Complementary Medicine & Pharmacists

30 11 2009

I don’t know if the situation is the same in other countries, but in the Netherlands we can only get prescribed medications in pharmacies. Drugstores are only allowed to sell over-the counter (OTC) medicines.

Most Pharmacies have a small shop of 5 square meters (besides a large storage room). What surprises me is that the counter is not only full with non-allergic creams, and the shelves are not only filled with liquorice and plasters, but the counter and shelves predominantly display naturopathic and herbal “medicines”. In this flu-season there are even leaflets how to prevent flu with all kinds of naturopathic medicine. Dr Vogel’s Echinaforce “helps to augment your natural resistance, lowers the risk of flu and shortens the duration or decreases the severity of symptoms once you have the flu” (..”vermindert u de kans op griep en herstelt u sneller als u toch ziek wordt“). Apparently A Vogel.nl (via Biohorma) started a campaign in the Netherlands. At their website there is even an advertisement for an offer by an insurance company -OHRA- because it generously refunds homeopathic medicine. Biohorma also made a You-Tube video.
In contrast, in the US there is a disclaimer at the Echinaforce site:” These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

There is no evidence that Echinacea prevents flu (see Cochrane Review and de Volkskrant [Dutch newspaper referring to clinical trials]), although it is not excluded that it helps for the early treatment of colds in adults.

Isn’t such a promotion of ineffective stuff a bad advice considering we have  a real flu-epidemic, and given the inverse relationship between pediatric vaccination and CAM usage (see Respectful Insolence)?

It is quite confusing, however, because Echinacea is advertised as an homeopathic medicine, whereas it seems a herbal medicine (not diluted ad infinitum). To date there is no evidence that homeopathy ‘works’. All 6 published Cochrane systematic reviews with ‘homeopathy’ or ‘homeopathic’ in the title conclude that there is little or no evidence that it works beyond the placebo-effect.

During the recent The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee meeting calling in homeopaths and scientists to discuss evidence for the alternative therapy Prof. Dr Ernst (with experience as a homeopath) said: “I have supplied a list of systematic reviews of homeopathy. There are two dozen. None in that list were positive.” (see this excellent summary of the meeting by Ian Sample). For the entire memorandum of Dr Ernst see here.

Besides that the clinical trials are ineffective, the whole theory is incompatible with the laws of physics and chemistry.

Nevertheless:

  • There is a lot of homeopathic research going on, i.e. funded by the NHS (National Health Sevice) in the UK and the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicin, NIH) in the US.
  • In the UK homeopathic medicine is endorsed by the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency)
  • CAM is booming business (£1.5bn industry in the UK)
  • CAM is covered by insurance companies.
  • CAM is sold and sometimes advocated by pharmacists.

Thus all over the world people are buying these ineffective homeopathic medicines while believing they ‘work’, or at least cause no harm. However, while homeopathic medicines may not harm themselves, they may cause harm if they are used in place of proven treatment for any life-threatening illness.” Indeed the WHO has warned people with conditions such as HIV, TB and malaria not to rely on homeopathic treatments (BBC NEWS 20 August 2009

For me it is incomprehensible, that pharmacists who are trained in pharmacology and chemistry (at the University Level), just sell those ineffective costly water-dilutions and advocate them directly or indirectly by putting them on the shelves, providing ample leaflets and brochures and giving positive “advise”. What could be the reason for doing that other than ignorance or MONEY?


Recommended Reading:

Photo Credits

  1. Pharmacists mortar and pestle http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PharmacistsMortar.svg
  2. Homeopathic Medicine on the shelves http://www.flickr.com/photos/caseywest/ / CC BY-SA 2.0
    (this photo has nothing to do with the subject)
, but all kind of complementary medicine (CAM).
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Friday Foolery [1]: On Homeopathy, Nutritionists and Toothiologists

21 08 2009

Widely referred to on twitter, shown on the blog of drShock, and already cited in 2008

But for those who do not know the Irish standup comedian Dara Ó Briain or his Homeopathy & Nutritionists vs Real Science!” here is the video:

Some great oneliners:

  • (Hé but) “Science knows it doesn’t know anything, otherwise it would stop … That doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairytales”
  • “Homeopathy is water… You can’t overdose on us, but you can fucking drown in it”
  • “A dietitian is to a nutritionist as a dentist is to a toothiologist”

What does Dara Ó Briain mean with the latter?

Holford Watch, a (naughty) blog against about the “media nutritionist” Patrick Holford explained a while ago:

A ‘dietitian’ is a protected title, they need to be educated to a high level, etc., while anyone can call themselves a ‘nutritionist’. Dara drew a comparison with dentists: you have to meet certain, fairly stringent, criteria to call yourself a dentist or dietitian; anyone, though, can call themselves a toothiologist or nutritionist.

However, that Nutrionist is not a protected term is not entirely true. The title “nutritionist” is protected in Quebec, Alberta and Nova Scotia, as I learned from Wikipedia and Weighty Matters, the blog of Yoni Freedhoff, a Canadian Family doc and founder of Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute.

Yoni is also not very fond of Nutritionists either. At his blog I found the (Funny Friday) video below about this profession. Made by Mitchell and Webb.

I also came across a video about homeopathy made by the same British comedians. Awesome.

Have a great weekend and be sure to take some Bach Flower Therapy to prevent your hangover. And remember, to take cocktails shaken not stirred with 1 ppm alcohol!

References:

Shaken, not Stirred

Image by el patojo via Flickr

More Friday Foolery:


Dara Ó Briain: a dietitian is to a nutritionist as a dentist is to a toothiologis

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