Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The truth goes unheard

My attempt to get a weekly health column in the local newspaper to combat a new herbalist's column has been unsuccessful. The response to my request was as follows:


Thanks for your suggested alternate alternative medical column. Being somewhat of a skeptic I suppose I could write an alternative astrology column in the XXXXXX every day but I feel secure that my skepticism, mixed with a liberal dashing of tongue in cheek and a tad of pride does not allow me to.

After due consideration XXXXXX and I have decided against running the alternate, alternative column, however we offer you the age-old alternative of writing a letter to the editor. It doesn't get you published as often, but at least you get to make your point in public.


Regardless of the knock-back, I have decided to continue with the weekly health article. Each week I will submit an article to the newspaper and publish a copy here.

So. Here we go!

Welcome to the first critical thinking article on alternative medicine. Alternative medicine is those treatments that have either failed to be proven effective or have yet to be properly tested. It would be a surprise for many to realise just how widespread alternative medicine has become in Australia.

Evidence Based Medicine is not opposed to the use of herbs and natural therapies. When something is proven to work, such as the bark of the willow tree to relieve pain, Evidence Based Medicine will investigate and test the treatment. Scientists will determine which part or parts of the plant are the active ingredients that provide the positive effect. In the case of willow bark, the positive ingredient is salicylic acid.

The other factor to consider is that herbs and natural therapies can be dangerous. One of the greatest preventable killers in society today is the natural herb called tobacco. Arsenic, mercury and even uranium are naturally occurring substances. Natural does not mean safe. This is a problem with willow bark as the salicylic acid can burn a hole in your stomach.

The concentration of salicylic acid in willow bark varies from tree to tree and also from one part of the tree to another. There is no way to know how much of the active ingredient you are getting. Scientists have been able to manufacture the salicylic acid where they know the exact dosage. What’s more they found that if they converted it to acetosalicylic acid, the substance keeps its pain relieving properties, but is much less harmful.

Even when it’s proven, consumers have the choice between eating the ground up willow bark, containing an unknown quantity of the active mixed with other substances or a guaranteed known dosage of the pure active ingredient. I’ll take the safer, known dosage. It can be found on any supermarket shelf labelled “aspirin”.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Herbalist Column

Below is a letter to my local newspaper sent this morning after seeing an interview with their new weekly columnist. I hope they take up the challenge and allow me to put the other side of the story.

However, I'm not holding my breath.

Dear Sir,

I note in your newspaper today, that you have a new column to appear each week written by a local herbalist.

If your new columnist continues with the misleading information that was contained in this week's newspaper, I fear that many people in Mackay could have their health placed at serious risk. There are good reasons that alternative medicine is so-called. If the various herbs worked as claimed, they would cease to be classified as alternative and become part of mainstream medicine. Most herbal remedies have not gained acceptance into mainstream medicine as they have failed to show proof of efficacy.

When something is proven to work, such as willow bark for pain or purple foxglove for blood pressure, mainstream medicine determines what is contained within the herb that works and provides a safe, known dosage of the active ingredients. This is the way in which we now enjoy the benefits of aspirin and digitalis. Other herbs have not been purified and used in mainstream medicine, because they just don't work.

I'm sure you have been advised that herbs are harmless and that no harm can come from taking these natural substances. I remind you that tobacco, arsenic and even uranium are "natural". Even the herbs that pose no threat to a person's health can be dangerous. A study at St Vincent's hospital in Sydney revealed that women with operable breast cancer who tried alternative medicine had their cancers become inoperable by the time they decided that the alternatives were not working. This delay to try herbal treatments effectively caused the death of the women in the study. This highlights one the main dangers to people's health of using herbal treatments or any other kind of alternative treatment.

I urge you to carefully check the information contained in each article for factual accuracy. If required I can provide detailed information including studies, clinical trials and articles from medical journals that show the scientific data about various herbal and other alternative treatments.

Alternatively, I would be prepared to write each week placing the truth before your readers so they can then make an informed decision. The health of your readers is too important to be left at risk.


Kevin Paine


"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The existence of belief does not indicate the presence of truth"