo in young adults. A placebo-controlled, double-blind RCT was conducted where 150 university students who had received childhood vaccinations were assigned to diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, mumps, measles homeopathic vaccine, placebo, or conventional diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (Tdap) and mumps, measles, rubella (MMR) vaccines. The primary outcome was a ≥ two-fold increase in antibodies from baseline following vaccination as measured by ELISA. Participants, investigators, study coordinators, data blood drawers, laboratory technicians, and data analysts were all blinded.

None of the participants in either the homeopathic vaccine or the placebo group showed a ≥ two-fold response to any of the antigens. In contrast, of those vaccinated with Tdap, 68% (33/48) had a ≥ two-fold response to diphtheria, 83% (40/48) to pertussis toxoid, 88% (42/48) to tetanus, and 35% (17/48) of those vaccinated with MMR had a response to measles or mumps antigens (p < 0.001 for each comparison of conventional vaccine to homeopathic vaccine or to placebo). There was a significant increase in geometric mean titres of antibody from baseline for conventional vaccine antigens (p < 0.001 for each), but none for the response to homeopathic antigens or placebo.

The authors concluded that homeopathic vaccines do not evoke antibody responses and produce a response that is similar to placebo. In contrast, conventional vaccines provide a robust antibody response in the majority of those vaccinated.

To give ‘equal opportunity’ to implausible therapies would, in my view, not merely be wrong, it would be scandalously unethical. The role of homeopathy in the prophylaxis and symptomatic management of COVID-19 or other infections is very easily described; it is:

zero,

nil,

nothing,

null,

naught,

zilch.

Bee venom acupuncture (BVA) is a bizarre form of acupuncture where bee venom is applied via a bee sting or an injection into acupuncture points. The paper below starts with the sentence: “BVA is an effective treatment method for various diseases.” This clearly is not true. In fact, there is no convincing evidence that it is effective for any condition. In addition, it can cause serious harm, even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

With this review, Korean authors tried to estimate the incidence rate of anaphylaxis in response to BVA.

The investigators searched eight databases (MEDLINE (Pubmed), EMBASE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled, KISS, KMBASE, Koreamed, OASIS, and NDSL) and systematically reviewed the articles that met the inclusion/exclusion criteria.

Among 225 potentially relevant articles, 49 were selected for this study. The overall incidence rate of anaphylaxis in response to BVA was 0.045% (95% CI 0.028-0.062). Women (0.083%, 95% CI 0.010-0.157) showed a higher incidence rate than men (0.019%, 95% CI -0.018 to 0.055), while the incidence for patients who had a skin test conducted (0.041%, 95% CI 0.011-0.072) was not significantly different compared to that obtained for patients for which there was no information about a skin test (0.047%, 95% CI 0.026-0.067). The publication year affected the incidence rate: it was highest before 1999 (1.099%, 95% CI -1.043 to 3.241), lower between 2000 and 2009 (0.049%, 95% CI 0.025-0.073), and lowest between 2010 and 2021 (0.037% 95% CI 0.014-0.060).

The authors concluded that, in this study, we provide reference data about risk size and factors of BVA-related anaphylaxis, which is essentially required for BVA application in clinics.

I fail to understand why this review included only observational studies and RCTs. Why not case reports? We would need a proper post-marketing surveillance system to obtain reliable incidence figures. Yet, such a system does not exist. Therefore, the data generated by this paper are next to worthless.

All this article does, is confirm that anaphylactic reactions after BVA are a reality. As the treatment has not been proven to be effective for any condition, its risk/benefit balance turns out to be negative. In other words, we should therefore not use BVA.

Guest post by Derk P. Kooi

Political lobbying is not only restricted to major companies, even quackery lobbies extensively in Dutch politics as well as at a European and global level. The EUROpean Complementary and Alternative Medicine Stakeholder Group (EUROCAM) has been active in Europe for some time. EUROCAM recently attracted attention with a statement on antibiotic resistance during the European Antibiotics Awareness Day.[1] EUROCAM claims that Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) could enhance the immune system and could therefore contribute to the fight against antibiotic resistance. An early study conducted by the anthroposophist Erik Baars was referenced, inter alia. However, this medical claim turns out to be pure nonsense.

EUROCAM regularly publishes so-called ‘position papers’ on the contribution CAM could provide to the European health care system. EUROCAM is currently cautious with its medical claims, and rightly so, as it has seriously overstepped the mark in the past. For example, claims about the efficacy of CAM for infections referred to research by Erik Baars, doctor, anthroposophical healthcare lector at the University of Applied Sciences Leiden and researcher at the Louis Bolk Institute. Baars is an associate of the society due to his misleading statements in his publications on the usefulness of CAM, more specifically of the anthroposophical variant.

Where does this fairly unknown club actually come from, what does it do and how seriously should we take it? Well, EUROCAM is an umbrella organisation for various alternative therapists and their patients. We are talking about Ayurveda, homeopathy, osteopathy, anthroposophy, herbal medicine, traditional (Chinese) medicine, Reiki and acupuncture. The Dutch Registry of Complementary Care Professionals (RBCZ) is also affiliated with EUROCAM. Classical homeopath Annemieke Boelsma is the contact person of the RBCZ at EUROCAM.

It is unclear precisely when EUROCAM was created, the LinkedIn page says 2009. The figurehead of the club is “secretary general” Ton Nicolaï. This homeopathic doctor is also well known to Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij, (www.kwakzalverij.nl) the Dutch Society against Quackery. The treasurer of EUROCAM is business administrator Wim Menkveld. Menkveld is on the Advisory Board of the Hortus Botanicus of Leiden. He is also active on the board of the European Patients’ Federation of Homeopathy. EUROCAM thus seems to have originated mainly from Dutch homeopathic circles.

Furthermore, TV producer Miranda Eilert-Ruchtie from Hilversum sits on the EUROCAM board. According to the EUROCAM website, she acts as their “operations manager” and communications advisor. The German Heilprakterin Sonja Maric, an anthropologist and “specialist in Tibetan medicine”, also acts as a communications consultant.

The European Transparency Register shows that in 2020 the total budget of the organisation was 40,498 euros; no more recent data is available. In the year 2018, 5,000 euros were reserved as an honorarium for Mr Nicolaï, for the 0.5 FTE that he works for the organisation. Miranda Eilert-Ruchtie works a number of hours a week for EUROCAM, as a freelancer. Sonja Maric does this on a voluntary basis.

EUROCAM is a member of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the European Union Health Policy Platform. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises the organisation as a non-state actor, which means that both the EU and the WHO consider EUROCAM to be a serious legal entity. In the past, EUROCAM has intervened in public EU consultations in the fields of aging, pharmaceutical strategy, cancer, and digital data and services.

EUROCAM provides the secretariat of the MEP Interest Group on Integrative Medicine and Health, a group of five European parliamentarians who have set themselves the goal of promoting integrative medicine at the European level. Co-chairs are Finish Sirpa Pietikäinen, a European parliamentarian for the Christian Democrats, and French Michèle Rivasi, a European parliamentarian for the Greens. The other members are Luxembourg’s Tilly Metz, the Italian Eleonara Evi, and the Danish Margrete Auken. It is noteworthy that they are European parliamentarians for the Greens. They are all members of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). Eleonara Evi was part of the illustrious Five Star Movement until 2020, known for its anti-vaccination stance. The Member of European Parliament (MEP) Interest Group organises annual events with speakers who are the same people who perform at EUROCAM symposia. These include the aforementioned anthroposophist Erik Baars. Baars worked closely with EUROCAM boss Ton Nicolaï in a European research project on CAM alternatives to antibiotics. More about his bad science later.

The texts EUROCAM produces nowadays (on its website) are carefully written, and the medical claims are carefully formulated. The texts are larded with synonyms for “possible”, known in linguistics as hedging. For example “Several CAM methods have shown high potential to reduce cancer pain”.[2] Generic health claims are also often used to suggest medical benefits, for example in the context of COVID-19, ‘In building and maintaining resistance to infectious illness, CAM modalities as a part of Integrative Medicine & Health can play an important role because they mobilise and stimulate people’s self-regulating capacity, thus increasing their resilience, their immune system.’.[3]

Furthermore, claims are put in the mouths of others, which can be read, for example, in quoting patient expectations: ‘While improving quality of life is the major rationale for CAM use, there is a definite undercurrent of expectation, particularly among the younger patients, that some therapies might have an anticancer effect (prolongation of remission periods) and slow/stagnate tumour growth (prolongation of survival periods), boost the immune system, making it easier to overcome the disease.’.[4]

The educated reader will immediately see through these strategies, but the question is whether the lobbied politicians targeted by EUROCAM understand these subtleties. EUROCAM has not always been so cautious, by the way. In an undated (presumably 2013) interview with the Dutch Association for Classical Homeopathy, “secretary general” Ton Nicolaï made a number of remarkable statements. For example, he claimed at the time that research shows “that for a number of herbal medicines there is a reasonable amount of evidence that scientifically confirms their effectiveness in respiratory infection treatments”. [5] Nicolaï bases his assertion on recent research by Erik Baars conducted as part of a European research programme that aimed to find CAM alternatives to antibiotics.

The report of this project, which ended in 2018, can be found on the EUROCAM website.[6] The authors of this report are, not surprisingly, Erik Baars and Ton Nicolaï. The report contains practically no hard science. Sub-studies focus on, for example, the frequency of antibiotic prescribing among alternative-working GPs and on the best practice of CAM believers. A so-called systematic review of systematic reviews offers good starting points to evaluate Mr Nicolaï’s claim: ‘A systematic review of systematic reviews demonstrates that there are specific, evidence-supported, promising CAM treatments for acute, uncomplicated RTIs [uncomplicated respiratory tract infections, ed.] and that they are safe.’

Here, a medical claim is made, which is weakened by the use of the hedge term “promising”. The conclusion can be summarised with “There would be ‘promising’ CAM treatments for respiratory infections, and they would be safe”. However, surprisingly, the project report does not refer to this “systematic review of systematic reviews”, nor to any of the other concrete results of the project!

Due to the lack of references, we cannot but conclude that the claim is based on a 2019 article by Erik Baars. One of the co-authors is Ton Nicolaï.[7] The article was published in the journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (EBCAM), which has a shady reputation. Even one of the founders of EBCAM states that the peer-review system is a farce, and therefore the majority of the articles published in it are useless nonsense.[8] In this article, besides a large amount of vagueness about the “worldview differences” between CAM and medicine, systematic reviews are discussed about the effectiveness and safety of CAM treatments. From this systematic review of systematic reviews, it is concluded that there are promising CAM treatments for respiratory, urinary tract and skin infections and that there is even evidence that some CAM treatments are effective for respiratory infections, but what is this based on?

The reviews that were looked at were split into Cochrane and non-Cochrane reviews. Among the Cochrane reviews, there is one that would demonstrate the efficacy of CAM. It is a review on the use of immunostimulants for the prevention of respiratory tract infections in children.[9] Of the 35 studies that were analysed, six involve small molecules, such as isoprinosine, levamisole and pidotimod. In other words, regular medicine, if it turns out to work, but describing it as being experimental would be more appropriate. Baars’ article states that the review also contains herbal medicine. This is somewhat exaggerated: only one of the 35 studies deals with herbs. Of the remaining 28 studies, 25 cover bacterial extracts and three thymus extracts. Again: Baars does not make clear what this has to do with the CAM that EUROCAM represents.

In summary, EUROCAM is a small European lobbying organisation with perhaps some influence at both European and WHO level. One keeps coming across the same names. The organisation is currently using woolly, disguising language to mask medical claims and to fend off criticism. In the past, this was different when EUROCAM, by means of Ton Nicolaï among others, made very reprehensible statements about the role of CAM in (respiratory tract) infections. For the time being, this little club does not seem to pose much of a threat, but European politicians should, of course, ignore this hobby club.

 

References

1. ‘Improving patient resilience to reduce the need to rely on anti-infection treatment: the role of Integrative Medicine’. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/statement-on-amr-2021/ (visited on 28 December 2021) 2. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/contribution-of-cam-for-a-better-health/cam-in-the-context-of-cancer/ (visited on 3 October 2021) 3. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/contribution-of-cam-for-a-better-health/cam-in-the-context-of-cancer/ (visited on 3 October 2021) 4. EUROCAM. https://cam-europe.eu/contribution-of-cam-for-a-better-health/cam-in-the-context-of-cancer/ (visited on 3 October 2021)

5. Miranda Ruchtie. In gesprek met Ton Nicolaï, CAM integreren in de Europese gezondheidszorg. [In discussion with Ton Nicolaï, integrating CAM into the European health care system]. Nederlandse Vereniging van Klassiek Homeopaten. [Dutch Association of Classical Homeopaths] https://www.nvkh.nl/nieuwsbrieven-nvkh/interview-met-ton-nicolai (visited on 3 October 2021)

6. Erik Baars, et al. Reducing the need for antibiotics, the contribution of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. EUROCAM, 2018. https://cam-europe.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/CAM-AMR-EUROCAM-Post-Conference-Paper-2018.pdf (visited on 3 October 2021)

7. Erik W. Baars et al. The Contribution of Complementary and Alternative Medicine to Reduce Antibiotic Use: A Narrative Review of Health Concepts, Prevention, and Treatment Strategies. Evid. Based Complement. Alternat. Med., 2019:5365608. DOI: 10.1155/2019/5365608

8. Edzard Ernst. “EBCAM: an alt med journal that puzzles me a great deal”, URL: http://edzardernst.com/2016/05/ebcam-an-alt-med-journal-that-puzzles-me-a-great-deal/ (visited on 8 January 2022)

9. B. E. Del-Rio-Navarro, F. J. Espinosa-Rosales, V. Flenady, and J. J. Sienra-Monge, “Cochrane Review: Immunostimulants for preventing respiratory tract infection in children,” Evidence-Based Child Health: A Cochrane Review Journal, 2012, 7 (2), 629–717.

I was made aware of an advertisement announcing that the ‘international health lecturer’, Barbara O’Neill, is soon (19-26 June) coming to the UK.

Who is Barbara O’Neill? I hear you ask.

Here is more interesting information about her:

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission conducted an investigation into the professional conduct of Mrs Barbara O’Neill, an unregistered practitioner who provides services as a naturopath, nutritionist and health educator.

Complaints received by the Commission alleged that Mrs O’Neill makes dubious and dangerous health claims that are not evidence based or supported by mainstream medicine, regarding: infant nutrition; causes and treatment of cancer; antibiotics; and vaccinations.  Some of the non-evidence based comments made in Mrs O’Neill’s publications include:

  • raw goat’s milk is an appropriate substitute for breast milk in infant nutrition;
  • cancer is a fungus that can be treated with bicarbonate soda and can be cured by following a program that includes the cancer conquering diet and sodium bicarbonate wraps for the body;
  • pregnant women diagnosed with Strep B do not have to take antibiotics;
  • there are no safe vaccines; vaccinations have caused an epidemic of ADHD, autism, epilepsy and cot death.

The investigation found that Mrs O’Neill has limited qualifications in the area of nutrition and dietetics, which she attained more than 10 years ago. Of particular concern to the Commission is that Mrs O’Neill is providing health advice beyond the limits of her training and experience. Mrs O’Neill considers herself qualified to provide health advice in highly complex and specialised areas such as cancer treatment, use of antibiotics for Strep B and immunisation, in circumstances where it is clear her knowledge is limited.

The investigation also found that Mrs O’Neill does not recognise that she is misleading vulnerable people (including mothers and cancer sufferers) by providing very selective information.  The misinformation has real potential to have a detrimental effect on the health of individuals because Mrs O’Neill also discourages mainstream treatment for cancer, antibiotics and vaccinations.

The investigation determined that Mrs O’Neill breached the Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners under Schedule 3 of the Public Health Regulation 2012 in respect of:

  • Clause 3(1): a health practitioner must provide health services in a safe and ethical manner;
  • Clause 5(1): a health practitioner must not hold himself or herself out as qualified, able or willing to cure cancer or other terminal illnesses;
  • Clause 7(1): a health practitioner must not attempt to dissuade clients from seeking or continuing with treatment by a registered medical practitioner;
  • Clause 12(1): a health practitioner must not engage in any form of misrepresentation in relation to the products or services he or she provides or as to his or her qualifications, training or professional affiliations;
  • Clause 15: a health practitioner must maintain accurate, legible and contemporaneous clinical records for each client consultation.

The Commission is satisfied that Mrs O’Neill poses a risk to the health and safety of members of the public and therefore makes the following prohibition order:

  • Mrs O’Neill is permanently prohibited from providing any health services, as defined in s4 Of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993, whether in a paid or voluntary capacity.

The Commission has determined to make its Statement of Decision publicly available under section 41B(3)(c) of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 but has removed material which it considers to be confidential information.

The full Public Statement of Decision can be read here

____________________________

Barbara has clear and concise messages:

  • Vaccinations have caused an epidemic of ADHD, autism, epilepsy and cot death.
  • Cancer is a fungus that can be treated with bicarbonate soda.

Just what we needed in the UK!?

Or maybe not.

Yes, we did get used to being lied to by our PM. We are also slowly getting used to our NHS being vandalized by our Tory government. But that does not mean that we now should opt to cure cancer with baking soda.

Perhaps it would be better to use existing legislation (e.g. the cancer act) and stop this ‘international health lecturer’ in her tracks?

 

PS

In case you wonder who might organize such an event, it is this one:

Manna House Health Education & Wellness is a community interest company that works with people to improve their health. Manna House has been using natural health principles to help the body heal itself. It was established for the purpose of educating people in the principles and laws of healthful living.

Many systematic reviews have summarized the evidence on spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) for low back pain (LBP) in adults. Much less is known about the older population regarding the effects of SMT. This paper assessed the effects of SMT on pain and function in older adults with chronic LBP in an individual participant data (IPD) meta-analysis.

Electronic databases were searched from 2000 until June 2020; reference lists of eligible trials and related reviews were also searched. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were considered if they examined the effects of SMT in adults with chronic LBP compared to interventions recommended in international LBP guidelines. The authors of trials eligible for the IPD meta-analysis were contacted and invited to share data. Two review authors conducted a risk of bias assessment. Primary results were examined in a one-stage mixed model, and a two-stage analysis was conducted in order to confirm the findings. The main outcomes and measures were pain and functional status examined at 4, 13, 26, and 52 weeks.

A total of 10 studies were retrieved, including 786 individuals; 261 were between 65 and 91 years of age. There was moderate-quality evidence that SMT results in similar outcomes at 4 weeks (pain: mean difference [MD] – 2.56, 95% confidence interval [CI] – 5.78 to 0.66; functional status: standardized mean difference [SMD] – 0.18, 95% CI – 0.41 to 0.05). Second-stage and sensitivity analysis confirmed these findings.

The authors concluded that SMT provides similar outcomes to recommended interventions for pain and functional status in the older adult with chronic LBP. SMT should be considered a treatment for this patient population.

This is a fine analysis. Unfortunately, its results are less than fine. Its results confirm what I have been saying ad nauseam: we do not currently have a truly effective therapy for back pain, and most options are as good or as bad as the rest. This is most frustrating for everyone concerned, but it is certainly no reason to promote SMT as usually done by chiropractors or osteopaths.

The only logical solution, in my view, is to use those options that:

  • are associated with the least risks,
  • are the least expensive,
  • are widely available.

However you twist and turn the existing evidence, the application of these criteria does not come up with chiropractic or osteopathy as an optimal solution. The best treatment is therapeutic exercise initially taught by a physiotherapist and subsequently performed as a long-term self-treatment by the patient at home.

 

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