Monthly Archives: July 2017
‘Alternative truth’ is a term that I used first in 2013 . Since then I had to employ it with increasing frequency. Disturbingly, since then similar terms, such as ‘alternative facts’, ‘alternative science’ etc., have become ‘en vogue’. In an NEJM-editorial on the subject, Alta Caro from the University of Wisconsin Law School, Madison, US recently concluded: Reasonable people may disagree about how to interpret data, but they do not ignore scientific method by giving credence to flawed, fraudulent, or misrepresented studies … Whether in the debates regarding climate change, evolutionary theory, or human reproduction, alternative facts are just fiction, and alternative science is just bad policy.
I am tempted to add AND ALTERNATIVE TRUTHS ARE JUST LIES!!!
On this blog, we are confronted with so many lies that it would be only normal, if we gradually got used to them.
- I think we must resist this temptation.
- I think we should expose those who tell untruths again and again.
- I think it is our moral and ethical duty.
- I think the truth is far too precious to allow it to be eroded by anyone.
Because I feel strongly about this issue, I would like to use this post to give two of my former colleagues the opportunity to correct the untruths they have published about me and my actions.
The 1st is Prof Harald Walach;
as I pointed out in a previous post, he stated the following untruth (his remarks were in German, and this is my translation):
“My friend and colleague George Lewith from Southampton gave a keynote lecture on his review of chiropractic interventions for infant colic. This was prompted by the claim, made by Singh and Ernst a few years ago, that chiropractic was dangerous, that no data existed showing its effectiveness, and that it had dangerous side-effects, particularly for children. The chiropractors had sued the science journalist Singh for libel and won the case. George Lewith had provided the expert report for the court and has now extended his analysis on children.
To put it briefly: the intervention is even very effective; the effect-size is about one standard deviation. The children cry less long and more rarely. And the search of the literature for dangerous side-effects resulted in no – literally: not one – case of side-effects, not to mention dangerous ones. The fuzz had started back then because an unqualified person had walked over the back of a thin woman and had thus broken her neck. The press had subsequently hyped the whole thing to a “deadly side-effect of a chiropractic intervention”.
The 2nd is Dr Peter Fisher;
as I pointed out in another post, he too published an untruth about me:
In this article which he published as Dr. Peter Fisher, Homeopath to Her Majesty, the Queen, he wrote: “There is a serious threat to the future of the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital (RLHH), and we need your help…Lurking behind all this is an orchestrated campaign, including the ’13 doctors letter’, the front page lead in The Times of 23 May 2006, Ernst’s leak of the Smallwood report (also front page lead in The Times, August 2005), and the deeply flawed, but much publicised Lancet meta-analysis of Shang et al…”
And why bring this up again?
For the reasons mentioned above.
And for giving Walach and Fisher the opportunity to correct their errors. If they don’t, their untruths will be henceforth called lies.
This post is based on an article by Ken Harvey, Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Australia. I took the liberty of slightly modifying his text for the purpose of this blog. The article informs us about the regulation of nonsense which, as I have often argued, is likely to result in nonsense.
Australia’s drugs regulator seems to be endorsing unfounded claims about homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine as part of its review of how complementary medicines are regulated. In the latest proposed changes, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is looking at what suppliers can claim their products do, known as “permitted indications”. An example of a “low level” permitted indication might be “may relieve the pain of mild osteoarthritis”.
If approved, suppliers will be able to use the permitted indication to market their products. The resulting problem is obvious. For instance, despite the TGA’s Complaints Resolution Panel upholding complaints of a lack of evidence that magnesium and homeopathy “relieve muscle cramps (and restless legs)”, this permitted indication is on its draft list. Other examples of dodgy claims include “supports transport of oxygen in the body”, “regulates healthy male testosterone levels”. The list contains around 140 traditional Chinese medicine indications, such as “Harmonise middle burner (Spleen and Stomach)”, “Unblock/open/relax meridians”, “Balance Yin and Yang”. None of them have any basis in fact or science. There are also around 900 additional indications for unspecified “traditions”.
Traditional medicines are not necessarily safe, as emerging data highlights how common adverse reactions and drug interactions really are. For example, Hyland’s homeopathic baby teething products were recalled by the US Food and Drug Administration and then the TGA because they contained high levels of belladonna alkaloids which caused adverse events in hundreds of babies. In China, out of the 1.33 million case reports of adverse drug event reports received by the National Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring Center in 2014, traditional Chinese medicine represented around 17.3% (equivalent to around 230,000 cases).
Listed medicines are supposed to contain pre-approved, relatively low-risk ingredients. They should be produced with good manufacturing practice and only make “low-level” health claims for which evidence is held. However, the TGA does not check these requirements before the product is marketed. To safeguard shoppers, consumer representatives, suggested the proposed list of permitted indications should be short and only contain wordings such as, “may assist” or “may help”. For consumers to make an informed purchase, claims based on “traditional use” should always have a disclaimer along the lines of what the US Federal Trade Commission uses for homeopathic products. For example, “This product’s traditional claims are based on alternative health practices that are not accepted by most modern medical experts. There is no good scientific evidence that this product works”.
As I see it, the problem is that the evidence for many of the claims which are about to be allowed is either absent, seriously flawed or negative. Yet, the purpose of any regulation of this kind must be to protect consumers from purchasing ineffective and sometimes dangerous products. Regulators are keen to balance this aim against another aim: helping an industry to thrive. It is never easy to get such a balance right. But to allow nonsense, pseudoscience and overt falsehoods to creep in, must surely be wrong, unethical and illegal.
In her article “Chiropractors are Bullshit” SciBabe discussed her views on the chiropractic profession. Now the chiro ‘Dr’ Michael Braccio has published a rebuttal (excerpts from it are below). Here I will provide a rebuttal of his rebuttal. For clarity, the bold quotes are by SciBabe (as quoted by the ‘Dr’), what follows is the rebuttal by the ‘Dr‘ himself and my re-rebuttal is in italics.
“There is scant medical evidence that a chiropractor is your best treatment option for…anything”
Since most people initially seek care from a chiropractor for low back pain, it seems appropriate to focus there. The most recent clinical practice guidelines recommend heat, exercise, spinal manipulation, acupuncture, and massage as first-line therapies for low back pain. All of these services (with the exception of acupuncture) are services commonly provided by chiropractors for low back pain.
The current low back pain guidelines used to advise healthcare providers on the can be found here: American College of Physicians (ACP), National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Towards Optimized Practice (TOP), and Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT).
“Medical doctors often refer patients to the proper experts, and outside of a narrow scope of experts, this rarely includes someone who is a ‘duly-licensed non-M.D.,” because that person’s views on medicine would not be aligned with their standards of care.”
Clinical practice guidelines are intended to provide healthcare professionals with information on the most effective treatment options for various conditions based on the current research. As stated above, the current standards of care for low back pain include spinal manipulation and other therapies commonly provided by chiropractors.
Guidelines are often not up-to date. It is true that proper doctors rarely refer to chiros.
“We didn’t have proper scanning equipment to identify issues in the spine”
Imaging technique has definitely improved since the 19th century, however, this statement reflects an inadequate understanding of low back pain (and pain in general). Abnormal radiographic findings in the spine are common in asymptomatic individuals and are more closely associated with age than they are pain severity. In fact, the current practice guidelines for low back pain discourages routine imaging due to the high false positive rates.
Yet far too many chiros do use imaging – not for diagnostic but for financial reasons, I suspect.
“It appears there is a link between chiropractic manipulation and risk of stroke due to potential artery dissection.”
The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association (also endorsed by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons) released a scientific statement stating that the association between stroke and chiropractic manipulation was not well established and probably low. These patients are likely already presenting with a stroke that is in progress, regardless of treatment provided.
I am not sure what a ‘low association’ is. The risk of stroke is, however, real. To deny it is a violation of the precautionary principle that governs all healthcare.
“Chiropractic beliefs are dangerously far removed from mainstream medicine, and the vocation’s practices have been linked to strokes, herniated discs, and even death.”
This statement is made without context. All medical interventions have an associated risk when performed, but their occurrence rates vary. The risk of death from cervical manipulation has been estimated to be 1 in greater than 3,330,000 to 3,730,000 manipulations while the risk of death from gastrointestinal bleeding from NSAIDs is estimated to be 1 in 1,200 patients.
Medical error has also been reported as the third leading cause of death in the United States and many of the commonly used medications have also been linked to adverse events such as stroke and death (ibuprofen, tramadol, and duloxetine).
Even if all of this were true (which it isn’t), it would not be a good reason to tolerate unnecessary harm by chiros (look up ‘tu quoque fallacy).
“Chiropractors can also cause damage by being used for primary care or emergency medical needs, as their training is not appropriate for such care…The chiropractor somehow missed that her son’s arm was broken, and the injury was not detected until many days later when they visited an emergency room.”
I am not privy to the case referred to above to specifically comment on it, but it is inappropriate to condemn an entire profession based on a single case. In SciBabe’s interview on the Joe Rogan Experience, she describes her experience with spinal manipulation performed by her Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) for an episode of low back pain. It turned out that her lower back pain was caused by a fractured rib (fractures are a contraindication for spinal manipulation) which was also somehow missed. It is biased to berate the entire chiropractic profession based on a single case and not hold other healthcare professions to a similar standard.
Yes, that would be biased! But the case was a mere example, one of many. It is undeniable that chiros want to be upgraded to primary care physicians, a role for which they are not sufficiently educated or trained.
And finally, “don’t let a chiropractor fool you by reciting the warning label from a vaccine that they’re not qualified to administer.”
Similarly, please do not take medial advice from someone who is not licensed to administer it.
MY CONCLUSION + ADVICE:
‘Dr’ Braccio is using very tired pseudo-arguments which have all been addressed and invalidated hundreds of times.
My advice to him: book yourself urgently on a course of critical thinking.
My advice to consumers: ask yourself who has an axe to grind; perhaps ‘Dr’ Braccio is worried about his and his colleagues cash-flow? Neither SciBabe nor I have such reasons to misguide you.
In my previous post, I reported that the NHS has included homeopathy and herbal medicine on the list of medications that might no longer get reimbursed. The news was reported by most newspapers in the UK. All of the papers correctly quote NHS England giving their reasons for black-listing homeopathy and herbal remedies. Some papers also quote critics of homeopathy providing short ‘sound bites’ and opinions. None of the articles bother to explain in any detail why homeopathy is so ridiculously implausible or how strong the evidence against it has become. In this post, I intend to analyse some of this press coverage by copying those excerpts from the newspaper articles which I find odd or misleading and by adding short comments by myself.
THE DAILY MAIL claimed that homeopathic remedies are treatments using heavily diluted forms of plants, herbs and minerals. This is factually incorrect; think of remedies like X-ray! The Mail also quoted Don Redding, director of policy at National Voices, stating: ‘Whilst some treatments are available to purchase over the counter, that does not mean that everyone can afford them. There will be distinct categories of people who rely on NHS funding for prescriptions of remedies that are otherwise available over the counter. Stopping such prescriptions would break with the principle of an NHS “free at the point of use” and would create a system where access to treatments is based on a person’s ability to pay.’ This argument might apply to medicines that are proven to work; it does, however, not apply to homeopathy.
THE INDEPENDENT cited Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, who said: “If patients are in a position that they can afford to buy over the counter medicines and products, then we would encourage them to do so rather than request a prescription – but imposing blanket policies on GPs, that don’t take into account demographic differences across the country, or that don’t allow for flexibility for a patient’s individual circumstances, risks alienating the most vulnerable in society.” Again, this argument might apply to medicines that are proven to work; it does, however, not apply to homeopathy.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH also reported the quote from Don Redding, Director of Policy at National Voices which I cited above.
THE DAILY MIRROR quoted The Royal Pharmaceutical Society claiming that such a move raised “serious concerns” for poorer Brits. RPS England Board Chair Sandra Gidley said: “A blanket ban on prescribing of items available to buy will not improve individual quality of life or health outcomes in England. “Those on low incomes will be disproportionately affected.” THE MIRROR also reported what had to say and added that the NHS constitution states that: “Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay; NHS services are free of charge, except in limited circumstances sanctioned by parliament.”
THE NEWS & STAR repeated the above quote from The Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
THE GUERNSEY PRESS repeated what RPS England board chair Sandra Gidley said: “We would encourage people with minor health problems to self-care with the support of a pharmacist and to buy medicines where appropriate and affordable to the individual. However, expecting everyone to pay for medicines for common conditions will further increase health inequalities and worsen the health of patients who cannot afford them. A blanket ban on prescribing of items available to buy will not improve individual quality of life or health outcomes in England. Those on low incomes will be disproportionately affected. They should not be denied treatment because of an inability to pay.”
THE TIMES also quoted the RPS and Don Redding misleadingly (see above and below) and concluded their article by citing Cristal Summer, chief executive of the British Homeopathic Association saying: Patients will be prescribed more expensive conventional drugs in place of homeopathy, which defeats the object of the exercise. The NHS also claims it wants to reduce the amount of prescription drugs patients take, then stops offering complementary therapies which can help achieve this. This clearly ignores the fact that ‘the object of the exercise’ for any health service must be to provide effective treatments and avoid placebo therapies like homeopathy.
THE SUN quoted The Royal Pharmaceutical Society saying such a move raised “serious concerns” for poorer Brits. But it said banning NHS-funded homeopathy was long overdue. THE SUN continued by citing John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance: “The NHS are absolutely right to look at removing homeopathy from their approved prescription list and it’s astonishing that it hasn’t happened sooner.”
METRO pointed out that actress Gwyneth Paltrow, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and world record sprinter Usain Bolt are all known to swear by homeopathic remedies.
Generally speaking, the newspaper coverage was not bad, in my view. The exception evidently is THE TIMES (see above). Several other articles also have a slight whiff of false balance, introducing seemingly rational counter-arguments where none exist. Even though the headlines invariably focus on homeopathy, some of the quotes used by the papers are clearly about other medicines black-listed. This seems particularly obvious with the quotes by the RPS. Many readers might thus be misled into thinking that there is opposition by reputable organisations to the ban on homeopathy. None of the articles that I read quoted a homeopath at the end saying something like WE KNOW OF MANY PATIENTS WHOSE LIVES WERE SAVED BY HOMEOPATHY. JUST BECAUSE WE DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW IT WORKS DOES NOT MEAN IT DOES NOT WORK. A BAN WOULD PUT PUBLIC HEALTH AT RISK.
Only a few years ago, this type of conclusion to an article on homeopathy would have been inevitable! Could it be that UK journalists (with the exception of those at THE TIMES?) are slowly learning?
NHS England have published a list of medicines that they propose to stop funding. Items were considered for inclusion if they were:
- Items of low clinical effectiveness, where there is a lack of robust evidence of clinical effectiveness or there are significant safety concerns;
- Items which are clinically effective but where more cost-effective products are available, including products that have been subject to excessive price inflation; or
- Items which are clinically effective but, due to the nature of the product, are deemed a low priority for NHS funding.
The list includes both herbal and homeopathic remedies!!!
The document states that the annual Spend on homeopathy amounts to £92,412. It refers to the report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee which found that the use of homeopathy was not evidence based and any benefits to patients was down to placebo effect. The group agreed with the findings of the committee for the lack of evidence and considered homeopathy suitable for inclusion in the proposed list. They advise CCGs that prescribers in primary care should not initiate homeopathic items for any new patient. They also advise CCGs to support prescribers in deprescribing homeopathic items in all patients and, where appropriate, ensure the availability of relevant services to facilitate this change.
A comment published by PULSETODAY stated: NHS England is planning to stop the prescribing of homeopathy as part of new guidance for CCGs on medicines that can be considered to be of low priority for funding. Homeopathy is a new item on the list of possible low-value medicines that GPs will be banned from prescribing. Originally NHS England said that it would review just 10 items, but it has added eight new treatments, including homeopathy and herbal treatments… The original consultation document failed to include homeopathy in its treatments that should be banned. However, following a consultation, a paper presented at today’s NHS England board meeting said: ‘NHS England’s view is that, at best, homeopathy is a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds which could better be devoted to treatments that work. ‘Data on the residual use and cost of homeopathy on the NHS are hard to come by. A recent Freedom of Information request by a third party suggested that at least £578,000 has been spent on prescribed homeopathy over the past five years, with the total cost being higher than that when the cost of consultations was factored in.’ Talking at the NHS England Board meeting today NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said: ’I think this (homeopathy) has been an issue which has concerned scientific professionals for a long period of time. We can no longer shy away from addressing this particular issue. If we want our NHS to be evidence based and outcomes focused, then we must expect to have difficult conversations over difficult issues.’
This almost sounds as though Sir Bruce has been following the discussions on this blog. I have felt for a long time that the reimbursement of homeopathy by the NHS made a mockery of evidence-based medicine. It is time to end the mockery and use the money for something useful!
But before we start celebrating a victory of rationality, we should consider what happens next. There will be a consultation, and I would not be surprised to hear that the author of multiple ‘spider memos’ is already at it again. So, maybe we should hold our breath and wait.
The current Cochrane review of acupuncture for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) included 5 RCTs and concluded that thus far, only a limited number of RCTs have been reported. At present, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of acupuncture for treatment of ovulation disorders in women with PCOS.
A new study was aimed at assessing whether active acupuncture, either alone or combined with clomiphene, increases the likelihood of live births among women with PCOS. A double-blind (clomiphene vs placebo), single-blind (active vs control acupuncture) factorial trial was conducted at 27 hospitals in mainland China between July 6, 2012, and November 18, 2014, with 10 months of pregnancy follow-up until October 7, 2015. Chinese women with polycystic ovary syndrome were randomized in a 1:1:1:1 ratio to 4 groups. Active or control acupuncture administered twice a week for 30 minutes per treatment and clomiphene or placebo administered for 5 days per cycle, for up to 4 cycles. The active acupuncture group received deep needle insertion with combined manual and low-frequency electrical stimulation; the control acupuncture group received superficial needle insertion, no manual stimulation, and mock electricity. The primary outcome was live birth.
Among the 1000 randomized women, 250 were randomized to each group, and 926 women completed the trial. Live births occurred in
- 69 of 235 women (29.4%) in the active acupuncture plus clomiphene group,
- 66 of 236 (28.0%) in the control acupuncture plus clomiphene group,
- 31 of 223 (13.9%) in the active acupuncture plus placebo group,
- 39 of 232 (16.8%) in the control acupuncture plus placebo group.
There was no significant interaction between active acupuncture and clomiphene, so main effects were evaluated. The live birth rate was significantly higher in the women treated with clomiphene than with placebo and not significantly different between women treated with active vs control acupuncture.
The authors concluded that among Chinese women with polycystic ovary syndrome, the use of acupuncture with or without clomiphene, compared with control acupuncture and placebo, did not increase live births. This finding does not support acupuncture as an infertility treatment in such women.
There is much evidence to show that nearly 100% of all acupuncture trials originating from China report positive findings regardless of the condition treated. This led to the assumption by myself and several other experts that such studies are best ignored.
This study is from China and does not report positive results. What is more, it is well-designed and well-reported. This trial therefore is a most laudable exception, and I applaud the authors for their courage and good science.
Does this mean that in future we can trust all Chinese acupuncture trials?
One swallow does not make a summer. And I will remain very sceptical. But perhaps this new study is a sign indicating that things are beginning to change. Perhaps Chinese acupuncture researchers are starting to join the 21st century?
This new RCT by researchers from the National Institute of Complementary Medicine in Sydney, Australia was aimed at ‘examining the effect of changing treatment timing and the use of manual, electro acupuncture on the symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea’. It had four arms:
- low frequency manual acupuncture (LF-MA),
- high frequency manual acupuncture (HF-MA),
- low frequency electro acupuncture (LF-EA)
- and high frequency electro acupuncture (HF-EA).
A total of 74 women were given 12 treatments over three menstrual cycles, either once per week (LF groups) or three times in the week prior to menses (HF groups). All groups received a treatment in the first 48 hours of menses. The primary outcome was the reduction in peak menstrual pain at 12 months from trial entry.
During the treatment period and 9 month follow-up all groups showed statistically significant reductions in peak and average menstrual pain compared to baseline. However, there were no differences between groups. Health related quality of life increased significantly in 6 domains in groups having high frequency of treatment compared to two domains in low frequency groups. Manual acupuncture groups required less analgesic medication than electro-acupuncture groups. HF-MA was most effective in reducing secondary menstrual symptoms compared to both–EA groups.
The authors concluded that acupuncture treatment reduced menstrual pain intensity and duration after three months of treatment and this was sustained for up to one year after trial entry. The effect of changing mode of stimulation or frequency of treatment on menstrual pain was not significant. This may be due to a lack of power. The role of acupuncture stimulation on menstrual pain needs to be investigated in appropriately powered randomised controlled trials.
If I were not used to reading rubbish research of alternative medicine in general and acupuncture in particular, this RCT would amaze me – not so much because of its design, execution, or write-up, but primarily because of its conclusion (why, oh why, I ask myself, did PLOS ONE publish this paper?). They are, I think, utterly barmy.
Let me explain:
- “acupuncture treatment reduced menstrual pain intensity” – oh no, it didn’t; at least this is not what the study proves; the fact that pain was perceived as less could be due to a host of factors, for instance regression towards the mean, or social desirability; as there was no proper control group, nobody can tell;
- the lack of difference between treatments “may be due to a lack of power”. Yes, but more likely it is due to the fact that all versions of a placebo therapy generate similar outcomes.
- “acupuncture stimulation on menstrual pain needs to be investigated in appropriately powered randomised controlled trials”. Why? Because the authors have a quasi-religious belief in acupuncture? And if they have, why did they not design their study ‘appropriately’?
The best conclusion I can suggest for this daft trial is this: IN THIS STUDY, THE PRIMARY ENDPOINT SHOWED NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE 4 TREATMENT GROUPS. THE RESULTS ARE THEREFORE FULLY COMPATIBLE WITH THE NOTION THAT ACUPUNCTURE IS A PLACEBO THERAPY.
Something along these lines would, in my view, have been honest and scientific. Sadly, in acupuncture research, we very rarely get such honest science and the ‘National Institute of Complementary Medicine in Sydney, Australia’ has no track record of being the laudable exception to this rule.
An article by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times caught my eye. Here are a few excerpts:
“I am sorry, Mrs. Ploni, but the muscle testing we performed on you indicates that your compatibility with your spouse is a 1 out of a possible 10 on the scale.”
“Your son being around his father is bad for his energy levels. You should seek to minimize it.”
“Your husband was born normal, but something happened to his energy levels on account of the vaccinations he received as a child. It is not really his fault, but he is not good for you.”
Welcome to the world of Applied Kinesiology (AK) or health Kinesiology… Incredibly, there are people who now base most of their life decisions on something called “muscle testing.” Practitioners believe or state that the body’s energy levels can reveal remarkable information, from when a bride should get married to whether the next Kinesiology appointment should be in one week or two weeks. Prices for a 45 minute appointment can range from $125 to $250 a session. One doctor who is familiar with people who engage in such pursuits remarked, “You have no idea how many inroads this craziness has made in our community.”
… AK (applied kinesiology) is system that evaluates structural, chemical, and mental aspects of health by using “manual muscle testing (MMT)” along with other conventional diagnostic methods. The belief of AK adherents is that every organ dysfunction is accompanied by a weakness in a specific corresponding muscle… Treatments include joint manipulation and mobilization, myofascial, cranial and meridian therapies, clinical nutrition, and dietary counselling. A manual muscle test is conducted by having the patient resist using the target muscle or muscle group while the practitioner applies force the other way. A smooth response is called a “strong muscle” and a response that was not appropriate is called a “weak response.” Like some Ouiji board out of the 1970’s, Applied Kinesiology is used to ask “Yes or No” questions about issues ranging from what type of Parnassa courses one should be taking, to what Torah music tapes one should listen to, to whether a therapist is worthwhile to see or not.
“They take everything with such seriousness – they look at it as if it is Torah from Sinai,” remarked one person familiar with such patients. One spouse of an AK patient was shocked to hear that a diagnosis was made concerning himself through the muscle testing of his wife – without the practitioner having ever met him… And the lines at the office of the AK practitioner are long. One husband holds a crying baby for three hours, while his wife attends a 45 minute session. Why so long? The AK practitioner let other patients ahead – because of emergency needs…
END OF EXCERPTS
The article is a reminder how much nonsense happens in the name of alternative medicine. AK is one of the modalities that is exemplary:
- it is utterly implausible;
- there is no good evidence that it works.
The only systematic review of AK was published in 2008 by a team known to be strongly in favour of alternative medicine. It included 22 relevant studies. Their methodology was poor. The authors concluded that there is insufficient evidence for diagnostic accuracy within kinesiology, the validity of muscle response and the effectiveness of kinesiology for any condition.
Some AK fans might now say: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!!! There is no evidence that AK does not work, and therefore we should give it the benefit of the doubt and use it.
This, of course, is absolute BS! Firstly, the onus is on those who claim that AK works to prove their assumption. Secondly, in responsible healthcare, we are obliged to employ those modalities for which the evidence is positive, while avoiding those for which the evidence fails to be positive.
The Daily Star reported that 9 children have died in Tripura Para of Sitakunda during the last week. At least 46 other children in the remote hilly area are suffering from the same unidentified disease which has not yet been identified. The children aged between one and 12 suffer from fever and other symptoms include body rash, breathing problems, vomiting and blood in stool.
None of the fatalities was taken to a hospital, and two of them were treated homeopathically. The three-year-old Rupali had fever and a rash all over her body for three days. “We took her to a man who practices homeopathy. He lives some two kilometres away. He had given Rupali some medicines”, said her uncle. Asked why they did not take the child to a hospital, Pradip said the next health complex was 15 kilometres away from their home. Besides, they did not have money to buy medicines which would have been prescribed by doctors.
Shimal Tripura was also among the children who died. His father Biman Tripura said the two-year-old boy had been suffering from fever for six days. Shimal was also taken to a local man who practices homeopathy.
“The disease could not be identified immediately,” said a spokesperson. Asked whether the disease could be transmitted by mosquitoes, he said, “It does not seem so. If it was, then why only children were being affected?” A medical team from the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research in Dhaka was dispatched for Sitakunda, he said, adding that the local primary school was shut down to prevent the spread of the disease.
I have often pointed out that homeopathy can be deadly – not usually via its remedies (highly diluted homeopathic have no effects whatsoever) but via homeopaths who do not know what they are doing. It seems that here we have yet further tragic cases to confirm this point. Nine children were reported to have died. Two of them received homeopathic remedies and 7 seemed to have had no treatment at all. This looks like a very sad statistic indicating that homeopathy is as bad as no treatment at all.
It used to be called ‘good bedside manners’. The term is an umbrella for a range of attitudes and behaviours including compassion, empathy and conveying positive messages. What could be more obvious than the assumption that good bedside manners are better than bad ones?
But as sceptics, we need to doubt obvious assumptions! Where is the evidence? we need to ask. So, where is the evidence that positive messages have any clinical effects? A meta-analysis has tackled the issue, and the results are noteworthy.
The researchers aimed to estimate the efficacy of positive messages for pain reduction. They included RCTs of the effects of positive messages. Their primary outcome measures were differences in patient- or observer reported pain between groups who were given positive messages and those who were not. Of the 16 RCTs (1703 patients) that met the inclusion criteria, 12 trials had sufficient data for meta-analysis. The pooled standardized effect size was −0.31 (95% CI −0.61 to −0.01, P = 0.04, I² = 82%). The effect size remained positive but not statistically significant after we excluded studies considered to have a high risk of bias (standard effect size −0.17, 95% CI −0.54 to 0.19, P = 0.36, I² = 84%). The authors concluded that care of patients with chronic or acute pain may be enhanced when clinicians deliver positive messages about possible clinical outcomes. However, we have identified several limitations of the present study that suggest caution when interpreting the results. We recommend further high quality studies to confirm (or falsify) our result.
The 1st author of this paper published a comment in which he stated that our recent mega-study with 12 randomized trials confirmed that doctors who use positive language reduce patient pain by a similar amount to drugs. Other trials show that positive messages can:
• help Parkinson’s patients move their hands faster,
• increase ‘peak flow’ (a measure of how much air is breathed) in asthma patients,
• improve the diameter of arteries in heart surgery patients, and
• reduce the amount of pain medication patients use.
The way a positive message seems to help is biological. When a patient anticipates a good thing happening (for example that their pain will go away), this activates parts of the brain that help the body make its own drugs like endorphins. A positive doctor may also help a patient relax which can also improve health.
I am not sure that this is entirely correct. When the authors excluded the methodologically weak and therefore unreliable studies, the effect was no longer significant. That is to say, it was likely due to chance.
And what about the other papers cited above? I am not sure about them either. Firstly, they do not necessarily show that positive messages are effective. Secondly, there is just one study for each claim, and one swallow does not make a summer; we would need independent replications.
So, am I saying that being positive as a clinician is ineffective? No! I am saying that the evidence is too flimsy to be sure. And possibly, this means that the effect of positive messages is smaller than we all thought.