Let me just say right away that I have a limited tolerance for outlandish claims made without adequate scientific support. Very limited tolerance. In fact I would go so far as to say that I’m practically allergic to pronunciations like “Your Parkinson’s cured or your money back! Read Dr Plonker’s new book, yours for only $29.99 plus $8.99 postage and packing. Learn how you can beat Parkinson’ without drugs” or “The dietary secret THEY don’t want you to know” for three payments of $18.99 with a free certificate and advice on hair loss. “Ancient medicine….Secret recipe… Amazon tribes… Natural healing remedy… Cures cancer and piles”.

Sometimes the principal selling point is made by hinting at mysticism. The ingredients of this wonder treatment are ” mysterious” (nobody knows what the tube contains), “ancient” (nobody knows how long it’s been lying there) and the result of the shared wisdom of a lost Amazon tribe (all very well but their cumulative wisdom has still not come up with the internal combustion engine). Don’t hold out too much hope for the cumulative wisdom of a tribe that cannot even write their names in the sand with a stick.

Sometimes a product is “natural”. Well so is deadly nightshade, sweetheart. And hemlock. “Natural” doesn’t mean good. Doesn’t mean bad either. We shouldn’t forget that many of our modern medicines are derived in some way from natural products as diverse as tree bark (aspirin) and the saliva of the Gila monster (exenatide). Natural is fine in context. But simply stamping the word natural on something is no guarantee of efficacy.

And I get tired of being told at the end advertisements “this product is not available in the shops”. Yes, and there are good reasons for that, encapsulated in many acts of retail legislation around the world. Mainly to do with products having to actually work before you can sell them in shops. That’s why you have to buy this stuff from some PO Box in the outskirts of Tallahassee and not your local pharmacist. Most pharmacists have a bit of a hangup with this kind of thing. Hangup as in “we do not sell this stuff because it doesn’t work”. They can be sticklers about this sort of thing.

But I must be softening in my old age. I heard myself saying to a friend “well, who knows. There could be something in it” when discussing alternative therapies for Parkinson’s. And somehow the act of saying those words made me think not so much that there could be something in it but that, whether there was or not, it was something I should find out for myself. Not reading a book.

Many years back I used to be a Royal Society University Research Fellow (tiny little brag there), before Parkinson’s sliced and diced its way through my brain. I mention this because the Latin motto of the Royal Society “Nullius in Verba” translates as “take nobody’s word for it”.

So with that in mind, I intend to do exactly that – formulate my own opinions on the various alternative therapies available. And here’s where you can help. Send me your suggestions. Where should I start? Crystal therapy? Flotation tanks? It’s your call. Let me know and I will draw up a plan. And, over the next several months I plan to try out various “alternative” treatments that have been claimed to have benefit in Parkinson’s.

Of course I should declare my colours immediately. I am a scientist, have always been a scientist and, I would like to believe, will at least remain a scientist in thought until I can no longer think. So I will be assessing alternative therapies on that basis. Now depending on your perspective, that may be seen as an advantage or disadvantage. If the evidence in favour of one particular therapy is, let’s say, a little thin, you can reasonably expect me to seek out those gaps. If I am unconvinced, you will be the first to know. But the converse also applies – if I am satisfied that there is a strong scientific basis for the claims, I will say so.

So if there is a therapy you think stands up to scrutiny, let me know. If you’re right, I will sing its praises from the rooftops. If you’re wrong, I will attack it like a ravening tyrannosaur.

Can’t say fairer than that.

Snake oil or the elixir of life – telling the difference