Tag Archives: acupuncture

100 ways to live to 100: Your healthy lifestyle

Part of a series on WDDTY’s “free” advertorial report “100 ways to live to 100

Your healthy lifestyle

Oh good, lifestyle advice. We all love to be told what to do, if only so that we can feel appropriately virtuous when it’s what we would do anyway.

91 Don’t shield yourself from the sun’s rays

The sun is our best source of vital vitamin D, which to protect against numerous diseases and conditions. Most of us in the northern climes are vitamin D-deficient. Opt instead for sensible sun exposure by supplementing with antioxidants like selenium, lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E, which offer natural sun protection without the need for potentially harmful chemical sunscreens.

One of the most baffling things about WDDTY is that they tell you things like WiFi cause cancer (which they don’t) then promote not only exposure to the sun (which irrefutably does cause cancer), but unprotected exposure, asserting (falsely) that sunscreens cause cancer.

In fact, that the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Francisca Fusco MD tells you exactly why doctors don’t tell you that sun exposure is the best way to get vitamin D or that sunscreen causes cancer: it’s utter bollocks. Dangerous bollocks at that.

92 Get at least seven hours of sleep

This amount of sleep may “significantly” reduce your risk of cancer, says recent research.60 Lack of sleep alters insulin levels, contributing to overweight and even diabetes. Seven hours seems about right while nine is too much; women sleeping more than this have the highest risk of stroke.

Reference 60: Cancer. 2011 Feb 15;117(4):841-7. Short duration of sleep increases risk of colorectal adenoma. Thompson CL, Larkin EK, Patel S, Berger NA, Redline S, Li L.

All together now: Correlation is not causation. How do you know that those who sleep less are not rampant caffeine addicts? How do you know they’re not heavy drinkers? Alcohol intoxication seriously impacts quality of sleep, after all.

The answer is, you don’t, and you certainly don’t from a study whose 95% CI is 1.05-2.06, meaning that either it makes no difference or it doubles your risk. The study is underpowered to draw any firm conclusion about a causal link.

WDDTY did suggest that a lie in could cure diabetes. If that’s the level of rigour at play here, then perhaps it explains the sloppiness of the argument.

93 Ensure you are breathing through your nose

Breathing incorrectly can contribute to asthma,61 and even attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD)-spectrum problems. If you aren’t breathing correctly, try the Buteyko Breathing Technique or the breathing exercises (pranayama) practised in yoga.62

Reference 61: BMJ, 2001; 322: 1098–100 Prevalence of dysfunctional breathing in patients treated for asthma in primary care: cross sectional survey Mike Thomas, general practitioner, R K McKinley, senior lecturer, Elaine Freeman, primary care research coordinator, and Chris Foy, medical statistician.

Reference 62a:  J Asthma, 2000; 37: 557–64; A clinical trial of the Buteyko Breathing Technique in asthma as taught by a video. Opat AJ, Cohen MM, Bailey MJ, Abramson MJ.

Reference 62b:  J Asthma, 1991; 28: 437–42 Effect of yoga training on exercise tolerance in adolescents with childhood asthma. Jain SC, Rai L, Valecha A, Jha UK, Bhatnagar SO, Ram K.

The first reference concludes:

About a third of women and a fifth of men had scores suggestive of dysfunctional breathing. Although further studies are needed to confirm the validity of this screening tool and these findings, these prevalences suggest scope for therapeutic intervention and may explain the anecdotal success of the Buteyko method of treating asthma.

This qualifies as blindingly obvious, as does the second paper, because bronchospasm is self-reinforcing: teaching breathing techniques that help recover normal breathing rhythm, will minimise the symptoms of bronchospasm. But Buteyko does not claim to be merely palliative, it claims to cure asthma. The second reference shows this not to be the case – there are improvements in quality of life and reduced bronchodilator use, but no evidence of cure.

Wait, isn’t it medicine that’s only supposed to treat the symptoms?

Here’s what Asthma UK say:

Buteyko

  • There has been little research published in medical journals about the Buteyko technique. This makes detailed comment difficult.
  • A Cochrane Review of breathing exercises found no improvement in lung function. However, four clincial trials have suggested that breathing exercises can lead to a reduction in asthma symptoms and reduced use of a reliever inhaler.
  • In 2003 (Cooper et al) Asthma UK funded research into the clinical effectiveness of the BBT as a complementary addition to conventional asthma treatment. This study showed that for some people with asthma, the use of the BBT helped to reduce their asthma symptoms and to reduce their use of reliever inhaler; although no effect on the underlying condition itself was found.
  • The BBT may help people with asthma to feel more in control of their breathing and may be worth trying for those who are willing to give it a try and commit the time required to learn the technique.
  • More research is needed to identify if certain people with asthma benefit more than others.
  • BBT can be expensive and this should be taken into account when considering it as an option.

Yoga

  • Yoga is an ancient Hindu discipline that uses a variety of postures and breathing techniques to help to increase fitness and aid relaxation.
  • One aspect of yoga, Pranayama uses breathing exercises, and has been studied with regard to asthma. These breathing exercises were found to be beneficial, with participants showing fewer asthma attacks and a higher tolerance to certain triggers.
  • Simple relaxation techniques, which do not incorporate the philosophical aspects of yoga, have also been shown to have some benefit.
  • It’s uncertain whether yoga and breathing exercises help asthma by reducing stress (which can be a trigger) or by other physical effects. More research is needed to establish this.

So, breathing techniques help the symptoms of bronchospasm, it probably doesn’t matter much which one you use, in both cases you’re dealing with “brands” that have a side-order of claptrap so go in with your eyes open and don’t succumb to the usual woo.

Remember that the appeal to tradition is fallacious, that starting with a treatment and then generating evidence to support your business is always a red flag, and never give your money to anyone unless they can prove they are fully qualified with proper degrees from accredited colleges.

94 Walk

Especially if you’re a woman, walking at even a moderate pace (3 miles per hour) provides every benefit that running does for staving off degenerative diseases and cardiovascular events. Power walking will even burn more calories than running at a similar speed with no harmful effects on your joint cartilage. Use a Swiss ball to work your ‘core’—the muscles of the trunk, front and back—as this will strengthen the abdominal muscles that support the spine, hip and buttocks. Opt for free weights over machines, which are less effective for strengthening the body holistically.

Free weights also carry a higher probability of injury, because they are less controlled in the axis of movement and have no mechanism to control release on muscle failure.

Here’s a simple and easy fact about exercise: the type you enjoy most is the type you will keep up. Running, walking, rowing, cycling, on crosstrainer, climber, stationary bike or treadmill, on the road or on singletrack. Whatever you enjoy, you will be motivated to do.

The single best piece of advice is probably to exercise as part of a group who have healthy attitudes to their bodies and what they want to achieve. A cycling club, or a group of ladies who meet for half an hour on the treadmill followed by a skinny latte. Whatever gives you pleasure. 

Regardless, this advice is precisely what your doctor will tell you.

95 Sleep in the very dark dark

Too much light at night interrupts our body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our internal sleep–wake cycle; working at night and sleeping in a too-bright bedroom have also been linked to an increased risk of cancer.63 Get yourself a sleep mask or blackout curtains, particularly for the bright summer months.

Reference 63: J Natl Cancer Inst, 2001; 93: 1557–62 Night shift work, light at night, and risk of breast cancer. Davis S, Mirick DK, Stevens RG.

Yes, night shift work adversely affects your health. Remember to thank the nurses and juniors and buy them biscuits and chocolate next time you’re in a hospital, they do it for you. Now what does the study actually say?

RESULTS: Breast cancer risk was increased among subjects who frequently did not sleep during the period of the night when melatonin levels are typically at their highest (OR = 1.14 for each night per week; 95% CI = 1.01 to 1.28). Risk did not increase with interrupted sleep accompanied by turning on a light. There was an indication of increased risk among subjects with the brightest bedrooms. Graveyard shiftwork was associated with increased breast cancer risk (OR = 1.6; 95% CI = 1.0 to 2.5), with a trend of increased risk with increasing years and with more hours per week of graveyard shiftwork (P =.02, Wald chi-squared test).

CONCLUSION: The results of this study provide evidence that indicators of exposure to light at night may be associated with the risk of developing breast cancer.

That was in 2001, over time the evidence that prolonged night shift work is associated with higher cancer risk has firmed up. Sleep masks and blackout curtains? Not so much. These studies refer to long-term shift workers (nurses, in fact) and don’t establish any causal link between levels of darkness in normal sleep and cancer.

96 Seek out the new

Keep your brain active, stay curious and maintain goals—even physical ones. Routine is not only deadening to the senses, but can actually make us ill. According to Bowling Green State University psychologist Jaak Panksepp, one of the most important basic human instincts is the ‘seeking’ mode, a nature that remains intensely engaged in the search or the puzzle, or is simply curious about what’s new. Every study of longevity shows that those who live to a ripe old age set themselves goals and stay curious. An interest in new things and change and, most of all, a “pioneering spirit” seemed to be the longevity elixir of a group of long-lived Civil War nurses.64 Vary your activities and ensure that you engage in ones that involve problem-solving.

Reference 64: Nurs Forum, 1991; 26: 9–16 New Surprises in Very Old Places: Civil War Nurse Leaders and Longevity, Wendy Woodward

Just when you think the Weird has peaked…

While the average woman in the U.S. Civil War times lived to the age of about 40, a group of 17 extraordinary nurses–including Louisa Mae Alcott, Dorothea Dix, and Clara Barton–survived to much older ages. A variety of possible reasons, from social and marital status to altruism and religion, is explored. More than any tangible factor, however, the presence of a “pioneering spirit” seems to be at the root of their longevity.

 Is this genuinely the best source supporting this claim?

97 Love your work; work to serve

Don’t settle for anything less than work that makes your heart sing, and do it with gusto. People at peace with their lives and life’s work live longer than those at war with the world. One of the most fulfilling types of work is living a life of service to others.

Doctors, for instance? Oh, wait…

We hope our public service in debunking WDDTY’s egregious nonsense will indeed confer long life, but we don’t put money on it because the actual evidence for positive attitude making the blindest bit of difference is pretty thin.

If you live to be 100, you’re likely to be pretty chipper about it, but you can be the Duracell Bunny and still die aged 30 from a heart attack.

98 Find your tribe

Various studies have revealed that the root emotions of stress are a sense of helplessness and loneliness, and anything that can help re-establish connections—with family, with the community, with God—is a potent healer. Joining just one group this year will halve your chances of dying; connecting also protects against heart disease and stroke. If you don’t have a close community, then assemble one either through your church, or through work or leisure organizations. Meet and share regularly.

A classic confusion of correlation with causation. Does going to church make you live longer? It would be nice to think so, but nobody has successfully unpicked this from a general attitude of acceptance of the world, rather than perpetual angst. 

Oh, we believe chocolate works as well. Also probably gardening, certainly cycling, and who knows what else. It’s likely that anything that gets you out of the house and makes you happy, works. Which doesn’t explain the longevity of Victor MeldrewW, and although it’s definitely true that Tom Good has outlived Jerry Leadbetter, we reckon Margot Leadbetter is wearing the years more gracefully than Barbara Good.

99 Erase your old inner emotional tapes

Try one of the new energy psychology methods like  Thought Field Therapy (TFT) or the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), both of which are ‘needlefree’ forms of acupuncture in which the therapist or patient ‘taps’ on various meridians of the body while making a series of statements. In one study of patients suffering from post-traumatic stress—considered extremely difficult to treat—TFT reduced such stress by more than half.65

This message was brought to you by our sponsors.

Reference 65: Traumatology, 1999; 5: 1, article 4 – reference unclear (see contents)

This kind of bullshit makes professionals who deal with PTSD very angry. There is an immense body of research into PTSD, much of it centred on combat veterans. CBT and other techniques have an effect, as does EMDR, but it is a complex and long-lived disorder that is likely to require a lot of intensive effort from well-trained professionals.

Thought Field TherapyW is ideologically acceptable to Lynne McTaggart, author of many pseudoscientific discussions of similar concepts, but there’s no credible evidence it works.

Emotional Freedom TechniqueW is also purest hogwash.

Both are practised mainly by hippy-dippy New-Age quacks who believe that the body is regulated by the flow of an empirically unverifiable life force whose balance is vitally affected by meridians and acupoints that have no known associated biological structures.

The evidence that these points exist is, to put it mildly, not compelling. Nobody has yet succeeded in proving that tapping them (or sticking needles in them or anything else) has any differential effect over doing the same thing in the “wrong” place. Oh, and Chinese and Japanese versions are different, so if you’re a Chinese and get sick in Japan, be sure to let them know.

100 Cultivate a readiness to empathize and forgive

One of the greatest antidotes to stress is heartfelt forgiveness and empathy. Learning to forgive can help overcome depression and stress.66 Gratitude and generosity are powerful, health-promoting game changers.

Reference 66: Explore [NY], 2006; 2: 498–508 Positive emotional change: mediating effects of forgiveness and spirituality. Levenson MR, Aldwin CM, Yancura L.

Opinion masquerading as fact, basically pure new-age hogwash. But what the hell, to err is human, to forgive divine. However, it does require that the sinner first repents. When WDDTY apologises for some of its egregious errors, we’ll start to forgive them for their decades long anti-health crusade.

100 ways to live to 100: 10 situations that don’t usually require a doctor

Part of a series on WDDTY’s “free” advertorial report “100 ways to live to 100

10 situations that don’t usually require a doctor

If there’s one thing you can rely on doctors telling you, it’s when you don’t need a doctor. They are about as keen to see people with the common cold as WDDTY is to see evidence that vaccines are safe and effective. And in both cases, that doesn’t stop it happening, all the time.

61 Backache

Some 80 per cent of us suffer from back pain, but medicine doesn’t offer much besides potentially dangerous surgery (which leaves only a quarter of patients free of pain) and drugs. In most cases, an osteopath, chiropractor or Alexander Technique practitioner can sort you, as can exercise.

Let’s unpick that. If medicine cures back pain by surgery, that’s evil. If medicine gives drugs to manage the pain, that’s evil. If medicine recommends exercise and physiotherapy, that’s ignored because it would undermine WDDTY’s pretence that these are “alternative” and thus the sole preserve of quacks like their advertisers.

Why don’t doctors tell you that Alexander Technique works for low back pain? They do. They also recommend osteopathy and chiropractic, but there are severe problems with both these fields, due to the prevalence of crank ideas. Osteopaths need to discipline and exclude charlatans who practice “cranial osteopathy”, and chiropractors need to recognise that there is no evidence that chiropractic works better than evidence-based manipulation therapy, and substantial evidence of actively dangerous practices such as cervical spinal manipulation, potentially leading to stroke, bullshit claims to treat ear infections, asthma and other things unrelated to the musculoskeletal system, anti-vaccination propaganda, and of course the big scam: never discharging a cured patient, but instead trying to sell them an indefinite course of worthless “maintenance”.

If you have back pain, see your doctor, they will recommend the most appropriate treatment. Which might be surgery, drugs, exercise or some form of physiotherapy. Unlike WDDTY’s advice, this won’t be based on dogma or pleasing the advertisers, it’ll be based on the best currently available evidence.

62 Earache

Shout it loud: antibiotics just don’t work for earache. Nor does removing adenoids fix glue ear.39 Instead, try time, mullein oil, a woolly hat, a hot-water bottle, homeopathic Pulsatilla,40 osteopathy or auricular therapy (acupuncture of the ear). Before having grommets inserted in your child’s ear, cut down his fat and sugar, and investigate food or airborne allergies as the potential cause.

Reference 39a: JAMA, 2006; 296: 1235–41 Wait-and-see prescription for the treatment of acute otitis media: a randomized controlled trial. Spiro DM, Tay KY, Arnold DH, Dziura JD, Baker MD, Shapiro ED.

Reference 39b: BMJ, 2004; 328: 487 Adenoidectomy versus chemoprophylaxis and placebo for recurrent acute otitis media in children aged under 2 years: randomised controlled trial. Koivunen P, Uhari M, Luotonen J, Kristo A, Raski R, Pokka T, Alho OP.

Reference 40: Ullman D. Discovering Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1991; AHZ, 1985; 230: 89–94

If you follow this advice, a repeat of a recent and particularly dreadful article,  you’ll have to “shout it loud” because your child may be deaf.

The standard of care is watchful waiting, but adenoidectomy may be indicated in the presence of both glue ear and persistent nasal symptoms. Antibiotics work as a primary treatment for bacterial ear infections. Most children will grow out of them in time, but leaving the infection untreated when treatment is indicated, on ideological grounds as WDDTY propose, is perverse.

HomeopathyW has three problems: first, there’s no reason to think it should work; second, there’s no way it can work; and third, there’s no proof it does work. Of all alternatives to medicine, it is the most thoroughly debunked. Its doctrines were refuted over a century ago and its only real value now is as a litmus test for lack of critical thinking. A test WDDTY fails on a truly epic scale.

Dana Ullman, the cited source, is a high priest of the cult of homeopathy, he is a proven liar who claims Darwin and Nightingale for homeopathy despite their well documented contempt for it, and is responsible for propagating the lies that Montagnier’s work proves homeopathy and that the Swiss Government found it safe and effective. His propagandising for homeopathy knows no bounds. Each new publication by a True Believer is presented as the final clinching proof of homeopathy, and when it’s shown to be flawed or fraudulent he merely moves on to the next, occasionally repeating the old ones if he thinks nobody will notice. His self-promotion and steadfast denial of reality got him banned from Wikipedia.  There’s even an eponymous law: the Dull-Man Law. In any discussion of homoeopathy, being Dana Ullman loses you the argument – and gets you laughed out of the room.

AcupunctureW is also nonsense, though it is only recently proven to be completely useless. Auricular acupuncture has absolutely no basis in fact and lacks even the marginal credibility of acupuncture. The ear looks a bit like a baby, therefore the bits of the ear correspond to the organs that would be there if it was a baby. No, not even vaguely sensible.

63 Infection

For common and non-serious infections, try Echinacea, essential oils like clove, lavender, lemon, marjoram, mint, niaouli (Melaleuca), pine, rosemary and thyme oils, and goldenseal, manuka honey, tea tree oil, good old garlic and cranberry, all of which are powerful alternatives to antibiotics.

Alternatives they may be. Effective? Not so much. There’s some evidence of manuka honey as a topical antibiotic but why on earth would you not use antibiotics? They work very well, are generally well tolerated, and they have saved countless millions of lives.

This references a May 2013 article, we’ve added it to the work list.

64 Just-in-case checkups, particularly if you’re aged over 50

If you have nothing particularly wrong with you, going to the doctor won’t necessarily protect but is likely to unleash the entire arsenal testing apparatus have you leaving prescription (or three) in your hands.

So let’s get this straight: it’s wrong to see your doctor in case he finds something wrong with you.

Er, right.

65 Menopause In most cases, holistic measures

In most cases holistic measures (diet, homeopathy, herbs) will help you through the change in a safer way than using hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which continues to be discredited, despite protestations by doctors, because of a link with breast cancer.41 Our medical detective Dr Harald Gaier has had greater success with Phytoestrol N (which contains rhubarb root) than most of the popular herbals for menopause.

Reference 41:  Am J Public Health, 2010; 100 [Suppl 1]: S132–9 Decline in US Breast Cancer Rates After the Women’s Health Initiative: Socioeconomic and Racial/Ethnic Differentials Nancy Krieger, PhD,corresponding author Jarvis T. Chen, ScD, and Pamela D. Waterman, MPH.

HRT was discredited years ago, when it was shown not to protect against coronary heart disease but instead to promote it. Well-informed doctors don’t push it unless the symptoms of menopause are extremely bad, or for very early menopause or occasionally hysterectomy.

Homeopathy doesn’t work. Herbs may or may not (remember that a herbal remedy is basically an unknown dose of a potentially pharmacologically active compound with unknown impurities). The source for Harald Gaier’s success stories is Harald Gaier – WDDTY seem to think that blatant conflict of interest is fine as long as the message is ideologically acceptable.

66 Chronic but non-life-threatening conditions

Eczema, psoriasis, non-life-threatening asthma, arthritis and the like generally respond better to alternative measures than drugs, which only suppress symptoms. Check out the alternatives before resorting to lifelong drug use.

Few things are more infuriating than the claim that medicine “only suppresses symptoms” so alternatives are better.

Alternatives do one of two things: suppress the symptoms less effectively and less predictably, or nothing.

There are no alternatives which cure chronic conditions. If there were, they would no longer be alternative (Minchin’s Law).

The easiest way to demonstrate how wrong this advice is, is with a simple case study of one of the “non-life-threatening conditions” listed: eczema.

A couple whose baby daughter died after they treated her with homeopathic remedies instead of conventional medicine have been found guilty of manslaughter.

Gloria Thomas died aged nine months after spending more than half her life with eczema.

The skin condition wore down her natural defences and left her completely vulnerable when she developed an eye infection that killed her within days of developing.

And it’s not the only case. It’s extremely clear that the very last thing you should do when faced with a chronic condition is to consult an “alternative” practitioner, who will follow an ideologically-determined path with no provable value to you, for profit.

67 Slimming

All doctors usually have to offer are drugs and calorie counting, which aren’t long term solutions, and numerous slimming drugs have potentially fatal side-effects. Look first for potential food intolerances, get your thyroid checked out, clean up your diet, and opt for low-GI foods and lots of fruit and veg.

The GI diet was developed by doctors. It’s recommended by doctors, who also recommend exercise and weight management clinics. Oh, and they can also refer you for lap band or other surgical interventions which have a reasonable success rate in the chronically obese who are not compliant with diet regimes. Doctors are also pretty good at spotting thyroid problems.

In the end, though, there is only one diet that is proven to work 100% of the time: the ELEM diet. Eat less, exercise more. Every reputable doctor in the UK, and probably the world, will tell you the same. WDDTY seem to prefer nutritionists who generally have no recognised qualifications whatsoever but nevertheless often sell miracle or fad diets.

68 Colds and flu

Unless you’re elderly and your immune system is compromised in some way, there’s nothing your doctor can give you (or your children) to end a cold or flu, which is usually caused by a viral infection (against which antibiotics mostly don’t work). Bed rest and plenty of fluids, plus zinc, Echinacea, Pelargonium sidoides, Andrographis paniculata, vitamin C and probiotics can all shorten the life of a cold (see WDDTY December 2013).

We’ve critiqued these claims recently. No reputable doctor prescribes antibiotics for uncomplicated viral illness. WDDTY’s view of current medical advice seems to be 20 years out of date and from another continent.

69 Fever

Heat is the body’s extremely clever method of killing foreign invaders of all varieties, and taking anti-inflammatories and other drugs to lower your temperature just hampers that process. Allow your body to self-help by not interfering with a fever unless it’s so high that it may cause permanent damage. Fevers for ordinary viral and bacterial infections won’t exceed 105 degrees F (40.5 degrees C), which generally isn’t dangerous. But see a doctor immediately if you suspect a serious problem like meningitis.

WDDTY don’t seem to know the difference between anti-inflammatories and antipyretic|antipyreticsW. As it happens, Clay Jones at Science Based Medicine recently wrote a much more nuanced piece on fever, in the context of acute cases in hospital, which seems to be the situation WDDTY are considering.

As it happens, Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, recently tweeted a much more pragmatic piece by an actual doctor. Why would you allow your child to suffer the symptoms of fever, if a cheap and safe drug can bring them relief and let them at least get to sleep?

70 Acne

All your doctor can offer are drugs with horrendous side-effects; isotretinoin, marketed as Accutane and Roaccutane, can cause permanent damage to the cornea, impaired hearing, fatal pancreatitis, depression and even suicide.42 Try changing your diet, balancing your blood sugar and identifying any food intolerances first, then look to acupuncture, shown to help in 80 per cent of cases, or herbs like the Ayurvedic herb guggul (Commiphora wightii).43

Reference 42a: Arch Dermatol, 2012; 148: 803–8 Ocular Adverse Effects of Systemic Treatment With Isotretinoin Meira Neudorfer, MD; Inbal Goldshtein, MSc; Orna Shamai-Lubovitz, MD; Gabriel Chodick, PhD; Yuval Dadon; Varda Shalev, MD

Reference 42b: Am J Ther, 2004; 11: 507–16 Polar hysteria: an expression of hypervitaminosis A. O’Donnell J.

Reference 43a: J Tradit Chin Med, 1993; 13: 187–8 Treatment of 86 cases of local neurodermatitis by electro-acupuncture (with needles inserted around diseased areas). Liu JX.

Reference 43b: J Dermatol, 1994; 21: 729–31 Nodulocystic acne: oral gugulipid versus tetracycline. Thappa DM, Dogra J.

The first source says that “Isotretinoin use may be associated with short-term ocular events, especially conjunctivitis, underscoring the importance of educating patients and caregivers about these potentially important AEs of the therapy.” In other words: always read the label and be mindful of the balance of risks and benefits. To spin “may be associated with short-term ocular events” as “can cause permanent damage to the cornea” is typical of WDDTY.

The second source discusses accutane’s similarity to vitamin A, and thus the possibility that it may lead to hypervitaminosis A (but of course no actual vitamin is bad, as because natural). It’s an interesting paper that specifically note that accutane is indicated only for severe recalcitrant nodular acne but is being prescribed for less serious cases. However, this applies almost exclusively in the US, where drug manufacturers can advertise direct to consumers. In the UK, doctors are much closer to following the actual indications, because parents and patients are much less likely to pester the doctor for the drug they just saw advertised on TV. The increase in suicide with accutane should also be weighed against the fact that acne itself may induce suicidal thoughts. Bottom line: ask your doctor. This is the kind of thing GPs are trained for.

The third source is in a journal dedicated to promoting “traditional” Chinese medicine – in fact largely an invention of Mao. Such journals have serious issues with publication bias. The combined weight of evidence is pretty clear: needling results in only placebo effects. Electroacupuncture may have similar effects to TENS, but traditional it is not. Chinese acupuncture uses bamboo needles – bamboo is a notoriously poor conductor of electricity,

The fourth source, from 1994, promotes gugulipid (guggul). There’s decent evidence this works, but (as with every effective treatment) it has side-effects, which WDDTY either haven’t seen or don’t care about because natural.

It can cause side effects such as stomach upset, headaches, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, diarrhea, belching, and hiccups. Guggul can also cause allergic reactions such as rash and itching. Guggul can also cause skin rash and itching that is not related to allergy […].

Hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Guggul might act like estrogen in the body. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don’t use guggul.

Underactive or overactive thyroid (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism): Guggul might interfere with treatment for these conditions. If you have a thyroid condition, don’t use guggul without your healthcare provider’s supervision.

So, quite a lot of problems there. And guess what? Thanks to assiduous lobbying by the supplement industry, you might well never find out about these.

Acne is a bugger. See your doctor for good evidence-based advice, and see a counsellor if you find the bullying of your peers to be distressing.

Chinese herbs contain dangerous pesticides

Chinese herbs contain dangerous pesticides

WDDTY, December 2013

Chinese herbs contain dangerous pesticidesThis is a story that tells us more in what it doesn’t say than in what it does say.

There has been concern for some time over contamination of Chinese herbs. There’s published evidence of microbial and heavy metal contamination, and this goes back a long way. There are reports of solanaceous alkaloids, too.

WDDTY has been strangely silent on this. They tell you about heavy metals in high fructose corn syrup, tap water, processed food, toiletries, cosmetics, fillings, deodorant and bread, but a keyword search of the back issues finds no mention of their presence in Chinese herbs.

We’re still trying to find WDDTY’s coverage of the fact that many herbs on open sale contain little or none of the advertised product. Up to now, though, it’s fairly clear that WDDTY has been toeing the party line on contamination of Chinese herbs.

What’s changed? Well, the trade body are now “fed up” with the string of problems emanating from China. Heavy metal poisoning is one thing, undermining the trade in herbs is quite another. So WDDTY speaks out.

If you’re regularly taking Chinese herbs, you might want to check that they’ve been grown organically. Many herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine contain a cocktail of pesticides, including several that are considered ‘extremely hazardous’, a Greenpeace analysis has revealed.

The Greenpeace scientists found that 32 of the 36 herbs imported from China that they tested contained three or more pesticides, and samples of honeysuckle had up to 26 toxic chemicals. Seventeen samples contained pesticides classified as “highly or extremely hazardous” by the World Health Organization.

What about the heavy metals and microbial contaminants? Oh, wait, they are natural.

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors tell you that Chinese herbs may be contaminated?

They have been telling you for at least 15 years, it’s WDDTY that was keeping it quiet. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

The right vibes: music therapy

The right vibes
An article from vol. 24 no. 5 (August 2013) gives a staggeringly credulous overview of the inflated claims made for music therapy by those who allow their imagination to run riot.

The article itself is a game of two halves, Bryan. It starts out by establishing, at tedious length, the entirely uncontroversial fact that music can make people happier and take their mind off pain, and then switches to all manner of speculative hyperbole drawn primarily from the self-published opinions of those who are (over)selling patented music interventions.

When you read that “new research shows that music offers a powerful therapy after stroke, heart disease—and even cancer”, are you likely to understand that the effect in cancer is that playing music makes patients feel a bit less miserable? Because that is about the limit of it. It’s a soft “quality of life” outcome: even the often shockingly poor sources cited don’t make the claim that music has any material effect on the progression of cancer.

The article has many good examples of wishful thinking, some obvious cases of confirmation bias, a hilarious reference to the bonkers “morphic resonance” conjectures of Rupert Sheldrake, and several examples of using valid results to support wildly speculative arguments.

Continue reading The right vibes: music therapy

Emotional Freedom Techniques: More advertorial

2013-05 vol 24 no 2 May 2013_31Emotional Freedom techniquesW (EFT) are a form of counselling intervention that draws on various forms of nonsense including acupuncture meridianWs, neuro-linguistic programmingW and energy medicineW.

Unsurprisingly, evidence for any effect beyond what would be expected from talk therapy, is elusive. And equally unsurprisingly, given that it’s pseudoscience, WDDTY seems happy to give practitioners a platform for advertisements masquerading as content.

The first mention I can trace is in vol. 19 no. 4 (July 2008) where this letter is printed:

Hypnotherapy for de-stressing
Re May’s cover story, ‘Stress: the pain of going it alone’ (WDDTY vol 19 no 2), what I found disappointing was the omission of hypnotherapy in a list that covered many approaches and modalities, some of which are far less well-established and tested.

As a hypnopsychotherapist (who uses biofeedback, cognitive behavioural therapy, neurolinguistic programming, Emotional Freedom Technique, integrative breathing therapy and music, along with Gestalt, various accelerated learning techniques and other approaches, tailored to the needs of each client), and as a researcher and author, this strikes me as a major omission and detracts from an otherwise very useful article by not acknowledging the value of hypnosis as one of the fastest and most effective ways to trigger the relaxation response and reduce or eliminate altogether all the symptoms of the stress response.

I was also surprised that there was no mention of Emotional Freedom Technique and Thought Field Therapy, some of the fastest-growing self-help tools using energy-medicine approaches.

I realize that no single article can be completely comprehensive, but the fact that hypnotherapy, in particular, was omitted is baffling—especially as it is so widely available and easily learned for self-help.

Hypnotherapy incorporates many of the techniques mentioned in the article, including breathing and visualization, and has been used as a stress-reduction tool for as long as we’ve been referring to ‘stress’—and long before that.—Dr Leila Edwards, via e-mail

First, Edwards does make a fair point in that hypnotherapyW is a valid therapy for stress. Perhaps WDDTY excluded it because it is widely used and taught to patients by doctors, but they also included cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is also entirely mainstream, as are exercise and yoga, which are freely mixed with such nonsense as “HeartTouch”.

However, the inclusion of “energy medicineW” and its derivatives marks this out as being quackery, and EFT is indeed just that.

Next up was a testimonial from an advert from the pretentiously titled trade association the General Naturopathic Council Ltd. in vol 23 no. 8 (November 2012):

  • Patient – 35-year-old single mother with a 3-year-old autistic son; previously in a violent relationship.
  • Symptoms – mental and physical exhaustion, anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Prescribed antidepressants (an SSRI); although they have helped a little with her state of mind, the exhaustion is unrelenting, she feels her life is out of control and is finding it difficult to cope with her son’s needs.
  • The case history taking, along with an iris analysis, suggested adrenal exhaustion. It was noted at the consultation that the patient was hyper-ventilating.
  • Protocol – the patient’s diet had been carbohydrate-heavy. The long-term lack of protein could have been influencing the brain’s neurotransmitter production, resulting in a lack of serotonin to produce a feeling of calm and well-being. Dietary recommendations were to incorporate more protein and essential fats.
  • A constitutional homeopathic remedy was prescribed. Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic herbal remedy, was prescribed for adrenal support. The patient was taught Emotional Freedom Technique to help with her previous traumatic experiences. Light exercise was encouraged, along with breathing exercises.
  • Outcome – the patient’s energy levels and well-being steadily improved and within 2 months she informed her GP that she didn’t need to take the anti-depressants.
  • A naturopathic assessment takes into account the web-like interconnection of the body’s organs and systems. A Naturopath will aim to identify the root causes, rather than treating individual symptoms.

Oh dear. I wonder what the quacks offered for the autistic child? I hope it wasn’t chelation therapy or CEASE or any of the other legion of child abuses to which these loons subject autistic children in the mistaken belief that they have the faintest clue what they are doing.

A naturopath should not really be treating this patient. She should have been referred to a competent psychologist to help with the stress and diagnose whether the history of abuse had caused post-traumatic stress disorderW. Fortunately homeopathy and EFT “worked”, so this was unlikely to be the case, but that is blind luck. SSRIs are problematic and the doctor probably would have had her off them pretty soon anyway.

The last bullet is just hilarious. A naturopath cannot do these things because a naturopath is not, in the main, medically trained or qualified. Attempts to understand what naturopaths and other quacks mean by these vaguely referenced interconnections between systems is likely to leave you needing a drink, and with a strong desire to punch walls.

So we move to the advertorial itself, spread over pages 74-82. It is a promotion of EFT under its other name, Tapping (or Tapping Therapy).

Tap yourself to good health: Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) has been called the all-purpose solution to emotional problems, but it can also be used to heal your body and overcome stress. Here’s how.

Yes, it’s another One True Cure. The article begins by describing the “journey of discovery” of Callahan, the inventor of EFT. Stripped of the overtones of credulous awe, the anecdote is pretty straightforward: Callahan had a patient, engaged in a theatre of mystery and the patient improved. The null hypothesis was never considered, because who would not want to be the “discoverer” of a new and powerful cure for illness? The gravy train was filled with coal and steamed out of the station, leaving reality standing on the platform.

Three sources are cited:

Human Brain Mapping Volume 30, Issue 4, pages 1196–1206, April 2009 The salient characteristics of the central effects of acupuncture needling: Limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network modulation, Fang et. al. is used as a source for the claim that “Research at Harvard Medical School over the past decade has shown that stimulation of selected meridian acupoints decreases activity in the amygdala, hippocampus (another part of the limbic system) and other parts of the brain associated with fear, findings that have been captured on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans”. This is disingenuous: the study is in respect of acupuncture, not pressure or tapping, and as the authors state: “Although certain differences could be observed between real and sham points, the hemodynamic response (BOLD signal changes) and psychophysical response (sensory experience) to acupuncture were generally similar for all four points.” In other words, the study provides only weak and indirect support for the idea that the acupoints have any actual relevance and some evidence that in fact they don’t (which is the scientific consensus view based not least on the fact that they have no associated physiology).

J Nerv Ment Dis. 2012 Oct;200(10):891-6. The effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: a randomized controlled trial. Church D, Yount G, Brooks AJ. This is a study in a low impact factor journal written by authors from the research arm of “Soul medicine Institute”, which now calls itself the National Institute for Integrative Healthcare (NIIH), absolutely not in any way trying to sound like the National Institutes for Health (NIH). This body is dedicated to promoting energy medicine and energy psychology – in other words EFT. The study uses a control which is less theatrical, so is not a valid comparator. We don’t have the full study, the abstract does not make it clear whether the comparisons are with no treatment (NT) or standard psychotherapy groups.

Rev Gen Psychol, 2012; 16: 364–80 Feinstein, D. (2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: evidence of efficacy. Feinstein is on the faculty of the “Energy Medicine University“, an unaccredited for-profit “university” that teaches all manner of bullshit. The paper does not establish the validity of acupuncture points, unsurprisingly (that would have scored the author a Nobel prize), and fails to discount the null hypothesis.

The article is of course entirely uncritical. Its author is Nick Ortner, an “international expert” on EFT – in other words, a vendor. WDDTY’s usual approach is in evidence: alternative claims are never challenged, the obvious conflicts of interest are never a problem. Only “big pharma” and the rest of the evidence-based world is subject to conflicts of interest, it seems.

And what does the real world have to say?

An article in the Skeptical Inquirer argued that there is no plausible mechanism to explain how the specifics of EFT could add to its effectiveness, and they have been described as unfalsifiable and therefore pseudoscientific.[4] Evidence has not been found for the existence of meridians or other concepts involved in traditional Chinese medicine.[5]

A Delphi poll of an expert panel of psychologists rated EFT on a scale describing how discredited EFT has been in the field of psychology. On average, this panel found EFT had a score of 3.8 on a scale from 1.0 to 5.0, with 3.0 meaning “possibly discredited” and a 4.0 meaning “probably discredited.”[6] A book examining pseudoscientific practices in psychology characterized EFT as one of a number of “fringe psychotherapeutic practices,”[7] and a psychiatry handbook states EFT has “all the hallmarks of pseudoscience.”[8]

EFT, along with its predecessor, Thought Field Therapy, has been dismissed with warnings to avoid their use by publications such as the The Skeptic’s Dictionary[9] and Quackwatch.[10]

How disappointing: once again the lone genius turns out simply to have been wrong.

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors tell you that tapping your acupressure points can cure your ills?

Because there’s no good evidence these points exist, let alone that the therapy works.

Natural pain relief

From WDDTY e-news 3 April 2007 No.347

Natural pain relief

A reader is eager for advice on how he can replace prescription pain medication with a natural alternative.  He suffers from multiple herniated discs and degenerative disc disease and without medication the pain is unbearable.  He has chronic pain in his lower back, buttocks and sciatic nerve.  He currently takes oxycodone, fetanyl (skin patch) and methadone in high doses, but doctors say his medication can be reduced if he opts for surgery.  He has had surgery for his condition in the past and is not keen to have any more operations.  Is there a natural remedy out there that may be able to help?

If you seriously believe that a magnetic bracelet can replace high dose methadone, then you have absolutely no business offering health advice.

Let’s be really clear here: as @LennyLaw pointed out on Twitter, this man is in agony due to serious structural problems. He is unlikely to get relief without some form of surgical intervention. The pain killers he is using are among the strongest available, and go way beyond the “ooh my dodgy knee felt a bit better” kinds of effects that the quack treatments proposed could provide, even if they worked as advertised.

But what counts as “natural”? What “works”? Let’s review the responses one by one:

Bioflow wristbands

According to Nick, you should try a Bioflow wristband, which uses a patented magnetic module to treat the blood and assist the body to heal itself, providing natural pain relief.  “My arthritic thumbs and knees no longer give me any pain and I am sleeping better and have more energy,” he reports.  Another reader points out that the wristbands have been proven to reduce pain in a clinical trial of nearly 200 men and women with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee (BMJ, 2004; 329: 1450-4).

Apparently, Bioflow comes with a 90-day money back guarantee, so there is nothing to lose – but the pain!  See www.usefulmagnets.co.uk for more information.

Does it work?

Bioflow have a sciencey-looking study and are apparently classified as a class 1 medical device. So how do they work?

ernst-bioflowEr, apparently they don’t. The website makes no claims for therapeutic effect other than to cite the study. To see the problem with this approach, check this crank website making all kinds of inflated claims for the product – note the weasel words. Intriguingly the study is from Peninsula, and was overseen by Edzard ErnstW. I asked @EdzardErnst whether the result was reliable. His reply was unequivocal (right).

The consensus of systematic reviews is that magnets do not objectively improve symptoms of arthritis or any other condition (Complement Ther Med. 2009 Oct-Dec;17(5-6):249-56, FACT Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 5–6, March 2008).

Is it plausible?

No. There is no reason to suppose that these permanent magnets should have any effect whatsoever. They are, after all, quite small magnets, much stronger fields are used in medical imaging with no evidence of clinical effect (CSI, BBC). Some of the authors of the study Bioflow cite, have since published a rather different view.

 

Is it natural?

No. There is nothing remotely natural about wearing chunks of rare-earth magnets. These are an industrially manufactured product. And a profitable one: the magnet therapy industry was estimated at $1bn by CSI five years ago.

Should WDDTY have known this?

Probably. They promoted Bioflow in vol 16 no. 9 (Dec 2005), vol 17 no. 4 (Jul 2006) and vol 18 no. 3 (Jun 2007), as well as in this article from their e-news. Claims for magnets date back a long way, with sciencey-looking studies in the late 90s being prominently promoted (CSI). They have been busted for at least as long (e.g. Ann Intern Med. 1993;118(5):376-383).

Icewave

Another recommended product for natural pain relief is IceWave.  According to the manufacturer’s website, IceWave is “a non-invasive nanotechnology product that works within minutes to provide a cooling effect and soothing relief to inflamed and injured areas.”  See www.lifewave.com for more information.

Does it work?

You have to be kidding. LifeWave is a vendor of devices to “protect” you from non-ionising (i.e. essentially harmless) radiation, it is a predator on the vulnerable (people with chronic pain).

Our exclusive non-transdermal patch system utilizes new technology to gently stimulate acupuncture points – literally improving the flow of energy in the body for improvement of pain and discomfort – within minutes of use!

Needless to say, there is no good evidence that acupuncture points are of any physiological significance (J Intern Med. 2006 Feb;259(2):125-37). There’s no uniform definition of where they are or what they do; the apparent uniformity within parts of TCM is largely an artifact of the Maoist refactoring f TCM in the 1950s – Japanese analogues exist but are different, and needling does not seem to have any different effect whether the “correct” points are used or not.

The sales pitch relies on the usual anecdotes. Oh, and the packaging says they are homeopathic, hence the nanobollocks, presumably. And note the quack Miranda warningW.

Is it plausible?

Not remotely. And to be fair they don’t even try to make it look plausible, other than using sciencey-sounding language.

Is it natural?

No. It’s an entirely synthetic product with completely made up claims.

Should WDDTY have known this?

Almost certainly. The community that promotes LifeWave’s numerous bogus products is well aware of the fact that skeptics know it to be bogus. Oh, and it seems to be sold via multi-level marketingW, which is another red flag.

Homeopathy

If these suggestions don’t appeal to you, why not try readers’ favourite, homeopathy. According to Sue, the homeopathic remedy Mag Phos in a 200C potency (available from homepathic pharmacies such as Helios and Ainsworth’s) is known to be very effective for pain relief, especially if dissolved in a little warm water and sipped at regular intervals.  Norene also swears by homeopathy for the treatment of pain – although she uses arnica:  “Start with a very high dose of arnica (for myself I used 10M).  After a couple of days, reduce the dose and continue taking the remedy for a while, according to personal needs.  To maximise effectiveness, take homeopathic Symphytum (comfrey) in addition to arnica.”

Does it work?

No. There is not one case where homeopathy has been unambiguously and objectively proven to have cured anything, ever. All observations are consistent with the null hypothesis (see homeopathyW at Wikipedia, which goes into great detail).

Is it plausible?

No remotely plausible mechanism has ever been advanced, and the doctrines of homeopathy conflict at a fundamental level with basic principles of physics such as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the laws of thermodynamics and conservation of energy. Unless you believe in “future-information medicine“, in which case you may be interested in buying this rather fine bridge I have for sale.

Is it natural?

No. Not only is the entire system of preparation by dilution and twerking entirely man-made, most over the counter remedies are manufactured by industrial scale pharmaceutical companies.

Should WDDTY have known this?

Yes. Homeopathy has been known to be wrong since at least 1840, and the doctrines were refuted by the early years of the 20th Century.

Bowen therapy

Other suggestions for this problem are Bowen therapy and osteopathy.  Says Lorraine of osteopathy, “I cannot sing its praises enough…I suffered terrible back problems but have not felt a twinge in the past six years since my treatment.”  As for Bowen, Angela reckons it can bring amazing relief to many pain sufferers.

Does it work?

It depends who you believe. SCAM believers claim it is “useful” (source),  but when challenged, practitioners were unable to provide any credible evidence.

So that’s a no.

Is it plausible?

Bowen was an unregistered osteopath. There’s no reason to suppose that Bowen technique  has any effect beyond that of massage, which is basically what it is, when the bullshit is stripped away. Claims to allow the body to “reset” itself are fanciful. You’re probably better off with a warm bath.

Is it natural?

Massage is sort of natural, Bowen technique is completely made up.

Should WDDTY have known this?

If you look for any credible evidence, you find none. If on the other hand you routinely believe the claims of commercial providers of services at face value without looking for evidence or applying any critical judgment then you’ll probably not spot that it’s quackery.

So, if WDDTY pretends to be in any way scientific or evidence based, it absolutely should have spotted this.

Osteopathy 

Finally, we have an encouraging story from Diane:

“I have suffered from bulging discs, sciatica, oedema and a host of related problems for the past three years.  But recently I have started several therapies which have helped me immensely.  First of all I started going to acupuncture once a week, then I began drinking Green’s Plus – adding powdered calcium, magnesium, and powdered MSM (Methyl-sulfonyl-methane) to the drink – everyday for nutrition.  MSM is a great natural pain reliever, along with magnesium.  I also use magnesium oil – either in the bath or applied directly to the site of pain.  It works wonders!

Does it work?

Osteopathy is a grey area. There is evidence of effects for musculoskeletal pain, as for any manipulative therapy, but the claims of the fringes of osteopathy (and especially cranial osteopathy aka cranio-sacral therapy) are unambiguously bogus. The writer also adds acupuncture (bogus), magnesium (plausible to a degree) and MSM (bogus) to the mix.

Is it plausible?

As invented by Andrew Taylor Still the practice is completely speculative – he surmised that the bone (osteon) was the root of all disease, and this is unambiguously nonsense, but subsequent changes have resulted in a variety of manipulative therapy which is plausible for some conditions, but wildly implausible for others. Note that this varies around the world, the Wikipedia article on osteopathyW is essential reading.

Is it natural?

The practice was invented from whole cloth in 1874. It’s a manual therapy so you could defend it as natural, but the practice is largely a set of man-made rituals.

Should WDDTY have known this?

Yes. The consensus around osteopathy has been settled for a long time.

Chiropractic

In addition to this, last year I started seeing a chiropractor, who uses a ‘Pro Adjuster’ on me.  I have now been free of pain for the last month.  I was told that I was going to have to have back surgery, but now I am feeling so wonderful that I am considering not having the surgery at all.  I can go all day without my pain medication and can sit and stand longer than I ever thought I would again!”

Does it work?

No. OK, technically, it is as effective as other forms of manipulation therapy for musculo-skeletal pain, but so many chiropractors exceed the bounds of evidential supportability that it is safer t avoid them altogether, especially given their history of antivaccinationism and the fact that one of their signature moves is potentially deadly.

The chiropractic profession includes some of the most cynical charlatans on the planet. Their training is big on “practice building” (i.e. maximising revenue) and chiropractors’ aim is to get you in, and keep you coming back, not to discharge a healthy patient. They use all manner of superstitious nonsense about “maintenance adjustments” and maintaining optimum wellness, but basically they are the canonical manipulative quacks.

Is it plausible?

As Wikipedia says:

A critical evaluation found that collectively, spinal manipulation failed to show it is effective for any condition. The scientific consensus is that chiropractic may be on a par with other manual therapies for some musculoskeletal conditions such as lower back pain, but that there is no credible evidence or mechanism for effects on other conditions, and some evidence of severe adverse effects from cervical vertebral manipulation. The ideas of innate intelligence and the chiropractic subluxation are regarded as pseudoscience.

So as with osteopathy, it’s plausible up to a point, but the profession as a whole is deeply untrustworthy due to widespread belief in completely bogus ideas, and a tendency to duplicate the action of hanging.

Is it natural?

No. It was invented from whole cloth by D. D. Palmer in 1895

Should WDDTY have known this?

The facts about chiropractic have been known for a long time. Yes, WDDTY should know that this is a dangerous woo-riddled field that no responsible person could possibly recommend without serious caveats around the likely harms and the costs of endless unnecessary treatments.

Summary

WDDTY’s ideas of what constitutes a “natural” remedy are absurd and seem to be founded more on the absence of credible evidence (i.e. being “alternative”) than on any actual natural origin. They try to have their cake and eat it, simultaneously claiming that something is “natural” and that it’s “nanotechnology”.

Their approach to the therapies is entirely credulous. Homeopathy was refuted over a century ago, they still promote it. There is no evidence that their enthusiasm for a product or treatment is conditional on plausibility or evidence of effect.

The article acts primarily as a propaganda piece for disproven or unproven therapies, often at significant potential cost.

The Advertising Standards Authority Exposed

The Advertising Standards Authority Exposed
“The ASA is not a government regulator—it’s a media-industry self-regulator—but it behaves as if it were a government regulator” says the callout box in Rob Verkerk’s opinion piece.

Why does the mouthpiece of the Alliance for Natural Health have such a fixation with a group whose mundane job is to check that advertisements are “legal, decent, honest and truthful”?

The answer probably lies in the sheer number of upheld complaints against the SCAM industry in general and WDDTY advertisers in particular.

In this article Verkerk tries a number of well-worn fallacies in order to advance the thesis that it’s perfectly acceptable for the SCAM industry to substitute belief for fact, because natural.

Continue reading The Advertising Standards Authority Exposed

Legal, decent, honest and truthful

asaIn the UK, advertisements must be legal, decent, honest and truthful. WDDTY’s advertisements have a bit of a problem here.

Fortunately, the Advertising Standards Authority have produced a series of handy guides for advertisers of SCAM, while Jo Brodie has helpfully posted the following useful information:

It [is] the Committee of Advertising Practice who set the guidelines that the Advertising Standards Authority uses in determining if marketing and advertising material are OK, or not. Since a large number of complaints are made about misleading websites promoting alternative or complementary health treatments the section on ‘Therapies’ is now quite extensive, reproduced below.

I like to think of this as a handy list of itemised nonsense. It is not illegal to sell any of these treatments, as far as I’m aware, but it is not fair to make claims for them that cannot be defended.

In each there are two aspects to consider (1) health-condition-specific concerns and (2) treatment-specific evidence.

(1) Health-condition-specific concerns
If an advertiser is making claims about treating really serious health conditions (asthma, cancer, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure etc) but isn’t medically trained themselves or doesn’t have access to a doctor in their clinic then the ASA is more immediately concerned about the customer not having appropriate medical care. The evidence for the actual therapy becomes a secondary concern in this situation. The ASA has also expressed concern if it thinks that customers may be discouraged from seeking appropriate medical care.

(2) Treatment-specific evidence
This covers all the claims that are made for the treatment and the ASA appear to want ‘robust evidence’ – generally the sort of thing that’s published in peer-reviewed journals, ideally a meta-analysis of smaller trials. Evidence from individual small trials is more of a compass bearing than an agreement that you’re in a particular place and not generally seen as robust, it depends on the study of course. Testimonials don’t count.

Full alphabetic index: AdviceOnline index
Searchable index: AdviceOnline database

The relevant T section including all therapies currently listed, I added Testimonials as a bonus.

Thanks, Jo! So now WDDTY’s advertisers will have a quick reference to check what they may and may not claim. And of course this is doubly important now that Trading Standards have become ASA’s legal backstop, making it dramatically easier for ASA to take enforcement action against non-compliant advertisers.

When science is a dirty word

An anti-science commentary by Lynne McTaggart makes some bold and controversial claims about science. Do they stand up to scrutiny?

One of the most misused terms being hurled at us as a rebuttal to What Doctors Don’t Tell You is the term ‘science’.

One of the terms most misused by WDDTY is science.

The main contribution of science to medicine has been objectivity: the ability to minimise the well-known cognitive biases that affect all human observations, to turn the practice of medicine from an essentially religious field to an essentially scientific one.

WDDTY prefer to view mainstream science as a sinister activity pursued by a technocrat minority, an elite that is simultaneously brilliantly manipulative and ideologically hide-bound, lacking in vision, intelligence and the ability to grasp the unfamiliar.

Like proponents of every religion whose precepts are at odds with objective science, they seek ways to portray science as lacking objectivity.

In reality most people now have at least the rudiments of a scientific education and scientific methods of inquiry are a part of everyday life. The room is dark: how do you work out if it is the fuse, the switch or the lamp? The tests are essentially scientific. You do not use intuition, you isolate the components one by one, look for common points of failure (one lamp on,another not, probably the lamp) and thus arrive at the correct answer.

WDDTY’s approach to the darkened room is to basically to advocate a return to candles. And oil lamps. And remote viewingW. Anything other than electricity, because what do scientists know about visual perception?

We have been accused of being unscientific, of pedaling (sic) unproven and harmful alternatives, as opposed to the real thing, true ‘scientific’ medicine.

The evidence supports the accusation that you peddle unproven and harmful alternatives, also that you distort and misrepresent the science you do quote.

That is not to say that evidence-based medicine is perfect, only that the solution to its imperfection is not to jettison all attempts at objectivity in favour of a credulous acceptance of any claim based primarily on its ideological appeal.

Science is pursued by humans, humans are fallible. The scientific method is, fallible humans or not, the most reliable means ever devised to tell truth from fiction. Without it, you would be printing WDDTY with wooden blocks on coarse paper and distributing it at street corners. The process that delivered the knowledge that makes computers and the internet work is fundamentally indistinguishable from the process of medical science delivering knowledge to be used (or abused) by medicine.

There are three points to be made here, adding up to one indisputable truth: there is nothing remotely scientific about conventional medicine.

That statement is neither true nor indisputable.

1.Most of the science behind standard treatments is fiction. As leading members of the medical establishment have made clear in recent books, the so-called ‘proof’ of most so-called ‘proven remedies’ is data that has been invented or manipulated by drug company marketing teams.

Some of it is, some of it isn’t. Cochrane reviews are usually pretty objective, and they are the highest tier of evidence. There’s good reason to suspect systematic manipulation of scientific results by any party with a vested interest in the outcome of the trial – this is a big problem for medicine and a huge problem for alternative medicine, where virtually nobody other than True Believers does any research at all.

But the issue of manipulation of studies is not the us-and-them situation that Lynne presents here. In the case of homeopathy, for example, proponents routinely bring up known issues with individual treatments but miss the point that the entire field of homeopathy is based on refuted doctrines, lacks a coherent framework, is inconsistent with robustly established scientific principles and so on. All clinical trials are prone to bias, therefore they are necessarily less compelling when the treatment is completely implausible.

There is no informed dissent from the view that measurable quantities of pharmacologically active compounds can have an objective effect on the body; there is no credible evidence that giving unmeasurable amounts of substances whose connection to disease is arbitrary and based on a refuted doctrine, can cause any effect other than placebo.

The therapeutic systems of Hoxsey, Gerson and their ilk are not “whole medical systems” existing in a parallel bubble universe apart from science, like homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and the like, but they are still entire classes of unproven therapy, rather than unproven members of a proven class.

This is an important distinction, because the issues with individual medicines are often exposed by diligent scientific comparison of effect between treatments.

2.Most treatments haven’t been proven to work. The British Medical Journal has concluded that only about 12 per cent of all medical treatments have adequate evidence demonstrating that they work.

This is a zombie statistic. The BMJ article did not say that at all, and indeed specifically counsels against interpreting the figures as Lynne interprets them.

What the source says is that of the treatments currently on the books, 11% are well established to be beneficial, 24% are likely to be beneficial, 7% have a trade-off between benefit and harm, 5% are unlikely to be beneficial, 3% are likely to be ineffective or harmful, and 50% have unknown effectiveness, established from RCTs. These will include older treatments, those for which an RCT would be unethical.

This is not a reflection of the evidence base for individual prescribing decisions. Further:

‘Unknown effectiveness’ is perhaps a hard categorisation to explain. Included within it are many treatments that come under the description of complementary medicine (e.g., acupuncture for low back pain and echinacea for the common cold), but also many psychological, surgical, and medical interventions, such as CBT for depression in children, thermal balloon ablation for fibroids, and corticosteroids for wheezing in infants.

‘Unknown effectiveness’ may also simply reflect difficulties in conducting RCTs of an intervention, or be applied to treatments for which the evidence base is still evolving. As such, these data reflect how treatments stand up in the light of evidence-based medicine, and are not an audit of the extent to which treatments are used in practice.

We make use of what is ‘unknown’ in Clinical Evidence by feeding back to the UK NHS Health Technology Assessment Programme (HTA) with a view to helping inform the commissioning of primary research. Every 6 months we assess CE interventions categorised as Unknown effectiveness and submit those fitting the appropriate criteria to the HTA via their website: http://www.nets.nihr.ac.uk/programmes/hta.

So it turns out that the large number of “unproven” interventions include most SCAM interventions (the balance are unlikely to be beneficial or are known to be harmful; this is Minchin’s Law in action).

How would you conduct an RCT for emergency surgery for ruptured aortic aneurysm?

3.Most treatments cause harm. Modern medicine is the third leading cause of death in the western world. Fact. Prescribed drugs and medical error kills 204,000 people every year in America alone, with only cancer and heart disease claiming more

This claim has already been debunked. It is based on taking an invented figure, taking a second invented figure which would be part of the same figure, adding the two together and arising at a figure that is wronger than wrongW.

In fact, medical misadventure does not figure anywhere close to the top ten causes of death in the USA, and the real figure is nearly two orders of magnitude smaller according tot he very source McTaggart claims to have used for this figure.

Your greatest risks

According to data assembled by the Alliance for Natural Health, which examined the statistics of all the most and least likely things that could kill you, the greatest risk of death any of us face is going to the hospital. If you add the risk of reactions to correctly prescribed drugs, any interaction with modern medicine has to be the greatest risk to your life and limb.

Amazing. A SCAM trade body comes up with a figure that shows you should use SCAM instead of going to the hospital. Who predicted that? Presumably they remembered to exclude people rushed to hospital with acute surgical emergencies, as Gary Null… didn’t?

Feel free to come back with a reliable source.

Let’s look at so-called ‘unscientific’ natural health care, which supposedly causes so much harm. The risk of dying from taking any herbal remedy or food supplement is around 0.01 per one million people. In other words, 100 million people would have to take a supplement or herb before there is a risk of one person dying because of it.

Presumably according to the same source? Not that they have a dog in the fight or anything?

A repeatable feature of WDDTY is accepting the most optimistic claims of the SCAM industry and the SCAM industries worst (and often entirely false) claims about medicine, entirely uncritically.

Why would a manufacturer of supplements be any less likely to misrepresent the science than a manufacturer of a drug?

Why would a university biochemist working on disease biochemistry be any more likely to misrepresent a claim than a SCAM believer looking for proof of his pet theory?

This is never explained.

Compare that to the risk of pharmaceutical drugs, which kill 1000 people for every million people taking them.

According to?….

Leaving aside the tautology, yes, drugs can have adverse effects. So can supplements. There’s a list of recalls. Ayurvedic herbs with heavy metal contaminants, aristolchic acid, OxyElite Pro. And what about the harms due to untreated or incorrectly diagnosed disease?

The biggest difference between medicine and SCAM in this regard is that medicine acknowledges the potential for harm and has proactive and reactive monitoring in place. The reaction of SCAM to problems is best characterised as denial.

So that risk is: 0.01/1 million for natural substances vs 1000/1 million for drugs. In other words, the risk of lethal harm from modern medicine is 100,000 higher than that of herbal or nutritional medicine.

Source? Risk v benefit figures? The risk in a homeopathic remedy is close to zero (it will almost certainly be inert). The benefit is also zero. There is an attendant risk due to failure to treat disease. A homeopath weighs this equation, adds belief in the unverifiable on the positive side of the scale, and asserts that homeopathy is superior to medicine. That is not a rational, consistent or appropriate view.

This beggars the basic question: which form of medicine is the least scientific?

Lynne appears not to understand the language of formal logic, understandable since the entirety of SCAM is founded on logical fallacies. It does not even beg the question. It invites it, but the answer will not be found by listening to a biased argument based on several provably incorrect numbers.

Biochemical individuals

There’s a good reason why medicine is not a science. Drugs constitute a one-size-fits-all model, whereas every human being is unique. Drugs that work on me may not work on you and vice versa; most drugs can’t be made smart enough to, say, slot only tab A into slot B without affecting slot C, D and E, because humans are holistic.

This is complete nonsense. Most diseases have more than one treatment, different treatments are used depending on patient history and other factors. Some drugs are incredibly individual: they are based on genetic profiling.

The idea that SCAM is “holistic” because the practitioner listens to you for an hour before giving you the ideologically driven “prescription” for magic sugar pills, acupuncture, alkaline diet, dairy and wheat exclusion or whatever, is simply fatuous.

Medicine is holistic. It embraces everything from physiotherapy and diet to the latest cutting edge microsurgery or genetic therapies. You don’t become more holistic by abandoning the majority of medicine and substituting evidentially questionable practices.

Biochemical individuality creates mayhem with drug trials, which are designed to look for common results in everyone—one reason their results are so often manipulated, massaged or even made up. As the new medical explorers are discovering, the systems of the body interact as a complex, dynamic and highly individualistic whole.

The decline effect is well-known, it is an inevitable result of moving from idealised trial populations to non-idealised real populations. However, the differences between individuals are as nothing compared with the similarities.

Any two randomly selected humans will share between 99.6% and 99.9% of their genome. We share the majority of biochemical pathways (absent genetic defects), a doctor trained in surgery on Africans will have no difficulty with Europeans and vice versa.

There are differences, but not in the way that “holistic” practitioners pretend when listening to the worried well for an extended period before selling them the same witches’ brew of supplements or herbs that they sold the last person.

No humans are known to have yin and yang. The flow of qi is not evidentially established as different between individuals.. Tests for these things give the same result for everyone – namely that they don’t exist.

Basing your diagnosis and prescribing practice on provably false premises such as homeopathic similimum, subluxation complex, damp kidney or whatever, merely makes it unlikely that you will be right, other than by accident.

It’s important here to make a distinction between science—the open-minded pursuit of truth without fear or favour—and scientism, a solidified set of beliefs around which academics, industries and professions are framed.

It is indeed. Science is the process that has skepticism at its heart, scientism is a term primarily used by believers in creationism and other empirically unverifiable ideas, to attack those who accept the scientific consensus, and try to pretend that ideology is equivalent to following the evidence wherever it leads.

Science is the process that found helicobacter pylori to be the cause of ulcers, rather than stress as had been previously supposed.

Scientism would be the insistence that only the empirically proven causes of disease should be accepted, and that no credence should be given to the possibility that they are caused by miasms, qi, subluxations or whatever. This is perfectly reasonable in the absence of credible evidence that these concepts exist.

Pseudoscience, pathological science and cargo cult science are various flavours of activities giving the outward appearance of science but pursued in a way that excludes any conclusion that conflicts with the ideology of the inquirer. Homeopathic experiments are a perfect example. This is in contrast with the open-minded testing of alternative ideas by medical science, even though those tests rarely produce anything other than an equivocal or negative result. The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and its predecessor have spent well over a billion dollars testing alternative therapies. They have yet to validate a single one, but it’s not for want of trying.

The resistance we’ve experienced has more to do with the latter. This seems clear from the way the scientism of medicine greets any discovery, breakthrough or possibility that questions or threatens the current medical paradigm—by dismissing such ideas out of hand as ‘quackery’, even when they are the work of eminent scientists at prestigious institutions such as Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge.

It is certainly more appealing to believe that opposition is due to an ideological bias against you, rather than the fact that you are wrong, but the facts are against you.

The advice WDDTY gives is either wrong, misleading or (conversely) perfectly normal advice that your doctor would give you. The problem is that you seem unable to distinguish the three.

True science is heresy

We tend to regard science as presenting some sort of static truth, but science is an ever evolving story, told in instalments. New chapters refine—and usually supplant—chapters that have come before.

Someone has been reading Kuhn, the crank’s favourite author.

This view is superficially true but actually wrong. For example, relativity technically supersedes Newtonian mechanics, but Newtonian mechanics is till used for the vast majority of calculations because it the results of the two systems approximate extremely closely other than under extreme conditions.

Schroedinger wave equations technically supplant the classical Bohr electron model, but the Bohr model is still close enough for many calculations and the difference only becomes significant at extremely small scales.

Every last advancement in science and healthcare begins as heresy, each important new discovery negating the prevailing views of the day.

This is simplistic to the point of being wrong. Improvements in medical treatments may be incremental or revolutionary.

What s being asserted is essentially the Galileo gambit. In truth, Galileo was following the scientific method and his opponents were the dogmatists, and the thing that SCAM proponents always forget about Galileo is that he was also right. Now, SCAM proponents always think that they are right, but there are so many “lone geniuses”, “brave maverick doctors” and so on, with so many often mutually exclusive ideas, that it is inconceivable that more than a tiny handful are right – whereas SCAM proponents tend to believe most of them, the process known as”crank magnetism”.

This idea that SCAM has the best, the brightest, the visionaries, and medical science the ideologically blinded plodders, requires that not only the process of medical science, but also the entire system of education is wrong, since the process that supposedly delivers those with the highest academic achievement is, according to this view, instead delivering venal dullards.

A Sagan quote reveals the more likely explanation:

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

The most telling thing is that science is full of examples of self-correction, wrong ideas being discarded. We have yet tot race a single example of a SCAM treatment that has been discarded after being found to be false by scientific inquiry.

What if stones fall from the sky? What if there is no end of the earth to sail off? True science always begins by asking outrageous questions or pursuing unpopular notions, even if the answer threatens to overturn every last one of our cherished beliefs.

The idea that stones fall has never been controversial. Empirical scientist Robert Hooke suggested that it worked by an inverse square law. Newton quantified it. This may appear revolutionary, but it was evolutionary, with moments of very rapid progress.

The idea that earth is flat was based on the existence of the horizon. It doesn’t take much sailing before you work out it’s wrong.

I struggle to think of any scientific discovery in the last couple of centuries that renders the entirety of the previous theory and practice redundant. As soon as people started measuring and recording, results converged on what was true and theories had to fit observed facts (the Baconian school). The Cartesian school allowed for theory to run ahead of evidence, but the theory had to be discarded if the predictions it made did not hold up.

Even geocentric cosmology, which persisted for longer than it should, did so primarily due to religious belief.

True science seeks to drive a stake into science, particularly scientism.

No it doesn’t. True science seeks to explain the observed facts as accurately and completely as possible, The best example is probably evolutionary theory, a complex set of interlocking ideas founded on the fossil record, observations, DNA analysis and even planetary geology.

Consilience is the term used for multiple lines of inquiry leading to the same conclusions. Most medical science is consilient. Physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, chemistry – all offer different views of the same facts.

And then the Brave Maverick Doctor asserts some other set of facts that is inconsistent, and lacks a complete or consistent framework. Occasionally the brave maverick is right: Marshall and Warren took several attempts to persuade, but they admit this was because they had left important questions unanswered (notably: how bacteria could live in the acid environment of the stomach).

SCAM proponents brush these inconvenient details under the carpet and accuse those who ask about them of “scientism”.

Nevertheless, mainstream science, particularly mainstream medicine, has grown ever more fundamentalist, dominated by a few highly vocal people who believe that our scientific story has largely been written and that the job of science is simply to confirm it.

That is one opinion, just not supported by facts. Feel free to cite prominent authorities in medical science who think our understanding is anywhere near complete.

Thankfully, an enormous body of resistance carries on in defiance of this restricted—highly unscientific—view. May they and all the true scientists like them continue to light our way.

Whatever helps you manage the cognitive dissonanceW, I suppose. Doesn’t make it any more correct, though. I close with three quotes that illustrate how real science actually works:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…” – Isaac Asimov

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. – Carl Sagan

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts – Bertrand Russell

As to which party in this dispute shows the attributes of religion, of fools and charlatans, of the “Eureka!” moment versus the patient inquiry of “that’s funny….”, we leave that  as an exercise for the reader.

Like water for chemo

Like water for chemo
In March 2012, WDDTY published one of its most irresponsible and widely criticised articles: Much more than placebo: Homeopathy reverses cancer, by Lynne McTaggart’s husband, Bryan Hubbard. In the November 2013 issue he revisits the claim.

We’ve already shown that the promised “new research” is no such thing, now it’s time to take a deep breath and dissect the larger story – in reality largely a recycling of the earlier article’s arguments.

There are numerous issues with the article, most serious of which is that it represents a case series submitted under the OCCAM Best cases series, as an independent research validation by NCI. It is no such thing, and OCCAM make this extremely clear. It is pay-to-play, not independent, and this program explicitly does not validate the case series it publishes.

This supposed independent validation is the lynch pin on which WDDTY builds its entire case – and it is just one of many wilful misrepresentations of the facts in this execrable paean to exploitative quackery.

Continue reading Like water for chemo