Monthly Archives: October 2016
I have blogged about the herbal antidepressant before; for instance about the fact that it can cause potentially dangerous herb-drug interactions. When taken alone, however, it seems to be both safe and efficacious in reducing the symptoms of depression. This notion has just been confirmed yet again.
A new systematic review evaluated St. John’s wort (SJW) for the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The objectives of this review were to (1) evaluate the efficacy and safety of SJW in adults with MDD compared to placebo and active comparator and (2) evaluate whether the effects vary by severity of MDD.
The authors searched 9 electronic databases and existing reviews to November 2014. Two independent reviewers screened the citations, abstracted the data, and assessed the risk of bias. They included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examining the effect of at least a 4-week administration of SJW on depression outcomes against placebo or active comparator in adults with MDD. Risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool and USPSTF criteria. Quality of evidence (QoE) was assessed using the GRADE approach.
Thirty-five studies examining 6993 patients met inclusion criteria; 8 studies evaluated a SJW extract that combined 0.3 % hypericin and 1-4 % hyperforin. SJW was associated with more treatment responders than placebo (relative risk [RR] 1.53; 95 % confidence interval [CI] 1.19, 1.97; I(2) 79 %; 18 RCTs; N = 2922, moderate QoE; standardized mean differences [SMD] 0.49; CI 0.23, 0.74; 16 RCTs; I(2) 89 %, N = 2888, moderate QoE). Compared to antidepressants, SJW participants were less likely to experience adverse events (OR 0.67; CI 0.56, 0.81; 11 RCTs; moderate QoE) with no difference in treatment effectiveness (RR 1.01; CI 0.90, 1.14; 17 RCTs, I(2) 52 %, moderate QoE; SMD -0.03; CI -0.21, 0.15; 14 RCTs; I(2) 74 %; N = 2248, moderate QoE) in mild and moderate depression.
The authors concluded that SJW monotherapy for mild and moderate depression is superior to placebo in improving depression symptoms and not significantly different from antidepressant medication. However, evidence of heterogeneity and a lack of research on severe depression reduce the quality of the evidence. Adverse events reported in RCTs were comparable to placebo and fewer compared with antidepressants. However, assessments were limited due to poor reporting of adverse events and studies were not designed to assess rare events. Consequently, the findings should be interpreted with caution.
This is an excellent review from a reputable and independent team. The findings are therefore trustworthy.
Does that mean that we can now recommend SJW for patients suffering from depression?
Perhaps – but we need to keep an eye on the interaction issue. As a sole treatment, SJW is much safer than conventional antidepressants. But if a patient takes other medicines, we ought to be very careful.
Other currently unresolved issues are the questions of which extract and which dose. At present, there is not enough evidence to provide conclusive answers to either of these, and therefore the enthusiasm of many doctors for prescribing SJW is understandably limited.
Irrespective of these problems, I have to say that SJW is without question one of the biggest ‘success stories’ from the realm of alternative medicine. Pity that there are not more of them!
A new nationally representative study from the US analysed ∼9000 children from the Child Complementary and Alternative Medicine File of the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. Adjusting for health services use factors, it examined influenza vaccination odds by ever using major CAM domains: (1) alternative medical systems (AMS; eg, acupuncture); (2) biologically-based therapies, excluding multivitamins/multiminerals (eg, herbal supplements); (3) multivitamins/multiminerals; (4) manipulative and body-based therapies (MBBT; eg, chiropractic manipulation); and (5) mind–body therapies (eg, yoga).
Influenza vaccination uptake was lower among children ever (versus never) using AMS (33% vs 43%; P = .008) or MBBT (35% vs 43%; P = .002) but higher by using multivitamins/multiminerals (45% vs 39%; P < .001). In multivariate analyses, multivitamin/multimineral use lost significance, but children ever (versus never) using any AMS or MBBT had lower uptake (respective odds ratios: 0.61 [95% confidence interval: 0.44–0.85]; and 0.74 [0.58–0.94]).
The authors concluded that children who have ever used certain CAM domains that may require contact with vaccine-hesitant CAM practitioners are vulnerable to lower annual uptake of influenza vaccination. Opportunity exists for US public health, policy, and medical professionals to improve child health by better engaging parents of children using particular domains of CAM and CAM practitioners advising them.
The fact that chiropractors, homeopaths and naturopaths tend to advise against immunisations is fairly well-documented. Unfortunately, this does not just happen in the US but it seems to be a global problem. The results presented here reflect this phenomenon very clearly. I have always categorised it as an indirect risk of alternative medicine and often stated that EVEN IF ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES WERE TOTALLY DEVOID OF RISKS, THE ALTERNATIVE PRACTITIONERS ARE NOT.
Homeopathic products are safe!
At least this is what the homeopathy-lobby tries to make us believe. On this blog, we have repeatedly questioned this notion, and recently it was reported by several sources, for instance this website, that the FDA has taken action against one specific homeopathic remedy over safety concerns:
Some homeopathic tablets and gels aimed at helping to soothe babies’ teething pains may be dangerous for infants and toddlers, the FDA announced and stated they are now investigating reports of seizures in infants and children who were given homeopathic teething products: “consumers should seek medical care immediately if their child experiences seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating or agitation” after using homeopathic teething tablets and gels. The FDA also said it is not aware of any proven health benefit of using homeopathic teething tablets and gels.
Already in 2010, the FDA had issued a safety alert about a homeopathic teething tablet that contained belladonna. Belladonna, a poisonous plant that contains atropine. At high levels, atropine can be deadly. In homeopathy, it is used to treat redness and inflammation. At the time, the FDA found that the teething tablets contained inconsistent amounts of belladonna. The company that made the tablets, Hyland, subsequently recalled the product.
The full FDA statement is here:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers that homeopathic teething tablets and gels may pose a risk to infants and children. The FDA recommends that consumers stop using these products and dispose of any in their possession.
Homeopathic teething tablets and gels are distributed by CVS, Hyland’s, and possibly others, and are sold in retail stores and online.
Consumers should seek medical care immediately if their child experiences seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, or agitation after using homeopathic teething tablets or gels.
“Teething can be managed without prescription or over-the-counter remedies,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “We recommend parents and caregivers not give homeopathic teething tablets and gels to children and seek advice from their health care professional for safe alternatives.”
The FDA is analyzing adverse events reported to the agency regarding homeopathic teething tablets and gels, including seizures in infants and children who were given these products, since a 2010 safety alert about homeopathic teething tablets. The FDA is currently investigating this issue, including testing product samples. The agency will continue to communicate with the public as more information is available.
Homeopathic teething tablets and gels have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safety or efficacy. The agency is also not aware of any proven health benefit of the products, which are labeled to relieve teething symptoms in children.
The FDA encourages health care professionals and consumers to report adverse events or quality problems experienced with the use of homeopathic teething tablets or gels to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program:
- Complete and submit the report online at www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm; or
- Download and complete the form, then submit it via fax at 1-800-FDA-0178.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency is also responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.
END OF QUOTE
What follows is, I think, simple: homeopathic products are not necessarily safe, and there can be several reasons for that:
- they can be contaminated,
- they can be adulterated,
- some can contain high concentrations of toxic ingredients,
- most contain nothing active at all and are dangerous when mistaken for an effective therapy.
I have warned you before to be sceptical about Chinese studies. This is what I posted on this blog more than 2 years ago, for instance:
Imagine an area of therapeutics where 100% of all findings of hypothesis-testing research are positive, i.e. come to the conclusion that the treatment in question is effective. Theoretically, this could mean that the therapy is a miracle cure which is useful for every single condition in every single setting. But sadly, there are no miracle cures. Therefore something must be badly and worryingly amiss with the research in an area that generates 100% positive results.
Acupuncture is such an area; we and others have shown that Chinese trials of acupuncture hardly ever produce a negative finding. In other words, one does not need to read the paper, one already knows that it is positive – even more extreme: one does not need to conduct the study, one already knows the result before the research has started. But you might not believe my research nor that of others. We might be chauvinist bastards who want to discredit Chinese science. In this case, you might perhaps believe Chinese researchers.
In this systematic review, all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture published in Chinese journals were identified by a team of Chinese scientists. A total of 840 RCTs were found, including 727 RCTs comparing acupuncture with conventional treatment, 51 RCTs with no treatment controls, and 62 RCTs with sham-acupuncture controls. Among theses 840 RCTs, 838 studies (99.8%) reported positive results from primary outcomes and two trials (0.2%) reported negative results. The percentages of RCTs concealment of the information on withdraws or sample size calculations were 43.7%, 5.9%, 4.9%, 9.9%, and 1.7% respectively.
The authors concluded that publication bias might be major issue in RCTs on acupuncture published in Chinese journals reported, which is related to high risk of bias. We suggest that all trials should be prospectively registered in international trial registry in future.
END OF QUOTE
Now an even more compelling reason emerged for taking evidence from China with a pinch of salt:
A recent survey of clinical trials in China has revealed fraudulent practice on a massive scale. China’s food and drug regulator carried out a one-year review of clinical trials. They concluded that more than 80 percent of clinical data is “fabricated“. The review evaluated data from 1,622 clinical trial programs of new pharmaceutical drugs awaiting regulator approval for mass production. Officials are now warning that further evidence malpractice could still emerge in the scandal.
According to the report, much of the data gathered in clinical trials are incomplete, failed to meet analysis requirements or were untraceable. Some companies were suspected of deliberately hiding or deleting records of adverse effects, and tampering with data that did not meet expectations.
“Clinical data fabrication was an open secret even before the inspection,” the paper quoted an unnamed hospital chief as saying. Contract research organizations seem have become “accomplices in data fabrication due to cutthroat competition and economic motivation.”
A doctor at a top hospital in the northern city of Xian said the problem doesn’t lie with insufficient regulations governing clinical trials data, but with the failure to implement them. “There are national standards for clinical trials in the development of Western pharmaceuticals,” he said. “Clinical trials must be carried out in three phases, and they must be assessed at the very least for safety,” he said. “But I don’t know what happened here.”
Public safety problems in China aren’t limited to the pharmaceutical industry and the figure of 80 percent is unlikely to surprise many in a country where citizens routinely engage in the bulk-buying of overseas-made goods like infant formula powder. Guangdong-based rights activist Mai Ke said there is an all-pervasive culture of fakery across all products made in the country. “It’s not just the medicines,” Mai said. “In China, everything is fake, and if there’s a profit in pharmaceuticals, then someone’s going to fake them too.” He said the problem also extends to traditional Chinese medicines, which are widely used in conjunction with Western pharmaceuticals across the healthcare system.
“It’s just harder to regulate the fakes with traditional medicines than it is with Western pharmaceuticals, which have strict manufacturing guidelines,” he said.
According to Luo, academic ethics is an underdeveloped field in China, leading to an academic culture that is accepting of manipulation of data. “I don’t think that the 80 percent figure is overstated,” Luo said.
And what should we conclude from all this?
I find it very difficult to reach a verdict that does not sound hopelessly chauvinistic but feel that we have little choice but to distrust the evidence that originates from China. At the very minimum, I think, we must scrutinise it thoroughly; whenever it looks too good to be true, we ought to discard it as unreliable and await independent replications.
A website I recently came across promised to teach me 7 things about acupuncture. This sort of thing is always of interest to me; so I read them with interest and found them so remarkable that I decided to reproduce them here:
1. Addiction recovery
Acupuncture calms and relaxes the mind making it easier for people to overcome addictions to drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol by reducing the anxiety and stress they feel when quitting.
2. Helps the body heal itself
The body contains natural pain relief chemicals, such as endorphins and has an amazing capacity for self-healing. Acupuncture helps stimulate the natural healing mechanisms and causes the body to manufacture pain relieving chemicals.
3. Builds a stronger immune system
The body’s immune system is negatively affected by stress, poor diet, illness and certain medical treatments, but acupuncture targets the underlying imbalances naturally and helps it to regain balance.
4. Eliminate that killer hangover
While it may not have been the best choice to finish off that bottle of wine, acupuncture can help the body detox and flush out the morning side effects.
5. Mood stabilizer
If you find yourself snapping at friends, family, or co-workers for unexplained reasons, acupuncture can get to the root of the problem, find the imbalance and help your body return to a healthier state of mind.
6. Chronic stomach problems
Some people suffer from stomach problems and never find the cause. Acupuncture targets your whole body, including the digestive tract and helps it to work in harmony with the rest of the body’s systems.
7. Coping with death
Grief can have an overwhelming effect on the body and manifest itself physically. Acupuncture helps reduce the anxiety of dealing with loss and help you cope with the stress.
END OF QUOTE
The ‘7 things’ are remarkably mislabelled – they should be called 7 lies! Let me explain:
- There are several Cochrane reviews on the subject of acupuncture for various addictions. Here are their conclusions: There is currently no evidence that auricular acupuncture is effective for the treatment of cocaine dependence. The evidence is not of high quality and is inconclusive. Further randomised trials of auricular acupuncture may be justified. There is no clear evidence that acupuncture is effective for smoking cessation. There is currently no evidence that auricular acupuncture is effective for the treatment of cocaine dependence. The evidence is not of high quality and is inconclusive. Further randomised trials of auricular acupuncture may be justified.
- Even if the ‘endorphin story’ is true (in my view, it’s but a theory), there is no good evidence that acupuncture enhances our body’s self-healing mechanisms via endorphins or any other mechanism.
- Stronger immune system? My foot! I have no idea where this claim comes from, certainly not from anything resembling good evidence.
- Acupuncture for hangover or detox? This is just a stupid joke with no evidential support. I imagine, however, that it is superb marketing.
- The same applies to acupuncture to ‘stabilize’ your mood.
- Unexplained stomach problems? Go and see a doctor! Here is the conclusion of a Cochrane review related to IBS which is one of the more common unexplained stomach complaint: Sham-controlled RCTs have found no benefits of acupuncture relative to a credible sham acupuncture control for IBS symptom severity or IBS-related quality of life.
- I am not aware of any good evidence to show that acupuncture could ease the grieving process; I even doubt that this would be such a good or desirable thing: grieving is a necessary and essential process.
So, what we have here are essentially 7 fat lies. Yes, I know, the literature and the internet are full of them. And I suspect that they are a prominent reason why acupuncture is fairly popular today. Lies are a major marketing tool of acupuncturists – but that does not mean that we should let them get away with them!
Bogus claims may be good for the cash flow of alternative practitioners, but they are certainly not good for our health and well-being; in fact, they can cost lives!!!
IN THIS SPIRIT, LET ME ADD SEVEN THINGS YOU DO NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ACUPUNCTURE
- Traditional acupuncture is based on complete hocus pocus and is therefore implausible.
- ‘Western’ acupuncture is based on endorphin and other theories, which are little more than that and at best THEORIES.
- Acupuncture is often promoted as a ‘cure all’ which is implausible and not supported by evidence.
- Meridians, acupoints chi and all the other things acupuncturists claim to exist are pure fantasy.
- For a small list of symptoms, acupuncture is backed up by some evidence, but this is less than convincing and could well turn out to rely on little more than placebo.
- The claim of acupuncturists that acupuncture is entirely safe is false.
- Acupuncture studies from China cannot be trusted.
Bogus claims of alternative therapists are legion, particularly in homeopathy. But bogus claims are neither ethical nor legal. Homeopathy works for no human condition, and therefore any medical claim made for homeopathy is unethical, false, misleading and illegal.
This is not just my view (after studying the subject for more than two decades) but also that of the UK regulators. In case you doubt it, please read the full notice which the UK ‘Advertising Standards Authority’ has just published (dated 29/9/2016):
This week, our sister organisation, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Compliance team has written to homeopaths across the UK to remind them of the rules that govern what they can and can’t say in their marketing materials, including on their websites.
Homeopathy is based on the principle of treating like with like; in other words a substance which causes certain symptoms can also help remove those symptoms when it is diluted heavily in water before being consumed. Practitioners believe that this stimulates the body to heal itself. However, to date, despite having considered a body of evidence, neither us nor CAP has seen robust evidence that homeopathy works. Practitioners should therefore avoid making direct or implied claims that homeopathy can treat medical conditions.
We have no intention of restricting the ability of practitioners to advertise legitimate and legal services, nor do we seek to restrict the right of individuals to choose treatment. However, when advertisers make claims about these products or services, in all sectors, they must hold appropriate evidence to back up those claims. If they do not, then we have a responsibility to intervene to protect consumers by ensuring that those ads are amended or withdrawn.
If you are a practicing homeopath, please ensure that you carefully read CAP’s advice and guidance. It includes a non-exhaustive list of the types of claims you can and can’t make. You will then need to make changes, as necessary, to your marketing materials, including on your website, if you have one.
Further guidance can be found on the Society of Homeopaths’ website. We have worked closely with the Society over the course of the last year, to help them produce detailed guidance to support their members.
I think this notice speaks for itself. All I want to add at this stage is my hope that UK homeopaths comply asap to avoid getting penalised and – much more importantly – to avoid continuing to mislead consumers.