Q&A: Edzard Ernst on alternative medicine

Herbal medicine can be beneficial and effective–everything else… not so much


Dancing Lemur/Flickr

Steve Jobs’ tragic death may have added a new urgency to Edzard Ernst’s work. In October 2003, when Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he turned not to conventional medicine but acupuncture, macrobiotic diets, and visits to a spiritualist, delaying surgery some doctors suspect could have saved his life. About ten years before that diagnosis, Ernst—an award-winning, U.K.-based physician—began establishing an evidence base for alternative therapies. Since then, Ernst has become the world’s first professor of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, England, founded two academic journals on the topic (Perfusion and Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies), and published more than 1,000 papers and over 40 books (including the recent Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial).

So far, only five per cent of the alternative therapies Ernst turned his critical gaze to have shown curative powers beyond those of a placebo. The demise of Apple’s founder, then, seems a fitting occasion to reflect on the powerful allure that alternative medicine holds—even for the geniuses among us. “My first thought was, ‘How tragic,’ and the second, ‘When will we learn the lesson?'” said Ernst. “People—even if they are smart—are all too easily misled to do the most stupid things, particularly with the promotion of alternative medicine being as viciously effective as it is.” Indeed, Jobs wasn’t the first VIP to use alternative medicine: Bob Marley, Peter Sellers and Steve McQueen were all enthusiastic proponents. And in this country, recent estimates put our out-of-pocket spending on alternative-care providers at $5.6 billion.

So what does Ernst think we need to know about this type of care? I caught up with him at Evidence2011 to discuss the evidence base for alternative therapies.

Q: You’ve said you are fed-up for being known as a quack buster. Why?

A: Quack busters, just like enthusiasts of alternative medicine, do their work to confirm their prior beliefs. They are not even trying to be objective. Scientists test hypotheses initially with an open mind and bend over to be objective.

Q: So what areas of alternative medicine are helpful or effective, according to your research?

A: The best evidence by far emerges from herbal medicine. Some herbs, like St. John’s Wort, are both effective and safe if used properly.

Q: If you had to pick, are there particular claims that alternative medicine practitioners make that irk you most?

A: That their pet therapy somehow defies scientific scrutiny. A close second would be: “My notions have not been proven wrong, so they might be correct.”

Q: What are some of the direct risks associated with alternative medicine that people need to consider?

A: Chiropractic neck manipulations can injure an artery that supplies the brain. This can cause strokes or deaths.

Q: Can you give me an idea of the absolute or relative risks related to complementary medicine?

A: Risks of alternative medicine are under-researched and under-reported. We know of some 700 serious complications after chiropractic. We also know that under-reporting is such that this figure could be larger by one or two orders of magnitude.

Q: Do you think regulating this industry would help? If so, what kind of regulation would you like to see?

A: Yes, regulation is essential. But it must be regulation according to accepted standards. If not, regulation will just be a way of giving credence to people or products that do not deserve it.

Q: Have you looked at whether alternative medicine can lead patients to postpone seeing conventional health professionals? If so, what are the dangers here?

A: Even homeopathic remedies, or other treatments which are pure placebos, can kill someone if they are used as an alternative to effective therapies. The most recent, tragic example is Steve Jobs.

Q: Are there any good, trustworthy references for patients who want to learn more about the risks or benefits of alternative therapies?

A: Because there is so much misinformation and so much unreliable information, we have decided to write Trick or Treatment. I recommend it as an honest attempt to summarize the evidence.

Q: A lot of people use acupuncture, yet high-level studies show that sham acupuncture is just as good as ‘real’ acupuncture. What does this tell us?

A: It shows how important the placebo effect can be, particularly if expectations are high. But we do not need bogus treatments to benefit from a placebo response. Any effective therapy also comes with a free placebo effect in addition to its specific therapeutic effects, as long as it is administered with compassion and empathy.

Q: Taken as a whole, your research shows that only five per cent of the therapies you have studied have rendered a benefit above and beyond a placebo or hint that further research might be warranted. How do evangelical alternative-medicine users or practitioners react to this finding?

A: The 5 per cent figure is based on the evidence we evaluated for our book Desktop Guide. For that, we pre-selected the most promising areas. Thus, the five per cent figure is a gross over-estimation. Across the board, the true percentage is probably one dimension less. Believers react with disbelief in such data. You cannot easily disprove a religion.

Q: What do you say to people who argue that conventional medicine kills more people than alternative medicine and that the latter is even more dangerous, so we should focus on this threat to public health?

A: I say it’s true but misses the point. Treatments must be judged by their risk-benefit balance. If a therapy causes some harm but, at the same time, saves thousands of lives, it still might be worth considering. Very few alternative medicines generate a lot of benefit. This means even small risks can affect the risk-benefit balance significantly.

Q: Any final messages for consumers who are considering alternative medicine?

A: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


Q&A: Edzard Ernst on alternative medicine

  1. People using conventional cancer therapies die every day, so why do we hear negative press about alternative cancer therapies only?  Steve Jobs did what he wanted to do, and no one knows if he would have survived had he had the surgery.  People also consider their quality of life when faced with cancer treatment, and Western treatment is extremely harsh with serious side effects.

    • Jobs’ pancreatic cancer was both found early and of an easily treatable kind that, when treated with real medicine rather than alternative therapies, has a *median* survival rate of 10 years. That means that most people who are diagnosed with it live *more* than 10 years afterwards.

      No, we can’t predict anything absolutely perfectly but that doesn’t mean that we should fall into the “but nobody knows” nihilism you exhibit here. I doubt you even do that yourself – if you did you would carry an umbrella and a parka with you everywhere because “nobody can know” whether it it will rain or snow that day.

      My point being that we *can* make predictions that, while not perfectly accurate, are right far more often than they are wrong based on what we already know of the world and how similar situations have progressed in the past.

      Jobs’ cancer outcome is one of those things that we could have been fairly certain of that he would have 10, 15 or even 20 more *quality* years of life left instead of the 6 or 7 he had with obviously failing health and declining quality.

      No, cancer treatment is not fun, but before you go blabbering on about quality of life choice, make sure you know all the facts and that you don’t fall prey to nihilistic fallacies which prevent you from making a proper risk/benefit evaluation about your own health.

      • Wouldn’t it stand to reason that Mr. Jobs would have access to the best opinions available?  Surely he could afford them.  If he didn’t elect to go with the standard treatment, isn’t that the greater rebuke on conventional medicine & not CAM*?  Or if you will not accept it as a rebuke, then it at least should raise questions as to the possibility of something more complicated going on in his particular case.  

        Wait, that would mean you’d have to stop and think.  This is a problem as you’d clearly prefer just to “blabber on”. 

        * CAM: a completely spurious grouping of heterogeneous practices with unrelated courses of development and considerably different philosophical underpinnings for rhetorical purposes by those who crave certainty and convenience and (the maintenance of their own) credibility in the face of very clear evidence of the lack of those qualities desired. 

        PS: the word you are looking for is “forecasts”, as in: we can make forecasts… Using “prediction” suggests a residual belief in woo-woo-ism. 

        • ColdStanding said: “Wouldn’t it stand to reason that Mr. Jobs would have access to the best opinions available?  Surely he could afford them.”

          Quite possibly. However, that doesn’t mean that he was given full and impartial information with which to make an informed decision. Or there may have been other influences that swayed him towards unproven treatments.

          There are many homeopaths, for example, who claim to be able to treat cancer (usually with no differentiation), but – since there is no robust evidence that homeopathy can treat the common cold, never mind cancer – it seems unlikely they would be impartial in extolling its virtues to a potential customer.

          • You betray a serious lack of faith in the ability of people to make, what are for them, the best choices they can.  If Steve Jobs, lionized in this very magazine as probably one of the most important figures of our time, couldn’t make an informed choice as to the best course of action for his circumstance, then nobody can.  

            I do not know which homeopaths you are using as examples, but the one’s that I know personally are circumspect to the nth degree about forecasting outcomes or promising cures (and I have certainly never seen any of them extol or tout).  At the same time, the have effected on occasion, one of the highest achievements in art, namely to cure the individual.*  Really, the current campaign against CAM generally, and homeopathy in particular is the equivalent to complaining that a War and Peace isn’t produced every time someone writes a novel or that a Rembrandt or Van Gough isn’t produced every time someone sets out to paint.  A good homeopath, schooled in her art, is just that, a painter of portraits.  Portraits of individual instances of response to the challenges of life.  That is, portraits of humanity rendered in humanity.  In resolution the beauty is breath taking.  

            Any fool can press a button on a camera and take a picture, that isn’t a portrait.  Ingesting potentized substances on the basis of irrelevant indications isn’t homeopathy, either.  

            * individual results disappear in statistical analysis.

            PS: Impartiality is a delusion.   

          • Homeopaths are the worst sort of charlatans and snake oil sellers of all. If you believe that “medicine” with no active ingredient other than the magical memory of whatever was diluted in it can do anything for you, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

          • You still assume that Jobs was given impartial information, yet we really have no idea about what he was – or wasn’t – told and we don’t know if whether he made healthcare decisions as well as he made technology and marketing ones.

            However, there are homeopaths and other alternative therapists who do claim to treat cancer and many other medical conditions, but the fact remains that there is no robust evidence that homeopathy can even treat the common cold. To make such claims in the absence of good evidence is to mislead the public.

            You analogy with painting fails since there is no robust, impartial evidence that ‘potentized’, succussed, diluted substances have any effect, or that ‘like cures like’.

          • Homeopathy is just completely implausible. It is the very definition of inert placebo. Show me any homeopath that can show better results than placebo in a double blind clinical trial. They’re all charlatans, even if they don’t know it.

          • No, I am not assuming anything about the quality of the advice that he got.  He died.  It is a loss.  Other seem eager to turn this into a cause celeb in their crusade against things they do not understand.  Any one saying that they are a homeopath and that they can treat cancer is a liar.  Why they are a liar is different for you than for me.  And that makes all the difference. 

            For me, there is homeopathy, but never homeopathy and other alternative treatments.  If you want an opinion on your “other alternative treatments” you’ll have to ask them.  

            Why do you want to mess with the common cold?  First off, there is nothing at all common about it.  It is wide spread, but individuals present very differently.  

            I don’t know why people keep claiming that homeopathy doesn’t work.  I followed Hahnemann’s directions to the tee and was able to reproduce a number of his observations.  

          • You were able to reproduce Hahnemann’s results? All by yourself. Very scientific. So, let’s see, that makes…a sample size of one. Quick, let’s get this into the Lancet, asap!

          • Has there ever been a double blind clinical trial showing homeopathy to be more effective than placebo? Surely the good homeopaths out there would have participated in one.

    • No doctor pretends a cancer therapy is a cure all or has the true cause of all disease, as alt med types typically do. Doctors will be very straight about therapies and the actual scientific evidence for their efficacy/prognosis. What are the odds of remission? How much longer can it extend your life. Some cancers you really have little hope against but a therapy can buy you an extra year of life. That might not sound like a lot but to someone who wants to live to see the birth of their first grand child or the marriage of their daughter, that time can be absolutely precious. A person with cancer does have a choice. Is seeing the birth of their first grandchild worth the documented side effects? Magical water has no side effects but then it won’t extend the persons life either.

      Oncologists will also revise and change and abandon their therapies as the data changes. Name a single alt med practice that has ever been abandoned because double blind trials show they don’t work?

      • My reading of her comment is not that she is suggesting that people should leave their cancer untreated, but that people’s lives are being cut short in some instances, from the treatment not the cancer, specifically the pharmacological treatments administered at hospitals and approve clinics.  That seems to be OK or acceptable, yet when a few instances of early mortality happen that can be, however tenuously, linked to some type of CAM, then oh, the hue and cry. 

        Indeed, what evidence do you have that your double-blind is working?*  Perhaps you are not aware, but the whole evidence based/Cochrane review process is of fairly recent origin.  It is in response to the fact the double-blind process is producing less than satisfactory results.  I don’t know why they think that more statistical analysis of results of already framed in statistical analysis is going to produce anything other than an average of averages, but whatever.  My prediction is that the Cochrane review process will eventually prove to be applicable or produce improvements in therapeutic technique in only a few circumstances.   

        * much rides on your definition of “working”

        • You complain about averages. If CAM techniques are no better than placebo, but some benefit from CAM, others must be made worse by CAM for the average mortality to match placebo. Just sayin’.

          Complaining about how statistics are unfair does not help your credibility. You are free to live in fantasy land, but once you try selling fantasy mumbo-jumbo to people who don’t know any better, I think you’ve crossed the line.

          • First off, I don’t make any claims what so ever, as to the effectiveness of CAM.  I am for homeopathy and domicile all my arguments in homeopathy.  I view the CAM designation as a rhetorical gambit that attempts to group together what has no business being so grouped, for purposes of “painting with a broad brush.”  

            Second, a little story for you… in astrophysics, the big thing is Dark Matter & what it is.  Apparently its only property is that it has gravity.  Well, I say, if it has gravity and no other properties, it must be gravity and nothing else.  Therefore, what is Dark Matter: gravity (then what is gravity? No idea, but that isn’t the point).  I’ll start working on my Nobel acceptance speech after this post.  

            You, and many others, criticize homeopathy (now only talking about homeopathy and not other so call CAM) as completely imaginary.  Here you use imaginary in a pejorative sense, quoting: “…fantasy mumbo-jumbo…”  You say that homeopathy’s primary or most prominent property (obviously it is not only a single property possessor like dark matter) is that it is imaginary.  

            As I said, people other than you have leveled this charge at my defense of homeopathy before, so I have had some time to think about it.  I say, “Yes, homeopathy is completely imaginary!  It is, in fact, the therapeutic method that attempts to alter the prognosis of individual disease states by affecting the imagination through suggestion.”  For some reason, many are very uncomfortable with this claim (here to fore, an implied claim) . They feel, because homeopathy works on the imaginative plane, that somehow there is deception involved.  Again, there is.  Deception, I mean.  This is a problem for the critics, but not for homeopaths.  

            Well, it is a problem for homeopaths in that the critics do not understand how this is a distinction, and raise a lot of fuss as a result.  One stream of natural philosophy, the dominant one, has attempted to overcome deception, illusion, and imagination by outlawing it (the Hobbesian program against metaphor & the logical positivist program against metaphysics).  The minor homeopathic stream does not attempt to outlaw it.  Imagination is so firmly rooted in human nature that I am forced to conclude that it is, in fact, human nature.  As a (non-practicing) homeopath, I choose to work with it.  Therefore, for homeopathy, the fact that it is imaginary is a plus and not a negation.  Properly speaking, homeopathy is not imaginary, but taylored to make therapeutic movements in the imagination of the diseased individual.  

            The flap going on now against CAM in general and homeopathy particularly, is entirely a misunderstanding rooted in ignorance of modes of knowledge and action.  (Check out http://www.thersa.org.  It isn’t about homoepathy at all, but has many very fun lectures that address the issue of modes of thinking.  Seriously, you’d get a kick out of them.)  I am not saying that the results of homeopathy (and I have very specific criteria for what constitutes homeopathy) show better than average or placebo results.  But when a cure is affected, the results are truly forgettable.  (That is a practitioner’s joke, which I will not bother explaining to you, other than to say the cure is in the forgetting.) 

            As for you’re taboo lines, it isn’t as if you are guaranteed against accidental mortality if you go to the hospital, eh?  Clearly, there is a problem, but no, let’s rail on about the statistical non-danger to life of the tiny, tiny number of practicing homeopaths.

            If this all sounds like a long winded explanation, let me add another wrinkle… homeopathy isn’t an alternative explanation, it is an alternative TO explanation.  

          • Picking up on your last point: if homeopathy has no effect beyond placebo, and people use it as an ‘alternative to explanation’, anyone who uses homeopathy to the exclusion of real medicine for critical illness is, in a sense, killed by homeopathy. It is a death sentence. Homeopaths should be liable for criminal negligence causing death to the extent they encourage people to use magic water rather than scientifically verifiable medicine.

          • Perfect!  Totally perfect!  I knew that one would completely stump you.  

          • What am I stumped by now? You’ve admitted that homeopathy doesn’t do anything useful, and that is does harm by preventing people from seeking real medical treatment. I don’t expect you to be forthright about it, as I’m guessing your livelihood depends on selling your snakeoil.

          • No, my point is that you completely do not understand what I am talking about, and not for fault in the composition of my post.  I am not saying homeopathy doesn’t work.  I categorically have not said that.  What I have done is demonstrate that the conceptual ground upon which homeopathy rests is complete foreign to you.  I can here the crickets in your head as your read my posts.  Yet you arrogantly assume that you have a the capacity to pass judgement upon that which you clearly have zero understanding of.  I wait in vain for you to say something new or interesting, but no.  It is just the same old BS talking points that picked up from some misguided and hysterical advocacy group.  To make matters worse, you accuse me of being willfully negligent of the health of another person.  How vile of you.  Your calumny of the intelligence of the people that consult with qualified homeopathic practitioners is icing on the cake.

            You, sir, besmirch the good name of science and are lacking in common decency.  I will defend the reputation of homeopathy against cogent critics all day long, but I am so sick of having to defend homeopathy to idiots.  Just zip it and let your betters say their piece.  At least they have some cultural grasp to understand complex sentence structure.  

          • ^ Ad hominem, in its entirety. 
            You are right in that I don’t understand your nonsense about how the ‘fact’ that homeopathy is imaginary is precisely the quality  that makes it worthwhile. The reason why conventional medicine is superior is that in addition to the placebo effect, it also contributes scientifically verifiable therapeutic value. Homeopathy is selling water and a nice story to rubes.At any rate, you may think the accusation vile, but you are doing harm to vulnerable people for financial gain. That is what is truly despicable.

          • You accuse me of being a grifter and then claim YOU have suffered ad hominem??  

    • Nancy

      People using conventional cancer therapies have more days in which to live; if they hadn’t used conventional cancer therapies, many would die prematurely. The key here (as Ernst says) is the balance of risk and benefit. Yes, some cancer therapies have dreadful side-effects, but the direct effect of not treating cancer is death.

      I agree people should make their own decisions about what healthcare they choose, but do you not agree that that choice has to be an informed choice; informed by good evidence and not mere anecdote as many alternative cancer ‘therapies’ tend to be?

  2. I am a huge fan of Edzard Ernst and am so glad Macleans has finally done a Q&A with a reputable scientist as too often this column goes to some quack peddling his or her latest unproven theory (for example, the interview with Dr. William Davis all about how wheat is worse than Hitler.)

    • I’m not sure that you can attribute that to Dr. Davis. Dr. Davis is a cardiologist, not a quack. He has some ideas about the effect of genetically modified wheat that require serious investigation. I’d also include corn and its by-products.

      • Dr. Davis isn’t referring only to the latest genetic modification.  He is suggesting humans have been breeding wheat for it’s (unrecognized) narcotic (not the best word to use) effect for in excess of several centuries. 

        You are right to include corn.  To coin a phrase, it is now crack corn.  

      • Having an MD after your name does not make you exempt from quackery. As you point out, Dr. Davis is a cardiologist, not a geneticist or food scientist. He is hypothesizing well outside his scope to sell a book.

        • So what is your point?  Are you a geneticist?  How about a food scientist (which could be any number of things)? No? Running around accusing everyone of being a quack doesn’t mean that you, yourself, aren’t a nutter.  Oh, wait have I’ve crossed the line? Gosh, I hope you don’t pull a hissy fit on me and start calling me all sorts of bad names.  

          And for the record I absolutely favour, support, advocate, and trust well trained practitioners of the homeopathic method.  Materialism be damned. 

          Dr Ernst’s work attracts the worst kind of zealot.  Nutter. 

          • You don’t need to be a geneticist or a food scientist to realize that someone who compares wheat farmers to tobacco farmers is trying to sell you something.

            I’m not sure what your second sentence means. Materialism has nothing to do with whether or not homeopathy works — and the evidence is very clear that it does not. (Although I concede that if you are the sort of person who believes in magical water, that sentence might make some kind of sense to you.)

          • You don’t understand what “Are you a geneticist?” means?  I’ll help you out and assume you are referring to my second paragraph.  No need to thank me, I used my woo-woo powers to figure it out.  

            What on earth would he be trying to sell?  A measly book?  Honest to goodness, trying to say “Wheat is bad for you” as a marketing strategy has got to be just about the hardest slog imaginable.  And why you would discount out of hand the observations he has made in treating heart disease by eliminating wheat from the diet of this patients baffles me.  What clinical experience do you have?  The answer is none, zero, zilch.  Apparently that makes you fully qualified to pass judgement. 

            I’m in no way suggesting you start taking my advice, but I’d seriously check out those that you are currently taking advice from, especially if you are following your own counsel. 

          • Removing the main carbohydrate source in North America from people’s diets leads to weight loss – a good thing for heart patients. That doesn’t mean wheat is the root of all evil.

        • Re: Quick call The Lancet…

          I didn’t say results, nutter. His results can not be reproduced as they were particular instances.  I said observations, as in I observed the reaction to a correctly and a few incorrectly selected remedies pretty much as he described.  As each instance was an individual instance, I do not know how you would construct sample amenable to statistical analysis.  

          The results of statistical analysis do not equal truth, as cheese does not equal milk.  

          • And one man experiencing the placebo effect does not mean homeopathy works.

          • No, no, no.  It does not provide sufficient material to generate an average, but it most certainly did meant something for the individual in question.   Placebo means to please, I can assure you it was not pleasant. 

          • ColdStanding: You do it the same way you do it with medicines produces by pharmaceutical companies – with large-scale, doubly-blinded randomized control trials.

            Even if we don’t know how something works we can still see the empirical results. Problem is, in DBRCTs homeopathy shows no effect greater than a placebo does.

            The results of statistical analyses on medical trials show you whether something actually works or whether it’s just the illusory placebo effect. Just like how statistical analyses on telepathy experiments shows you whether it’s real or just randomly guessing the xener cards.

          • Uhh, no that would not work at all.  Completely not at all.  

            Potentized simple substances made available for selection as remedial agent does not equal chemical preparation drug.  They are not the same thing.  They can not be used in the same way.  The justifications for their application  are also not the same.  In other words, you are not talking about the same thing or in the same way if you are expecting a potentized simple substance to ameliorate a head ache the way that aspirin does.  They are really a world apart in there approaches.  

            You have way to much faith in the value of statistical analysis.  I am not saying it isn’t useful in some circumstances, but it is by no means universally useful.   

          • @ColdStanding:disqus : “In other words, you are not talking about the same thing or in the same
            way if you are expecting a potentized simple substance to ameliorate a
            head ache the way that aspirin does.”

            It doesn’t matter what the substance is or how it works. You don’t even
            have to know how it works – that’s the beauty of double-blinded
            randomized control trials (DBRCTs).

            You just give the substance to one third of your group, a fake substance to another third, and nothing to the final third – the control group. To be even more precise, dive your test subjectgroup into fourths so that you can have a second control group with aspirin or tylenol in addition to the no-substance group.

            Then you wait to see if the headache pain is lessened.

            You don’t care how it works, all that you care about are these strictly empirical results.

            Either your “potentized simple substance” works better than placebo, meaning it has a real effect, or or it doesn’t, meaning it has essentially no effect.

            That’s a all a DBRCT is – the measuring of effects. The *only* way this will not work is if homeopathic remedies produce no effect. You see what I`m saying?

            Statistics comes in to play to tell you the likelyhood of your experiment getting the same set of results by chance rather than indicating true efficacy.

          • It is a continual source of bemusement to me why people insist on explaining the methodology of DBRCT to me as if my objection/lack of agreement to their relevance to the methodology of homeopathic practice was somehow rooted in my not knowing what the methodology of a DBRCT is.  Yet, when I say that it isn’t a good fit with the homeopathic method, nobody thinks to ask me why it isn’t a good fit.  I guess this isn’t surprising, as almost nobody has any idea about how simple substances are explored to derive a profile that is useful for the clinical homeopathic practitioner.

            DBRCT is only useful for testing single or several variables.  Ideally, single variables are best.  I don’t deal with single variables in selecting a remedial agent. My approach isn’t even remotely algebraic – meaning I am not even looking for variables  because the homeopathic method seeks to select qualities not quantities!!! It is no good to me, as in it isn’t enough information, if substance X on average relieves symptom Y.  A potentized simple substance very often has almost no and/or none of the original material left.  Logically, its action is not in the biochemical sphere.  All that it is capable of doing is creating a suggestion within the dynamic of the individual.  It must be highly individualized.  What possible good would a knowing a statistical average  when I need to focus in upon the the 99.999th percentile of the set {individual presenting symptom Y}?  Bayesian analysis, on the other hand, shows much promise.

            Homeopathy is a therapeutic method with deeply different assumptions about the nature of disease, the body’s defense against via symptoms and the appropriate method to  proceed upon given the underlying set of assumptions.  From what you have posted, you must be honest in acknowledging that you do not understand that.  Having no knowledge about the issue at hand, your objections are really rooted in the faith you have placed in others to characterize homeopathy for you.    

  3. The biggest problem in medicine of all types whether surgical, poly pharmacy, allopathic, alternative, or shamanic is expectation.

    We in the West especially have an expectation that all pain is bad, rather than seeing it as bio-directive information to change behaviour, lifestyle or attitude.
    We demand pain or suffering to stop immediately and thus tend to over medicate with a panoply of synthetic curatives that alter biochemistry. The result, like that of Allahdin’s Lamp, is exchanging old symptoms for new symptoms, and if we persist in excess, we get new diseases from former curatives.Pharmo-industrial-medicine is the biggest villain. It is a crypto shaman in modern form in that it pretends to deliver far greater health benefits than credible results show. Almost every patent-drug in the last 10 years has a long slew of injury lawsuits by iatrogenically damaged or dead consumers.  It has stolen many of the core natural constituents from the organic and nature’s pharmacopeia and  have patented many compounds conjugating them into dangerous new forms delivering short term benefits and long term damage. Many natural substances may only do a fraction of their claimed  cures, but they are far far less lethal than their pharmo-cultic sisters. 

    • That’s Douglas R. Hofstadter’s thesis, no? 

  4. In response to Nancy Corsaro, who says no-one know if conventional — evidence-based –medicine would have saved Steve Jobs:
    Jobs didn’t have standard pancreatic cancer, he has an insulinoma. It was discovered by chance on  routine scan, ie before it caused him problems. Insulinomas have an impressive cure rate — about 90% survival at ten years.

  5. I work in a cancer hospital and I can tell you, that the numbers of people that die just from the “treatment” and not the cancer itself are staggering, but you never hear about them. Just from the ones who choose alternative treatment. The quesiton is, what if they just didn’t want to inject posion into their system, cause brain damage and heart damage? What if, just for a second we remember that we are not ment to live forever.

    • Tazmma

      Can you tell us whether those who received treatment that you claim killed them would have already have died from the cancer and/or would have lived with pain and suffering had they not taken the treatment or had taken some ineffective treatment?

      • Oh, boy, don’t play possum or anything. You can’t possibly be feigning ignorance of the crisis of iatrogenic mortality.  

        • ColdStanding said: “You can’t possibly be feigning ignorance of the crisis of iatrogenic mortality.”

          Correct, I’m not.
          However, if you want to bring up the numbers of iatrogenic deaths (not that it has anything to do with the subject of the article, of course), please only do so if you also detail the numbers of lives saved by conventional medicine, the number of people living longer and with a higher quality of life because of conventional medicine, the number of babies who survive birth because of conventional medicine and the number of those who are suffering less and in less pain because of conventional medicine.

          And then give the same numbers for alternative therapies.

          • Sure, no problem, just as soon as you remove the claims on improved life spans that really belong to better hygiene, diet and central heating.   

            Additionally, I am not making the claim that conventional medicine doesn’t work in any circumstance or that it isn’t competent at disease management.   I am saying that for a number of conditions it is of no help at all.  No help, save you think walking around like a drugged zombie is help.   

          • And what do you think told us of the importance of better hygiene? It was science and the scientific method that discovered the need for hygiene – the same scientific method that has tested homeopathy and found that it has no effect over placebo.

          • Alan Henness:

            Who told us of the importance of better hygiene?  Why, that was none other than Samuel Hahnemann in his 1792 “Friend of Health.”  He was one of the very earliest modern authors on the subject.  

          • What does that do for the lack of robust evidence for homeopathy?

          • Sorry, the comments are appearing out of sequence.

            ColdStanding said: “Who told us of the importance of better hygiene?  Why, that was none other than Samuel Hahnemann in his 1792 “Friend of Health.”  He was one of the very earliest modern authors on the subject.”

            I replied: “What does that do for the lack of robust evidence for homeopathy?”

          • Well, to be fair, homeopathy has saved at least one life that we know of – Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley’s daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, who tried to commit suicide by overdosing on homeopathic remedies. A very good thing there wasn’t anything efficacious in the house…

          • Will you allow that abortion is a technique of modern surgery & should therefore be counted against improved infant mortality?  How good will those stats look if we pop out penicillin?  Something we may soon have to do with the drug resistant super bugs, eh?  

            Again, I have no dog in any system other than homeopathy.  Ask someone else.  I have no idea what sort of stats would be available for homeopathy.  Belonging to a derided and suppressed school of medicine leaves one little time for collecting stats.  I’m just fighting to prevent being declared an outlaw.  

    • Oh yes, and what is it you do in the cancer hospital? I’m guessing it likely involves the cafeteria…

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