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It’s not worth risking your health or home on ‘miracle cures’

Miracles on a sign

The internet’s rife with adverts and claims for clinics and treatments that offer ‘cures’. But if you’re tempted by untested claims you might want to think again, argues Tabitha from Sense About Science.

A new Sense About Science guide, written with patients and medical charities, explores the danger of untested cures on the web.

People facing long-term or chronic conditions can be desperately searching for anything that might help, and are especially vulnerable to exploitation.

Bombarded with unsubstantiated claims for ‘pioneering cancer treatments’, new diets and unfounded stem cell cures, patients can be left chasing false hope, exposed to crippling financial and emotional costs and risking serious harm to their health.

These treatment claims offer hope of finding something that will do more than conventional medicines can. But the evidence for many of them is unreliable.

Harm to your health and wallet

It’s easy to see a treatment or cure and think ‘I’ve got nothing to lose…’ but the reality is that people can risk, and lose, a lot.

Patients have told us about harm to their health – aggravation of their condition, pressure to stop taking medication, being exposed to risk of infections such as HIV via treatment with unscreened stem cells. And patients have also told us about the financial costs – parting with life savings, risking loss of homes or jobs.

There’s also the emotional toll: pressure from well-meaning friends and family to try things despite a lack of evidence to support them and, perhaps worst of all, the disappointment of realising you’ve been sold false hope.

Aggressive advertising for ‘cures’

Many clinics use aggressive marketing, by selecting the best testimonials, using pseudo-science, even posing as patients in online forums. Some of these treatments cost tens of thousands of pounds. This runs into the hundreds of thousands if they involve costly trips to private clinics abroad – sometimes leading to high-profile emotional public appeals from family and friends to raise money for treatment costs.

In response, we’ve been working with patients and medical charities at Sense About Science to publish a guide to help people weigh up claims about unfounded cures on the web and in advertising. Christine, who has a thyroid condition, told us:

‘After a saliva test an “alternative thyroid doctor” gave me “adrenal glandular” tablets and told me to reduce my prescribed thyroid medication. I was in a lot of pain, bed-bound for weeks and it cost me a whole year out of my life – not to mention the huge costs of paid carers and useless and misleading saliva tests. My advice is not to make my terrible mistake of trusting anyone outside the medical profession.’

Cut through the hype

The clear message coming from patients is that if a claim about a treatment sounds too good to be true, it probably is – but also that there’s a lot that you can do, including:

We live in a world where it’s possible for people to trade in this area. The web provides an amazing advertising space – one which despite best efforts, defies jurisdiction. From our point of view, the best thing we can do is equip people against this: armed with evidence and some critical questions, anyone can put themselves in a stronger position to cut through the hype around unproven treatments for themselves.

What do you think about ‘miracle cure’ promises made online? Do you know of anyone who’s been affected by this?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Tabitha Innocent, Scientific Liaison at Sense About Science. All opinions expressed here are Tabitha’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

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The subject of this topic is:
“It’s not worth risking your health or home on ‘miracle cures’”.

We have often been subjected to headlines in the media such as: “Statins are miracle drugs”, or “The Miracle of Statins” or even, “Statins: Miracle Drug Now More Miraculous”

Statins are a 25 billion dollar world wide business and are designed to reduce cholesterol levels and reduce cardiovascular disease, but a new study from the Massachusetts Medical School confirms a new and potentially dangerous side effect of statin drugs – diabetes. (Archives of Internal Medicine)
The research report analysed more than 153,000 postmenopausal women who enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative study in the 1990s. None of the women had diabetes at the outset, but 7 per cent were taking statins.
15 years later the women were followed up and nearly 10 percent of women taking statins had developed diabetes, compared to only 6.4 percent in women who took no statin drugs.
Further analysis by Harvard shows that women over the age of 45 are 50 per cent more likely to develop diabetes if they’re taking a statin drug.

THOUSANDS of Australians could now be taken off cholesterol-lowering medications because of mounting evidence they increase the risk of diabetes and dementia.
Australian health authorities are reviewing their advice after US regulators announced statins will now carry warnings they could increase the risk of diabetes and cognitive impairment.

However, deaths from heart disease are not in decline, and nor is type 2 diabetes. Worse, the official website for the American Heart Association says, “Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes.”

Although statins are designed to lower cholesterol and allegedly prevent cardiovascular events, but they also block and severely deplete the essential heart nutrient known as Ubiquinone, or more commonly known by the names of Coenzyme Q10 or Co Q10. Without adequate stores of CoQ10 and lacking the repair mechanisms common to nuclear DNA, irreversible oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA results from buildup of superoxide and hydroxyl radicals.
Studies now prove that supplemental CoQ10 while taking statins improves functional capacity, endothelial function, and left ventricular contractility in congestive heart failure without any side effects, but do cardiologists recommend or prescribe Co Q10? No.

Statins do and can work, but not on the pretext of their prescribed use of lowering cholesterol, but by reducing inflammation: the actual cause of heart disease………………

In more than fifty percent of new heart attack cases, the cholesterol level is normal or below………………………….

How many statin users have been informed by their Doctor/cardiologists that cholesterol is actually a vital substance manufactured in the Liver essential for health, the production of which is regulated by that chemical factory depending on dietary intake, and the bodies aim of achieving and maintaining homeostasis; cholesterol is essential for brain function and the synthesis of Vitamin D3 in the skin for example.

So statins are sold and prescribed on the pretext of preventing heart disease by lowering cholesterol, but this is actually untrue and essentially a fraudulent use of a drug (medication).

So perhaps statins are not therefore the “miracle drug” so often spouted in the media, and an unprecedented medical scam and a 25 billion dollar a year scam at that…………………..

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Why use an obviously polemical website when you could reference a much more nuanced treatment in a reliable source?


The opinions of Lundell and others are clearly outliers, at the extreme end. A more balanced view is not only more accurate, it’s more persuasive.

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To perhaps add balance to this comment, try the NHS link http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cholesterol-lowering-medicines-statins/Pages/Introduction.aspx
There seems to be an obsession with “scams” as if all those involved in spending money on treatments are ignorant.

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this “polemical website” you refer to is edited and contributed to by (amongst others):

Dwight C. Lundell M.D.
Chief Medical Consultant, Asantae Inc.
Chief Medical Consultant at http://www.realweight.com

Dr. Lundell’s experience in Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery over the last 25 years includes certification by the American Board of Surgery, the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.
Dr. Lundell was a pioneer in off-pump coronary artery bypass or “beating heart” surgery reducing surgical complications and recovery times.
He has served as Chief resident at the University of Arizona and Yale University Hospitals and later served as Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery.
He was one of the founding partners of the Lutheran Heart Hospital which became the second largest Heart hospital in the U.S.

Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor

So I suppose they have no idea as to what they are talking about.?
Their findings are supported by the science that is “evidence-based”, so if you care to peruse the site, you should then understand why they write as they do: to reveal the truth about statins.
Not that you will of course, as this wouldn’t be in keeping with your belief-system of “Medical Science”.

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Malcolm R,
it has been noted before now that the NHS reflects conservative and sometimes outdated notions on health-matters.

So outdated in fact that the diet-heart hypothesis of dietary saturated fat being the cause of heart disease has recently been debunked, and cholesterol as well cause heart disease.
Uffe Ravnskov MD PhD not only destroys this myth with the hard data, but shows it was never based on honest science in the first place.
Ancel Keys first argued this theory by charting heart disease mortality against fat availability for six countries, showing the more dietary fat available, the higher the rate of mortality. There was just one pesky problem: data was available for 22 countries at the time. Include the other 16, and the association falls apart.
Ravnskov also reviews numerous examples of populations consuming diets rich in saturated fat who are virtually immune to heart disease, such as the Masai of Africa, who eat a diet almost exclusively composed of meat, blood, and milk.
Ravnskov’s extensive analysis of cholesterol-lowering treatments spans over 80 pages. He shows conclusively that cholesterol-lowering drugs are expensive, a waste of time, and even dangerous.

Early drug trials were a disaster. In the famous World Health Organization (WHO) trial, a cholesterol-lowering drug called clofibrate did indeed reduce the incidence of heart disease, but the heart disease mortality rate stayed the same, and the total mortality rate increased! In other words, people who took the drug were more likely to die earlier than people who did not.

Scroll down this website to……….Here are the facts! and their subheadings.

Do your own independent research and discover the truth for yourself.

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Right. If anything this is a lesson about being cautious with extrapolating evidence.

Ironically, the majority of recent “miracle” alternative treatments do exactly that!

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Incidentally, I do recommend Margaret McCartney’s “The Patient Paradox”, it shows you how to understand the claims for mass screening and statins among many other things. It also shows what a doctor realyl thinks about consultation times, and what really drives them, and what holistic care (the real kind, not the kind that holistically looks at their auras to balance their chakras) actually means practically within the NHS.

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Chris: In what way doe the author render it not polemical? Any website with a section called “The Statin Scam” is polemical – that is pretty much the definition of polemic.

More moderate sources are – well, more moderate. As usual with early results, statins have been oversold. They almost certainly have a role for some people, and Margaret McCartney’s excellent book discusses this in a nuanced way, whereas “statins are a scam” is not nuanced at all.

This is a complex problem. For every complex problem there is a solution which is clear, simple and wrong. Mass use of statins is one such, mass rejection of them is probably another.

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whether the site is polemical or not is irrelevant to anything. Did I mention that it was not polemical?
I don’t think so, but this is a red herring from the facts of the matter, and the science they include to support their findings.
Duane Graveline MD MPH was himself a “victim” of statins side effects to the point where he eventually could not remember his own name; this sparked his interest after coming off statins where his cognitive function returned to normal.

I know you are very fond of quoting “the majority scientific consensus” as ruling against many if not all alternatives, and supporting “medical science”, but I would like to remind you, that this “consensus” has been very wrong in the past, and wrong on a frequent basis. Galileo could answer that for you (you would need a medium) and since that time.

“The Statin Scam” describes exactly what it does on the tin, and is factual to the core, and you would be misguided to think or believe otherwise. So statins turn out to be what many believe is the largest fraud ever committed by medical science, and where this hallowed ground, where they have been through the rigors of the “scientific method” and failed as not fit for purpose.
My original post on statins was to illustrate that they are not the “medical miracle” as touted by the media, where this is after all the subject of this topic: “It’s not worth risking your health or home on ‘miracle cures’”.

You may also be interested to know that people who have the highest levels of cholesterol live the longest; I’ll repeat that again in case you misunderstood: those with the highest levels of cholesterol live the longest, and where statins are formulated to lower cholesterol in the mistaken belief that this will prevent cardiovascular diseases (and it IS a belief).

Here’s the science to prove what I have said……………

Kozarevic D et al. Serum cholesterol and mortality: the Yugoslavia Cardiovascular Disease Study. Am J Epidemiol. 1981 Jul;114(1):21-8.
Rudman D et al et. Antecedents of death in the men of a Veterans Administration nursing home. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1987 Jun;35(6):496-502.
Forette B et al. Cholesterol as risk factor for mortality in elderly women. Lancet. 1989 Apr 22;1(8643):868-70.
Staessen J et al. Is a high serum cholesterol level associated with longer survival in elderly hypertensives? J Hypertens. 1990 Aug;8(8):755-61.
Harris T et al.The low cholesterol-mortality association in a national cohort. J Clin Epidemiol. 1992 Jun;45(6):595-601.
Casiglia E et al. Predictors of mortality in very old subjects aged 80 years or over. Eur J Epidemiol. 1993 Nov;9(6):577-86.
Krumholz HM et al. Lack of association between cholesterol and coronary heart disease mortality and morbidity and all-cause mortality in persons older than 70 years. JAMA. 1994 Nov 2;272(17):1335-40.
Weverling-Rijnsburger AW et al. High-density vs low-density lipoprotein cholesterol as the risk factor for coronary artery disease and stroke in old age. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(13):1549-54.
Jonsson A et al. Total cholesterol and mortality after age 80 years. Lancet. 1997 Dec 13;350(9093):1778-9
Räihä I et al. Effect of serum lipids, lipoproteins, and apolipoproteins on vascular and nonvascular mortality in the elderly. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 1997 Jul;17(7):1224-32.
Behar S et al. Low total cholesterol is associated with high total mortality in patients with coronary heart disease. The Bezafibrate Infarction Prevention (BIP) Study Group. Eur Heart J. 1997 Jan;18(1):52-9.
Fried LP et al. Risk factors for 5-year mortality in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. JAMA. 1998 Feb 25;279(8):585-92.
Chyou PH, Eaker ED. Serum cholesterol concentrations and all-cause mortality in older people. Age Ageing. 2000 Jan;29(1):69-74.
Schatz IJ et al. Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study. Lancet. 2001 Aug 4;358(9279):351-5.
Weverling-Rijnsburger AW et al. High-density vs low-density lipoprotein cholesterol as the risk factor for coronary artery disease and stroke in old age. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(13):1549-54.
Onder G et al. Serum cholesterol levels and in-hospital mortality in the elderly. Am J Med. 2003;115(4):265-71.
Casiglia E et al. Total cholesterol and mortality in the elderly. J Intern Med. 2003 Oct;254(4):353-62.
Psaty BM et al. The association between lipid levels and the risks of incident myocardial infarction, stroke, and total mortality: The Cardiovascular Health Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2004 Oct;52(10):1639-47.
Ulmer H et al. Why Eve is not Adam: prospective follow-up in 149650 women and men of cholesterol and other risk factors related to cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.J Womens Health 2004 Jan-Feb;13(1):41-53.
Schupf N et al. Relationship between plasma lipids and all-cause mortality in nondemented elderly. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2005 Feb;53(2):219-26
Akerblom JL et al. Relation of plasma lipids to all-cause mortality inC aucasian, African-American and Hispanic elders. Age Ageing. 2008;37:207-13.
Newson RS et al. Association between serum cholesterol and noncardiovascular mortality in older age. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011;59:1779-85.

The Benefits of High Cholesterol…………

Draw your own conclusions, as long as they are not biased or prejudiced.

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I will have to get a copy of Margaret McCartney’s “The Patient Paradox”, but you will have to excuse my skepticism as she was the GP who sat on the panel of experts who ruled on the WHICH investigation of Nutritional Therapists, but she does seem to talk alot of sense otherwise.

I am not “into” auras and chakras, so count me out on that score.

Mark says:
26 October 2013

Guy, Chris, Malcolm Thanks for all the links. The timing was perfect for me, since reading about cholesterol was on my list of things to do soon. Why? Just got in the mail result of blood tests from the doctor in Friday’s mail. I do blood tests every 6 months for a drug I take for MS. The tests were normal for everything except cholesterol. I have been watching the levels gradually go up. The solution for me is the easy one. The cholesterol level is now the only other risk factor other than being male I have for heart disease. From the nice short letter from my doctor the risks are:
1. family history ( no) 2. tobacco use (no) 3. High blood pressure (mine 116/70) 4. diabetes (no) 5. MALE 6. sedentary lifestyle (no) 7. Being over-weight (no)

I view the drugs as the sources point out are only for a select group with high cholesterol. They have to been watched closely for dangerous side effects and should be only a short term solution for most. What I have to change is diet. Everything is great except one bad habit I’ve had for years. I have a very large milkshake just before bed every night. Lots of ice-cream and a little milk. I don’t want to give it up, but it’s time. I may have to pick up some calories.

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Chris, the NHS is conservative because most new findings are wrong. By being conservative, medicine (generally) avoids the thousands of wild goose chases that make up alternative medicine. Anything genuinely useful will soon become part of the standard of care, because that’s what medical science is for: to show what works and what doesn’t.

It’s a good system. Unless you passionately believe in something that’s contradicted by the evidence, of course – but that’s a feature, not a bug.

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Your welcome Mark, and whether you agree or disagree with me is an individual matter of course, but I would add that it isn’t only a select group of people who benefit from having high cholesterol as explained here………………

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As explained on another site with a point of view well out into the long tail.

In the mean time, of course, for most people high cholesterol remains a problem.

My universal panacea miracle cure prescription is: a bicycle. Replace all car journeys under 2 miles with a bicycle, and large numbers of health problems go away At no significant cost!

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Guy wrote: ‘This is a complex problem. For every complex problem there is a solution which is clear, simple and wrong. Mass use of statins is one such, mass rejection of them is probably another.’

I agree. We need a balanced approach and to be prepared to revise recommendations for use of statins as we learn more about these drugs, which clearly have benefits and disadvantages that differ for individuals. The same applies to a lesser extent to many drugs in common use.

Any article that considers one side of an argument is worthless, in my view.

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Certainly an article that considers only one side of an ongoing debate may be problematic. But not always.

Any responsible article should cover all factually-supported views, in rough proportion to the amount of support they have. However, false balance is a known problem. There is no need to quote a climate denier as “balance” to every article on climate change, or a germ theory denier to “balance” an article on a virus or bacterium.

When the scientific consensus is clear and robust, it is no longer a “side”, it is the balanced view, already taking into account all relevant and valid facts.

The difficulty is known which debates are settled against (homeopathy, reiki, therapeutic touch, reflexology etc)., which are still active (statins, screening) and which are settled for (surgery, radiotherapy, chemo for some cancers).

The pretence of doubt is a major weapon in the armoury of charlatans. I recommend the book “merchants of doubt” as an excellent overview of the exploitation of tiny minority dissenters by vested interests.

Mark says:
27 October 2013

Wavechange, and Guy, I agree. Dealing with almost every medical problem is very complex. A balanced approach is the only prudent way. Any article that is completely one sided may not be wrong, but makes you wonder what they are hiding or selling.

Guy, I agree that most preliminary findings or studies are wrong or a the very least misleadingly favorable. Should I start taking Lipitor, because my cholesterol is a little high and studies are now underway using it as a MS drug. The only way I might even consider doing it would be if my levels were dangerously high and as a part of a clinical trial. I see alternative treatments using the reasoning that if trials are going on it is effective.

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I’m afraid you are only reiterating the Medicines views on cholesterol which does not reflect the actual science. Mainstream has moved the goalposts several times as to what constitutes high cholesterol.
A current ad for Lipitor® states: “80% of people who have had a heart attack have high cholesterol”. This sounds very persuasive of course, yet it is misleading because it all depends upon your definition of high cholesterol.

Before the era of cholesterol causality, the normal range of cholesterol was 100 to 300. Then overnight it seems, a new disease was created known as hypercholesterolemia and everyone with a cholesterol level of 200 or higher was afflicted with it.

This was the beginning of what has come to be known as the cholesterol craze and the drug companies’ progressive development of cholesterol lowering drugs, culminating in 1988 with statins.
Since then, the acceptable lower level of cholesterol has fallen from 200 to 170, then 150 and now 130, so this “80% of people who have had heart attacks have high cholesterol” is now true because nearly all people are “caught” by this newest lower value of 130.

At the rate of change seen these past twenty years, our acceptable level of cholesterol will be 110, and statin makers will be able to say with complete honesty that almost 100 percent of people who have heart attacks have high cholesterol, simply because nearly everyone has high cholesterol if you lower the desirable level sufficiently.
I have said previously that fifty percent of new heart attack cases the cholesterol level is normal or below normal (whatever that may be).
The reality that cholesterol levels are completely normal in more than half of new heart attack cases is what convinced Uffe Ravnskov, MD ( The Cholesterol Myths ) and Kilmer McCully, MD ( The Homocysteine Revolution ) that the theory of cholesterol causation was wrong. It just did not fit the facts.

I suggest you research the 2003 JUPITER study – Justification for the Use of statins in Prevention: an Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin (Crestor®). ( Ref 1 ).

And in January 2008, the results of the ENHANCE trial ( completed in April 2006 ) were finally released. ( Ref 2 ) ENHANCE was a trial that compared one group taking simvastatin ( Zocor® ) with another taking Vytorin® ( simvastatin plus Zetia® ). The thickness and progression of arterial plaque of the participants was monitored for two years.

Ref 1: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18997196
Ref 2: http://www.ccjm.org/content/75/7/497.full
Ref 3: http://www.nih.gov/news/health/may2011/nhlbi-26.htm

Replacing all car journeys under 2 miles with a bicycle, (although a good idea) only adds to the problem, esp’ in inner city areas where cyclists flout the rules of the road (red-light-jumping for one thing) and receive no training in road behavior at all.

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“Anything genuinely useful will soon become part of the standard of care, because that’s what medical science is for: to show what works and what doesn’t”.

Is an ideal, but unfortunately this does not work in practice. If you had done as much research on this as I have, you would understand why.

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In view of your condition, I suggest that you speak to your consultant, Mark. If they are not well informed, it might be worth finding a consultant who is and paying for private consultation.

Mark says:
27 October 2013

Wavechange, I’ll talk to my doctor the next time I see her. The best course for me right now is to keep on doing what I’m doing right now. I have a very good neurologist who is an MS specialist. I’m very stable right now, which is about the best you can do. I have always done a lot of reading and carry a written list of questions and list what’s going on with me. I’ll reduce my ice cream habit and see how things go. I see my regular doctor next week for a colon exam and we will also talk diet. Not fun, but its been 5 years since my last one and that one found a couple of small things to remove.

Mark says:
28 October 2013

A question that I’m starting to see that would come up for the person most likely taken in by the Miracle Cure business is: Where do you go for good accurate information? If you do a web search, the natural cure sites say don’t trust just about everyone except their site or another one. Sense About Science and the ASA are not liked by many and the skeptic sites are universally hated. The government run ones are bought by big pharma or too conservative to endorse new treatments. Wikipeda is run by a homeopathy and alternative medicine hater and unreliable besides.

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Sense about Science and the ASA.

The ASA has recently made advertising rulings on alternatives based on the opinion of only ONE expert: hardly a consensus view required to arrive at an accurate and impartial decision.

Sense About Science (although a step in the right direction) isn’t necessarily the arbiter of truth that we all hope it will be either.

“Sense about science have recently published a very one-sided report entitled “Making Sense of Radiation” on the associations between EMFs and health. Not only did this report only present ONE side of an argument that has multiple conflicting opinions (both of which are based on peer-reviewed science), but it also contained a number of factual errors and omissions”.

Here are 11 factual issues illustrated within the report into “factually incorrect”, and “factually misleading” (i.e. facts spun in a misleading manner).

There is nothing wrong with being skeptical, and a healthy approach to most all things, but in Medicine and health matters, I am very skeptical of the skeptics………………..

The modern skeptical paradox is that a philosophy based on questioning ALL sides of a particular argument now finds itself harnessed to the ‘anti-natural’ cause. Such skeptics, typified by organisations such as Sense About Science, appear to find themselves firmly in a pro-GM, pro-mainstream medicine, anti-natural healthcare position.

So if skepticism leads us to question ALL SIDES of an argument – to reject the intrinsic ‘rightness’ of any position – how then can the skeptics be so loudly pro-mainstream medicine and against all the alternatives? What scientific data are they using for example to support the very dubious view that genetically modified (GM) crops will resolve world hunger?

Strictly speaking, it should be impossible for skeptics to describe themselves as ‘pro-science’ or ‘pro-technology’, since that clearly associates them with a “belief” in the correctness of modern science – an utterly non-skeptical position!

Not only that, but while philosophical skepticism has had enormous influence on the modern scientific process, the modern skeptic turns his or her back on the scientific method by ignoring centuries of human experience – and the clinical experience being gathered every day by practitioners – as merely ‘anecdotal’.
Apparently, only randomized, controlled trials (RCT’s) in human subjects will do to prove any treatment approach worthy of consideration. So, it seems that the ‘pro-science’ ‘skeptics’ are actually in some respects ‘anti-science’, and they’re certainly not skeptics. Their position is considered by many to effectively be a form of intellectual fraud.

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for what it is worth, and not very much I would wager, it may well be worth considering the following these protocols which have had a very good success rate against MS……………..

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Anyone can update Wikipedia, Mark. I restrict myself to topics of hobby interest, a long way away from medicine. I am very grateful to those who strive to those who put in effort to improve Wikipedia in all subject areas. Homeopathy is the ultimate medical con trick and the only benefit is that it can discourage people from taking medicines that they may not need.

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Chris: Your research gives different results from mine because your standard for evaluating sources is radically different. This is already established.

It’s not about the amount of reading either of us has put in, it’s about what we both consider to be a reputable or reliable source.

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Wikipedia is a good source for an overview of the current state of evidence on most things because it is editable by pretty much anybody (believer or not), and because naked advocacy gets beaten out over time. Sometimes an article might sway too far one way or the other (as was the case when the cold fusion advocates hijacked the cold fusion page a while back) but over time, very much like the scientific method, it converges on correct.

Many of the battles have been about fringe theories (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:FRINGE), which I think fits a lot of what Chris has advocated. These are not pseudoscience, not necessarily even wrong as such, but they are a long way off the consensus scientific view. Very occasionally, fringe theories turn out to be right. Much more often, they don’t – and that will often lead people into what’s known as pathological science, the practice of pursuing a belief and rationalising away conflicting evidence.

“To maintain a neutral point of view, an idea that is not broadly supported by scholarship in its field must not be given undue weight in an article about a mainstream idea. More extensive treatment should be reserved for an article about the idea, which must meet the test of notability. Additionally, when the subject of an article is the minority viewpoint itself, the proper contextual relationship between minority and majority viewpoints must be clear.”

Balance comes about by documenting what the fringe theory says, and then showing how far it is from the mainstream, and why the mainstream has not accepted the theory. Usually this comes down to quality of evidence, lack of independent replication, and sometimes lack of a credible mechanism. There’s a collection of examples at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-standard_cosmology (i.e. cosmologies other than the dominant big bang theory).

I don’t think Jimmy Wales is a “homeopathy hater”, I think for the most part he doesn’t give it a thought – he’s only mentioned it to me once, and that was when he was in London (where he knows I worked) and was offered oscillococcinum by a pharmacist; I pointed him to the Wikipedia page on it.

I am an admin on Wikipedia and I know Jimmy, I’m also an email response volunteer so I have access to the messages people send in about issues with articles – defamation and so on. I think I have a fair understanding of the place and its problems, especially the really serious ones that often don’t get seen because we quietly deal with them in the background. I’m as likely to have an edit reverted as anyone else, though, because my view is worth no more or less than anyone else’s. We don’t do hierarchy in that way. We do advise people not to revert actions identified as taken in direct response to a potential legal issue, but we don’t want to cry wolf, so we reserve that “nuclear option” for the important cases. A recent example was Giovanni di Stefano, a litigious gentleman who made serious and credible threats against the Wikimedia Foundation and against individual editors (he represented Nicholas van Hoogstraten and also helped Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein). We got the last laugh: he is currently serving 14 years for fraud and deception.

Jimmy Wales cares passionately about sharing knowledge, and about fairness. There was a debate recently over whether to refer to religious accounts of origins as “creation myths”; Jimmy’s view was that while this is technically and linguistically correct it is unnecessarily inflammatory. Jimmy doesn’t support hatchet jobs even on obvious quackery, because that drives people away. If people choose not to trust Wikipedia because they don’t like the way reality views their beliefs, then that’s their choice, but we aren’t going to rub their noses in it.

The idea that Wikipedia would be skewed by Jimmy’s views on anything is ridiculous. There are articles whose content he disputes quite forcefully; he does not insist on his way. The claim that Larry Sanger was co-founder, he rejects. Nevertheless, it is what several independent sources say, so it’s what Wikipedia says.

However, there is an imbalance of motivation. If you are a crank, getting your view as the “official” POV of Wikipedia is immensely important. Wikipedia is the best known and most used informational site on the internet. Its reach is immense and its brand is very strongly trusted. For a scientist, it has no real importance because a scientist’s reputation is made in the peer-reviewed literature, not Wikipedia. If you are, say Rupert Sheldrake, Wikipedia is important to your wider reputation. If you are Jim Al-Khalili? Not so much.

Wikipedia does have a small-l liberal, rational humanist leaning. This is a reflection of the people who turn up. It is unlikely that an article calling transsexualism deviant, will last. Wikipedia’s community has a significant and respected body of LGBT contributors. It’s not that Wikipedia seeks to normalise LGBT topics, it’s that it refuses, pretty much on principle, to paint them as deviant or abnormal. Ironically, this feels very British, for such an American-led endeavour. As long as it doesn’t alarm the servants or frighten the horses, we’re cool with it. I’m less enamoured of the militant free-speech types, but they are not so much in evidence these days. Or maybe I just don’t see them.

We have been through many long-running battles where belief collides with objective reality. Creationism is an obvious example. A creationist, Andrew Schlafly, set up a parallel project called Conservapedia precisely because Wikipedia presents creationism as a religious belief and evolution as a scientific fact. If you’re a creationist, that makes Wikipedia unreliable. Same with pseudoscience. Long-term battles have been fought over articles on homeopathy, cold fusion, NLP, non-standard cosmologies and so on.

Of the spin-outs from Wikipedia, it’s noticeable that the only ones which thrive are those which are addressing subjects where the level of detail expected by fans, could not be reconciled with Wikipedia’s sourcing requirements. Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki started in 2003) and Wookiepedia (a Star Wars wiki started in 2005) are obvious examples. On-topic, Wiki4cam (a CAM wiki started in 2008) has 220 pages, 3 active users and the last edit was in February 2012. Like Conservapedia, it tries to control dissenting voices rather than using Wikipedia’s approach of letting everyone in and breaking up the inevitable fights as they happen.

Wikis that try to aggressively control content, fail. That’s why Wikipedia doesn’t do that, and why people who claim that it does, are talking rubbish.

The consensus view is, however, that in matters of science, the scientific point of view is the neutral point of view, because it draws on all published opinions, by definition, and comes up with a view that best fits the observed facts. So the scientific consensus on climate change sets the agenda for Wikipedia’s coverage of climate change. And climate deniers see this as bias. Same with alternative medicine, religious views of creation and so on.

Sorry, long rambling reply, but I hope interesting at some level: Wikipedia is a great project and I think it has turned weaknesses (e.g. open editing) into strengths.

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Chris, you highlight an issue that is hard for those not familiar with science, to understand.

When the ASA or some other body asks an expert to advise, the expert will review the scientific literature and give advice as to the current scientific consensus.

That doesn’t make it the opinion of one expert: it is still a review based on a much wider base of evidence.

Sense About Science do the same.

Power Watch is made up of believers in “electrosensitivity”, a phenomenon which has defied numerous attempts to establish any objective basis in fact tot he point where the official term has been changed to Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF) to make it clear that while these effects are attributed to EMF, the evidence fails to support this attribution.

Sense About Science rightly reflects the consensus scientific view.

Believers in things that lack scientific support, naturally criticise SAS, often because they subscribe tot he fallacious logic of the fringe (cherry-picking supporting studies and ignoring the bulk of studies that contradict them, or begging the question by assuming that a thing is proven and then complaining whenever anyone produces evidence showing it isn’t).

They are shooting at the messenger: SAS accurately documents the scientific consensus, the scientific consensus does not support belief in detox or electrosensitivity, if they want this to change, they need to bring better science.

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Specifically on electromagnetic hypersensitivity, given as an example of Sense About Science being “wrong” because it conflicts with Power Watch, a group of self-described EMF hypersensitives:


“Results: Thirty-one experiments testing 725 “electromagnetically hypersensitive” participants were identified. Twenty-four of these found no evidence to support the existence of a biophysical hypersensitivity, whereas 7 reported some supporting evidence. For 2 of these 7, the same research groups subsequently tried and failed to replicate their findings. In 3 more, the positive results appear to be statistical artefacts. The final 2 studies gave mutually incompatible results. Our metaanalyses found no evidence of an improved ability to detect EMF in “hypersensitive” participants.”

So, a systematic review (that is, an impartial analysis of the entire available relevant scientific literature, filtered by quality) finds no evidence that self-described EMF hypersensitives are indeed sensitive to EMF: they cannot tell, in blinded conditions, whether they are or are not being subjected to EMF. Thus, any appropriately neutral scientific discussion MUST reflect this consensus, and continue to do so until some compelling new result is produced, ideally including an actual provable mechanism by which the supposed effect might work, since electromagnetic fields are part and parcel of a world powered by a vast fusion reactor 150 million kilometres away.

However, see this:

“Conclusions: The symptoms described by “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” sufferers can be severe and are sometimes disabling. However, it has proved difficult to show under blind conditions that exposure to EMF can trigger these symptoms. This suggests that “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” is unrelated to the presence of EMF, although more research into this phenomenon is required.”

So, it is a severe and occasionally disabling condition, it’s just not related to EMF. Now, if you passionately believe it’s due to EMF and become paranoid about EMF, then any psychosomatic component will be magnified immensely. If there is a component which is not psychosomatic, then the fixation on EMF is not only unproductive, it’s actively counterproductive, because it is preventing you form looking for the real cause.

I do not believe that it is right to pander to beliefs that the best available evidence says are completely wrong, for exactly that reason. It reinforces the wrong belief, at the expense of pursuing a correct explanation.

I’ve had post traumatic stress disorder. It is genuinely debilitating. It is also 100% psychosomatic. People who refuse to admit this, are the ones who don’t get cured. And if the cause of IEI-EMF is not actually psychosomatic, then closed questions (how can we prove it’s EMF?) are markedly less likely to find the correct answer than open questions (what causes this effect?).

Pretty much the entirety of the debate over alternative medicine hinges on this exact same point. Believers want evidence to support their belief, and refuse to accept any that does not, whereas scientists ask open questions, which very often lead to a conclusion the believers won’t accept. Believers then accuse science of getting it all wrong, as with Power Watch and Sense About Science.

This is often compounded by paying a numbers game. 100 people assert they are sensitive to EMF, that systematic review only had three or four authors, therefore they are wrong and we are right. But a single scientist can articulate a scientific consensus; a good scientist distinguishes between statements of fact (there is no good evidence that “electromagnetic hypersensitives” are any such thing) and statements of opinion (I believe it is 100% psychosomatic). Believers in fringe and alternative theories, by contrast, typically blur the line between fact and opinion, or say that because some small part of a claim is true – EMF can cause heating, for example – thus the entire claim is true, despite the fact that there”s strong evidence it isn’t.

Alan Henness says:
28 October 2013

chrisb1 said:

“The ASA has recently made advertising rulings on alternatives based on the opinion of only ONE expert: hardly a consensus view required to arrive at an accurate and impartial decision.”

No it didn’t. It was provided with a plethora of evidence and they employed an expert in the field to assess that evidence alongside their own experts in advertising. We do now know the exact details of the papers provided to the ASA (although many can be deduced), but they clearly state why they concluded any paper was not adequate. Presumably the advertiser was content with that conclusion, but if they are not, it’s open to them to appeal. However, if you can spot anything wrong with what the ASA concluded about any particular paper, please feel free to let us – and them – know.

And if you’re talking about the recent adjudication against the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital as was), then please note that not only did they not uphold all the points, they clearly stated what the evidence supplied did substantiate.

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the ASA admits on their website that in at least one case they used one expert to adjudicate on their findings; one expert in the field does not constitute a consensus of opinion to arrive at an impartial and reliable decision.
Why then do we have “peer-reviews” of more than one opinion.?

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my research gives different results from your own, but not because of the standard of evaluating evidence, where you seem to imply that this is a lower standard than your own.
My sources are actually trustworthy and reliable if not comprehensive; I have recently used thses sources for example..
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18997196 (The Jupiter Study)
http://www.ccjm.org/content/75/7/497.full (The Enhance Trial)

all of which are Mainstream sources.

Wouldn’t you say this was cherry-picking on your part? and sifting the evidence to suit your own beliefs perhaps?

I do agree with you when you say it is about what we consider to be a reputable and reliable source of information.

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consensus does not necessarily mean correctness, and as I have pointed out previously, so it is on this basis that I have posted on scientific findings that contradict this consensus viewpoint.

Cholesterol lowering drugs are a case in point, and although there is a medical consensus on the use of statins for that purpose, the claimed aim of being able to reduce cardiovascular events in this way has not been proven, so their purported use of benefit is incorrect and essentially misleading if not fraudulent.
Statins work by reducing inflammation, rather than their intended use of reducing cholesterol.

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you have mentioned that if a therapy is demonstrated to work it would be accepted within Mainstream medicine and therefore would cease to be alternative.

However, just to contradict that view, one Prof. Yuri Nikolayev of the Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry has cured, and I mean totally cured, schizophrenics of their illness by placing his psychotic patients on a water-only-fast for up to 40 days, but this has not been accepted within Mainstream outside of Russia, and despite the evidence………………

This explains more re’ Prof. Yuri Nikolayev and the success of the fast in psychotic cases.

This is just but one example of a therapy that is used very successfully in psychoses and many other forms of illness, but has been totally ignored by Mainstream Medicine in the West, eben though it has been demonstrated to work and work very effectively.

Mark says:
28 October 2013

Wavechange, I would have to agree for the most part. From what I have seen of Wikipede it has done a fairly good job with accuracy at least with subjects that I am familiar. Having said that, I think it would be a good start in doing research. It would be about the same advice you would give to a high school kid who was going to do a report. You use it to gain a rough idea of the subject, but don’t use it as a main source.

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Chris, like I said, one scientist is all that’s needed to assess the status of the scientific consensus. You only need one Dana Nuccitelli to summarise the consensus on global climate change, you only need one expert to summarise the scientific consensus on, say, homeopathy, electrosensitivity or live blood analysis, because the consensus is abundantly clear.

I am not going to get into debate about outliers supported by advocacy websites. Of course they publish arguments by people who agree with them. That is their function. When they have good science, they are no longer fringe. When they are fringe, it’s because they do not have good science. By definition.

Of course occasionally such people are visionaries. Those are the ones we remember. We forget the much greater numbers who were wrong, in the same way as the audience at a “psychic” show forget the misses and remember only the hits. And the important thing is that the very worst people at working out which are cranks and which are visionaries, are the believers – not least due to the process of “crank magnetism” whereby believers of one crank are attracted to others due to the common and consonant narrative of conspiracy.

I am aware of only one claim supported by sound science that is not on the path to mainstream acceptance: phage therapy, brought up earlier, which faces specific challenges due to licensing regimes (phage strains are extremely specific and almost bred to order). People who claim to be the lone genius who can cure some serious and widespread disorder, are either Nobel laureates or cranks, to a good first approximation.

“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.” – Carl Sagan

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you do have a way with words I must admit, but to dismiss Powerwatch as a group of “hypersensitives” is derisory and denigrating to say the least.

In fact Powerwatch has been an association of skilled people, Directed by Alasdair Philips, maintaining their web site and providing a consultancy service on a commercial basis to businesses and to the general public, and providing technical input to local Councils and Government.

Alasdair Philips is qualified in both Electrical and Electronic Engineering and in Agricultural Engineering. He has equity interests in two small companies (EMFields and Sensory Perspective Ltd) that supply EMF and RF measurement equipment and supplies. Since 1986 he has built up a considerable knowledge of EMF bioeffects, and is one of the leading ‘alternative’ voices on the subject in the UK. Powerwatch is used as a forum for a small group of knowledgeable engineers and scientists who are concerned about the consequences of an irradiated ‘blue world’ we are creating.

This is the science which you have ignored, and will probably continue to ignore……

Your comment…………
“Pretty much the entirety of the debate over alternative medicine hinges on this exact same point. Believers want evidence to support their belief, and refuse to accept any that does not”.

Is a line or two I could have written about you and people like you, but the truth of the matter is that people who believe in alternatives, do so because of the evidence and NOT the other way around (as in my own case) and thousands upon thousands like me who have received distinct benefit from the same.

I find it to be very disappointing that despite the evidence I have posted on here, you are still of the same mindset, even when much of the evidence has validly questioned or even disproved the consensus of medical opinion.

A very scientific approach I am sure.

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I think Wikipedia is remarkably good considering that anyone can edit pages and many do. A surprising amount of information is of little interest to most people and non-controversial, so some pages are both good and stable – having been compiled by experts and not vandalised.

With any topic that people have an interest but little expertise, it can be a continuing battle to maintain useful pages. I don’t begin to understand how this is achieved.

As you say, Wikipedia provides an introduction, and many pages are presented as to be comprehensible to the general public.

Mark says:
28 October 2013

Chris, Thanks for the sources checked them out and found some good stuff. Diet or diets are a very important part of MS treatment. When you have MS or probably with most chronic diseases its the one of the things you have the most control over. It can make a big difference in your over all well being. Vitamins and levels of vitamins are also very important, but should only be considered just a part of your treatment plan.

I did have a problem with the first source that started out with a story. Her doctor thought she needed more calcium. “It didn’t seem to help, so he sent me to a neurologist. The neurologist heard the symptoms and then and there said that I have multiple sclerosis.” The neurologist was rightly described as a moron or something like that. The new doctor got her on track with taking calcium in the right manor and no more symptoms. The part I hate is starting with a story. My hardened view is that anything starting with a story is not to be believed. No neurologist even a new one on the first visit says you have MS. There are just too many easy treatable conditions that have the same symptoms. A diagnosis of MS is not given until many things are ruled out and then with support of spinal taps and MRI. When you are caught in one lie, can you trust anything else? Good and bad information mix makes it bad source for patients who don’t have a good background.

Alan Henness says:
28 October 2013


You’re missing the point. The ASA has to adjudicate on claims made in adverts. It does this by asking for the evidence held by the advertiser. The ASA’s investigators look at this evidence and come to a conclusion about whether it is of a high enough standard to substantiate the claims made by the advertiser. They will also seek out other information that the advertiser might not have supplied – this gets round any cherry-picking done by the advertiser. For particularly complex claims, they employ an expert to advise them before they make their decision.

For most altmed, their job is pretty straightforward because much of the evidence provided is usually of such low quality and obviously so open to bias, has poor methodology, included a low number of subjects, not published or peer reviewed, was a pilot study, wasn’t for the product/therapy the claim was about, asks the wrong research question, is not applicable to the target audience of the ad… I could go on, there are many many more. This isn’t really a difficult job in most cases.

Ideally, the advertiser would supply one or more meta-analyses or systematic reviews: if they are sound, then the ASA is likely to rule that the claim has been substantiated; if not, or the ASA is aware of better, conflicting evidence, then the advertiser loses.

However, it’s amazing just how poor evidence supplied to substantiate altmed claims is. Or not that amazing…if you are at all skeptical.

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re’ the ASA’s ruling on Chinese Clincs resulting from only one complaint, depends on what we consider to be “evidence”. TCM has a totally different perspective on what this actually means, because they provided testimonials of healing. Testimonials of healing are the best source of evidence because this is what really matters, rather than the academia of evidential proof (as in RCT’s) which Guy is very fond of quoting.
Controlled trials do not take account of patients’ circumstances and factors such as stress, energy levels and quality of sleep, which could not therefore have any real meaning or relevance. They said drugs that had been proven to be safe in controlled clinical trials were later found to have done more harm than good.
RCT’s are very good for drug trials, but only for drug trials, and not necessarily relevant for an individuals health-outcome. A mistake often made by Scientism and Modern Medicine generally, who think in restricted terms of: diagnostics, surgery, and drug-therapy.

“the ASA concluded that the ad by Chinese Clinics (Balham) Ltd was misleading and discouraged essential treatment for a condition for which medical supervision should be sought”.

By this I assume they mean essential medical treatment which has little if any effect on the outcome of the disease of MS, and which Medicine states is incurable.

The United States and New Zealand are allowed to advertise pharmaceuticals on TV, and their purported use is to lower cholesterol and therefore prevent heart attacks, but they actually work by reducing inflammation rather than the former method, so this is therefore misleading and erroneous advertising not adjudicated on by the ASA or anyone else.

Double standards perhaps?

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Chris: Yes, the provided testimonials. these are not considered as relevant evidence. This has been the case ofr a long time and is the same rule that is applied to every form of health claim, there is no special treatment.

Testimonials are not admissible for exactly the same reason that the randomised controlled trial was invented: human perceptions are vulnerable to all kinds of confounders. Placebo effects, expectation effects, natural history of disease, regression to the mean, reporting bias and so on.

Consider the hypothetical case of a disease that kills 9/10 people. A quack treats 100 people and reports the 10 who survive as “miracle” cures. Without full data on how many people were treated, this claim is misleading, potentially fatally so. And yet that is precisely the basis on which many alternative medicine practitioners think they should be allowed to advertise to treat or cure disease.

It’s not just a philosophical difference, it’s a totally different way of viewing the world, and the ASA are in the reality-based group who want to see credible systematised scientific evidence for health claims, because consumer protection demands that misleading claims are not permitted.

Alan Henness says:
29 October 2013

chrisb1 said:

“re’ the ASA’s ruling on Chinese Clincs”

You don’t seem to have said which ASA adjudication you were referring to – I took it it was the RLHIM/UCLH one.

“resulting from only one complaint”

Yep. That’s the way it works.

“depends on what we consider to be “evidence””

No, not really. The CAP Code and guidance are quite clear on the subject. You should read it sometime.

“TCM has a totally different perspective on what this actually means”

Tough. The rules are there for all advertisers to abide by, not pick and choose as they want them to apply to themselves when they’re challenged.

“because they provided testimonials of healing”

And the CAP Code is quite clear what CAP (rightly) thinks of testimonials.

“Testimonials of healing are the best source of evidence”

What you mean is that, in most cases, is the ONLY source of evidence they have, so that’s all they can plead with.

“because this is what really matters”

Wrong. See Guy or anyone else, passim.

“rather than the academia of evidential proof (as in RCT’s) which Guy is very fond of quoting.”

In fact, it really doesn’t matter what Guy thinks (sorry, Guy!) about RCTs (although he is perfectly correct, of course). What matters is what the CAP Code says and that says that advertisers of soap powder, mouthwash, used cars, double glazing or altmed must all abide by the same rules and provide good evidence for any claims made when challenged.

“Controlled trials do not take account of patients’ circumstances and factors such as stress, energy levels and quality of sleep, which could not therefore have any real meaning or relevance. They said drugs that had been proven to be safe in controlled clinical trials were later found to have done more harm than good.
RCT’s are very good for drug trials, but only for drug trials, and not necessarily relevant for an individuals health-outcome. A mistake often made by Scientism and Modern Medicine generally, who think in restricted terms of: diagnostics, surgery, and drug-therapy.”

See passim.

““the ASA concluded that the ad by Chinese Clinics (Balham) Ltd was misleading and discouraged essential treatment for a condition for which medical supervision should be sought”.

By this I assume they mean essential medical treatment which has little if any effect on the outcome of the disease of MS, and which Medicine states is incurable.”

No. It means that the CAP Code says that the advertising was claiming to treat a medical condition that they were not qualified to treat.

“The United States and New Zealand are allowed to advertise pharmaceuticals on TV, and their purported use is to lower cholesterol and therefore prevent heart attacks, but they actually work by reducing inflammation rather than the former method, so this is therefore misleading and erroneous advertising not adjudicated on by the ASA or anyone else.

Double standards perhaps?”

Perhaps you were unaware that the ASA has no jurisdiction in the US or New Zealand…

But it is illegal to advertise POMs in the UK. Any breach of that would most likely be dealt with by the MHRA. In general Big Pharma comply with that law, so the ASA has no need to adjudicate on whether any such ad is misleading or not.

But they do seem to have to spend a lot of time of ruling against alt med advertisers for making misleading and unsubstantiated claims. Why would that be?

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while most of you spend the time debating on the importance and authenticity/reliability of the type of “evidence” that is acceptable, the rest of us are getting well and recovering our health via many alternative therapies; evidence which you continue to ignore to the detriment of those seeking wellness.
Patients actually come first, although it would seem that this is of little relevance to you skeptics and Mainstreamers.
Let me remind you that the modern skeptic turns his or her back on the “scientific method” by ignoring/dismissing centuries of human experience – and the clinical experience being gathered every day by practitioners – as merely ‘anecdotal’.

You missed or avoided my point; I did not say that the ASA has jurisdiction in the US or New Zealand, but what I did say is that this kind of advertising used for statins in lowering cholesterol is allowed in those countries and under false pretenses; it is marketed and used over here in the UK for the purpose of lowering cholesterol in the prevention of heart attacks/strokes and other cardiovascular events.
This however is simply not the case, because statins only work by reducing inflammation (accompanied by serious side-effects) rather than its claimed use of lowering cholesterol in achieving the same. In other words, false and misleading claims that should be corrected.
Inflammation btw can be reduced by other means rather than taking expensive statins which reap pharmaceutical companies $25 billion to $30 billion per annum.

It would be helpful if your read my posts with a little more diligence before replying.

“The ASA seem to have to spend a lot of time ruling against alt med advertisers for making misleading and unsubstantiated claims. Why would that be”?

Please note, that these “complaints” to the ASA were not from a large number of people or organisations, so the logical conclusion is that the therapy in question is acceptable to those in receipt of it, but not acceptable to those who are biased/prejudiced against it as in your own case.

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the provided testimonials are not considered as relevant evidence to you, but they are to me and thousands like me.

Allow me to explain….

A number of years ago a TV programme highlighted the case of a little girl who had been afflicted with osteoarthritis; she had been under the care of a distinguished specialist within Mainstream Medicine for a couple of years, but during this time her condition had become progressively worse to the point where she was bound to a wheelchair, having severe mobility issues and consequent pain.

The specialist was the “invited guest” to discuss the little girls condition, whose Mother had taken her daughter out of his care for 6 to 9 months prior to the programme, during which time she had sought “alternative care”.
This specialist was taken completely by surprise when the little girl appeared from the audience towards the end of the show, with her mobility fully restored, and her osteoarthritis a thing of the past; she even ran over to him to hug him as they had become so well acquainted during her treatment regimen under his care.

When confronted with the evidence of a completely healed little girl, who do not forget had been under his care for 2 years and become progressively worse, he then stated that there was “no evidence” to suggest that her alternative treatment had actually worked.

The Mother laughed in his face…………as did the audience.

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Alan: Perfectly fine, I know the difference between opinion and fact, and do my best to distinguish the two. So does the ASA. This is a feature, not a bug…

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Chris, you don’t need to explain. I know that the human species is evolutionarily selected for pattern matching. When you live in a jungle, running from 99 things that are not a tiger is better than not running from one thing that is. The human brain is a pattern-matching engine.

The scientific method is not hard-wired by evolution. We are, as far as I know, the only species that applies it, and it is the thing that accounts for the explosion of progress since the mid 17th Century. The Enlightenment is when the scientific method began to take over from natural philosophy, and when people started getting the idea that objective tests, not believe or philosophical musings, were the correct basis of knowledge.

In simple terms, if your system for assessing medical claims does not reject the majority of fringe and alternative beliefs, then you are, pretty much by definition, doing it wrong, because however fallible humans might be the scientific method is, in the end, the only effective way ever devised for separating truth from falsehood. It can be used by anybody, it relies on a common and simple set of tools, and it automatically corrects for error and converges on correct over time.

The development of the randomised controlled trial is one of the things (along with epidemiology) that moved medicine out of superstition and into science. If you give a hundred people a sugar pill and tell them they will feel better, they will. Give 50 a red pill and 50 a blue one, you get a different effect between the red and blue groups, even though the pills are inert. Medicines cause this effect too. That’s why medicines have to prove that they are better than placebo. That’s why it’s a problem that pharmaceutical companies have manipulated studies.

Doctors can be wrong, even very eminent ones. But your entire philosophy seems to be based on the idea that *most* doctors are wrong and only those who present ideas consonant with your beliefs are right. That is statistically implausible. Most early findings are wrong, few treatments match up to the numbers in initial studies. Your view is that the initial studies are always right, the believers who generate more evidence to support their emotionally vested belief in the early results, are the ones who are right. Again, statistically improbable, and it goes against the entire history of scientific medical endeavour.

I completely understand that you believe in homeopathy, colloidal silver, megavitmains, MMR-autism, electrosensitivity, Gerson, Hoxsey, Budwig and a vast range of other fringe beliefs that are considered refuted or strongly contradicted by the scientific evidence.

In one case, that might be arguable. In all of them? That’s irrational. Not only is it pretty much inconceivable that science is wrong and the fringe advocates right in all these cases, but some of the things you advocate are actually mutually exclusive.

This is compounded by your near-exclusive use of advocacy sites instead of reliable independent sources. Advocacy sites tell you what advocates believe, not what is factually provable. They cherry-pick, they engage in policy-based evidence making, they do all the things humans do to manage cognitive dissonance when the world is screaming at them: “you’re wrong”. This is entirely normal, 100% human, and evidentially useless. There are people who will earnestly tell you, with evidence, that the earth is flat. The thing that people forget about Galileo is that he was articulating the emerging scientific consensus, and it was the church (the belief-based analogue to the scientific establishment) that couldn’t handle it.

Newton is as close to a God as science has. Einstein showed him to be wrong about certain things. Einstein had better science. Newton was wrong about those things. Einstein said “my God does not play dice with the universe”. Einstein was wrong: mater is not deterministic. Fallible humans aside, science has no sacred cows. Evidence trumps belief, always.

The entire point of the scientific method is that it sets aside what we want to be true, and asks what actually is true.

More than that: it uses Occam’s razor. What explanation requires the smallest number of hypotheses? The null hypothesis is the default explanation.

The religious approach, inherent in alternatives to medicine, is different. it assumes that anything people believe is valid, unless conclusively proven otherwise. Often, the proof demanded is in terms that implicitly demand belief – the fallacy of begging the question – a bit like demanding someone prove the non-existence of God by reference to the Bible.

The approaches are different, but they do not have parity. You give more credence to the belief-based view, I give more credence to the evidence-based view. So do the ASA, so do the NHS, so do medical schools generally, scientists and so on, because it is the way we moved from horses to spaceflight in a handful of generations, when it took over four billion years to get as far as walking on our hind legs.

I understand the appeal of belief-based thinking. I understand the appeal of the mythical golden age. The brutal fact is that antiquity, when things were natural, was associated with a human life expectancy about half that we enjoy now. Science helps us live to the point where we are pushing the limits of the capabilities of the biological systems on which our bodies are built, meaning that many of us end up on long-term medical treatments We cannot fix that by throwing our hands up in the air and abandoning rational thought and the scientific method. That is simply crazy.

Alan Henness says:
30 October 2013

chrisb1 said:

“while most of you spend the time debating on the importance and authenticity/reliability of the type of “evidence” that is acceptable”

I’m not spending any time (other than wasting it here) debating types of evidence. Whatever gave you that idea?

“the rest of us are getting well and recovering our health via many alternative therapies;”

Good for you.

“evidence which you continue to ignore to the detriment of those seeking wellness.”

And we’ve explained at great length and more than once why poor quality evidence is inadequate. But don’t let that stop you trying things…

“Patients actually come first, although it would seem that this is of little relevance to you skeptics and Mainstreamers.”

Quite the contrary. People deserve and are entitled to the best treatments backed by the best evidence. That would naturally exclude improved or disproven treatments such as homeopathy.

“Let me remind you that the modern skeptic turns his or her back on the “scientific method” by ignoring/dismissing centuries of human experience – and the clinical experience being gathered every day by practitioners – as merely ‘anecdotal’.”

You still don’t seem to quite have grasped the idea of the scientific method, nor the myriad of sources of bias, etc

“You missed or avoided my point; I did not say that the ASA has jurisdiction in the US or New Zealand, but what I did say is that this kind of advertising used for statins in lowering cholesterol is allowed in those countries and under false pretenses; it is marketed and used over here in the UK for the purpose of lowering cholesterol in the prevention of heart attacks/strokes and other cardiovascular events.”

If you feel something is amiss, you are perfectly free to submit a complaint to whosoever – I think the FDA will consider complaints from non-residents and perhaps NZ does too. Of course, we do provide some good advice on our website to help anyone submit a complaint, but let me know if you need any pointers.

If you feel the MHRA isn’t doing its job in the UK, you can submit your complaint here: http://www.mhra.gov.uk/Contactus/index.htm. Mind you, I’ve never seen an ad for a statin.

“This however is simply not the case, because statins only work by reducing inflammation (accompanied by serious side-effects) rather than its claimed use of lowering cholesterol in achieving the same. In other words, false and misleading claims that should be corrected.”

Looks like you’re going to be busy then.

“Inflammation btw can be reduced by other means rather than taking expensive statins which reap pharmaceutical companies $25 billion to $30 billion per annum.”

That’s a tricky one, but my advice would be to go to the top and tell the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (http://www.aomrc.org.uk/). Yes, they’re definitely the ones to contact:

“The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges speaks on standards of care and medical education across the UK. By bringing together the expertise of the medical Royal Colleges and Faculties it drives improvement in heath and patient care through education, training and quality standards.”

There is obviously something seriously amiss in those hallowed corridors.

“It would be helpful if your read my posts with a little more diligence before replying.”


““The ASA seem to have to spend a lot of time ruling against alt med advertisers for making misleading and unsubstantiated claims. Why would that be”?

Please note, that these “complaints” to the ASA were not from a large number of people or organisations, so the logical conclusion is that the therapy in question is acceptable to those in receipt of it, but not acceptable to those who are biased/prejudiced against it as in your own case.”

I’m afraid you still just don’t seem to understand why the ASA is there and what it does. But it might help if you could say how you think the number of complainants about an advert affects the quality of evidence the advertiser is supposed to hold when he/she makes the claim?

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no, the scientific method is not hard wired by evolution but yes we are the only species that apply it, but it is not the infallible method that you seem to think it is.

The scientific method does not boil down to a single algorithm but a scientific toolbox. The toolbox view supports many means for finding evidence, some direct, some indirect, some experimental, some OBSERVATIONAL, some statistical, some based on controls, some on similarity relationships, some on elaborate thought experiments.
The chief problem with the scientific method is that students of it come to BELIEVE that it guarantees discovery and unambiguous reliable conclusions. Uncertainty, incompleteness or revision are excluded…………..

Medical “peer-reviews” within scientific journals are also subject to pitfalls such as confirmatory bias, the negative results bias (the file drawer problem), the Matthew effect, the Doctor Fox effect, and gender, race, theoretical orientation, and “political correctness.”

Your comment…………

“if my system for assessing medical claims does not reject the majority of fringe and alternative beliefs, then you are, pretty much by definition, doing it wrong, because however fallible humans might be the scientific method is, in the end, the only effective way ever devised for separating truth from falsehood”.

My approach for assessing/evaluating medical/health claims does not reject the majority of what you refer to as: “fringe and alternative health claims” because I am able to sort the wheat from the chaff, as much of it is supported by a wealth of evidence that you reject. This would include centuries of human experience, and the clinical experience being gathered every day by practitioners, but also the science that endorses their efficacious use.

EBM’s hierarchy of medical evidence holds that large scale randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses provide ‘better’ evidence than case series on individual patients, individual physician experience and information from the basic sciences.
The questions raised by EBM can therefore be characterized as epistemological, probabilistic and ethical.
In epistemology, are the epistemic claims of EBM, particularly with respect to the hierarchy of evidence, justifiable? Do randomized controlled trials provide a greater access to truth than observational studies or pathophysiological rationale? If so, on what basis? Much of the literature arguing against the epistemological claims of EBM have been focused on highlighting the fallibility of large scale randomized controlled trials.

I have not said…………
“My entire philosophy seems to be based on the idea that *most* doctors are wrong and only those who present ideas consonant with your beliefs are right”.

What I HAVE said, is that Allopathic Doctors are encapsulated within a medical framework that is blinkered to anything outside of their remit of diagnostics, surgery, and drug-therapy: a very limited framework of health-recovery, although of much use of and within themselves.
This has nothing to do with “beliefs”, but on evidence that you have willfully ignored and rejected, because of your own “beliefs”.

The therapies you have highlighted such as the use of: colloidal silver, megavitamins, Gerson, Hoxsey, Budwig, and others, do have substantial evidence in their favor, and much scientific evidence to support them, but they remain as “fringe therapies” because of the dominance of the medical status quo rather than anything else and the powerful vested interests that support it.
That is the truth of the matter and whatever you may say to contradict it.

The sites I have used to illustrate my viewpoints are so because the information that they publish is rarely published within the mainstream media or medical journals, and because of the above reasons; they are reported in these largely because no one else will publish the information, and are therefore perceived as “fringe sites” or “quackery sites”. This does not therefore necessarily mean, and as you infer, that the contained information is erroneous, but quite the opposite.

Einstein btw also said: “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking”.

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Chris: I didn’t say it was infallible, in fact I specifically said it is not because it is executed by humans, who are all too fallible.

The strength of the scientific method is that it always converges on correct over time.

That is why your belief that the scientific method yields consistently wrong results, and outliers consistently right, is unpersuasive. That and the fact that many of the outliers you support are in fact mutually exclusive.

I’ll stick with the scientific consensus. It’s served humanity rather well thus far.

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well thus far you have given the impression that RCT’s and meta-analyses are perhaps not infallible, but the be all and end all of SBM or EBM.

What I did say is that the chief problem with the “scientific method” is that students of it come to BELIEVE that it guarantees discovery and unambiguous reliable conclusions, even over time. Uncertainty, incompleteness or revision are excluded………….

I do not disagree with the “scientific method” but it does have its limitations due to the “decline effect” (I assume you have heard of this?) and these websites explain it more thoroughly than I can……………


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Chris: the scientific method is the best way ever devised to separate truth from falsehood. The decline effect does not in any way undermine it; the decline effect is in fact a finding of the scientific method.

Scientists have some understanding of why the decline effect happens, based on the spread of treatments form carefully selected trial populations to best candidates to more general use.

To assert that the scientific method is flawed because it self corrects as more data comes in, which is precisely what it is supposed to do, is very silly. It is based on a gross misunderstanding of the scientific method which is completely understandable when your realise its source: those whose belief is essentially religious not evidential.

When your worldview is dominated by accepting certain classes of claim as gospel, and your sources never contradict or self-correct, then the idea of a system that is inherently self critical and modifies its conclusions according to new data, converging on absolute correctness asymptotically over time, will seem very bizarre. To scientists this is not only normal, it’s expected.

Most early findings are wrong. The alt-med culture is a lot like the Daily Mail’s health section, frozen in time on the day the first misleadingly vivid headline result is published and looking only for results that match it while the next day promoting a completely different and often contradictory misleading early result.

Science doesn’t work that way, and my observations lead me to conclude that it confuses the hell out of people who do.

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Actually, for many scientists, the “decline effect” is troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process/method. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, rigorously validated previous findings can no longer be proved.

Your comment that my sources never contradict or self-correct, is nonsense, and “the idea of a system that is inherently self critical and modifies its conclusions according to new data”, applies to drug-therapy. Do we need the scientific method to determine that we need to breathe or eat wholesome food (optimized nutrition) or need exercise/sleep and warmth for health? of course not: these are normal physiological processes that are common to all and can be used in proportion to bodily needs to achieve wellness.

Your denigration of alt-med wouldn’t fit squarely with this then?

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Chris: the decline effect is an issue for the reasons stated. It does not in any way undermine the scientific method or the application of science to assessing medical treatments, it merely tells us that it is essential to be cautious about the results of trials on small, idealised populations.

You do understand that precisely the same issue applies to the small scale positive studies used to promote alternative therapies, don’t you? Applying the kind of factor that’s necessary t scale back from idealised to real-world, wipes out the entirety of the false-positive evidence for homeopathy, acupuncture and so on, even before you begin to consider the problems of bias and concealed confounders which already account for their being positive despite the treatments being inert.

It’s a complex area. As usual, it’s being abused by the alternative industry to arm-wave away the disparity of evidence between real and fake treatments, without considering its self-evident implications for their own claims!

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“the decline effect is an issue for the reasons stated. It does not in any way undermine the scientific method or the application of science to assessing medical treatments”.

The “decline effect” is troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process/method. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, rigorously validated previous findings can no longer be proved.

The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. Replicability is how the community enforces itself. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. Most of the time, scientists know what results they want, and that can influence the results they get. The premise of replicability is that the scientific community can correct for these flaws.

But now all sorts of well-established, multiple confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants.

“The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything. We like to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us. But that’s often not the case. Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to BELIEVE”.

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I expect that you are familiar with the ‘hygiene hypothesis’. Some believe that our hygienic modern lifestyle may be a factor in the increasing incidence of allergies. It is all very uncertain at present and there are many other factors including as environmental pollutants that could be important.

I don’t know if you are aware that investigation of the hygiene hypothesis has established that helminth therapy may be of use to those suffering from multiple sclerosis, as you do. The most interesting articles I have read are not available to the general public, but there is a page on Wikipedia. It’s early days, but it would be wonderful if we eventually find a miracle cure for MS.

Mark says:
29 October 2013

Wavechange, The idea has been kicked around for some time. One of the first things found out about MS was it was more common in people who spent their 1st 15 years above the 45th parrallel. Why? Lots of ideas were put up….. The lack or too much of a vitamin or nutrient. Lack of winter sun and spending time indoors.

The idea seems to hold merit on the surface. Further study even if not successful might add good information out immune response. I also spent my first 15 years in Montana. I had every common childhood disease of the 50’s and 60’s. I was an outdoors except winter there wasn’t much light after school. I was a dirty dusty kid and got stung and bit by a large number of instects and animals. Makes you wonder.

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I thought you might find this of interest re’ the incidence of MS above the 45th parallel and the latest figures for 2013…………………

A visual look at new worldwide multiple sclerosis prevalence data.

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Now who would have thought it?

Milk Thistle: yet another form of quackery?

Milk thistle is an herbal extract that is commonly used for a wide range of liver ailments. It functions to help detox and strengthen the liver. It is relatively inexpensive.

Milk thistle is part of Germany’s medical mainstream. German MDs prescribe pharmaceutical grade milk thistle for patients with liver problems.

The active ingredient of milk thistle is an antioxidant bioflavonoid known as silymarin. Silymarin has three aspects: silybin, silidianin, and silicristen. Silybin has been isolated as the part that delivers most of silymarin’s benefits, which include blocking and removing toxins from the liver while accelerating cell regeneration or repair. Milk thistle extracts are available in capsules or tinctures.

And now there’s a new and improved application for milk thistle.

An Animal Study Demonstrates Milk Thistle’s Ability to Curb Lung Cancer.

A recent study has produced evidence of milk thistle reversing lung cancer. Alpna Tyagi, PhD, of the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy, and her team found that treatment with silibinin, which is the same substance as silybin but with a different name, stopped the spread of lung cancers in mice.

An inflammatory response leads to a chain of cellular events that can eventually result in tumor growth. Tyagi and her team discovered that targeting a certain pair of enzymes part of the way into that chain of events eliminates the creation of the final pair of enzymes that produce tumors.

In other words, milk thistle’s silibinin (aka sylibin) eliminates those enzymes that continue a chain of events resulting in the enzymes that produce tumors.

What’s noteworthy is how Dr. Alpna Tyagi compared her study of silibinin (aka silybin) to what Big Pharma is currently testing for similar lung cancer afflictions (using millions of dollars to create a patentable pharmaceutical).

She bluntly pointed out in the University of Colorado Cancer Center report that “… naturally-derived products like silibinin may be as effective as today’s best [pharmaceutical] treatments, without the side-effects”

Other studies have since been performed with similar results on other cancers since the Colorado study. But all of them tend to assume a subservient role of using milk thistle as an adjunct to their normal chemo and radiation treatments.

Some recommend using milk thistle to help the liver eliminate toxins from chemotherapy and even radiation. If you’re wondering why not move into human trials with milk thistle for cancer, that’s simple to explain.

You can’t patent natural remedies and have the patent protection of up to 20 years while charging whatever you can get away with from private and government insurance providers. Quite the racket.

This study is good news for anyone looking to include another natural inexpensive, safe weapon for one’s personal war on cancer.

If you’re up to coping with biochemical technical nomenclature, you can access the abstract published in the summer 2011 journal Molecular Carcinogenesis here. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mc.20851/abstract)

Here’s an even more recent study abstract on milk thistle for stopping cancer growth: (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mc.22092/abstract)

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As usual, you are failing to distinguish between a promising result that might indicate some therapeutic benefit, and a “miracle cure”.

All this proves is that the assertion that medicine refuses to accept things just because they are “natural”, is false.

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I would be very interested to know if you regard any prescription medicines as worthwhile, or if you condemn the lot of them. The widespread use of statins is controversial, but many drugs are of undoubted benefit to many people, in my view. My concern is overuse of medicines, possibly driven by a belief that the answer to all problems is to take a pill.

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Or any treatments generally recognised as bogus that he doesn’t support. As I’ve said before, it would be interesting to explore what standard Chris uses to distinguish the fringe claims he accepts from those he rejects – if there are any.

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yes I do consider that some prescription medicines are worthwhile, but what concerns me most is that prescription drugs are killing 100,000 Americans each year and injuring more than two million. These are the statistics from the Journal of the American Medical Association, and that figure doesn’t include the 40,000 or so who are killed each year by over-the-counter pain medications.

There’s another factor to consider here, too: prescription drugs are rarely tested for dangerous interactions with other drugs. In other words, even though the FDA (for example) might have approved drug A for one thing, and drug B for another, but nobody has ever tested what happens in human beings when both drug A and drug B are taken together.

A friend of mines wife is taking 10 prescription drugs per day after her mild heart attack, but does anyone really know the interactions that these may have on her overall health.? I don’t think so.

Another is antibiotics, where although useful if not life-saving, have been over-prescribed generally and are becoming less and less effective for their intended use.

I am also in favor of over the counter analgesics or prescribed painkillers which can be a god-send in the short term.

I would also question prescription-drug-dependency such as antidepressants like Paxil: the side-effects of withdrawal are reported to be horrendous, and a website exists to help people in that regard: paxilsprogress.

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Good questions.
I would reject any therapy that is not proven to work, or does not address the underlying cause, and I include Mainstream or Alternatives in that equation.

This is not a complete list but dubious Medical therapies would include:
Bypass surgery
PSA Tests.

While dubious alternative therapies to my mind and not a complete list would include:
Urine therapy
Energy Medicine (Reiki, Shiatsu, Therapeutic touch, Magnet therapy and so on)

The standard I use as to whether a therapy is effective, is if it works on a large scale, and has stood the test of time with patients who have used it.

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We can agree with each other about overuse of prescription drugs and the problem of drug interactions. I am particularly concerned about the elderly, where impaired liver and kidney function may not be taken into account. In my experience there are big differences in the attitude of consultants, hospital doctors and GPs. My current GP is very careful about monitoring the efficacy of drugs, doing blood tests and generally minimising my medication.

I don’t think it is fair to say that drug interactions are ignored. Browsing through a copy of the British National Formulary, which summarises information about drugs and doses, there is an appendix describing known drug interactions and this runs to over 100 pages. There is a lot of potential to use computers to flag up problems on the basis of drug combinations and a patient’s conditions, but I don’t think this has progressed far in the UK. The computer system used by my local Tesco pharmacy did, however, pick up the fact that an antibiotic that I had been prescribed was contraindicated for patients taking one of the drugs I was using regularly, which is encouraging. If you suspect a drug interaction you can report it to MHRA, via the yellow card system.

You have given figures for deaths caused by prescription drugs and otc painkillers. Commonsense suggests that this should be put in perspective and compared with an estimate of the number of people kept alive and whose lives are greatly improved by treatment with these drugs. I realise that the website you copied and pasted the information from does not use this sort of balanced approach. I am extremely grateful for five drugs that I have taken routinely for years. They are all out of patent and not expensive.

So we can agree that there are problems with medicines, combinations of medicines and that prescribers are too ready to hand out pills. But why not also acknowledge how much has been achieved in your lifetime and mine by prescription medicines?

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Chris: You say “I would reject any therapy that is not proven to work, or does not address the underlying cause”

In that case you would reject homeopathy, Gerson, Hoxsey, Budwig, megavitamin therapy, colloidal silver and numerous other things that you have seemed to advocate in this conversation. That is heartening.

You have said you would reject angioplasty, CABG, mammograms and PSA tests. There you have fallen for precisely the error of which you accuse others! These are strongly indicated for *some* patients. The problem comes when they are used outside of the area for which they are most strongly indicated.

Mammograms as a screening technique for asymptomatic women are questionable, but as a diagnostic they can be invaluable. PSA screening is a waste of time, as its inventors say, but as a tracking marker for progression of indolent prostate cancer or monitoring of aggressive prostate cancer there is decent evidence. CABG can and does extent life and improve quality of life in patients with atherosclerosis.

These things are much more nuanced than you suggest, no doubt due to necessary brevity.

The same applies to a lot of “miracle” cures – for example, vitamin D and calcium supplementation is indicated for people with osteoporosis or osteopenia, but worthless for a normal health adult. The idea that doctors don’t recommend or prescribe things labelled “alternative” is often a categorical fallacy: they prescribe them when indicated, but not when they aren’t, whereas True Believers tend to think they should be used by everyone because cavemen or some such..

You really should read Margaret McCartney’s “The Patient Paradox”. I do think you’d like it.

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yes I will acknowledge the usefulness of many prescription medications, such as in the management of hypertension, crohns, bipolar, asthma and so on, and do so very well, but I would also say that many of them do not address the underlying causes such as in heart disease and clogged arteries.
I am also disappointed with Medicine that they do not play a greater role in the prevention of disease and encourage lifestyle choices that act as a prophylactic.
I think it is the WHO who have stated that up to 80% of cancers can be avoided by these lifestyle choices, after all, the original definition of the word “Doctor” means “teacher”, but health education such as this is not as widespread as it should be.

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Guy, I say “I would reject any therapy that is not proven to work, or does not address the underlying cause” but would not reject homeopathy, Gerson, Hoxsey, Budwig. Megavitamin Therapy or Orthomolecular Medicine and Colloidal Silver, because they do actually work, rather than your opinion that I should reject them because they do not work.

In general Medicine I would reject angioplasty, CABG, Mammograms, and PSA tests and others because they are largely futile.

Research the Clinical Outcomes Utilizing Revascularization and Aggressive Drug Evaluation (COURAGE) trial.

Or this one…….
Gregg C. Fonarow, M.D., professor, cardiovascular medicine and science, director, Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center, associate chief, Division of Cardiology, University of California, Los Angeles; Henry H. Ting, M.D., interventionist cardiologist, associate dean for quality at Mayo Clinic, and professor, medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; Michael B. Rothberg, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, medicine, Tufts University, Boston, and cardiologist, division of general medicine and geriatrics, Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, Mass.; Sept. 7, 2010, Annals of Internal Medicine.

However, angioplasty remains viable for high-risk patients, but they’re only one-third of the million who have angioplasties every year.

I suggest you purchase this book by Dr Joel M. Kauffman PhD.

In 1974, the NCI was warned by one Professor Malcolm C. Pike at the University of Southern California School of Medicine that a number of specialists had concluded, “giving women under age 50 a mammogram on a routine basis is close to unethical”. This warning was ignored.

In 1985, The Lancet, published an article condemning regular mammography recommendations and stating, “Over 280,000 women were recruited without being told that no benefit of mammography had been shown in a controlled trial for women below 50, and without being warned about the potential risk of induction of breast cancer by the test which was supposed to detect it. In women below 50 . . . mammography gives no benefit.”

In 1995, The Lancet again pointed the finger at the ACS and NCI mammography recommendations by concluding, “The benefit is marginal, the harm caused is substantial, and the costs incurred are enormous.”

Dr. Charles B. Simone, a former clinical associate in immunology and pharmacology at the National Cancer Institute has said, “Mammograms increase the risk for developing breast cancer and raise the risk of spreading or metastasizing an existing growth. The annual mammographic screening of 10,000 women aged 50-70 will extend the lives of, at best, 26 of them; and the annual screening of 10,000 women in their 40s will extend the lives of only 12 women per year.”

Another Norwegian study, published in 2010, concluded that the reduction in mortality as a result of mammographic screening was so small as to be nonexistent—a mere 2.4 deaths per 100,000 person-years were spared as a result of the screening………….

PSA Tests…………………
If routine PSA tests were helping men, I would be all for them. But research shows that they’re not and, in many cases, they do more harm than good.
In a multicenter study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers compared the outcomes of more than 76,000 men, ages 55 through 74, who were randomly assigned to have annual PSA tests plus digital rectal exams or “usual care.”
After seven years of follow-up, there was a 22 percent increase in prostate cancer diagnosis in the screening group compared to the control, but no difference in the death rate from this disease. PSA testing clearly does not save lives.

In October 2011, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued new draft guidelines regarding PSA testing for prostate cancer for men of all ages. They graded this test with a D: “The USPSTF recommends against the service. There is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit or that the harms outweigh the benefits.”

We have discussed Vitamin D before (no not a miracle cure or claimed to be one) and I have outlined why supplementation with calcium, Vitamin D and even K2 has marked prophylactic qualities against disease in people who are deficient, or have not achieved optimized levels (the vast majority).
You have merely spouted the Mainstream position which I fully expected of course.

Your position is as entrenched as the “Maginot Line”, but people just walk around it in the pursuit of optimal health and freedom from disease.

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Chris: I know that a lot of alternative practitioners claim to treat the “underlying cause”, but this very often turns out to be pure fantasy (e.g. chiropractors treating a “spinal subluxation” in order to treat the “underlying cause” of infant colic).

The definition of a chronic condition is one we cannot yet cure. Syphilis used to be a chronic condition, now it’s not. Coeliac is a chronic condition, if the current research on a vaccine bears fruit then it won’t be any more.

At least medicine has a decent history of finding out what the underlying condition is, even if it sometimes takes a while. Ulcers, for example, which used to be put down to stress and are now known to be caused by bacteria.

Actually quite a lot of medicine treats or prevents an underlying cause: immunisation, antibiotics and surgery account for a significant proportion of medical interventions, all address the underlying cause.

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I agree with your last post. We do need to address the problem of unhealthy lifestyle. In the UK, we have made some progress with smoking. Diet and exercise should be next. There is little wrong with official advice, but that is no match for the food and drink industry, and the effect of peer pressure.

Hopefully we will be able to move from treatment to prevention of disease, but in the short term, that is a lot that can be achieved by lifestyle choices. It is good that we have something to agree on, but we are well off topic. 🙁

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Having a healthy lifestyle is as mainstream as it gets. The medical establishment are the ones who identified the link between smoking and cancer, if you remember, and the science of epidemiology is at the heart of most of the red flags that get raised about lifestyle choices.

However, we’ll never get away from medicine. We’re evolved for a life of about 35-40 years. Surviving beyond what we now consider middle age (and was halfway to old age only a few of generations ago) is an evolutionary aberration.

Much of the chronic disease we now see is the product either of medicine’s ability to extend life, or medicine’s ability to prevent death from trauma and conditions that used to be rapidly fatal.

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“having a healthy lifestyle is as mainstream as it gets”?

This must be one of the most outrageous comments I have ever come across (along with the one below).
Since when has mainstream encouraged exercise and a good wholesome diet, fresh air, judicious sunbathing, and restful sleep in any meaningful way? They are so good at it that there is now an established obesity epidemic in the UK and elsewhere, with the sale of junk foods in every high street.

“the medical establishment are the ones who identified the link between smoking and cancer,”

Bravo yes, but only AFTER they used to recommend Camel cigarettes and other brands on TV in America. Thousands of Medical Doctors were not only heavy smokers, but also heavy drinkers as well. A very good example I am sure for a “health” professional.


Another whopper: people survive more into old age because of modern standards of hygiene and lifestyle choices rather than anything else. Most all long-lived peoples of the World have rarely if ever seen a medical Doctor…….

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much depends on what is meant by “underlying cause”, and as Pasteur eventually stated: the terrain is everything and the germ nothing.

A scholarly insight into disease trends in history is found in three classic, remarkable papers: Howard H. Hillemann, PhD (1960) “The illusion of American health and longevity” (Clinical Physiology 2(2), 120-177); and two monographs by William J. McCormick, MD: “The changing incidence and mortality of infectious disease in relation to changed trends in nutrition” (Medical Record. September, 1947) and his 1962 paper “Have we forgotten the lesson of scurvy?” (Journal of Applied Nutrition. 15:1,2; p 4-12).

It really comes down to this: if your immune system is strong (and a strong vitamin-nutritional component therein is indisputable) you will be among the ones who don’t get the plague; or a cold, or any viral/bacterial infection, and even if you did it wouldn’t be life-threatening or last very long.

Skepticism doesn’t faze me a bit.

I see two kinds of people: those that are willing to change, and those that are not. There are two kinds of people who buy Bentleys: those that can afford them, and those that cannot. There are two kinds of sick people: those that do not want to change their lifestyle, and those that do, but don’t know where to start. Prospecting for gold and seeking better health are similar in three ways:

1. You need the motivation to get rich.
2. You need information on where to dig.
3. You need to do the digging.

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I think that some forget what medicine has achieved, Guy. A relation was given no more than two months to live due to heart problems but I believe that medicine helped to extend her life for 25 years. She died because of a mistake (not drug-related) in a hospital.

I have just had a call to help take a friend’s father out for the day. He is about 95 and lives in a care home. His hearing is poor and his sight is worse, but he is in remarkably good condition and still enjoys his rather restricted life. One of his main concerns is dizzy spells, but medication seems to be helping.

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GC- Regarding what a natural age is:
“We’re evolved for a life of about 35-40 years. Surviving beyond what we now consider middle age (and was halfway to old age only a few of generations ago) is an evolutionary aberration.”

I am very surprised to read that – perhaps I have been fooled by the the three score and ten malarkey.

The Wikipedia article is excellent:

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Median life expectancy in ancient civilisations ran between 20 and 33 years, as that Wikipedia article says. Chimps are genetically quite similar and very rarely live beyond 50. The human lifespan has doubled in the last 200 years, contributors being better sanitation, inoculation against deadly diseases, substantial reductions in infant mortality (due in part to the foregoing) and a dramatically reduced death rate from trauma and its sequelae such as wound infection.

We’re not “designed” to peg out that that age (we’re not “designed” at all! the idea of intelligent design is not only wrong, it’s contradicted by the fact that the design of the human body is in many ways really quite stupid).

The fact is that in the last two centuries, we have one from an average life expectancy in the forties, to an average life expectancy at birth in the 80s. That was my point: we are now living well beyond the life expectancy for which the human body evolved.

There’s a lot of debate about what the theoretical upper limit might be, or if there even is one. I personally think it’s unlikely to go much past 125 as a median life expectancy at birth, but others have other views. And of course science has a long history of pulling rabbits out of hats. Who could have predicted that mustard gas would lead to a successful treatment for lymphoma?

Chris, you can be as strong as an ox and twice as healthy, if you are infected with yersinia pestis and it’s not treated with antibiotics, you’ll still die of the plague, if you’re infected with one of the haemorrhagic fevers you’ll still die. Really healthy people get malaria.

It’s like a car: keeping it in good mechanical order still won’t stop it wearing out eventually and it won’t stop a stone from taking out a tyre or a head gasket from blowing either. And the massive supplementation regimes recommended by the supplement industry’s more outrageous advocates are precisely analogous to overfilling it with oil or trying to double the range by putting 150l of fuel into a 75l tank.

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I agree with you that the median life expectations in ancient civilizations was not very high, but then we should consider infant mortality (high) and the effects of a harsh environment, predators and so on as well.
Modern medicine has contributed much to reducing infant mortality and its achievements in reducing mortality from life-threatening diseases, but my point was that that the longest-lived cultures of the World all had one thing in common: freedom from stress, and a natural lifestyle coupled with a wholesome unadulterated diet.

Apparently, Japanese people live longer than any other nation, but Okinawans reach the greatest age: an average of 86 for women and 78 for men, but they get old in a much better state. The statistics reveal a significantly lower risk of heart attack and stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, and Alzheimers and some Okinawans in their 90s claim that they still have a sex life!!

After decades of research, medics and anthropologists reached the conclusion that there are two main factors behind the longevity in this island: diet and a healthy lifestyle that experts believe can be imitated. The diet eaten by the Okinawans can be found everywhere.

In other words: bar injuries/accidents their lifestyle and diet are considered to be the main factors in their superior longevity over and above most other peoples/cultures of the World.

Many of us within alternative healthcare now consider that diseases now common in the West (such as adult onset diabetes) are products of both an unhealthy lifestyle and a processed nutrient-deficient diet, which is now becoming more and more recognised within mainstream.
The fault here lies with what has become known as the “toxic triad”: Big Food, Big Farming and Big Pharma that spreads obesity, diabetes and chronic disease across the globe.

Indeed, Modern medicine may have contributed greatly to life expectancy, but at what cost? a growing aging population that is unable to care for itself and ridden with disease or infirmity, needing full time care.
This band-aid approach HAS contributed to longevity, b