Category Archives: Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Homeopathy, science and whale omlettes

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Well‘, said the homeopath, drawing breath during a particularly bruising facebook debate, ‘science doesn’t know everything. Those conventional medicines, they always do more harm than good and hardly any have been tested by your so-called Gold Standard, the double blind placebo controlled trial (DBPCT). Just the other day I heard that Cartrophen took down a bunch of Labradors!

Apart from this typically egregious example of the kind of emotive, vague and unsubstantiated ‘evidence’ homeopaths favour, the point is science doesn’t begin and end with the DBPCT. Science is a system, a method which at its most basic is just a way of asking questions and investigating claims. Science actually comes down to one particular question: ‘Prove it!’. So in the unlikely event that Carprophen [a useful, safe and popular painkiller for dogs] did ‘take down a bunch of Labradors‘ that should, and would have been investigated through the official suspected adverse reaction surveillance scheme (SARSS) and steps taken, as actually happened in cases like Thalidomide in human medicine or the use of avermectins in certain collie dogs or any one of a number of other cases. It’s easy to do, you can report drug reactions online at the click of a button from a whole load of different official government websites or you can phone the drug company direct and they’ll do it for you or, if you’re old fashioned like me, you can fill out a garish yellow Veterinary Medicines Directorate SARSS forms using your favourite fountain pen and pop it in the post – I’ve got a pile of them on my desk and use them or their online equivalents regularly.

This is science in progress – a self-correcting system working to put itself (and medicine) in order. When did you last hear of anyone using vitamin E to treat heart disease? Yet this was a very popular treatment in the middle of the last century, used by intelligent, highly trained veterinary surgeons who, like homeopaths, swore it gave good results ‘in their cases’. It’s the same with the treatments of heroic medicine – no one practices purging, firing or bleeding now, the thought of doing so would horrify any contemporary veterinary surgeon. Yet they were the go-to treatments of their day and anyone who didn’t believe in them at the time would have been regarded as being thicker than a whale omlette.

The reason these long-discredited treatments are no longer mainstream as they once were is that science-based (rational) practitioners were, unlike homeopaths, able to recognise and accept a treatment practitioners had been using for generations was doing more harm than good and were willing to change based on scientific evidence rather than just personal experience. The problem with homeopaths is they don’t change, their methods of treatment are based entirely on personal experience. When presented with actual science – evidence homeopathy is ineffective – all we hear are increasingly implausible excuses about why it really does work, despite all appearences, and how critics are always wrong. Homeopaths’ starting point is first and foremost that homeopathy works, after that any evidence which comes their way is cherry-picked, filtered or dismissed to support that core belief, not to test it as should be the case. And that ain’t science, and it ain’t right!

And the daft thing is, after all that, even if proper drugs were utter rubbish, even if they did all the dreadful things homeopaths pretend they do, it STILL wouldn’t mean that homeopathy works!

How is this not torture?

Parmen, V. (2014) ‘Electroacupuncture Analgesia in a Rabbit Ovariohysterectomy’, Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 15-24. (Links available at RationalVetMed.org)

To be frank, this is one of the most cruel papers on any subject I have come across. I was so utterly shocked by it I couldn’t believe what I was reading and hoped I had misunderstood what the experimenters had done here in the name of acupuncture research. So I asked Martin Whitehead, of the Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine to take a look for me. It turns out I hadn’t misunderstood, the authors of this paper had actually operated on rabbits, surgically opening their abdomens and removing their uterus and ovaries while they were fully conscious and tied down to a metal frame, without the benefit of any form of anaesthetic or pain relief, while at the same time administering electric shocks to them and claiming this was “acupuncture anaesthesia” (a discredited technique which is illegal in many countries). As a colleague said when I mentioned this paper to her, “how is that not torture?

Comment from Dr Martin Whitehead:

This paper makes me feel queasy. That it had ethical approval from the university make me feel even more queasy.

It is clear that the acupuncture group rabbits were given no anaesthesia or analgesia (other than any resulting from the acupuncture and unknown-intensity electric currents passing through the rabbit).

The neuroleptanalgesia group were given ketamine (no analgesic action) and xylazine (which does have some analgesic action) but no other analgesia.

From Table 1 it appears that the rabbits were tied down in the metal device shown in Fig. 1 and receiving the electroacupuncture for at least 42-55 mins. Even if there was no surgery, not a nice thing to do to a rabbit – assuming they are conscious throughout, which certainly seems to have been the case.

In section 2.3. it says “the intensity of the electric current stimulation was slowly increased from zero until the animals showed signs of discomfort and twitching. After that, the intensity was slowly increased to 4, 6, and finally to 8 V for the abdominal site; for dorsal stimulation, the intensity was slowly increased to 2.2 V and then to 2.7 V.” That sounds grim.

Only voltages are stated, with no idea what current was being used (e.g., for comparison with a TENS machine), so it is not possible to tell what sort of effect this current would have on nerves or muscles.

From Fig. 3, the heart rate was lower in the electroacupuncture group, except at the time of actual surgery when it was much higher, which is not a promising sign. The respiratory rate was far higher in the electroacupuncture group before and during surgery, also not a promising sign. Those findings could be interpreted as indicating that the electroacupuncture rabbits were feeling more pain than the neuroleptanalgesia rabbits.

The one scrap of comfort I get is the very last sentence of the Results section – there was no “screaming related to stress or pain”. I hope that means there was no screaming at all.

So, the next time someone says, with regard to Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, “where’s the harm”, you might like to point them to this paper. How delusional and a priori convinced of the merits of acupuncture, must the authors be to think this was, in any way, a humane procedure?

Homeopathy, the NHS and BBC Radio Bristol

Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine’s Danny Chambers has just given a very strong interview on the John Darvil show, on BBC Radio Bristol on Wednesday 16th August, 2017.

The subject was the availability of homeopathy on the NHS and Danny gave a succinct explanation why its continuing endorsement by the NHS is wrong on every level. It’s a waste of money, undermines real medicine and, bottom line, puts lives at risk. For instance, this recent paper demonstrates that cancer patients who opt to use CAM treatments such as homeopathy are up to 5 times more likely to die within 5 years of diagnosis as a result of their cancer.

The link to Danny’s interview is here: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05b5096 (the relevant section starts about 7 minutes 30 seconds in) and it’s well worth a listen as a robust and measured counter to the arguments of the homeopathic lobby. It’s going to be available until around the 16th September.

Drink up! Now you can breathe easy…

Nearly 20 years ago, Stephen Barrett, of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine watchdog ‘Quackwatch’ reported, ‘Various products referred to as “stabilized” or “aerobic oxygen”, are being marketed with claims that they can cure disease by increasing oxygen delivery to the cells’.

In his article Dr Barret went on to describe how these products were not only useless and unable to do what their promoters claimed but that even if they could somehow add oxygen to our blood-stream by drinking them (something humans would find impossible on account of not having gills) there is no such thing as ‘oxygen deficiency’ which causes disease anyway – suffocation yes, disease, no. In short, you can’t absorb oxygen from your gut and even if you could it would do you no good.

One such product was sold as ‘Vitamin O’ and the authorities became so concerned about it they took action. The Federal Trade Comission (FTC), charged with protecting consumers in the US, filed a complaint which alleged that two Washington companies (both controlled by the same person) had ‘falsely claimed that “Vitamin O” taken orally allows oxygen molecules to be absorbed through the gastrointestinal system [and] that “Vitamin O” prevents or treats life-threatening diseases and other ailments’.

In settlement, the defendants were obliged to pay $375,000 for ‘Consumer Redress’ and were prohibited ‘from making unsupported representations that: “Vitamin O” or any substantially similar product prevents or is an effective treatment for life-threatening diseases, including but not limited to, cancer, cardiovascular disease and pulmonary disease.

There is, it seems, nothing new under the sun. Fast forward to the present day and we find that ‘Aerobic Oxygen’ is still on sale from a number of suppliers including Amazon and Ebay as well as smaller outlets including ‘fully qualified veterinary surgeon’ Roger Meacock on his ‘Natural Healing Solutions’ website.

Like those who were selling the ‘substantially similar’ product ‘Vitamin O’ in 1999, today vendors of ‘Aerobic Oxygen’ claim it is ‘a new way of delivering extra oxygen to the body that is safe [and] convenient…’ and suggest that drinking a few drops of aerobic oxygen mixed in a glass of water bears comparison to the use of oxygen therapy, where gaseous oxygen is delivered through a mask or endotracheal tube to patients suffering respiratory compromise as a result of asthma or other lung disease.

Extensive use is made by Vitalox, the company run by UKIP politician Andrew Haigh which supplies ‘Aerobic Oxygen’, of questionable marketing techniques as their website first reports that (obviously) oxygen is needed for adequate cellular function and normal foetal development, and suggest oxygen might be associated with cancer and cellulite before switching tack to imply that by ‘boosting blood oxygen levels’, ‘Aerobic Oxygen’ can help. All this despite the fact there is no evidence ‘Aerobic Oxygen’ can have any effect on blood oxygen levels whatsoever and no mechanism by which it could. Of course, never at any point does anyone actually come out and say that ‘Aerobic Oxygen’ can cure cancer, control cellulite, optimise cell function or anything else because they know full well such claims would be false. Roger Meacock comes close though on one page of his website when he states: ‘K9 Immunity and K9 Transfer Factor are part of Roger’s standard dog cancer treatment protocol… Other additional supplements such as Aerobic Oxygen may help according to [sic] the type and aggressive nature of the cancer’.

Now, as if all these dubious claims and insinuations weren’t enough, according to an article by science writer Tom Chivers on BuzzFeed.com, chemist Dr Dan Cornwell of King’s College London has analysed ‘Aerobic Oxygen’ and discovered it is more or less indistinguishable from plain household bleach. To quote Dr Cornwell, ‘Aerobic Oxygen’ is ‘definitely some powerful bleach-like alkali’.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise really after reading the websites of those good folks who sell it, as we learn ‘Aerobic Oxygen’ ‘… was developed for NASA for water purification purposes’ (just like bleach) and that ‘it will kill anaerobic bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites…’ (also, just like bleach).

The analysis and other information regarding ‘Aerobic Oxygen’ has been passed to the UK’s Food Standards Agency and is currently under review by their National Food Crime Unit. I wonder if they’ve got the phone number of the FTC?

Homeopaths – poor losers

Bodey, A.L., Almond, C.J. and Holmes, M.A. (2017) ‘Double-blinded randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial of individualised homeopathic treatment of hyperthyroid cats’, Veterinary Record, vol 180, p. 377 (doi:10.1136/vr.104007). [Visit RationalVetMed.org for full links]

Abstract… There were no statistically significant differences in the changes seen between the two treatment arms following placebo or homeopathic treatment… or between the means of each parameter for either treatment arm before and after placebo or homeopathic treatment…  The results of this study failed to provide any evidence of the efficacy of homeopathic treatment of feline hyperthyroidism.

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Hyperthyroidism (an over-active thyroid gland) in cats is a nasty, insidious disease which, in a nutshell, turns the metabolism of affected cats up to eleven. Their heart starts to beat so fast it eventually fails, their energy consumption rockets so they develop a ravenous appetite, eating more food than ever before, yet they still lose weight. And they also get quite grumpy as a rule. But despite all this they can live untreated for a considerable while, although with serious quality of life issues.

Some homeopaths claim you can treat an overactive thyroid by using homeopathy or, more precisely, isopathy with nosodes prepared from ground up thyroid glands (which, by the way, is an example of ‘sympathetic magic’, along the lines of the medicine man spitting on the ground to bring rain or a voodoo priest sticking pins in an effigy of someone who is ill). These homeopaths are most charitably described as ‘mistaken’.

What happens when truly hyperthyroid cats are treated homeopathically (i.e. with nothing) is that they stuggle on for months and months with heart failure and weight loss, becoming increasingly uncomfortable and breathless yet all the time, like most cats, just appearing to sit around quietly rather than making a fuss, right up until the point they go into acute heart failure and die, often in some distress. And while this is happening the attending homeopath is either claiming success on the good days or claiming an ‘aggravation’ during the bad ones – ‘ever had your cat vaccinated, ever fed it commercially prepared cat food, ever given it any medicine, or flea or worm treatment? There you are then, it’s all your fault, it’s the toxins’, they’ll tell you as they trouser your hard-earned cash.

And it’s all nonsense – you cannot successfully treat an overactive thyroid with homeopathy or isopathy as this well conducted trial by statistical supremo Mark Holmes and crew shows.

Of course, the homeopaths are wingeing about it, as they always do when trials, no matter how well conducted, don’t give results they like, even when in this case homeopathic head honcho John Saxton personally gave his go ahead for the trial design.

The homeopathic practitioner, Chris Almond, who participated in the trial says he is expecting a hard time from his homeopathic colleagues – ‘I don’t think I am going to be very popular’ he complains in an article in the BSAVA Companion magazine. And then, in typical homeopathic fashion, the excuses start – having been a willing part of the trial for the whole six years it took to perform, cooperating at every stage and interpreting the answers from owners in response to an agreed questionnaire, once the results are published he suddenly changes his tune, ‘the quality of responses from clients in the questionnaire was often “pretty poor” and made it difficult for him to determine the best individualized treatment for each animal’. Furthermore, he has now decided ‘he was also uncomfortable with the three-week duration of therapy set in the trial protocol’ and, anyway (one can almost hear the stamping of tiny feet and the sound of toys being thrown out of prams by this stage), ‘the experience of participating in the study has shown him that the randomized controlled trial format is simply not suitable as a test of homeopathic methods’.

Well why didn’t he say something sooner, one might well ask? Could it be he was waiting just in case the results were favourable to homeopathy first, in which case the triumphalist cries from the vet homs would have been deafening? But that didn’t happen, the results were entirely in line with expectations and it looks like Mr Almond is currently being hung out to dry by his erstwhile colleagues for consorting with the devil and participating in a well run, methodologically robust trial along with two other veterinary surgeons who were completely independent of any vested interest. Really, what was he thinking!

I can do no better than to quote Andrew Bodey, the (conventional) veterinary practitioner whose idea it was to perform the trial in the first place, ‘If the purpose of your efforts is to justify your own opinions rather than to answer a legitimate question, then that is not going to work…

There’s no getting away from it, homeopaths are simply poor losers.

For full links to the original papers visit RationalVetMed.org.

Water

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Earth’s 326 million cubic miles of water cover most of the planet’s surface. Water makes up 70% of our body mass (80% in the case of a newborn infant); the average human uses about 50 gallons of it every day.

Water has inspired great works of art and sculpted the surface of our planet. It has killed millions in floods and tidal waves, yet without a ready supply we would be dead in less than a week.

It is the only substance that is found naturally on earth in three states: liquid, gas and solid. It dissolves more things than any other known liquid and uniquely it is actually lighter as a solid than as a liquid.

Water is a wonderful, awful thing without which life itself couldn’t have evolved. The water molecule is probably the most extensively studied compound in history, we know more about it than almost any other chemical.

Water is all these things and much more, but one thing it is not, is a medicine, nor is it magic – yet that is what every homeopath in existence claims.