My last blog post was about alternative medicine in cancer treatment. That piece was about patients who refuse all other treatment, and thankfully that is still a relatively rare occurrence. Usually, patients use alternative medicine alongside their regular treatment. As a result, studying patients who refuse all regular treatment isn’t necessarily the most informative thing.
I often wonder just how much I annoy people when the topic of alternative medicine (alt med) comes up. In general, if someone says something I don’t agree with, I let it slide. When it comes to alt med, however, I don’t seem to have the same restraint. It’s unfortunate really, as it comes up surprisingly often, and my position comes across as pretty extreme.
People ask “What’s the harm?”, and point out that “Even if it doesn’t do anything, people feel better having tried it”. I empathise with this position, but completely disagree. The point I try to make is that if we accept the use of alt med, we legitimize it, making people more likely to choose it over conventional medicine.
The focus of this post is cancer patients who put all their trust in alt med. While it’s true that most people use alt med alongside real medicine, the popularity of, and belief in, the alt med movement means that it is inevitable that some people will ignore mainstream medicine in favour of alternatives.
Unfortunately this does happen, and it happens regularly enough for us to study it. A few months ago, researchers from Yale published a paper looking into the outcomes for cancer patients who chose alt med over conventional treatment.
The following headline in the The Daily Express caught my attention this week:
“Ovarian cancer – could EGGS be the cause of disease? Vegan charity research REVEALED”
Express.co.uk 14th March 2017
The article goes on to explain that a Bristol based charity called Viva! Health has urged consumers not to eat eggs, claiming that one egg a week increases cancer risk by up to 70%. According to their own website, Viva! Health is a science-based health and nutrition charity, and being “science-based” you would expect them to have sufficient evidence to make a claim as eye-catching as the one above. So is this the case?
On a recent cycling trip in Canada, I ate an obscene amount of Nutella. It works as a great lunch, and dipping fresh bread in it is a delicious snack. When you are exercising all day every day, a tasty, spreadable, dippable energy source like this is extremely useful. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very unhealthy food, but despite this, I’m a fan.
Which is why I was surprised this week to see Ferrero (the makers of Nutella) defending their product against claims that it causes cancer. A quick internet search revealed the problem. As the Tech Times put it: “Nutella Can Cause Cancer, Study Warns”. The Huffington Post ran with: “Stores Are Pulling Nutella After Report Links It To Cancer”, while the Daily Mail asked “Could Nutella give you CANCER?”. So what is this all about, and should you stop eating Nutella? Continue reading
Anyone who has watched any sport in the last few years will be aware of Kinesio Tape (KT). It’s the coloured tape that athletes wear to recover from/prevent injury. I really noticed it in the 2012 Olympics, when it seemed that every second athlete had some on, and it is still extremely prevalent. Continue reading
I recently wrote a post about the decision by NICE to no longer recommend acupuncture for lower back pain. This decision was made because, like most alternative medicine, acupuncture hasn’t been shown to work any better than a placebo. However, plenty of people use and get benefit from such treatments. This raises an interesting question: is there a place for complementary and alternative medicine (as a placebo) in the clinic? Continue reading
NICE (the organisation that provides guidance to doctors in the UK) recently updated their recommendations regarding lower back pain. In the updated guidance, they say that exercise, in all its forms (for example, stretching, strengthening, aerobic or yoga), is the most important step in managing back pain.
Previously, NICE also recommended acupuncture or massage, but this has now been altered. Massage can still be used alongside exercise, but the guidelines no longer recommend acupuncture, as “evidence shows it is not better than sham treatment”. Continue reading
A French court recently awarded a disability grant to a woman claiming to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Sufferers define this as an illness caused by the radiation given out by everyday objects (Wi-Fi routers, mobile phones and power lines, for example), resulting in a wide range of non-specific symptoms, including headaches, fatigue and irregular heartbeats. There have been several lawsuits in the US from people claiming that their health has been affected by Wi-Fi (unsuccessful so far), and just this week in Massachusetts parents have sued a school, claiming that the Wi-Fi there made their son ill. Continue reading
Acupuncture is a topic that divides people. It is seen by some as a little understood branch of medicine, by others simply as pseudoscience. The theory states that inserting needles at specific points can have effects on almost every ailment, from chronic pain and allergies to irritable bowel syndrome and even stroke. At present, however, there is little reliable evidence that acupuncture works any more than placebo, which makes this article from The Guardian quite unexpected:
The Guardian – 21/07/2015