Less Médecins Sans Frontières and more Médecins Sans Medicine
Via CBC News:
Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) is an insidious tropical infection that begins with flu-like symptoms and can end with heart failure.
The only proven treatments are a pair of costly pharmaceutical drugs.
But a group of Canadian homeopaths say they can detect, prevent and treat the disease, and the federal government is paying to take their remedies to sick Hondurans.
Quebec-based Terre Sans Frontières (TSF) is spending $350,000 in aid money from Global Affairs Canada to dispatch more than a dozen volunteer homeopaths to Honduras over five years.
More on the ridiculousness of homeopathy here, here, and here. Not only is this a waste of money, it’s going to harm Hondurans.
This is excellent – Britt Hermes, of Naturopathic Diaries fame, has been awarded the John Maddox Prize.
Hermes said her own professional journey had come at a personal cost and she was being sued for defamation by an American naturopath in a case due to be heard in a German court.
“I was a naturopath, until I looked at the evidence and decided to speak up about the dangerous therapies used in naturopathy, especially those to treat cancer,” she said. “Walking away cost me my friends. I am harassed and being sued for defamation. I am honoured to be recognised by the scientific community for changing my mind.”
Hermes deserves all the accolades she’s getting. As a former naturopath, she’s effectively pointed out that naturopathy is a pseuoscientific practice that is based on vitalistic thinking – and has no place in a modern, science-based health system.
See the full story at The Guardian.
“There’s no evidence subluxations exist. There’s no evidence innate energy flows through the body. And no evidence-based health-care profession believes any of this.”
Britt Marie Hermes is an ex-naturopath who has come clean about her time as a naturopath. This video explains her transition from naturopathy to science and evidence, and is well worth watching:
Britt is being sued by a naturopath who believes you can treat cancer with vitamins and baking soda. From Britt’s post:
Colleen Huber is a naturopathic cancer crusader and owner of Nature Works Best (NWB) naturopathic cancer clinic in Tempe, Arizona. She is not a medical doctor and, to the best of my knowledge, has no formal training in cancer research. Yet, Huber promotes herself as a cancer expert (here, here, and here) and is an outspoken critic of standard-of-care treatments for cancer. She wrote that “conventional treatments (chemo, radiation, etc.) sicken and weaken you and ultimately strengthen the disease.”
Huber treats cancer using alternative therapies, including intravenous injections of vitamins and baking soda. She staunchly advocates that her cancer patients should follow a strict sugar-free diet. She advertises that a sugar-free diet increases a cancer patient’s overall survival, regardless of cancer stage or type.
Naturopathy is based on the idea of vitalism, a pre-scientific belief that some type of magical “energy” is a part of all living things. The idea of vitalism was disproved by Wöhler in 1828, yet the idea remains central to naturopathic ideas about medicine. Naturopaths believe their treatments restore this “vital force”. The practice of naturopathy has evolved over time into a mix of disproven or unproven health practices that includes homeopathy, acupuncture, “detoxification” and herbalism, along with the occasional science-based belief repackaged as “alternative”. (For more information, see my series of naturopathy vs. science posts at Science-Based Medicine.)
If you support science-based medicine you’ll recognize the importance of helping Britt defend herself. See her post here. If you can’t donate, please amplify her post by sharing it widely on social media.
This year will bring a Canada Day for the history books. Only July 1, 2018, recreational marijuana (also called cannabis) will be legalized and regulated in Canada. The federal Cannabis Act creates a legal framework for producing, possessing and selling marijuana across Canada, meaning that each Canadian province will set its own rules to oversee its distribution, subject to federal government conditions. Provincial and federal governments will share in the responsibility for the oversight of this new system, and will also share in the tax revenue. Different provinces are taking different approaches, similar to how alcohol purchases vary between jurisdictions. This trend follows what we’re seeing at the state level in the United States, with different states moving to decriminalize recreational use.
Marijuana has been legal to some extent in Canada (and in many US states) for some time, in the form of “medical” marijuana. The Canadian government authorized the sale of marijuana for that purpose, while it simultaneously emphasizes that cannabis is not an approved therapeutic product. The medical market, for many, appears to simply be a means to access products for recreational, or non-medical use, and has generated wildly unsubstantiated claims about the medical merits of marijuana for conditions like autism and the treatment of cancer. Dispensaries have appeared across Canada and the US, usually with very easy referrals for prescriptions. Some dispensaries ignore any prescription requirement entirely and will sell marijuana directly to the public without any medical assessment or advice. With the introduction of government-overseen (and in some Canadian provinces, government-delivered) retail sales in Canada later this year, it’s reasonable to assume that unregulated dispensaries will eventually disappear.
With recreational sales imminent in Canada (and already here, in states like California), there are questions about the future market for “medical” marijuana. Should use for medical purposes be treated like recreational use, where consumers make their own selections, and purchases are taxed like other consumer products? Or should some forms or uses of marijuana be treated like prescription drugs, where a health professional remains involved, and products may be even be covered by insurance plans? Given the major changes we are seeing in how we can access marijuana, it’s worth summarizing the current state of evidence for marijuana when used for specific medical purposes. With marijuana becoming much more accessible, physicians, other health professionals, and their patients need high-quality information about its value for different medical conditions. David Gorski reviewed much of the evidence in a series of posts over the past three years. Now, three new documents prepared for Canadian physicians and health professionals concisely summarize the current evidence base for medical marijuana. Continue reading
From The Guardian:
Nearly one third of pharmacists are recommending complementary and alternative medicines with little-to-no evidence for their efficacy, including useless homeopathic products and potentially harmful herbal products.
The finding comes from a Choice survey of 240 pharmacies including Priceline, Chemist Warehouse and Terry White. Mystery shoppers were sent in to speak to a pharmacist at the prescription dispensing counter and ask for advice about feeling stressed.
Three per cent of the pharmacists recommended homeopathic products, despite a comprehensive review of all existing studies on homeopathy finding that there is no evidence they work in treating any condition.
Twenty-six percent recommended Bach flower remedies to shoppers, homeopathic solutions of alcohol and water containing diluted flower essences. The solution was invened by a British homeopath, Edward Bach, who claimed to have a psychic connection to plants. A comprehensive review of all existing studies on Bach flower solutions found no difference between the remedies and placebos.
The Choice survey also found products containing a B group vitamin complex were recommended by pharmacists for stress in 46% of cases. Other frequently recommended products were St John’s wort and valerian. There is no good evidence that these products reduce stress.
A more detailed summary, from CHOICE, is here.
Unsubstantiated claims for natural health products could be a thing of the past in Canada.
I suppose I owe Health Canada some thanks. It was Health Canada’s lackadaisical regulation of dietary supplements and natural health products that turned me from a “shruggie” pharmacist into one that started advocating, publicly, for putting consumers’ interests ahead of those of supplement manufacturers. While health regulations are seemingly created to protect consumers, Health Canada has consistently given manufacturers the upper hand, prioritizing a company’s desire to sell a product over a consumer’s right to a properly regulated marketplace with safe, effective products. It’s now very clear that the Natural Health Products Regulations have led to an industry boom and massive sales, but also a confusing marketplace for consumers and no persuasive evidence that all those supplements have any meaningful effects on our health. Canadian drug store shelves in 2016 are packed with hundreds of products with unsubstantiated claims and untested products, and little credible information to guide selection. Yet all of these products have been reviewed and deemed to be “safe and effective” by Health Canada. Continue reading
Natural remedies are popular. But are they an appropriate substitute for medication?
The idea of taking medication can be frightening. And as consumers and patients that want to make our own informed health decisions, it’s understandable and even appropriate to question our physicians when they recommend drug treatments. We need to understand the rationale for any medication that’s recommended or prescribed, the benefits of therapy, the side effects, and if there are any other approaches that might be more appropriate. Dietary supplements and natural health products are widely marketed as being safe and effective, and are occupying more and more shelf space in pharmacies, usually right beside the pharmacy counter. Many of my patient encounters in the pharmacy have included a discussion on the merits of drug therapy, versus the supplements that may have flashy packaging and impressive claims of effectiveness.
One encounter from my time working at a local pharmacy still sticks with me. I met a new patient who was anxious and eager to get my advice. He’d been cautioned by his family doctor that he was on the borderline of being diagnosed with diabetes. He had come to the pharmacy seeking a supplement that could help him avoid diabetes and medication. Rather than recommend any supplement, I suggested that the best approach he could probably take would be to lose some weight and get some exercise – it could be more effective than any supplement or drug, and would definitely help his health. He agreed, and then asked me what supplement he could take that could help him with some weight loss.
This type of discussion occurs all the time, and seems more common when there’s a lack of trust in the physician, or when the goals of treatment aren’t understood. The patient, reluctant to accept the physician’s recommendation, heads to the pharmacy for what they believe is a second opinion. In some cases, the patient may question the physician’s advice: “All my physician wants to do is prescribe drugs,” is a statement I’ve heard more than once. In those that are reluctant to accept medical treatment, there’s often a willingness to consider anything that’s available without a prescription – particularly if it’s perceived as “natural.” Natural products and dietary supplements are thought to be gentle, safe, and effective, while medicine may be felt to be unnatural, harsh, and potentially dangerous. Yet when I explain to patients that there’s actually little evidence to suggest most supplements offer any meaningful health benefits, I am sometimes met with puzzled or dismissive looks. The supplement industry’s marketing has been remarkably effective, glossing over the fact that the research done on dietary supplements is overall unconvincing and largely negative when it comes to having anything useful to offer for health. Continue reading
The tension between the “business of pharmacy” and the professional responsibilities of pharmacists, as health care professionals, has always been present in retail (“community”) pharmacy practice. For much of the past several decades, pharmacies have generally been owned by pharmacists, elevating pharmacy ethics and professional responsibilities to the level of the owner. But the era of the independent pharmacist-owner-operated pharmacy is disappearing, and the era of the massive pharmacy chain is upon us. In the United States, CVS and Walgreens command 50% of the retail pharmacy business in major cities. In Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart has been purchased by the grocery giant Loblaw, and the Rexall chain has been purchased by American giant McKesson. And in the United Kingdom, retail pharmacy chain Boots has about 25% of pharmacy market share.
With this retail consolidation, are we seeing a decline in the autonomy of the front-line pharmacist? A scathing series of articles in The Guardian is raising questions about whether pharmacy giant Boots is putting a drive for profits ahead of safe and appropriate pharmacy care. And pharmacists are speaking up. Continue reading
A day of Science-Based Medicine, a weekend of science and skepticism
If you’re interested in science, skepticism and medicine, then NECSS, the NorthEast Conference on Science and Skepticism, is the conference for you. NECSS will be held May 12-15 in New York City at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The entire program is available schedule here.
The conference will welcome over 400 people and include panels, presentations and performances. Included in the program will be a full day of Science-Based Medicine, featuring speakers from the blog like including yours truly.
SBM day is Friday, May 13. Here’s the current schedule:
9:30-9:40 10 minutes Welcome
9:40-10:15 35 minutes Functional Medicine is Dysfunctional Harriet Hall
10:15-10:50 35 minutes Science-Based Dentistry: Where the Truth Meets the Tooth Grant Ritchey
10:50-11:00 10 minutes Break
11:00-12:10 70 minutes Natural Disaster: Dietary Supplements Scott Gavura & Jann Bellamy
12:10-1:40 90 minutes Lunch
1:40-2:15 35 minutes Kids & CAM: Playing Make-Believe with Children’s Health John Snyder
2:15-2:50 35 minutes Chronic Lyme: When Life Hands You Lemons Saul Hymes
2:50-3:25 35 minutes Your Baby’s Spine Will Be Just Fine Without Chiropractic Adjustment Clay Jones
3:25-3:40 15 minutes Break
3:40-4:45 65 minutes Debate: Should Physicians “Fire” Anti-Vaccination Patients? John Snyder, Saul Hymes, Clay Jones
4:45-5:20 35 minutes Bayesian Statistics Steve Novella
5:20-6:05 45 minutes Ask Us Anything: Audience & Twitter Q & A All Speakers
6:05-6:15 10 minutes Closing
Registration is open.
The entire conference looks amazing. I hope to see you there.