Doctors challenge Alternative Medicine

Members of the Royal Society and other eminent doctors have written to every hospital in the UK urging them not to suggest anything but evidence-based medicine to their patients (Guardian Weekly Vol 174 No 23). This was a timely reminder given that Prince Charles had just been urging the World Health Assembly to promote alternative medicine. The letter writers reminded people that alternative and complementary medicine needs to be evaluated on the same criteria as conventional medicine. This was precisely the same argument most of us took when making submissions to MACCAH.

Despite these caveats the government has seen fit to fund Maori traditional medicine. Why stop there? I would like to see us adopt Tibetan traditional medicine. This could be the money spinner I’ve been looking for. Tibetan doctors believe disease is always present in a latent form and this gives us the entire population as a patient base. Once convinced of their ‘latent’ disease they can be treated until ‘cured’. For example, hepatitis responds well to white sugar which is ‘cool’ but not to raw sugar which is ‘heating’. The effect of this treatment is to cool the bile. Did you know that as well as the traditional humours there are five sub-groups of bile? Decision making and decisiveness are controlled by the third or ‘determining bile’.

British Veterinary Voodoo Society

Homoeopathic vets have been upset at this website which satirises the use of complementary and alternative treatments for animals. There was recently some correspondence in a magazine about such treatment and the Letter of the Week was from a correspondent who pointed out that animals couldn’t have a placebo response, therefore such treatments must work. So there! What this idiot savant forgot was the fact that animals, like humans, recover from most afflictions without any treatment at all.

It makes perfect sense to target animals as well as their gullible owners. There are now magnetic products such as a magnetic dog collar and a magnetic disc which is attached to any animal’s water bowl. It will provide 300 Gauss for the ‘fortunate pet’.

What we need in New Zealand is a ‘Medical Voodoo Society’ to cater for all those doctors who think it trendy to adopt unproven treatments.

Medicalisation of Behaviour

A private surgeon is calling for the government to fund 2000 gastric bypass operations as a solution to the obesity problem. At $22,000 this will cost the health system $44 million which it can ill afford. Obesity is a self-inflicted behavioural disorder. As a student of human nature I have noticed that obese people are always eating and by force-feeding their children they ensure that they develop in their own image. This is nurture, not nature. Observational trials have shown that obese people over-estimate the amount of exercise they do by 50 per cent, a fatal self-delusion for a group who also under-estimate the amount they eat by 50 per cent.

It’s possible that this proposal could be supported on a strict actuarial basis as the cost may be more than offset if it reduces other health costs and the person gets back to work. On the other hand, this is a prime example of what Ivan Illich was writing about in Medical Nemesis, where he predicted that medicine would seek to expand its influence into more and more areas by medicalising human behaviour.

Dominion Post 7 June

Junk Science

There are many claims that altering diet can alter behaviour. Careful trials have disproved this and shown that any effect is due to change in management rather than any dietary manipulation. I recall attempts to treat prison inmates with dietary interventions. They failed and now a wealthy British businessman is funding a £250,000 trial of “juggling and standing on one leg while throwing and catching a bean bag.” It is claimed that such exercises stimulate the cerebellum. Inmates who volunteered for the programme have shown a “remarkable improvement”.

Of course they have! They were probably excused their normal boring routines and as any researcher knows, ‘volunteers’ are a completely different group to a randomly selected set.

The whole process is typical of failed corrections policies the world over. In NZ we have people braying for more punishment which doesn’t work. The majority of prisoners have addiction problems and literacy problems and unless these issues are addressed our prisons will continue their inexorable expansion.

Dominion Post 7 June

Chiropractic Nonsense

A local paper carried an article about a man who had a chronic pain syndrome after an accident.

While in the US he visited a chiropractor who practises the ‘Blair Upper Cervical Technique’ whatever that is. It involved measuring the temperature of the neck and the patient reported “that in the accident, some of his vertebrae had been pushed upwards into his skull and jammed. This had affected his main blood supply.”

The results of the test showed he had been getting colder and colder to the extent of using five cords of wood the previous winter! Following treatment he sat in a chair and could feel his left leg getting warmer and warmer.

I don’t think we should be critical of this man. He was vulnerable to quackery because of the state of his health and desperate to obtain relief from his disability.

Our criticism should be of a health system that allows such nonsensical treatment which is basically consumer fraud. ACC continues to fund both chiropractic and acupuncture treatment despite both modalities having been proved useless.


I recently received in the mail a booklet promoting thermography as a breast cancer screening or diagnostic tool. Thermography involves measuring heat distribution on the skin in the form of an image. The theory is that cancer involves increased blood flow and therefore breast cancers should show a ‘hot spot’.

The booklet was addressed to my “practice nurse”. I am sure that this tactic was a cynical and deliberate ploy because most doctors would not have anything to do with promoting thermography and on reading this nasty little booklet would recognise it for the pseudoscientific rubbish it is. Here is one example of the nonsense it contains. “The following thermogram is of a 51 year old mother who had breast-fed 3 children. It also shows a ‘hot spot’ in the left jaw where a persistent dental problem had been experienced for several years. The diseased tooth on the breast meridian was removed just before the lumpectomy that then confirmed her left breast cancer.”

This is an attempt to tie in acupuncture meridians with cancer. The rest of it is the usual diatribe against conventional medicine and various conspiracy theories. A radiologist sent two breast cancer patients for examination and thermography failed to detect either case.

What I find really objectionable is that this booklet was funded by a “generous grant from the Alison Roe Trust.” The trustees deserve criticism for funding this rubbish.

The Cancer Society has produced a position statement on thermography. Follow the link to their website which has a number of similar papers worth reading.

Goji Juice

Why do all these juice projects have such silly names? Remember Noni juice? A member forwarded details of the latest dietary product to receive the attention of business types. Have a look at

The website is slick and the product is being promoted as a marketing opportunity. New Zealand must have some plant product we could promote as a business opportunity. Ideas anybody?

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