Oxygenated food for the brain?

Alison Campbell finds some claims about raw foods hard to swallow.

I was reading a couple of articles about ‘raw foods’ today. This is ‘raw foods’ as in ‘foods that you don’t heat above 40°C in processing them.’ It’s also as in, a vegetarian diet. (I do rather enjoy vegetarian food, but I don’t think I could eat nothing but, all the time; I like meat too much.) Anyway, what caught my eye wasn’t so much the diet programme itself but the mis-use of science to promote it. That did rather get my goat broccoli.

Apparently you should get your kids to eat their greens (along with the rest of the diet) by telling them that plants do this wonderful thing: they turn sunlight into chlorophyll and – when you eat it – it will give you extra oxygen. Sigh&#8230 This concept was repeated in the second article, which told me that raw (but not cooked) foods are ‘oxygenated’ and thus better for your brain, which needs to be fully oxygenated to work properly.

Well, yes, and so do all your other bits and pieces, and they don’t get the oxygen from food. As Ben Goldacre once said, even if chlorophyll were to survive the digestive process and make it through to the intestine, it needs light in order to photosynthesise, quite apart from the fact that you don’t normally absorb oxygen across the gut wall. And it’s kind of dark inside you.

The second shaky claim related to digestive enzymes. Because raw foods are ‘alive’ then they are full of enzymes. And so we’re told that eating them will help you to digest your meals better.

Er, no. First, because when said enzymes – being proteins – hit the low pH environment of your stomach they are highly likely to be denatured. This change in shape means that they lose the ability to function as they should, and in fact they’ll be chopped up into amino acids like any other protein in your food, before being absorbed and then used by your cells to make their own enzymes.

And second – the raw foods diet is plant-based. Yes, plants and animals are going to have some enzymes in common. I’d expect that those involved in cellular respiration and DNA replication/protein synthesis would be very similar, for example, because these are crucial processes in any cell’s life and any deviations in form and function are likely to be severely punished by natural selection. But we already have those enzymes; they’re manufactured in situ as required. In other words, even if the plant enzymes somehow made it into cells intact and capable of functioning, they’d be redundant.

However, with a very few exceptions, plants aren’t in the habit of consuming other organisms so, in regard to plant cells being a good source of the digestive enzymes required for the proper functioning of an omnivore’s gut – no, I don’t think so. No.

Some might ask, why on earth do I bother about this stuff? After all, it’s not doing any harm. But the thing is – science is so cool, so exciting; it tells us so much about the world – why do people have to prostitute it in this way? Kids (and others) are fascinated by the way their bodies’ organ systems work, and I can’t see why there seems to be a need to provide ‘simple’ – and wrong! – alternative ‘explanations’ when the real thing is so wonderful.

Having our say on natural health

As part of the Memorandum of Understanding between the National and Green parties, the Ministry of Health has been developing proposals for a natural health products scheme to regulate such products on the New Zealand market. To kick this process off the ministry has produced a consultation paper setting out high-level proposals for the scheme and called for submissions on it. The NZ Skeptics were among those who sent in a submission in time for the closing date on 17 May. Vicki Hyde and Michelle Coffey were the principle authors, with contributions from several other society members.

In general, the NZ Skeptics support the scope, purpose and principles of the proposed legislation. We think it’s important that the industry has some regulatory oversight to support consumer protection, particularly in the area of claims and proof of efficacy, as well as safety, marketing material and labelling. The use of terms such as ‘natural’ concerns us as it is used to imply benign, which is not a supportable claim.

In addition we are concerned that there appears to be very little in the way of supervisory oversight or quality control in this industry, particularly with regard to imported products. This is potentially of major concern as, on the rare occasion when such checks have been made, product quality has been found to be severely compromised.

Some ‘natural health products’ have been found to have significant levels of contaminants such as heavy metals, or to contain pharmaceutical products, such as viagra and paracetamol, deliberately introduced to give the product a measurable effect not obtainable from the ‘natural’ products.

We believe that informed choice for the consumer is critical in this area, as in all areas relating to health. Labelling requirements need to be clearly defined to ensure that the natural health industry does not use archaic, misleading or inappropriate terminology to boost its claims to the detriment of consumer understanding.

Also, the definition of ‘natural health product’ needs careful deliberation. This industry has been seen in the past as quick to claim any and all modalities that suit their business. ‘Natural health’ should be regarded as a marketing term, not a scientific one. The extension of this business into ‘synthetic equivalents’ gives this industry even more scope for misleading consumers (cf the claims of BZP as providing a ‘herbal’ high).

There is a link to the full submission on the NZ Skeptics home page (www.skeptics.org.nz).

Clones in space: Responses to the Dominion Post science column

At last year’s NZ Skeptics conference Bob Brockie reflected on his career as a newspaper columnist and explained why he has no future with the Mormon Church.

After spending most of my life as a scientist, at the age of 69 I became a weekly science columnist for the Dominion Post and Evening Post. I’ve written about 500 articles now and people ask where I get my stuff from. Mostly I get it from trawling through weekly scientific magazines, from the other side of the world. I like to bring the curious or obscure, gee-whiz stories to public attention.

The media is overrun by stories on climate change, pollution and conservation. I write about anything but those subjects. That’s not news to me; I report other things.

Alien DNA

In 2003 I wrote about an amazing group of people called the Raelians and their claim to have cloned a little girl called Eve. Rael is a French former sports-car journalist who claims he was abducted by little aliens, who told him that 40,000 years ago they came to Earth and produced these little Eve-like creatures. At any moment, the Raelians say, they will present their DNA to the scientific community.

I didn’t get any response from this article from local people, but I did get an invitation from the Australian chapter of the Rael-ians to attend their next gathering three hours north of Sydney, where a white robe would await me.

A pox on alternative practitioners

I often report on experiments to test alternative medicines of one kind or another. One I did was on a fellow who had chicken pox. The doctor told him there was nothing he could do for it, other than staying home and keeping away from people for 10 days. He was a bit of a skeptic and went along to some alternative practitioners. The first one told him his stomach was too acid and gave him some homeopathic water to drink. The second hooked him up to a contraption and told him he had been raped as a child. The third one said he had Ross River fever. They all charged from $50 to $100.

I’ve also written about experiments with acupuncture, which works just as well if you stick the needles in at random.

These pieces invariably attract writers defending the treatment and accusing me of having a closed mind. The disgruntled people usually argue that acupuncture, iridology or homeopathy worked for them or their husband or their wife, and that’s the end of it.

Cosmic energies down on the farm

Then there’s biodynamics. The stars and planets rain down astral energies, which are absorbed through cow’s horns buried in the ground. This radiates out and makes everything grow. The colour of roses is controlled by Venus, and the colour of cornflowers by Saturn. In the Wellington public library there are four copies of Rudolf Steiner’s book, published in the 1920s, and they’re out all the time. Steiner really was the father of organic farming, but the organic people get very angry at me when I point this out. I get an enormous response if I write about Steiner, not only from his followers, but also from organic farmers who think they are above this sort of thing.

Genetic Engineering: yesterday’s issue?

I’ve done three or four articles on genetic engineering over the years, reporting on various experiments. Living in New Zealand you’d think the entire GE field was being closed down, but in fact in all continents of the world it is spreading at a huge rate. The peasants in China and Africa who are producing genetically engineered crops find they don’t have to use so many pesticides. But when I wrote about this in 2001 I got a tremendous response from angry people who wanted to keep New Zealand GE-free. And two years later, the same thing happened. The next time I wrote about it there were not so many letters, and when I wrote a pro-GE article early in 2009 I didn’t receive a single letter. So things have gradually quietened down; GE is no longer the terrible thing that people perceived it to be.

The Mormon blacklist

Generally I try to keep off religion but occasionally I stray in that direction. I got into big trouble when I wrote about the Mormon Church. The Mormons claim that Jesus went to North America and converted the inhabitants to Christianity 2000 years ago. They also believe that the Red Indians are one of the tribes of Israel, although DNA studies show there’s no possible connection.

I wrote about that, but I also found that Joseph Smith, the founder, was a complete rascal and charlatan. He was expelled from the Methodist Church for dealing with necromancy, enchantments and believing in ghosts, and fined for being a disorderly person and impostor. At age 38 a mob of vigilantes enraged by Smith’s arrogance, monetary deals and promiscuity – he ran off with all the best looking girls in the congregation – shot him dead in an Illinois jail. The Mormons of course think he was a martyr to his cause. At any one time the Mormon church is building at least 200 churches around the world.

I thought this was worth reporting, because at the time there were some men on Norfolk Island in trouble with the law for playing up with the girls. I made the mistake of saying it was no wonder they were acting so strangely, because they were all Mormons up there. They were very quick to point out that they were in fact Seventh Day Adventists. I had to write a grovelling apology, but found that I’d been put on the Mormon blacklist. When I consulted the list to see who else was there I saw I was in very good company with all sorts of famous people, including Richard Dawkins. I’m afraid I’ve got no future with the Mormons.

The power of prayer

One of the biggest responses I got was when I wrote about unanswered prayers. America’s Templeton Foundation are very interested in the relationship between science and spirituality; they raised $2.5 million to finance an experiment in which several doctors chose 1800 patients who were due for bypass surgery. They then arranged for a team of people, a mix of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, to pray for half these patients anonymously.

They were alarmed to find that the ones they prayed for did worse than the ones who were not prayed for.

I also mentioned the famous study by Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who wrote a book about the efficacy of prayer. He asked who gets prayed for most – Queen Victoria of course. She was prayed for every Sunday as were all the sovereign heads of Europe. His figures showed that, despite all the praying, sovereigns lived shorter lives than army officers, traders, merchants, doctors, and the gentry. And he famously concluded that the prayers therefore have no efficacy. Well. The letters still keep coming. I got letters saying that faith can’t be scientifically analysed, that God’s way of working is a mystery, and that science can’t determine the effects of prayer at all. Someone else said people of faith don’t need prayers to know that prayers work. One argued that some of the people having operations would have had extra prayers – they prayed for themselves. Other critics said they had used the wrong prayers, in the wrong language, that they didn’t pray hard enough, or that they didn’t adopt the best posture for saying prayers.

A local priest wrote to me twice, explaining in great detail that there are two sorts of prayers. There are petitionary prayers, where you beg God’s intercession, which hardly ever work, and adorational prayers, where you simply praise God. If you want to get results, he said, do this. Don’t ask for favours. It sounds as if the Muslims are on the right track; all you have to say is God is great. On the scientific evidence, if you’re in line for heart surgery, stop people praying for you.

Tourism on Ararat

In Auckland a couple of years ago two young men developed a system for making maps from satellite imagery. They’d been looking closely at Mt Ararat and some Americans were financing them to go there to see if they could find Noah’s Ark. The story in all the newspapers was all about these pioneers going to a really difficult place, breaking new ground, and how nobody had done this sort of work before. I pointed out that for 2000 years people had been going up Mt Ararat and there are hotels and a monastery up there. There’s a well-worn track; thousands of people go up and down all the time. A whole tourist industry has been developed there.

The difficulty with this, of course, is that no boat can accommodate 5000 species of mammals, 8700 birds, 30,000 worms, and two million insects. The column of beetles would be 240km long, and Noah and his family must have each carried 100 diseases from anthrax to syphilis. How Noah coped with food for the animals, the ventilation, the waste disposal, disembarkation on to a dead Earth, and how the platypus got from Mt Ararat to Australia are all very difficult to explain. A retired clergyman wrote me several, quite substantial letters as a result.

A letter from the Hamster

I’ve written one or two columns on the Creation Museum in Kentucky. In it are depictions of life in the Garden of Eden, and of a happy Adam and Eve, wandering around among the dinosaurs. I gather that 40 percent of Americans believe that humans and dinosaurs were on the Earth at the same time. I produced a column on the museum last year, which generated no response here, but someone at the museum itself must have read it. Ken Ham, the Australian who runs it, was upset. He replied, point by point, to all the mistakes I’d made. I had made one or two mistakes but they were trivial. I said he’d raised US$27 million to build it; he said he didn’t raise the money, a trust raised the money. I said he had a radio station and broadcast stuff around the world; he said he didn’t have a radio station, he just produced programmes. These are run by 287 other radio stations around the world. He wrote a letter to the editor of the paper and suggested I get the sack for my mistakes.

Filthy sex aids and the end of the world

I once wrote about the beginning of the world, and got an 11-page letter telling me when the world is going to end. The letter was from none other than God and his wife. They told me that the Earth would end shortly before January 31 in the year 5000. Owing to the mental and physical condition of humanity and filthy sex aids, mankind become unable to reproduce about then. There was lots of other advice as well, about divorce and the number 7777 and how the true church is the Salvation Army. Sadly, I couldn’t reply to God, because there was no forwarding address. I did notice it was sent from a post office down in Manners St, Wellington, however.

Scientific gossip

Why do I write this stuff? Well, $170 a week is very welcome, but I think that a vast amount of science goes unreported, and it gives me quite a buzz to bring news of this. I feel a bit like a postman, bringing news of developments and scientific gossip to the public. Also, there’s a sense of obligation to the public who paid for me to work as a scientist for most of my life. I feel a duty to let them know what they’re getting for their money. We’re floating around in a miasma of superstition, with people believing preposterous things with great intensity. I can’t help but challenge them in some way: ask them, how can you justify this, where do you get these ideas from?

I derive a lot of joy from writing these articles. It’s very different from writing for scientific journals. There you sweat blood and tears and produce a piece, which is then published years after you submitted it. Eighteen months later somebody in Mozambique or the Canary Islands asks for a reprint. With these newspaper articles I write it today and it’s published tomorrow. And people are on the phone or writing complaining letters the next day.

After the overdose

NZ Skeptics link up with a British campaign against homeopathy.

On January 30 there was a concerted global mass overdose – but no-one died because the ‘medication’ was homeopathic. The event grew from the UK-based 10:23 campaign (www.1023.org.uk), which was planning a mass homeopathic overdose to protest against the Boots pharmacy chain stocking homeopathic products.

At a Christchurch Skeptics in the Pub meeting (skepticsinthepub.net.nz) four days before the planned date, one attendee asked if the NZ Skeptics were going to be involved. After all, we had asked a number of times over the years for the professional pharmacy bodies to supply a conference speaker to talk about the ethics of selling products of doubtful efficacy. Things swung quickly into action…

We held the mass overdose in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square, with about 40 people taking part. The event also included an ‘underdose’ – homeopaths believe that the more dilute things are, the more potent they become, so we were careful to try that approach. There are also claims by product manufacturers that, in fact, dosage doesn’t matter at all – whether you take one pill or 100 – the important thing is the frequency of dosage. We covered that base too. No ill effects were reported, apart from a distinct drop in the level of cash in various wallets. While several members were keen to take part, many said they couldn’t in all good conscience bring themselves to buy the stuff in the first place. For the demonstration, we reluctantly purchased two boxes of tablets and a 25ml spray from a Unichem pharmacy, costing $51.95. That’s a lot to pay for less than two tablespoons of water and not much more than that in lactose milk sugar.

One of the homeopathic products downed by the participants had a label saying it contained chamomilia, humulus lupulus, ignatia, kali brom, nux vomica and zinc val. But those substances were actually in homeopathic dilutions, meaning that the kali brom, for example, was present in a proportion comparable to one pinch of sugar in the Atlantic Ocean – that is, not actually present at all.

Reaction

The pre-publicity from the Christchurch Press saw the New Zealand Council for Homeopaths admit publicly that their products had no material substance in them (our emphasis).

Council spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer said (maryglaisyer.com/2010/01/press-release-mass-overdose): “there’s not one molecule of the original substance remaining” in the diluted remedies that form the basis of this multi-million-dollar industry. This point was picked up by a columnist in the Guardian, who referred to the NZ homeopaths as finding “amusing and creative ways to dig themselves deeper into a hole”.

We got a flurry of interest in the first press release from TV, radio and print media, as well as great support from members, Skeptics in the Pub folk and others concerned about this issue.

TV One ran a very short news item on it; there was a longer, more thoughtful piece on TV3 News.

On TVNZ the Pharmacy Guild was quoted saying of homeopathic products: “there’s a place for them so long as customers are told they only may help”. We believe that that is unethical, and certainly that comment was not made at any of the pharmacists we visited to purchase these products.

TVNZ’s Close Up national current affairs programme covered the story on February 12. They spent two hours filming us swallowing pills, spritzing sprays, demonstrating how a homeopathic dilution is made, talking about the health and safety issues of relying on water as a medicine and a whole host of other issues, in the cosy confines of The Snug at the Twisted Hop, the bar of choice for the Christchurch Skeptics in the Pub gatherings.

That sterling effort was then diluted to a very short intro followed by a short interview sequence involving Vicki Hyde and Mary Glaisyer. Following on from this, we decided to put up a challenge of our own to the NZ Council of Homeopaths to join the campaign to call for pharmacies to stop selling homeopathic products, as both groups are opposed to the practice, albeit for different reasons.

The New Zealand Council of Homeopaths and others in the trade have stated that their customers require lengthy personalised sessions to “match the energy of the potency of the remedy with the person”. According to Mary Glaisyer, this involves matching symptoms with the huge range of materials on which homeopaths base their ultra-diluted preparations. For example, causticum, more mundanely known as potassium hydroxide, is said to manifest its homeopathic action in “paralytic affections” and “seems to choose preferable [sic] dark-complexioned and rigid-fibered persons”.

Pharmacists who sell homeopathic products in the same way they sell deodorants and perfumed soaps are clearly not meeting basic homeopathic practice. When a number of pharmacies in Christchurch were checked by purchasers of these products, no pharmacy staff asked about symptoms; one simply asked “do you want vitamins with that?”

Many people equate homeopathic products with herbal products, hence the belief that the products contain real substance. In addition, the products are commonly used for conditions which get better with time regardless of treatment, as well as exploiting the well-known placebo effect.

The call for the NZ Skeptics and homeopaths to join forces is not the first time such action has been considered. In 2002, when an Auckland pharmacy starting selling products labelled homeopathic “meningococcal vaccine” and homeopathic “hepatitis B vaccine”, we discussed with the late Bruce Barwell, at that time the president of the NZ Homeopathic Society, a joint release condemning this highly dangerous move. We were concerned that relying on water as a vaccine would lead to unnecessary deaths.

It’s bad enough when the product labelling misleads people into thinking they are buying something more than water. It’s far worse when they misuse a word like vaccine in such a life-threatening area.

The homeopaths were concerned then, as now, that their 200-year-old practices were being misrepresented by non-homeopaths keen to benefit from the multi-million-dollar industry.

A recent survey showed that 94 percent of New Zealanders using homeopathic products aren’t aware that the remedies commonly contain no molecules of the active ingredient – their homeopath or health professional hadn’t disclosed this. The customers believe they are paying for the substances listed on the box, but those were only in the water once upon a time before the massive dilution process began – along with everything else that the water once had in it – the chlorine, the beer, the urine…

You have to ask, at what point does it shift from being an issue of informed consent to become an issue of fraud?

Do pharmacists not know that homeopathic products are just water, or they do know and don’t care because people will buy it not realising the massive mark-up? Either way, that should be a big concern for the health consumer. Here’s a huge industry with virtually no regulatory oversight or consumer protection or come-back, and even its keen customers aren’t aware of the highly dubious practices involved.

When Billy Joel’s daughter attempted to commit suicide in December, she chose to take an overdose of homeopathic medication, and thus suffered no ill effects. While that case was fortunate, there are many cases where people have been harmed by the use of homeopathic products in the place of real medicine. There is a Coroner´s Court record of the death of a baby from meningitis; it had been treated with homeopathic ear drops and the mother was very reluctant for any hospital admission. And the website whatstheharm.net lists many cases from around the world where people have died or had horrible outcomes as a result of a mistaken reliance on homeopathy.

The alternative health industry has built a multi-million-dollar business exploiting the natural healing powers of the human body, as many conditions will get better within two to three days regardless of whether conventional or alternative treatments are used, or even if nothing is done at all. Independent testing has shown that homeopathic preparations take full advantage of this and homeopaths quickly take the credit for any improvement in their clients.

The NZ Skeptics have already had people asking for a list of ethical pharmacists that they can support with their business. We are happy to hear from any pharmacy willing to take a stand on this issue, and will start to create a database for concerned members of the public.

From the UK 10:23 campaign:

Thanks very much for the note, the support and the energy. We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm from the NZ side of things. It’s been great.

To mark the occasion, the NZ Skeptics have released a new Skeptics Guide to Homeopathy, available as a flyer on the website (skeptics.org.nz). It outlines the development of homeopathy from a relatively harmless attempt to help people some 200 years ago through to the multi-million industry of today.

An evening of healing

Noel Townsley continues our series on the psychic roadshows touring New Zealand.

From a website to which I subscribe came an email notice of two upcoming events with “well-known psychic” Jeanette Wilson. She was doing psychic readings one evening, and the following evening Spirit Healing, described as “an extra-ordinary evening, one that may change your perception of this reality forever.”

Having been to an unimpressive evening with the “well-known psychic” Sue Nicholson recently (see NZ Skeptic 93), I decided my usual Tuesday night pub quiz would likely provide me with more satisfaction, but I would attend Jeanette’s Spirit Healing evening and see what this was all about.

The venue was Rotary House in Silverdale. I arrived right on 7.30pm to a medium-sized hall. In the first and smaller of two rooms was a table with various items for sale, and someone to collect my $40 pre-purchased ticket. From behind the dividing door I could hear Jeanette starting her talk and was quickly ushered through to a seat at the back. There were about 100, mostly older people, and definitely more women than men. I could see that quite a few, like me, had taken up a suggestion in the advert and brought their cameras, hoping to get a photo of one of those seemingly elusive spirits.

Jeanette began by explaining that when she used the term “entity” she was referring to a spirit – often referred to as the “soul” in living people, and as “spirit” once they had died, but that all were interchangeable terms for the same thing. She also said that there were over 2000 spirit doctors and surgeons that she could call upon – these were the same ones that the famous John of God in Brazil uses, and like him, she was also dressed in white, as to better see the spirit/entities. She was also barefoot as this “grounded” her to the energies.

She said some doctors came more frequently than others and mentioned various names. None sounded like Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, or Christiaan Barnard. A number of saints were mentioned as well. She said she had recently done a very successful healing session in Palmerston North where she said that many orbs, entities, and even a floating face had been photographed.

Things looked promising for tonight. She then told us about her upbringing in England, her late childhood in which she realised she could see spirit, and her dramatic call to heal. This came when, as a bank loans officer, a man who had come to see her about a loan asked her to heal his bad back. Not sure what to do, she muttered the prayer she had learnt only a few months earlier while attending a healing workshop.

The result, she says, was for three entities to appear. One took over her body; the other two took the man (now lying down presumably), one by his feet and the other by his head, and proceeded to stretch him out straight, with much loud moaning from the man. If her next loan appointment was waiting outside, I wonder what they thought. Eventually the moaning subsided and the man claimed his back was much improved. The next day he went to his chiropractor, who reportedly said his back was now perfectly aligned.

News of this healing incident spread quickly, and she was soon unpopular with the healing school, who considered her to be a novice. However, while waiting at the tube station, an old man walked up to her and told her she was a healer, repeating this several times. When she realised he was “not of this world”, the man promptly vanished, but she now knew what she was destined to do.

Jeanette related another story of how she was asked to see an (unnamed) peer in the House of Lords, who was due to swim the Thames in a week’s time for a charity event, but was unable to free a frozen shoulder. She was able to fix this in a few minutes, and her fame spread quickly, to the extent that she was being hounded by the unwell – rather like Princess Diana had been by the paparazzi, she said.

Expectations

Jeanette then told us about some of her recent healings and what we could expect to experience. These healings she said usually happen within a few minutes, or even within a few seconds of her working with someone. Also, as she was healing, we would likely see auras, orbs of light, or even a healing entity. The entities, she explained, do the actual healing; she is just a conduit for them. She warned us that at times she would be making quite loud noises, but not to be concerned by this, and also to have our cameras ready, as this was the best time to take photos and perhaps capture an image of an entity, orb or aura, as this was when they were most active. We may also notice that the room, or parts of it, may become hot or cold – this would be a result of the energies, she said.

She explained she believed in a higher power, although she did not adhere to any particular denomination. We were then asked to close our eyes and recite the Lord’s Prayer, followed by a rosary if we knew it, to assist us in the night’s healing session.

Jeanette asked if there was anyone that had a visible physical condition, rather than a sore back for example, that was just qualitative. This, she said, was to visibly “prove” to us that healing was going on. Several hands went up, including an elderly lady in the front row, with a pair of crutches to her side. Jeanette asked her name and what was wrong with her. Her name was Iris she replied, and she had a problem with both feet, ankles, legs, and knees, which resulted in her being unable to walk any distance without crutches or use of a wheelchair. “I’ll come back to you Iris,” Jeanette said, and asked again if there was someone with a smaller observable condition.

A woman said she was unable to lift her left arm above her head and demonstrated the lack of mobility. Jeanette got to work, rotating both hands in small circles very quickly about half a metre from the “patient” (as she often referred to them) and at the same time making a continuous “Eeee” noise. As she worked she again reminded us this was the time when spirits/entities would likely appear. She advised that the rapid movement of her hands was not controlled by her, but by the entities, although it seemed to make her puff a bit.

During a break in the “Eeeeee’s” she asked if anyone had taken any photos of orbs etc. Although I had seen and photographed nothing, one person near the front said they had, and a woman in a purple sweater near the back of the room ecstatically claimed that she could currently see a purple aura around the patient, and also a single entity just behind her. During the break I overheard someone say that the woman who saw the entity was also a psychic.

Jeanette continued to work on our first patient’s problematic left shoulder but then moved to the right side, directed by the entities. After a few minutes, with breaks for attempts to lift both arms, it appeared that the patient could now lift her right arm up further than she could before; however the problematic left arm remained defiantly down.

All-knowing entities

Jeanette explained that the entities, who she said had scanned us all as we entered the hall this evening, and see and know everything, often fix things that they consider to be of more benefit to us than we do, in some cases even fixing things we didn’t know we had. She assured our patient though, that she would gain more movement in her left arm later on, and presumably considering that getting the right arm to lift higher made for a successful healing, asked for a round of applause for our patient, and a new person to come forward.

Our next patient was a man who had a visible condition, trigger finger in both hands, which he said he had had for about four years. Jeanette said that in her experience, the longer the condition had persisted, the harder it was to heal. She began again with her rapid hand movements and the “Eeeee’s”. During breaks in the healing process the patient revealed that he also had a lot of damage to his back due to an accident that also caused him pain. Jeanette then said she had a pain in her back, which was a sign the entities had directed her to work on this area too. After a few minutes our patient claimed his back pain was improved, and there was some improvement in the trigger finger. However, at least from the back of the room, there appeared to be no difference in the fingers. Another round of applause for our patient, and then Jeanette directed herself to the previous patient, Iris.

Energy flows

Iris revealed further details of her condition; she had apparently damaged one knee in an accident, for which she was currently awaiting reconstructive surgery. Jeanette explained that all energies flow in and out of our feet – good energy flows up, bad energy flows down and out, so in Iris’s case her feet and ankle problems were due to blockages, which in turn created her knee problems.

Someone from the audience asked Jeanette to check with Iris if she had ever been bitten by something, as this might have caused her problems, as apparently it had done in themselves. Iris was sure she had not been bitten however. Jeanette worked on Iris for some time, getting her to stand up from time to time and try to walk a step or two without her crutches. She worked on Iris’s shoulders which the entities had indicated were a problem – left shoulder is past responsibilities, right shoulder is future responsibilities, Jeanette explained.

Iris looked like she might have been from a rest home, so hopefully she would not have too many future responsibilities to deal with, but if she did, at least she now had a strong right shoulder to cope with them. After a quite lengthy session, and despite Jeanette’s efforts, and Iris’s willingness, Iris seemed unable to make any progress in walking, and still resorted to her crutches, but as she returned to her seat, Jeanette said that she would experience an improvement in the next three days. A further round of applause followed.

During this part of the evening Jeanette had often asked the audience if they could feel the hot or cold energy around them. No one indicated they did, but maybe, as it was a hot and sticky summer evening in a room with no air-conditioning, this was too much for the energies to overcome.

A pause for breath

A break of about 20 minutes gave us an opportunity to take refreshments and look over the table of books, CDs, Jeanette’s upcoming courses, and various items including crystals, the Nu-Me pendant, and a radionic pendulum. The pendulum appeared to be nothing more than a small pear-shaped piece of wood attached to a string; however it was far more, as my later research on the internet revealed.

This pendulum, sculpted by the Aetherius Society’s craftsmen, is claimed to be an excellent tool to help develop your intuition and psychic abilities. “It reacts with the subconscious and higher conscious minds to give physical movements with the swing of the pendulum. With the correct use, you can tap the forces of intuition within yourself and then, by careful experimentation, many things can be determined.”

The Nu-Me pendant appeared to be a small coil of copper, about the size of a 50 cent piece. The manufacturers claim it “balances the personal energy system (chakra balancing and aura clearing) as well as protecting from all disturbed energy including EMF (Electro Magnetic Frequency) POLLUTION.”

The courses currently on offer by Jeanette include Reiki-$3000 to become a Reiki Master, and a Spirit Healing weekend, for an “investment” of only $300.

The second half

Upon our return to our seats, I noted a few more empty chairs than before the break.

Jeanette went back into her healing routine on a few more patients. I cannot report that any of the patients in the second half showed any marked physical improvement either. One gentleman, who had a sore shoulder which he said he had injured, but ACC had said was due to arthritis, was unable to lift his arm up fully above his head. Jeanette said that ACC was wrong in their assessment; it had been injured, and she was going to have to make very loud noises to ensure a healing – a high impact (accident) meant a high impact (sound) was needed to correct it. Following each healing action Jeanette would ask the man to lift his arm up, each time declaring a small improvement, although she acknowledged that he was not fully healed, but assured him the improvement would continue. As the crowd applauded, he returned to his seat. A review of photos from my camera showed that he could lift his arm no further on his first attempt, than on his last.

The finale

The last part of our evening was to be a mass healing by Jeanette. We were asked again to close our eyes and recite the Lord’s Prayer, and a rosary if we knew it, to assist this process. She advised that, as well as healing our own ailments, we could think of others and heal them remotely as well. We were to put a hand on the area that we felt needed healing, but if that area was embarrassing, or hard to reach, we could put our hand on our heart instead, as the entities would know what needed to be healed anyway.

The other important thing to remember was not to open our eyes during this time, as the negative energies being released could enter our bodies this way and undo any healing-a warning worth heeding. As I lost about 95 percent of my hearing in my right ear in a diving accident, I put my hand over my right ear and hoped for an improvement.

The only thing that happened at the time was that the constant tinnitus I also experience seemed to get a little louder. However, she did say we could expect more improvement over the coming days, so I was still hopeful.

Several weeks on, I cannot report any improvement in my hearing at all, but I will certainly let you know if there is.

Her last word of warning was to those who had been through her healing – because they had been through spiritual surgery, which was just like conventional surgery, the same advice applied – they must not exert themselves, lift heavy weights etc for some time. This seemed at odds with her claims that healing happens within a few minutes, and could replace conventional surgery. The recovery time at least, would appear to be the same from either “surgery”.

Gems of information

Amongst the gems of information that Jeanette gave out during the night was that a doctor (unnamed) had shown that cats purring can cause broken bones to heal quicker – one compensation of working at the SPCA I guess. She also said that another (also unnamed) doctor has discovered that people with cancer all have acidic bodies, and that changing your diet to make it alkaline will ensure you do not get cancer.

She also revealed some predictions – that New Zealand will be the first country to have full (presumably independently verified?) healing using her method, and will also be the first to open a crystal hospital – I took this to mean one that uses healing crystals, rather than one made of crystal, as the cost would be phenomenal.

In conclusion, I saw nothing that evening in any of the “patients” to indicate a marked or even a mild improvement in any visible condition, although some were reportedly healed of ailments they did not know they had. Those that claimed to be in less pain invariably still walked with a limp, or had difficulty mustering the affected limb to do anything it could not do before. I think most of the non-critical thinking people in that audience would say they saw proof of healing that night, judging from the queue of people wanting her to autograph their newly purchased books at the end of the evening.

I found it intriguing that Jeanette’s claim that aches in one part of the body indicated a non-physical problem, eg sore hands, means difficulty dealing with issues, seemed to be accepted by the audience – obviously the body is not as complex as we have been led to believe.

I was also puzzled by her statements that energy leaves and enters our bodies via our feet, but when asked to pray for our own healing we had to keep our eyes closed as bad energy can enter through our open eyes and affect the outcome. Also puzzling was her claim to not be of any religious denomination, but we were asked to recite a Christian prayer and the Roman Catholic rosary.

In regard to the auras, entities and orbs, I saw none, although one photo I took does have a circular, semi-transparent, white spot in it. As, in the same picture, I can clearly see the bright down-lights located in the ceiling, I think it is safe to assume that this was in fact lens flare. As for the claimed peach/orange coloured auras that were supposedly captured by some, I think this can easily be explained by the profusion of digital cameras in use, most of which produce a red/orange light in low light level situations to assist them to focus. The light emitted is roughly circular, and of course is aimed at the point of interest – in this instance Jeanette and the patient. With so many cameras in use, inevitably someone taking a photo will be recording these focusing lights in their pictures.

My concern with Jeanette Wilson is that people might see her claims of healing as a viable alternative to conventional medicine, and so forgo treatment. To her credit, Jeanette never suggested to anyone that they do that, but conversely, she never suggested to anyone that they seek conventional treatment for any of their ailments.

Despite Jeanette’s claim in her advertisement, my perception of this reality remains firmly intact.

Forum

A non-remedy for a non-disease

I had to wait for my prescription at the pharmacy and while browsing the shelves noticed a new homeopathic remedy for white-tail spider bites. At $18.40 a small bottle it’s money for jam! No, that metaphor will just not work; perhaps money for water would be better? White-tail spider bites have been blamed for a huge range of injuries but the scientific evidence has discounted this attribution. (Those pesky skeptics again…!) Still, I thought it rather amusing to see a ‘non remedy’ for a ‘non disease’.

John Welch, Picton

The printed word – the best communication there is

Readers may be as amused as I was by the following quote from Tim LaHaye:

“The best way to reach the minds of people is the printed page. God chose the printed page to communicate with mankind. So how can you improve on that?”

No respectable skeptic would believe that even an American fundamentalist could be that stupid, so the reference is: Have a Nice Doomsday, by Nicholas Guyatt: an interview with LaHaye p 275.

Jim Ring, Nelson

The Spiritual Science of Alpha Beta

This excerpt from an NZ Skeptic article of 20 years ago reviewed an evening with self-styled New Zealand ‘magnetic healer’ Colin Lambert. Presumably the pseudonym ‘Alpha Beta’ was used to minimise the chances of legal action should Lambert have considered anything in it defamatory. Lambert died in 2006, but his disciples maintain a website, www.magnetichealers.org.nz, where some of his books and CD’s can be purchased, and workshops are promoted.

The spiritual Science of Alpha Beta, healer to the stars

The skeptics having been invited to Mr Beta’s lecture, I went along to clutch, if not wave, the flag. I duly arrived at the local spiritualist church, a commanding fading edifice at 14, Gullible St. A chap with a withered leg hobbled up the front steps; things were auguring well. An audience of approximately 100 slowly assembled, 90% women, mostly middle aged.

Mr Beta began the first part of his three part lecture with a long series of slides, providing ‘positive proof’ of various paranormal goings on. He kicked off with a spirited defence of Philippino psychic surgeons. Various gory slides quickly had the audience glued. Anyone who suspects these Philippinos of trickery is an ‘idiot’. An anonymous New Zealand G.P. has carefully examined these photographs and concluded that the surgery ‘must be genuine’. An anonymous German eye specialist who doubted that the human eye ball can be removed from its socket and placed on the cheek, still attached, was ‘ignorant’. When one puts the question to these ‘scoffers’; “How long have you studied this surgery in the Philippines?”, that always gets them (approving nods and smiles from the audience). The audience marvelled at a shot of an open Bible being held over a patient. The surgeon wafts the ‘healing energy’ in the book down into the patient helping the release of particularly stubborn growths. Then a piece of goo, the size of an orange, is flashed onto the screen. “How could anyone hide a thing like that up his sleeve, especially as they always work with their sleeves rolled up?” (positive hums of appreciation). After spending a long time studying these ‘wonderfully skilled’ healers, Mr Beta has refined their technique to the point where he now completely ‘dematerialises’, tumours, clots etc and then throws them away, in their still dematerialised state.

Many Hollywood stars have benefited from Mr Beta’s ministrations. A slide of the late Lee Marvin surrounded by his many fishing trophies and Mr Beta impressed the audience. So too did a slide of ‘old timer’ James Coburn. Mr Beta also ‘absent healed’ actor Martin Sheen over the telephone ‘the night before Sheen was shot doing the Kennedy film’ (laughter and warmth abounding). Rita Coolidge (Rita who?) and her sister pleaded with Mr Beta to absent heal their father, Dick. Dick was in San Francisco and Mr Beta in Malibu… David Shanks, NZ Skeptic 14, August 1989.

Newsfront

Flaky diagnostic tool fans toxin scare fire

Hard on the heels of the Bent Spoon awarded to the Poisoning Paradise ‘documentary’, the NZ Herald has produced an appalling piece on alleged pesticide poisoning of people and wildlife in Auckland (27 September).

According to the report, Waiheke Island environmental group Ocean Aware claimed samples from marine birds, oysters and dog vomit, taken from Waiheke and Rangitoto Islands, tested positive for brodifacoum and 1080.

The samples were tested by EAV machine, though nothing in the article explained what this means. EAV stands for ‘Electroacupuncture according to Voll’ – in the 1950s Reinhold Voll combined acupuncture theory with galvanic skin differentials to produce a machine which, when homeopathic solutions were introduced into the circuit, could be used to ‘diagnose’ all manner of toxin-related ailments (see NZ Skeptic 56). Needless to say the machine has no scientific basis.

A woman who became mildly ill after eating local snapper also tested positive for brodifacoum, said Ocean Aware’s Sarah Silverstar. Brodifacoum poisoning, however, causes internal bleeding, which the woman was not reported to suffer from, and does not otherwise generate feelings of illness. This is what makes it such an effective rat poison.

The electroacupuncture testing was done after the Department of Conservation dropped 147 tonnes of brodifacoum bait on Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands in August. Soon after, several marine animals were found dead on Auckland’s North Shore, and dogs which had walked on the beaches became ill or died. At least some of these cases were later linked to tetrodotoxin, a bacterial toxin found in several marine organisms, most famously the Japanese fugu puffer fish.

DoC, in alliance with Auckland Regional Public Health, MAF Biosecurity, Auckland Regional Council and North Shore and Auckland City Councils, says independent scientists have carried out extensive testings and determined none of the deaths were caused by brodifacoum. DoC spokeswoman Nicola Vallance said the department offered to have independent scientists test Silverstar’s samples, but she declined.

Dioxin risk over-rated

At least Bob Brockie brought some sense to the fraught subject of environmental toxins with his Dominion Post column (6 July) on the dioxin scare in New Plymouth.

Residents there were up in arms when it was discovered soils in a local park had minute traces of dioxin. But as Bob Brockie pointed out, dioxin at far higher levels than found in Taranaki generates no symptoms other than a form of acne. When Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko had his soup laced with dioxin he was badly scarred, but today his face has largely healed and he appears in good health. Following the Seveso chemical factory explosion in 1976 residents were found to have up to 10,000 times the typical human tissue concentration. Fifteen years of testing revealed no excess cancer, stillbirths or genetic disorders – just the temporary acne.

Sadly, says Brockie, this is an argument that science and objectivity can never win. “The testimony of one or two residents carries more weight in New Plymouth than truckloads of refuting world statistics.”

Conspiracy? What conspiracy?

The Sunday Star Times (20 September) had a good piece on Matthew Dentith’s study of conspiracy theories at Auckland University. Why, asked reporter Mark Broatch, do otherwise ruthlessly rational people reject out of hand most conspiracies, yet give time and angst to ideas others find quite wacky?

Matthew Dentith says the problem is two-fold. Schools don’t teach critical thinking skills that might help us unravel our confusion, and we humans are exceptional at compartmentalising our beliefs. “It’s really easy to be absolutely staunch in, say, your adherence to evolutionary theory by natural selection. But when it comes to medical quackery…”

Look for more on this subject from Matthew Dentith in an upcoming issue of NZ Skeptic.

Placebo prescriptions widespread

Three out of four New Zealand doctors have prescribed placebo medications to patients, according to medical researcher Shaun Holt, who says the practice could cost the taxpayer several million dollars (Dominion Post 4 July).
Seventy-two percent of the 157 doctors surveyed admitted giving placebos, including vitamins, herbal supplements, salt water injections and sugar pills.

“But what surprised us was the most commonly prescribed placebos were antibiotics, which is obviously a concern because of the rise of antibiotic resistance and potential side-effects for patients,” Dr Holt said.

Patients’ unjustified demands for medication was cited as the most common reason for prescribing placebos (34 percent), followed by non-specific complaints (25 percent), and exhausting other treatment options (24 percent).

Dr Holt said he believed placebos were ethical as long as the doctor considered them to be in the best interests of the patient. “The placebo effect is quite powerful,” he said.

Rather than prescribing medications which were ineffective for the condition treated – such as antibiotics for viral infections – he said “there could be an argument for bringing back sugar pills, which are safer, just as effective and certainly cheaper.”

Pharmac medical director Peter Moodie said data showed doctors were prescribing antibiotics responsibly. He agreed it was not acceptable to waste money prescribing medicines with no effect.

Alternative therapies ‘too good to be true’

The Sunday News (20 September) has come up with a surprisingly sceptical article about alternative health treatments. Belief, says Barbara Docherty, a registered nurse and clinical lecturer at the Auckland University School of Nursing, is becoming a most important factor in a world where ‘alternative health’ has become a major growth industry.

After noting the most popular alternative therapies include naturopathy, chiropractic, homeopathy herbal remedies and acupuncture, she asks if this is the stuff of quacks and witch doctors.

Despite a wealth of available information, there is little or no strong scientific evidence and very little regulation about who and what is safe. Herbal and natural medicines, although widely used, are not subject to the same scrutiny as prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Skeptics might question the value of her advice to check out practitioners’ qualifications carefully – an ineffective treatment is ineffective no matter who is administering it – but not her final comment: “…bear in mind that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.”

Ghost hunters hit the capital

Those who were at the conference this year will already know about James Gilberd and his Paranormal Occurrences team. They got a write-up in the Capital Times recently (26 August – 1 September). Reporter Dawn Tratt joined them for a ghost hunt at the Museum of Wellington City and Sea.

Claiming to be sceptical, though carrying baggage from a Pentecostal upbringing, Tratt’s scariest moment came when her colleague mistook one of the investigators, sitting on the floor, for a ghost.

It was only after she left that things supposedly got really spooky. One of the team says she saw the spirit of a Maori man.

I felt like he was upset with James. He kept trying to tell me something but I couldn’t pick up what it was.

It may, just possibly, be significant that the museum ran paranormal tours during one of the winter public programmes three years ago, and marketing manager Angela Varelas says they are looking to bring them back early next year.

As for James Gilberd, he brings a distinctly sceptical approach to his ghost-hunting, treating it as a form of performance art. In his day job he runs a photographic gallery, Photospace, and his conference presentation was mainly about the technical glitches that cameras, and particular digital cameras, can have that lead people to think they’ve photographed a ghost. Something else to look out for in an upcoming NZ Skeptic.

Bioresonance therapy for smoking – miracle cure or con?

A therapy marketed as a guaranteed way to stop smoking appears to lack a sound theoretical basis and to have little experimental support.

As health researchers in the field of tobacco smoking cessation our aim is to find effective ways to help people quit smoking, and to improve access to effective smoking cessation treatments. The New Zealand government is currently investing heavily in policies that support such actions.

Proven therapies for helping people to quit smoking

When people decide to quit smoking without any assistance (ie by going ‘cold turkey’), they have to cope with the loss of all the dependency-forming aspects of smoking at once. Consequently, approximately 90 percent of people who try and quit without any assistance fail1.

Most smoking cessation support strategies involve the use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). With NRT, people stop smoking and replace the ‘dirty’ nicotine they would normally get from smoking a cigarette with ‘clean’ nicotine delivered in a lower concentration (such as via patches, gum, inhaler, and lozenges) and in a safer way (that is, without the harmful constituents present in tobacco smoke). In this manner smokers can deal with cravings and other unpleasant nicotine withdrawal symptoms, thus making it easier for them to quit.

Research evidence for the use of NRT has shown it to approximately double the chances of long-term quitting(2-3). When combined with behavioural support, pharmacological support is even more effective. Good quality evidence from placebo-controlled randomised trials indicates that behavioural support can improve the chances of successfully quitting by two to seven percent(1,4-6). Behavioural support (eg counselling people about dealing with cravings and urges, encouraging them to persist, helping them to consider the benefits and possibilities of being an ex-smoker) can be delivered face-to-face, by telephone or through the internet.

In New Zealand, the cost of NRT patches, gum and lozenge is subsidised ($5 for four weeks’ supply). Subsidised NRT is available to smokers coming into contact with cessation support services (such as the national telephone- based Quitline services and the Maori cessation service Aukati Kai Paipa), which also offer behavioural support. The Government has plans to further improve access by promotion of low cost NRT through primary care (ie through a general practitioner).

Unproven therapies

Despite good access to inexpensive, effective treatment to assist in quitting smoking, unproven and costly therapies are still actively promoted in the media in New Zealand. A recent review of the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of alternative smoking cessation interventions reported that acupuncture, St. John’s Wort and NicoBloc are probably not effective(7). There was insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of Allen Carr’s Easyway Programme and Nicobrevin, and hypnosis did not appear to be any more effective than simple advice to quit.

Bioresonance therapy

Another therapy being marketed in New Zealand as a “guaranteed way to stop smoking” is bioresonance therapy. This therapy appears to have originated from Europe and according to its proponents has been in use since the 1970s. Claims made on a website (www.stopsmokingclinic.co.nz) state that “Bioresonance therapy works through the body’s energetic system” or more specifically, “the technique uses biophysics – the physics of the body”. According to the above website it works by eliminating nicotine from the body and thus takes away the cravings for cigarettes.

“All living cells give off energy as weak electromagnetic waves similar to brain waves used in orthodox medicine (EEG scans). Bioresonance therapy, using the Bicom machine, uses these and those of substances (cigarettes) for therapy. The Bicom separates these waves into harmonious (healthy) and disharmonious (unhealthy) components. The healthy signals can be boosted and sent back to the patient to strengthen normal functions, while the unhealthy signals are ‘inverted’ or turned upside down by an electronic mirror circuit before returning them to the patient through electromagnetic mats. What actually happens is more complicated but the ‘inverted’ wave cancels the harmful wave that was stressing the body’s energetic system. You can see this effect at the beach where a wave reflected from a rock flattens the next incoming wave.”

Furthermore, it is claimed that:

“…nicotine has an electromagnetic charge over your body giving you the craving to smoke. Bioresonance therapy inverts the energy patterns of nicotine which are then passed to the body via electrodes. This process produces phase cancellation which means that the electromagnetic charge of nicotine is reduced. Therefore, it becomes easier for the body to eliminate nicotine over the next 24 hours and your cravings dramatically reduce as your body detoxifies. Additionally, the phase cancellation removes the energetic pattern of nicotine from the body, erasing the ‘memory’ of nicotine which also reduces the cravings.”

To simplify this process even more, according to the Auckland proprietor of a bioresonance clinic, the patient smokes their last cigarette and places it into the bioresonance machine, which then measures the “frequency” of the cigarette. This frequency is then “reversed” and fed back to the patient via two brass electrodes which the patient holds.

The appointment takes about an hour and it appears some behavioural support is offered, as the website correctly mentions the need to avoid second-hand smoke exposure and smoky environments, known triggers for relapse. Patients are advised not to use NRT during treatment nor use any other pharmacological treatments for smoking cessation. “Detoxification” apparently takes a couple of days (patients are advised to drink water to help with this process) and can include the following symptoms: “headaches, fatigue, upset stomach, metallic taste in the mouth, sweaty palms or a sluggish feeling”. Most of these are classic symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Perhaps most bizarrely, patients are also:

“…provided with a Bicom chip that contains the memory of the stop smoking treatment provided. This information lasts for up to 4 weeks and is placed on the body, two finger widths below the navel. This chip will support the detoxification process and help if any cravings are experienced. Drops are also available to support you in times of stress in the following weeks.”

Does bioresonance therapy work?

The New Zealand Stop Smoking Clinic website states that Bicom Bioresonance therapy is “the most successful stop smoking therapy in New Zealand.” Even the authoritative BBC and New Zealand’s very own Close Up TV programme have extolled the virtues of this intervention – see www.stopsmokingclinic.co.nz for video links. However we were unable to locate any randomised controlled clinical trial evidence to support this treatment, despite an extensive search for the term “bioresonance” in a number of medical databases, specifically Medline (1948 to May 22 2009), Embase (1980 – week 21, 2009), AMED (Allied and Complementary Medicine) database (1985 – May 2009), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (2nd Quarter 2009), ACP Journal Club (1991 to April 2009), Cochrane Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (2nd Quarter 2009), the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1st Quarter 2009) and the Conference Papers Index (1985 – present).

In total, only 13 articles were located that even mentioned the term, of which eight were non-English publications. The articles with English abstracts were commentaries, non-randomised rat studies, case-series studies or physiology studies. The papers were predominantly published in journals that focused on alternative therapies and no reference to smoking was made in any of the publication titles or English abstracts provided by the database searches. One paper discussed treating 12 athletes with “strain syndrome” with Bicom therapy and 12 with more traditional methods (eg ultrasound, stimulating current, etc)(8). This study reported less therapy time and treatment time in the Bicom group, but we were unable to determine if the study was truly randomised nor the validity of the rest of the study design. However, given the small sample size (24 people only), any positive findings could well be due to chance alone. Interestingly, one paper discussed the use of pseudo-scientific language to cloud important issues (how to present nonsense as science), using bioresonance therapy as an example.

The evidence is not there

Overall, no studies that stand up to the standard level of scrutiny used for orthodox treatments could be identified. The weight of evidence to support the use of this therapy (for any condition and not just smoking cessation) seems to consist of material in non-peer-reviewed publications, such as case studies provided on websites and in books(10-12) and promotional literature provided by those marketing the therapy. A number of Bicom websites (e.g. www.bioresonance.net.au/bicom_therapy.htm) mention the existence of three studies on allergic conditions supposedly published in Chinese medical journals(13-15). These studies were not identified by our search above, but translations for the papers are provided on the above website (although there are no details provided about the source journals so it is not possible to verify their authenticity), along with two additional studies (one on chronic inflammatory bowel disease16 and one on central nervous disorders in children)(17) – once again with no details provided about their source. Four of the five studies are case studies or case-series(14-17). One of the Chinese studies claims to have randomised 300 children, but no details were provided on how the randomisation was undertaken(13). Furthermore, if the randomisation had been done it seems not to have worked given 213 children were in one group and 87 were in the other. Our suspicions are that the study was not randomised and therefore the findings are likely to be biased and meaningless.

It is possible that our search may have missed identifying some papers. It remains odd, however, that so little research appears to have been published given that:

  • In May 2009 bioresonance therapists meet in Germany to celebrate the 49th (ie they have had 48 previous meetings) International Congress for Bicom Therapists. Most congresses and conferences (even those in the complementary and alternative medicine field) publish posters or presentations from their meetings and these are referenced on international databases – yet none of these conference proceedings were located.
  • The therapy is claimed to be so effective.
  • The therapy is claimed to be in widespread use. One website (www.bicom.co.nz) states that “the technique is almost mainstream in Germany, and the German-speaking countries, Austria and Switzerland”, and that the instrument is “widely used in Poland for helping smokers to quit and has over 70 percent success (over 100,000 people have been treated over six years).” And that in China, the therapy is “used exclusively in children’s hospitals mainly to treat eczema and asthma.”

If it truly worked surely you would be doing everything to show the world that it did … and there have been at least 35 years to show the world.

Accepted international criteria for what is regarded as an effective smoking cessation method use the benchmark of six months of continuously not smoking (not even a puff) after quitting. The New Zealand Stop Smoking Clinic website claims that Bicom Bioresonance therapy has “70-90 percent success after one hour” for stopping smoking. Anyone can stop smoking after an hour … it’s a bit like asking you to stop eating for an hour. The issue is when you start smoking again. The Auckland proprietor was unable to provide us with this information.

In conclusion

There is no evidence to support the therapeutic claims made by those promoting bioresonance therapy other than uncontrolled case studies. Any benefits are likely to be due to the placebo effect. A systematic review of 105 NRT trials (involving a total of 39,503 smokers) found that when the quit rates for all the trials were pooled using the longest duration of follow-up available from each trial (6-12 months), 17 percent of smokers allocated to NRT had quit compared to 10 percent in the placebo control/no NRT group2. Clearly the placebo effect plays a significant role in smoking cessation.

Is it therefore wrong to make a claim about a product when simply believing that the product will work makes it effective for some individuals? Does it matter how you try to give up smoking as long as you make an attempt to give up?

In 2002/3, 24.5 percent of New Zealand adults smoked (47.2 percent of Maori), with this figure dropping to 19.7 percent in 2006/7 (38 percent in Maori)18. Despite this recent evidence of change, based on the current rate of progress it is estimated that it will take 100 years before the New Zealand adult smoking rates reach five percent, the level of smoking in New Zealand doctors19. New approaches to assist smokers to quit are still urgently needed, ideally ones with proven efficacy and that are cheap, easily accessible, and acceptable to Maori and people from the lowest socio-economic group (who have a three times higher rate of smoking than people from the highest socio-economic group18). At $450 per treatment (second treatment free if taken within the first month), Bicom Bioresonance therapy is far from accessible to the people that need it most. One could argue that it is designed to generate revenue as quickly as possible, by using pseudoscience to bamboozle the innocent. Are we too cynical? One company (www.bicom2000.com) will gladly send you a detailed profitability calculation form.

For a rather interesting conversation of how another member of the skeptic community views this treatment, see www.sciencepunk.com/2007/03/monadith-bioresonance-smoking-cure/

References

  1. Stead L, Lancaster T, & Perera R. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, The Cochrane Library 2003;1:CD002850.

  2. Silagy C, Lancaster T, Stead L, Mant D, & Fowler G. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, The Cochrane Library 2008;1.

  3. Hughes J, Stead L, & Lancaster T. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, The Cochrane Library 2008.

  4. Stead L, & Lancaster T. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, The Cochrane Library 2008.

  5. Lancaster T, Stead L. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, The Cochrane Library 2007(3).

  6. Strecher V, Shiffman S, & West R. Addiction 2005;100(5):682 – 688.

  7. McRobbie H, Hakej P, Bullen C, & Feigin V. . 2006; www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/pdf/SmokingCessationNon-NHSFullReview.pdf

  8. Papcz, B & Barpvic J. Erfahrungsheilkunde 1999: 48(7): 449 – 450.

  9. Ernst E. Forschende Komplementarmedizin und Klassische Naturheilkunde 2004 Jun;11(3):171 – 173.

  10. Will, RD. Bioresonanz Therapie. Publisher: Jopp Verlag, 2001.

  11. Schumacher, P. Test Sets According to Dr. P. Schumacher. Publisher: dtp Tyrol – Klaus Leitner, Innsbruck, 2000

  12. Schumacher, P. Biophysical Therapy of Allergies. Publisher Thieme Medical Publishers 2005

  13. Jinzhi, Y & Li Z. www.bioresonance.net.au/bicom_therapy.htm#CL Accessed 25 May 2009.

  14. Ze, Y, Jiali, H, Haiyan W & Chunyan Y. www.bioresonance.net.au/bicom_therapy.htm#CL Accessed 25 May 2009.

  15. Jinzhi, Y. www.bioresonance.net.au/bicom_therapy.htm#CL Accessed 25 May 2009.

  16. Oesterle, R. www.bioresonance.net.au/bicom_therapy.htm#CL Accessed 25 May 2009.

  17. Barrie, A & Barrie A. www.bioresonance.net.au/bicom_therapy.htm#CL Accessed 25 May 2009.

  18. Ministry of Health. A portrait of health – Key results of the 2006/7 New Zealand Health Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health, 2008.

  19. Laugesen M. New Zealand Smokefree enews. Auckland: Health New Zealand, 2004.

Hokum Locum

Bogus chiropractor?

I thought they were all bogus! A Motueka man, Michael Dawson, was fined $4000 for describing himself as a chiropractor. This upset Nelson chiropractor Dr John Dawson who was quoted as saying his “unrelated namesake tainted the industry.” Quite apart from Dr Dawson’s pretentious use of the title ‘Dr’, his description of chiropractic as an industry is particularly apt. It is a massage business based on aggressive marketing and creating a non-existent need for gullible people to have their backs rubbed and clicked.

‘Dr’ Dawson was further quoted: “I’m sure there are a few people out there who have written off chiropractors because of him.” One can only hope.

It’s ironic that Michael Dawson was prosecuted by the Ministry of Health, a body supposedly watching over the health system and now seen to be protecting quacks by picking on unregistered quacks. Michael Dawson claims to be able to cure Hepatitis C and wake people from comas. These are claims that can readily be checked and will prove to be false, like most chiropractic claims.

ACC is currently experiencing budget woes and a great deal of this relates to treatment costs. Chiropractors favour prolonged and expensive treatments which have contributed to this problem. A recent study of back pain found conclusively that chiropractic manipulation was of no benefit (www.medscape.com/viewarticle/580409). This is consistent with earlier findings of the Cochrane Database.

I discovered another reference to an article in the Nelson Evening Mail which confirmed Michael Dawson did in fact have a chiropractic qualification but had failed to gain registration in New Zealand. This registration process is a farce and merely gives spurious respectability to an absurd belief system.

Consider the following; a patient goes to a chiropractor and receives a diagnosis of cervical spine subluxations for which manipulation is administered. The patient suffers an injury to arteries in the neck and has a stroke. The Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC) investigates by asking his ‘expert’ chiropractor whether the treatment was properly administered according to chiropractic tenets. The answer is yes so does this mean the chiropractor is off the hook? The patient can file an ACC claim for treatment injury and loses the right to sue as a result. ACC picks up the tab for an unnecessary and dangerous quack treatment.

While working at the hospital the other night a young man came in with toothache. He knew he had an impacted wisdom tooth because he had been x-rayed by his chiropractor whose course of treatments had extended out to 15 weeks. That’s a lot of subluxations. In a fit of whimsy I recently labeled such extended treatments as ‘chiroprotracted’.

Marlborough Express 22 August 2008

Cosmetic Acupuncture

It appears that there is no end to the absurd claims made of acupuncture. Acupuncture face renewal is now available at Arch Hill Acupuncture. A credulous journalist visited the clinic and reported after only one treatment: “I felt – and looked – like I had spent a week in Fiji.” A complete treatment usually involves 12 visits and I would commend the journalist on the Fiji suggestion, a far better use of one’s money.

Have a browse around the website www.archhillacupuncture.co.nz It contains the usual testimonials seen on such web pages as well as some clues to the success of this particular option. The owner of the business comes across as attractive, pleasant and supportive, all of which are good qualities to elicit an excellent placebo response. As a lot of readers will know, I can teach anyone to be a competent and safe acupuncturist in the course of a one-hour lecture. There is no need for several years’ training when something has no scientific basis.

The owner is quoted as saying: “I liken cosmetic acupuncture treatment to a gardener tending the soil of a plant to produce a healthy flower.” Isn’t that what manure is for?

Sunday Star Times 26 October 2008

The loopy left?

The Labour-run Lambeth Council in South London is spending 90,000 to send reflexologists into schools to massage the feet of unruly pupils. Reflexology is based on the same nonsensical ideas behind acupuncture, that pressure applied to areas on the foot can influence health and behaviour. The article contains a very interesting and important statement linked to what I was saying earlier: “Refexology is not a regulated therapy and medical authorities have raised concerns that qualifications are not needed to perform the massages.” The medical authorities ought to be denouncing this nonsense, not wittering on about ‘regulation’. Regulation merely provides spurious recognition, similar to the ridiculous situation of having ‘unregistered chiropractors’ versus ‘registered chiropractors’.

I fear that political considerations are behind a lot of these dopey decisions. At one of our conferences somebody asked a senior ACC doctor why ACC continued to fund acupuncture when it is an expensive and useless treatment. The answer was given that whenever they tried to cut back on acupuncture spending patients complained to their MP and he would get a call from the Minister asking, “why aren’t you funding acupuncture?”

Given the financial woes of ACC, one can only hope that the new Minister instructs ACC to do something about treatment spending. There are too many snouts in the trough!

Christchurch readers interested in reflexology training will be pleased to know they can do a Diploma course (NZQA accredited level 6) at the Canterbury College of Natural Medicine.

www.dailymail.co.uk

Fluoridation

Bruce Spittle (Forum 89) invited me to review his book entitled Fluoride Fatigue. I can report that I have read parts of it but had to stop because I became depressed. I will leave readers to make their own assessment. It is available free at www.pauapress.com

I would certainly not pay to buy this book which is a collection of anecdotal case reports and quotes from other people who share the author’s views. It is written in the style of the sort of books found in the New Age section of a bookshop or library. Here is an example:

“Neither in the hospital nor after her discharge was she given any medication. Instead, she was instructed to avoid fluoridated water strictly, not only for drinking but also for cooking her food as well. She was also told to avoid both tea and seafood because of their high fluoride content. The headaches, eye disturbances, and muscular weakness disappeared in a most dramatic manner. After about two weeks her mind began to clear, and she underwent a complete change in personality. For the first time in two years she was able to undertake her household duties without having to stop and rest. Within a four-week period she had gained five pounds.”

This is a classic description of the sort of person who gets chronic fatigue syndrome, gulf war syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity – take your pick. A person with vague symptoms looking for some convenient attribution.

I was interested however in the link to the author’s website on moa sightings. At least the extinction of the moa can’t be blamed on fluoridation.

Apart from both words starting with ‘F’, there is no medical evidence to link fluoride with fatigue (or depression). Fatigue is common and is not a diagnosis. In a random survey of the US population in 1974-75, 14 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women said they suffered from fatigue.

The best place to read well- balanced accounts of fluoridation is a Ministry of Health web page. In contrast, a casual browse through the many anti-fluoridation web pages would make anybody justified in using the term ‘crackpot’.

Bionase

I was forwarded an email from Rod who was interested in some product that shines red light up the nose for treatment of hay fever. I googled “shine red light up nose” and immediately arrived at the web page of Bionase. The product has two nasal probes that shine a red light up the nose. It was claimed that this had been scientifically tested and there was a link to an impressive looking study published in the Annals of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. A search of Medline revealed that this was the only study, described as double-blind and placebo-controlled. The paper appeared plausible but continued reading revealed a fatal flaw. Use of the probes caused the nose to light up red. The placebo device did not do this. The experiment is therefore not double-blind. Whilst not given to predictions I will say that if this trial is repeated with a proper blinding this device will be shown to be useless. It is simply biologically implausible, just like homoeopathic trials claiming to treat hay fever. As somebody once said, if any homoeopathic trail showed a beneficial effect your first action is to question the conduct and design of the trial (google Benveniste).

Hokum Locum

Poison for Profit

There is something rotten in the state of China, a country where greedy people are quite happy to poison their own citizens in the name of profit. Milk powder is assayed for protein content by detecting nitrogen levels. Melamine, being a nitrogen-rich compound, gives a return in this test which indicates for protein, so if you have a poor milk product or it has been watered down, melamine can be added to make the product look as if it is up to normal protein levels.

The Chinese have been down this path before when they used melamine in pet food and it caused similar problems with kidney stones.

They also have a history of adding effective western drugs such as Viagra and steroids to enhance useless herbal remedies.

Melamine is relatively non-toxic but is relatively insoluble so tends to precipitate out and form stones in any animal that has the ability to concentrate urine.

Some animals such as cats and dogs are at a higher risk than humans because their urine is acidic and melamine has a lower solubility in acid urine.

I recall a previous scandal in the Chinese health system where the chief culprit was convicted and immediately shot. Despite my reservations about capital punishment one is tempted to wish the same fate on the criminals who have visited so much illness and suffering on small children.

Herbal Remedies for long life?

Folk wisdom is often seen as being somehow superior to modern medicine. Inductive logic is frequently used as a justification for quaint belief, reasoning from the specific case to the general case. For example, Great Uncle Fred took arsenic every day and lived to be 100 so therefore…

A nutritionist found a book in her late mother’s attic and has used it on a website promoting folk remedies such as pepper for earache, plantain leaves for toothache and horseradish mixed with gin for premenstrual tension. (Just as an aside, do women have postmenstrual docility?)

www.howtolive100years.com/index.html

You can even download the book, How to Live 100 Years. The nutritionist recalled her father treating her for mumps -“he put boiled onions on my neck.” This sounds remarkably like the medieval philosophy known as the doctrine of signatures where it was believed that God provided a ‘signature’ to plants as a sign for what ailments they might be useful for. An onion resembles the swelling of the neck with mumps so according to this doctrine an onion is the appropriate cure.

Marlborough Express 16 July 2008

Quackupuncture

An article in the Australian Medical Journal ( 2007; 187:337- 341) claimed to show that acupuncture was an effective treatment for allergic rhinitis. This struck me as absurd and also drew a sharp criticism from Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine, University of Exeter. Ernst has experience of a wide variety of modalities such as acupuncture, spinal manipulation and homeopathy. Despite what you might expect of his appointment he has proved to be something of a gadfly for those who make claims about alternative medicine.

The study had a fatal flaw as outlined by Ernst. It was supposed to be a ‘randomised sham controlled trial’ as follows. Needles were inserted into acupuncture points and stimulated when ‘chi’ was elicited. Chi is the subjective sensation associated with the needling of an acupuncture point. In the sham group needles were inserted at non-acupuncture points, where according to acupuncture theory no chi would be experienced! Ernst commented: ‘Thus the intervention patients were experiencing chi, and the control patients were not. This means that neither the patients nor the therapist were blinded.’ (just as an aside, ‘ blinding’ could have been achieved with acupuncture needles – the ‘ King Lear’ trial).

Another study I came across had the grand title ‘Laser acupuncture in children with headache: A double blind, randomized, bicentre, placebo controlled trial.’ Some years ago, when I reviewed the literature on acupuncture, I found the most poorly designed trials were the ones claiming the greatest results. A similar trial claimed to show laser stimulation of acupuncture points produced a ‘dramatic’ relief of pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Some more sceptical people repeated the study and obtained the same improvement even when the laser was switched off!

Ancient Wisdom

While in Australia recently I saved an article from the Sunday Telegraph (21 September).

It claimed that the overburdened Australian Health System is causing large numbers of people to seek out traditional Chinese remedies.

According to Dr Alan Bensoussan, ‘The Chinese have linked particular signs together, connecting not only physical symptoms, such as the colour of the tongue and the quality of the pulse on the wrist, but also their predominant emotions, to make a diagnosis.’ What happens if you have a consultation straight after eating a raspberry ice block?

The article contains the usual anecdotal reports. A woman with asthma claimed that repeated courses of antibiotics had failed to cure chest infections which aggravated her asthma. She was cured by a one-week course of some unspecified herb.

The majority of chest infections in asthmatics are in fact caused by viruses so I have no argument there. As to the herb: probably as effective as powdered fox lung, a traditional English remedy for asthma.

Another person complained that he got the flu despite being immunised and taking a course of antibiotics. He now takes regular doses of herbal medicine and no longer gets the flu.

Immunisation is not 100 percent effective and as we all know antibiotics are ineffective against viruses. I wish journalists would challenge people on these issues instead of promulgating myths about antibiotics.

An example is given of the difference ( East vs West) between traditional Chinese and western medicine.

Six patients are found to have peptic ulcers and are all treated the same way by western doctors, regardless of sex, age and emotional state.

The Chinese traditional medicine practitioner however, takes into account differences in build, pulse quality, complexion, tongue colour, moods, sleeping patterns and length of nostril hairs. (No, I made that last one up). Each patient is diagnosed with a different root ( unintentional pun here) cause for their ulcer, based on their unique clinical picture.

I deliberately highlighted the last bit because this sort of treatment requirement is often quoted as a reason why such traditional treatments cannot be subjected to traditional drug trials. In order to give a patient an individual treatment they cannot by definition be randomised into a clinical trial. This often quoted as the ‘ plea for special dispensation.’ The other argument used is: ‘ we know our treatments work so there must be something wrong with your trial.’

However, I am mindful of the fact, pointed out by Professor Sir John Scott at last year’s conference, that a great deal of traditional western treatments and practices have never been put to the test. This is true but at least modern medicine is based on plausible ideas derived from scientific study of anatomy, physiology and pathology.

Chinese traditional medicine is based on highly implausible beliefs that defy logic and common sense.