Germany’s ‘alternative’ clinics offer false hope to cancer patients like Leah Bracknell

It was reported last week that the ex-Emmerdale actress, Leah Bracknell, has started a campaign to raise funds for alternative cures of her stage 4 lung cancer which she hopes to receive in Germany. Ms Bracknell, who after her acting career became a yoga teacher, said that, in the UK, she was given a ‘fairly brutal and bleak diagnosis, but one I am determined to challenge’. Her partner, Jez Hughes, explained the funds will be used for ‘immunotherapy and integrative medicine, which are seeing previously “incurable” cancers going into complete remission’.

Why Germany? You may well ask.

Germany has long been praised by fans of alternative medicine for its liberal stance on all sorts of unproven or disproven treatments. In Britain, there are just a few physicians who are devoted to alternative medicine; in Germany, there are thousands of them. In addition, Germany has a healthcare profession called the ‘Heilpraktiker’, a poorly regulated leftover from the Third Reich. Recently, a German Heilpraktiker was implicated in the deaths of several cancer patients who had travelled from abroad to receive his treatments, because German law is more liberal in these matters than other European countries. A Heilpraktiker has not studied medicine, yet is legally permitted to make all sorts of unsubstantiated claims and treat many serious diseases with unproven therapies.

The particular institution that Ms Bracknell hopes to go to promotes ‘integrative medicine’. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such places in Germany.

The treatments used include homeopathy, micronutrients, natural supplements, whole body hyperthermia and ozone therapy. As far as I can see, for none of these alleged alternative cancer ‘cures’ exists good evidence of efficacy.

Ms Bracknell’s partner mentions immunotherapy. This is an umbrella term for a diverse range of treatments that work by stimulating the immune system. Most of them are not in the realm of alternative medicine.

And what about ‘integrated medicine’? Can the integration of unproven therapies render routine healthcare more efficient? To me even the mere suggestion of such a phenomenon is ridiculous: mixing cow pie with apple pie will not improve the recipe.

As I have written previously, I believe that integrated medicine is little more than a front designed to appear attractive and convincing to consumers, healthcare professionals and policy makers. Anyone looking behind the façade will find boundless amounts of quackery, whether from naïve charlatans, unable to think critically, or irresponsible entrepreneurs, out to make a fast buck.

The money needed for such alternatives can be eye-watering. Ms Bracknell has raised £50,000 to cover the costs. No question, these funds would be well spent if the treatments worked. But do they?

The evidence does not support the notion of alternative cancer ‘cures’. In fact, the very term is nonsensical and a contradiction in terms: if an alternative cancer therapy worked, it would automatically become mainstream; if an alternative cancer therapy showed even the slightest shimmer of promise, it would get investigated and, if shown to work, become part of routine oncology. The notion that there are treatments out there that are effective but are nevertheless shunned by oncologists because they originate from nature or from some exotic tradition is, on reflection, utterly barmy.

Yet cancer patients can easily fall for such scams. They are understandably desperate and all too easily made to believe in weird conspiracy theories about ‘Big Pharma’ and the evil ‘establishment’ etc. My heart goes out to them, and I do hope they find the cure they are looking for.

But this does not mean that I have any patience or sympathy with those charlatans who offer false hope at high prices. Personally, I find it hard to imagine anything more despicable, unethical and irresponsible than that.

Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor at the University of Exeter, is the author of A Scientist in Wonderland and the awardee of the John Maddox Prize 2015 for standing up for science. He blogs at edzardernst.com.


  • Jock MaCuddy

    Immunotherapy isn’t mumbo-jumbo quack treatment. It’s stated that this is what the money is for, admittedly in addition to the other more-dodgy sounding stuff. I wish the lady well.

    • Warren Lauzon

      In a few weeks or months we will see another headline about her funeral.

  • Warren Lauzon

    Amazing that a country so dead set against proven science such as GMO can fully embrace this kind of total BS. But this is the same country that is shutting down nukes to build coal plants.

    • Germany must be stopped from jack booting all over Europe. Close down the EU and stop German aggression.

  • bachcole

    Con Med offers zero hope when it comes to any kind of health building and the prevention of chronic, degenerative diseases and is in fact harmful to people’s health. So any sycophant for Con Med is in no position to evaluate or criticize anyone else. It should be left to the market place and individuals to decide for themselves what does or may work. And Con Med should STF up.

    • lolexplosm

      Alt med can offer zero hope with treatments like homoepathy e.g. homeopathic vaccines cannot prevent any disease. When people shun con med in favour of treatments that have no proof of efficacy, then alt med is also in fact potentially harmful to people’s health. Con med provides vaccines which prevent horrible diseases and their related complications.

      Individuals are generally not capable of properly critically analysing treatments and evidence. Markets aren’t always indicators either, just because a homeopathic pill sells, doesn’t mean it works.

      How would you treat meningitis?

      Doctor’s give basic lifestyle and dietary advice such as stopping smoking, exercising, minimising alcohol etc. These are some of the best things you can do when it comes to health building and preventing chronic disease so your statement is wrong.

      Then again I suppose ad hominems will always win the argument so I guess I better stfu too.

      • bachcole

        It seems like zero hope to you because your lips are still super-glued to the rear end of reductionistic and corrupt Con Med. While I sit here healed of several serious problems and why would I bother to say this and spend the time typing this if it were not true. Now, I admit that it requires some insight into people and society to be able to determine what is useful and what isn’t, but, hey, I knew that you couldn’t pass the insight exam because you are a skeptopath.

        • lolexplosm

          It’s great to hear you have been cured of several problems and I am not questioning what you have experienced. Others are not so lucky when it comes to using things like homeopathy unfortunately.

          How would you or someone who isn’t attached to con med treat and cure meningitis?

          • bachcole

            Sorry about the attitude. For some strange reason some alternative healing advocates are a little defensive. I wonder why.

            I would not treat meningitis. I am not a doctor. I would, however, treat the person, show the person how they can enhance and support their own inner healing power and stop bashing their own inner healing power. The more assaults and insults that one’s vitality has to deal with, the less vitality will be available for healing things like meningitis. What I did to heal an inflamed herniated disk and diabetes did not heal the herniated disk and diabetes directly. What I did was to free up my inner healing power from having to deal with daily assaults of excess glucose and the like, and my inner healing power took care of the herniated disk and the diabetes. This is not a trivial point.

            For example, I made own back bubble (retail $399.00 USD, youtube dot com forward slash watch?v=ZVVXCyM8FdE). I reasoned that complementary healing has a lot to do with just getting the “good” stuff in and the “bad” stuff out, and in between the “in” and the “out” stood the person with healing power, power without which we would all be dead ducks within hours.. So I used my back bubble different from the guy who invented it in the video. I would slouch down and then stand up, slouch down and then stand up, slowly and gently, over and over. This massages the disks and helps get the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. This aids my inner healing vitality, the immune system, whatever the frick we want to call it, to do it’s good work. That was one of the main things I did for my back. I am 111% healed from that excruciating pain and bulge. The diabetes? I still have a way to go. Since it was 30 years in the making, or perhaps even 50 or 71 years, it isn’t going to get 100% healed in a few months. But I can fall off the wagon with a brownie and not get fat feet and severe peripheral neuropathy.

            My point is that everything works together in the body, and all we can do is help. If we help smart enough and deep enough, the body will be able to heal itself naturally.

            Meningitis? That would be a big study. I haven’t had to deal with it. It may be wise to work with con med, but to ignore complementary (complementary as in complementing the body’s own healing power) healing and even thwart complementary healing would be very stupid and short-sighted. Any kind of stress reduction would be valuable. Fasting and intermittent fasting would be valuable. Antibiotics might be valuable, but of course the antibiotics could disrupt the gut microbiota, and that could be a disaster.

  • Everything German offers false hope or something far more deadly. Look at the Volkswagen national socialist regime of hitler and Merkel, truly disturbing. We must destroy the EU and get rid of German domination.

  • Haxabja on YouTube

    Change that “cow pie” to “mutton pie” : this is the managing-director of Hallwang Clinic, Dr Albert Schmierer, selling sheep cells as a cure-all … http://www.zell-v.com/html/medicalpanel-dralbert.html . The [ex?] medical-director of Hallwang Clinic, Dr Ursula Jacob, is at it too … http://www.zell-v.com/html/medicalpanel-drursula.html

  • Hayley Ashberry

    I was reading the results of a scientific trial only yesterday that found oxygen therapy and hyperthermia used in conjunction with chemotherapy showed very promising results actually. Hyperthermia is basically the use of high temperatures to cause apoptosis in cancer cells and is already in use as a treatment for cancer – see MacMillan website. If you look into the active compound in these ‘natural herbs’ you will see that there are many trials which have been testing these chemicals on cancer cells with good results, ie tumeric, frankincense, curry powder. If you really think that its all a load of rubbish then please post some links to the scientific trials that back this up or you are not really standing up for science are you? Immunotherapy is showing fantastic results in clinical trials however,not every cancer patient is eligible for this and thus would have to fund this themselves in clinics that offer it, hence why thousands of terminal patients are trying to get to Germany to have this treatment.

  • Diane Milner

    I have been treated at the Hallwang clinic, so I can tell you that they are purely professional and honest. They never promise a cure to anyone, but tell you what they can offer you. If it were not for Hallwang, I would be dead by now, as would be my friends that I met there. I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and put on palliative care! Of course, no one knows how much longer I have, but I do know that I would not have had the last 6 months if I had not had treatment at Hallwang, and since I am cancer free now I hope for 6 months more, and maybe then 6 months again, and so on. I think it is clear that the author has never been in such a life-threatening situation facing death, otherwise he would know that cancer patients cherish every moment they get with their families, if it is one day, one month or a year more. So you, professor, do not understand the treatments they do and therefore they must be bogus? I think it s unethical and irresponsible to talk other people and clinics down without having been there yourself and simply bc you do not understand what they do. It is always easy to belittle others out of envy or mere pleasure. Ages ago Galileo was called a charlatan, bc he said the earth was round…and now we know better, don´t we? I strongly believe that in a couple of years, the treatments Hallwang offer will be routine, but cancer patients do not have time to wait around for ppl like you acknowledging what we already know-you should talk to the patients there, we are all happy we made it there. And all your envy cannot take that away, because we are still alive. I think that is what counts.

    • Elizabeth Artola

      I lost many people to cancer. I don’t want to lose anyone else. Is there anyway you can say which clinic it was or the treatment. I would appreciate it! I’m happy you’re still fighting. Good luck to you.

  • Andrew Dickens

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v483/n7391/full/483531a.html
    89% of chemotherapy drug studies not reproducible.

  • Dorel_C

    ” …….. made to believe in weird conspiracy theories about ‘Big Pharma’ and the evil ‘establishment’ etc. ”
    Who ever wrote that, I hope he doesn’t have ,or will have cancer, because you will be dead inside 2 years, with Pharma looking after you. Good luck to you ignoramus !!!

  • Jody Deane

    Flawed logic in this article. Anyone who has seriously studied the history of cancer medicine knows that all cancer cures have been suppressed for one reason or another, but usually to do with hurting profits. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about whose profits. It is only now in the last few years that due to the internet I’d imagine, we are seeing official uptake of some of these treatments, and word of mouth of course, and that’s why the supposedly ineffective treatments based on ‘junk science’ are finally being taken seriously. That’s why intravenous Vitamin C therapy is about to be available on the NHS, that’s why I propose that forward thinking nations like Germany are giving space to these clinics. It would be actually helpful for readers if the writer of this article went to these clinics and interviewed people, the patients, the doctors etc. and also got the facts on their statistics. Isn’t that what journalism is about?