What is it with causes like alternative medicine and getting naked except for body paint?

What is it with causes like alternative medicine and getting naked except for body paint?

Old fart that I am, I’ve been a fan of The Rolling Stones since the mid-1970s, when I was in junior high school. Over the years, I’ve accumulated pretty close to all of their studio albums—and even bought multiple remastered versions of classics like Exile on Main Street and Beggar’s Banquet—and got access to the rest when I discovered the joy of streaming through Apple Music. Granted, the Stones went through a rough patch, creatively speaking, in the 1980s (the less said about Under Cover and Dirty Work, for instance, the better) and nothing they’ve done since the late 1970s has lived up to their glory days, but, damn, if I wasn’t surprised that their latest album of blues covers Blue & Lonesome released on Friday is really good.

Of course, all of the members of The Rolling Stones save Ron Wood are now well into their 70s, and one wonders how they manage to keep going. Touring, for instance, is very hard work, and I couldn’t imagine traveling the world like that for many months in a row when I’m in my 70s. Keith Richards, in particular, has famously abused his body with all manner of substances, licit and illicit, over the years. So it was that I happened across an article in—where else?—the Daily Mail that asks: “How has Ronnie Wood’s drink and drug-addled past not affected his health? His model daughter Leah says it’s all down to alternative medicines.” I groaned as I read:

Ron Wood: This is the "picture of health" due to alternative medicine?

Ron Wood: This is the “picture of health” due to alternative medicine?

At the ripe age of 69, Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood still manages to tour the world, raise his baby twin daughters and keep up with a third wife who is half his age.

His drink and drug-addled past appear to have no effect on his health. How does he do it?

According to his daughter, model and personality Leah, the family secret is healthy eating, happiness and alternative health remedies.

In an exclusive for the MailOnline, Leah reveals that the Wood family are big supporters of complementary medicines and will not see a doctor if they can find a natural alternative.

Mick Jagger: Lookin' good, too.

Mick Jagger: Lookin’ good, too.

It turns out that I have a grant deadline this week and—believe it or not—can’t churn out one of my 5,000 word epics. Fortunately or unfortunately, you’ll have to put up with only half that, as I knew I had found my topic for the blog, something straightforward and annoying to me: Another celebrity know-nothing whose belief in pseudoscience and quackery is promoted credulously in a tabloid. Unfortunately, Edzard Ernst beat me to my best snark in one point. Wood claims that alternative medicine and healthy living kept her father young. Now take a look at a photo of Ron Wood. At 69 years old, he’s the youngest member of The Rolling Stones, and he looks every minute of it.

If anything, Ron Wood looks possibly even older than Mick Jagger, who’s 73, but maybe not older than Keith Richards, who will turn 73 in a couple of weeks.

Keith Richards: You'd look like this too, if you lived the way I did for all those decades.

Keith Richards: You’d look like this too, if you lived the way I did for all those decades.

OK, OK, I know. Just because Ron Wood doesn’t appear younger than his biologic age (and arguably appears a few years older) doesn’t mean that he isn’t as healthy as his daughter claims. Snark aside, I also have to point out that, contrary to what Prof. Ernst says, Leah Wood never actually said that her father looked young, just that his long history of smoking, drinking, and using illicit substances in his younger days doesn’t appear to have affected him and also:

‘Dad is superfit, but he has to be with the two new babies. There’s no great secret to it, as a family we always try to laugh and be happy, even though things can be tough.’

Leah, who is Ronnie’s eldest daughter, says that the family preoccupation with alternative medicines means that they have shunned conventional medicines in the past.

All of which is great for Ron Wood, if true. If, as his daughter claims, he gets regular exercise and eats a healthy diet, that’s great. So is his quitting smoking this year after 50 years, comically angering Keith Richards, who says Wood looks ridiculous because he has switched to e-cigarettes instead. It’s also good that Ron Wood has given up drinking and drugs. It’s never too late to clean up your act, and the health benefits of giving up smoking and drinking are clear, even if you’ve been abusing them for five decades. Unfortunately, his daughter Leah goes beyond that to credit more than a newly healthy lifestyle, free of health-damaging indulgences like tobacco and alcohol. She credits the woo along with the lifestyle changes:

‘As a family we have always been bought up with alternative medicines and homeopathy and have been taught the importance of eating well,’ Leah says.
‘You are what you eat.

‘I try and stay healthy, I go to the gym, I run, I take vitamins. You can often heal yourself through diet and lifestyle.

‘I think it is important not to overmedicate. I use homeopathy a lot with my kids and alternative remedies.


Leah, who is Ronnie’s eldest daughter, says that the family preoccupation with alternative medicines means that they have shunned conventional medicines in the past.

Given our audience here at SBM, I find it hard not to emphasize yet again what we all know. Homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All. Of all the quackery out there, with the possible exception of reiki, homeopathy is the one that is most obviously quackery, to the point that it’s one of the easiest forms of quackery to educate people about. Its two main “Laws” are so clearly pseudoscience that you’d think it incredibly unlikely that anyone would fall for such nonsense, but fall for it they do. Indeed, most people think that homeopathy is nothing more than herbal medicine.

I’ll briefly show you what I mean. That I can do so this briefly should show those unfamiliar with homeopathy how ridiculous it is. All I have to do is to describe the Two Laws of Homeopathy. The first is the Law of Similars, which states that to relieve a symptom you must use a substance that causes that symptom. Not only does this law make no sense on an intuitive level, but there is no biological or medical basis for it. Of course, the Law of Similars doesn’t really matter, because the second law of homeopathy renders it completely irrelevant. The Second Law, the Law of Infinitesimals, states that diluting a remedy makes it stronger. That’s not nearly enough pseudoscience, though. Because of this law, homeopaths often dilute remedies to, in essence, nonexistence. For example, a typical 30C dilution (where C=100) means thirty 100-fold dilutions, which, if you do the math, you’ll find to be a 10-60 dilution. Avogadro’s number is only on the order of 6 x 1023, which means that a 30C dilution is at least 1036-fold higher than a dilution where we’d expect to see a single molecule of the original substance; that is, if you start with what chemists call a mole of starting compound. No wonder homeopathy is considered the king of pseudoscience, and that’s not even considering that some homeopathic remedies (like Oscillococcinum, the infamous homeopathic flu remedy) use starting ingredients like extract of duck liver and heart—and at 200C (10-400), yet! Not surprisingly, rigorous clinical trials show that homeopathic remedies do not work better than placebo.

Unfortunately, odd quirks in the history of regulation of homeopathy have led to its acceptance and continued existence despite its being completely vitalistic pseudoscience. In the UK, certainly, the popularity of homeopathy among the royal family and its support by Prince Charles in particular have contributed to its continued acceptance. In the US, although homeopathy is not as popular here, baked into the 1938 revision of the law authorizing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was a provision that defined anything in the Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS) as a drug. Unfortunately, the FDA has always interpreted that to mean that anything in the HPUS didn’t need to go through rigorous testing to be approved, although that might be on the verge of changing. The FTC, for instance, recently came out with new regulations on the advertising of homeopathic remedies that in essence tells manufacturers that they have to tell customers there is no scientific evidence that such remedies do anything for any medical condition. What the FDA will do after having begun the process to revamp its regulations with respect to the approval of homeopathic treatments remains to be seen.

It wasn’t Leah Wood’s promotion of homeopathy, though, that irritated me the most. Homeopathy is dangerous, yes, when used instead of real medicine to treat serious medical conditions. However, Wood also took the opportunity of her interview to promote dangerous cancer quackery, complete with an anecdote about her mother:

She even discloses that her mother, TV personality Jo, helped her Grandmother beat cancer with apricot seeds.

And, more:

She explains to MailOnline:

‘Nan had breast cancer and mum, who is a big proponent of alternative medicine as well, said “mum, we are going to help you so let’s investigate and get some advice”.

‘Nan had different treatments and ate an organic diet including apricot seeds and cured herself.

‘She had chemotherapy once and that’s when mum said “no more, we can do this ourselves”, much to the dismay of the doctors.

‘Conventional chemotherapy just breaks down your immune system and makes you weaker so I don’t understand the point.

‘You should be building up your immune system and fighting the cancer.’

Yes, we’re talking a really old form of cancer quackery, Laetrile, here. Now, here’s a test for regular readers who’ve read a few of my discussions of alternative cancer cure testimonials. What is the first question that comes to mind after reading the story of Leah Wood’s grandmother and her rejection of chemotherapy for her breast cancer? Come on. You should know by now. That’s right! Did she have surgery for her breast cancer?

As I’ve explained since very early on in the history of this blog, one of the most common forms of alternative medicine testimonials involves cancers that can be cured by surgery alone but are treated with adjuvant chemotherapy and/or radiation in order to decrease their chances of recurrence. Breast cancer is very often treated this way, with the local excision of the tumor ± lymph nodes under the arm, later followed by chemotherapy and/or drugs that block estrogen action, depending on whether the tumor is estrogen-sensitive or not. So, me being me, I immediately started Googling to see if I could find out what sort of treatment Leah Wood’s grandmother underwent. It didn’t take me long to find this interview with her mother Jo Wood from 2015:

In the past year alone, however, Wood has lost her mother (“a few weeks ago, which was very sad but it was her time”) and been helping her little sister Lize through breast cancer. Which is why when Breast Cancer Care asked her to join Asda’s Tickled Pink campaign to raise awareness and funds for the charity, Wood immediately pledged her support. “When they asked whether I had experienced any breast cancer in my family, I told them my grandmother and mother had had breast cancer (although after a lumpectomy my mother was clear for the rest of her life) and that my sister had had a double mastectomy earlier this year. So it couldn’t be more personal and important to me.”

Yep. Leah’s grandmother had surgery. The chemotherapy was being used in an adjuvant manner, in order to decrease the chance of cancer recurrence. In other words, the surgery is what cured Leah Wood’s grandmother (Jo’s mother) of her disease, and she got lucky that she didn’t have a recurrence after chemotherapy. That means that, not only is Leah Wood peddling dangerous cancer quackery through testimonial that, whether she realizes it or not, is deceptive, but she is also making videos like this to “free the world from pharma control” and promoting changing the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in order to allow more “natural” medicines and, of course, “health care choice,” otherwise know to skeptics at the freedom to choose quackery:

To be honest, I was rather shocked at just how bad Leah Wood was at reading cue cards for a video like this, given how long she’s been in the public spotlight. Be that as it may, her statement is riddled with common pro-alternative medicine and anti-pharma tropes. One charge that she makes, in particular, is that there are pharmaceutical executives on the MHRA board. That seemed to me to be an easy enough claim to check out; so I did more Googling and quickly found a list of the MHRA board members. I didn’t find anyone who currently works for pharma, although there were a couple of members with pharma experience; e.g., Dr. Ian Hudson, who worked in the pharmaceutical industry in clinical research and development between 1989 and 2001, and Stephen Lightfoot, who is a former general manager of GE Healthcare’s global medical diagnostics division, managing director of Daiichi Sankyo’s UK pharmaceutical business and commercial director of Schering Healthcare’s UK pharmaceutical business. That’s two out of nine members with some pharmaceutical experience, and only one with any recent experience. None of them are currently “big pharma directors,” nor is any evidence presented on the Reform MHRA website that pharma has undue influence in MHRA.

Another thing that neither Leah Wood nor the Daily Fail tell you: The group backing this “reform” effort (the National Health Federation) is, as Prof. Ernst puts it, a lobby group for alternative medicine. Indeed, on its website it declares in its “Declaration of Health-Freedom Rights” the rights “to receive alternative medicine and treatments (such as those provided by chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopathic doctors, massage therapists, and clinical nutritionists) without government restrictions” and “to supplement our diets with vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes without government restrictions.” It also proclaims the “right of alternative medical practitioners to determine and use those treatments best suited for their patients without government restrictions.” In other words, it’s another “health freedom” group, where “heath freedom” really means the freedom from pesky regulations and laws restricting the ability of quacks to fleece their marks. Indeed, the most recent issue of its quarterly magazine, Health Freedom News, features antivaccine articles, articles promoting fear mongering about fluoridation, the “latest methods of alternative healing,” and, of course, mercury fillings woo.

As a Stones fan, I’m happy to see the boys (now old men), including Ron Wood, still doing well and hanging in there. I was happy to fire up Apple Music on Friday as I worked on my grant in my office and hear that the Stones could still tear it up through some tasty old blues numbers. I’m not, however, happy to hear that Ron Wood is into alternative medicine or to see his daughter promoting dangerous quackery like Laetrile and homeopathy, as well as donning body paint to promote the cause of a quackery-promoting “health freedom” organization.

Posted by David Gorski

Dr. Gorski's full information can be found here, along with information for patients. David H. Gorski, MD, PhD, FACS is a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute specializing in breast cancer surgery, where he also serves as the American College of Surgeons Committee on Cancer Liaison Physician as well as an Associate Professor of Surgery and member of the faculty of the Graduate Program in Cancer Biology at Wayne State University. If you are a potential patient and found this page through a Google search, please check out Dr. Gorski's biographical information, disclaimers regarding his writings, and notice to patients here.