The harms of alternative medicine: what we see is just the tip of the iceberg

Many people seem to think that the value of a therapy is determined by its efficacy: a treatment that is highly efficacious must be better than one that is less efficacious. Others seem to believe that it is the safety of a therapy which matters most: a treatment that causes no or few side effects must be good, one that has many is bad.

Such notions might appear logical, but they are mistaken. Things are usually more complicated. Some treatments can cause extremely serious side effects but are still extremely valuable. An example would be chemotherapy; it often causes all sorts of awful problems but, if it saves cancer patients’ lives, it cannot be bad.

Other treatments might be virtually free of side effects, but they are nevertheless rubbish. Take crystal healing, for instance; it is hard to imagine that it causes any side effects but, as it also does not cure anything, it cannot possibly be a good therapy.

To determine the real value of a therapeutic intervention, we need to consider more than its efficacy alone and more than its safety alone. Obviously, we must look at the balance of the two factors.

When a new drug comes on the market, it has been tested thoroughly for efficacy; we therefore can be fairly sure that it works. But initially we know relatively little about its safety; in particular, we know little about possible rare side effects. Such knowledge requires data not just from the few hundred patients who took the drug when it was tested in efficacy trials, but we need data from a few hundred thousand patients.

To generate this information, drugs are monitored for side effects while they are used in routine practice. Should this ‘post-marketing surveillance’ throw up any serious problems, the drug might be withdrawn from the market.

But this only applies to conventional medicine. In alternative medicine things are different, sometimes dramatically different. As the value of any therapy is determined by its risk/benefit balance, we would ideally want to know the efficacy and the safety of alternative therapies too. Yet we often don’t know enough about either.

Alternative therapies have not been tested for efficacy before they come on the market; they usually were in use long before we had the idea of licensing and regulating drugs. Consequently, we have little or only incomplete knowledge about their efficacy.

On the safety side of the equation, things are even worse. There is no post-marketing surveillance of alternative therapies, and all we know about their risks comes from the occasional case report published in the medical literature. This means that under-reporting of harms is huge, and our data are just the tip of the iceberg.

It follows that any attempt at evaluating a risk/benefit balance of alternative therapies is highly problematic. We usually know too little about both determinants to even begin a reasonable estimation. All we can do in this situation is rely on rough estimates.

If any given therapy generates no benefit because it is not efficacious, we can be sure that its risk/benefit quotient can never be positive. Dividing any finite number for risk, however small, by zero gives an infinitely large figure. We can furthermore assume that, for any therapy that is only marginally efficacious and thus generates only a small benefit, even a very small risk would result in an unfavourable risk/benefit balance.

Finally, we can say that an alternative therapy that is known to cause serious harm, the benefit would need to be substantial for its risk/benefit balance to come out favourable.

And what about those alternative therapies for which we have not enough information to attempt even such rudimentary analyses? Alternative practitioners and their followers tend to think that we must give them the benefit of the doubt. This is a dangerously misguided view.

In the interest of our patients, we ought to consider any intervention to be inefficacious until we have good evidence to the contrary. Similarly, any therapy must be considered unsafe until the time we have sound data showing it is not unduly harmful. Giving alternative therapies the benefit of the doubt is therefore not an option.

Such talk is alarmist, claim fans of alternative medicine. After debating with them ad nauseam, I now have this challenge for them: show me your list of alternative therapies that demonstrably are associated with a favourable risk/benefit balance. Considering that there are more than 400 different alternative therapies and that most of them are used for a wide range of conditions, such a list could potentially be very long indeed.

But I will be modest: if you can list more than a dozen alternative therapies for specific conditions, I promise to never write about the risk/benefit balance of alternative medicine again.

Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor at the University of Exeter, is the author of Homeopathy: The Undiluted Facts and the awardee of the John Maddox Prize 2015 for standing up for science. He blogs at edzardernst.com.


  • Milo Fan

    Here is a list, as requested by the author of this article:
    https://www.earthclinic.com/remedies-all-natural.html
    I have found many of these remedies to be beneficial.

    • I think you have misunderstood. The challenge wasn’t to provide a list of herbal products, etc with a list of claims, but a ‘list of alternative therapies that demonstrably are associated with a favourable risk/benefit balance’. Can you provide the necessary evidence to demonstrate that for anything?

      • Milo Fan

        Here is the Ailment list from the same site: https://www.earthclinic.com/ailments.html
        Remedies are alternatives to medicine for ailments/conditions. Each on the list has user comments, not all positive, therefore displaying a risk/benefit balance.

        • No, you still misunderstand. There are any number of unverified and unverifiable anecdotes about how great some things are. What’s wanted is good evidence. That site does not provide any.

          • Milo Fan

            Anecdotal maybe, but there are thousands of comments to consider. No pharmaceutical company would use these products in a study as there is no ££ to gain. They prefer to manufacture chemicals and sell them at high prices.

          • As the saying goes, the plural of anecdotes is not data.

            The supplement/herbal/alt med industry is worth BILLIONS of dollars! It’s VERY profitable.

            But I suspect you also have no idea what a chemical is.

          • Milo Fan

            Insult is the outcome of a lost argument.

          • It’s not an insult; it’s an observation based on what you said. Do you accept that all herbal and supplement products are chemicals?

          • Insult is the outcome of a lost argument.

            You focus on one line that you reflexively assume is an insult while not addressing the other 2 points.

            1. Anecdotes aren’t useful in research.
            2. Your claim that there’s no money in it is incorrect.

            While Alan’s last line could be taken as snarky, now that he’s continued you should be able to see that it was intended as a leading question.

            Also, in order for Alan to lose the argument you would first have to present one. You have yet to successfully do that.

          • Anecdotal maybe, but there are thousands of comments to consider.

            That’s a correct statement. Thousands of comments to consider. This would be a good list to sort through to see if any of this stuff has been tested or not already and the items with insufficient evidence to say it doesn’t would be a useful list. You could take the positive and negative comments in conjunction with what ever research has been done to form an ordered list.

            This list would be good for deciding what should be researched and studied.

            Until that research has been done though, this is just a list of unverified and unverifiable stories about people’s personal experience with this stuff.

            No pharmaceutical company would use these products in a study as there is no ££ to gain. They prefer to manufacture chemicals and sell them at high prices.

            Again with the “no money” angle.

            Are you saying that all of these people that have left the stories were diagnosed for free and just given the products they’re commenting on for nothing?

            You claim there are thousands of comments. Hardly anyone comments, so to gather such a collection there has to be a huge market for these things. Just the fact that the industry that pushes alternatives to medicine is a multi-billion dollar one disproves your repeated claim.

          • Milo Fan

            ….”all of these people that have left the stories were diagnosed for free
            and just given the products they’re commenting on for nothing?”
            Because a clove of garlic is so pricey, it would have to be donated to them before they write a comment 🙂 Really?

          • Milo Fan

            Also, I have never commented on that site in the several years I have viewed its content. How many thousands are there like myself?

          • 1. You commenting on the site or not adds nothing to your position.
            2. You just reinforced my point.

            Now… can you see why?

          • Milo Fan

            Nope.

          • Ah.

          • 1. You commenting on the site or not adds nothing to your position.
            2. You just reinforced my point.

            Now… can you see why?

            Nope.

            You reinforced my point because you emphasised the scale of the market. A market that Big Pharma could tap into and the Alt-Med industry does tap in to.

            One of these industries is regulated. The other fights regulation at every corner.

          • Peter Olins

            Let’s set aside the hundreds of substances and thousands of comments on the website that you cited, Milo. Based on your personal experience, or your knowledge of the field, can you pick the BEST example of an alt-med substance that works, with very little risk of a negative side effect?

            Even better, perhaps there’s someone other than Milo who is willing to respond?

          • But where’s the evidence of benefit and harms?

          • Milo Fan

            Many comments discuss side effects. Sponsor me and I will take the time out of my life to analyse the site users. No? Thought not.

          • LOL! Prof Ernst asked for evidence of harm-benefit balance. None has yet been provided.

          • @AlanHenness:disqus, lets face it. @joeyedgecombe:disqus has no evidence of harm-benefit balance to present. They’re just too bull headed to admit there isn’t any.

          • This seems to happen a lot: claims are made; someone asks for good evidence; lots of hand waving ensues; lots of diversions; but no, erm, actual good evidence is produced, just links to dodgy sources (frequently with products to sell the unwary) and/or no actual understanding of what might constitute good evidence.

          • I’ve had the backfire effect pointed out to me a bit recently. Often by the person I’m on the other side of a conversation with. I try to not use facts to counter claims these days but more look at the consequences of their side of the discussion being right.

            This topic is an easy one. If alt-med worked it’d be medicine. The arguments presented here (there’s no money in it) are vacuous and easily dismissed as demonstrated by the scale of the alt-med industry. It’s own success is the evidence against the profit argument. But most people arguing that point won’t admit it and just dodge and weave as the move onto the next talking point without addressing the last.

          • Many comments discuss side effects. Sponsor me and I will take the time out of my life to analyse the site users. No? Thought not.

            Sponsor you? No. You’ve already demonstrated massive bias in this topic. Your analysis of the comments would be tainted by this bias. And even if you did your best to not let that bias influence your process it would be a thing that hangs over the results you produced causing others to dismiss them and ask for a new analysis.

            Also, what makes you think this sort of thing isn’t already happening? When you get down to it there’s a lot that has yet to be analysed. Comments on public sites like that are a good resource for novel uses of plants.

          • So… no?

            You’re now claiming that none of these people were diagnosed by a medical expert/professional? Again, more confirmation bias. They had a feeling, did a thing, feeling resolved itself. Therefore, the thing that was done did it.

            You seem to be avoiding, or having trouble with, science. This is the mechanism that we use to remove personal opinion, observer bias, confirmation bias, etc. So that we can say with more certainty that “this is what did it.”

            Wouldn’t you rather know what’s real than live with suspicions and gut feelings? Because that is what you’re advocating for.

      • Milo Fan

        It is not just a list of herbs. It is an alternative to the reliance on big Pharma and it’s associated side effects.

        • It’s a list (and demonstrably wrong and misleading on some things); it’s not good evidence.

          • Milo Fan

            Don’t knock it ’til you try it. There will be your evidence.

          • LOL!

            No, please read up and try to understand the many sources of bias that prevent anecdotes and personal experience from being reliable evidence.

          • Don’t knock it ’til you try it. There will be your evidence.

            You assume those that rally in favour of science haven’t tried these things. That’s a naive and ill informed position to hold.

        • For example, it says for homeopathy:

          “Allergies, dermatitis, rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome are all treated effectively using homeopathic remedies. Minor injuries including cuts and scrapes, muscle strains and sprains as well as inflammation can also be treated using homeopathy. A variety of other conditions including the common cold, Dengue fever, gout, insect bites and worms can also be treated using this type of medicinal treatment.”

          There’s not a jot of good evidence for any of this nonsense.

          • Milo Fan

            I have no time for homeopathy nonsense, but the other natural products have been working for centuries.

          • Which ones?

          • Milo Fan

            No time now for history lessons, it’s all on the search engines. But, apple cider vinegar was used during the plague, such as we see place names like, ‘Vinegar Alley’, etc.
            Anyway, my beliefs are based on weighing up the evidence and trying it out for myself before discounting it, which I have done with great success with some of the therapies from the aforementioned site.

          • Ah. You also don’t understand where the burden of proof lies. But never mind.

            Can I suggest you go back and read the article again, and do your own research on what constitutes reliable evidence and what does not?

          • Milo Fan

            Experiencing relief from various ailments is my own “reliable” (anecdotal) evidence. As per previous, no pharma company would ‘test’ them as there is no ££ in it.

          • No, it’s not reliable evidence at all!

            As I said, there are BILLIONS of £££ in it!

          • There’s no money in it? So… You’re diagnoses was free? And the remedy you were given was free also?

          • Milo Fan

            E.g. I didn’t need a physician to tell me I had a sore throat the other day. I had apple cider vinegar in my pantry. Read some comments, ‘analysed’ the risk/benefit to myself, tried it, problem resolved. Took ownership of my own health and used no tax payer £s from the NHS.

          • Why would you use the NHS for a sore throat?

          • Milo Fan

            Many would.

          • Yet you used it as an example of how you had saved the NHS money.

          • Milo Fan

            Yes, I am redressing the £balance.

          • LOL! But let’s get back to the problem of harm-benefit balance…

          • So you had a “sore throat”, took something and it got better. This is actually classic confirmation bias.

          • I had a cold.
            I cut an onion in half and tied one half onion to the bottom of each foot at night during sleep…
            In a few days I was all better.

            Isn’t it amazing how onions can cure you of a cold by absorbing the poisonous tocksins through the soles of your feet? I hate to contemplate what they would do if you actually ate them!!!!11!!!!!!!

          • kfunk937

            Are you absolutely certain it wasn’t the Vit C, by osmosis???

          • Nah, it was onions as recommended by my grandmother from Berlin who was ever so much more “sophisticated” as compared to us Americans. She represented the superstitious European (upper) middle-class mind. (Großmutter was very impressed with the “von”s, being one herself. Her American children and grandchildren couldn’t care less about an anachronistic European class label.) Between she and the equally loony ideas of my friend’s parents/grandparents from France, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, England, etc. I was quickly convinced that all Europeans, even the “educated” ones, were woo-woo.
            .
            The Amazing Kinoki Detox Foot Pad – As Seen On TV!™
            devicewatch(dot)org/reports/kinoki.shtml
            .
            Alex Jones’ go-to medical expert and all-round quack explaining that all detox foot pads aren’t created equal and some are scams but the ones he designed and sells are the Real Deal!™
            globalhealingcenter(dot)com/natural-health/are-all-detox-foot-pads-a-scam/
            — Of course he’s a chiroquack with a 3rd grade education who looks like a drug dealer. Were you expecting respectability?

          • kfunk937

            OMFSM, I thought you were joking. Sanctimommies still promote onion slices on FB, so the woo had some staying power. And you may also be onto something with the Europeans: I always suspected my Oma and Opa were influenced by 19th Century naturalism, orientalism, theosophy/ anthroposophy, etc.

          • Hah!
            That’s straight 1890s (for her) idiotic European folk medicines that my grandmother tried to convince my mother, a die-hard rationalist, to apply to us children. Needless to say they were never used and an object of ridicule in our household – as was the whole, general European attitude of America being a wonderful but immature child.
            .
            … and yes, I also believe it grew out of the 18th & 19th century naturalism, orientalism, and theosophy that were so popular in Europe as a revolt against scientific reductionism – they couldn’t deal with all the magic being removed from their culture after depending on it for 1000+ years.
            Talk about childish…

          • R. Gere

            The sulfur compounds can actually chelate heavy metals, but you have to eat them.

          • shay simmons

            Before or after you’d had them tied to your feet for three days?

          • Please, I’m eating.

          • Sprague–Dawley

            What are you eating? A fat cock?

          • shay simmons

            Toughen up, cupcake

          • I suppose they could go down better if elegantly plated and presented as – Oignons du pied.
            Bon appétit!

          • duplicat

            Coq géant humide!

            I know how much you like gamebirds!!!

          • shay simmons
          • shay simmons

            But, apple cider vinegar was used during the plague,

            So were treacle and arsenic. Did those work?

          • jeremy Morfey

            Eventually some loony hit on the idea of shooting rats.

            Didn’t someone once have this hare-brained idea that if they dug a tunnel under London and washed all the excrement out to sea, rather than using it to fertilise the roses, then all would be well?

          • shay simmons

            Well, from a medieval viewpoint, wouldn’t that make perfect sense? At least they made the rat/plague connection.

          • Mile Fan said:

            “I have no time for homeopathy nonsense, but the other natural products have been working for centuries.”

            This raises an interesting question. Homeopathy has been around for over 200 years: how did you decide it was nonsense? What are your criteria?

          • Milo Fan

            Just my own judgement on reading around the topic.

          • What, specifically, persuaded you it was nonsense?

          • Milo Fan

            Straw man, away from my natural health theme.

          • It’s not a straw man. You reject some quackery yet embrace others. I was trying to understand how you differentiated.

          • Milo Fan

            I reject some allopathic medicine and not others. So?

          • On what grounds?

          • Milo Fan

            Discernment, and reading around each topic.

          • We’re not getting any closer, are we?

          • Milo Fan
          • So if we could provide comedy sketches making fun of the implausibility of other alt-med things you’d change your mind on that?

            Personally I find it odd that comedians would be prefered over research.

            You do realise that the reason they’re so confident in their comedy is because of the weight of evidence against the topic, right?

          • Zennoby

            Bc. it does not work.
            It’s that simple sometimes.
            There is not a SINGLE study to support the claims of the homoeo quacks.
            Battle cry of science: PROVE IT OR STFU!

          • Heh. @Zennoby:disqus, you may want to read back. @AlanHenness:disqus was leading @joeyedgecombe:disqus to conclusions they’re unlikely to like. Alan is as pro-science as you or I.

          • jeremy Morfey

            I very much doubt whether anything sensible could be said about homoeopathy until further research is done on quantum entanglement, upon which the theory of homoeopathy hangs.

            Who knows whether the tweaking of the spin of some subatomic particle depends on an indirect influence of some long-diluted material on an inert third party solvent, such as water. Some might even argue that such influences on a cosmic scale might affect our destiny somehow. There have been astrologers around far longer than there have been homoeopaths, but I doubt any of them at any time have developed the apparatus to test it rigorously, or even know when it applied, and when it doesn’t.

            So we’re reliant on guesswork, and my guess is as good as the professor’s.

          • Wrong. There’s lots than be said already: the best evidence shows that there is nothing to explain by quantum entanglement, clathrates or any of the other nonsense homeopaths have dreamed up.

            But the Professor didn’t speculate on how homeopathy might work if, indeed, it did. His request was very simple:

            “show me your list of alternative therapies that demonstrably are associated with a favourable risk/benefit balance.”

          • jeremy Morfey babbled, “quantum entanglement”

            Hahaha!
            Classic homeopathy and all-round woo bafflegab.
            Do you even know what “quantum entanglement” is?
            You don’t, and it isn’t the magic that you think it is.
            Think ‘pair production’ and conservation of quantum state.
            Ooooh! You don’t understand what the above means? No kidding.
            Boy, have the homeopathetic scammers got some very expensive water that they want you to buy. You’re the perfect sucker client.

          • R. Gere

            Even the physicists are deluding themselves on that one. It all comes from a misinterpretation misinderpretation of the double-slit experiments.

          • shay simmons

            When I see someone use the word “quantum,” I assume they don’t know what they’re talking about.

          • I very much doubt whether anything sensible could be said about homoeopathy until further research is done on quantum entanglement, upon which the theory of homoeopathy hangs.

            Before money is spent on trying to figure out how it work it needs to be established that it works.

            The vast majority of the best quality research demonstrates that it doesn’t work. This is a hurdle that needs to be overcome first.

            So we’re reliant on guesswork, and my guess is as good as the professor’s.

            I call bull on both points here.

          • Tetenterre

            Ah yes. Quantum physics. That branch of science with which people who know sod all about quantum physics can explain anything.

            And the ‘argument from ignorance’ fallacy. Way to go, Jeremy, you’re really on a roll there!

          • jeremy Morfey

            At least I am throwing up some ideas rather than simply rubbishing what anyone has to say. If you have something constructive to add to the debate, let’s hear it.

            Above all, some input about how you understand quantum physics might be helpful.

          • Tetenterre

            If you actually read the article, you will know that “the debate” is
            about whether or not there are a dozen alternative therapies that are
            demonstrably associated with a favourable risk/benefit balance. Your
            comment may have thrown up ideas, but they merely diverted from the
            debate, not added to it.

            As for how I understand quantum physics,
            simple (but I don’t see how it is either helpful or relevant to “the
            debate”): I studied modules in it at university and taught it off and on
            for 35 years until I retired.

            Oh, and if you are determined to write quantumnanobollocks in your comments, I will rubbish it.

          • jeremy Morfey

            So not parroting what is said in the main article is considered “diverting”. Why should I have to accept the agenda of someone I don’t altogether agree with, even if he is a distinguished professor?

            My major criticism of universities since the 1970s is that they categorise everything in exclusive bundles and fail to explore connections between them. Surely, the whole point of a university, rather than a training college, is to allow some discourse between disciplines. This requires an explanation to those not necessarily a specialist in any particular subject, but with sufficient intelligence and imagination to see how they can apply elsewhere and in the overall picture. So I would expect a quantum physicist to be able to explain the science not only to other physicists, but also to art historians, metaphysical philosophers and politicians.

            As for you with your 35 years of specialist knowledge in quantum physics, why not share a little of your wisdom with us, on layman’s terms, rather than simply telling us how important you are and how rubbish I am? Also what developments have been made to the science since you last looked.

            I did provide one anecdotal example of one alternative therapy (in this case a nutrition supplement) to treat a condition that failed to be diagnosed conventionally. Where the article’s logic falls down is that it cannot conceive a risk/benefit where the tools to measure this are not available, and we have to fall back onto anecdotal evidence. I am inviting others here to see if they can repeat this observation, which is, I believe, a scientific approach.

            All we need to make the Professor’s day is then to find eleven more who will do likewise.

        • You’re correct. It’s not just a list of herbs. There’s a lot of other unproven and disproven things on the list.

          However, you are dodging the point.

          It is not what was being asked for.

    • edzard ernst

      very good! and now the evidence please

      • Milo Fan

        Though there would be no financial incentive to replace existing costly pharmaceuticals through further study of these inexpensive natural items, efforts have been made for some:
        https://www.earthclinic.com/remedies/turmeric9.html#tr
        http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/curcumin#major-depressive-disorder-treatment
        http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/garlic

        • Have you forgotten? The supplement manufacturers already make billions from selling supplement most people don’t need. But Prof Ernst asked you for evidence for a favourable risk/benefit balance for the things on your list.

          • Milo Fan

            Supplements are one thing.
            The majority of remedies I am referring to may be bought in a supermarket for pennies.

          • Still an industry worth BILLIONS! And where’s the evidence?

          • Milo Fan

            I refer you to the Linus Pauling site, as above, where micronutrients are explored in more depth.

          • Where’s the evidence of the harm-benefit analysis?

          • Milo Fan

            Compelling evidence there I thought.
            And here in places: http://www.naturalnews.com/
            Who would sponsor further analysis as there is no profit in something the consumer could grow for themself without prescription costs?

          • LOL! You just don’t understand, do you?

          • Milo Fan

            No, and neither do you understand me.

          • That may well be the case. However, we’re still waiting for what prof Ernst requested.

          • Milo Fan

            That no company would sponsor as no £ in it.

          • Why is this proving so difficult? The industry is worth BILLIONS yet they don’t want to do the research to back up the claims they make. What does that tell you?

          • edzard ernst

            still no answer!
            CAN ANYONE NAME A FEW ALT MED THERAPIES THAT DEMONSTRBLY DO MORE GOOD THAN HARM?

          • 88 comments and not a jot…

        • Peter Olins

          Thanks, Milo. Your two links from the Linus Pauling Institute describe important safety concerns with curcumin and garlic, including negative interactions with prescription drugs.

          Unfortunately, unlike FDA-approved drugs, supplement manufacturers are not required to disclose such risks. Worse, my impression is that medical doctors typically do little to inquire about potentially-harmful supplements taken by their patients, even though supplement use is very common.

          Do you think the potential benefits of these two particular supplements outweigh the the potential risks?

          • Milo Fan

            I agree that supplements may have risks. Curcumin and garlic, in the remedial context I am describing, are not the supplement type bought from health stores, just their natural organic form. Purchased for pennies at a grocer.

          • Yes, now what are the risks? Or haven’t you read Prof Ernst’s article?

    • Other treatments might be virtually free of side effects, but they are nevertheless rubbish. Take crystal healing, for instance; it is hard to imagine that it causes any side effects but, as it also does not cure anything, it cannot possibly be a good therapy.

  • Milo Fan

    For any reader on my side of the discussion below (…tumbleweed) there are further alternative remedies of therapeutic value at this link.
    https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/home-remedies/in-the-kitchen/
    They may also have more scientific studies behind them to assuage the concerns of my detractors.

    • But, the whole point of Prof Ernst’s article was to point out the necessity of knowing what the balance between benefits and harm. No such evidence has been provided.

      • Milo Fan

        The balance between benefits and harm is impossible to determine in both natural and allopathic medicine due to our unique biochemistry as individuals. But who will sponsor the long term value of a clove of garlic? Maybe when antibiotics are not around?
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21702647

        • No it’s not impossible. But maybe those who claim that garlic has benefits (for what?) – and selling garlic supplements – should also provide the evidence for its safety? This isn’t difficult.

          • shay simmons

            But maybe those who claim that garlic has benefits (for what?)

            Bolognese sauce.

          • jeremy Morfey

            I take garlic because it tastes nice. Point to sources that rigorously evaluate that to the Professor’s exacting standards, and I will point to other sources that suggest it tastes rubbish in custard.

          • LOL!

  • Ana Diaz Kelleher

    Clearly, the professor didn’t do any research himself. The warnings for Lyrica include suicidal thoughts. That’s pretty harmful, and got approved. The US gov runs an alternative medicine division with abstracts. I believe it’s part of the NIH. If you’re looking for hard core proof, you might want to pick up the book, The Relaxation Response by Dr. Herbert Benson. Its a Harvard study regarding Transcendental Meditation and its beneficial use in reducing, if not , “curing” diabetes, and hypertension.

    • The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the NIH has spent BILLIONS of dollars on researching all manner of things and just about all they have to show for it is that St John’s Wort can sometimes help with mild depression. There is a bit more, but very little.

      But that still does not answer the question prof Ernst asked.

      • Ana Diaz Kelleher

        Welcome to research. First of all, there is plenty of research available. The prof. is simply looking for the common man to do the work for him, so he can then exploit the findings. Second of all, if he found credible.evidence, he couldn’t recreate it because ayurveda and TCM are individualized medicine. Case in point, if someone goes to their acu and was diagnosed with being hot slippery and damp, 99% of doctors have no clue what that is. Alternative medicine is like math, unless you understand the formula behind it, you might as well forget trying to understand calculus.

        • Ana Diaz Kelleher said:

          “Welcome to research. First of all, there is plenty of research available.”

          Then please cite the evidence as Prof Ernst requested: “show me your list of alternative therapies that demonstrably are associated with a favourable risk/benefit balance.”

          “The prof. is simply looking for the common man to do the work for him, so he can then exploit the findings.”

          That’s hilarious! Prof Ernst spent several decades researching this professionally as Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, yet found very little. Perhaps he just has higher standards?

        • Maggie Jean Gray

          Lyrica was approved because in a risk/benefit analysis BASED ON ACTUAL RESEARCH, it’s been decided that Lyrica is more likely to do good than harm – but on the individual scale, the prescriber, manufacturer, and pharmacist still warn that it can cause suicidal ideation. For those that don’t experience suicidal ideation (which is, by the by, an uncommon side effect), the neuropathic pain relief can be immeasurable and of benefit. All – ALL – medicines can have unpleasant side effects, ranging from the irritating to the devastating. Unassuming little old tylenol, for instance, can cause Stevens Johnson syndrome. People take tylenol every day, and very, very, very few develop SJS, but many experience relief from pain.

          You know what we would call alternative medicine if it was well researched and had good numbers behind it? We would call it MEDICINE, and it would be used in treatment by credible doctors. That’s how allopathic medicine works.

          When you say there’s been research done, it occurs to me that you don’t have much understanding of the scientific approach. If you don’t understand the basic principles of hypothesis and experimentation, it would seem that the “research” on, for instance, ayurveda (that you don’t reference?) is credible, because you’ve no real sense of how science works. So you believe what reinforces your biases, and you act like a total fool in comment sections.

          Real science IS, and USES, actual math. Alternative medicine is analogous to a bunch of children scribbling mathematical symbols on a piece of paper, in the hopes that the uninformed won’t understand that said scribbles have little to no significance. Calculus it ain’t.

          All the good professor is asking for is ACTUAL numbers. He is saying “Show me that this therapy has worked for people, and for how many people, and in what way has it worked? Show me that the health benefit is attributable to the therapy, and not to other factors.”

          And because proponents of alternative medicine can’t show any such thing, they say “you just want us to do the leg work for you,” instead of admitting that the proof a) does not currently exist, and b) can’t actually be produced.

          “Hot, slippery, and damp” is a function of sexual excitement, no?

        • The prof. is simply looking for the common man to do the work for him, so he can then exploit the findings.

          Well one thing is clear. You’ve not done any research into the target of your ire. Just do a tiny bit of research into @edzard ernst:disqus and you’ll likely delete your comment above from embarrassment at the level of ignorance it shows.

          • edzard ernst

            embarrassment? what’s that?

        • jeremy Morfey

          Just because the prof. feels in the mood for a bit of brainstorming Spectator readers, it doesn’t show he’s incapable or unwilling to extend his research beyond this.

          Science is limited by the capacities of the technology and understanding currently available. Anything beyond this may be insignificant, but the error may be in the hypothesis, the criteria included or excluded in the trials, and even indirect effects that aren’t under investigation, but may well influence the result. Good scientists are always sceptical and aware of their limitations.

          Unscientific faith relies on empirical evidence that is very often most unreliable, and best comes under the “worth a shot” category.

    • edzard ernst
  • Laura J

    Anything in medicine or alternative has risks. Funny crystals were brought up. A big collector of them is all, and we use one so the tv remote infrared angles it for the flat panel tv mounted on the wall.

    • edzard ernst

      you should read the article!
      of course, nothing is risk-free, but it’s the risk/benefit balance that counts.

      • Laura J

        Of course. But my reply is not going to be what you envision 😉

        • edzard ernst

          I don’t want your reply; I want a list of therapies that demonstrably generate more good than harm.

        • Wait, you do realise that you just admitted to having not read the article before responding, right?

          Or does skimming things to get the gist count as robust in an alt-med supporters world?

      • jeremy Morfey

        Do aesthetics count as alternative medicine? I like crystals for no other reason than that they are pretty. Being surrounded by beautiful things might or might not be beneficial medically, but I have a hunch that their beneficial effects are greatly underestimated.

        • You have a “hunch”…

          Wouldn’t you like to verify that one day? See if you were actually right?

          Until then your “hunch” is worthless.

          • jeremy Morfey

            Not really. I have better things to do, and iconoclasts can go hang.

          • Awesome comeback. You defended yourself with all of the ineptitude of an unarmed new-born kitten.

          • duplicat

            Meow cats are meow.

          • duplicat

            Hey! Kittens can be fierce.

  • edzard ernst

    there have been 92 comments but not one mentioned a single treatment I am looking for.
    so here is my challenge again:
    if you can list more than a dozen alternative therapies for specific conditions [that demonstrably do more good than harm], I promise to never write about the risk/benefit balance of alternative medicine again.

    • Adele

      Frankly, who cares whether you write another word or not about how alternative medicines are bad for people. Last I heard, people were still dying despite using conventional medicines and medical practice. More alarmingly, huge numbers are dying every minute of every day because they do not have access to the conventional medicines you so righteously avow. Big pharma literally makes a killing from the medicines they put onto the market – and they are not driven by compassion or concern – its all about the money. Try getting cancer treatment when you have no insurance or ability to pay for it.

      Alternative medicines and treatments are no more dangerous than conventional medicines and treatments but with the added possibility that some medicines can by found growing in your backyard or local bush area. And when health is at risk, why not try both remedies, as they are not necessarily mutually exclusive options.

      I have a mate who talks to dead people. Her clients come from all walks of life and circumstances. Many usually end up bawling, after visiting her. In terms of risk / benefit – I would say definitely they have benefited because the grief they have carried over the loss of a loved one has been lessened.

      I suppose she is able to undertake a client satisfaction survey to prove her value but why bother with that? The only people she needs to prove her worth to are the people that come to her door and the local community. If they don’t like her stuff, they will go elsewhere, or maybe visit their local physician to get a prescription for anti-depressants.

      • Frankly, who cares whether you write another word or not about how alternative medicines are bad for people.

        I do.

        Last I heard, people were still dying despite using conventional medicines and medical practice.

        Imagine how many would be dying if we didn’t have modern practices. Oh, wait, you don’t need to imagine. We have historical records.

        Alternative medicines and treatments are no more dangerous…

        In and of themselves this may be the case. They are also less efficacious.

        The actual danger is in forgoing actual treatment for serious things in favour of magical thinking though.

        I have a mate who talks to dead people.

        You have a mate who either has a mental condition or is a con artist cashing in on peoples grief.

      • edzard ernst

        do you have a point?

        • Adele

          I do have a point. But firstly, my mate doesn’t have a mental illness and you are in no position to offer a diagnosis.

          Also, when New Zealand was colonised by the British, the indigenous
          populations were almost wiped out by diseases introduced by the
          colonisers. It took western medicines to cure western diseases. I am
          fully aware of the benefits of modern medicines.

          My point is that both types of medicines can co-exist happily within the same
          therapeutic space. It should not be considered a zero sum game. Its a
          complete waste of time trying to discredit allopathic medicines –
          expecting the general public to grasp the efficacy of aspirin over a hot
          toddy. Most would think if efficacious to take both – in the same
          glass.

          The reality is that millions will continue to suffer and die because they simply lack access to medicines. The fight should be about cheaper and fairer access to medicines for all

          I am now going to pick some herbs and make a cuppa tea. Rosemary with a hint of digitalis.

          • edzard ernst

            you clearly think you have a point. yet I cannot see one. you lost me, sorry

          • I do have a point.

            you’re failing to reach it.

            But firstly, my mate doesn’t have a mental illness and you are in no position to offer a diagnosis.

            So he’s a con artist. Personally I wouldn’t be okay with a friend like that.

            Also, when New Zealand was colonised by the British, the indigenous
            populations were almost wiped out by diseases introduced by the
            colonisers. It took western medicines to cure western diseases. I am
            fully aware of the benefits of modern medicines.

            Not quite right. It wasn’t “western medicines to cure western diseases”. It was more demonstrated treatments being given to people with specific conditions and when a population has no immunity to the specific condition that population is going to suffer from it. In the case of the Māori they were an isolated population with no exposure to “common” diseases. There is nothing “western” about the medicine or the diseases except as an historical reference to its origin. It’s not a category.

            My point is that both types of medicines can co-exist happily within the same
            therapeutic space.

            Except alternatives to medicine aren’t medicine.

            It should not be considered a zero sum game. Its a
            complete waste of time trying to discredit allopathic medicines –

            1. It’s just medicine, not “allopathic” medicine. Allopathy was a term coined by Hahnemann to describe everything that was not homeopathy. That includes everything in the alt-med cabinet (except homeopathy of course.) It was also a derogatory term. Since then the alt-med crowd have shoehorned their way in and pushed anything with actual evidence out into that term.
            2. Actual medicine is evidence and science based. It also progresses and updates itself with when new evidence becomes clear.

            expecting the general public to grasp the efficacy of aspirin over a hot
            toddy. Most would think if efficacious to take both – in the same glass.

            I’m not sure how this relates to anything at all.

            The reality is that millions will continue to suffer and die because they simply lack access to medicines. The fight should be about cheaper and fairer access to medicines for all

            Blame Trump.

          • Adele

            Kia ora Gold

            “So he’s a con artist. Personally I wouldn’t be okay with a friend like that.”

            I would rather have a friend like her than a narrow-minded and judgemental person like you. She would help anyone no matter their circumstance. You would probably test them for bugs and find them wanting.

            “Not quite right. It wasn’t “western medicines to cure western diseases”. It was more demonstrated treatments being given to people with specific conditions and when a population has no immunity to the specific condition that population is going to suffer from it. In the case of the Māori they were an isolated population with no exposure to
            “common” diseases. There is nothing “western” about the medicine or the diseases except as an historical reference to its origin. It’s not a category.”

            You are just plainly wrong. Because the diseases were common to Europe does not make them common to the rest of the world. They certainly were not common to Māori and other indigenous peoples. You were obviously raised in a petri dish in some lab to think otherwise.

            “1. It’s just medicine, not “allopathic” medicine. Allopathy was a term coined by Hahnemann to describe everything
            that was not homeopathy. That includes everything in the alt-med cabinet (except homeopathy of course.) It was also a derogatory term. Since then the alt-med crowd have shoehorned their way in and pushed anything with actual evidence out into that term. 2. Actual medicine is evidence and science based. It also progresses and updates itself with when new evidence becomes clear.”

            1. Allopathy has been appropriated by alternative medicines which makes it okay to use. 2. Do you know that cabbage leaves are still being prescribed to women with engorged breasts, and white bread can be used to treat topical ulcers. Science is fantastic like that.

            “I’m not sure how this relates to anything at all.”

            Let me say it more s l o w l y. You lot are barking up the wrong tree. Attack the system that doesn’t allow people to gain access to conventional medicines. Fight a more positive campaign.

            Advocate for people to have reliable and affordable access to the medicines they need rather than attempt to reduce their choices, no matter how stupid you think those choices are.

            “Blame Trump.”

            Nah, this has been a problem since before Trump. However, so ironic that Trump is President and Science is now having to defend itself and march in protest! You lot may end up doing evidence based research with a cauldron and smudge stick. I am offering discounts on both those items.

          • “So he’s a con artist. Personally I wouldn’t be okay with a friend like that.”

            I would rather have a friend like her than a narrow-minded and judgemental person like you. She would help anyone no matter their circumstance. You would probably test them for bugs and find them wanting.

            You jump to that conclusion after just a few posts and you call me judgemental? Interesting.

            Anyway… I don’t doubt that your friend would help anyone regardless of their circumstances, but the best evidence says this particular form of “help” is not real.

            Think it through. How would the world look if this sort of ability was real?

            It would be testable. Really easily testable. To the point of it being irrefutable and you’d need a conspiracy of a global scale to suppress it.

            People with these abilities, even if rare, would be in high demand.

            They’d be in the military performing espionage, counter espionage, etc.
            They’d be in the police force. A murder would never go unsolved because we could ask the victim.
            They’ed be in court speaking for the victim at their own murderers trial.
            They’d make great private detectives.
            They’d be in every law firm. Any time an argument over a will came up it’d be resolved quickly just by asking the deceased.
            They’d be employed as speakers at funerals to deliver their own obituary.
            We’d have fields of science dedicated to investigating what “the other side” is.
            They’d be everywhere if common and highly respected and paid if rare.

            But they’d be accepted as real.

            But that’s not the world we live in. I really wish it was, but you can’t argue with the fact of the situation. That fact being that what is described above is not how things are.

            “Not quite right. It wasn’t “western medicines to cure western diseases”. It was more demonstrated treatments being given to people with specific conditions and when a population has no immunity to the specific condition that population is going to suffer from it. In the case of the Māori they were an isolated population with no exposure to
            “common” diseases. There is nothing “western” about the medicine or the diseases except as an historical reference to its origin. It’s not a category.”

            You are just plainly wrong. Because the diseases were common to Europe does not make them common to the rest of the world. They certainly were not common to Māori and other indigenous peoples. You were obviously raised in a petri dish in some lab to think otherwise.

            Sorry, I may have not made myself clear enough. I was trying to talk in a more abstract manner, hence quoting the word “common”. I was more referring to when a larger culture meets a relatively isolated one. This is the sort of thing that happens (well… happened). The larger one harbours more disease but has figured out how to cope with it and over time. The smaller, isolated one typically suffers in these scenarios.

            “1. It’s just medicine, not “allopathic” medicine. Allopathy was a term coined by Hahnemann to describe everything
            that was not homeopathy. That includes everything in the alt-med cabinet (except homeopathy of course.) It was also a derogatory term. Since then the alt-med crowd have shoehorned their way in and pushed anything with actual evidence out into that term. 2. Actual medicine is evidence and science based. It also progresses and updates itself with when new evidence becomes clear.”

            1. Allopathy has been appropriated by alternative medicines which makes it okay to use.

            I respectfully disagree. When it has been adopted by actual medicine I would say it’s okay to use it then. But as it stands the term is geared towards fostering an “us versus them” environment. That doesn’t help anyone.

            2. Do you know that cabbage leaves are still being prescribed to women with engorged breasts, and white bread can be used to treat topical ulcers. Science is fantastic like that.

            I didn’t. I also don’t see how that adds anything at all to the discussion.

            “I’m not sure how this relates to anything at all.”

            Let me say it more s l o w l y.

            This is a text based discussion. You should try explaining your position differently if you’re unable to make it clear. Speed doesn’t help.

            You lot are barking up the wrong tree. Attack the system that doesn’t allow people to gain access to conventional medicines. Fight a more positive campaign.

            I participate in that battle too. Thinking that my discussing things here means I’m not, or can’t, participate in other conversations on other topics is a very narrow-minded thing.

            Advocate for people to have reliable and affordable access to the medicines they need rather than attempt to reduce their choices, no matter how stupid you think those choices are.

            I already advocate for these things.

            I also advocate for well informed decisions. I do this by pointing out the current state of the scientific consensus on topics like this.

            Are you arguing against informed consent?

            “Blame Trump.”

            Nah, this has been a problem since before Trump. However, so ironic that Trump is President and Science is now having to defend itself and march in protest!

            It wasn’t a march in protest. It was a march in celebration of science. Topics like the difficulties science faces were discussed, but that doesn’t make it a protest.

            You lot may end up doing evidence based research with a cauldron and smudge stick. I am offering discounts on both those items.

            “You lot”?

          • Adele

            Kia ora koutou

            My apologies for the lateness in replying. My witches broom failed its annual safety check. I was caught up trying to conjure its replacement. I am missing an eye of newt.

            Anyway, enough about me. Let’s focus for 3.2 seconds on your stuff.

            You are obvious with your words, and if you disagree with this assessment, take it ;up with yourself.

            The original article is just meaningless noise. It adds nothing to the human divide that hasn’t already been said, except perhaps offer more statistics. It seeks not to build bridges or move a footstep closer to a reasonable debate blessed with an open mind.

            Oh no, its still “Science is God” burn those allopathic heathens. Hypocrites.

            There are some serious issues facing humanity at this moment in space-time. Allopathic remedies is not one of them.

          • So… nothing of any actual substance to add to the discussion. Got ya.

            This just comes across as ineffective whinging.

      • Adele drooled, “I have a mate who talks to dead people.”
        Does it go something like this?:
        “I’m getting something from someone with a name that starts with “R”. Does that mean anything to anyone? … or it may be an “S” and I’m getting “male” – anyone?”
        .
        The anti-vaccine cult has an “expert” who talks to space aliens from Sirius through a Ouija board for his medical information. He’s considered highly credible in the anti-vaccine world.
        Of course, most rational folks consider him a batsh1t insane mental case.

        • shay simmons

          I address my (deceased) father occasionally, but I don’t expect an answer.

        • Adele

          Kia ora Reality

          “Adele drooled, “I have a mate who talks to dead people.”

          I do not drool.

          “Does it go something like this?:
          “I’m getting something from someone
          with a name that starts with “R”. Does that mean anything to anyone? … or it may be an “S” and I’m getting “male” – anyone?”

          You have obviously been to a medium that sucks. Next time, be more discerning.

          “The anti-vaccine cult has an “expert” who talks to space aliens from Sirius through a Ouija board for his medical information. He’s considered highly credible in the anti-vaccine world.”

          You don’t need a Ouija board to speak to aliens, they have WI-fi.

          Hey, there are crackpots in every profession. It is also true to say that there are also immoral and fraudulent people in all walks of life. So, your point is?

      • jeremy Morfey

        Some alternative medicines can be harmful in the wrong hands. Quite a few medicinal herbs are toxic at the wrong dosage, and some deadly poisons can work if treated with great caution and very sparingly. Some react with medicines – I was warned about eating grapefruit when taking my antidepressant, since they can each amplify in each other the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Of course, I don’t always check in reliable scientific journals, and sometimes have to take the instructions at their word.

        I tried chiropractor once, and felt very ill afterwards and never did it again – it is actually quite dangerous and could cause spinal damage. However I found reflexology quite beneficial, even if didn’t cure my deafness, a foot massage did help muscular troubles there, and happy feet make for a happy person. Aromatherapy is also effective, but I find what is taught is not necessarily right. I always remember how Mansion floor polish made me feel wonderful, but I never found out why, and nothing in the manual explains this. Another alternative therapy that works extremely well is music. I cannot function without making music. I find the odour suppressant ‘Febreze’ horrible, and leaves me with a headache, regardless of the TV commercials. I prefer to have the smells, which I can then deal with, with a good clean, than to knock out my sense of smell.

        The work of a spiritualist is very familiar in my church, where we pray for the souls of the departed. The concept is that God takes in these souls and can settle them with our intervention and love. More to the point, I actually think the imprint of these souls live on in those left on Earth, and it is this that is being soothed, and is an important part of grieving.

        I have an old childhood guide to life, the universe and everything entitled ‘The World of the Children’ by Stuart Miall, published just after WW2. It is in the same vein as Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia from around the same time, and both are delightful. There is a cartoon of a little girl cuddling her teddy, which her brother then tears to pieces to show the girl that it’s only made of fluff and stuff, leaving her bereft and in tears. It illustrates the proverb “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise”. I feel a bit like that about some of your critics.

        • Adele

          Kia ora Jeremy

          Thank you for your response. Of course, alternative medicines have caveats around their usage. It has its own science that needs to be respected. And most genuine practitioners are knowledgeable of the science.

          Way back in the day, our traditional medicines were developed over generations through trial and error. I think it worked like this: “Bro, its your turn to eat the berry.”

          Now, in today’s environment, science uses animals. I have a problem with that – although in a previous life, I actively participated. Since then, I think I have grown much in my understanding and appreciation of the natural world and my place within.

          I appreciate western science but I am not a sycophant to its baubles and beads. It is possible to have shared understandings between western science and indigenous knowledge systems.

          Spirituality counters Rationality for sure, which is another old and tired debate. However, I also know of many deeply rational people who regularly attend church. So anyway, who cares about the critics. They will eventually wither away and enter oblivion. I, on the other hand, will probably come back as someone’s handbag (previously a crocodile).

          Ngamihi

    • jeremy Morfey

      Unless we dedicate our lives, as you have done, to medical research, it’s one at a time.

      I’ve given you one myself just now, and wish you well as others unearth themselves.

      • edzard ernst

        sorry, but a pilot study is hardly strong evidence.

    • Ferbie Blurbigus

      •Vitamin C for Cardiovascular Disease

      •Casein-free diet for Autism

      •Niacin for Schizophrenia

      •Methylglyoxal for Cancer

      •Gerson for Cancer

      •Fat-free diet for Diabetes (Randle Cycle)

      • edzard ernst

        NICE LIST!
        can you now show me the evidence, please?

        • Ferbie Blurbigus

          Why? You have Google Scholar too.

          • edzard ernst

            yes, but my searches have not resulted in any evidence showing that the treatments you listed generate more good than harm; in fact, I can see no good evidence that they are effective.

          • Ferbie Blurbigus

            Really? What did you put in the search field, “evidence for woo”?

            Maybe you should actually try.

            George Willis, Linus Pauling, Matthias Rath, Abram Hoffer, Max Gerson, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Philip Randle, ect.

            If you can’t find these authors than you have no business talking.

          • edzard ernst

            these are names not evidence, perhaps you should read this, it might tell you what evidence is: http://edzardernst.com/2012/11/what-is-and-what-isnt-clinical-evidence-and-why-is-the-distinction-important/

          • Ferbie Blurbigus
          • edzard ernst

            you are charming!
            the link is to a free blog post !!!
            you should read and learn.

          • Ferbie Blurbigus

            I’m all for woo-bashing homeopathy and accupuncture, but some alternative medicine is actually more scientific than the mainstream.

            The AMA and Pharma almost always chooses the most profitable biochemical paradigm, not the most scientifically valid one.

            You should title your next book: “Corruption in Biochemistry: How scientific advances are ignored for ego and profit”

            You could spend a few years reading about cardiovascular disease, schizophrenia, and cancer and write an awesome book.

          • edzard ernst

            thanks for the tip
            I aways appreciate the advice from an expert!

          • jeremy Morfey

            One drug that has been woefully dumbing-down handwaved away by the Establishment is marijuana (aka “money for old rope” by 19th century sailors, who liked to put it in their pipes). Long used as a recreational drug, anecdotal evidence point to its value when treating the effects of cancer and multiple sclerosis.

            However, insufficient research has been done on the adverse effect on the growing brain, and the risk of schizophrenia developing in users under 21, and possibly 25. This is made much worse by modern variants known as “skunk”, “spice” or “black mamba” that not only brings on schizophrenia, it renders it psychopathic and dangerous in those who may be adversely unaffected by earlier herbal versions of the drug. I have a close relative who has been affected in this way. He is now in a secure ward.

            If the science profession is so wrapped up commercially with the business interests of the globalised pharmaceutical industry, then can anyone blame the public for seeking out alternative sources of information?

          • Ferbie Blurbigus

            Interesting. I haven’t looked much into this one. Perhaps I’ll do some research on cannabinoids.

  • Paul

    A friend of mine told me about a lady who turned up with a bucket, a
    sprig of sage and a small bottle of frog poison. Said woman, talked
    about South American shamans, waved the sage around, burnt some skin on
    my friend and then coated it with some of poisonous frog liquid. Turns
    out the bucket is needed because the patient is then violently sick and
    will fill the bucket with everything that can be vomited. That will be
    £60 please, as AM goes pretty cheap, but what’s that all about then?

  • jeremy Morfey

    I had root canal work done on a dental abscess a couple of months ago. An old crown had failed and disease got in. The tooth was root-filled with a considerable amount of amalgam. Afterwards, I felt very ill indeed, mental confusion and a flare-up of a bowel disorder. Online research pointing to all the symptoms of mercury poisioning. I have quite a few amalgam fillings over many years.

    While there are tests for acute mercury poisoning, they involve tests on blood, urine or DNA. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to book an appointment with the GP, it was unlikely that the release of dental mercury would show up on these tests, which mainly concentrate on damage to the liver and kidneys. However, low-level mercury that would not feature in any test on the urine or blood, may well have a serious effect on the brain. Mercury has a great affinity with sulphur, and the synapses in the brain, whose proteins contain sulphur, are rendered inoperative as soon as mercury binds itself to this sulphur. The effect is a form of dementia that cannot be exposed using any medical tests currently available. DNA tests might work on organic mercury compounds, but do not work in detecting low-level exposure to elemental mercury, such as that found in dental amalgam. Over a period of time, it can be debilitating, but because there are no tests for it, it is considered insignificant by the medical profession.

    When referral to my GP proved futile, I then decided my only option was self-treatment using an alternative remedy. It seems that while mercury has an affinity for sulphur, it has an even greater one for selenium, and will bind itself there given a choice between the two. A remedy therefore is to take a daily dose of selenium supplement which usually come with Vitamins A, C and E, which are supposed to enhance the uptake and effect of selenium. Selenium is usually deficient in a European diet, although it is reasonably common in America, and by far the richest natural source of it is in Brazil nuts (one reason why it is so utterly stupid to deforest the Amazon). 200 micrograms/day is considered the optimum dose, about double the recommended daily dose. The purpose here is to use it as you would zinc on a ship – to divert low levels of mercury away from the brain cells where they can pass harmlessly through the gut and away.

    I did notice an improvement in my memory and brain function almost straight away. When it came for the amalgam to be drilled out ready to receive the new crown, I upped my dose for a few days, and this seems to have prevented the illness I felt earlier. I would therefore recommend a course of selenium supplements to anyone having amalgam fillings done, especially if they live in Europe.

    There is no support for this course of action from the medical profession other than “it doesn’t do any harm, so if it makes you feel better…”. Is this alternative medicine?

    • Without citing the sources you ultimately ended up basing your decisions on there is no reliable conclusion that could be established from this anecdote.

      • jeremy Morfey

        Why should I? This is a comments section under a political magazine, not a scientific journal.

        Treat what I have to say as a primary source. I googled my information same as everyone else. Since I was feeling poorly at the time and was getting no help from the professionals, I had to grasp at every tweeting quack Google could throw at me, and extract whatever credibility I could from it.

        Much like an election really.

        Here are a few I’ve googled just now:
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1304229
        http://www.naturalnews.com/026729_selenium_mercury_tuna.html
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_poisoning (of course)

        • Why should I?

          Because you claimed you did some research and it lead to a conclusion that you are trying to use to make a point. It could also lead to an interesting conversation around you selected topic.

          If you can’t cite your resources, or are embarrassed to do so, that’s fine too. You can leave that story as an unverified and unverifiable story if you want.

          • jeremy Morfey

            I’m bored with this thread and it’s not going anywhere.

          • Of course it’s not going anywhere. You refused to engage in the discussion at the slightest expression of interest.

  • edzard ernst

    there have been 163 comments but not one mentioned a single treatment I am looking for.
    so here is my challenge again:
    if you can list more than a dozen alternative therapies for specific conditions [that demonstrably do more good than harm], I promise to never write about the risk/benefit balance of alternative medicine again.

  • brown5123156

    So many people are not serious about their medicine and think they are so more harmful today. To get exactly result from medicine it will be so more helpful content for the people.

  • bradley654236

    So many people are not serious about their medicine and think they are so more harmful today. To get exactly result from medicine it will be so more helpful content for the people.