Category Archives: Research
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.
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
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:
I’m humbled to introduce you to The Marcus Blackmore Postdoctoral Research Fellowship which has been established by the Trustees of The Heart Research Institute (HRI) UK. This fellowship is offering a talented researcher from the UK or Europe the opportunity to take up a post-doctoral position in cardiovascular research at The Heart Research Institute in Sydney, Australia.
This Fellowship has been established as a result of generous donations from HRI supporters in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands and other areas of Europe.
It really highlights the presence that Australian research centres have on the global stage and I encourage any interested researchers from the UK, Ireland, The Netherlands and the wider European Union to consider this exciting two year opportunity to help us further the fight against cardiovascular disease.
Further details can be found at:
A group of scientists has launched a campaign against the teaching of certain ‘alternative’ health modalities in Australian universities and a passionate debate is underway.
With 6 million Australians regularly taking Complementary Medicine it is a responsibility to ensure that health care professionals have access to the highest level of education to understand different approaches for managing their health.
To simply discount the practices such as Naturopathy and Chiropractic as being ‘quackery’ is unscientific to say the least. Science is about observation and deduction and most of the medicines and practices of CAM have existed in some cases for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Clearly the allopathic dogma of these scientists is being challenged by the prevalence of well researched peer reviewed papers that are appearing at increasing levels in many of the world’s prestigious medical journals. It is surely an anathema to the detractors of ‘alternative’ medicine that more than one in three of all medical consultations in Australia is with an alternate medical practitioner driven no doubt by consumer acceptance.
There is an urgent need to do more research which given the lack of substantial support from government, is largely dependent on the institutional support that universities can and are undertaking given the fact that 70% of the Australian population are users of complementary medicine.
I urge this group of scientists to open their minds; they may well find that the practices of Complementary Medicine and allopathic medicine can co-exist in our community and that our patients will be the benefactors.
University education provides important training for Complementary Medicine practitioners. These courses are renowned for their ability to create research literate practitioners who are able to provide high quality evidence-based therapies to the three quarters of Australians who take complementary medicines regularly. In addition, university education adds to the ability of Complementary Medicine to continue its vital role in contributing to the improvement of global health outcomes.