Monday, 16 March 2015

There is no scientific case for homeopathy: the debate is over

Pharmacists who sell homeopathic remedies as anything other than placebos are putting their customers’ health at risk 

Edward Ernst
Drawers containing homeopathic remedies
 'Undeterred by the evidence, the public continue their long and intense love affair with homeopathy. Few wonder whether it is the homeopathic remedy or something else, eg the placebo-effect, that did the trick.' Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Homeopathy has been with me all my life. As a boy, I was treated by homeopaths; my first post as a junior doctor was in a homeopathic hospital, later I researched homeopathy and published more than 100 papers on the subject, and finally I summarised the entire experience in a memoir entitled A Scientist in Wonderland.
In 1993, when I became professor of complementary medicine at Exeter, I was more than happy to give homeopathy the benefit of the doubt. I would have loved to show that it is effective beyond placebo, not least because anyone doing that would almost automatically deserve a Nobel prize. He or she would have to show that a sizeable chunk of our understanding of the laws of nature is quite simply wrong. Homeopathy is based on the belief that “like cures like” and that the dilution of a medicine – homeopaths call the process “potentiation” – renders it not weaker but stronger. As both of these assumptions fly in the face of science, critical thinkers have always insisted that few things could be more implausible than homeopathy.
But plausibility is not everything. In Exeter, we conducted trials, surveys and reviews of homeopathy in the faint hope that we might discover something important. What we did find was sobering:
 Our trials failed to show that homeopathy is more than a placebo.
 Our reviews demonstrated that the most reliable of the 230 or so trials of homeopathy ever published are also not positive.
 Studies with animals confirmed the results obtained on humans.
 Surveys and case reports suggested that homeopathy can be dangerous.
 The claims made by homeopaths to cure conditions like cancer, asthma or even Ebola were bogus.  The promotion of homeopathy is not ethical.

Now, the internationally highly respected Australian National Health and Medical Research Council have conducted what certainly is the most thorough and independent evaluation of homeopathy in its 200-year-long history. Already their preliminary report had confirmed that homeopathy is nothing other than treatment with placebos. Predictably, this caused a storm of opposition from enthusiasts of homeopathy, and they were invited to submit their evidence to the contrary. The Australians then considered this evidence carefully and have now published their final report. It arrived at the same conclusion as the previous document. If anything, it went one step further by pointing out that “people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness”. Personally, I would go another step further and remind pharmacists who sell homeopathic remedies to the unsuspecting public that it is unethical to pretend they are more than placebos.
Undeterred by the evidence, the public continue their long and intense love affair with homeopathy. Worldwide, consumers use it in their millions and are convinced that it helps them. Few wonder whether it is the homeopathic remedy or something else, eg the placebo-effect, that did the trick. Homeopaths continue to claim that their approach is based on sound evidence; they even cite studies and reviews that seem to prove their point. Few of us wonder whether their evidence is cherry-picked and thus unreliable. In other words, the discussion about the value or otherwise of homeopathy has been never-ending, often intense and incredibly unproductive.In 2010, a House of Commons select committee assessed the evidence for and against homeopathy. It concluded that homeopathy was not more effective than a placebo and that the NHS should cease funding it. Subsequently, the government considered their report and essentially agreed with the verdict but nevertheless felt that, if patients want homeopathy, they must have it on the NHS. Such blatant disregard for the principles of evidence-based medicine infuriates scientists, perpetuates a needless debate and wastes sizable amounts of taxpayers’ money.
But, after 200 years of fruitless discussion, we finally have, in the Australian evaluation, a comprehensive, transparent and evidence-based review from a panel of experts who are competent and free of conflicts of interest as well as a government that is determined to abide by the advice thus generated. Let’s hope that others will now follow suit.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Harmless placebos are lawful, but 'Homeopathy' remains a deception

Like 'Santa Claus', 'homeopathy' can be either a benign or (if it is in the hands of persons with hidden criminal objectives) an exploitative deception, but it remains a deception.  Once this is understood, a purely-objective study of 'homeopthy', takes our free-thinking readers into a particularly difficult area, for, self-evidently, not all deceptions are unlawful. 
Today, conventional medicine accepts that many illnesses are psychosomatic (i.e. they are caused, or aggravated, by mental conflict, stress, etc.). Qualified, conventional, medical practitioners, themselves, are, therefore, permitted to give harmless placebos (including 'homeopathic remedies') to their patients, due to the genuinely beneficial psychological, and resulting physical, effects that this 'white lie' can bring to certain people. The regulation and prevalence of 'homeopathy' varies-reatly from country to country. As far as I am aware, there are no specific laws anywhere in the world, either prohibiting 'homeopathy' as a fraud or identifying its legitimate use as a harmless placebo. In some countries, licenses or degrees in conventional medicine from accredited universities are required. In various countries,'homeopathic treatment' is wholly or partly refunded by national insurance schemes. In other countries, it is fully integrated into national health-care programs. However, since legislators have invariably ignored 'homeopathy', strict laws which govern the regulation, development and testing of conventional drugs often do not apply to 'homeopathic remedies.' That said, if there is no independent regulation of 'homeopathy,' nor any effective means of enforcing existing regulation, then the deception can easily be perverted and used by charlatans to exploit vulnerable people. Indeed, there are many parallels between the always-unlawful 'MLM income opportunity' deception and the often-unlawful 'homeopathy' deception. In the past, I have described criminogenic organizations like 'Amway' as 'peddling a economic placebo' dissimulated as a harmless scientifically-proven cure for poverty. All active 'MLM' participants have lost their time and money, but they have mostly survived their brief encounter with the'MLM' deception. However, just as with the exploitative version of the 'homeopathy' deception, if vulnerable people start to accept the'MLM' lie as total reality (and persist to a level of delusion), eventually, they risk destitution and destruction.
To its many satisfied adherents, 'Homeopathy' (also spelled 'homoeopathy' or 'homÅ“opathy'), is a proven, alternative medical science. To free-thinking observers, it is an absurd, latter-day revival of an absurd, 19th century pseudo-science based on an assemblage of absurd, ancient, non-rational or superstitious beliefs.
Like their 19th century counterparts, today's 'homeopathy'  practitioners point to their many satisfied customers and confidently claim to be able to treat patients using massively-diluted preparations. These preparations are supposed to cause healthy people to exhibit symptoms similar to those exhibited by the unhealthy people they are supposed to treat. However, the overwhelming bulk of quantifiable evidence proves 'homeopathy' to be no more and no less effective than any other harmless placebo.
'Homeopathy' is supposedly based on what is known as the'law of similars' -  a term coined by a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann, in 1796. However for many centuries, prior to this, it had been a widely-held superstition that anything resembling a particular part of the human body could be used to treat illnesses, or failings, of the same body part. (e.g. walnuts look like the human brain, so it was once thought that walnuts and walnut oil are good for ailments of the brain - confusion, memory loss, headaches, etc.).
In reality, so-called 'homeopathic remedies' are prepared by progressive dilution in water (involving shaking and striking), of animal, vegetable or mineral substances. These substances are arbitrarily chosen according to the so-called 'law of similars.'  Practitioners describe the dilution process as 'succussion and potentization.' This typically complex, ritual, hocus-pocus (involving thought-stopping jargon and the contemplation of infinity) is claimed 'to increase effectiveness.'  However, dilution can continue until no trace of the original substance remains.  Apart from the symptoms, so-called 'homeopaths' examine their 'patients''physical and psychological state,  then 'homeopathic'publications known as 'repertories' are consulted, and a'remedy' is chosen. Common-sense reveals that, at very high-rates of dilution, so-called 'homeopathic remedies' contain few, or no, pharmacologically active molecules. Thus,'homeopaths' are, in fact, peddling water which, for it to have any pharmacological effect, would violate the fundamental laws of science. Consequently, certain so-called'homeopaths' have lately-pretended that 'water has a memory' allowing homeopathic preparations to work without any of the original pharmacological substance remaining. Unfortunately, there is neither quantifiable evidence nor any plausible physical mechanisms by which such a convenient phenomenon can be proved. 
The total absence of quantifiable evidence to support what 'homeopaths'steadfastly pretend to be reality, and particularly their peddling of water as a remedy,  is what has led qualified observers to describe certain  'homeopaths' as charlatans and quacks, exploiting vulnerable persons with an cruel deception. Oral 'homeopathic remedies' are safe at the high dilutions (for the simple reason they are likely not to contain any active substance), but they may be unsafe at lower dilutions. Whilst a delusional, unquestioning faith in the power of 'homeopathy' can expose vulnerable persons to significant risks; particularly, if they are advised against vaccinations, anti-malarial drugs and antibiotics.
Belief in 'homeopathy' became widespread in the 19th century, particularly in the USA. Dr. John Franklin Gray (1804–1882) was the first American 'homeopathic'practioner, in New York City. The first 'homeopathic school'opened in 1830. During the 19th century, many 'homeopathic'institutions were begun in Europe and America.  By 1900, there were 22 'homeopathic colleges' and 15,000 practitioners in the USA. In the past, many conventional medical treatments were useless and dangerous quackery, whereas harmless 'homeopathic' placebos often had better results. It has been suggested that the relative success of'homeopathy' as a placebo in the 19th century was one of the factors that led to the disappearance of the useless and harmful quackery of 'bleeding and purging. ' 
As conventional medical science advanced, in leaps and bounds 'homeopathy' was generally derided by mainstream scientists and rejected by the public. Like all fashions, its popularity soon waned. By 1920, the few remaining schools in the USA exclusively teaching 'homeopathy' had closed. Sadly, the US federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 was sponsored by a New York Senator and 'homeopathic'doctor, Royal Copeland. This legislation, foolishly recognized'homeopathic remedies' as drugs. Even then, by the 1950s, there were only 75 homeopaths practising in the USA.  By  late 1970s alternative medicine had become fashionable again, and 'homeopathy' reappeared in America and Europe, where sales of some 'homeopathic' companies multiplied. The medical profession then started to adopt 'homeopathic remedies' in the 1990s.
Today, all over the world, the owners, and/or corporate officers of pharmacy chains have recognized the massive potential for profit, and they have begun selling vast quantities of harmless placebos branded as 'homeopathic remedies.'
David Brear

Sunday, 1 March 2015

'Herbalife (HLF)' 10K - Once Upon Time

Once upon a time, a handsome, but poor, young Prince called Mark Hughes dreamt of building an Empire called 'Herbalife' where he would be Emperor and where, under his benign rule, there would be endless health, wealth and freedom for all folks - so long as they just kept buying, and swallowing, his exclusive, magic economic, and medical, potions and recruiting others to do the same. Mark's potions could not only make fat folks thinner, and thin folks fatter, but they could also cure sick folks and protect them from all illness whilst transforming the deepest believers into millionaires.

Some very wicked and jealous people (called regulators and journalists), began to suspect that what Mark Hughes offered was far too good to be true, but Mark replied that he'd not been lying at all, it was only some of his naughty followers. From that day forward, Mark promised that he would make sure that everyone in the magic Empire called 'Herbalife, would only tell the truth.

Many years later (after Mark Hughes had died), lots more wicked and jealous people (this time, called critics and short sellers) again began to say that 'Herbalife' was far too good to be true; for another well-rehearsed ruler, called Michael Johnson, had come along and had again insisted that there would still be endless health, wealth and freedom for all folks - if they ignored all voices of doubt and just kept buying, and swallowing, 'Herbalife's' magic potions and recruiting eveyone they knew to do the same

Meanwhile back in the adult world of quantifiable reality, the 'Herbalife' racketeers have just been forced to admit to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that belief in their once profitable, self-perpetuating fairy story is rapidly diminishing all over the globe, and that almost everyone who has ever signed up for 'Herbalife' has left the organization.

'Our results in 2014 reflect our ongoing transition to a more consumer-focused organization. 

Our transformation, which first began in 2008 and will continue through 2015, is creating a stronger, more consumer friendly Herbalife and one that is evolving and getting better every single day.

Critical to our transformation has been the focus of Herbalife and our members on daily consumption as well as our emphasis on bringing new sales leaders into a company in a more sustainable way than in the past. This more gradual path to becoming a sales leader is working. As all of the data show that these leaders are more productive and stay with Herbalife longer. 2014 saw record-breaking retention rates for our sales leaders. We achieved what we believe is an industry leading and impressive retention rate of 54.2%, that's up from 51.8% in 2013.

We are continuing to grow our customer base and have more customers in 2014 than any time in our 35-year history, and we reported record net sales for the year of $5 billion.'

When translated into plain English, in Michael Johnson's most-recent thought-stopping propaganda broadcast, he now pretends that most of 'Herbalife's' adherents (who were once all labelled 'Distributors' in the fairy story, but who are now all re-labelled 'Members'), were really only temporary 'customers' travelling through the magic Empire, and who never expected to make any money. Therefore, according to Michael Johnson: even though Mark Hughes' magic potions have never cured anyone of poverty or illness, no one was ever tricked in to buying them and, consequently, 'Herbalife' is not a lie.

Yet if you apply common sense and remove all the arbitrary thought-stopping definitions and confront the simple fact that virtually no one who has not been under contract to 'Herbalife' has been buying anything from this organization (based on value and demand), then you immediately realize what has really been occurring.

In this unoriginal cultic racket, a closed-market swindle has been dissimulated behind effectively-usaleable products, and the reality-inverting term 'customer' has lately been hung round the necks of victims in order to obstruct investigation and continue to commit the same fraud.

This, in a nutshell, is the sustainable racket that US law enforcement agents and prosecutors ought to have been addressing right from the outset of the 'Herbalife' fairy story.

David Brear (copyright 2015)