Golden acupuncture

Upon opening Facebook or other forms of social media this morning, you may or may not have seen the X-Ray showing a woman with hundreds of tiny gold acupuncture needles in her legs. I’ve written about acupuncture before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this type of treatment. So what’s wrong with it?

Well, like most acupuncture this specific therapy is mainly used in Asia with the intent to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. And, again like most acupuncture, there is no credible scientific evidence to prove that this treatment works. I would think it was common sense, but apparently some people believe that leaving hundreds of tiny metallic objects under the skin and inside the tissue is a legitimate and safe procedure.

But while this only hasn’t been proven to be effective, it poses some pretty astounding dangers in itself. The body could well identify these as the foreign objects they are and go into a process of rejecting them. This causes all sorts of complications, with the possibility for the objects to migrate to other areas, infections to arise and your body generally having a bad reaction to them being there. It doesn’t matter if they are sterile, all this can still occur.

The closest thing I’ve found to this case in the West is a technique called Gold Bead Implantation (GBI). It seems to be vet-centric, especially in Australia – focusing on arthritis and joint problems for medium to large pets. I tried looking up the cited studies from an article called Gold Beads Implantation (BGI) – The Scientific Basis. A few had disappeared from the journal or repository they were hosted on, and the rest are behind a paywall.

A lot of theory bases itself on the idea that:

  1. The gold implants stimulate an electrical charge of some sort to the arthritic joint, relieving pain and inflammation
  2. Gold ions from the implants are discharged from the metal and cover the surrounding tissue, mimicking the effect of drugs that contain gold, that are used for treating arthritic conditions

But this poses two problems: the first being that if electrical stimulation to affected areas reduces the pain and discomfort from arthritic conditions and improves mobility, there are ways of supplying electrical stimulus from outside the body. We’ve all seen those muscle builders with the pads delivering an electrical current causing the muscles to contract, right? I guess that could be adapted for animals.

The other problem being that the possible mechanism could just be a mimicking of what already exists – the gold containing drugs. And the alternative doesn’t leave the pet with potentially infection prone foreign objects in their bodies which could lead to unnecessary complications. And lets not forget that both of these, and the others in the article, are just “possible” mechanisms for how it could work. In other words, “We don’t have a clue how it works, we can’t prove it does and we’re clutching at straws”.

I’m yet to find any Western instances of gold implants in humans and I will update if I do. But in conclusion, the whole idea is silly and unproven. And what’s more is that the procedure is being performed on animals that have no say in it. We should really just stick to treating animals in ways that have been proven to be safe and effective, rather turning a large number of them into a pseudo-clinical experiment by filling them full of precious metals.


More alt-med misinformation

A while back I covered a Natural News article in which it was announced that the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program – aka, “vaccine court” – had awarded damages to the families of two kids suffering from encephalopathy as the result of the MMR vaccine. I went over the evidence for the link between encephalitis in the previous article, so I won’t address it here.

This case has reared its ugly head once again on the Natural Cures Not Medicine blog which, not surprisingly from the name, advocates for alternative and natural therapy treatments as opposed to science based medicine. I was shocked by a couple of things in that article.

The first was the deliberate wording of misinformation within the opening paragraphs. It’s designed to set the reader up into being shocked about some sort of government/Big Pharma conspiracy and allow the rest of the “evidence” in the article to sink in. In other words, what they’ve written is blatantly not true. They made the same mistake as the Natural News article, in that the documented cases do not show that the vaccine court conceded that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

In recent months, courts, governments and vaccine manufacturers have quietly conceded the fact that the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine most likely does cause autism and stomach diseases. Pharmaceutical companies have even gone so far as to pay out massive monetary awards, totaling in the millions, to the victims in an attempt to compensate them for damages and to buy their silence.

They haven’t conceded at all, which is apparent from the statement of the parents following the case. The parents made the link from an illness induced from the MMR vaccine to autism, not the court. Neither did the courts choose to do this “quietly”. As a general rule of thumb, courthouses and government panels don’t actively run to the media on the outcomes, they wait for the media to come to them. If this really was a case of the American government agreeing that the MMR vaccine causes autism, there would have been a mainstream media frenzy.

Even more wacky is the appearance of Andrew Wakefield himself. They quote an entire manuscript of a video he appears on, commenting on the court cases mentioned above. He says some truly startling things:

Such was my concern about the safety of that vaccine that I went back and reviewed every safety study, every pre-licensing study of the MMR vaccine and other measles-containing vaccines before they were put into children and after. And I was appalled with the quality of that science. It really was totally below par and that has been reiterated by other authoritative sources since.

Appalled with the quality of the science, Wakefield? Really? You faked results on a study to fit an agenda and had your research and medical license revoked because of it. The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agree that there is no plausible link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Many, many studies have been conducted in the light of the crap that you managed to get published, and guess what? Still no MMR/autism link.

He doesn’t cite the so-called ‘authoritative sources’, so there’s no way of telling exactly who he is talking about. According to the article, Wakefield now operates from Austin, Texas. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t hold a valid medical license in the US either. I seriously don’t think there would be many reputable scientists or practicing medical doctors that would stand behind Wakefield and attempt to validate his claims. Those who do will make the same mistake of wandering into the murky realm of ideologically driven pseudoscience and push misinformation to suit the specific agenda at hand.

Then Wakefield continues on to how the British removed the singular vaccines from the NHS and migrated over to the composite MMR vaccine. He said this is:

…depriving parents who had legitimate concerns about the safety of MMR from a choice; denying them the opportunity to protect their children in the way that they saw fit.

So this is about taking away choice from the parent? This is about letting the non-scientifically trained minds of the public decide what medical practices are safe, and what practices aren’t? It doesn’t work like that. There’s a reason people spend a many, many years undergoing medical training: it’s complicated – and even that’s an understatement.

When we have an overwhelming majority of the professional medical community confirming that vaccination, and specifically the MMR vaccine, is safe, who are the accountants, council workers, firemen, store owners, engineers, etc to say that they’re wrong?

There’s a strong idea within the anti-vaccination community that everyone has, or should have, a choice on whether they and their children should get vaccinated. Yes, choice is a human right under a democratic society, but like freedom of speech, that right to choice ends if it causes harm to others. Choosing not to get vaccinated puts yourself and those who cannot be vaccinated (for various reasons, even though they might want to be) at serious risk of some pretty nasty diseases.

The Natural Cures Not Medicine article can be found here.

Clinic believes Acupuncture should be first line of medical treatment

It’s well known amongst scientists, skeptics and rationalists that acupuncture as a natural alternative treatment to conventional medicine is not a good idea. Its efficacy has been disproved time and time again through scientific studies. No more than a placebo effect has ever been recorded, and this was mainly around pain-relief use of acupuncture therapy. No such evidence exists that supports the use of acupuncture for neurological disorders, immunological conditions, viral infections, etc.

Even in the face of all this, acupuncture proponents are still allowed to claim that their sham therapy works at treating and even curing medical conditions that science/evidence-based medicine hasn’t been able to after decades of research. We’re making huge advancements in the treatment of cancer and aids, but we’re a long way for developing miracle cures that will decimate those diseases from the face of the planet. It’s not an impossible task, either. Through regular vaccination we’ve rid the western world of a large variety of diseases that have the potential (and have done so in the past) to kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.

Recently, news reports are coming out that we’re one step closer to developing a vaccine for aids. It’s a terrible disease that has effected the lives of millions of people on the planet since around the middle of the twentieth century. Irresponsible denialism by superstitious politicians and anti-contraception religious sects have largely contributed to allowing aids to run rampant in places like Africa. For every shipment of contraceptives shipped, there’s an evangelical preacher telling the masses to throw them away on arrival.

It may come as a surprise that such superstitious belief and denialism of medical science can have a dangerous impact on the western world as well. We’re lucky to have medical infrastructure that is second-to-none, with some of the best doctors the world has to offer. Australia contributes, through its various universities, to groundbreaking medical research with the potential to develop treatments and cures that will save so many lives, not just here, but around the world. But we’re not completely safe from quackery that causes so much unnecessary suffering.

TLC Acupuncture is a natural therapy clinic based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. They also have another clinic located in Woolloongabba, Queensland. They offer a range of therapies including acupuncture, electro acupuncture, cupping and Gua Sha, and also supply Chinese herbal medicine. They’re currently running a campaign using the slogan, “Needle-ittle acupuncture?” to promote their business.

Acupuncture itself isn’t a harmful treatment. A therapist that has been properly trained and certified will probably know the risks of placing needles in the wrong location, and will practice with caution so that no actual physical harm resulting directly from the placement of the needle will occur. No one wants a bad reputation from making silly mistakes, it hurts the bottom line. Therapists will try and make the experience enjoyable, because even if no direct medical benefits are observed by the patient, if they receive a relaxing and ‘spiritual’ experience from the therapy itself, they’re likely to come back and spend more of their hard earned cash just for that.

However, the ill-practice of acupuncture can be harmful, and the type of harm inflicted is not direct from the therapy itself. TLC’s advert explicitly states:

“Needle-ittle Acupuncture? Stop managing symptoms with medication and start healing the natural way. Acupuncture is a natural and effective, drug-free treatment”.

More than that, the “Our Values and Beliefs” page of their website says:

“Our goal is to educate the public and the Australian medical professionals on the effectiveness of acupuncture so it can be used as a first line of treatment instead of or in-conjunction with medication. Whilst pharmaceutical drugs may be very effective, the majority of them sustain conditions but not cure them or restore a person to a state of full health. This is where acupuncture once recognized as common medicine will become a more effective treatment option.”

Just because acupuncture is a ‘natural’ alternative therapy to science based medicine, does not absolve the practitioners of responsibility to the public and their patients when offering, what is supposed to be sensible, health advice. Acupuncture claims to be outside of the realms of medicine, so to advise people to not take their medication is highly irresponsible. Furthermore, the fact that these people are not medical doctors of scientists gives them no credibility to issue the public with advice regarding whether or not they should seek out science based medical treatments.

TLC is slightly more militant in their natural therapy cause than a most practitioners. They believe that for any and all ailments, diseases and conditions, an acupuncturist should be consulted first and foremost before seeing your doctor. While belief in acupuncture is a personal thing, this is a dangerous stance to take on the issue.

Lets look at the range of conditions TLC claims that their acupuncture therapies treat effectively:

Musculoskeletal Conditions
Arthritic Conditions
Immune System Conditions
Digestive Conditions
Skin Conditions
Hormonal Conditions
Gynecological Conditions
Fertility Support
Pregnancy Care
Mental Health
Urological Conditions
General Well-being
Ageing and Wrinkles
Neurological Conditions”

In effect, TLC are advising people that if they start suffering symptoms that may be indicative of, say, cancer that they should consult their acupuncture therapist before seeing a licensed medical doctor. Whiplash is listed on the “neurological conditions” page, which seems to mean that following a car accident, instead of going to the hospital and getting fitted with a neck brace and supplied pain suppressant drugs, they are to visit one of the TCL acupuncture clinics and receive treatment there.

This is where acupuncture becomes dangerous. TLC don’t even believe that acupuncture should be used in conjunction with conventional science based medicine, and aims to replace it all together. There is no evidence to support acupuncture as an effective cure for cancer, or that the therapy can actively repair damaged muscles or bones in the neck and/or spine from a car crash injury. Common sense should prevail here, but it obviously doesn’t.

Cancer is so devastating because the body won’t attack its own cells, removing a persons ability to self repair any damage caused. It needs to be treated accurately and effectively. The cancerous cells need to be targeted; resulting tumors removed or shrunk with active treatments like chemotherapy. The body cannot be trained to do this itself by applying needles to specific, arbitrary locations of skin and surface tissue.

TLC also have a page on “How does acupuncture work?”, citing the following:

“How acupuncture works is truly fascinating and whilst there are lots of theories it is only recently been investigated with scientific methods and new technologies such as MRI machines measuring brainwave activity during acupuncture treatments.   The basis of Acupuncture is all about correcting the flow of the energy throughout the body. “

The statement about the scientific studies is misleading. While it is true that studies have been conducted into acupuncture utilizing equipment such are MRI’s, those studies have found to be either inconclusive or produced negative results. TLC’s statement doesn’t even contain the information of whether the studies proved the efficacy of acupuncture, they just state that the studies have been conducted.

They dedicate each condition, or range of conditions, a specific page on their website stating how each can be treated by the application of acupuncture therapy. The “Cancer” page says, in its entirety:,

“TLC Acupuncture Brisbane is effective for treating Cancer.”

This is either laziness or classic case of “it works because we say it does”. Belief that something works does not mean that it actually does. There needs to be some level of empirical evidence and studies showing positive results that have been peer reviewed and accepted by the scientific majority. And while the proponents of acupuncture can claim that “natural” therapies are outside the realm of scientific observation, they are not. It’s all a matter of, “Did it work, or didn’t it?”.

For example, a study that took a group of test subjects all suffering from the same condition, half receiving acupuncture and half receiving some kind of placebo would produce directly observable results of whether the acupuncture worked or not. Acupuncture could be (and has been using a similar method, producing negative results) subject to this method. To argue that acupuncture is outside of this kind of methodological testing is outside of the realm of science is actually incorrect – it would be outside the realm of perceivable reality.

What TLC are advocating is simply dangerous. To advise people to abandon science based medicine completely and adopt an unproven treatment is absurd to the highest degree. If all cancer patients in Australia suddenly stopped going to hospital and started to seek acupuncture treatments, the death rate for this awful disease would increase dramatically. Medicine saves lives, and has proved to do so for a very long time.

Australia needs some kind of regulatory oversight on clinics like TLC. It’s not something that we can ignore. The credulous are likely to fall into this vile trap, and in the end people will suffer and die needlessly which could have been prevented by simply visiting their local hospital or GP. It’s a subject Skeptical World, and myself personally, will be watching very closely from now on.

– Brad Smith, Editor

No shit Sherlock, acid dissolves stuff

The highly outrageous, and not very scientific, Natural News Forensic Food Lab, have just conducted a study in which they bathed animal teeth in acid for twelve hours and observed the results. They came to this highly shocking conclusion:

Phosphoric acid dissolves teeth.

I think Natural News deserves a good round of applause for conducting a high-school level chemistry experiment and confirming a basic chemical reaction we’ve already known about for a very long time. Scientists have been dunking all kinds of stuff in all kinds of acid for years, and have a pretty good idea of what reacts to what. In fact, chemists and biochemists already understand the fundamentals of these reactions as well! Isn’t it wonderful? I think NN are a bit behind the lab-coats on this one.

Of course, this investigation, is centered around popular soft-drinks (Coke, Sprite, 7-Up, etc) containing phosphoric acid as a “key ingredient”. Yeah, it’s a key ingredient, so what? I’m not entirely sure what they’re trying to prove with this article. It starts off by stating basic details about the “forensic” investigation they’ve conducted, then goes on to a disclaimer saying that any critics of the article will all be working for and endorsed by the soft-drink industry, and that all us skeptics of their crappy science are just butthurt, closed-minded crazy people.

I guess that makes me a butthurt, closed-minded crazy person.

Lets roll off some already well know common knowledge about popular carbonated soft-drinks:

  • They’re not particularly good for you, but delicious, so moderate your intake
  • They can corrode your teeth, so moderate your intake
  • They’re packed full of sugar, so moderate your intake

There is almost zero harm to enjoying a couple of cans of soft-drinks every week. I drink more of the stuff than the average person and every time I visit the dentist I’m told that I have incredibly strong, healthy teeth if not a little stained from black coffee and cigarettes (quit yesterday, woo, go me!). If you moderate your intake you will suffer no health impact whatsoever. It’s common sense. About a gazillion people a year (wow, gazillion is a word?) drink carbonated soft drinks filled with phosphoric acid and shit loads of sugar. As far as I’m aware, inside my skeptical bubble, there isn’t an epidemic of soft-drink related death or instant loss of dental integrity similar to the effect of being hit in the face repeatedly with a cricket bat.

The guys over at NN seem to want to prove that putting phosphoric acid in soft drinks is highly dangerous. They set out to do this by finding some dead wild boar somewhere in the Texas outback, remove their teeth and return them to “the lab”. During this highly scientific procedure – in which the teeth weren’t weighed before or after, because that’s going to be for another experiment – the teeth were soaked in 85% phosphoric acid for twelve hours, photographed using the wonders of ‘microscopy’, and are then subject to a lot of “ooo’s”, and “aah’s” when the teeth had pretty much become useless at being teeth.

What a load of absolute nonsense. While these drinks do contain phosphoric acid, and are acidic, what NN doesn’t tell you is that a glass of orange juice can weigh in as more acidic on the good ol’ PH scale than your classic glass of sweet, sweet Coca Cola. I smell fear mongering. The phosphoric acid, at the levels present, in coke poses no major health risk to a human being unless you drink five gallons a day. And, if you’re doing that, it’s not the Coke – there’s already something seriously wrong with you.

Then, to add insult to injury: “Phosphoric acid damages your teeth as much as using meth” – because drinking a sugary drink is about as unhealthy as using a psychoactive drug, isn’t it? No. Like I said earlier, in moderation it won’t do anything serious to your health at all.

It’s unclear just why Natural News have decided to launch this random attack against phosphoric acid. The use of it in soft drinks has been tested and approved by food regulators around the world for a very long time. It would be near impossible to hide any serious negative results for so long. Big-Sugary-Soft-Drink-Makers-That-Want-To-Kill-Everyone don’t have their fingers in every pie in the world. Again, near impossible, and laughably absurd.

And, to cap all of this off is the most depressing statement I’ve heard all day: “More forensic food investigations coming soon from Natural News”. I’d really rather they just didn’t. Though, the article did make me chuckle, so for that I raise a glass of Coke in spirit of good times.

Natural News just doesn’t get it

You know people don’t have a grasp on science when they rely on a couple of shaky court rulings to inform them of what is ‘accepted’ within the science-based medical community. They take these far and few between cases, exaggerate the details, misrepresent the facts and present it all as evidence to support a ridiculous claim that has been debunked time, and time again.

Natural News seems to be really good at this, or rather really bad at it. They draw conclusions from things that didn’t actually happen. It’s a classic case of coincidental based reasoning that is so flawed and fallacious, it’s not worth the disk space it’s stored on; let alone published as a ‘breaking news’ article.

They recently posted a story titled, Breaking: Courts discreetly confirm MMR vaccine causes autism. Of course they didn’t, it’s all speculative and if one delves into research the cases a little more, and critically examines the wording of the article itself, we see that the claims are actually untrue.

First of all, I’m going to ignore the inflammatory rhetoric and just hit the hard facts of the article. If they want to present information in such a way that doesn’t criticize a particular system, but insults it, that’s their prerogative, though I don’t agree with it.

In a recently published ruling, part of which was censored from public view, a young boy was awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars after it was determined that the MMR vaccine led to a confirmed diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

This is a pretty straightforward claim: the court awarded damages to this young boy because the administered MMR vaccine caused his autism. The article continues to explain this by saying that the vaccine caused encephalopathy, which is a syndrome of global brain dysfunction that can have many different organic or inorganic causes [1].

The court conceded that the MMR vaccine had caused the infection, and awarded the compensation on those grounds. However, the encephalitis/MMR link has been controversial. The FDA website states:

Encephalitis has been reported approximately once for every 3 million doses of MMR vaccine. Post-marketing surveillance of more than 400 million doses distributed worldwide (1978 to 2003) indicates that encephalitis is rarely reported after MMR vaccination. In no case has it been shown conclusively that encephalitis was caused by a vaccine virus infection of the central nervous system.

However, it would be silly to try and argue against this, since the court ruled in the complainant’s favor. The Natural News article continues:

And in the end, the federal government agreed that Ryan’s encephalopathy had been caused by the MMR vaccine, a landmark ruling that confirms what Dr. Andrew Wakefield found more than 15 years ago when studying gut disorders in children given the MMR vaccine.

Firstly, it does not confirm this one bit. A single court ruling is not sufficient grounds to confirm a medical study that was debunked and retracted fifteen years ago.

While the court and the government at large openly admitted that the MMR vaccine caused Ryan’s encephalitis, it did not make public its opinion on whether or not that encephalitis led to Ryan’s other injuries, including those that fall into the category of ASD. But the fact that these documents remain censored shows that the government is hiding something of importance from the public, which most definitely has to do with the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.

So the court did not admit that the child’s autism was caused by the MMR vaccine, and Natural News concedes this and then covers it up with a conspiracy style statement that the government is hiding information from the public. The title of the article is misleading, and in no way shows that an apparent link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been concluded.

The only ‘evidence’ they have to back this up is a statement from the boy’s parents:

According to Ryan’s parents, the MMR vaccine caused their son’s encephalopathy, which manifested as “neuroimmunologically mediated dysfunctions in the form of asthma and ASD.”

‘According’ to their parents is not causal evidence. They could be holding this belief personally without the agreement or consensus of a medical doctor (i.e., licensed pediatrician). However,  whether or not encephalitis causes autism is simply inconclusive. Scientists are currently of the opinion that encephalitis may cause autism, but there are no peer-reviewed studies that prove it does. In fact, the Science Based Medicine blog cited this study on the vaccine/autism link:

Mäkëla et al. Neurologic disorders after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination. Pediatrics 2002; 110:957-63.

Summary: A further study was published in the journal Pediatrics. The aim of this study was to assess whether there was an association between MMR vaccination and encephalitis, aseptic meningitis, and autism. This retrospective record linkage study in Finland looked at over 500,000 children aged between 1 and 7 years of age vaccinated during November 1982 and June 1986. This study did not identify any association between MMR vaccination and encephalitis, aseptic meningitis or autism.

So how exactly did this court case provide the MMR/autism link? It didn’t. It’s misleading, scare mongering and unethical. Natural News doesn’t present all the facts. They offer a one-sided, biased view in which most of the information is twisted and skewed in such a way that is sensationalizes a false-truth.

I’ll cover the second court case in a separate article, but for now, reflect on just how bad Natural News’ reporting skills really are.

[1] Encephalopathy – Wikipedia