Edzard Ernst

MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Many chiropractors claim that spinal manipulation (SM) has an effect on the pain threshold even in asymptomatic subjects, but SM has never been compared in studies to a validated sham procedure. Now a chiropractic research team has published a study investigating the effect of SM on the pressure pain threshold (PPT) when measured in

i) the area of intervention,  

ii) an area remote from the intervention.

In addition, the researchers measured the size and duration of the effect.

In this randomized cross-over trial, 50 asymptomatic chiropractic students had their PPT measured at baseline, immediately after and every 12 min after intervention, over a period of 45 min, comparing values after SM and a previously validated sham. The trial was conducted during two sessions, separated by 48 h. PPT was measured both regionally and remotely from the ‘treated’ thoracic segment. Blinding of study subjects was tested with a post-intervention questionnaire.

The results show that the study subjects had been successfully blinded. No statistically significant differences were found between SM and sham estimates, at any time or anatomical location.

The authors concluded that, when compared to a valid sham procedure and with successfully blinded subjects, there is no regional or remote effect of spinal manipulation of the thoracic spine on the pressure pain threshold in a young pain-free population.

Reduced pain sensitivity following SM (often also called ‘manipulation-induced hypoalgesia’ (MIH)) turns out to be little more than a myth promoted by chiropractors for the obvious reason of boosting their business (6 further myths are summarised in the over-optimistic chiropractic advertisement above).

A recent review of the evidence found that systemic MIH (for pressure pain threshold) does occur in musculoskeletal pain populations, though there was low quality evidence of no significant difference compared to sham manipulation. Future research should focus on the clinical relevance of MIH, and different types of quantitative sensory tests.

I very regularly get comments criticising me for being negative and destructive rather than using my time being positive and constructive. Here is a recent such remark:

Edzard, with his string of qualifications, should offer a remedy to the coronavirus. Ok, I get it, homeopaths are “quacks” but what has Edzard got to offer. Talk is cheap. Rather than warming on the “inability” of the homeopaths to prove their worth, Edzard should prove that he is better than them but sadly he is simply someone who has no substance. What good is he to mankind and the patients when he cannot offer a solution but rather finds faults with “quacks”. That even a beggar can do better than him. Until he is able to offer a cure, he has no business going around finding fault with others.

It is true that many if not most of my posts are about disclosing bogus claims of practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) or revealing the limitations of SCAM research. I see why SCAM proponents see this as a negative activity. However, I view it as a positive contribution: if I show today that this or that claim or therapy is not evidence-based, I might prevent some patients from using it tomorrow. In turn, this would prevent them from wasting their money and – more importantly – would guide them towards making prudent therapeutic decisions which, in some cases, could even save lives.

Other critics of my work are keen to point out that I should not constantly criticise SCAM but rather do something about the many weaknesses of conventional medicine. I feel that my work might be helpful for that as well. Let me explain.

Pointing out how much of SCAM is bogus begs the question, why then are so many people using it? One answer which I have often given (here and elsewhere) is that consumers are looking not so much for effective treatments but for what used to be called the ‘art’ of medicine:

  • compassion,
  • undersatnding,
  • empathy,
  • sufficient time with their clinician,
  • a warm therapeutic relationship.

These are things they often do not find when consulting their conventional physicians, and these are things they often get from their SCAM practitioner. This insight should lead to the next logical step, namely to boost compassion, emapthy, etc. in conventional medicine.

Clearly, these qualities are at the core of good healthcare, and clearly we do not require SCAM for patients to benefit from them. The science and the ‘art’ of medicine are not mutually exclusive; there is no good reason why they should not go together. And it is time to put the ‘art’ back into science-based medicine. Delegating it to SCAM practitioners is a disservice to patients.

So, what good is my work to mankind and patients? This is a question that I cnnot answer. All I can do is hope that my criticism will make a small contribution towards improving future healthcare.

 

It has been reported that, in China, patients affected by the coronavirus are being treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Treatments in Wuhan hospitals combine TCM and western medicines, said Wang Hesheng, the new health commission head in Hubei, the province at the centre of the epidemy. He said TCM was applied on more than half of confirmed cases in Hubei. “Our efforts have shown some good result,” Wang said at a press conference on Saturday. Top TCM-experts have been sent to Hubei for “research and treatment,” he said. Some 2,200 TCM workers have been sent to Hubei, Wang said.

Another website confirmed that TCM has been applied to more than half of the confirmed patients of corona or COVID-19 infection in Hubei. It’s also used in the prevention and control of COVID-19 at the community level. “Since the beginning of the outbreak, the government has attached importance to both TCM and Western medicine by mobilizing the strongest scientific research and medical forces in both fields to treat the patients,” said Wang Hesheng. “By coordinating the resources of traditional Chinese and Western medicine, we strive to improve the cure rate and reduce fatalities by the greatest possible amount to effectively safeguard the safety and health of the people,” Wang noted.

China Daily added that many of the medical workers also have participated in the fight against the SARS outbreak in 2003, said Huang Luqi, president of China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. Three national-level TCM teams, organized by the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, also have been dispatched to Hubei, said Huang, head of the TCM team at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital.

The TCM workers have treated 248 confirmed and suspected novel coronavirus patients, and 159 of them have shown improvement and 51 have been discharged from the hospital, Huang said at a daily news conference in Wuhan. More than 75 percent of novel coronavirus patients in Hubei, and more than 90 percent of patients in other regions of the country, have received TCM treatment, he said. “We hope that Hubei province and Wuhan city can increase the use of TCM in treating confirmed and suspected novel coronavirus patients,” Huang said. TCM can shorten the course of disease for patients with severe symptoms, reduce the possibility of mild infections becoming severe, help with patient recovery and disease prevention and offer psychological support to patients, he noted.

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No information is available on the nature of the TCM treatments used. Moreover, the reported response rate (159 of 248) sounds far from encouraging to me. In fact, it could reflect merely the natural history of the disease or might even hide a detrimental effect of TCM on the infection. What we need are controlled studies, without them, reports like the ones above are mere useless and potentially harmful propaganda for boosting China’s TCM-trade.

The ‘neurocalometer’ (NCM) is a device promoted from 1924 by BJ Palmer (the son of DD Palmer, the founder of chiropractic) which he claimed could locate subluxations. Even though it was useless for diagnosing anything, thousands of chiropractors swore by it and some use it to the present day. This enthusiast, for instance, justifies it by claiming that abnormal signals generated by spinal misalignments travel into the spinal cord along nerve fibers which connect directly to the part of the nervous system that controls blood flow in the skin. These abnormal signals disrupt the ability of the nervous system to keep the skin temperature even and balanced. The resulting temperature imbalance can be detected using the Neurocalometer or a similar device.

The history of the NCM is most revealing. BJ Palmer more or less forced his followers into a leasing agreement with the Palmer School of Chiropractic (PSC). The lease duration was 10 years, roughly the same amount of time as the patent rights on the device would last. “Leasees were required to charge patients ten dollars per NCM reading (a sum that is equivalent to charging >60 US$ for that service today). BJ’s historic speech at lyceum (August 24, 1924), “The Hour Has Struck”, provided the opportunity to announce: The price until midnight September 14th remains the same. Beginning tomorrow morning at eight o’clock $100 cash and 13 payments of $50 each, each month, and when $500 has been paid you will be entitled to your technique and your Neurocalometer .. . Those who pay the full cash of $500 in advance now get preferential position and delivery overall-time-payment contracts. The price after midnight of September 14th will raise to $2,200, or an increase of $700. The terms will then be $200 cash and $100 a month until $1,000 has been paid, at which time you will be entitled to your technique and your Neurocalometer … this same easy plan has gone out to the entire field …

This sales ploy was so successful that Western Union’s local cash reserves were apparently unable to keep pace with the hundreds of incoming contracts on September 14. The next day, BJ penned an article for the Fountain Head News (FHN) announcing a further increase, from $2,200 to $3,000 for the 10 year lease, and tentatively set to take effect on January 1, 1925. The NCM, he explained, has established itself, its earning values have been printed for your information, letters from users have been printed and distributed to you – it is no longer an unknown quantity. It has established itself . The price for the NCM eventually reached an initial fee of $3,500 and a monthly rental fee of $5. By comparison, an expensive car then costs $1,000, and a home could be purchased for $3,500.

BJ viewed the introduction of the NCM as a means of producing fundamental change throughout the chiropractic profession. From his perspective he was not merely marketing a device, but was organizing a straight chiropractic renaissance. BJ spoke frequently of his “BACK-TO-CHIROPRACTIC-NEUROCALOMETER MOVEMENT” He likened chiropractic to a cow, and asked: Whose cow is Chiropractic anyway? It is more my cow or your cow? Must I always stand at the feeding end? Can’t I get a glass of milk once in a while? Who is that man that speaks to me about the rights of the sick to get well? Who is that man that dares say I am the downfall of this profession? Do you know of any chiropractor adjusting for fifty cents when he could collect five dollars, just for the love of the rights of the sick to get well? Do you know of any reducing their price on the theory of their love for the rights of the sick to get well if he could get it?

BJ claimed that the NCM is a very delicate, sensitive instrument which, when placed upon the spine:

  1. Verifies the proper places for adjustments.
  2. It measures the specific degree of vertebral pressures upon nerves.
  3. It measures the specific degree of interference to transmission of mental impulses as a result of vertebral pressure.
  4. It proves the exact intervertebral foramina that contains bone pressure upon nerves.
  5. It proves when the pressure has been released upon nerves at a specific place.
  6. It proves how much pressure was released, if any.
  7. It verifies the differences between cord pressure or spinal nerve pressure cases.
  8. It establishes which cases we can take and which we should leave alone.
  9. It proves by an established record which you can see thereby eliminating all guesswork on diagnoses.
  10. It establishes, from week to week, whether you are getting well or not.
  11.  It makes possible a material reduction in time necessary to get well, thus making health cheaper….

The NCM was not invented by BJ but by Dossa Dixon Evins, one of the lesser-known figures in chiropractic history. Evins was a vaudeville entertainer with his wife Billie, an inventor, electrical engineer, and a radio operator for the Secret Service during World War I. Yet, it was BJ who took the glory and the money: Along comes the Neurocalometer. You hear me tell much good about it. You hear me say that it is “THE MOST VALUABLE INVENTION OF THE AGE BECAUSE IT PICKS, PROVES AND LOCATES THE CAUSE OF ALL DIS-EASES OF THE HUMAN RACE.

Of course, BJ insisted that his claims were based on extensive scientific research: Experimental work on approximately a thousand cases had proven there are many subluxations in the spine which the X-Ray does not locate, causing pressure upon nerves. This instrument locates them. Experimental work also shows that by using the instrument as a check, results can be obtained in from one-fourth to one-half the time now necessary under the present method. In other words, should it take 100 adjustments to get a case well now, it would take only 25 to 50 to get the same case well using the new NEUROCALOMETER. So superior was the device that even BJ himself could not find subluxations as accurately as the NCM:. . . Eighteen months of education when focalized down to a pin point means where to pick majors and why . . . in 30 minutes the Neurocalometer can do more in picking correct majors than anybody attending school for 17 months, or more than I can do after 28 years.

However, not everyone was impressed and some chiropractors even objected openly to BJ and his machinations. The result was that the chiropractic profession split into:

  1. those who followed BJ’s instructions (the ‘straights’)
  2. and those who either could not afford to or were not convinced by BJ (the ‘mixers’).

Dissatisfaction with Palmer and with the “intimidation” policies of the Universal Chiropractors’ Association (UCA) had already been growing. Now it reached into the UCA to such an extent that BJ resigned to form (in 1926) the Chiropractic Health Bureau (today’s International Chiropractors’ Association). By 1930, the UCA and other organizations had merged to form the National Chiropractic Association, immediate predecessor of today’s American Chiropractic Association.

The years immediately following the NCM’s introduction were a a period of extraordinary prosperity for BJ and his PSC. Classes filled, debts were paid and plans for additional buildings were drawn; the prosperity would continue until the stock market crash of 1929, in which the Palmer family suffered substantial financial loss. As many as a thousand NCMs may have been leased in the first year; this suggests at least several millions of dollars in revenues, a fabulous sum in the 1920s. The chiropractic historian Keating stated that the NCM’s introduction provides a model of unethical promotions in health care.

The PSC eventually revived with the influx of veterans after World War 2. Rentals of the NCM (and derivative instruments) continued, and a firm core of true believers in BJ remained loyal. Today, the PSC continues to provide repair services for the NCM, although new contracts for the device ceased to be issued in 1990. Similar thermocouple devices remain popular among subluxation-based chiropractors and several models are still marketed.

A widely used chiropractic paediatrics textbook (Pediatric Chiropractic. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1998, pp 323-423) even advises that such devices are useful for examining new-borns: The purpose of skin temperature analysis (e.g. Temp-o-scope, Nervoscope) is to obtain objective neurological evidence of a vertebral subluxation complex [VSC]. . . .

Today is Valentine’s Day, a good moment to take a critical look at some of the libido-boosters so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has to offer. The Internet offers plenty; this website, for instance, advertises over 20 different natural (mostly botanical) products. But such sites are typically thin on evidence.

A quick Medline search locates plenty of research. Much of it seems to be on rats which is not so relevant – unless, of course, your husband is a rat. In terms of clinical trials, Medline too is not all that informative. Here are some of the studies I found:

Eurycoma longifolia is reputed as an aphrodisiac and remedy for decreased male libido. A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled, parallel group study was carried out to investigate the clinical evidence of E. longifolia in men. The 12-week study in 109 men between 30 and 55 years of age consisted of either treatment of 300 mg of water extract of E. longifolia (Physta) or placebo. Primary endpoints were the Quality of Life investigated by SF-36 questionnaire and Sexual Well-Being investigated by International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) and Sexual Health Questionnaires (SHQ); Seminal Fluid Analysis (SFA), fat mass and safety profiles. Repeated measures ANOVA analysis was used to compare changes in the endpoints. The E. longifolia (EL) group significantly improved in the domain Physical Functioning of SF-36, from baseline to week 12 compared to placebo (P = 0.006) and in between group at week 12 (P = 0.028). The EL group showed higher scores in the overall Erectile Function domain in IIEF (P < 0.001), sexual libido (14% by week 12), SFA- with sperm motility at 44.4%, and semen volume at 18.2% at the end of treatment. Subjects with BMI ≥ 25 kg/m(2) significantly improved in fat mass lost (P = 0.008). All safety parameters were comparable to placebo.

Yoga is a popular form of complementary and alternative treatment. It is practiced both in developing and developed countries. Use of yoga for various bodily ailments is recommended in ancient ayvurvedic (ayus = life, veda = knowledge) texts and is being increasingly investigated scientifically. Many patients and yoga protagonists claim that it is useful in sexual disorders. We are interested in knowing if it works for patients with premature ejaculation (PE) and in comparing its efficacy with fluoxetine, a known treatment option for PE.  Aim: To know if yoga could be tried as a treatment option in PE and to compare it with fluoxetine.  Methods: A total of 68 patients (38 yoga group; 30 fluoxetine group) attending the outpatient department of psychiatry of a tertiary care hospital were enrolled in the present study. Both subjective and objective assessment tools were administered to evaluate the efficacy of the yoga and fluoxetine in PE. Three patients dropped out of the study citing their inability to cope up with the yoga schedule as the reason.  Main outcome measure: Intravaginal ejaculatory latencies in yoga group and fluoxetine control groups.  Results: We found that all 38 patients (25-65.7% = good, 13-34.2% = fair) belonging to yoga and 25 out of 30 of the fluoxetine group (82.3%) had statistically significant improvement in PE.  Conclusions: Yoga appears to be a feasible, safe, effective and acceptable nonpharmacological option for PE. More studies involving larger patients could be carried out to establish its utility in this condition.

Antidepressants including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are known to cause secondary sexual dysfunction with prevalence rates as high as 50%-90%. Emerging research is establishing that acupuncture may be an effective treatment modality for sexual dysfunction including impotence, loss of libido, and an inability to orgasm.  Objectives: The purpose of this study was to examine the potential benefits of acupuncture in the management of sexual dysfunction secondary to SSRIs and SNRIs.  Subjects: Practitioners at the START Clinic referred participants experiencing adverse sexual events from their antidepressant medication for acupuncture treatment at the Mood and Anxiety Disorders, a tertiary care mood and anxiety disorder clinic in Toronto.  Design: Participants received a Traditional Chinese Medicine assessment and followed an acupuncture protocol for 12 consecutive weeks. The acupuncture points used were Kidney 3, Governing Vessel 4, Urinary Bladder 23, with Heart 7 and Pericardium 6. Participants also completed a questionnaire package on a weekly basis.  Outcomes measured: The questionnaire package consisted of self-report measures assessing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and various aspects of sexual function.  Results: Significant improvement among male participants was noted in all areas of sexual functioning, as well as in both anxiety and depressive symptoms. Female participants reported a significant improvement in libido and lubrication and a nonsignificant trend toward improvement in several other areas of function.  Conclusions: This study suggests a potential role for acupuncture in the treatment of the sexual side-effects of SSRIs and SNRIs as well for a potential benefit of integrating medical and complementary and alternative practitioners.

The primary objectives were to compare the efficacy of extracts of the plant Tribulus terrestris (TT; marketed as Tribestan), in comparison with placebo, for the treatment of men with erectile dysfunction (ED) and with or without hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), as well as to monitor the safety profile of the drug. The secondary objective was to evaluate the level of lipids in blood during treatment.  Participants and design: Phase IV, prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in parallel groups. This study included 180 males aged between 18 and 65 years with mild or moderate ED and with or without HSDD: 90 were randomized to TT and 90 to placebo. Patients with ED and hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome were included in the study. In the trial, an herbal medicine intervention of Bulgarian origin was used (Tribestan®, Sopharma AD). Each Tribestan film-coated tablet contains the active substance Tribulus terrestris, herba extractum siccum (35-45:1) 250mg which is standardized to furostanol saponins (not less than 112.5mg). Each patient received orally 3×2 film-coated tablets daily after meals, during the 12-week treatment period. At the end of each month, participants’ sexual function, including ED, was assessed by International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) Questionnaire and Global Efficacy Question (GEQ). Several biochemical parameters were also determined. The primary outcome measure was the change in IIEF score after 12 weeks of treatment. Complete randomization (random sorting using maximum allowable% deviation) with an equal number of patients in each sequence was used. This randomization algorithm has the restriction that unequal treatment allocation is not allowed; that is, all groups must have the same target sample size. Patients, investigational staff, and data collectors were blinded to treatment. All outcome assessors were also blinded to group allocation.  Results: 86 patients in each group completed the study. The IIEF score improved significantly in the TT group compared with the placebo group (Р<0.0001). For intention-to-treat (ITT) there was a statistically significant difference in change from baseline of IIEF scores. The difference between TT and placebo was 2.70 (95% CI 1.40, 4.01) for the ITT population. A statistically significant difference between TT and placebo was found for Intercourse Satisfaction (p=0.0005), Orgasmic Function (p=0.0325), Sexual Desire (p=0.0038), Overall Satisfaction (p=0.0028) as well as in GEQ responses (p<0.0001), in favour of TT. There were no differences in the incidence of adverse events (AEs) between the two groups and the therapy was well tolerated. There were no drug-related serious AEs. Following the 12-week treatment period, significant improvement in sexual function was observed with TT compared with placebo in men with mild to moderate ED. TT was generally well tolerated for the treatment of ED.

What makes me suspicious about these trials is that:

  • they are mostly on the flimsy side,
  • there are as good as no independent replications,
  • they all report positive outcomes. I was unable to find a single study where the authors concluded: SORRY, BUT THIS STUFF IS USELESS!

Disappointed with the quality and the content of the existing trials, I am now off to buy some oysters!

The newest recruit to the (by now quite crowed) coronavirus bandwagon is orthomolecular medicine. In case you are unsure what hides beind this pseudoscientific name, here is a (slightly abbreviated) explanation from my book:

Orthomolecular medicine is the term for a mega-vitamin therapy coined in the 1960s by Linus Pauling (1901-1994). Pauling had two Nobel prizes to his name and was once called one of the 20 greatest scientists of all time. In 1968, he published a paper stating that the functioning of the brain is affected by the molecular concentrations of many substances that are normally present in the brain. The optimum concentrations of these substances for a person may differ greatly from the concentrations provided by his normal diet and genetic machinery. Biochemical and genetic arguments support the idea that orthomolecular therapy, the provision for the individual person of the optimum concentrations of important normal constituents of the brain, may be the preferred treatment for many mentally ill patients. It was the start of his (and the world’s) obsession with mega-doses of vitamins.

Orthomolecular medicine assumes that an optimum nutritional environment in the body is a precondition for good health and suggests that diseases reflect nutritional deficiencies. Treatment for disease, according to this view, involves the correction of imbalances or deficiencies based on individual biochemistry by use of high doses of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, trace elements and fatty acids. The assumptions of orthomolecular medicine lack biological plausibility. Although there are some encouraging reviews, no compelling evidence exists that orthomolecular treatments are clinically effective for patients who do not suffer from nutritional deficiencies. (references: see original book)

But perhaps I was too harsh in my judgement?

Perhaps there is something to orthomolecular medicine after all?

Perhaps Linus Pauling (photo) was right?

Perhaps it even helps against the coronavirus infection?

Dr. Andrew W. Saul, an international expert on vitamin therapy, says, “The coronavirus can be dramatically slowed or stopped completely with the immediate widespread use of high doses of vitamin C.” Yes, this is what proponents of orthomolecular medicine are trying to tell us. They go on to persuade the unexpecting public that:

Physicians have demonstrated the powerful antiviral action of vitamin C for decades. There has been a lack of media coverage of this effective and successful approach against viruses in general, and coronavirus in particular.

It is very important to maximize the body’s anti-oxidative capacity and natural immunity to prevent and minimize symptoms when a virus attacks the human body. The host environment is crucial. Preventing is obviously easier than treating severe illness. But treat serious illness seriously. Do not hesitate to seek medical attention. It is not an either-or choice. Vitamin C can be used right along with medicines when they are indicated.

“I have not seen any flu yet that was not cured or markedly ameliorated by massive doses of vitamin C.”
(Robert F. Cathcart, MD)

The physicians of the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service and the International Society for Orthomolecular Medicine urge a nutrient-based method to prevent or minimize symptoms for future viral infection. The following inexpensive supplemental levels are recommended for adults; for children reduce these in proportion to body weight:

  • Vitamin C: 3,000 milligrams (or more) daily, in divided doses.
  • Vitamin D3: 2,000 International Units daily. (Start with 5,000 IU/day for two weeks, then reduce to 2,000)
  • Magnesium: 400 mg daily (in citrate, malate, chelate, or chloride form)
  • Zinc: 20 mg daily
  • Selenium: 100 mcg (micrograms) daily
  • Vitamin C [1], Vitamin D [2], magnesium [3], zinc [4], and selenium [5] have been shown to strengthen the immune system against viruses.

The basis for using high doses of vitamin C to prevent and combat virus-caused illness may be traced back to vitamin C’s early success against polio, first reported in the late 1940s.[6] Many people are unaware, even surprised, to learn this. Further clinical evidence built up over the decades, leading to an anti-virus protocol published in 1980.[7]

It is important to remember that preventing and treating respiratory infections with large amounts of vitamin C is well established. Those who believe that vitamin C generally has merit, but massive doses are ineffective or somehow harmful, will do well to read the original papers for themselves. To dismiss the work of these doctors simply because they had success so long ago sidesteps a more important question: Why has the benefit of their clinical experience not been presented to the public by responsible governmental authorities, especially in the face of a viral pandemic?

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Yes, exactly: Why has the benefit of their clinical experience not been presented to the public by responsible governmental authorities, especially in the face of a viral pandemic?

Does anyone know the answer to this question?

I suspect it goes something like this:

Their clinical experience is misleading and orthomolecular medicine is bogus.

The University College London Hospitals (UCLH) include the ‘Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine’ (RLHIM). The RLHIM offers a range of so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs), including acupuncture.

This is how they advertise traditional acupuncture to the unsuspecting public:

Acupuncture is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This is a system of healing which has been practised in China and other Eastern countries for thousands of years.

Although often used as a means of pain relief, it can treat people with other illnesses. The focus is on improving the overall well-being of the patient, rather than the isolated treatment of specific symptoms.

You will be seen individually and assessed by an acupuncturist trained in TCM. They will use traditional Chinese techniques including pulse, tongue and abdominal diagnosis. They will also ask you about your medical history and lifestyle.

The TCM trained acupuncturist can stimulate the body’s own healing response and help to restore its natural balance.

The principal aim of acupuncture in treating the whole person is to create balance between your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. It can help to relax, improve mood and sleep, relieve tension and improve your sense of well-being, as well as improving symptoms.

We will assess your individual needs and discuss a treatment plan with you during your initial consultation.

The treatment may include the use of the following:

  • The use of fine acupuncture needles
  • Moxibustion (burning of the herb mugwort close to the surface of the skin)
  • Cupping therapy (to create local suction on the skin)
  • Acupressure (pressure applied to acu-points to stimulate energy flow)
  • Electro-acupuncture (a low voltage current is passed between 2 needles)

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How reliable is this information? I will try to answer this question by discussing the 6 statements that, in my view, are most questionable.

Although often used as a means of pain relief, it can treat people with other illnesses

Whether acupuncture is effective for pain relief is debatable. A recent analysis cast considerable doubt on the assumption. The notion that acupuncture ‘can treat people with other illnesses’ seems like a ‘carte blanche’ for treating virtually any condition regardless of evidence.

Improving the overall well-being of the patient

I am not aware of sound evidence that acupuncture is an effective treatment for improving overall well-being.

Traditional Chinese techniques including pulse, tongue and abdominal diagnosis

These diagnostic techniques have not been adequately validated and have no place in evidence-based healthcare.

The TCM trained acupuncturist can stimulate the body’s own healing response and help to restore its natural balance

I am not aware of sound evidence to show that acupuncture stimulates healing. The statement seems like another ‘carte blanche’ for treating anything the therapist feels like, regardless of evidence.

The principal aim of acupuncture in treating the whole person is to create balance between your physical, emotional and spiritual needs

The claim that acupuncture is a holistic treatment is based on little more than wishful thinking by acupuncturists.

It can help to relax, improve mood and sleep, relieve tension and improve your sense of well-being, as well as improving symptoms

I am not aware of sound evidence that acupuncture is effective in treating any of the named conditions. The end of the sentence (‘as well as improving symptoms’) is another ‘carte blanche’ for doing anything the acupuncturists feels like.

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The UCLH are firmly committed to EBM. The RLHIM claims to be ‘a centre for evidence-based practice’. This claim is not supported by the above advertisement of acupuncture which is clearly not based on good evidence. Moreover, it has the potential to mislead vulnerable patients and thus cause considerable harm. In my view, it is high time that the UCLH address this problem.

The aim of this study was to determine the short-term effectiveness of thoracic manipulation when compared to sham manipulation for individuals with low back pain (LBP).

Patients with LBP were stratified based on symptom duration and randomly assigned to a thoracic manipulation or sham manipulation treatment group. Groups received 3 visits that included manipulation or sham manipulation, core stabilization exercises, and patient education. Three physical therapists with an average of 6 years’ experience administered the treatments according to a standardised protocol. Factorial repeated-measures analysis of variance and multiple regression were performed for pain, disability, and fear avoidance.

Ninety participants completed the study. The overall group-by-time interaction was not significant for the Modified Oswestry Disability Questionnaire, numeric pain-rating scale, and Fear-Avoidance Beliefs Questionnaire outcomes. The global rating of change scale was not significantly different between groups.

The authors concluded that three sessions of thoracic manipulation, education, and exercise did not result in improved outcomes when compared to a sham manipulation, education, and exercise in individuals with chronic LBP. Future studies are needed to identify the most effective management strategies for the treatment of LBP.

This study has many features that are praiseworthy. However, others are of concern. Lumping together chronic and acute back problems might be not ideal. And why study only short-term effects?

But foremost I do wonder why manipulations were carried out on the thoracic and not the lumbar spine, the region where the pain was located. The physiotherapist authors state that the effects of thoracic manipulation on adjacent regions have been widely studied, and the majority of authors cite regional interdependence as an explanation for its success. To some degree, this might make sense. Yet, most chiropractors and osteopaths will dismiss the trial and its findings arguing that they would manipulate at the site of subluxations.

The Indian AYUSH quacks are rarely out of the headlines these days. After recently promoting homeopathy for the coronavirus epidemic, they are at it yet again. This time they seem to want us to believe that homeopathy is an effective cancer therapy. And guess who is helping them promote this dangerous claim? Yes, it’s the “Pyromaniac In a Field of (Integrative) Straw Men”, Michael Dixon!

“Time for integration has come and it is not because allopathic medicines fail in treatment but rather it is the demand of the people and patients worldwide,” said Dr Michael Dixon, Chair-College of Medicine and Integrated Health, UK, and Visiting Professor, University of Westminster and University College London, while inaugurating the two-day ‘International Conference on Integrative Oncology 2020. The ICIO 2020 is held in Indai in association with Central Health & FW Ministry, AYUSH/TCAM Ministry, all AYUSH/TCAM research councils and the governments of Kerala and Maharashtra, and National AYUSH Mission and organised by the Global Homeopathy Foundation (GHF).

Dr Dixon called upon integration of various medical streams while combating diseases. He pointed out that anti-microbial resistance, over-prescription of opiates and over-prescription of conventional medicines have compounded the situation. “Enormous issues persist back in United Kingdom (UK), National Health Services (NHS) England banned herbal and homoeopathic medicines while Royal College of General Practitioners asked general practitioners not to offer Homoeopathy and National Institute for Clinical Excellence changed guidelines on palliative care and back pain,” said Dr Dixon.

However, he said the good news is that at last AYUSH has arrived in UK with the College of Medicine and Integrated Health taking the lead. “Integration of medical systems is of paramount importance in oncology for prevention, treatment, treating side-effects of conventional medicine and preventing recurrence.”

Those who address the inaugural function include:

  • Dr Jayesh Sanghavi, vice- chairman GHF,
  • Dr T K Harindranath, president, Indian Homoeopathic Medical Association,
  • Dr Piyush Joshi, secretary general, Homoeopathic Medical Association of India,
  • Dr Eswaradas, chairman, GHF, Dr Issac Mathai, Soukya Holistic Clinic,
  • Dr Velavan, Radiation Oncologist, Erode Cancer Centre,
  • Dr Sandeep Roy, chairman, organising committee ICIO 2020,
  • Dr Madhavan Nambiar IAS (retd), Patron GHF
  • Dr Sreevals G Menon, Managing Trustee, GHF

Around 25 papers are being presented at the summit. Two of them stand out, in my view:

  • Dr Vinu Krishnan, member, sub-committee on cancer, Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy, New Delhi, Analysis and observations of stage 3 and 4 lung cancers using homoeopathic interventions
  • Dr Ravi, associate professor with Virar Homoeopathic Medical College, Mumbai, Clinical assessment of homeopathy and its role in survival in 3rd and 4th stage cancers

I find it imperative to point out that, according to the best evidence available to date, there is no reason to believe that:

  • Homeopathy is effective in stage 3 and 4 lung cancers
  • Homeopathy has positive effects on cancer survival

In my view, anyone who makes desperate cancer patients believe otherwise or supports conferences where such notions are being promoted is a dangerous charlatan.

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PS

In case you are new to this blog and have not heard of Dr Dixon, allow me to alert you to 4 previous posts:

Should homeopathy be blacklisted in general practice? Dr Michael Dixon’s profoundly misleading comments

Johrei healing and the amazing Dr Dixon (presidential candidate for the RCGP)

Dr Dixon’s safe herbal medicine

Prince Charles becomes patron of the ‘College of Medicine and Integrated Health’

 

It has been reported that the coronavirus outbreak might have spread from bats to humans via pangolins, the scaly mammal prized in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The pangolin is protected by law, yet it is one of Asia’s most trafficked mammals, not least because its scales and meat are used in TCM. “This latest discovery will be of great significance for the prevention and control of the origin (of the virus),” South China Agricultural University, which led the research, stated.

All pangolin species (Manis spp.) have been included in CITES Appendix II since 1975 and a “zero quota” has been in place since 2000 for trade in the Asian pangolin species: M.crassicaudata, M. pentadactyla, M. javanica and M. culionensis. This effectively bans all international commercial trade of Asian pangolins.  Despite the trade restrictions, more than a million pangolins (including Asian and African species) have been poached and illegally traded globally over the past decade to satisfy demand from consumers in Asia, particularly in China.

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The Effect of Pangolin Scales

Property

Salty, slightly cold; liver and stomach meridians entered.

Actions

Activate blood and dispel stasis, dredge meridians and promote lactation, resolve swelling and expel pus.

Indications

Mass, amenorrhea due to stasis, wind-damp arthralgia, lactation blockage, abscess, swelling and sore, scrofula.

Dosage and Administrations

Decoct 3~10 g. Make powder and take 1~1.5 g.

Cautions

Use with cautions for the pregnant women.

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Experts think the coronavirus outbreak may have originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via pangolins. The genome sequence of the novel coronavirus strain separated from pangolins was 99% identical to that from infected people, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported. The research concluded that pangolins to be “the most likely intermediate host.” But Dirk Pfeiffer, professor of veterinary medicine at Hong Kong’s City University, cautioned that the study was a long way from proving pangolins had transmitted the virus. “You can only draw more definitive conclusions, if you compare prevalence (of the coronavirus) between different species based on representative samples, which these almost certainly are not,” he said.

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