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Edzard Ernst (January 30 1948 in Wiesbadenmarker, Germanymarker) is the first Professor of Complementary Medicine in the United Kingdommarker.

In 1993, Ernst left his chair in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) at the University of Viennamarker to set up the department of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exetermarker. He became director of complementary medicine of the Peninsula Medical School (PMS) in 2002. He is the first occupant of the Laing chair in Complementary Medicine. He was born and trained in Germanymarker — Ernst began his medical career at a homeopathic hospital in Munichmarker — and since 1999 has been a British citizen.

Ernst is the editor-in-chief of two medical journals, Perfusion and Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies. Ernst once contributed a regular column to the Guardian newspaper, frequently reviewing news stories about complementary medicine from an evidence-based perspective.

Work in complementary medicine

The world's first professor of complementary medicine, Ernst researches complementary medicine with an emphasis on efficacy and safety. His research mainly surveys, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses of clinical trials; the institute has not performed a clinical trial for some time due to budget constraints. He has over 700 papers published in scientific journals. He has said that about 5 percent of alternative medicine is backed by evidence, with the remainder being either insufficiently studied or backed by evidence showing lack of efficacy.

Ernst's department at Exeter defines complementary medicine as "diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention which complements mainstream medicine by contributing to a common whole, by satisfying a demand not met by orthodoxy or by diversifying the conceptual frameworks of medicine."

Ernst asserts that, in Germany and Austria, complementary techniques are mostly practiced by qualified physicians, whereas in the UK they are mainly practiced by others. Ernst also argues that the term "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" ("CAM") is an almost nonsensical umbrella term, and that distinctions between its modalities must be made.

Since his research began on alternative modalities, Ernst has become "the scourge of alternative medicine" for publishing critical research. In 2008 publication in the British Journal of General Practice, Ernst's listed treatments that "demonstrably generate more good than harm" was limited to St John's wort for depression; hawthorn for congestive heart failure; guar gum for diabetes; acupuncture for nausea and osteoarthritis; aromatherapy as a palliative treatment for cancer; hypnosis for labour pain; and massage, music therapy, and relaxation therapy for anxiety and insomnia.

In 2008, Ernst and Simon Singh published Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. The authors challenged Charles, Prince of Wales, to whom the book is dedicated, and the Foundation for Integrated Health on alleged misrepresentation of "scientific evidence about therapies such as homoeopathy, acupuncture and reflexology". Singh and Ernst assert that Britain spends £500 million each year on unproven or disproven alternative therapies.

The New England Journal of Medicine reviewed the book and said this about Ernst: "Ernst is one of the best qualified people to summarize the evidence on this topic."Book review of "Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine." New England Journal of Medicine Volume 359:2076-2077 November 6, 2008 Number 19

In 2008, Ernst sent an open letter urging the Royal Pharmaceutical Societymarker to crack down on high street chemists that sell homeopathic remedies without warning of the evidence that they have no effect at all on human beings. According to Ernst, this disinformation would be a violation of their ethical code:

"My plea is simply for honesty. Let people buy what they want, but tell them the truth about what they are buying. These treatments are biologically implausible and the clinical tests have shown they don't do anything at all in human beings. The argument that this information is not relevant or important for customers is quite simply ridiculous."

In a 2008 interview with Media Life Magazine, when Ernst and Simon Singh were asked this question -- "What do you think the future is for alternative medicine?" -- they replied:

"For us, there is no such thing as alternative medicine. There is either medicine that is effective or not, medicine that is safe or not. So-called alternative therapies need to be assessed and then classified as good medicines or bogus medicines. Hopefully, in the future, the good medicines will be embraced within conventional medicine and the bogus medicines will be abandoned."

Other work

In a May 1995 Annals of Internal Medicine publication, Ernst detailed the Nazi "cleansing" of the University of Vienna medical faculty that allowed the "medical atrocities" of Nazi human experimentation.

Other significant posts

Ernst is a member of the 'Medicines Commission' of the British Medicines Control Agency (now part of the MHRA) which determines which substances may be introduced and promoted as medicine. He also sits on the 'Scientific Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products' of the 'Irish Medicines Board'. He is an external examiner for several university medical schools in several countries.


  • Healing, Hype, or Harm?: A Critical Analysis of Complementary or Alternative Medicine (editor) Imprint Academic. ISBN 1845401182
  • Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. Transworld Publisher 2008. ISBN 978-0-59-30612-99
  • The Oxford Handbook of Complementary Medicine. Oxford University Press 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-920677-3
  • Complementary Therapies for Pain Management. An Evidence-Based Approach. Elsevier Science 2007. ISBN 978-0-7234-3400-9
  • The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. An evidence based approach. Elsevier Science 2006
  • Homoeopathy: A Critical Appraisal. 1998. ISBN 0-7506-3564-9 "Professional reference text on homoeopathy is a critical evaluation of the discipline, reviewing the known facts and defining the knowledge gaps. It offers a reliable analysis of the uses of traditional homoeopathic remedies. Illustrated. For medical and professional homoeopaths, students, general practitioners, and health care professionals." Amazon.


  1. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies
  2. Edzard Ernst profile from The Guardian
  3. Interview: The complementary medicine detective - Michael Bond, New Scientist, 26 April 2008 Magazine issue 2653.
  4. Ernst et al. British General Practitioner 1995; 45:506
  5. Interview: Harcourt International
  6. Heidi Dawley. Note to Prince Charles: 'You're wrong'. Book raises new doubts about alternative medicine. Media Life Magazine Apr 21, 2008
  8. IMB newsletter
  9. See publisher's details for Oxford Handbook of Complementary Medicine

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