The Princes Foundation for Integrated Health closed shop in 2010. Now the company that ran the foundation has officially closed. The foundation was a vanity project by Prince Charles, who had a soft spot for so-called alternative medicine and natural therapies. The foundation was established in 1993 and in the last 19 years has misinformed the public about CAM therapies, promoted nonsense like homeopathy, and has been an official royal seal of approval on the anti-science in medicine movement in the UK.

In short the foundation was an excellent example of why political ideology should not interfere with the normal process of science. The website for the charity no longer exists, but this is what it said about it’s mission:

“The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health is a UK charity championing an integrated approach to health.

“The Foundation works towards a culture of health and wellbeing with people and communities taking more responsibility for their own health, and where health professionals collaborate and share learning in the best interests of their patients.

“Integrated health means an approach to health which:

  • “emphasises prevention and self-care
  • “looks at the person in the round, taking into account the effects on health of lifestyle, environment and emotional wellbeing
  • “brings together the safest and most effective aspects of mainstream medical science and complementary healthcare.”

This is typical CAM bait and switch. Preventive medicine, healthy lifestyles, and taking a complete approach to health is not alternative or complementary – it is part of mainstream science-based medicine. All of that is actually a misdirection from the real goal of the CAM or “integrative” movement – to promote health products and services that fail to meet minimal standards of evidence and plausibility, or which have already been shown to be ineffective. The Prince’s Foundation was not exception, promoting over the years every form of quackery from homeopathy to Reiki.

Perhaps the best criticism of the foundation came from Edzard Ernst who wrote:

He seems to think that the nation should be force-fed on alternative medicine today, while research into these treatments might be conducted some time in the future. I, on the other hand, have often pointed out that research has to come first; it should sort out the wheat from the chaff and, subsequently, we might consider integrating those treatments that demonstrably generate more good than harm. I therefore think that the FIH has become a lobby group for unproven and disproven treatments populated by sycophants.

Of course – integrating therapies proven by science is called science-based medicine. Edzard correctly points out that the purpose of the CAM category is to put practice before evidence, and even to go against the evidence, or redefine what should pass for evidence in medicine.

There was some speculation about what the company might do in the wake of the Foundation’s closing, but that has now ended with the demise of the company that funded the charity. When the Foundation closed in 2010 it was amid an embezzlement scandal. Although the Foundation claimed it was planning on closing because it had achieved it objective, and just sped up the timetable because of the allegations. But now those allegations have killed the sponsoring company. The Mail online reports:

The revelation led to the foundation’s finance director George Gray, 50, being jailed for three years for embezzling the sum over two years.

Southwark Crown Court heard how Gray regularly transferred up to £5,000 a time from the charity into his bank account to cover payments on his £700,000 mortgage.

It is heartening to see an organization dedicated to anti-science in medicine go under, but it is a shame that it took an unrelated scandal to do it. It would have been better if the Foundation closed because people finally came to their senses.

In the US we have our own versions of the Prince’s Foundation, namely the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). The NCCAM is a vanity project of its major sponsor, Senator Tom Harkin, as much as the Prince’s Foundation was a project of Prince Charles. Likewise DSHEA was the result of the personal ideology of two senators, Harkin and Orin Hatch. The misnamed DSHEA essentially deregulated the supplement industry, leading to an explosion of dubious products, an expansion of the multi-billion dollar supplement industry, and all without a bit of evidence that there has been any benefit to the health of Americans. In fact, it is possible (and I think it’s likely) that there has been net harm.

It is unfortunate that a few politically powerful individuals can have such a disproportionate influence on an issue as important as health care. It is also generally not a good thing when politics or ideology are used to trump science – and that, at its core, is what CAM is.


Posted by Steven Novella

Founder and currently Executive Editor of Science-Based Medicine Steven Novella, MD is an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is also the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of the NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr. Novella also has produced two courses with The Great Courses, and published a book on critical thinking - also called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.