Alternative Medicine

‘What’s the harm?’, Episode #4,354,223

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Perhaps the most upsetting of all the topics I’ve covered over the journey is the needless death of a child as a direct result of quackery, another example of which is reported here. In this case, the mother of a 10 year old considered herself a ‘healer’, and instead of getting the kid chemotherapy for liver cancer, fed her on fruits, vegetables, herbs and and coated her stomach in El Salvadoran mud.
It is true that the child may have died in any case, but you can just image the poor thing’s agony, with probably nothing more than dandelion tea for solace.
However it is also true that she would have had a fighting chance, particularly with the potential for a transplant at some point.
The parents claimed that they ‘don’t believe in chemotherapy’. There it is again – this thing called ‘belief’. Your beliefs are irrelevant when it comes to science – you should rely on what is known. Believing that the earth is flat doesn’t make it so.
They also said they we ‘bullied’ by the doctors. Well, boo hoo. I can just imagine the frustration of their doctors as they saw this young lady go from bad to worse, and not be able to intervene. Sometimes we just need to suck up our ego, and take the best advice available on the best course of action. Are they now proud that they stood up to these bullies? I have zero sympathy for them. This is not an excusable mistake. This is sheer child abuse and finally murder- clear cut. They are no less culpable than the person who gets behind the wheel while intoxicated and kills the occupants of a car – the outcomes are entirely foreseeable.
OK, enough ranting. But chalk up another statistic to the touchy-feely, natural-remedy bullshit.
Next time someone asks ‘What’s the harm?’, THIS is the harm.


Better late than never – Australia finally gets it on homeopathy

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You knew this would get me back to the typewriter, right?

Bottom line: the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council has concluded that:

“…there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective for treating health conditions”

Well, better late than never in coming to the same conclusion that ordinary folk like me have years ago. This excellent article in The Conversation summarises the issue nicely.

So, will health funds stop covering this sort of nonsense and costing the rest of us more? Will the government stop funding universities who teach this quackery?

Well, here’s my tip: Fresh from reinstating knighthoods, the Liberal government will:

  • disband the NHMRC as part of its response to the ‘budget disaster’
  • Replace GP Superclinics with holistic medicine centres because, let’s face it, homeopathy is much more cost effective
  • Increase funding to research into complementary medicine (that is, medicine that doesn’t work), and
  • Make complementary extras in private health care compulsory.

After all, millions of people use homeopathy, right? And millions of people are ‘the market’. And the market is speaking, so let’s get on with it.

Someone has to stand up to these scientists, and the Libs are the ones to do it.

I now look forward to that flood of comments about how misguided I am in disbelieving homeopathy, and being sucked in by the medical industrial complex. I especially look forward to the anecdotes which people cling to to justify wasting money and avoiding actual medical care.


More blood on Oprah’s hands

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It seems to have been ages since this post, and this… in which the link between Oprah’s obsession with new age nonsense in ‘the Secret’ and smooth talking con artists pushing self-help solutions clearly resulted in a preventable death.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t stopped, and here another example – 3 deaths caused by some idiot pushing the really deep idea that ‘thoughts, feelings and actions need to be firing simultaneously in the same direction’. Oh what a lot of drivel. Just wish for it, and so it will be. It’s the Secret all over.

This piece of video focuses one of the deceased. It’s both heartbreaking and infuriating.

Good work again Oprah.

Unfortunately, none of your charitable works brings back the dead, or in any way makes up for facilitating con artists to find their marks.


Chiropractic and babies – really say NO

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It was only a matter of time before the statistics caught up with them.

As a followup to my article last year urging you to resist the temptation to have your neck ‘adjusted’ by chiropractor, here is a current article on the perils of such treatments. An infant’s neck was broken, and with doctors saying:

Another few millimetres and there would have been a devastating spinal cord injury and the baby would have either died or had severe neurological impairment with quadriplegia. Everybody was very nervous about this little baby.

This one is noteworthy because a. the patient is so young, and b. this is one of the few ‘adverse’ events that are publicised as a result of the child needing hospitalisation (for real medical treatment) after the ‘adjustment’. As pointed out in my earlier article, there are large number of transient effects which chiropractors don’t consider ‘adverse’, but should be cause for concern and expose patients to unnecessary risks.

The article quotes the president of the Chiropractors Association of Australia, Laurie Tassell, as saying: “chiropractic is as safe for children as it is for adults” – which is not much comfort, since in the case of spinal manipulation it’s a danger to adults too.

The real worry is that chiropractors are using this bogus treatment for more than just mechanical issues – all sorts of ailments such as colic, ear infections, asthma, reflux, constipation and so on, with absolutely no evidence of any beneficial outcomes. And don’t get me started on chiropractors replacing vaccinations with their own treatments. All this just multiplies the opportunity for needless spinal manipulations.

In this measured and thorough report by Harriet Hall on a recent systematic study into chiropractic adverse events, her conclusion was as follows:

The bottom line: chiropractic manipulations, especially neck manipulations, carry a small risk of serious consequences, a large risk of minor adverse effects; and, depending on the indication, there is little or no evidence that they are effective.

Really, stay away from these self-deluded charlatans, and especially keep your children away from them.

Another kicking for chiropractic – well done Catalyst!

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It’s seems an age since I’ve ranted about that other favourite ‘therapy’, chiropractic. I’ve put the word therapy in quotes, because in this context it means ‘completely bogus time-wasting, money-sucking, and potentially dangerous non-profession’.

I finally caught up with a recent episode of Catalyst, which did a lovely job of exposing the nonsense that is chiropractic. I’ve said it all before: for example here and here, but it’s always nice to have one’s own understanding re-affirmed by people who know what they are talking about.

Have a look at the episode – I particularly enjoyed the look of exasperation on the face of one of the neuro-surgeons as they ask him to explain what a chiropractor has just said about ‘static’ in the spinal chord – that happens at about 6:26 into the show.


Swisse vs. Reality

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Back in July I had a crack at Swisse – one of the biggest marketers of questionable supplements and alternative therapies currently going around. I got a really interesting comment from correspondent Pam, and felt it was worth putting the comment up in lights, rather than having it languish in a comment thread. She had this to say about the subject:

After a PET scan showed multiple ordinary-nothing-to-worry-about cysts on my liver (as part of a work up to diagnose breast cancer bone mets) I decided to take Swisse Liver Detox tablets to help support my liver function. I don’t drink alcohol and have a good well balanced diet. The only reason I decided to try them was because an osteopath friend of mine suggested finding something with milk thistle in it – so stupid me I did! Within a fortnight of taking them my entire body is itching terribly (to the point that I am now cover in little sores) and when I had my blood test this week the oncologist phoned me to tell me my liver function was badly ABNORMAL when previously it had been perfectly normal!! Needless to say I stopped taking the tablets three days ago but I am still itching terribly. This is an allergy to the tablets and they have caused my poor liver to now not function properly! I have to have another blood test in a fortnight to reassess its function now! Not happy! There is nothing on the Swisse website for Liver Detox warning about this sort of reaction.

Pam’s story is a timely warning  that these ‘feel good’ treatments don’t guarantee that you’ll actually feel good. Or even better. They really don’t guarantee anything. In Pam’s case I wouldn’t be surprised if she had some legal recourse for what she has suffered.  So don’t believe the hype, or even the anecdotes  (see my Elmore threads for good examples of those), and ensure you check with your doctor (of Real Medicine) about whether the supplement will help or hinder. At least this way if something goes wrong, it will be quicker to diagnose.

And for those cynics out there, who want to yell at me: “hypocrite, you’re just citing an anecdote yourself” – good work! Your critical thinking skills are coming along. Yes, it’s an anecdote, and yes, Pam could work for an opposition supplement company. Or Pam could be part of the Big Pharma conspiracy aiming to kill the ‘real treatments because they’re so effective’. But the difference is that it’s an example of what could happen, not a guarantee of what will happen. It’s  a warning, not encouragement. Buyer or user beware.

And how is Pam doing now? Her most recent update is:

My second blood test after stopping the Liver Detox tablets showed a marked improvement although it was still not back to the normal level it showed pre-self medicating!! Never again!!

Good luck with it Pam. To really get that liver humming, I recommend 1 litre of Elmore Oil daily. I drank some, and my liver is just dandy.

Say NO to neck twisting treatments

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I’ve previously had a crack at chiropractic manipulation (here and here for example), and recent research published in the British Medical Journal does nothing to change my mind.

I admit not having read the whole article, since I’m not a member, but rather I’m going on a recent article by Dr. Steve Novella, who wrote an analysis here for the James Randi Educational Foundation.

The article in the BMJ has the conclusion neatly encapsulated in the title: “Should we abandon cervical spine manipulation for mechanical neck pain? Yes”.

Steve looks at the issue from a risk point of view, noting that all therapies can carry some risk, and the ultimately it’s a risk vs benefit analysis that must be done. He has in past written a long analysis of the issue himself here. While chiropractors have been doing the high-velocity neck manipulations for many years now, there is now emerging evidence that neck manipulation carries a risk of stroke and death from trauma to the neck arteries.

The article points out that practitioners of neck manipulation have been generally denied or minimised the possibility of harm. It is of course true that other therapies, like vaccination, also have a small risk asssociated with them – but the risk is accepted by society because of the benefits. The difference with neck manipulation is that it is now clear there is no real benefit to offset the small risk. This has been established by systematic reviews over a long period now. As with many ‘alternative therapies’, all we have are the enthusiastic claims of the practitioners, most of whom never demand evidence. They would also almost never see one of these catastrophic injuries, and therefore wrongly assess the risk. It’s the old ‘my grandfather smoked all his life and he lived to be 100‘ syndrome. Our experience is a very bad way to assess a proposition. Admittedly, the risk is quite small in absolute terms. However when viewed in a cost-benefit light, the risk is too high. As Steve puts it:

In absolute terms this is a low risk, and we certainly accept higher chances of adverse outcomes in many mainstream treatments. But we need to also consider that, while the chance may be low, the risk we are talking about is stroke or death – a very serious adverse outcome. Further, this may occur in young and otherwise healthy individuals. In that context, the risk is relative high for a medical intervention.

So, not only is there no evidence for this therapy to offset the high risk (high risk in the sense of low probability but high impact), there is no reasonable theory or method of action to support such neck manipulation. Chiropractors will tell you about so-called subluxations, which cause all manner of internal bodily illnesses. However, these continue to be imaginary. While vertabrae of the spine do often impinge on nerves to cause serious issues, the chiropractors’ claims regarding the range of illnesses caused by subluxations are fanciful. Just think about it logically for a minute: if minor (adjustable) spinal mis-alignment can cause liver problems (for example), then anyone who experiences paraplegia or quadroplegia should suffer massive organ failure, right? But they don’t. They live on in varying levels of immobility, despite suffering the mother of all subluxations. Bogus therapy – there’s no other way to put it.

So, anytime someone offers to give your head a quick whip around to relieve that headache, or stress, or digestive illness, or sore ankle, or emotional problem, JUST SAY NO.