Social work, massage, measles, and more…

FSM news & articles

New head for Health Watchdog: We welcome our incoming president, Ken Harvey! Professor Harvey is a well known and prolific public health and consumer rights advocate. He was made a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2017, “for significant service to community health and the pharmaceutical industry through roles in developing guidelines for the ethical use of antibiotics“.

FSM Friends news & articles

Pseudoscience invades Social Work: Pseudoscientific medicine isn’t just limited to homeopathy, herbal medicines/supplements and prodding with a needle or energetically-charged hand (see: reiki), but has a following in the mental ‘wellness’ sphere and had taken a stronghold in social work. A recent survey of U.S. social worker websites has found the profession fraught with dubious practices – including reiki, aromatherapy, clairvoyant psychotherapy, angel readings, shamanic interventions and autonics (a tuning fork for your physical and emotional pain!). There were no details available as to the prevalence of these practices – but one could infer that the majority of social workers do great work without offering such woo to their clients (a Canadian study found <10% of social workers use CAM methods, excluding meditation or relaxation therapies).

Social workers help clients from all sorts of background and regularly deal with clients suffering physical or emotional pain, and it is understandable why some may engage in some extra activities in the aim to support their clients – however, these workers should not be engaging in these practices that have no evidence base. Unfortunately a complex state-based system in the US means that regulations vary and often don’t exclude these techniques. In Australia, social workers aren’t under the national registration and accreditation scheme for healthcare workers, and it is not clear to me as an outsider what sort of regulation exists to define the ‘scope of practice’ for a social worker. (Happy to be directed by one of our knowledgeable followers!)

Why I quit my massage therapy career: I love massage. Its medical value may be unclear, but I’m comfortable with that — if it’s not biologically useful, it’s still “just” inherently pleasurable and relaxing, and I’m happy either way. I see a massage therapist regularly and it’s hard to imagine my life without that service. If every massage therapist was like mine — someone who never talks about chakras — I would have no gripe with the profession at all. And indeed many massage therapists are like her, and many are busily trying to drag their profession into the 21st Century. They embrace evidence-based medicine, vigorously advocate for it on social media, avidly read this blog, and mine, and many other good sources that have cropped up over the years. Even as the CMT was investigating me, I got vigorous moral support and advice from the Massage Therapy Association of BC, which has a long history of promoting evidence-based practice.

And yet the profession is also deeply divided (much like chiropractic). The massage world is still rotten with faith-based treatments and flaky magical thinking, and what little interest in science you find is often shallow. Vitalism is rampant and many therapists indulge in overt quackery like Reiki and reflexology, but that’s only the most obvious nonsense, the tip of a far larger iceberg of health care amateurism and hair-raising ignorance, incompetence, and overconfidence. Practitioners earnestly keen on science and evidence-based practices are a depressingly small minority, and they are inevitably sneered at by many of their colleagues. Massage therapy has a deeply pseudoscientific character overall, defining itself mostly in opposition to science-based or “mainstream” health care, where rejection of science is actually celebrated by many practitioners, probably a majority.

And that is why I left: not just because I had a scrap with my regulator, but because I wasn’t comfortable in a profession so conflicted about science. It was getting awkward. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my career explaining to scientists and engineers and doctors that I was one of the pro-science massage therapists. Others like me have remained, of course, fighting to modernize the profession, and my hat is off to them — I do what I can to support them with my writing and publishing.


What’s in your herbal medicines? Herbal remedies and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are growth industries, worth over $1 billion annually. The problem with this is that, unlike conventional medicine, herbs and TCM are not properly regulated. Case in point, Dr Ian Musgrave of the University of Adelaide in conjunction with researchers at Curtin and Murdoch Universities has studied what is actually in TCM herbs and the results are unbelievable. Ninety percent of the products contain ingredients that should not be there, such as pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and animal contaminants. Some of these ingredients are innocuous but others like lead, arsenic, ephedrine, warfarin and snow leopard DNA are more concerning. It’s really not worth taking chance on these unregulated products.

Why people born between 1966 and 1994 are at greater risk of measles – and what to do about it: It’s important to have two doses of MMR vaccine, especially if you haven’t reached your mid-50s. Most people older than this would have been infected with measles before vaccination was routine. People aged in their 20s to early 50s (those born from 1966 and 1994) are most likely to have only had one dose of MMR vaccine.

While we’ve had the measles vaccine in Australia since 1968, a two-dose program was only introduced in 1992. A brief school-based catch-up program from 1993 to 1994 offered school children a second dose. Another school-based program provided children with catch-up vaccinations in 1998. For those who missed out on the school program, catch-up vaccinations were given on an ad-hoc basis via GP clinics. So not everyone in this age group would have received two doses of the measles vaccine. If you are this age, you may not be not fully protected against measles. Checking with a GP or immunisation nurse is the best way to be sure. They will check your records, and may do a blood test if you have no proof of immunisation. Even if you can’t be sure of past vaccinations, it’s still safe to have an extra vaccine. And it’s free for those who need a catch-up dose.

Lectins, schmectins. Bring on the kidney beans: “Whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, dairy, eggs and fruit – they’re all out,” Rosenbloom writes. “That’s pretty much my entire grocery list. Obviously, this diet is not sustainable, and it unnecessarily cuts out a wide range of nutritious ingredients.” But, hey, who cares about a balanced diet when there’s inner vitality to be unleashed at just $79.99 a pop.

Today’s Abused Health Concept

Fear mongering about Bt toxin in GMO food – Do Bt GMOs “make their own poison”? Only if you’re an insectBt toxin is quite safe for humans any animal with an acidic digestive track. It does not negative affect our gut biome, and GMO use of Bt reduces the pesticide load on the local eco-system. It really is not clear why this technology is the target of so much health fear.

Great moments in Health and Science

The development of semi-dwarf wheat by the man who saved a billion lives. Norman Borlaug: Wheat breeder who averted famine with a “Green Revolution”:  This high-yield, disease-resistant breed of wheat is credited with saving a billion lives globally from starvation.

Thanks to Science

HIV medication may be repurposed to prevent age-associated disorders such as Alzheimer’s – HIV drug could treat Alzheimer’s, age-associated disorders: Described in a paper published this week in Nature, researchers at Brown University found that retrotransposon activity or ‘jumping genes’ that contribute to inflammation and genetic ageing of cells… and that an existing HIV drug could block this process!