The Christchurch Press this morning contained a story describing research done by Professor Shaun Holt and his colleagues Sarah Jefferies and Andrew Gilbey examining the (lack of) effectiveness of various natural remedies. Most of us will be familiar with various advertisements for deer velvet, propolis, magnetic therapies and lemon detox diets that appear on tv from time to time, all of which have no evidence to support their use. Other treatments for which there is little evidence include arnica for bruising, megadoses of vitamin C, shark cartilage, and some applications of colloidal silver.
Of course, to bring “balance” to the article they also consulted Josie McNeil of Naturia Health and “natural product user”, Sharyn McLean. I’m guessing “natural product user” = person we found shopping in a natural health store?
Ms McNeil is reported as saying she “believed natural products and therapies worked on humans and animals” and then proceeded to give several examples of anecdotal “evidence” including the suggestion that when rescue remedy was used by two customers “on goats that got stressed when milking, (and) it calmed them.”
My question would be – how are they objectively measuring the goat’s stress?
She then delivers the old chestnut “natural remedies don’t have a detrimental effect, which drugs often do.”
I have two comments re that misconception. First, those natural products which have been shown to work, do have potential detrimental effects. Second, those natural products which have no detrimental effects typically have no beneficial effect either. An example of this would be willowbark which if taken in high enough doses can cure a headache but will also potentially cause stomach problems. Off course if you make a concoction from it that is too dilute it won’t irriate the stomach, but neither will it cure the headache.
Ms McNeil also uses the been around “since the beginning of time” argument, which I have challenged elsewhere. Hundreds of years ago, when many of these herbal remedies were being used, the average life expectancy was typically half of what it is now (around 40 as opposed to 80+ years), and when lice, syphilis, polio and various other diseases made life unpleasant (as well as short).
Ms McLean revealed that she paid $100 for the magnetic bracelet that she had been wearing for the past year and suggested that “I did feel better after a period of time a bit more energised. I don’t know whether that was psychological but, to be honest, I don’t really care because I felt better. I was prepared to have faith in it.”
A full description of the work by Holt and his colleagues can be found in the New Zealand Medical Journal here.