Monday, September 21, 2009

"We are all individuals!" - The Comedy of Homeopathy

Poking fun at homeopaths and those that follow the religion of homeopathy is an easy game: it's an 18th century quack medicine that requires laws of physics and chemistry to be binned in favour of a belief system based on anecdotes and a denial of evidence.

There is plenty to go at: the pills are nothing more than sugar and water, diluted to near infinity, the followers have an unwavering belief in the power of the magic pill and the theory of homeopathy is so topsy-turvy it requires a huge amount of hand-waving and circle-squaring to make any sense out of it.

Time and time again it has been shown to be no better than placebo, despite the homeopathic high priests trying to cure AIDS, malaria and other diseases, sometimes at the expense of proven medicines.

One of the huge paradoxes in the homeopathic theory is the need to offer the patient an individualised medicine - remember the Homepathic Mantra:
Homeopathy heals the person, not the dis-ease
and on the other hand, sell bottles of homepathic medicine for specific ailments.

The idea that the sugar pills need to be indivualised, but also can sold in a popular dilution for a specific ailment is one that I have yet to hear any homeopath explain coherently.

Take a look at the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths' website for instance:
Homeopathic medicines are chosen to treat the whole person, because homeopaths believe the mind and body operate as one, and you cannot treat one part of the body without affecting the whole
which is followed in the next paragraph by, and seemingly without a hint of cognitive dissonance,:
The onion - Allium cepa - can be used homeopathically to treat colds and hayfever where the main symptoms include runny eyes and nose.

Similarly, the Society of Homepaths' website gives the following mangled idea:
What can homeopathy treat?

Homeopathy treats the person, there is some evidence to suggest it can help a person manage the symptoms of acute fevers, sore throats and toothache, to chronic illnesses such as arthritis, eczema, asthma, anxiety and insomnia.
Note the modifiers "some evidence", "suggest", "help", "manage" and "symptoms" - even with these language modifiers in place, it's still stretching the truth.

The pinnacle of this confused comedy came last January, when Napiers Herb and Plant Remedies held a workshop called "Homeopathy for Families" workshop. The advert has since vanished but I blogged about it back in the day. The workshop cost £20, but delegates would receive
a complimentary bottle of the homeopathic remedy Arnica.
Imagine if Pfizer ran a similar scheme, giving away a bottle of Viagra to each delegate? It would be popular, sure, but wholly, wholly unethical, immoral, and illegal.

I made the MHRA aware of this - and was faced with another crazy dichotomy in the up-is-down world of homeopathy. MHRA decided that because the product isn't licensed as a medicine,
the restriction on the distribution of free samples therefore did not apply

Compare this with the Alliance of Homeopaths Website:
Homeopathy is one of the two most widely used forms of medicine in the world today
So it's a medicine but not registered as a medicine. Black is white.

There is a push from within the Church of Homeopathy to register some of these sugar pills under the EU Homeopathic Registration (MLX312) scheme.

This scheme allows specific homeopathic preparations to be licensed for sale for specific therapeutic indication - to a backdrop of "treat the person, not the disease".

After all, we are all individuals.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Update on Glasgow Chiropractic

Back in July, I blogged on Glasgow Chiropractic's claims to cure asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, colic and period pains.

Following a complaint to the General Chiropractic council, Glasgow Chiropractic tweaked their website to remove some of their claims and to included a surprisingly truthful statement that "Chiropractic has never cured anyone of anything".

Since then, they have completely revamped their website, bringing in a ChiroMatrix, a "leader in Chiropractic website design" with the strapline "Raising healthier families".

This is quite a subtle but interesting shift happening within chiropractic - Chiropractors are salespeople, and as any sales guru will tell you , integrating your business with your client as much as possible makes repeat business more likely and therefore the business increases profitability. No longer are chiros happy to hand wave and back-crack, if they can peddle a philosophy of constant need, regular checkups, and a long-term 'wellness plan', they are on their way to the bank because:
Every person is unique, therefore everyone requires a customised wellness plan. The purpose of our wellness program is for you to achieve good spinal alignment, have a healthy diet, exercise, and maintain a positive mental state.
Long termism, think more of the model of the dentist, rather than the doctor.

Phase 1 of the Glasgow Chiropractic's "What to expect" is initial intensive care. Here we find the Humpty Dumpty language of what it means to cure:
Chiropractic does not 'cure' anything! If you are looking for a list of symptoms that Chiropractic has been shown to 'cure' then you will just end up more confused than when you started.
No, you'll end up realising that there is no real evidence that chiropractic has any effect over placebo or similarly administered therapy. But they wouldn't say that, now would they? They'd rather call you 'confused'. I can understand how someone would be confused - here they repeat the 'chiropractic has never cured anyone of anything' line then one paragraph later state
There are many 'conditions' that Chiropractic care has shown to provide assistance with.
- there's glory for you!

Phase 2 is Corrective Care. Bearing in mind the push for repeat business, how does this sit with you:
In order to prevent a rapid recurrence of symptoms, it is often necessary to continue receiving care even though your symptoms are gone.
Nice little earner - a therapy which does nothing will continue to do nothing long after whatever it was it was supposed to do is not even needed! Taking a leaf out of the homeopaths book, they have the 'heads-I-win-tails-you-lose' argument -
Do not be discouraged if you have mild flare-ups in your symptoms on occasion. This is normal.
Homeopaths have a similar get-out clause - called aggravation. i.e. if the problem gets better it shows the sugar pill is working, if the problem gets worse, it still shows the sugar-pill is working. Similarly with Chiropractic, if the pain goes, it was due to chiropractic, if it doesn't that in no way means that the therapy is not beneficial - how can you lose! As sugar on top,
this phase of your care may last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.

Phase 3 is Wellness Care

When you make routine chiropractic care a part of your lifestyle, you avoid many of the aches and pains that so many people suffer through, your joints will last longer and you will be able to engage in more of the activities you love.
A completely unfalsifiable statement, but a slick sales ploy nonetheless.

It turns out that
Some of our offices are equipped with the very latest in technology designed to non-invasively test your nervous system very accurately. This technology uses a number of cutting edge techniques to give you a very detailed report on the integrity of your spine and nerves. These systems are called the 'Discovery Insight' or the 'Neuro-Infiniti' - please ask at reception about what technologies apply to you.
Doesn't that all sound very sciencey and exciting! Here is a bit more information on the Discovery Insight Subluxation Station. (Bear in mind, subluxations are a very undefined woolly concept in chiropractic, with no real agreement about what they are, so how anything can 'detect' them is a mystery). From the ad, it was used by NASA - oooooh.

Except it wasn't, as they've distanced themselves from it. Indeed, the Chiropractic Journal has launched an investigation regarding the sales practices of the companies behind such machines. Without a hint of irony they state:
The Chiropractic Journal has 23- year history of representing doctors of chiropractic and watching their backs. We will not sit by and see doctors taken advantage of by charismatic salesmen concerned and motivated purely by profit.

One last bit on Glasgow Chiropractic, in case you had thought they had launched the "cure nothing/heal the person" Chiropractic 2.0 free of therapeutic indications, here is a photo of the Glasgow Chiropractic stand in an East Kilbride shopping centre, complete with old school (and removed from their website) claims of colic.

I'll be sure to let the Advertising Standards Authority know.

So either their stand or the website is talking rubbish. I reckon it's both.

H/t to Blue Wode and Zeno