MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

WARNING: THIS MIGHT MAKE YOU LAUGH OUT LOUDLY AND UNCONTROLLABLY.

Deepak Chopra rarely publishes in medical journals (I suppose, he has better things to do). I was therefore intrigued when I saw a recent article of which he is a co-author.

The ‘study‘ in question allegedly examined the effects of a comprehensive residential mind–body program on well-being. The authors describe it as “a quasi-randomized trial comparing the effects of participation in a 6-day Ayurvedic system of medicine-based comprehensive residential program with a 6-day residential vacation at the same retreat location.” They included 69 healthy women and men who received the Ayurvedic intervention addressing physical and emotional well-being through group meditation and yoga, massage, diet, adaptogenic herbs, lectures, and journaling. Key components of the program include physical cleansing through ingestion of herbs, fiber, and oils that support the body’s natural detoxification pathways and facilitate healthy elimination; two Ayurvedic meals daily (breakfast and lunch) that provide a light plant-based diet; daily Ayurvedic oil massage treatments; and heating treatments through the use of sauna and/or steam. The program includes lectures on Ayurvedic principles and lifestyle as well as lectures on meditation and yoga philosophy. The study group also participated in twice-daily group meditation and daily yoga and practiced breathing exercises (pranayama) as well as emotional expression through a process of journaling and emotional support. During the program, participants received a 1-hour integrative medical consultation with a physician and follow-up with an Ayurvedic health educator.

The control group simply had a vacation without any of the above therapies in the same resort. They were asked to do what they would normally do on a resort vacation with the additional following restrictions: they were asked not to engage in more exercise than they would in their normal lifestyle and to refrain from using La Costa Resort spa services. They were also asked not to drink ginger tea or take Gingko biloba during the 2 days before and during the study week.

Recruitment was via email announcements on the University of California San Diego faculty and staff and Chopra Center for Wellbeing list-servers. Study flyers stated that the week-long Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative (SBTI) study would be conducted at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, located at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California, in order to learn more about the psychosocial and physiologic effects of the 6-day Perfect Health (PH) Program compared with a 6-day stay at the La Costa Resort. The study participants were not blinded, and site investigators and study personnel knew to which group participants were assigned.

Participants in the Ayurvedic program showed significant and sustained increases in ratings of spirituality and gratitude compared with the vacation group, which showed no change. The Ayurvedic participants also showed increased ratings for self-compassion as well as less anxiety at the 1-month follow-up.

The authors arrived at the following conclusion: Findings suggest that a short-term intensive program providing holistic instruction and experience in mind–body healing practices can lead to significant and sustained increases in perceived well-being and that relaxation alone is not enough to improve certain aspects of well-being.

This ‘study’ had ethical approval from the University of California San Diego and was supported by the Fred Foundation, the MCJ Amelior Foundation, the National Philanthropic Trust, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Chopra Foundation. The paper’s first author is director of research at the Chopra Foundation. Deepak Chopra is the co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing.

Did I promise too much?

Isn’t this paper hilarious?

Just for the record, let me formulate a short conclusion that actually fits the data from this ‘study’: Lots of TLC, attention and empathy does make some people feel better.

This is hardly something one needs to write home about; and certainly nothing to do a study on!

But which journal would publish such unadulterated advertising?

On this blog, I have mentioned the JACM several times before. Recently, I wrote about the new man in charge of it. I concluded stating WATCH THIS SPACE.

I think the wait is now over – this paper is from the latest issue of the JACM, and I am sure we all agree that the new editor has just shown us of what he is made and where he wants to take his journal.

Just as I thought that this cannot get any better, it did! It did so in the form of a second paper which is evidently reporting from the same ‘study’. Here is its abstract unaltered in its full beauty:

The effects of integrative medicine practices such as meditation and Ayurveda on human physiology are not fully understood. The aim of this study was to identify altered metabolomic profiles following an Ayurveda-based intervention. In the experimental group, 65 healthy male and female subjects participated in a 6-day Panchakarma-based Ayurvedic intervention which included herbs, vegetarian diet, meditation, yoga, and massage. A set of 12 plasma phosphatidylcholines decreased (adjusted p < 0.01) post-intervention in the experimental (n = 65) compared to control group (n = 54) after Bonferroni correction for multiple testing; within these compounds, the phosphatidylcholine with the greatest decrease in abundance was PC ae C36:4 (delta = -0.34). Application of a 10% FDR revealed an additional 57 metabolites that were differentially abundant between groups. Pathway analysis suggests that the intervention results in changes in metabolites across many pathways such as phospholipid biosynthesis, choline metabolism, and lipoprotein metabolism. The observed plasma metabolomic alterations may reflect a Panchakarma-induced modulation of metabotypes. Panchakarma promoted statistically significant changes in plasma levels of phosphatidylcholines, sphingomyelins and others in just 6 days. Forthcoming studies that integrate metabolomics with genomic, microbiome and physiological parameters may facilitate a broader systems-level understanding and mechanistic insights into these integrative practices that are employed to promote health and well-being.

Now that I managed to stop laughing about the first paper, I am not just amused but also puzzled by the amount of contradictions the second article seems to cause. Were there 65 or 69 individuals in the experimental group? Was the study randomised, quasi-randomised or not randomised? All of these versions are implied at different parts of the articles. It turns out that they randomised some patients, while allocating others without randomisation – and this clearly means the study was NOT randomised. Was the aim of the study ‘to identify altered metabolomic profiles following an Ayurveda-based intervention’ or ‘to examine the effects of a comprehensive residential mind–body program on well-being’?

I am sure that others will find further contradictions and implausibilites, if they look hard enough.

The funniest inconsistency, in my opinion, is that Deepak Chopra does not even seem to be sure to which university department he belongs. Is it the ‘Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA.’ as indicated in the 1st paper or is it the ‘Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA’ as listed in the 2nd article?

Does he know from which planet he is?

 

12 Responses to Deepak Chopra’s finest hour

  • “Were there 65 or 69 individuals in the experimental group?” I’d guess there were 69, as documented in the first study, four of whom were too spiritually and gratitude-enhanced, with their chakras fully aligned, to agree to having samples of their blood taken.

  • But surely this is a medical breakthrough!
    It’s all very easy to mock and sneer, but did you not read it properly?
    ‘Participants in the Ayurvedic programme showed significant and sustained increases in ratings of spirituality and gratitude’.
    And ‘The Ayurvedic participants also showed increased ratings for self-compassion’.
    How do they measure these things?
    Do they use a Gratitude-O-Meter? A Compassio-tron? Did they buy these machines from the same supplier who provides ‘Trust Me, I’m Not A Doc’ Dale with his little black boxes?

  • TL;DR : Taking vacation is good for relieving stress

    Such edgy science right here

  • I had a brief Internet debate a couple of years ago with someone who paid I don’t know how many hundreds of pounds a week to go on a ‘detoxifying fasting retreat’ a few times a year.
    ‘So let me get this right’, I said. ‘You pay all this money, in some cases for a shared room, plus cost of travel there and back, food and drink not included -though in this case that’s academic-for people to stop you from eating and drinking? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to do all this at home?Or in this kind of situation, not do it at home?’
    I told him that there seems to be more money in this malarkey than I’d realised.
    ‘But I feel good afterwards’ was his reply.
    ‘Well even if you didn’t, at those prices you’d have to pretend to yourself that you did’, I answered.
    There’s no doubt that Chopra knows his market, and has spotted what my late Dad used to call ‘a business opportunity’. As Lafayette Ron used to say-‘If you want to make a million, start a religion’.

  • In this case and others, the acronym JACM is more appropriately the Journal of Anecdotal and Chuckleheaded Medicine.

  • I do read all articles of Deepak Chopra as I am known to his father Col Chopra too. I know that he is brilliant doctor, did Endo then brain chemistry followed by in depth study of Indian Ayurveda through his contacts with Maharishi Mahesh yogi. I also know lot about Maharishi Ayurveda promotion, his meditation techniques while I did consultancy services to them in Maharishi Ayurveda production unit in Noida.
    Deepak has extensively researched in both systems of medicine, but I fail to understand his interests in business grown enormously in his Chopra center by making all sorts of commercial things. I am yet to understand how he can write 80 books and still do lots of business liaison activities all over globe when he himself is asthmatic patient not known to many in world. Actually he should limit himself with practice of medicine and lecturing activities and not into unethical business promotions in USA.

    • Nonsense is still nonsense. And any argument that adduces ‘Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’ in its defence is doomed from the start. Yogi Bear would probably make more sense. And he’s funnier, although some might argue.

    • Deepak has extensively researched in both systems of medicine, but I fail to understand his interests in business grown enormously in his Chopra center by making all sorts of commercial things. I am yet to understand how he can write 80 books and still do lots of business liaison activities all over globe when he himself is asthmatic patient not known to many in world.

      It’s a condition called “Greed mixed with grandiose delusions and Dunning-Kruger phenomenon”

  • Thank you for the warning Doctor. I was going for a cup of tea but decided to read the post first. Thank heavens. One more keyboard saved.

    I have never taken a vacation at a resort but people I know tend to report eating a lot, consuming often large amounts of alcohol and the occasional herbal “remedy” and loafing around the pool/beach.

    I am not surprised the treatment group may have felt better.

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