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Gold, incentives and meh

Reflexology steps up as homeopathy on the NHS is deemed ‘madness’ - but should we simply follow Cuba’s example?

A round-up of the health news headlines on Wednesday 10 April.

Could reflexology be the next alternative medicine to relieve our aches and pains? The Daily Mail reports that a study in the Journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice suggests reflexology could one day help to treat conditions such as osteoarthritis and back pain. The study showed volunteers given reflexology before submerging a hand in ice water were able to hold their hand under the water for longer than when they were first given a sham treatment.

Lead author Dr Carol Samuel commented: ‘As we predicted, reflexology decreased pain sensations. It is likely that reflexology works in a similar way to acupuncture, by causing the brain to release chemicals that lessen pain signals.’

Over at the Telegraph, Professor Sir John Beddington, who retired as the Government’s chief scientific adviser on 1 April, has described the NHS paying for homeopathy as ‘mad’.

According to the paper he expressed his frustration that ministers continued to waste taxpayers’ money on treatments with no scientific basis, and claimed that the provision of homeopathy on the NHS was the only issue in five years as chief scientific adviser on which his views were ‘fundamentally ignored’.

The Department of Health dodged the bullet, saying it is up to local NHS organisations to decide what treatments to fund, while the Faculty of Homeopathy insisted randomised trials have produced ‘more positive results than negative’.

Less contentious – perhaps – is the suggestion that learning from Cuba’s experience could do a nation’s health a whole lot of good. According the Independent today, a ‘unique natural experiment’ showed how the country’s population shed an average of 5kg per head over five years – halving deaths from diabetes and cutting deaths from heart disease by a third.    

The article is based on a BMJ study, in which an international team of researchers describe how food and fuel shortages in Cuba between 1990 and 1995 led to millions eating much less and switching from using motorised vehicles and machinery to walking and working manually. The average weight loss over this period was 5kg – and deaths from diabetes and heart disease and stroke fell significantly from 1996.

Unfortunately since then, as Cuba’s economy has recovered, waistlines have expanded again. But the researchers say the findings provide ‘a notable illustration of the potential health benefits of reversing the global obesity epidemic’.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Can anyone think of a better way of filtering out scientific rigour (by the way why does the spellchecker on this site speak American?) than to issue a press release to the Daily Mail? The trouble is that some commissioners and worse still some medical 'professionals' will believe this rubbish. I have no idea what reflexology is or what relevance cold water has to any medical condition, but I have read that the basis of homeopathy is that water molecules retain a memory of a solute long since diluted out of existence because the container in which the water is held is tapped against a leather pad on each successive dilution. Any medical 'professional' believing such rubbish should be obliged to wear a flashing red light on his or her head at all times so that rational people know to avoid them.

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  • Using Ben Goldacres as example it could be said of any mainstream practitioner beleiving any contemporary research should do the same.
    Plus for further informed researched information please contact your fellow medical colleagues practicing Homeopathy, I of course mean the Facualty of Homeopths I am sure they could provide you with the necessary references

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  • I was under the impression that cardiovascular deaths throughout the western world were falling since before 1996, and obviously not related to food shortages.
    Proof, were it required, that both the BMJ & "The Faculty of Homeopathy" are both capable of providing studies that support their own pet theories!!

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  • andrew Field

    Sorry to say but I think we're overlooking the value of homeopathy as a completely harmless but powerful placebo. It works for people somehow. Why not employ it? Better than poisonous polypharmacy

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  • I never mentioned Ben Goldacre, by the way, but since his name has come up he does recognise the efficacy of placebos and is well known for his scepticism about big Pharma. But what of informed consent? What does the doctor prescribing homeopathy say to the patient? Here are some pills. They are placebos, but despite having no pharmacological effect they sometimes work? Or they work through a mechanism in which I believe even though it is contrary to the scientific principles on which I base the rest of my practice?

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  • And by the way, of which august academic institution is the Faculty of Homeopaths a part?

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