Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nut-job of the Week - No. 6

There was an article in The Sunday Age M magazine (March 15th) titled "Can a common herb really help combat the common cold?" by Paula Goodyer. The common herb is Echinacea. There used to be a copy of this article on the web, but somehow it has now disappeared.

I wonder why it was pulled?

Could it have been because the only studies quoted in the article were one supportive of echinacea being helpful in combating a cold and one not supportive. Good balanced journalism. Maybe the next time The Age reports on, say, whether the MMR vaccine causes autism, they would have a balanced article by mentioning one study showing it does, and another showing it doesn't. Because science works by opinion, doesn't it???? Forget evidence.

How could they forget to mention this study or this one?

No. It's probably more likely they got rid of it because of what Professor Marc Cohen of RMIT said. Here is his testing procedure to determine if the echinacea you buy is legit. This is the relevant extract from the article:

"Some research suggests that an effective extract or tablet will make your tongue tingle when you swallow it" he says. "Another guide is the price - if a product is cheap, it's probably not effective - although a high price is no guarantee of quality."

There you go, check the tingle and the price. Maybe an expensive 9V battery has the same effect! No mention of looking for the mass of active ingredients on the bottle's label. Probably because there is none. That is because the manufacturers do not have to provide evidence for the effectiveness of this supplement. This basically means that anyone could put some echinacea extract in a bottle, jack up the price, and start counting the profits. There is no need for rigorous scientific testing to see if any chemicals in the echinacea can help with colds. Just use anecdotes.

Dr Cohen received his Phd in Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering from Monash and has another Phd in Traditional Chinese Medicine, form the Open University for Complementary Medicine. Now I can find Monash Uni easily on the Web, but the other place I can't find. says:
"The Open University for Complementary Medicine (in Sri Lanka) has no academic standing and does not provide a proper basis for calling oneself a medical doctor."
If anyone can find any info in this institution let me know. Maybe I can get my PhD from there.

So for those comments, Professor Marc Cohen, welcome to Nut-job of the week.