I’ve long taken to heart the negative sentiments of critics of complementary medicine – not understanding how anyone could be so narrow-minded as to exclude an entire approach to healthcare that has benefitted countless people for many generations.
But I stopped caring about them last week.
Last week the Blackmores Institute announced an unencumbered gift to establish the Maurice Blackmore Chair of Integrative Medicine at the Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, in honour of my late father.
Both the University and Blackmores Institute professed the necessity for robust governance to ensure the independence of the research and education that would result from the financial contribution.
Both the University and Blackmores Institute knew that there were growing numbers of Australians embracing complementary medicines and that this was an area that was underrepresented in medical professional education.
According to the NHMRC Research Funding Datasets 2003- 2012, allocations for research funding into complementary medicine have been just 0.2% of total funding over the past ten years, despite use of complementary medicine by the Australian public remaining substantial.
Of that, the research funded has, at times, been questionable. Such as a recent NHMRC-funded study claiming the potential harm of vitamin D based on giving rats and mice a dose of vitamin D that would be equivalent to a 60kg human taking 360,000IU of the nutrient daily.
It was not unexpected that the critics professed their ‘concerns’ about the Integrative Medicine Chair, though it was certainly ironic. After years of demanding more research, they were unlikely to commend us for our actions.
They were misguided though in stating that Maurice Blackmore was not worthy of the honour of the name of the Chair claiming he was not an advocate of ‘evidence-based medicine’ (a concept coined in the 1990s – nearly 15 years after he passed away!).
Though the terms ‘evidence-based medicine’ and ‘integrative medicine’ were not used in his time, his life’s work is testament to these principles. His early observations of mineral therapy and his clinical applications of nutritional medicine were the foundation of an approach to health management that is still relevant today.
He dedicated his life to sharing his knowledge and published an extensive collection of observations and clinical notes. They are an interesting read given we now have the benefit of nearly 40 years of scientific exploration: sometimes he got it right…sometimes he didn’t. But he had an enquiring mind and a desire to help people, which is the same motivation that led to this Sydney University gift.
Somewhat prophetically, when I looked today at one of his journals, he notes his concerns that long-term aspirin use could cause serious gastric depletion (right!), he then states that polar bears are claimed to have the lowest mentality of animals which makes it unlikely that fish is a brain food (wrong!). But the most interesting of his reflections on that page was a quote from EH Chopin:
“Scepticism has never founded empires, established principles, or changed the world’s heart. The great doers in history have always been men of faith.”
It was timely given the commentary of recent days. It’s time for the skeptics and the critics to step off the sideline and engage in furthering healthcare with a focus on prevention and wellbeing. I am proud of the legacy of my father as a pioneer of healthcare, that the Blackmores Group had the courage to contribute to independent research and education, and to play an active role in furthering the health capabilities of our healthcare professionals to the benefit of all Australians.
My sincere thanks to the Asia Pacific Brands Foundation for recognising Blackmores with the Brand Leadership Award 2014/2015, the Best Brand in Wellness – Natural Health Solutions, and for naming me Nutraceuticals Man of the Year. I was humbled and so very proud of our wonderful team in Malaysia.
The Brand Laureate is given to brands that have demonstrated strong leadership and performance.
They graciously published a feature on Blackmores. You can read it here:
Eminent neurologist Dr Raymond Schwartz said it well over dinner one night, “Evidence of itself doesn’t always mean that a remedy works, and conversely, lack of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that a remedy doesn’t work.” He went on to explain that at present, the evidence behind the use of stem cells lacks evidence but that is likely to change over time.
The critics of homeopathy and complementary medicine have taken an interim report released by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) today on the use of homeopathic remedies and raised questions about pharmacies stocking these products.
In my own experience as a Naturopath, I have mixed views on the use of homeopathic treatments. I can say that on a recent trip to Italy I was presented with a homeopathic remedy from a homeopathic pharmacy with good results.
However, I have serious concerns that the NHMRC review has not considered the necessary body of evidence to classify this longstanding traditional modality as ineffective and their interim ‘findings’ may have provided a platform for criticism from the skeptics of natural medicine to express their narrow views.
Those questioning the place for traditional medicines in pharmacy should be aware of the limitations of the NHMRC complementary therapy review:
As a ‘review of reviews’ was employed to gather information, the evaluation fails to include any randomised trials or studies that have not been captured by a review.
- Only papers published in the last five years were considered thereby excluding a lot of evidence.
- The review only included databases published in English which, considering many traditional modalities have their origin in Europe, excludes some of the most compelling data.
- The Homeopathy Working Committee has no homeopaths on its panel, though interestingly it did have a consumer advocate (would the NHMRC conduct an enquiry into psychology without having a psychologist on its panel?)
- The totality of evidence was not also assessed, for example laboratory or animal (vet) studies were excluded.
So, is it fair to say the ‘review’ itself is ‘evidence-based’?
Dr Lesley Braun, Director of Blackmores Institute, reminded me of the words of Sackett, widely considered the chief founding father of modern day evidence based medicine, “evidence based medicine is not “cookbook” medicine. Because it requires a bottom up approach that integrates the best external evidence with individual clinical expertise and patients’ choice, it cannot result in slavish, cookbook approaches to individual patient care. External evidence can inform, but never replace, individual clinical expertise…” (Sackett et al. 1996).
No profession, modality or therapy can claim to be the most effective or safe, however it is the right of the 70% of Australian pharmacy customers taking OTC herbal or natural supplements to access the therapies in which they find benefit particularly when they are well-tolerated and cost-effective.
Notwithstanding, there are currently severe limitations to building a more comprehensive evidence base including:
- Lack of government funding into well-conducted research
- Perceived bias against privately-funded research
- Lack of private investment because of an inability to commercialise and IP-protect findings
- Debate over methodology that acknowledges the nature of traditional treatments
Hopefully in time, we can overcome these limitations. However in the meantime we must be cautious about making conclusions based on pseudoscience.
Dr Braun prudently observed that “making public health recommendations based on methodology shaped by inadequate resourcing rather than robust, good science isn’t very scientific at all.”
Read the NHMRC press release : http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/media/releases/2015/nhmrc-releases-statement-and-advice-homeopathy
Read Complementary Medicines Australia’s comments: http://www.cmaustralia.org.au/Resources/Documents/16%2012%2014_Fundamental_Flaws_of_the_NHMRC_Homeopathy_Review.pdf
Sackett, D.L., Rosenberg, W.M., Gray, J.A., Haynes, R.B., & Richardson, W.S. 1996. Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn’t. BMJ, 312, (7023) 71-72 available from: PM:8555924
This abc.net.au opinion piece titled The War against Natural Medicine caught my attention over the weekend.
Someone who inspires me…
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover!”
– Mark Twain
Two of my greatest passions are Blackmores and competitive sailing, so it is little wonder that the numerous metaphors that align business performance to yachting resonate strongly with me.
Sailing and business are both impacted by who is ‘at the helm’, the tactics employed, adaptation to changing external conditions, the effectiveness of the team, the ability to read the conditions – the analogies are endless.
A couple of years ago, I invited Victor Kovalenko to speak to a team of business leaders within Blackmores and he did not disappoint with his wise words.
The Australian Sailing Team Head Coach, Victor is known as ‘The Medal Maker’, a title the humble Ukrainian-born coach is embarrassed by.
He has a unique gift for getting the best out of people. He brings high levels of discipline to the teams he coaches. He is never complacent about the success of his teams after a win and sets new challenges and reshapes his approach to achieve greatness.
He is currently working with Mat Belcher, Rolex World Sailor of the Year who won gold in the London Olympics, and Will Ryan, an up-and-coming talent. Mat and Will are the current world champions in the 470 yacht class.
I’m proud to be part of the supporting team and love seeing a wind-filled spinnaker sporting the Blackmores brand.
Victor has said, “I think of life and use it as a role model. Life is like a big race – sometimes you win by skill, sometimes you are lucky to meet interesting people and learn from them.”
As a sailor and as a great Australian, Victor Kovalenko is someone I’ve learned from. He places as much value on character and friendship as skill and discipline. He knows that in sailing, as in life (and business), there is skill and technique but it is feeling and passion that will take you over the line first.
I have never subscribed to the conspiracy theory when it comes to complementary and alternative medicine practice however the latest proposal from the TGA may yet be another nail in the coffin. The TGA has put forward a proposal to treat Naturopaths, Herbalists and Homeopaths as “general public” with the aim to regulate information produced for these healthcare professionals in order to “manage public health risks” (Remember Naturopathy and allied practices were once banned in the US and previous attempts to ban naturopaths in Australia was thwarted by my father Maurice Blackmore and his colleagues in Queensland in 1955).
Are we returning to the dim, dark ages of the past you may well ask?
Is there a link between the efforts of the so called ‘Friends of Science’ and the decision by Sydney’s Macquarie University to no longer teach Chiropractic, or for Southern Cross University to no longer teach a basic Naturopathic course, or the attempts by the Friends of Science to curtail NHMRC funding for complementary & alternative medicine? (or ‘pseudo-science’ as they call it!).
If you wanted to orchestrate a campaign to eliminate a profession, you would first eliminate their university education, you would make sure there was no research for the profession and then simply make it illegal for them to access their ‘tools of trade’… Too provocative, maybe not?
Maybe this is just a ‘proposal’ from the TGA but why contemplate such a draconian proposal for this profession when there is little or no data to show harm being done, quite the contrary.
The reality is that one in three of all medical consultations in Australia today is with an alternative health professional. I don’t wish to be alarmist but I dearly hope that common sense will prevail.
I was getting mightily tired of the disruption to my working day with Daph Price regularly asking me to leave my office and put a replacement roll of shrink film on our one and only shrink wrapper. I guess it was my own fault as I had previously made a decision to shrink wrap our bottles, only the second company in the whole of the Pharma/health food industry to do so.
So I quickly decided Blackmores needed a ‘hands on’ Production Manager. One of our directors, Graeme Berman, arranged for me to meet Allen Oliver at North Sydney Leagues Club and the deal was done. Allen and Graeme had worked together at Scott and Bourne some years before. So began nearly 15 years of amazing commitment by Allen Oliver to Blackmores before his retirement in 1989. And what a contribution. I vividly remember meeting Lee McNichol in our foyer one day waiting to meet with Allen and lamenting how bad things were and how much wages had risen and that he had no alternative but to raise the prices on the products his company supplied us. I wished him luck! I met him again after his meeting with Allen only to be told that he had just reduced our prices by 2%. Allen’s catchword to suppliers is indelibly printed in my brain, “you will have to sharpen the pencil”.
In Blackmores early days, we couldn’t afford security services so the factory was well alarmed. Allen and I lived close to work so when the alarms went off at some ungodly hour of the morning it was a race to see who got to the factory first to catch any intruders. It was one of those races you never wanted to win for fear of getting a whack over the head when you arrived, I’m pleased that Allen won most of those races.
I was a member of Manly Rotary Club and asked Allen to join the club as my replacement. That cemented many years of outstanding community contribution by Allen and Betty Oliver. For some, charity means simply writing a cheque to a deserving cause but of even greater significance is giving one’s time and Allen did both of those in spades. The 32 years of Rotary Christmas hampers would not have happened without Allen’s enthusiasm for that project.
Allen Oliver came up the tough way, he did the menial tasks, he swept the floors and his promotion in business life came as a result of nothing less than hard work. Australia would be a much better place if there were more Allen Oliver’s in life.
Allen Oliver was a man of substance, a man of generous spirit, he gave much to Blackmores in our fledgling years, I will never forget him.
May he rest in peace.
I am always excited about new research, especially in the field of nutrition and natural medicine. So it gives me great pleasure to announce our support of an Australian researcher, Dr Bamini Gopinath, who is exploring dietary and lifestyle interventions into Australia’s leading cause of blindness – Macular Degeneration.
Dr Bamini Gopinath is the recipient of the 2013-14 Blackmores Dr Paul Beaumont Research Fellowship. The fellowship is valued at $100,000 over two years and is largely funded by Blackmores Institute and the Blackmore Foundation with support from the Macular Degeneration Foundation’s research fund.
Dr Gopinath is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Vision Research, Westmead Millennium Institute and will be working under the supervision of Professor Paul Mitchell, one of the world’s leading experts in Macular Degeneration. Her proposed research involves a detailed analysis of the 15 year data from the landmark Blue Mountains Eye Study (BMES) to improve knowledge of the nutritional and lifestyle risk and protective factors (particularly dietary antioxidant and supplement intake, diet quality and food groups). This is expected to help explain the causes of disease, improve early detection of people at risk of progression, and facilitate new approaches to therapy.
Dr Gopinath has a remarkable track record with over 70 research publications in the last five years, more than half on which she was the lead author. I’m delighted to support her continued research and look forward to the results of her work.
80 years ago my father, Maurice Blackmore, saw the need the provision of high quality research and education in the area of natural health, and the acceptance of the usage of Nature and our own body as healing entities. He was a visionary in his field. Maurice developed some of the first naturopathic products in the country, opened one of Australia’s first health first stores and naturopathic clinics, published the first consumer and industry journals and established the nation’s first naturopathic education facility.
Today I feel proud to share the news that his vision is coming to fruition, with the launch of The Blackmores Institute. The Blackmores Institute will bring together the best minds, knowledge and evidence, and is dedicated to sharing this knowledge with the wider community of healthcare professionals, researchers, industry and consumers. Maurice would be overjoyed if he could see what The Blackmores Institute is aiming to achieve.
But this isn’t about my father. The Blackmores Institute will benefit each and every person who has an interest in maintaining their health, or helping others do the same. I look forward to sharing more updates about The Blackmores Institute as it evolves into a centre for excellence in the field of natural health.
Further details can be found at: