MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

evidence

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Many charities in the UK (and most other countries) openly promote bogus treatments. After having been reminded of this fact regularly, the UK Charity Commission have decided to look into this issue. Arguably, such charities – I have previously discussed ‘YES TO LIFE’  as an example (in total there are several hundred ‘SCAM charities’ operating in the UK today)-  do not provide a valuable public service and should therefore not benefit from such status and tax privileges. While the commission is contemplating, an article in the NEW SCIENTIST provided more information on this important issue. Here are a few excerpts:

A commission briefing document says the most important issue is the level of evidence it will require to judge whether a provider of complementary therapy dispenses services of benefit to public health, thereby qualifying legally for charitable status. The document says that at present, suitable evidence includes peer-reviewed research in recognised medical journals such as The Lancet or the BMJ, or recognition by the Department of Health or other government regulatory bodies. Personal testimonies and anecdotal evidence are not sufficient to demonstrate efficacy, says the commission, and nor are non-scientific articles and features promoting methods, treatments or therapies.

However, organisations such as the Good Thinking Society have presented evidence that these standards are not being applied rigorously, meaning some organisations may have been granted charitable status without the necessary evidence that their therapies are of benefit to public health. The commission is reassessing how its existing guidelines are enforced. It is also seeking guidance on how to deal with conflicting or inconsistent evidence, or evidence that certain therapies might cause harm – by displacing conventional therapies, for example.

Complementary providers argue that it’s unfair to be judged purely on evidence in mainstream medical journals, as demanded by the Good Thinking Society. “We know there’s a well-being factor with some complementary medicines which could be palliative, or a placebo effect,” says Jayney Goddard, director of The Complementary Medical Association. “These include massage or meditation, for example, which have tremendously supportive effects, but if the evidence isn’t forthcoming, it means those charities currently offering them might not be able to in future.” If the consultation does ultimately result in revocation of charitable status for some providers, Goddard argues that this would make it harder for them to raise donations and benefit from tax breaks that make their services more affordable.

END OF QUOTE

The argument of Jayney Goddard borders on the ridiculous, of course. If treatment X improves well-being beyond placebo and generates more good than harm, it is clearly effective and the above debate does not even apply. But it obviously does not suffice to claim that treatment X improves well-being, it is mandatory to demonstrate it with sound evidence. If, on the other hand, treatment X has not been shown to be effective beyond placebo, it must be categorised as unproven or bogus. And promoting bogus treatments/ideas/concepts (including diverting patients from evidence-based treatments and undermining rational thought in our society at large) is unquestionably harmful both to individual patients and to society as a whole.

SCAM charities are thus dangerous, unethical and an obstacle to progress. They not only should lose their charitable privileges as a matter of urgency, but they should also be fined for endangering public health.

 

 

Few alternative fads have survived as long as the current Kombucha boom. Since decades, it is being hyped as the best thing since sliced bread. Consequently, it has become popular and is now being promoted as a veritable panacea, allegedly curing asthma, cataracts, diabetes, diarrhoea, gout, herpes, insomnia and rheumatism and purported to shrink the prostate and expand the libido, reverse grey hair, remove wrinkles, relieve haemorrhoids, lower hypertension, prevent cancer, and promote general well-being. Kambucha is believed to stimulate the immune system, and help with HIV infection. And – sure enough – it is ideal for detox!!!

One author goes even further and lists no less than 17 indications:

It’s good for your gut:

1. Kombucha contains naturally fermenting probiotics that help maintain healthy gut flora by increasing the number of beneficial organisms.
2. It preserves nutrients and breaks them down into an easily digestible form, which allows you to absorb them better.
3. It enhances the absorption of minerals, particularly calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous and copper.
4. Healthy gut flora improves digestion, fights candida overgrowth, improves mental clarity and stabilizes moods.
5. A healthy gut can also be attributed to reducing or eliminating depression an anxiety.
6. Kombucha contains numerous strains of yeasts and up to 20 different bacterial species (and possibly many more!).

It detoxifies the body:

7. The enzymes and bacterial acids in kombucha ease the burden on the liver by reducing pancreatic load.
8. Kombucha contains glucuronic acid, which binds to toxins and increases their excretion through the kidney or intestines.
9. In 1951, a popular Russian study found that the daily consumption of kombucha was correlated with an extremely high resistance to cancer.
10. It contains vitamin C, a potent detoxifier.

It supports the nervous system:

11. Kombucha contains vitamin B, which has been associated with reducing blood pressure and supporting the nervous system.

It’s anti-ageing and supports the joints:

12. Kombucha contains glucosamines, which are vital for the treatment and prevention of arthritis.
13. Kombucha allegedly eliminates grey hair, increases sex drive and improves eyesight.
14. Kombucha concentrates the antioxidants found in tea. Antioxidants not only fight the environmental toxins known as free radicals, which contribute to illness and disease, but help slow the aging process.
15. Theoretically, powerful antioxidant nutrients can prevent and lessen wrinkles by promoting skin elasticity.

It’s anti-microbial

16. Kombucha is anti-microbial due to it’s acetic and organic acids, proteins, enzymes and bacteriocins. It exerts anti-microbial activity against pathogenic bacteria like E coli and Salmonella. Incidentally, green tea kombucha has a high anti-microbial effect than when made with black tea.

It decreases sugar cravings

17. Emmet from Remedy told us that customers often comment that kombucha reduces their sugar cravings. “My take on this is that kombucha provides a natural energy boost and is therefore a handy antidote for when cravings kick in. It’s also a great way to break the soft drinks habit.”

END OF QUOTE

Sadly, none of these claims are based on anything that even vaguely resembles evidence. My own systematic review of 2003 aimed at locating and critically evaluating all human medical investigations of kombucha regardless of study design. However, no clinical studies were found relating to the efficacy of this remedy. Several case reports and case series raise doubts about the safety of kombucha. They include suspected liver damage, metabolic acidosis and cutaneous anthrax infections. One fatality was on record. I therefore concluded that on the basis of these data it was concluded that the largely undetermined benefits do not outweigh the documented risks of kombucha. It can therefore not be recommended for therapeutic use.

Since then no clinical trials have been published; but more information on the risks of Kombucha has emerged. A case report of a 54-year-old asthmatic woman, for instance. She presented to hospital with a 10-day history of breathlessness. On examination, she was tachypnoeic with mild wheeze. She had preserved peak flows and was saturating at 100% on room air. Investigations revealed severe metabolic lactic acidosis. On further questioning, it transpired that she drank kombucha tea, which has been linked to lactic acidosis. She made a full recovery with supportive management and cessation of the tea.

A case of hepatotoxicity has also been related to Kombucha consumption. Another case report tells the story of a 22 year old male, newly diagnosed with HIV, who became short of breath and febrile within twelve hours of Kombucha tea ingestion. He subsequently became combative and confused, requiring sedation and intubation for airway control. Laboratories revealed a lactate of 12.9 mmol/L, and serum creatinine of 2.1 mg/dL. The authors concluded that consumption of this tea should be discouraged, as it may be associated with life-threatening lactic acidosis.

But how can a simple tea like Kombucha cause such serious problems? The answer lies in the method of preparation which carries the risk of contamination: the Kombucha material is incubated at room temperature in a sugar-containing liquid for 7–12 days. It is hardly surprising that, under such conditions, human pathogens may grow. It follows that, depending on the method of preparation and standards of hygiene, some Kombucha teas may be entirely innocent whilst others carry the risk of contamination and infection. Contaminated batches may act like a ‘biological chain letter’.

Considering all this, here are my instructions for making Kombucha and enjoying it safely.

You will need:

  • 3 litres of filtered water
  • 10 green or black teabags
  • 1 SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast)
  • ½ a cup of sugar

And this is what you need to do:

Boil the filtered water.

Pour over the teabags in a large container.

Add the sugar to the tea, and allow time to brew and cool (about two hours).

Pour the brewed tea into a large, jar and add the SCOBY.

Cover jar with cheesecloth, muslin or paper towel and secure with a rubber band.

Leave to brew for a week or more to taste.

Pour the kombucha into bottles

… and bin the lot.

In Germany, homeopathy had been an undisputed favourite for a very long time. Doctors prescribed it, Heilpraktiker recommended it, patients took it and consumers, politicians, journalists, etc. hardly ever questioned it. But recently, this has changed; thanks not least to the INH and the ‘Muensteraner Kreis‘, some Germans are finally objecting to paying for the homeopathic follies of others. Remarkably, this might even have led to a dent in the sizable profits of homeopathy producers: while in 2016 the industry sold about 55 million units of homeopathic preparations, the figure had decreased to ‘just’ ~53 million in 2017.

Enough reason, it seems, for some manufacturers to panic. The largest one is the DHU (Deutsche Homoeopathische Union), and they recently decided to go on the counter attack by investing into a large PR campaign. This article (in German, I’m afraid) explains:

…Unter dem Hashtag #MachAuchDuMit lädt die Initiative Anwenderinnen und Anwender ein, ihre guten Erfahrungen in Sachen Homöopathie zu teilen. “Über 30 Millionen zufriedene Menschen setzen für ihre Gesundheit auf Homöopathie und vertrauen ihr. Mit unserer Initiative wollen wir das Selbstbewusstsein der Menschen stärken, sich für die Homöopathie zu entscheiden oder mindestens für eine freie Wahl einzustehen,” so Peter Braun, Geschäftsführer der DHU…

“Die Therapiefreiheit, die in unserem Slogan mit “Meine Entscheidung!” zum Ausdruck kommt, ist uns das wichtigste in dieser Initiative”, unterstreicht Peter Braun. Und dafür lohnt es sich aktiv zu werden, wie der Schweizer weiß. 2017 haben sich die Menschen in der Schweiz per Volksabstimmung für das Konzept einer integrativen Medizin entschieden. Neben der Schulmedizin können dort auch weitere Therapieverfahren wie Homöopathie oder Naturmedizin zum Einsatz kommen.

In Deutschland will die DHU mit ihrer Initiative Transparenz schaffen und die Homöopathie hinsichtlich Fakten und Erfolge realistisch darstellen. Dafür besteht offensichtlich Bedarf: “Wir als DHU haben in der jüngsten Vergangenheit dutzende spontane Anfragen bekommen, für die Homöopathie Flagge zu zeigen”.

Was die Inhalte der Initiative angeht betont Peter Braun, dass es dabei nie um ein “Entweder-Oder” zwischen Schulmedizin und anderen Therapieverfahren gehen soll: “Die Kombination der jeweils am besten für den Patienten passenden Methode im Sinne von “Hand-in-Hand” ist das Ziel der modernen integrativen Medizin. In keiner Art und Weise ist eine Entscheidung für die Homöopathie eine Entscheidung gegen die Schulmedizin. Beides hat seine Berechtigung und ergänzt sich in vielen Fällen.”

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For those who do not read German, I will pick out a few central themes from the text.

Amongst other things, the DHU proclaim that:

  1. Homeopathy has millions of satisfied customers in Germany.
  2. The campaign aims at defending customers’ choice.
  3. The campaign declares to present the facts realistically.
  4. The decision is “never an ‘either or’ between conventional medicine (Schulmedizin) and other methods”; combining those therapies that suit the patient best is the aim of modern Integrative Medicine.

It is clear to anyone who is capable of critical thinking tha
t these 4 points are fallacious to the extreme. For those to whom it isn’t so clear, let me briefly explain:

  1. The ‘appeal to popularity’ is a classical fallacy.
  2. Nobody wants to curtail patients’ freedom to chose the therapy they want. The discussion is about who should pay for ineffective remedies. Even if homeopathy will, one day, be no longer reimbursable in Germany, consumers will still be able to buy it with their own money.
  3. The campaign has so far not presented the facts about homeopathy (i. e. the remedies contain nothing, homeopathy relies on implausible assumptions, the evidence fails to show that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are effective beyond placebo).
  4. Hahnemann called all homeopaths who combined his remedies with conventional treatments ‘traitors’ (‘Verraeter’) and coined the term ‘Schulmedizin’ to defame mainstream medicine.

The DHU campaign has only started recently, but already it seems to backfire big way. Social media are full with comments pointing out how pathetic it truly is, and many Germans have taken to making fun at it on social media. Personally, I cannot say I blame them – not least because the latest DHU campaign reminds me of the 2012 DHU-sponsored PR campaign. At the time, quackometer reported:

A consortium of pharmaceutical companies in Germany have been paying a journalist €43,000 to run a set of web sites that denigrates an academic who has published research into  their products.

These companies, who make homeopathic sugar pills, were exposed in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in an article, Schmutzige Methoden der sanften Medizin (The Dirty Tricks of Alternative Medicine.)

This story has not appeared in the UK media. And it should. Because it is a scandal that directly involves the UK’s most prominent academic in Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The newspaper accuses the companies of funding the journalist, Claus Fritzsche, to denigrate critics of homeopathy. In particular, the accusation is that Fritzsche wrote about UK academic Professor Edzard Ernst on several web sites and then linked them together in order to raise their Google ranking. Fritzsche continually attacks Ernst of being frivolous, incompetent and partisan…

This story ended tragically; Fritzsche committed suicide.

My impression is that the PR-campaigns of homeopaths in general and the DHU in particular are rather ill-fated. Perhaps they should just forget about PR and do what responsible manufacturers should aim at doing: inform the public according to the best evidence currently available, even if this might make a tiny dent in their huge profits.

On this blog, we have seen more than enough evidence of how some proponents of alternative medicine can react when they feel cornered by critics. They often direct vitriol in their direction. Ad hominem attacks are far from being rarities. A more forceful option is to sue them for libel. In my own case, Prince Charles went one decisive step further and made sure that my entire department was closed down. In China, they have recently and dramatically gone even further.

This article in Nature tells the full story:

A Chinese doctor who was arrested after he criticized a best-selling traditional Chinese remedy has been released, after more than three months in detention. Tan Qindong had been held at the Liangcheng county detention centre since January, when police said a post Tan had made on social media damaged the reputation of the traditional medicine and the company that makes it.

On 17 April, a provincial court found the police evidence for the case insufficient. Tan, a former anaesthesiologist who has founded several biomedical companies, was released on bail on that day. Tan, who lives in Guangzhou in southern China, is now awaiting trial. Lawyers familiar with Chinese criminal law told Nature that police have a year to collect more evidence or the case will be dismissed. They say the trial is unlikely to go ahead…

The episode highlights the sensitivities over traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs) in China. Although most of these therapies have not been tested for efficacy in randomized clinical trials — and serious side effects have been reported in some1TCM has support from the highest levels of government. Criticism of remedies is often blocked on the Internet in China. Some lawyers and physicians worry that Tan’s arrest will make people even more hesitant to criticize traditional therapies…

Tan’s post about a medicine called Hongmao liquor was published on the Chinese social-media app Meipian on 19 December…Three days later, the liquor’s maker, Hongmao Pharmaceuticals in Liangcheng county of Inner Mongolia autonomous region, told local police that Tan had defamed the company. Liangcheng police hired an accountant who estimated that the damage to the company’s reputation was 1.4 million Chinese yuan (US$220,000), according to official state media, the Beijing Youth Daily. In January, Liangcheng police travelled to Guangzhou to arrest Tan and escort him back to Liangcheng, according to a police statement.

Sales of Hongmao liquor reached 1.63 billion yuan in 2016, making it the second best-selling TCM in China that year. It was approved to be sold by licensed TCM shops and physicians in 1992 and approved for sale over the counter in 2003. Hongmao Pharmaceuticals says that the liquor can treat dozens of different disorders, including problems with the spleen, stomach and kidney, as well as backaches…

Hongmao Pharmaceuticals did not respond to Nature’s request for an interview. However, Wang Shengwang, general manager of the production center of Hongmao Liquor, and Han Jun, assistant to the general manager, gave an interview to The Paper on 16 April. The pair said the company did not need not publicize clinical trial data because Hongmao liquor is a “protected TCM composition”. Wang denied allegations in Chinese media that the company pressured the police to pursue Tan or that it dispatched staff to accompany the police…

Xia is worried that the case could further silence public criticism of TCMs, environmental degredation, and other fields where comment from experts is crucial. The Tan arrest “could cause fear among scientists” and dissuade them from posting scientific comments, he says.

END OF QUOTE

On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed concerns over the validity of TCM data/material that comes out of China (see for instance here, here and here). This chilling case, I am afraid, is not prone to increase our confidence.

The RCC is a relatively new organisation. It is a registered charity claiming to promote “professional excellence, quality and safety in chiropractic… The organisation promotes and supports high standards of education, practice and research, enabling chiropractors to provide, and to be recognised for providing, high quality care for patients.”

I have to admit that I was not impressed by the creation of the RCC and lately have not followed what they are up to – not a lot, I assumed. But now they seem to plan a flurry of most laudable activities:

The Royal College of Chiropractors is developing a range of initiatives designed to help chiropractors actively engage with health promotion, with a particular focus on key areas of public health including physical activity, obesity and mental wellbeing.

Dr Mark Gurden, Chair of the RCC Health Policy Unit, commented:

“Chiropractors are well placed to participate in public health initiatives. Collectively, they have several million opportunities every year in the UK to support people in making positive changes to their general health and wellbeing, as well as helping them manage their musculoskeletal health of course.

Our recent AGM & Winter Conference highlighted the RCC’s intentions to encourage chiropractors to engage with a public health agenda and we are now embarking on a programme to:

  • Help chiropractors recognise the importance of their public health role;
  • Help chiropractors enhance their knowledge and skills in providing advice and support to patients in key areas of public health through provision of information, guidance and training;
  • Help chiropractors measure and recognise the impact they can have in key areas of public health.

To take this work forward, we will be exploring the possibility of launching an RCC Public Health Promotion & Wellbeing Society with a view to establishing a new Specialist Faculty in due course.”

END OF QUOTE

A ‘Public Health Promotion & Wellbeing Society’. Great!

As this must be new ground for the RCC, let me list a few suggestions as to how they could make more meaningful contributions to public health:

  • They could tell their members that immunisations are interventions that save millions of lives and are therefore in the interest of public health. Many chiropractors still have a very disturbed attitude towards immunisation: anti-vaccination attitudes still abound within the chiropractic profession. Despite a growing body of evidence about the safety and efficacy of vaccination, many chiropractors do not believe in vaccination, will not recommend it to their patients, and place emphasis on risk rather than benefit. In case you wonder where this odd behaviour comes from, you best look into the history of chiropractic. D. D. Palmer, the magnetic healer who ‘invented’ chiropractic about 120 years ago, left no doubt about his profound disgust for immunisation: “It is the very height of absurdity to strive to ‘protect’ any person from smallpox and other malady by inoculating them with a filthy animal poison… No one will ever pollute the blood of any member of my family unless he cares to walk over my dead body… ” (D. D. Palmer, 1910)
  • They could tell their members that chiropractic for children is little else than a dangerous nonsense for the sake of making money. Not only is there ‘not a jot of evidence‘ that it is effective for paediatric conditions, it can also cause serious harm. I fear that this suggestion is unlikely to be well-received by the RCC; they even have something called a ‘Paediatrics Faculty’!
  • They could tell their members that making bogus claims is not just naughty but hinders public health. Whenever I look on the Internet, I find more false than true claims made by chiropractors, RCC members or not.
  • They could tell their members that informed consent is not an option but an ethical imperative. Actually, the RCC do say something about the issue: The BMJ has highlighted a recent UK Supreme Court ruling that effectively means a doctor can no longer decide what a patient needs to know about the risks of treatment when seeking consent. Doctors will now have to take reasonable care to ensure the patient is aware of any material risks involved in any recommended treatment, and of any reasonable alternative or variant treatments. Furthermore, what counts as material risk can no longer be based on a responsible body of medical opinion, but rather on the view of ‘a reasonable person in the patient’s position’. The BMJ article is available here. The RCC feels it is important for chiropractors to be aware of this development which is relevant to all healthcare professionals. That’s splendid! So, chiropractors are finally being instructed to obtain informed consent from all their patients before starting treatment. This means that patients must be told that spinal manipulation is associated with very serious risks, AND that, in addition, ~ 50% of all patients will suffer from mild to moderate side effects, AND that there are always less risky and more effective treatments available for any condition from other healthcare providers.
  • The RCC could, for the benefit of public health, establish a compulsory register of adverse effects after spinal manipulations and make the data from it available to the public. At present such a register does not exist, and therefore its introduction would be a significant step in the right direction.
  • The RCC could make it mandatory for all members to adhere to the above points and establish a mechanism of monitoring their behaviour to make sure that, for the sake of public health, they all do take these issues seriously.

I do realise that the RCC may not currently have the expertise and know-how to adopt my suggestions, as these issues are rather new to them. To support the RCC in their praiseworthy endeavours, I herewith offer to give one or more evidence-based lectures on these subjects (at a date and place of their choice) in an attempt to familiarise the RCC and its members with these important aspects of public health. I also realise that the RCC may not have the funds to pay professorial lecture fees. Therefore, in the interest of both progress and public health, I offer to give these lectures for free.

I can be contacted via this blog.

Reflexology is an alternative therapy that is subjectively pleasant and objectively popular; it has been the subject on this blog before (see also here and here). Reflexologists assume that certain zones on the sole of our feet correspond to certain organs, and that their manual treatment can influence the function of these organs. Thus reflexology is advocated for all sorts of conditions, including infant colic.

The aim of this new study was to explore the effect of reflexology on infantile colic.

A total of 64 babies with colic were included in this study. Following a paediatrician’s diagnosis, two groups (study and control) were created. Socio-demographic data (including mother’s age, educational status, and smoking habits of parents) and medical history of the baby (including gender, birth weight, mode of delivery, time of the onset breastfeeding after birth, and nutrition style) were collected. The Infant Colic Scale (ICS) was used to estimate the colic severity in the infants. Reflexology was applied to the study group by the researcher and their mother 2 days a week for 3 weeks. The babies in the control group did not receive reflexology. Assessments were performed before and after the intervention in both groups.

The results show that the two groups were similar regarding socio-demographic background and medical history. While there was no difference between the groups in ICS scores before application of reflexology, the mean ICS score of the study group was significantly lower than that of control group at the end of the intervention.

The authors concluded that reflexology application for babies suffering from infantile colic may be a promising method to alleviate colic severity.

The authors seem to attribute the outcome to specific effects of reflexology.

However, they are mistaken!

Why?

Because their study does not control for the non-specific effects of the intervention.

Reflexology has not been shown to work for anything (“the best clinical evidence does not demonstrate convincingly reflexology to be an effective treatment for any medical condition“), and there is plenty of evidence to show that holding the baby, massaging it, cuddling it, rocking it or doing just about anything with it will have an effect, e. g.:

This trial of massage treatment for infantile colic showed statistically significant or clinically relevant effect in comparison with the rocking group.

The majority of the included trials appeared to indicate that the parents of infants receiving manipulative therapies reported fewer hours crying per day than parents whose infants did not…

…kangaroo care for infants with colic is a promising intervention…

I think, in a way, this is rather good news; we do not need to believe in the hocus-pocus of reflexology in order to help our crying infants.

“In at least one article on chiropractic, Ernst has been shown to be fabricating data. I would not be surprised if he did the same thing with homeopathy. Ernst is a serial scientific liar.”

I saw this remarkable and charming Tweet yesterday. Its author is ‘Dr’ Avery Jenkins. Initially I was unaware of having had contact with him before; but when I checked my emails, I found this correspondence from August 2010:

Dr. Ernst:

Would you be so kind as to provide the full text of your article? Also, when would you be available for an interview for an upcoming feature article?

Thank you.

Avery L. Jenkins, D.C.

I put his title in inverted commas, because it turns out he is a chiropractor and not a medical doctor (but let’s not be petty!).

‘Dr’ Avery Jenkins runs a ‘Center for Alternative Medicine’ in the US: The Center has several features which set it apart from most other alternative medicine facilities, including the Center’s unique Dispensary.  Stocked with over 300 herbs and supplements, the Dispensary’s wide range of natural remedies enables Dr. Jenkins to be the only doctor in Connecticut who provides custom herbal formulations for his patients. In our drug testing facility, we can provide on-site testing for drugs of abuse with immediate result reporting. Same-day appointments are available. Dr. Jenkins is also one of the few doctors in the state who has already undergone the federally-mandated training which will be necessary for all Department of Transportation Medical Examiners by 2014. Medical examinations for your Commercial Drivers License will take only 25 minutes, and Dr. Jenkins will provide you with all necessary paperwork.

The good ‘doctor’ also publishes a blog, and there I found a post from 2016 entirely dedicated to me. Here is an excerpt:

.. bias and hidden agendas come up in the research on alternative medicine and chiropractic in particular. Mostly this occurs in the form of journal articles using research that has been hand-crafted to make chiropractic spinal manipulation appear dangerous — when, in fact, you have a higher risk of serious injury while driving to your chiropractor’s office than you do of any treatment you receive while you’re there.

A case in point is the article, “Adverse effects of spinal manipulation: a systematic review,” authored by Edzard Ernst, and published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 2007. Ernst concludes that, based on his review, “in the interest of patient safety we should reconsider our policy towards the routine use of spinal manipulation.”

This conclusion throws up several red flags, beginning with the fact that it flies in the face of most of the already-published, extensive research which shows that chiropractic care is one of the safest interventions, and in fact, is  safer than medical alternatives.

For example, an examination of injuries resulting from neck adjustments over a 10-year period found that they rarely, if ever, cause strokes, and lumbar adjustments by chiropractors have been deemed by one of the largest studies ever performed to be safer and more effective than medical treatment.

So the sudden appearance of this study claiming that chiropractic care should be stopped altogether seems a bit odd.

As it turns out, the data is odd as well.

In 2012, a researcher at Macquarie University in Australia, set out to replicate Ernst’s study. What he found was shocking.

This subsequent study stated that “a review of the original case reports and case series papers described by Ernst found numerous errors or inconsistencies,” including changing the sex and age of patients, misrepresenting patients’ response to adverse events, and claiming that interventions were performed by chiropractors, when no chiropractor was even involved in the case.

“In 11 cases of the 21…that Ernst reported as [spinal manipulative therapy] administered by chiropractors, it is unlikely that the person was a qualified chiropractor,” the review found.

What is interesting here is that Edzard Ernst is no rookie in academic publishing. In fact, he is a retired professor and founder of two medical journals. What are the odds that a man with this level of experience could overlook so many errors in his own data?

The likelihood of Ernst accidentally allowing so many errors into his article is extremely small. It is far more likely that Ernst selected, prepared, and presented the data to make it fit a predetermined conclusion.

So, Ernst’s article is either extremely poor science, or witheringly inept fraud. I’ll let the reader draw their own conclusion.

Interestingly enough, being called out on his antics has not stopped Ernst from disseminating equally ridiculous research in an unprofessional manner. Just a few days ago, Ernst frantically called attention to another alleged chiropractic mishap, this one resulting in a massive brain injury.

Not only has he not learned his lesson yet, Ernst tried the same old sleight of hand again. The brain injury, as it turns out, didn’t happen until a week after the “chiropractic” adjustment, making it highly unlikely, if not impossible, for the adjustment to have caused the injury in the first place. Secondly, the adjustment wasn’t even performed by a chiropractor. As the original paper points out, “cervical manipulation is still widely practiced in massage parlors and barbers in the Middle East.”  The original article makes no claim that the neck adjustment (which couldn’t have caused the problem in the first place) was actually performed by a chiropractor.

It is truly a shame that fiction published by people like Ernst has had the effect of preventing many people from getting the care they need. I can only hope that someday the biomedical research community can shed its childish biases so that we all might be better served by their findings.

END OF QUOTE

Here I will not deal with the criticism a Australian chiropractor published in a chiro-journal 5 years after my 2007 article (which incidentally was not primarily about chiropractic but about spinal manipulation). Suffice to say that my article did NOT contain ‘fabricated’ data. A full re-analysis would be far too tedious, for my taste (especially as criticism of it has been discussed in all of 7 ‘letters to the editor’ soon after its publication)

I will, however, address ‘Dr’ Avery Jenkins’ second allegation related to my recent (‘frantic’) blog-post. I will do this by simply copying the abstract of the paper in question:

Background: Multivessel cervical dissection with cortical sparing is exceptional in clinical practice. Case presentation: A 55-year-old man presented with acute-onset neck pain with associated sudden onset right-sided hemiparesis and dysphasia after chiropractic* manipulation for chronic neck pain. Results and Discussion: Magnetic resonance imaging revealed bilateral internal carotid artery dissection and left extracranial vertebral artery dissection with bilateral anterior cerebral artery territory infarctions and large cortical-sparing left middle cerebral artery infarction. This suggests the presence of functionally patent and interconnecting leptomeningeal anastomoses between cerebral arteries, which may provide sufficient blood flow to salvage penumbral regions when a supplying artery is occluded. Conclusion: Chiropractic* cervical manipulation can result in catastrophic vascular lesions preventable if these practices are limited to highly specialized personnel under very specific situations.

*my emphasis


With this, I rest my case.

The only question to be answered now is this: TO SUE OR NOT TO SUE?

What do you think?

Gosh, we in the UK needed that boost of jingoism (at least, if you are white, non-Jewish and equipped with a British passport)! But it’s all very well to rejoice at the news that we have a new little Windsor. With all the joy and celebration, we must not forget that the blue-blooded infant might be in considerable danger!

I am sure that chiropractors know what I am talking about.

KISS (Kinematic Imbalance due to Suboccipital Strain) is a term being used to describe a possible causal relation between imbalance in the upper neck joints in infants and symptoms like postural asymmetry, development of asymmetric motion patterns, hip problems, sleeping and eating disorders. Chiropractors are particularly fond of KISS. It is a problem that chiropractors tend to diagnose in new-borns.

This website explains further:

The kinematic imbalances brought on by the suboccipital strain at birth give rise to a concept in which symptoms and signs associated with the cervical spine manifest themselves into two easily recognizable clinical presentations. The leading characteristic is a fixed lateroflexion [called KISS I] or fixed retroflexion [KISS II]. KISS I may be associated with torticollis, asymmetry of the skull, C–scoliosis of the neck and trunk, asymmetry of the gluteal area and of the limbs, and retardation of the motor development of one side. KISS II, on the other hand, displays hyperextension during sleep, occipital flattening that may be asymmetrical, hunching of the shoulders, fixed supination of the arms, orofacial muscular hypotonia, failure to lift the trunk from a ventral position, and difficulty in breast feeding on one side. [34] The leading trademarks of both KISS I and KISS II are illustrated in Figure 1. [31]

In essence, these birth experiences lay the groundwork for rationalizing the wisdom of providing chiropractic healthcare to the pediatric population…

END OF QUOTE

KISS must, of course, be treated with chiropractic spinal manipulation: the manual adjustment is the most common, followed by an instrument adjustment. This removes the neurological stress, re-balances the muscles and normal head position.  Usually a dramatic change can be seen directly after the appropriate adjustment has been given…

Don’t frown! We all know that we can trust our chiropractors.

Evidence?

Do you have to insist on being a spoil-sport?

Alright, alright, the evidence tells a different story. A systematic review concluded that, given the absence of evidence of beneficial effects of spinal manipulation in infants and in view of its potential risks, manual therapy, chiropractic and osteopathy should not be used in infants with the KISS-syndrome, except within the context of randomised double-blind controlled trials.

And this means I now must worry for a slightly different reason: we all know that the new baby was born into a very special family – a family that seems to embrace every quackery available! I can just see the baby’s grandfather recruiting a whole range of anti-vaccinationists, tree-huggers, spoon-benders, homeopaths, faith healers and chiropractors to look after the new-born.

By Jove, one does worry about one’s Royals!

Osteopathy is an odd alternative therapy. In many parts of the world it is popular; the profession differs dramatically from country to country; and there is not a single condition for which we could say that osteopathy out-performs other options. No wonder then that osteopaths would be more than happy to find a new area where they could practice their skills.

Perhaps surgical care is such an area?

The aim of this systematic review was to present an overview of published research articles within the subject field of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) in surgical care. The authors evaluated peer-reviewed research articles published in osteopathic journals during the period 1990 to 2017. In total, 10 articles were identified.

Previous research has been conducted within the areas of abdominal, thoracic, gynecological, and/or orthopedic surgery. The studies included outcomes such as pain, analgesia consumption, length of hospital stay, and range of motion. Heterogeneity was identified in usage of osteopathic techniques, treatment duration, and occurrence, as well as in the osteopath’s experience.

The authors concluded that despite the small number of research articles within this field, both positive effects as well as the absence of such effects were identified. Overall, there was a heterogeneity concerning surgical contexts, diagnoses, signs and symptoms, as well as surgical phases in current interprofessional osteopathic publications. In this era of multimodal surgical care, the authors concluded, there is an urgent need to evaluate OMT in this context of care and with a proper research approach.

This is an odd conclusion, if there ever was one!

The facts are fairly straight forward:

  • Osteopaths would like to expand into the area of surgical care [mainly, I suspect, because it would be good for business]
  • There is no plausible reason why OMT should be beneficial in this setting.
  • Osteopaths are not well-trained for looking after surgical patients.
  • Physiotherapists, however, are and therefore there is no need for osteopaths on surgical wards.
  • The evidence is extremely scarce.
  • The available trials are of poor quality.
  • Their results are contradictory.
  • Therefore there is no reliable evidence to show that OMT is effective.

The correct conclusion of this review should thus be as follows:

THE AVAILABLE EVIDENCE FAILS TO SHOW EFFECTIVENESS OF OMT. THEREFORE THIS APPROACH CANNOT BE RECOMMENDED.

End of story.

I have often criticised papers published by chiropractors.

Not today!

This article is excellent and I therefore quote extensively from it.

The objective of this systematic review was to investigate, if there is any evidence that spinal manipulations/chiropractic care can be used in primary prevention (PP) and/or early secondary prevention in diseases other than musculoskeletal conditions. The authors conducted extensive literature searches to locate all studies in this area. Of the 13.099 titles scrutinized, 13 articles were included (8 clinical studies and 5 population studies). They dealt with various disorders of public health importance such as diastolic blood pressure, blood test immunological markers, and mortality. Only two clinical studies could be used for data synthesis. None showed any effect of spinal manipulation/chiropractic treatment.

The authors concluded that they found no evidence in the literature of an effect of chiropractic treatment in the scope of PP or early secondary prevention for disease in general. Chiropractors have to assume their role as evidence-based clinicians and the leaders of the profession must accept that it is harmful to the profession to imply a public health importance in relation to the prevention of such diseases through manipulative therapy/chiropractic treatment.

In addition to this courageous conclusion (the paper is authored by a chiropractor and published in a chiro journal), the authors make the following comments:

Beliefs that a spinal subluxation can cause a multitude of diseases and that its removal can prevent them is clearly at odds with present-day concepts, as the aetiology of most diseases today is considered to be multi-causal, rarely mono-causal. It therefore seems naïve when chiropractors attempt to control the combined effects of environmental, social, biological including genetic as well as noxious lifestyle factors through the simple treatment of the spine. In addition, there is presently no obvious emphasis on the spine and the peripheral nervous system as the governing organ in relation to most pathologies of the human body.

The ‘subluxation model’ can be summarized through several concepts, each with its obvious weakness. According to the first three, (i) disturbances in the spine (frequently called ‘subluxations’) exist and (ii) these can cause a multitude of diseases. (iii) These subluxations can be detected in a chiropractic examination, even before symptoms arise. However, to date, the subluxation has been elusive, as there is no proof for its existence. Statements that there is a causal link between subluxations and various diseases should therefore not be made. The fourth and fifth concepts deal with the treatment, namely (iv) that chiropractic adjustments can remove subluxations, (v) resulting in improved health status. However, even if there were an improvement of a condition following treatment, this does not mean that the underlying theory is correct. In other words, any improvement may or may not be caused by the treatment, and even if so, it does not automatically validate the underlying theory that subluxations cause disease…

Although at first look there appears to be a literature on this subject, it is apparent that most authors lack knowledge in research methodology. The two methodologically acceptable studies in our review were found in PubMed, whereas most of the others were identified in the non-indexed literature. We therefore conclude that it may not be worthwhile in the future to search extensively the non-indexed chiropractic literature for high quality research articles.

One misunderstanding requires some explanations; case reports are usually not considered suitable evidence for effect of treatment, even if the cases relate to patients who ‘recovered’ with treatment. The reasons for this are multiple, such as:

  • Individual cases, usually picked out on the basis of their uniqueness, do not reflect general patterns.
  • Individual successful cases, even if correctly interpreted must be validated in a ‘proper’ research design, which usually means that presumed effect must be tested in a properly powered and designed randomized controlled trial.
  • One or two successful cases may reflect a true but very unusual recovery, and such cases are more likely to be written up and published as clinicians do not take the time to marvel over and spend time on writing and publishing all the other unsuccessful treatment attempts.
  • Recovery may be co-incidental, caused by some other aspect in the patient’s life or it may simply reflect the natural course of the disease, such as natural remission or the regression towards the mean, which in human physiology means that low values tend to increase and high values decrease over time.
  • Cases are usually captured at the end because the results indicate success, meaning that the clinical file has to be reconstructed, because tests were used for clinical reasons and not for research reasons (i.e. recorded by the treating clinician during an ordinary clinical session) and therefore usually not objective and reproducible.
  • The presumed results of the treatment of the disease is communicated from the patient to the treating clinician and not to a third, neutral person and obviously this link is not blinded, so the clinician is both biased in favour of his own treatment and aware of which treatment was given, and so is the patient, which may result in overly positive reporting. The patient wants to please the sympathetic clinician and the clinician is proud of his own work and overestimates the results.
  • The long-term effects are usually not known.
  • Further, and most importantly, there is no control group, so it is impossible to compare the results to an untreated or otherwise treated person or group of persons.

Nevertheless, it is common to see case reports in some research journals and in communities with readers/practitioners without a firmly established research culture it is often considered a good thing to ‘start’ by publishing case reports.

Case reports are useful for other reasons, such as indicating the need for further clinical studies in a specific patient population, describing a clinical presentation or treatment approach, explaining particular procedures, discussing cases, and referring to the evidence behind a clinical process, but they should not be used to make people believe that there is an effect of treatment…

For groups of chiropractors, prevention of disease through chiropractic treatment makes perfect sense, yet the credible literature is void of evidence thereof. Still, the majority of chiropractors practising this way probably believe that there is plenty of evidence in the literature. Clearly, if the chiropractic profession wishes to maintain credibility, it is time seriously to face this issue. Presently, there seems to be no reason why political associations and educational institutions should recommend spinal care to prevent disease in general, unless relevant and acceptable research evidence can be produced to support such activities. In order to be allowed to continue this practice, proper and relevant research is therefore needed…

All chiropractors who want to update their knowledge or to have an evidence-based practice will search new information on the internet. If they are not trained to read the scientific literature, they might trust any article. In this situation, it is logical that the ‘believers’ will choose ‘attractive’ articles and trust the results, without checking the quality of the studies. It is therefore important to educate chiropractors to become relatively competent consumers of research, so they will not assume that every published article is a verity in itself…

END OF QUOTES

YES, YES YES!!!

I am so glad that some experts within the chiropractic community are now publishing statements like these.

This was long overdue.

How was it possible that so many chiropractors so far failed to become competent consumers of research?

Do they and their professional organisations not know that this is deeply unethical?

Actually, I fear they do and did so for a long time.

Why then did they not do anything about it ages ago?

I fear, the answer is as easy as it is disappointing:

If chiropractors systematically trained to become research-competent, the chiropractic profession would cease to exist; they would become a limited version of physiotherapists. There is simply not enough positive evidence to justify chiropractic. In other words, as chiropractic wants to survive, it has little choice other than remaining ignorant of the current best evidence.

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