Perhaps Canada AM’s Consumer Alert department needs more meta-awareness, as Canada AM yesterday featured Toronto homeopath Bryce Wylde promoting a “natural first aid kit” for the summer as a “special submission”. The video can be seen here.
For those who aren’t familiar, Canada AM is a morning infotainment program. Though they are associated with CTV News, the programming generally reflects lighter, more morning-friendly topics than you might see on the evening news. They have a whole dedicated contributor for gardening, for example. So I have pretty modest expectations when I tune in.
That being said, Canada AM should provide information in a responsible manner no matter how lighthearted the topic. If they aren’t practicing due diligence, why provide the information at all? Incorrect or incomplete information isn’t news, nor is it of any value to Canadian consumers. So it is disappointing that they would consult a homeopath for health information when there are science-based health professionals capable of making recommendations derived from the best available evidence.
For those who have not heard much on the topic, homeopathy (practiced by homeopaths) is based on the concept that “like cures like” and that medicinal potency is increased by significantly and sequentially diluting a substance in water. “Like cures like” is problematic because there are no clear objective criteria for sameness, leading to very questionable justifications for treatments. Most importantly, there is no anatomical or physiological basis for “like cures like” to work and there is no evidence from any scientific field supporting the homeopathic belief that water has memory.
Though an explanation of mechanism is not necessary for homeopathy to work, so far there is no solid evidence of efficacy of homeopathic treatments outside unverifiable testimonials and poorly-designed scientific studies. The evidence is so bad that health agencies in the United Kingdom (UK), for example, have gone on record to say that homeopathy’s effects are no more than placebo effects. These reviews have led to efforts to stop the funding of homeopathy entirely. From the UK Parliament’s Health and Science Committee review of homeopathy:
s.54 We conclude that the principle of like-cures-like is theoretically weak. It fails to provide a credible physiological mode of action for homeopathic products. We note that this is the settled view of medical science.
s.70 In our view, the systematic reviews and meta-analyses conclusively demonstrate that homeopathic products perform no better than placebos.
s.82 We do not doubt that homeopathy makes some patients feel better. However, patient satisfaction can occur through a placebo effect alone and therefore does not prove the efficacy of homeopathic interventions.
In short, homeopathy may have “worked” for your aunt, but it doesn’t work for 200 people or so in a well-designed clinical trial. When it comes to first aid, there’s very little to separate what “worked” via the treatment and what healed via the body’s normal healing process, therefore there is no medical justification to purchase homeopathic products for first aid uses.
There is no compelling evidence that the products Wylde promotes are effective for the applications he describes. So it’s baffling that a news organization would ask a homeopath for health advice over a health professional. Canada AM’s segment effectively became a description of unproven nostrums, free of any evidence-based content or critical analysis.
In the video linked above, the Canada AM host begins by introducing Wylde and the topic: natural remedies for cuts, scrapes, bug bites, and burns. The over-voice states “for most of us, band aids are the solution”, but Wylde prefers to provide “healing options”. It seems there’s a value judgement there, but why not use a band aid and let a cut heal? What benefit do homeopathic creams provide and why should I buy them over a science-based remedy?
The answer is hard to parse from his advice and explanations. There’s a lot of careful language in this interview. For example, why do we hear things like “expediting the anti-inflammatory properties of the body” associated with natural products instead of things like “it’s an anti-inflammatory”? Because Health Canada allows vague, nondescript statements such as the former to confuse consumers into purchasing questionable homeopathic and naturopathic products, but it does not allow the latter. Consumers must ask themselves what phrases like “expedite”, “work better”, and “heal faster” mean. But those terms are difficult to evaluate here, as Wylde provides no objective endpoints — how many days quicker does a bruise etc heal with a “natural remedy” vs. on its own (assuming the cream works)? Is that a valuable gain?
Wylde says he “can’t live without” Arnica because it’s “getting the body to work better on its own” for you to heal faster. He’s right to say the body works to heal itself on its own. The body can heal minor bruises, cuts, and scrapes in a matter of days with no intervention (though a band aid can help keep a wound sanitary by providing a barrier against dirt and germs). But there’s no evidence that Arnica gel isn’t just expensive moisturizer with scant traces of plant molecules in it.
Wylde also spoke about Calendula for reducing scarring on minor cuts and post-surgery incisions, claiming that it shouldn’t be used on deep cuts because it could cause an abscess or cyst under the site, “that’s how well it works”. Wait, what? There is no established efficacy for this cream, let alone evidence of excessive healing leading to secondary symptoms, so this claim is apparently an exaggeration.
Finally, he recommended diluted honey bee venom for bug bites and adding various ingredients (lemon, honey, etc) to water to prevent dehydration, arguing that regular water doesn’t replace the electrolytes lost in sweat. Apparently his advice is for people who don’t also eat on hot days while they drink their water. As for honey bee venom, there is no good evidence that this works and there is no convincing reason to use it over other science-based remedies (if intervention is required at all). But, he says, we should be careful of products like AfterBite because there isn’t due diligence in providing evidence of efficacy for the chemicals used therein.
In the written accompaniment to the video story, Wylde extends his thoughts on the various products he mentioned in his interview, providing details such as indications, counter-indications, where the product comes from, etc. The final result? A detailed advertisement for homeopathic and naturopathic products, courtesy of CTV.
A critical appraisal – because Canada AM didn’t provide one
I want to talk more about Wylde’s AfterBite statement, but first I want to point out when he said: “[Calendula has] been used for hundreds of years; it has lots of empirical–”. That’s it. He didn’t finish the sentence, he just went on to explain what it does. And we’ll never know what he was going to say because the Canada AM host was uncritically eating up Wylde’s every word (providing this testimonial about Arnica: “I use this a lot and it works”) and asked no follow-up about evidence. Super.
For him to indicate his distaste for products like AfterBite, claiming a lack of evidence, is rather galling given that he is in the midst of discussing products that have no documented mechanism of action, no credible scientific support, and no solid evidence of efficacy. While it’s perfectly fine to question any product’s supporting evidence, one wonders why he’s apparently incapable of doing the very same thing for the products he’s promoting.
It’s a health professional’s responsibility to recommend only what’s appropriate, based on evidence. Wylde’s weasel words and questionable explanations failed to make a compelling case for why consumers should spend money on these products and he provided no evidence to support the efficacy of any of the creams he mentioned, relying on personal anecdote to make his case. How can we tell the difference between normal healing and the supposed accelerated healing from a cream? Outside of a clinical trial, quite frankly, we can’t. That’s why scientific evidence is used to sort out what works from what’s doesn’t.
One of the frequent claims about science-based health professionals is that they’re beholden to Big Pharma and the products they sell. This video illustrates that the same claims can be made about alternative health providers. Why use unproven and unnecessary products for minor ailments like bruises and scrapes? For self-limiting conditions such as these, there is little justification for the use of products that lack evidence of any meaningful benefits. Save your money – keep your wounds clean and dry, put on a band-aid, and get on with your day.
The most sincere recommendations based on a desire to promote health aren’t helpful if they’re not based on accurate scientific evidence. Promoting dependence on unnecessary, unproven health products is no way to support smart decision-making among Canadians.
To provide feedback to Canada AM on this topic, contact them here.
*Kim’s opinions do not necessarily represent the values/opinions of affiliated associations, societies, or employers.