Jayney Goddard ruminates on the British media attacks on CAM in the wake of flawed trials.

According to a media frenzy here in the last few weeks, it appears that scientists are calling for herbal medicines to be banned.  This is based on some very flimsy research from Professor Edzard Ernst (Professor of Complementary Medicine at Peninsula Medical School) and colleagues.  

The problem is that every time the British media want an “inflammatory” story they tend to contact Ernst who trots out his latest trial data which strangely shows that CAM approaches do not work.  The problem is that he also aligns himself with other scientists who have explained to the media in no uncertain terms that CAM in its entireity is “Witchcraft”, “Mumbo Jumbo” and “Hocus Pocus” to pick but a few recent headlines.  So, let’s look at this most recent media event:   Ernst and colleagues have provided research based upon a mere three tiny studies that looked at individualised prescribing of herbal medicine combinations – prescribed in the way that a qualified herbalist would do, which basically takes in to account the individual’s unique symptoms and recommends a carefully considered mixture of herbs.  Ernst and colleagues do mention that there is a goodly amount of supporting evidence for single herbs but not in combination and individualised.

Ernst did go on to point out however, that even single herbs are potentially lethal – he cited the case of St John’s Wort, which “if taken by someone with severe depression, may stimulate them sufficiently for them to manage to summon the energy to actually commit suicide”.  I am not even going to comment upon this – why waste one’s typing?

Back to this recent trial data; scientists believe that the Placebo Controlled Trial is the “Gold-Standard” of conventional medicine and is therefore the procedure that everyone should adhere to.  This is all well and good if the subject of the research is standardised so that all factors are equal.  In these circumstances, one is able to derive meaningful information. 

However, the problem with these recent trials is that in order for the practitioners to prescribe correctly and for these trials to reflect what actually happens in the real world, they would have to know who was getting the real herbal mixture and who was not – otherwise there is no way that the patients could be correctly followed up.  So, it appears that these trials are deeply flawed and are, to all intents and purposes, meaningless.

According to the media, Ernst and colleagues would have us ban procedures and medicines that have no evidence of benefit!

When one stops to consider that only 15% of the procedures used in medicine today have ever been proven to be beneficial (according to the British Medical Journal’s Clinical Evidence), if Ernst and his colleagues have their way, we would find ourselves living in a very different world – one where there is no surgery, dentistry and the vast majority of the drugs that we are accustomed to using are banned.

People in glass houses . . .

Pegasus PR’s press release prepared on behalf of The CMA and the HFMA and circulated to the media today. (4th October 2007)

PR Workshop’s press release prepared on behalf of The CMA and circulated to the media today (4th October 2007)

That’s it for now folks – I do hope that you found this article interesting – and remember, that what happens in Europe may, possibly, be reflected in the US in due course.  Do let me know what you think we should do about these attacks on CAM (and you can read more by visiting The Complementary Medical Association).  E-mail me with your comments and questions.

Ta ta for now (as we say in Jolly Olde England)


Jayney Goddard is President of the Complementary Medical Association (CMA), the world’s largest professional membership body for complementary medicine (CM), and is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on complementary medicine.