Why Write About Alternative Medicine? Part Three: Risks

February 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm (Alternative Medicine, Miscellaneous) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Another reason to write about alternative medicine: risk. Alternative therapies have associated risks that practitioners may not inform patients about. In part one of this series (here), I linked to research that found media coverage of alternative medicine to be positive (in some cases overwhelmingly so) and to lack discussion of the risks, benefits, and costs.

Given the reluctance of practitioners and journalists to tell people about the risks of CAM, I think it is worth taking some time to blog about them.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Risks of CAM Part One: Nocebo

August 25, 2010 at 6:30 pm (Alternative Medicine, Chiropractic, Nutritionism, Patrick Holford, Placebo) (, , , , , , , )

Risk of adverse effects from (mis)information

As well as relying on the placebo effect when making claims of the efficacy of their therapies, those providing alternative treatments may also be aided by something akin to the nocebo effect. If you tell healthy people they are sick (or sick people that they are sicker than they thought), it may be possible to induce the perception of symptoms that you can later claim to have resolved. Read the rest of this entry »

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Conventional And Alternative Journals

September 28, 2009 at 4:24 pm (Alternative Medicine, Nutritionism, Referenciness, Supplements) (, , , )

While there are conventional journals that will publish research on alternative medicine, some researchers into alternative medicine seem to prefer to publish their research in alternative journals. Some time ago, I spotted something rather interesting when reading up on food supplement research. It involved two reviews – one published in a conventional journal, and one in an alternative journal. Here are the PDFs: Annals Internal Med EPO review and AltMed EPO review. Read the rest of this entry »

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Woo on Woo – layers of nonsense

October 24, 2008 at 4:16 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, NLP, Supplements, Woo) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve written before about woos trying out different ‘healing modalities’ seemingly as the mood takes them. I think that the last time I wrote on this topic, it was a homeopath disseminating dietary advice that had caught my attention: Dr O. I received an email yesterday that included a link to this page: Sulis. The advice is Holford’s, but why an NLP practitioner would feel the need to reproduce woo-ish dietary advice on their website is beyond me. I can understand someone believing in the value of NLP, but why assume other woo is true? Seems to be quite common to me. Instead of speculating wildly about the thinking of people who are into multiple forms of woo (which is what I’d normally do at this point), I’m going to have a quick laugh at the advice.*

Eat three pieces of fruit such as apples, pears, bananas, berries, melon or citrus fruit […] Avoid any form of sugar, also white, refined or processed food with chemical additives, and minimise your intake of alcohol, coffee and tea.

It works best with these two pieces of advice if you show them together in the same quote. According to the Sulis site, Patrick Holford is advising you to avoid all forms of sugar while, at the same time, advising you to eat fruit such as banana. Hmmm… I wonder if bananas contain sugar in any form? Why, yes – yes they do. According to the USDA database, bananas are about 12% sugar and this comes in the form of glucose, sucrose and fructose.

Supplement your diet with a high strength multivitamin and mineral preparation and 1000mg of vitaminC a day.

Well, the rest of his advice seems to fit in with the ideal of eating a balanced and varied diet – including advice to eat plenty of fruit and veg – so why would anyone following this advice need a high strength multivitamin and a 1,000mg vitamin C tablet? They almost certainly wouldn’t. Which is what makes Patrick’s advice so laughable – he advises people to eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C and then tells them to add a supplement. Why? To make expensive piss? I can’t think of any other reason.

Drink six glasses of water, diluted juices, herb or fruit teas.

Ah, water woo. http://tinyurl.com/draust will give you more info on that topic.

Eat whole, organic, raw food as often as you can.

Why? Is there any evidence that organic, raw food is better for you? Should we eat all foods raw or is it better to cook, say eggs to prevent Biotin deficiency [the avidin in raw eggs is a bastard for binding to Biotin, apparently] – or tomatoes to increase the bioavailability of Lycopene? Is organic food healthier than non-organically grown produce?

*I will say this: it’s bad enough that experts believe themselves to be more expert than they actually are [*cough* experts-versus-equations], but surely it’s worse when amateurs believe themselves to be competent in various domains when they haven’t, actually, demonstrated their competence in any or all of these domains?

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Heal All Illness – By Thinking. Why do people assume AltMed is safe?

October 10, 2008 at 11:48 am (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, Big Pharma, Dangerously Wrong, Placebo, Woo) (, , , , , , , )

Here’s the story, via Ben Goldacre’s miniblog, and it’s about a new therapy that professes to heal all disease, including AIDS and advanced forms of cancer. By thinking. Dr Claude Sabbah teaches that cancer and other diseases are formed in the brain first, and must be deprogrammed. He also claims that up to 90 per cent of all illnesses are caused by messages from the medical community. The mind-body link is fascinating, particularly in terms of how the placebo effect can aid recovery, but this is going way too far. Read the rest of this entry »

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Slap on the Wrist for Spine Crackers – ASA Kick Ass

August 7, 2008 at 5:35 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, Remedies, Woo) (, , , , , , , , )

[BPSDB] Well, here’s my first post for BPSDB: There’s an ASA judgement on the website at the moment relating to an advert by some manipulators called Gonstead Clinic of Chiropractic. The issue? The General Chiropractic Council challenged whether the claim “The Gonstead System of Chiropractic … remains the leader in Chiropractic techniques due to the lengthy training a Gonstead Doctor receives” was misleading and could be substantiated. The response? None. Read the rest of this entry »

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DOH Email On CAM

July 31, 2008 at 3:27 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, government, Woo) (, , , )

Via Improbable Science, I was made aware of a piece in the Times where Alice Miles recommended writing to Ben Bradshaw Read the rest of this entry »

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Why Are Woos So ANGRY?

July 18, 2008 at 9:52 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, Homeopathy, Religion, Supplements, Woo) (, , , , , , , )

David Mabus gets slightly annoyed with atheists

Chiropractic *is* evidence-based...

Despite the cuddly image Alt-Med types like to project, they do seem to get ever so angry when their ideas are discussed. Read the rest of this entry »

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How Smart Are Politicians?

July 11, 2008 at 8:12 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, government, Nutritionism, Supplements, Woo) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Not very smart at all if David Tredinnick is anything go go by. I wrote about him speaking on homeopathy back in February and today I noticed a link on the Improbable Science miniblog to an old speech he gave [see first link for full debate]. His opening remarks included this gem: “Regrettably, the availability of complementary therapies on the health service has declined since primary care groups and primary care trusts came into being.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Epidemiology – A Life Saver

April 18, 2008 at 8:17 pm (Bad Science, Good Science) (, , , , , , , , , )

This post might be more for the casual reader than skeptics and Bad Science bloggers. I’m sure they will already know far more about epidemiology than I do. Here we go anyway:

From time to time, I see criticism of epidemiology and the use of statistics. Usually on the basis that epidemiology “can’t prove anything” or is “not real evidence”. Sometimes a seemingly opposite tack is used: “oh, but you can use statistics to prove anything”. The criticism usually comes from someone whose own particular worldview is being challenged. Like, for instance, Dave Hitt. Dave Hitt features in this post on the Apathy Sketchpad blog. Or for another example of the statistically-challenged, there’s Gus from the JABS forum. [“Why is it you never listen to the evidence (the autistic children) and are only interested in the science and epidemiology provided by tabloid gutter press as it was hardly hard to see where the research had come from?”]

So what’s epidemiology ever done for us? There’s a couple of chaps I’d like you to meet first: Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill. Now quite apart from anything else Bradford-Hill did, he encouraged use of controlled trials (PDF) – something important in its own right. Bradford-Hill also helped to show, along with Doll, the part that tobacco smoking played in lung cancer. The original Doll/Bradford-Hill paper is available via Pubmed here and here as a PDF [which might take a while to download]. The authors concluded that “smoking is an important factor in the cause of carcinoma of the lung.” It’s now accepted (almost universally) that smoking is harmful – but how long might it have taken without the work of Doll and Bradford-Hill? Can you imagine what might have been if Doll and Bradford-Hill’s work had been ignored by a nation of Dave Hitts?

Another example of the usefulness of epidemiology and statistics is in the epidemiological approach to another notable condition. In Lange’s Medical Epidemiology (Third Edition – the Fourth Edition is available*), there is a description of a young man with no obvious underlying causes of immune dysfunction who is suffering from three concurrent infections. Within the preceding six months, three other patients with similar symptoms had been referred to the UCLA Medical Center. Other, similar reports were received by public health authorities and the CDC set up a task force to collect detailed information on those affected. Within months, the disease was named the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Epidemiological methods were used: to monitor the patterns of the occurrence of AIDS; to measure the rapidity of occurrence; and to search for causes by identifying risk factors. They were also used in determining case fatality, survival time and prognostic factors. Which I would have thought were all important things to know. Lange’s Medical Epidemiology tells us that “medical progress often is best advanced when the sciences that focus on subcellular and molecular basic research work in tandem with the population-oriented science of epidemiology. For example, as bench scientists were struggling to characterize the molecular properties of HIV, epidemiologists already determined that AIDS is a contagious disease that is spread through certain interpersonal behaviours. As the painstaking search continues for improved treatment, or even a cure or vaccine, public health professionals have recommended measures to prevent the spread of HIV by reducing the frequency of the fololwing high-risk practices: (1) casual, unprotected sex and (2) sharing needles among drug users.”

Cardiff University has a page with links to lists of Bradford-Hill’s principal publications and literature related to Bradford-Hill.
*McGraw-Hill Medical Publishing Division seems to be here, and the Fourth Edition of Medical Epidemiology is available here.

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