Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: An unexpectedly long post about supplements and stuff

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  • Marcus Neiman,

    Rich: I could be wrong here - but isn't Christine Rankin's partner the head bureaucrat of the Auckland City Council?

    Sydney • Since Feb 2007 • 107 posts Report

  • TracyMac,

    I agree with the Libertarian argument that we should be allowed to take anything we want, but I think anyone selling mass produced health treatments is under an obligation to provide real clinical information on the effects.

    Hm, I would support this in theory if "mass-produced" were well-defined, and to the extent that a maximum dosage is specified. Sometimes "effects" can be vague - how many drugs have all their side-effects listed? A toxicity rating seems useful.

    As a qualified homeopath, I really don't want my remedies to come under any such measures. You can't have it both ways - as they do in Australia - either they are sugar-water (placebo), or not. Any serious testing regime would assert that placebo is it. However, anyone prescribing homeopathic remedies here in Oz must take out liability insurance. Just ridiculous.

    At present we practice under common law, which says that any person has the right to seek treatment from anyone they choose, so long as the practictioner doesn't promise to cure, or pass themselves off as a member of a professional body (eg. call themselves "doctor" when they are not). That seems to have worked fine to date. It didn't take long for crackpots like Matt Tizard to be deregistered as a GP... it's just embarrassing that he can still call himself a homeopath.

    Oh, and as for the "placebo" and "counselling" effects, well, you may be right there. However, remedies appeared to get rid of the ME that someone I knew had been suffering from for nearly a decade, and they most certainly appeared to get rid of the jandice my three-week-old nephew had had since birth. The first instance, sure, placebo is a possibility - but I'm not sure how my nephew "believed" in the remedy. Of course, it was probably a "coincidence" and I have anecdotal "evidence" only, so everyone is free to disregard that as well. :-)

    I will say that ethical alternative health practictioners are just as rigorous in their care for the patients as conventional GPs, and more so in many instances.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report

  • Eleanor,

    Like I said, why would you continue to distil lavender oil as a craft / hobbie / creative endeavour / cottage industry / natural commodity when you'll soon be slammed with enormous manufacturing costs and compliance paperwork?

    Avocado oil and olive oil are foods, so therefore exempt, and just as well - because (heaven forbid) they are good for you too.

    They are great NZ-grown products.

    There is a temporary database called COMET that dishes out interim licenses for free. Maybe this is what Comvita has used. Or maybe they have paid big BIG money to get on those shelves.

    These two options can be found in the legislation.

    Which is now only about twice as big as this blog.

    wellington • Since May 2007 • 81 posts Report

  • Marcus Neiman,

    To put this in wider perspective, this common standards business is an element of the creation of a single Australasian market that has been underway since CER kicked off, and which is probably a good thing.

    It is also interesting though to contrast this to the European Union project where the making of a common market has been accompnied by attempts at closer political and democratic links - common European citizenship, a European Parliament, European political parties, etc. This has been absent from the Trans-Tasman relationship.

    I find the economic sovereignty argument made by Kedgley and others here parochial and anachronistic. Instead of wishing for the past and Little New Zealand, we should be seeking to democratise Trans-Tasman relations, rather than retreating into ourselves.

    Sydney • Since Feb 2007 • 107 posts Report

  • Russell Brown,

    Basically, my points are: yes, just because it is 'exotic and foreign and traditional' doesn't mean it will work, and if it is being sold as such, you should probably run a mile and/or test for arsenic; but just because some nong with a bindi/tiger-penis fetish is making an exoticised mockery of of my medical heritage, doesn't mean my medical heritage is all nonsense. Like I said, even the Medical Council knows it isn't.

    It's interesting: I had a couple of great osteopaths treating my chronic back condition for several years. I know that there's no formal medical basis for osteopathic theory, but, well, it really worked, both for short term relief and long-term quality of life. (I also saw a couple of shit practitioners who I thought were smug wankers.)

    Acupuncture? That too, in London. I can't truly vouch for its efficacy in treating my back, but one day I came in pretty stressed out, and the acupuncturist (she was quite cool) said "I'm going to give you the equivalent of a big, fat joint."

    She stuck a couple of needles between my eyes and shortly afterwards I was blathering away to her like someone on drugs. It sort of occurred to me that I was being very open with someone I didn't know very well, but I just kind of rolled on ...

    But the thing I've experienced that seemed closest to a new-age miracle with with Jimmy, in London. He'd rotated late at birth and came out with a big haematoma (sp?) one one side of his head that calcified and caused him what seemed to be a great deal of pain. He cried all the time and couldn't breast-feed on one side, or be cradled in arms. It really sucked.

    But we went to my osteo, who treated him at 3 months and referred us to Stuart Korth at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. We came out of the first session (all very intense, three people with hands on treating him, him screaming at times) with him gurgling and chuckling, and Fiona cradling him. Then, on the bus, he fed on his "bad" side. It was amazing, and marked a permanent change.

    I related this story in a speech at a Skeptics conference a few years ago. After some discussion, we decided that it should be characterised as "interesting, and worthy of further investigation" ...

    So I'm open-minded, but that's not the same as buying into the special pleading of a supplements industry that, especially in the US, can be sloppy and unscrupulous; or as putting up with the nonsense of Mrs Rankin et al.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Russell Brown,

    Oh, and thanks everyone. This is an excellent discussion, and I greatly appreciate the fact that people have been able to come in and state quite different positions - and have them debated - without being screamed at by other people.

    Good day on the System, I think.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Eleanor,

    Good point, and cooperating with Australia over issues is no bad thing; however, bad example in this context.

    As far as growers and producers are concerned, the European situation has some repercussions that are truly...


    ...well, bizarre. (If not sinister)

    Banning natural citrus extracts in perfumery on spurious safety grounds??

    No wonder there are conspiracy theories relating to the globalising effects of ANZTPA!

    wellington • Since May 2007 • 81 posts Report

  • Eleanor,

    Yes, and thanks Russell; I've been here for ages despite myself, and appreciated the forum!

    wellington • Since May 2007 • 81 posts Report

  • Marcus Neiman,

    Eleanor: The problem people such as yourself face is similar to those by other groups practicing 'special pleading' in the European integration process - everyone outside of the industry is going to say that it makes no sense to make an exception for essential oil producers and sellers.

    Sydney • Since Feb 2007 • 107 posts Report

  • Michael Fitzgerald,

    Eleanor & TracyMac

    So there is no professional body to Registar to and so be deregistared from?

    Would you favour a formal body set up for homeopathy & aromatherapy etc?

    I understand that nice smells act to relax someone, like a bath, a massage, and a glass of wine - all add to a quality of life but I'm not able to put more faith in it than that.

    Since May 2007 • 631 posts Report

  • Eleanor,

    Thanks for chrystalising that point Marcus. It is a tricky one.

    I for one don't have much time for aromatherapy that just involves smelling nice stuff; yeah while it can make you feel better I suppose, getting it onto the skin or into the bloodstream some other way (intensive steam inhalation; internal application as they do in France) is the effective way. And it can be profound.

    And on that note, burning volatile (essential) oils as "space sprays" is EXEMPT from this legislation!

    So if I sell pure essential oils, just to be burned in a room, then they are EXEMPT!

    From a business POV, the less other info I give, the better!

    So many loopholes...

    Personally, in the interest of public safety and getting information to the consumer, I'd rather let buyers know what else to use and NOT use them for.

    Yet if I do that I'm slammed with license fees and regulatory endless paperwork, because I'm promoting the essential oils as being chemically effective, ie therapeutic.

    This grey area is one that very few people seem to have highlighted - but true professional aromatherapy has such a low profile and understanding, that's partly to blame as well.

    wellington • Since May 2007 • 81 posts Report

  • Neil Graham,

    yes, but effectively, what you are saying is that if a solution cannot be "expalined" or backed up by "science" it is not a solution, just a coincidence. but, unfortunately, science is only about empirical observation and probabilities/correlations extrapolated from such.

    what I'm saying is that science cannot claim to have a monopoly on the solutions. scientific consensus is constantly changing, which kind of suggests that science only has a modest grasp of the big picture. and that silly absolutist statements are as faith-based as anything else.

    I'm not sure what you are implying here. You seem to be talking about some characteristics that I'm not sure exist.

    Are you saying that science denies the existence of anything that lacks a complete explanation of its behaviour? If that were true Science would deny the existance of the universe.

    Are you saying that science makes absolutist statements? Poor scientists may, but the principles of science can never generate an absolute answer. Many scientists may talk about things in terms of absoluteness but most will admit that this is simply for efficiency of communication. It's like having a discussion about Sherlock Holmes playing the violin without having to repeatedly state that Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character.

    Science can claim to have a monopoly on solutions because it is prepared to take on information from all sources. If you have a solution and you can show that it performs better than chance then it becomes part of the scientific base. You can't show something works and go 'nyah nyah and science can't have it'.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 118 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    we should be seeking to democratise Trans-Tasman relations, rather than retreating into ourselves

    The EU works because the largest country (Germany) doesn't dwarf the others - so there has to be multinational consensus to do anything.

    A democratic trans-tasman partnership would essentially be run by Australia. Plus they're rednecks.

    It'd be a bit like having an EU with just the Netherlands and France at it's most poujadist.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • Marcus Neiman,

    Rich: But then you have any number of devices like the EU and the Australian Commonwealth has to ensure that certain regions don't get swamped to the extent that they might otherwise - eg. the equal representation of the states in the Commonwealth senate.

    We already have a common labour market, an increasingly common market for goods and services, a far more similar cultural sphere than almost any two given EU member states, an increasingly shared mass media environment, plus significant population transfers - our political institutions should reflect these shared concerns, and they should be democratic rather than in the hands of bureaucrats.

    Sydney • Since Feb 2007 • 107 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    yeah but would you put sodium hypochlorite on your skin and still have a good day?

    big difference eh rich.

    Depends on the concentration. It's used medically as a disinfectant/antiseptic - see Dakin's solution
    My endodontist used it when doing my root canal. It was also used in the Falklands war to treat burn victims.

    But there's a big difference between an antiseptic (which kills bacteria outside the body) and an antibiotic (which kills bacteria inside).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Sorry Eleanor - I didn't see that you weren't advocating Lavender Oil as an antibiotic :-)

    I could be convinced that it works as an biocide. But as a medic, shouldn't you know the mechanism for that?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • Juha Saarinen,

    Since Nov 2006 • 529 posts Report

  • Juha Saarinen,

    I mean, tea tree oil gives you moobies too, like lavender oil.

    Since Nov 2006 • 529 posts Report

  • Joe Wylie,

    And palm oil?

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report

  • Eleanor,

    glad you pointed that "study" out, Juha.

    the so-called scientists behind the gynomastica / lavender link used a sample of three boys who came to their attention through various other studies.

    Yup - ONE, TWO, THREE.

    Is this seriously considered worthy for coverage by "News in Science" journalists? Bit of a stretch for a curious, thinking journalist isn't it?

    The (three, 3) boys were from the same state in America, nothing in their diet / atmosphere / medical history / water supply / health conditions / other / religion / habits / (you get the picture) was examined, and two of them had simply recently used a popular-brand body gel that puported to have a fraction of "lavender oil" in it. It was probably synthesised and not even real lavender!!! I could tell you the brand, but if you use it you might be scared, & i don't want to get in trouble either.

    That link is simply perpetuating a myth. Not information or science. Yet one whiff of this story and mothers and fathers and doctors are absolutely petrified of anything purple & remotely herbal.

    I amended the wikipedia entry for "gynomastica" many months ago with a gracious little disclaimer for this one.

    Funny old fearmongering world.

    O did I mention who was funding the "scientists"? Dig a bit deeper and you will find out!

    Rich of Obz... you're not just a pretty name are you! Unwittingly I did claim lavender as an antibiotic. However, it actually is; in the literal sense "hostile to life" for microbes. I know the common definition evokes big, choker white pills in an amber plastic bottle that all need swallowed, but that's not all an antibiotic is. Nevertheless, *disclaimer alert* I don't really prescribe lavender as such.

    However, I'm prepared to admit bafflement over where I claimed to be a medic...

    *snorts rosemarinus officinalis*

    goddammit, my boobs grew again. AND i'm being attentive! this is pure genius!!!

    look, do read the legislation, i beseech you. boring, dry drivel that it is. it's so far reaching and...

    you're not going to, are you.

    wellington • Since May 2007 • 81 posts Report

  • Juha Saarinen,

    Since Nov 2006 • 529 posts Report

  • Mahal,

    Science is not about building a body of known "facts." It is a method for asking awkward questions and subjecting them to a reality-check, thus avoiding the human tendency to believe whatever makes us feel good. (The Science of Discworld; Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen and Terry Pratchett.)

    Like Emma, I prefer to be informed about whatever it is I'm going to be putting into/on my body. Whether that be a GP-prescribed drug, an OTC cold/flu remedy from the chemist, vitamins from the shelf in the supermarket, or the herbs growing in my back garden.

    Providing that Big Business interests can be kept out of the way (a big ask, I know) - regulation, provided it's supported by good science, seems to be the best bet we've got at getting fairly reasonable answers to those questions.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2007 • 31 posts Report

  • Jimmy Hayes,

    If anyone wants to actually read the Bill...

    Booyah! It's a precis.

    Since Apr 2007 • 35 posts Report

  • stephen walker,

    Are you saying that science denies the existence of anything that lacks a complete explanation of its behaviour?

    Are you saying that science makes absolutist statements?

    can you please provide the quotes where I said anything of the sort? I would politely ask that you stop making stuff up, thanks.

    Science can claim to have a monopoly on solutions because it is prepared to take on information from all sources.

    this looks like a tautology to me: if something works, then it must be science. except that, who decides what works (scientifically proven to work better than chance)? so much of what works or doesn't is either disputed (data/methodology) or subject to a constantly changing consensus (interpretation) that your statement starts to look a bit hollow.

    IMHO, there are countless things that work, which have never been accepted by Western scientifically based medicine.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 646 posts Report

  • Eleanor,

    but Juha... that's the same study. With the same flaws.

    Do you know if the products in question would even be regulated by the Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill that we're discussing the implications of?

    I can tell you - they would not be affected.

    @ least two of the products used (two thirds of the study sample) would fall outside the legislation. Well wide of the mark, in fact.

    (so will plastic bottles)

    So nothing is resolved in Juha's example, even through this omnibus bill.

    wellington • Since May 2007 • 81 posts Report

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