MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Anthroposophic medicine is based on Rudolf Steiner’s mystical ideas. It is popular in Germany and is slowly also spreading to other countries.  Anthroposophic drugs are prepared according to ancient notions of alchemy and are fly in the face of modern pharmacology. Anthroposophic doctors treat all sorts of diseases, and their treatments  include anthroposophic medications, and a range of other modalities.

A recent paper reported a secondary analysis from an observational study of 529 children with respiratory or ear infections (RTI/OM) <18 years from Europe and the USA. Their caregivers had chosen to consult physicians offering either anthroposophic (A-) or conventional (C-) treatment for RTI/OM.

During the 28-day follow-up antibiotics were prescribed to 5.5% of A-patients and 25.6% of C-patients (P < 0.001); the unadjusted odds ratio for non-prescription in A- versus C-patients was 6.58 (95%-CI 3.45-12.56); after adjustment for demographics and morbidity it was 6.33 (3.17-12.64). Antibiotic prescription rates in recent observational studies with similar patients in similar settings, ranged from 31.0% to 84.1%. Compared to C-patients, A-patients also had much lower use of analgesics, somewhat quicker symptom resolution, and higher caregiver satisfaction. Adverse drug reactions were infrequent (2.3% in both groups) and not serious.

What can we conclude from these data?

Not a lot, I fear!

The authors of the study are a little more optimistic than I; they conclude that this analysis from a prospective observational study under routine primary care conditions showed a very low use of antibiotics and analgesics/antipyretics in children treated for RTI/OM by physicians offering AM therapy, compared to current practice in conventional therapy settings (antibiotics prescribed to 5% versus 26% of A- and C-patients, respectively, during days 0–28; antipyretics prescribed to 3% versus 26%). The AM treatment entailed no safety problem and was not associated with delayed short-term recovery. These differences could not explained by differences in demographics or baseline morbidity. The low antibiotic use is consistent with findings from other studies of paediatric RTI/OM in AM settings.

They are clearly careful to avoid causal inferences; but are they implying them? I would like to know what you think.

 

6 Responses to Anthroposophic medicine: an exercise in critical thinking

  • I don’t see how this study even matters since, as I understand it, giving antibiotics for ear infections is no longer standard of care for scientific based medicine.

    Why would they test against that?

  • Sub group analysis is an immediate red flag.

    No randomisation, so results can be explained by severity of illness prior to selection of anthroposophical mumbo jumbo vs medicine.

    If my terminology marks me as biased then that is correct. It is time we stopped analysing these promotional stunts as serious science.

    • I agree!
      well said!

    • It’s even worse than that. The abstract lacks any basic information. For instance we aren’t even told how big the respective groups were and whether and how they differed concerning age and gender. That’s like publishing an opinion poll without even telling where and when people were being interviewed, let alone how.
      Oddly enough, the graphs give a different number of participants than the abstract. Graph 2 states: “Anthroposophy group: n = 410 and conventional group: n = 75.” Now, what the heck happened to the 44 kids missing compared to the 529 the abstract mentions? Add the non-randomization you mentioned and the inevitable conclusion is that this paper is another example of junk science.

  • I am delighted that some children showed a ‘somewhat quicker symptom response’ after receiving AM medicine, but as ‘Anthroposophic medicine claims that the heart does not pump blood but that blood propels itself along. Anthroposophic medicine also proposes that a patient’s past lives may influence their illness and that the course of an illness is subject to karmic destiny ‘ (Wikipedia) and as AM medicines are practically homeopathic – we are dealing here with a cult if not religion.

    Science does not apply.

  • Published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, by Hindawi Publishing Corporation, from the Institue for Applied Epistemology and Medical Methodology, just saying…

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