In the first of a new series, Tauranga GP Neil McKenzie comments on recent examples of pseudoscience relating to medicine.

BEING a busy GP, running a jazz band, playing hockey and squash, and travelling all over the world fairly frequently cuts in to my reading time. I tend to relax with the Foreign Express, GP Weekly, NZ Doctor, the Listener and the local papers. One major difference, in the medical journals, is that they don’t have horoscopes. Yet. So here are a few treasures I’ve gathered over the past few weeks.

Vaccine Hysteria

Hundreds of Tauranga citizens gathered to hear Irwin Aller extol them to prevent their kids from what he sees as a health department conspiracy to maim them with vaccine.

In a letter to the BOP Times, June 24, I called them “Flat Earthlings”. I reminded them of an 11 year old who died of measles a few years ago. The entire school attended the funeral and immunisation rates stayed up for years.

I went on, “Measles kills, the vaccine is safe. You don’t take risks with your children’s serious illnesses, so don’t with their protection.” That shut them up, until recent UK research suggested a possible link between MMR and bowel disease hit the headlines.

Fortunately our local MOH, Phil Shoemac, calmed everyone down. He said on the front page of the BOP Times on July 30 that half a billion doses had been administered over 15 years with strong evidence that benefits far outweighed the risk.


People will believe anything. Even doctors. It is hard to understand how these confused, scientifically trained professionals let their colleagues down when they go off the rails.

One such hero, Dr Stuart Yuill Proctor, has been waxing profusely on the wonders of homeopathy (NZ Doctor, 2 April 1997).

Dr Robert Park of Maryland University, however, said last year that homeo’s claims were often mind boggling. One remedy for nervousness claimed to contain passionflower in a dilution of one part in ten repeated thirty times. “You would need to drink 865,000 gallons of water to get a reasonable chance of getting one molecule,” he said.

The article shows a charming picture of balding Dr Proctor, who says, “After 10 years, I still do not understand how it works…”

As God said to Moses, Dr Proctor, “Keep taking the tablets”.

A Load of Bull

Magne Osnes, a medical professor in Norway, has developed fried chips that increase sexual desire and are guaranteed to make you a “wild beast in the bedroom”. “Everyone that has eaten them has been overjoyed,” he said (BOP Times, July 11). The chips, currently on display at an Oslo trade show, contain “anti-oxidants, minerals, and B and E vitamins,” but Osnes, who admits he’s never tried them, said he did not dare to carry out blind tests because of “unthought-of effects”.

I’m bursting to try them out, but it might be prudent to wait until Mrs Jaz gets back from her mother’s.


Battle scarred Sandra Coney finally earned a few Brownie points, in my book anyway, by slamming Allied Foods for their extravagant claims for their newly launched bread (Sunday Star, July 6).

They said if you are menopausal, the bread will decrease hot flushes. In some cases you can use it instead of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), because it increases bone density and protects against cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. Men are promised prostrate [sic!] cancer protection.

Ms Coney sensibly pointed out that because the amount eaten varies, there were dangerous safety factors (dose variability). Unfortunately, she ignored lack of scientific proof.

I suspect she has always believed HRT has been about the male-dominated medical profession needlessly pushing hormones on to perfectly healthy women, and now resents the food industry getting in on the act.


Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), the idea that poor air conditioning, harsh lighting etc, can cause colds and other ailments, is a myth, a British architect says (Reuter July 5).

Alexi Marmot told the annual conference of the Royal College of Psychiatrists that sick organisation, poor management, passive smoking, lengthy commuting and people who have difficult lives is what is being seen.

Marmot and her husband Sir Michael are leading a major study of the health of 6800 London civil servants, surveying 44 office buildings. When the large body of evidence that sealed buildings causes SBS was put into wider context, the evidence did not hold up.

I firmly believe that the current New Zealand epidemic of the ACC generated complaint OOS (occupational overuse syndrome), has precisely the same basic causes, but that, as they say, is another story.


Do you remember being forced to swallow a spoonful of revolting cod liver oil as a kid? You must be about my age.

Some children are still getting the punishment, and it could be harmful, according to GP Weekly (July 2). Government researchers in Britain have showed that significant levels of toxins, dioxin and PCBs — which the World Health Organisation warns can cause cancer — have been found in cod liver oil supplements.

“Children, and the foetuses of pregnant women, could be particularly at risk,” said Dr Michael Warhurst of Friends Of The Earth, calling upon Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to disclose results of the research.

I’m so glad I used to spit the filthy stuff out at the cat the moment my tormentors left the room.

Not Now Cleo

The NZPA released a bizarre item on July 4 about a Nelson women who has built a house modelled on the Egyptian pyramids for its healing power.

She follows “new age and alternative practices” and has read of the psychic power of pyramids. She is placing her bed in what is known as the King’s Chamber, on the second story under the apex.

Mummy mia!

Good Listener

I strongly recommend Noel O’Hare’s article “Hocus-pocus” in the July 19 Listener. He skilfully analyses, dissects and dismisses the wealth of quack products presently being foisted upon the eager public.

“Do I need a dose of cranberry that helps prevent harmful bacteria attaching to the bladder lining, or would co-enzyme Q10, nature’s energy spark-plug, be the better buy?” he asks.

He points out that just because a substance is natural, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you. It’s pointless taking uncatalogued chemicals when safe, effective treatment is available. Multi-national drug companies may make huge profits, but they do conduct extensive and prolonged clinical trials of their products, he says.

“Medical science progresses as new methods replace less effective ones. Quack methods persist as long as they remain marketable. Even after they are gone they may still be glorified,” he finishes.

Chemists Beware

Thank heavens, the Commerce Commission has at last warned all pharmacists, in a letter, that they risk prosecution for stocking shonky weight-loss products. They target pills, belts, briefs, seaweed soaps and many other useless fat cures.

Commission chairperson Dr Alan Bollard said, “Pharmacists promote themselves as the health professional you see most often … some have freely admitted they think some products they sell do not work.”

The maximum fine for breach of the Fair Trading Act is $30,000 for an individual and $100,000 for a company.

Let’s hope they start on all the other rubbish you see in your chemist’s. Most of the herbs and homeopathic bottles should be swept off their shelves for starters.

Well, time for me to hang up my pen. I hope you’ve enjoyed my first Skepsis. Please write to me on anything you feel needs an airing, and I’ll catch you in the next issue.

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