A Candle in the Dark

A look on science, politics, religion and events

Fishy Medicine

with 9 comments

It’s time again for the annual “miracle fish cure”. You’ve all probably heard of the amazing fish “medicine” that the Bathini Goud family offers to people who suffer from Asthma. This year’s event has recently started in Hyderabad1.

Asthmatics gather in Hyderabad for “miracle cure”

Thousands of asthmatics have lined up in Hyderabad to take the ”fish medicine” that the Bathini Goud family has been administering since 1845.

It’s a purported miracle cure, where patients swallow a live fish whole, to be cured of asthma.

One memember of the family which gives the “medicine”, claims (emphasis mine)

Cheating means to cheat someone. Here the crowds have come themselves, ask them if they are being charged without getting cured. That would be cheating. These people do not even know what cheating is,”

That’s the pity. But, I think he should know. Raising hopes with a false claim, whose efficacy has never been verified in any test, and potentially endangering the lives of asthmatics who move away from conventional (yet exteremly effective) inhalers and corticosteroids, is very much cheating.

It saddens me somewhat, that such rubbish is still being practised freely. How hard would it be to conduct a double blind experiment to see if the drug really works? And if it works, to analyze the ingredients and try understanding the chemical basis for it’s efficacy, and improving it? Why doesn’t any one in our government intervene to put an end to this nonsense2?

I long for the day when the majority of our society wakes up from a demon haunted world. IMO, public awarness of science can play a large role and serve as a candle in our dark, superstitous society.


[1]Asthmatics gather in Hyderabad for “miracle cure”

[2] – Purely rhetorical. The answer, obviously, is votes.


Written by parseval

June 9, 2007 at 8:28 pm

Posted in politics, pseudoscience

9 Responses

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  1. Never underestimate the power of the placebo effect!!Being semi asthmatic myself,I can tell you it works,especially wrt breathing difficulties,which can precipitate even because of psychological factors.
    Also for most people it is the last resort,educated people always try allopathy first


    June 10, 2007 at 1:54 pm

  2. Whoever said ‘Ignorance is Bliss’? It obviously has deadly consequences here. Even if it has placebo value as ganesh says, why not give something harmless? That would still work. Why something laced with heavy metals?


    June 10, 2007 at 3:36 pm

  3. There is a hospital in a place called Puttur again in Andhra, where a family of docs use a herbal paste from the leaves of some plant that they claim makes the bones softer, allowing them to set easier.
    Unlike your case, their success rate is a lot easier to measure. You have to study it without bias before you write them off as quacks. Who knows what they might have stumbled upon?


    June 12, 2007 at 10:33 am

  4. In that hospital in Puttur, have any studies been conducted to verify the efficiency of the herbal paste? I’m sure you know that conventional medicine has to go through stringent controls before it can be sold? And even then, some harmful side-effects might go unnoticed.

    Fantastic claims require fantastic evidence. How comfortable are you taking a “medicine”, which has undergone no testing whatsoever, whose efficiency has never been tested?

    As I pointed before, if double blind experiments show that the herbal paste is efficient, then great! It’ll enable us to analyze and find out how exactly the paste works, and how we can improve it.

    However, prescribing the drug without any scientific study on it’s efficiency isn’t right.


    June 12, 2007 at 10:48 am

  5. Who does drug testing? Pharma companies. On whom? Misinformed, illiterate people often in Africa. Who decides a drug is safe? Pharma companies.
    When a drug’s patent expires and it enters the generic market, the company makes a small change and re-patents it.
    Pharma companies very often cook their records.
    So where’s this great testing you are talking about?
    Read John Le Carre’s The Constant Gardener sometime. The movie was one of the best I’ve seen 🙂


    June 15, 2007 at 11:28 am

  6. Hold on! I disagree with some of what you claim
    The drug testing, usually (ie, in developed countries) is exteremely rigorous.
    – First the there’s extensive testing in labs, where the possible biological effects are assesed to get some idea about the safety.
    – Then, we have animal trials (for example, rats and other animals), where the biological action of the drug on animals with similar genes as humans is documented.
    The testing is done in 3 phases, and the first phase involves VOLUNTARY participation to ensure the drug is safe.
    – After this, the sample size is increased, and double blind experiments are performed to assess the efficacy of the drug, and rule out placebo effect and find long term side effects.
    – Also, the pharma companies DO NOT decide if the drug is safe. Ususally, this is done by regulatory bodies (Like the FDA in the US), and the quality controls enforced are exteremely stringent.
    -The whole process can take upto 8 years, and is exteremely rigorous.
    Now, compare this procedure with the “faith” based miracle “medicines”!
    (ii) When a drugs patent expires, various “other” companies are eligible to modify the drug and make generic drugs. These are generally cheaper, and are ensure that more people can benefit from the drug.
    >>Read John Le Carre’s The Constant Gardener sometime. The movie was one of the best I’ve seen
    Agreed. Sometimes, the pharma companies behave criminally, especially in developing countires. But on the whole, such drugs are much much safer than the “miracle” medicines.


    June 15, 2007 at 2:49 pm

  7. I don’t disagree with your main point, but doing a double blind study usually isn’t at all easy. In fact it’s pretty difficult and fairly expensive. First, how would you blind people to what they were taking? Second, how could you blind people because there are good medicines for asthma. This is an ethical issue. Third, how long would you have to do this and how many people would you need? I’m not sure what the power considerations are here, but they could be considerable. Fourth, what is your outcome measure and how would you determine and analyze it?

    These are all do-able things. But they take a fair amount of experience, time and resources. And then the results are not necessarily dispositive. RCTs often conflict and you can’t put all your faith in just one.


    February 3, 2008 at 6:52 am

  8. While it may be difficult, I think it’s very possible (and necessary) to perform a rigorous blinded study before such claims of 100% cures are thrown about.

    (i) I don’t see the difficulty in blinding the patient to the “fish medicine”? In fact, it would be very easy in this case, because the patient swallows a live fish, without knowing what’s inside :p

    (ii) I agree that blinding the tests will be hard. But, note that people are voluntarily willing to take the “fish medicine”. If a study takes volunteers from this set but not tell them if they belong to the control group, I don’t think ethical considerations will be a major issue. Because, if during the study, a volunteers health rapidly deteriorates, bronchodilators can be used for immediate relief and the person withdrawn from the test.

    (iii) The proponents of the “fish medicine” suggest that a one time “treatment” cures the patient within 45 days. Also note that a 100% cure is claimed, so it’ll be hard for false negative for this claim even in a moderate sample size.

    I agree that if one is testing for any statistically significant difference between the control group and fish medicine group, one would need to carefully calculate the appropriate sample size. But, I think this can be done.

    (iv) There are definite quantitative measures which can be tested. A simple example would be the measurement on a peak flow meter.

    My main issue is that, when there’s medicine which is effective in controlling and alleviating symptoms of asthma, it’s misleading and objectionable to advertise claims, such as the fish medicine, without any evidence. There are “thousands of asthmatics” who are potentially risking their health.


    February 3, 2008 at 11:06 am

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