Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Essay

What Prince Charles tells us about complementary medicine—an essay by Edzard Ernst

BMJ 2022; 376 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o310 (Published 21 February 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;376:o310
  1. Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor
  1. University of Exeter
  1. E.Ernst{at}exeter.ac.uk

Prince Charles’s advocacy offers an insight into the logic that dominates complementary and alternative medicine, and a tale of misplaced influence that is an opportunity lost, writes Edzard Ernst

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has been an advocate of complementary medicine for more than 40 years. He has used his good will, his time, his intuition, his influence, and occasionally his money to become widely known throughout the world as a supporter of complementary medicine, in the United Kingdom and abroad.

After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts from Cambridge in 1970, the young Charles Windsor became friends with the author Laurens van der Post, who urged him to explore the old world of the spirit and convinced him that his royal intuition came from a far deeper source than conscious thought.1 Charles soon found himself on a mission to revolt against the establishment—the medical one that is. In his first major speech on healthcare in 1982, he relied on the alchemist Paracelsus and lectured the BMA that “today’s unorthodoxy is probably going to be tomorrow’s convention.”2

Ever since, the Prince has promoted an array of complementary therapies and diagnostic methods: aromatherapy, ayurveda, chiropractic, detoxification, Gerson therapy, herbal medicine, homoeopathy, iridology, marma therapy, massage, osteopathy, pulse diagnosis, reflexology, tongue diagnosis, traditional Chinese medicine, and yoga.2 These modalities could not be more heterogeneous: homoeopathy has nothing in common with herbalism; osteopathy has nothing in common with acupuncture; chiropractic has nothing in common with aromatherapy. In general, the assumptions of one complementary therapy are not compatible with those of another. And for all of them, the evidence that they do more good than harm is either weak or negative.

None of this seems to concern Charles, who has cultivated a particularly soft spot for homoeopathy, recently even becoming …

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