Part Fills for July 22


A few short updates on topics of interest to SBP visitors.

Homeopathy: From Germany, Der Speigel has an extended series of articles: Homöopathie: Die große Illusion (While the articles are in German, you can get a sense of the article just from the title.) No German language knowledge is required to enjoy the photo gallery of substances used to make homeopathic remedies.

Homeopathy is on the ropes around the world as calls continue to grow for its ejection from all parts of the health care system. Everywhere it seems, but Canada, where the TV show Canada AM  gave a completely credulous forum to a homeopath advocating various “remedies” for first aid. Kim Hebert says more over at Skeptic North.

Also on homeopathy, two recommended articles in The Guardian: Tom Chivers, in the article, Dr James Le Fanu on homeopathy: wrong, but instructively so, and Martin Robbins in the article,  If this is a witch hunt, help me find my torch.

And also from the Guardian, the entertaining  I don’t know how, but homeopathy really does work which is a must-read just for the clever comments.

Pharmacy Practice: Among the “alternative” medicine websites, Natural News is among the worst, and often reads like a parody. How’s this for rhetoric about pharmacists that work in oncology:

For decades, they simply looked the other way, pretending they were playing a valuable role in our system of “modern” medicine, not admitting they were actually doling out chemicals that killed people. Now, the sobering truth has struck them hard: They are in the business of death, and it is killing them off, one by one.

The topic is the risks associated with chemotherapy. Orac over at Respectful Insolence tears it apart, in a post called Confusing workplace safety with patient safety and drug efficacy: Mike Adams brings the stupid home again.

Natural Health Products: Ben Goldacre, writing in the Guardian, notes that the European Union has rejected 80% of health claims made for 900 products so far. He examines the claims make about fish oil, and then proposes a novel solution that could have merit in Canada.

General: An interesting article on how providing evidence is only part solution when we seek to change opinions. Helpful reading for those that try to educate and inform others about pseudoscience.

From Science-Based Medicine:

Until next time!

Health Canada Gets Out a Big Rubber Stamp

Canada’s regulatory framework for natural health products (NHPs) has undergone a prolonged, painful, implementation. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. The Natural Health Products Regulations were designed to provide Canadians with minimal assurances of product quality, safety, and efficacy, while recognizing that little high quality, objective evidence usually exists to substantiate efficacy claims. The results has been mixed. The regulations offer reasonable assurance of manufacturing quality and product safety, but it’s also led to the licensure of homeopathic remedies, some with specific “Recommended Uses” for what are indistinguishable sugar pills. At a minimum, however, the regulations should assure Canadian consumers that what is on the label is actually in the bottle. That’s a win. Plus, one of most important elements of the NHP regulations is the implementation of pre-marketing registration requirements. That is, only products reviewed and deemed to meet minimal standards of product quality, safety, and the (relaxed) standard for efficacy claims would be permitted to be sold as of 2010. Manufacturers were given six years to meet these requirements. Unfortunately, there’s a big backlog in the queue at Health Canada. About 12,000 products haven’t been reviewed yet. Continue reading

Health ads misleading, watchdog says

On Wednesday, Tom Blackwell in the National Post wrote about the reluctance of regulators to take action against misleading advertising from natural health product manufacturers. I’m quoted, and I brought up the point that Health Canada is complicit in misleading consumers, by assigning unique numbers, and treatment claims, for homeopathic sugar pills:

Scott Gavura, a Toronto pharmacist who operates the “science-based pharmacy” website, argued the problem is not just unlicensed natural-health products.

Many licensed products have won government endorsement based on flimsy evidence, he said, citing the many homeopathic medicine products that have been approved, despite ongoing debate about whether the heavily diluted substances actually do anything.

“We have indistinguishable sugar pills being assigned natural-health numbers,” he said.

I also spoke with Rob Breakenridge (AM 770, CHQR Calgary) on Friday, discussing the same issue. Rob’s got a great skeptically-minded show. If I can track down a recording of the interview, I’ll post it. Here’s a link to my interview with Rob.

Here’s the Post article: Tom Blackwell: Health ads misleading, watchdog says

Sunscreen in a Pill?

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I’ve previously described the consequences of acute and chronic sun exposure, and the rationale for topical sunscreen products. But wouldn’t it be easier to just take a pill that can boost our skin’s resistance to to the harmful effects of the sun? Is it possible to get all the benefits of sunscreen without the bother of creams, or even clothing? Continue reading

Defender of Science-Based Medicine Sued

When you first started seeking the facts about “alternative” medicine, where did you turn? For me, it was Quackwatch. Before there were blogs or podcasts, there was Quackwatch. It’s been around since 1996, which is prehistoric by internet standards. Quackwatch is an enormous site: if there’s a dubious health intervention, there’s a pretty good chance that Quackwatch has a page about it. I’ve linked to it repeatedly on this blog, as I consider it to be a credible source of information.

Unfortunately, taking an evidence-based approach to medicine, and putting that evidence in the public eye, puts you at all kinds of risks. From personal smears, to unfounded allegations of conflicts of interest, to legal threats, advocates for pseudoscience do whatever they can when they cannot refute the facts. And that’s what’s happening to the founder of Quackwatch: Dr. Stephen Barrett is being sued by a laboratory called Doctor’s Data. Continue reading