Category Archives: 2015

WDDTY: Sick or elderly person could be taking 30 drugs almost every day

This headline appeared recently on WDDTY’s appalling webshite:

Sick or elderly person could be taking 30 drugs almost every day

That’s an incredible amount, yet some people could be, although I doubt many young(ish) people fall into that category. Nevertheless, what’s surprising about the WDDTY headline is that it’s partly in the rough vicinity of the truth. It’s quite common for the very elderly (i.e. geriatric) to be on a staggering number of medications per day, and it’s a known problem that not only costs the State money but could also be shortening their lives.  Let me explain briefly and simply. There are several things to take into account, including:

  • The more medicines you take, the greater the risk of an interaction between them and the less chance there is of spotting it because, well, where to start?
  • As you grow older, your body becomes less efficient at eliminating substances. What was the proper dose for a chronic ailment at 50 may be an overdose at 80.
  • Some drugs – statins spring to mind as the most obvious example – are used to prevent health problems that may arise far in the future. There’s no point in giving someone a drug to prevent a heart attack or stroke in 20 years’ time when they’re 90.

The claimed source is “Daily Telegraph, 8 July, 2015”. This may well be, but not only is the Torygraph  quite definitely not a repository of peer-reviewed literature, I can find no article with that headline on its website. The rant below was, in fact, lifted from a story entitled:

Warning of ‘a nation of pill pushers’ as figures show 55 per cent rise in prescriptions

Which isn’t exactly the same thing. Now – bearing in mind that WDDTY promotes homeopathy, vitamin supplements and other forms of snake oil aimed at the healthy, thereby perpetuating the pill-popping culture – read on.

A sick or elderly person could be taking upwards of 30 different prescription drugs, often to treat conditions that could just as easily be managed by lifestyle changes.

The original article does not mention 30 different drugs a day at all, nor does it focus specifically on the elderly, except to state that 60% of prescriptions in 2014 were for patients aged 60+. Hence my clarifications above re the known problem of overprescription for geriatric patients.  Could the reworking and gratuitous augmentation of the text possibly be to twist it to the WDDTY agenda? Rumour has it that ursine excrement has been discovered in forested regions.

In all, UK doctors wrote one billion prescriptions last year for conditions such as depression and heart problems, costing the taxpayer £9 bn.

This is deliberate misrepresentation of sources. According to the Telegraph, the correct formulation should be “1 billion prescriptions… including drugs for conditions such as depression, diabetes and heart problems…”

Prescribing has increased by 55 per cent over the past decade, with the biggest rise in prescriptions for statins, for lowering cholesterol, which have doubled, followed closely by prescriptions for antidepressants, which have risen by 98 per cent.

No, statins more than doubled, while antidepressants rose by 97%, not 98%. You can’t even copy off the back of the cereal packet properly, can you?

The trend has been highlighted in a report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which suggests that 20 prescriptions were issued to each person last year.

20 prescriptions on average. Incidentally that’s not 20 drugs a day, nor is it 20 pieces of paper with (possibly) several drugs on them. A prescription is one line on that piece of paper the doctor just gave you. I personally think it’s a bloody stupid definition to use, if the Telegraph got it right.

Example: I’m in my mid-50s. Say I see my doctor once every 3 months, excluding acute illness, and he gives me a quarterly prescription covering an allergy (2 items: tablets & eyedrops, or ointment), a HRT for a dodgy thyroid and … I dunno, let’s say an anxiolytic or something like that. That’s 4 lines, 4 times a year, which counts as 16 prescriptions, according to the official reckoning. If I only go twice a year for my chronic problems (it can happen), there would only be 8 prescriptions, even though the number of drugs consumed daily doesn’t change.

All I need now is to catch a cold which degenerates into bronchitis (they often do), or contract some other acute condition. Or even get an attack of shingles (increasingly likely as you age).  A dental abscess, requiring antibiotics & painkillers. A sports injury…

It doesn’t take much to get to 20, let’s face it.

As many people do not take any prescription medication,

This does not appear in the original article, certainly because it’s irrelevant. Healthy people tend not to visit the doctor and therefore won’t be included in the statistics. We are concerned only with people who do take prescription medicine. Because we’re talking about prescriptions. Practically the only medicine you give to people who aren’t sick is vaccines, you moron. Only quacks try to medicate the healthy. Of course prescription medication is for the sick. There’s no treatment for old age either. Medicine is supposed to alleviate the ills that come with old age.

the actual numbers given to the sick and elderly will be far above that average.

WTF? Do you even Truth? This is another piece of bullshit tacked onto the original report to deliberately distort the reader’s conclusions: PEOPLE WHO GO TO DOCTORS ARE PUMPED FULL OF DRUGS THEY ARE ALL GOING TO DIE BUY OUR ADVERTISERS ILLEGAL BULLSHIT INSTEAD.

Fuckwittery, and vicious fuckwittery at that. Take a statistic, add on 50%, replace “quarterly” by “daily”, and then claim, with no evidence whatsoever, that the reworked “figures” are in fact horribly understated.  Hamlet once denounced someone as having “the lie in th’teeth as far back as the lungs”. This lot have the lie in the teeth as far back as the arsehole.

In 2004, the average was 13 prescriptions per person.

And here, as with the Torygraph article, is the nub of the problem. While nobody disputes that there is overprescription of certain drugs –  especially to the very old (who may no longer need them) and to those whose psychological and/or behavioural problems would respond better to therapy – all other factors are being (deliberately?) ignored.

For example, is the increase in prescription for ED medications purely due to men wanting to show off, or are people now less inhibited about discussing the problem with their partners and doctors? What about all the new drugs that only came onto the market in the last decade, treating ailments that were previously neglected? There is a prescription drug in the process of being authorised in a number of countries for use as a prophylactic against HIV transmission between partners. We could only dream of it back in 2004.

Addendum: Many of these prescription items will also not be drugs at all. Incontinence pads and dressings are also covered, as are some gluten-free food staples for those diagnosed with coeliac disease.  Some prescriptions are for supplements, not drugs: those with osteoporosis or osteopenia will typically be prescribed calcium and Vitamin D. We’re shocked – shocked! – to see WDDTY engaging in such simplistic anti-medicine rhetoric. – Ed.

The UK is fast becoming a nation of pill pushers, says Katherine Murphy, of the Patients’ Association, who believes that prescribing is now “out of control”.

That is not the meaning of the original text, which runs:

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the public’s increasing reliance on pills was becoming “out of control”.

My emphasis. In other words, Murphy, unlike WDDTY, is not blaming the doctors. Funnily enough, WDDTY carefully omit every single reference to the horrified reaction of the medics themselves to the problem. And I quote:

Earlier this year, the medics – who represent all 21 medical royal colleges in the UK – said too many patients were being given treatment and tests which could do more harm than good.

The senior doctors are currently drawing up a list of medical treatments which should no longer be routinely offered, in a bid to halt over-diagnosis and needless treatment.

Prof Bailey said: “Doctors and patients should all recognise that resources aren’t unlimited in the NHS and we must all work together to be good stewards of the resources we do have. “Doctors and their patients should always discuss whether a particular prescription is really necessary and reach the decision together,” she added.

So in fact this overprescribing problem is something the doctors have already told us about. Not that it stops WDDTY smearing them by omission and implication. And we finish with the standard quack assertion that what they consider to be a proper diet will cure everything:

Instead, doctors should be advocating lifestyle changes, such as an improved diet and exercise.

… which we compare and contrast with what was actually reported in the Torygraph:

She said far more needed to be done to encourage people to eat more healthily and take regular exercise.

Making Waves: A WDDTY disinfobox

Making wavesAs part of an article promoting the non-existent chronic Lyme disease, and the quack cures that charlatans sell to those suffering from something else (quite what, they have no idea),  WDDTY includes one of its infoboxes full of disinformation. We call them disinfoboxes.

The Scalar Wave Laser is one
alternative treatment that helped
Wendy, especially with her pain
symptoms. She even uses it on her
dog, Charlie (pictured).

Aw, sweet. And of course animals don’t experience placebo effects, do they? Oh, wait, they do. Continue reading Making Waves: A WDDTY disinfobox

July 2015 in review: Part 4

So far we’ve reviewed the cover stories, pages 1-10, pages 11-21 and pages 22-39.  We’re nearly at the staple, without a hint of any remotely credible advice that doctors don’t give you. Lots of adverts, though.

Page 40  is the start of an article titled “sweet not-so-nothings”. (it runs on pp. 41, 43, 44, 47, and a listicle on page 49 (the intervening pages being advertisements), and  which advances this idea:

Artificial sweeteners may have zero calories, but they cause weight gain by boosting blood sugar and crippling the system that regulates it.

Aside from the missing word “may” (as in they may cause weight gain and it may be by this mechanism), this is all consistent with current science.

The inherent problem with artificial sweeteners is that they are promoted as a magic bullet to achieve weight loss without changing your behaviour. Any long-term reader of these pages will know that miracle cures, never are.

And the essential problem with the WDDTY article is that it uses studies such as Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use and Long-term Weight Gain to assert a proven causal link. Continue reading July 2015 in review: Part 4

July 2015 in review: Part 3

We’ve seen the cover stories, pages 1-10 and pages 11-21.  Thus far, most of the content has been adverts, followed by things doctors do tell you and falsehoods from previous issues of  WDDTY. A bit of a swindle, the first quarter, and not even much of the lunatic nonsense for which WDDTY is famed. All that is about to change.

An advertising feature (as opposed to the undeclared advertorial that makes up most of the magazine) pimps the “MEND” Programme for Alzheimer’s disease. If there’s one thing guaranteed to get the vultures circling it’s a dreaded and incurable disease, and these vultures don’t mind sitting at the bedside during the death watch. Continue reading July 2015 in review: Part 3

July 2015 in review: part 2

So far we’ve looked at the cover stories and the first ten pages. Brace yourselves, there’s more to come.

Page 11 is a full-page advert for Cytoplan, who claim that their Wholefood Cherry C contains only pure, powdered acerola cherry because, as they say, “food supplement nutrients in the same form as those in food are always the most optimally effective”.

L-Ascorbic Acid (evil) Natural Vitamin C (not evil)
L-Ascorbic_acid-a L-Ascorbic_acid-g

Spot the difference. Continue reading July 2015 in review: part 2

July 2015 in review: part 1

There have been a good number of tweets on the #WDDTY hashtag highlighting bonkers claims in the July 2015 edition of WDDTY, so lets take a quick whistle-stop tour through its pages.

We dealt with the cover stories yesterday. Page 2 is (as usual) a full-page “we’ll never take advertising” advert for Altrient, which appears to be in competition with homeopathy as their strapline is “nothing compares to Altrient”. They lead with a “33% increase in skin firmness” cream, high dose vitamin C (perfect for enriching your urine) and “high performance” glutathione, which, you will be pleased to hear, may support optimal overall health (quackvertising code for: there is no credible evidence that it does), supports a number of fad diets, and contains no gluten or GMOs. WDDTY seems quite happy for the drugs it likes to be oversold with vague and inflated claims, it seems. Continue reading July 2015 in review: part 1

July 2015: the firehose of stupid at full blast

Your challenge: guess how much of this is valid information that doctors don't tell you.
Your challenge: guess how much of this is valid information that doctors don’t tell you.

The July 2015 issue of WDDTY is out.  You can tell from the cover that it’s going to be a cracker. HPV vaccine: new dangers revealed! Why low-cal sweeteners make you fat! Recipe for better breast health! How I beat Lyme disease! Staying sun-safe naturally! And the headline: 10 minutes to stronger bones.

Based on these I predict: an anti-vax diatribe based on misleading presentation of data with no balancing reference to the benefits of preventing cervical cancer; anti-aspartame conspiracist whacknuttery; pimping some refuted nonsense about breast cancer; favourite quack fake disease “chronic Lyme” cured by some quack nostrum; anti sunscreen bollocks; and something doctors already told you.

Let’s see how I do. Continue reading July 2015: the firehose of stupid at full blast

Homeopathy improves fatigue and pain of cancer patients ten-fold

Few fields demonstrate the exercise of the pseudoscientific method more consistently than homeopathy. Any half-competent editor of a health magazine will be well aware of the red flags, and will steer clear of the junk studies that define the field.

You’ve already spotted the problem, haven’t you? Yes, the editor would have to be half competent. And also they would have to give a shit about facts, rather than their advertising sales.

Homeopathy dramatically improves the mental and physical well-being of cancer patients who are being treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, a major new study has discovered.

Really? I wonder who would produce such a study, and where it might get published?

Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2015; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2015.03.004. A low impact factor (2.2) SCAM-specific journal.

“Influence of adjunctive classical homeopathy on global health status and subjective wellbeing in cancer patients – A pragmatic randomized controlled trial”

The word “pragmatic” is a red flag with homeopathy studies: it means that they are engaged in benefit finding, and have deliberately chosen not to try to eliminate many common sources of bias.

Half the 410 cancer patients, who were prescribed individual remedies, reported “significant improvements” in their levels of fatigue and pain, and had better appetites, than those who weren’t given the remedies. Improvements ranged from seven to 14 times in those taking homeopathy, say researchers from the Medical University of Vienna.

Did they indeed. So a group of people who received amateur talk therapy and magic sugar pills, reported subjective benefits, but no objective measures were used. This tells us precisely nothing that we did not already know.

Here’s something else we know: users of SCAM fare worse when they get cancer.  They delay treatment, trying worthless SCAM remedies first, so they present later and with more advanced disease, and even after controlling for that, they still die sooner.

With that in mind, one wonders why the Medical University of Vienna’s IRB approved this trial. Would they approve one on voodoo?  Maybe they would, it would not be the most unethical thing the university ever did, as Prof. Ernst reveals in his excellent A Scientist In Wonderland.

All the patients, who were being treated for stages 3 and 4 cancer, were interviewed every week while they were taking the remedies, and the improvements in the homeopathic group was very noticeable compared to the group who weren’t taking homeopathy.

According to a bunch of homeopaths. Of course the rigorous blinding that ensured that neither patient nor experimenter was aware of which group they were in, and the use of a carefully selected placebo (including controls for the homeopathic “consultation”, which another study shows is the only part of the whole charade that matters).

Oh, wait, no, they don’t appear to have done any of that.

Improvements in overall health were 10 times greater in the homeopathic group over the three weeks the remedies were taken.

Amazing, isn’t it? You wonder how such a striking finding could come out of a decently designed study given that three separate government reviews of homeopathy (Switzerland, UK and Australia) have failed to find a single condition for which it is provably effective.

There are two possibilities here:

  1. All the previous research is wrong, especially that showing that positive results are more likely when the study design is sloppy and less likely when it’s robust; most of physics is wrong; there are two complete parallel systems of action in human biochemistry, one of which has never been identified by scientists; and there is a form of energy that has never been detected or measured, but which has profound effects on human health.
  2. This is another badly-designed study by True Believers seeking to proselytise their faith.

Which is more likely? Answers on a razor please.

Shilling for quacks

As you will no doubt have realised, in most cases when doctors don’t tell you something, it’s because it is wrong (or at least unsupported by credible evidence). Sometimes, though, it goes a bit further. June’s lede is one of those cases.

Barry Durrant-PeatfieldW is a former GP who had an active practice treating what he diagnosed as thyroid disorders. WDDTY consistently call him “Dr.” but that is misleading: he has been voluntarily erased from the medical register rather than defend himself on fitness to practice charges, so he is no longer licensed to practice medicine in the UK.

Suspended by the GMC, rather than fight the case, “Dr Durrant-Peatfield retired but decided to take his case directly to the public.” Rather than publishing in the peer-reviewed literature. Because that’s hard work and less profitable.

WDDTY spin the familiar narrative of the Brave Maverick Doctor. The reality is much more prosaic. He trained at the feet of the acolytes of Broda Otto BarnesW, who had eccentric ideas of thyroid function that failed to gain any meaningful scientific support (in the technical jargon of medicine, he was wrong). He used a quack diagnostic test and quack remedies to treat a disease that pretty much all reputable physicians would say his patients did not have. Continue reading Shilling for quacks

A salve for a tumour

This article plumbs new depths, even for WDDTY.

Let’s look at the infobox for a second.

The essential points

DO:

  • Work with a qualified practitioner who has his own reliable source of Black Salve
  • Use it sparingly and make sure any wound that remains is properly and hygienically treated
  • Anticipate excruciating pain and long periods of exhaustion and incapacity, when work may not be possible
  • Make sure you have the full support of family and friends. If the growth is on the back of the body, you’ll need someone prepared to apply the salve who isn’t squeamish.

DON’T:

  • Buy the salve off the internet or attempt to self-medicate without the guidance of a regulated and qualified health practitioner

  • Start salve therapy without having your eyes fully open: read and research, and become a Black Salve expert before you start

  • Use Black SaIve if you have diabetes or poor circulation

  • Start unless you have a powerful and effective pain reliever  available.

Got the message? It’s excruciatingly painful (because it is BURNING YOUR SKIN, Jesus, how dumb are you people?). You must not be squeamish, because it’s BURNING YOUR SKIN and that is messy as well as incredibly painful. Even the Daily Mail recommends against it.

Go to a qualified, registered and regulated health professional? That is spectacularly delusional. Any regulated health professional in the UK found using black salve would be unregulated pretty damned quickly.

Still, as Michael Baum said, you wouldn’t want to consult a fake charlatan would you?

There’s a genuine question here: if anybody follows the WDDTY advice and ends up scarred, as so many users do, would they sue?

As the article meanders on it throws up some gems:

It was while reading WDDTY that Dave came across an article about Phil and Rosa Hughes and their ‘alternative’ cancer-screening clinic, which was close to his home. They offer a technology called ‘thermography’, a less invasive and more sensitive alternative to mammography…

Thermography is not approved for cancer screening, for the rather obvious reason that it doesn’t work. Tests how it misses 75% of cancers. It’s Russian roulette with five barrels loaded. The Hughes’ website claim that thermography is “medically approved”, conveniently forgetting to mention that it is not medically approved, or effective, for breast screening.

What is quite interesting is that the patient, Dave, had received chemotherapy as a child for brain cancer. His visceral rejection of chemo when a tumour was diagnosed near the base of his spine – his fourth cancer diagnosis, incredibly – was based on this experience. Presumably he did not listen when the doctors told him of the advances in chemo in recent years, and the fact that not all chemotherapies are equal. So he “read books” (safe to assume they were not reality-based), studied WDDTY (BAD idea!) and went to the Gerson clinic (substantially worse idea). You have to wonder why these so-called “doctors” bother with five years of university followed by up to ten years of postgraduate work to become qualified, when they could just read some shit off the internet and become experts overnight.

What a shame that in all that reading he never encountered anything on confirmation bias.

In the pages of WDDTY he found an advertisement (possibly masquerading as an article) for Phil and Rosa Hughes’ “alternative” cancer screening clinic. Why he wanted alternative screening is a mystery since he already had a diagnosis.

The article claims in a callout that Rosa had “reversed her breast cancer through diet and lifestyle changes”.  Where have we heard that before? As it turns out, Rosa refused a biopsy, so she (and WDDTY) have no idea whether she actually had cancer or not. This is not a small matter: a lot of the patients used by quacks as success stories turn out never to have had biopsy confirmed disease. WDDTY seem to think that people who reject evidence-based diagnosis and treatment are making a bold and excellent choice, yet time after time they reveal that the choice is influenced by charlatans selling snake oil, in this case someone selling breast thermography services. Breast thermography is wrong in about 3/4 of cases, according to current evidence.

Worryingly, only one of the people at the Hughes’ clinic has any medical qualifications at all: a registered nurse. Phil Hughes is a “registered homeopath”, so is not just medically unqualified, in fact pretty much everything he thinks he knows about health and disease is provably wrong.

Following surgery to excise the tumour and his rejection of adjuvant chemotherapy, Dave adopts a standard-for-quackery restrictive diet, in this case vegan and dairy-free. The tumour, unsurprisingly, returns (cancer, unlike cancer patients, is not easily fooled by the blandishments of diet shills).

Dave decides on black salve. Because, you know, reasons.

A callout says:

Don’t buy just any salve off the internet, and don’t try to self medicate without seeing a qualified therapist

Qualified? How can you be qualified in batshit insane treatments? And if it’s not safe to buy any old black salve off the internet, how come it was safe to take any old shit off the internet as advice? Nobody, literally nobody, with any actual knowledge of cancer, will prescribe this stuff. WDDTY present Mohs surgery as if it validates the claims, but fails to note that Mohs excised the tissue surgically after 24 hours, rather than continuing to use the caustic paste as the sole or primary treatment. If anything the history of Mohs surgery refutes the claims of black salve advocates, since the salve is no longer used in clinical practice.

Eventually, he found a herbalist, whose clinic was fairly close to his home, who was prepared to see him and treat him with Black Salve. (The herbalist doesn’t wish to be named.)

If I was a medically unqualified “alternative” practitioner treating cancer patients with a dangerous and implausible treatment I probably wouldn’t want to be named either.

The herbalist admits he has never treated a sarcoma before, states that this is the biggest cancer he’s ever treated, but nonetheless gives a confident estimate that it will take 14 days for black salve to “expel” the tumour from the body. You have to love the confidence of ignorance.

The treatment was so painful that Dave passed out several times, he lost four stone in weight, and felt cold most of the time (presumably due to anaemia). That sounds a lot worse than chemo to me, but of course cognitive dissonance would never permit Dave to think this.

Black salve is dangerous. Really dangerous. It’s a caustic. Yes, it might be able to remove cancerous tissue, but it is indiscriminate and will take out everything else as well. Most importantly Dave’s tumour has already regrown once, and there’s no reason to think that it will not regrow again. By speaking to him so soon after treatment WDDTY risks presenting someone with a hidden malignancy as “cured” in order to promote a particularly barbaric form of cancer quackery.