The Macabre Origins of the Meta-Medicine Movement

— The first in a three-part series charting the rise of the Meta-Medicine movement

If you’re interested in the often murky world of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), chances are you’ve heard of the International Meta-Medicine Association (IMMA).

Founded in 2004 by Johannes Fisslinger—inventor of the “Aura Video Station”—IMMA (via its online university, Meta-Health University) claims to have trained over 1,000 practitioners in “the art and science of self-healing,” an elaborate philosophy of preventive health focused on diagnosing the root causes of disease.

The university’s faculty list reads like a who’s who of the contemporary CAM scene, counting among its guest speakers pediatric surgeon Dr. Bernie Siegel, celebrity nutrition expert Dr. David Katz, and biologist Bruce Lipton.

Via its non-profit research charity, the Heal Breast Cancer Foundation (HBCF), IMMA has attracted Hollywood actors like Ben Stiller and Geena Davis, and garnered high-profile endorsements from Dr. Dean Ornish and self-help guru Eckhart Tolle.

Yet despite its penchant for attracting big names, little is known about the lurid origins of this self-proclaimed “revolutionary new healing paradigm.”

The central tenet of IMMA’s philosophy of preventive health is that the body is capable of healing itself naturally. The claims are based on the discredited theories of Ryke Geerd Hamer, a German doctor who lost his licence in 1986 as a result of extreme misconduct.

IMMA posits the onset of disease as occurring when a person suffers sudden or prolonged emotional trauma; to “self-heal,” they must overcome this trauma.

To understand Hamer’s theories, or by extension those of IMMA, you have to start with the story of Hamer’s son, Dirk.

— Dirk Hamer and the catalyst for the “Germanic New Medicine

In August 1978, while napping on the deck of a yacht in the Mediterranean near Corsica, Dirk Hamer was shot by the last crown prince of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy. Dirk died four months later.

According to his official online biography, a short time after Dirk’s death, Dr. Hamer discovered he had testicular cancer. At around the same time, Dr. Hamer’s wife, Sigrid Oldenburg, discovered she had breast cancer.

Dr. Ryke Geerd Hamer at his son’s funeral, 1978 (source)

Hamer attributed the onset of his and his wife’s cancer to the emotional trauma they had experienced as a result of Dirk’s death. He theorised that the most effective course of treatment would be to bypass conventional treatments and instead undergo a form of “natural therapy” to resolve the underlying trauma.¹

The theories Hamer developed during this period formed the basis for what would become the “Germanic New Medicine” (GNM), a speculative model of disease exploring the “interconnections and relationships” between “the psyche, the brain and the organ.”

According to one particularly fantastic claim, specific emotions are said to affect specific organs and bodily functions.

For example, a child who is forced to live under the conservative – or “inflexible” – rule of an overbearing parent might develop rigid joints. A recently-divorced woman might, in the absence of intimate physical touch, develop a skin condition. And so on.

Decades later, Johannes Fisslinger would integrate Hamer’s claim into IMMA’s trademark theory, the “organ-mind-brain connection.”

The “two phases” of disease, according to Dr. Hamer (source)

In 1981, Hamer submitted his postdoctoral thesis on the psychological roots of disease to the University of Tübingen with the objective of convincing the university to test his hypothesis on patients. The university rejected his thesis, citing flaws in the form and methodology.

Having failed to establish himself in academia, Hamer then tried to find evidence for the link between unresolved trauma and the onset of cancer and other diseases.

In 1982, he opened a private cancer clinic near Freiburg, Germany, where he began putting his theories into practice. 

Surviving accounts of his clinic, Sanatorium Rosenhof, paint an unremittingly bleak picture. To paraphrase a translated 1983 report featured in the German news magazine Stern:*

Around the dinner table sit Hamer’s patients, their bodies emaciated and swollen, their faces yellow from jaundice. They are deathly ill. Instead of receiving the proper medical treatment, they only sing and eat – for this is the course of treatment Hamer has prescribed, and they have faith that it will heal them.

Not surprisingly, this course of treatment was not effective, and of the 50 patients who were treated by Hamer at Sanatorium Rosenhof, only seven are thought to have survived.

Following the closure of Sanatorium Rosenhof by German authorities, Hamer opened an illegal clinic near Bremen, Haus Dammersmoor. Reports of patients dying again caught the attention of authorities, and Dammersmoor was forced to close.

In 1985, Hamer moved to the town of Katzenelnbogen, where he opened yet another illegal clinic, Amici di Dirk, which in German is “Freunde von Dirk,” meaning “Friends of Dirk,” after his late son.

The conditions inside Amici di Dirk – his third clinic in just over two years – were horrific. The clinic lacked staff, money, and basic medical supplies. Hamer was allegedly absent for days at a time, leaving patients alone without any medical assistance.

The following excerpts from interviews arranged by German journalist Aribert Deckers and carried out by University of Tübingen student journalist Silke Bauer with some of Hamer’s former employees, provide a chilling account of conditions inside Amici di Dirk.*

“I would describe my time with Dr. Hamer as a very chaotic and exhausting period. Chaotic because he had no money, because some days he lacked the money to feed our patients. It was hard to work there. He could not administer therapy because sometimes there were no drugs available to relieve suffering.”

– Mrs. M, former accountant at Amici di Dirk

“There was a young lady with us, a patient with cancer. She was accompanied by her brother. And one morning Dr. Hamer started his car and did not tell us where he was going or when he would return, and did not leave even a phone number, nothing.

“The brother came to me and told me his sister was in severe pain, and wondered where Dr. Hamer was. I told him: ‘I cannot reach Dr. Hamer, he did not tell us where he was going.’ The brother returned two or three times, saying: ‘My sister screams in pain!’ And I said: ‘I’ll call another doctor, it can’t go on like this.’”

– Mrs. Gemmer, former accountant at Amici di Dirk

“Dr. Hamer was particularly interested in one young patient. I think he had bone cancer and was in terrible pain. For days he banged his head against the wall, into the night. I said to Hamer: ‘Doctor, we have to give something against the pain, this is not normal.’ Hamer said: ‘For God’s sake, no! We cannot give an analgesic, this would change the blood values, the effect of healing would be compromised.’”

[Speaking about a female cancer patient who had been admitted into Hamer’s care] “I lifted the blanket on the bed and I could see that she had a big hole like a blow on the thigh, and you could see the bone. And there was no treatment.”

– Mrs. F, former nurse at Amici di Dirk

After Amici di Dirk was closed in 1985, German state authorities had had enough and revoked Hamer’s licence to practice medicine.

Since then, Hamer has been convicted and imprisoned for medical crimes in several European countries, and reportedly there’s a warrant for his arrest in Austria regarding a high-profile 1995 case in which he attempted to illegally treat six-year-old cancer patient Olivia Pilhar.

Olivia Pilhar in 1995, post-chemotherapy (source)

Meanwhile, medical authorities have widely denounced the former physician’s theories and practices.

In 1989, the Koblenz district court ruled that Hamer did not possess the mental capacity to grasp the ethical ramifications of treating patients using an unproven therapy.

In 2001, a Swiss study found “no evidence” to support Hamer’s “New Medicine,” which it called “dangerous, especially as it lulls the patients into a false sense of security so that they are deprived of other effective treatments.”

In 2004, The German Cancer Society offered its “expert opinion”: Hamer’s hypothesis lacked “any scientific or empirical justification.”

The final nail in the coffin came from Dr. Michael Reusch, president of the German Medical Association, who in a 2006 interview called it “a tragedy” that vulnerable cancer patients had been taken in by Hamer’s “charlatanism.”

Dr. Hamer in 2009 (source)

Despite these setbacks, Hamer continued to put his theories into practice,² amassing a criminal record that rivals Nazi scientist Gerhard Wagner. As it happens, Hamer – like Wagner – is a virulent anti-Semite.³

According to GNM proponent Ilsedora Laker, the 81-year-old Hamer now lives in Norway, where he continues to promote his discredited theories.

Click here for part two.

¹In a 1999 Radio Toronto interview, Hamer said he underwent surgery for testicular cancer at Tübingen University Hospital. While it remains unclear if his wife underwent similar surgery for breast cancer, Hamer reportedly said her death in 1985 was caused by her scepticism about the efficacy of treating disease using the methods prescribed by his “New Medicine.”

²With few exceptions, Hamer has been ignored by mainstream media, but German journalist Aribert Deckers states that the number of Hamer’s victims is in the hundreds.

³In a 2009 interview, Hamer claimed that vaccines are a Jewish conspiracy to implant genocidal “death chips” into the bodies of non-Jews.

*For continuity, English translations of interviews and news reports have been edited and condensed.

Update, 30/06/2016: This article originally stated that German journalist Aribert Deckers had estimated the number of Hamer’s victims “at around 150.” In fact, Deckers says he stopped counting in 2008, and that he believes the true number is in the hundreds.

This article has also been updated to properly reflect Deckers’ part in arranging the 2008 interviews conducted by University of Tübingen student journalist Silke Bauer with some of Hamer’s former employees. Transcripts can be accessed via Deckers’ comprehensive website on Hamer, deathsect.com.

Voice in the Wilderness

Nina Teicholz by Laura Rose

“I guess history repeats itself, and the losers are not just me but a fair and public airing of the best and most current science” – The (ongoing) story of how top US nutritionists tried to gag New York Times best-selling author Nina Teicholz [Updated: CSPI’s BMJ retraction request goes missing – more after the jump]

As readers of Shooting the Messenger and The Sidebar (my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich’s world-beating website) will know, there have been some major developments in recent months re: efforts by members of the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) to gag journalist and author Nina Teicholz.

Taking stock of the story so far, it’s remarkable how closely each new development seems to mirror Teicholz’s own account of previous efforts by nutritionists to suppress dissenting viewpoints.

Via her seminal 2014 book on the history of nutritional science, The Big Fat Surprise:

At a conference that [Danish researcher Uffe Ravnskov] and I were both attending near Copenhagen in 2005, he stood out in the crowd simply because he was willing to confront this gathering of top nutrition experts by asking questions that were considered long since settled.

“The whole pathway, from cholesterol in the blood, to heart disease – has this pathway really been proven?” he stood up and asked, rightly though rhetorically, after a presentation one day.

“Tsh! Tsh! Tsh!” A hundred-plus scientists wagged their heads in unison.

“Next question?” asked an irritated moderator.

For Teicholz, who started her research “expect[ing] to find a community in decorous debate,” this incident illustrated a surprising lack of tolerance within the nutritional sciences for alternative viewpoints, or even simple scientific inquiry.

Unfortunately, her anecdote would prove eerily prescient.

On November 5 last year, a letter signed by over 180 credentialed professionals, including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, was sent to the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

The letter – organised by Bonnie Liebman at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, DC-based advocacy non-profit – requested that the journal retract The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz’s September 23 article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 DGAC.

If there’s any doubt as to whether this constituted an attempt to silence a critic, all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC signed their names to the letter.

But the effort to gag Teicholz didn’t end there.

In March this year, she was disinvited from the National Food Policy Conference, a prestigious Washington, DC food policy panel at which she was scheduled to speak the following month (her replacement – wait for it – was president and CEO of the Alliance for Potato Research & Education Maureen Storey).

Sound familiar? Check out this excerpt from The Big Fat Surprise:

As [Ancel] Key’s ideas spread and became adopted by powerful institutions, those who challenged him faced a difficult – some might say impossible – battle. Being on the losing side of such a high-stakes debate had caused their professional lives to suffer. Many of them had lost jobs, research funding, speaking engagements, and all the many other perks of prestige.

…they were not invited to conferences and were unable to get prestigious journals to publish their work. Experiments that had dissenting results, they found, were not debated but instead dismissed or ignored altogether.

Things took a sinister turn in late March, with Peter reporting on how DGAC chair Barbara Millen and US Department of Agriculture exec Angela Tagtow conspired with Thomas Gremillion – director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which organised the conference – to kick Teicholz off the panel (click here to read Peter’s May 2 article showing the extent of Millen’s involvement).

Piling-on the anti-Nina Teicholz bandwagon was nutritionist and Huffington Post columnist Dr. David Katz, who was quoted in Ian Leslie’s acclaimed April 7 Guardian article, The sugar conspiracy, describing Teicholz as “shockingly unprofessional” and “an animal unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Via The Big Fat Surprise:

…slander and personal ridicule were surprisingly not unusual experiences for…opponents of the diet-heart hypothesis.

Last month, several prominent physicians criticised Katz for his ad hominem remarks, leading Yale University’s School of Medicine to publicly disassociate from its otherwise unrelated namesake, the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Centerof which Katz is the founding director.

Bringing the whole sorry story up-to-date, this month Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed Harvard professor and DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu’s efforts to solicit European signatories to Bonnie Liebman’s CSPI retraction letter.

Is Teicholz surprised by the extreme measures taken by members of the DGAC to shut her out of the debate? Here’s what she had to say:

“Even though I had covered the vicious politics of nutrition science extensively in my book, I couldn’t quite imagine the force with which the various attack strategies would be applied against me. Virtually every tactic that Keys and his allies used to malign anyone who challenged them – false accusations about supposed errors and supposed industry backing as well as just sheer name-calling – has been employed aggressively against me. I guess history repeats itself, and the losers are not just me but a fair and public airing of the best and most current science.”

Like those whom she wrote about in The Big Fat Surprise – researchers such as John Yudkin, Pete Ahrens and Mary G. Enig – Teicholz has dared to challenge the scientific consensus on nutrition, and has paid the price. Yet unlike those before her, Teicholz remains a prominent voice of dissent.

Is the tide starting to turn on diet and nutrition? Will we soon see a crack in the consensus? Wouldn’t that be a big fat surprise.

Update, 14/07/2016: The CSPI’s November 5, 2015 retraction request of The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz’s September 23, 2015 BMJ article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 DGAC, has gone missing from the CSPI’s website, in its place this 404 notice:

CSPI BMJ 404 Page

According to Teicholz, the BMJ is preparing to announce it will not retract her article.

A PDF of the CSPI’s retraction request is available by clicking here.

An updated, December 17, 2015 version – absent the names of 18 signatories – is available by clicking here.

Oops, He Did It Again

More sockpuppetry by prominent Yale prof/author/columnist David L. Katz MD [Updated: Goodreads scrubbed his self-review] 

I co-authored this item with U.S. (Atlanta, GA) investigative reporter Peter M. Heimlich, who’s cross-posting it at his hard-hitting blog, The Sidebar.

Peter first contacted me a couple months ago after I reblogged his September 30 item about Dr. David Katz posting a shill five-star review on Amazon for his novel reVision. Since then, I’ve been keeping my (many) readers informed about further developments in Dr. Katz’s literary career.

I turned up the Goodreads review; Peter sent the inquiry. We’ll update if/when the company responds. (For clarity, Peter’s inquiry is slightly edited.)


Subject: blogger inquiry
To: Goodreads <support@goodreads.com>, <press@goodreads.com>
From: Peter Heimlich <peter.heimlich@gmail.com>
Cc: Dean Sterling Jones
Date: Mon, 14 Dec 2015 16:36:25 -0500

Hi Goodreads Team,

1) Here’s a screenshot I just took from a Goodreads review page:

Katz 1

2) Per this screenshot I just took from his Facebook home page, you can see that the above David Katz is David L. Katz MD of Yale’s Griffin Hospital and that he’s hyping the book reVision:

Katz 2

3) Recent articles in the Yale Daily News, Retraction Watch, and IMediaEthics (please click the names to read those stories) reported that the Huffington Post deleted two columns by Dr. Katz in which he lavished praise upon reVision without informing readers that he wrote the novel and that Amazon.com deleted a five-star review for reVision which Dr. Katz posted on his Amazon user account without identifying himself as the author.

Here’s my question.

Is Dr. Katz’s Goodreads review of reVision in compliance with your review guidelines

Update 16/12/15: Just hours after Peter Heimlich and I blogged our items, Goodreads.com scrubbed Dr. Katz’s self-review. 

Here’s a recent screenshot taken of the web page:

2015-12-16_221320

Kudos to Peter, who deserves credit for doing most – if not all – of the work.