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

Monthly Archives: March 2019

We have discussed various forms of healing before – see, for instance, here, here and here. Of all the implausible SCAMs, healing takes the biscuit. Here is a healing-paper that fascinated me.

The aim of the study was to report epidemiologic data on ‘biofield healers’ (all types of energy healers) in radiation therapy patients, and to assess the possible objective and subjective benefits.

A retrospective study was conducted in a French cancer institute. All consecutive breast or prostate cancer patients undergoing a curative radiotherapy during 2015 were screened (n = 806). Healer consultation procedure, frequency, and remuneration were collected. Patient’s self-evaluation of healer’s impact on treatment tolerance was reported. Tolerance (fatigue, pain) was assessed through visual analogic scale (0 to 10). Analgesic consumption was evaluated.

A total of 500 patients were included (350 women and 150 men), and 256 patients (51.2%) consulted a healer during their radiation treatment, with a majority of women (58%, p < 0.01). Most patients had weekly (n = 209, 41.8%) or daily (n = 84, 16.8%) appointments with their healer. Regarding the self-reported tolerance, > 80% of the patients described a “good” or “very good” impact of the healer on their treatment. Healers were mainly voluntary (75.8%). Regarding the clinical efficacy, no difference was observed in prostate and in breast cancer patients (toxicity, antalgic consumption, pain).

The authors concluded that this study reveals that the majority of patients treated by radiotherapy consults a healer and reports a benefit on subjective tolerance, without objective tolerance amelioration.

The authors admit that their investigation has several limitations:

  1. Among the 806 screened patients, only 500 were finally included. These patients more likely report their subjective benefit on biofield healing, and could overestimate benefits in the healer group.
  2. Practices were highly variable from a healer to another.
  3. Toxicities evaluation might have been biased due to retrospective analysis based on medical patient record.

But what does this study really show?

I think, it demonstrates that:

  1. Healing is frightfully popular in France. I use the term deliberately, because this level of irrationality does, in fact, frighten me.
  2. Healing does not seem to alter the natural history of cancer.

And what about the fact that 84% of the patients reported a good or very good impact of the biofield healer on their tolerance to radiotherapy? Does this prove or even suggest that healing has positive effects? I think not! This result is to be expected. Imagine a retrospective study of patients who chose to eat a hamburger. Would we not expext that a similar percentage might claim that eating it did them good?

I rest my case.

 

 

My friend Roger, the homeopath, alerted me to the ‘Self-Controlled Energo Neuro Adaptive Regulation‘ (SCENAR). He uses it in his practice and explains:

The scenar uses biofeedback; by stimulating the nervous system, it is able to teach the body to heal itself. The device sends out a series of signals through the skin and measures the response. Each signal is only sent out when a change, in response to the previous signal, is recorded in the electrical properties of the skin. Visible responses include reddening of the skin, numbness, stickiness (the device will have the feeling of being magnetically dragged), a change in the numerical readout and an increase in the electronic clattering of the device.

The C-fibres, which comprise 85% of all nerves in the body, react most readily to the electro-stimulation and are responsible for the production of neuropeptides and other regulatory peptides. A TENS unit will only stimulate the A & B-fibres for temporary relief.

The body can get accustomed to a stable pathological state, which may have been caused by injury, disease or toxicity. The Scenar catalyses the process to produce regulatory peptides for the body to use where necessary, by stimulation of C-fibres  . It is these neuropeptides that in turn reestablish the body’s natural physiological state and are responsible for the healing process. As these peptides last up to several hours, the healing process will continue long after the treatment is over. The large quantity of neuropeptides and C-fibres in the Central Nervous System can also result in the treatment on one area aiding with other general regulatory processes, like chemical imbalances, correcting sleeplessness, appetite and behavioral problems.

Sounds like science fiction?

Or perhaps more like BS?

But, as always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Roger explains:

What conditions can Scenar treat?
In the UK, the devices are licensed by the British Standards Institute for pain relief only. Likewise the FDA has approved the Scenar for pain relief. However, because of the nature of the device, viz., stimulating the nervous system, the Russian experience is that Scenar affects all the body systems in a curative manner.

The Russian experience suggests that it can be effective for a very broad range of diseases, including diseases of the digestive, cardio-vascular, respiratory, musculo-skeletal, urinary, reproductive and nervous systems. It is also useful for managing ENT diseases, eye diseases, skin conditions and dental problems. It has also been found beneficial in burns, fractures, insect bites, allergic reactions, diseases of the blood and disorders involving immune mechanisms; endocrine, nutritional and metabolic disorders; stress and mental depression, etc.

It is known to give real relief from many types of pain. It does so because it stimulates the body to heal the underlying disease causing the pain!

Another SCENAR therapist is much more specific. He tells us that SCENAR is effective for:

  • Sports and other injuries
  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Issues with circulation
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Digestive disorders
  • Certain infections
  • Immune dysfunctions

Perhaps I was a bit hasty; perhaps the SCENAR does work after all. It is certainly offered by many therapists like Roger. They cannot all be charlatans, or can they?

Time to do a proper Medline search and find out about the clinical trials that have been done with the SCENAR. Disappointingly, I only found three relevant papers; here they are:

Study No 1

A new technique of low-frequency modulated electric current therapy, SCENAR therapy, was used in treatment of 103 patients with duodenal ulcer (DU). The influence of SCENAR therapy on the main clinical and functional indices of a DU relapse was studied. It was shown that SCENAR therapy, which influences disturbed mechanisms of adaptive regulation and self-regulation, led to positive changes in most of the parameters under study. Addition of SCENAR therapy to the complex conventional pharmacotherapy fastened ulcer healing, increased the effectiveness of Helicobacter pylori eradication, and improved the condition of the gastroduodenal mucosa.

Study No 2

Administration of artrofoon in combination with SCENAR therapy to patients with localized suppurative peritonitis in the postoperative period considerably reduced plasma MDA level, stabilized ceruloplasmin activity, and increased catalase activity in erythrocytes compared to the corresponding parameters in patients receiving standard treatment in combination with SCENAR therapy.

Study No 3

The author recommends a self-control energoneuroadaptive regulator (SCENAR) as effective in the treatment of neurogenic dysfunction of the bladder in children with nocturnal enuresis. This regulator operates according to the principles of Chinese medicine and may be used in sanatoria and at home by the children’s parents specially trained by physiotherapist.

_____________________________________________________________________

While the quantity of the ‘studies’ is lamentable, their quality seems quite simply unacceptable.

We are thus left with two possibilities: either the SCENAR is more or less what its proponents promise and the science has for some strange reason not caught up with this reality; or the reality is that SCENAR is a bogus treatment used by charlatans who exploit the gullible public.

I know which possibility I favour – how about you?

Dengue is a viral infection spread by mosquitoes; it is common in many parts of the world. The symptoms include fever, headache, muscle/joint pain and a red rash. The infection is usually mild and lasts about a week. In rare cases it can be more serious and even life threatening. There’s no specific treatment – except for homeopathy; at least this is what many homeopaths want us to believe.

This article reports the clinical outcomes of integrative homeopathic care in a hospital setting during a severe outbreak of dengue in New Delhi, India, during the period September to December 2015.

Based on preference, 138 patients received a homeopathic medicine along with usual care (H+UC), and 145 patients received usual care (UC) alone. Assessment of thrombocytopenia (platelet count < 100,000/mm3) was the main outcome measure. Kaplan-Meier analysis enabled comparison of the time taken to reach a platelet count of 100,000/mm3.

The results show a statistically significantly greater rise in platelet count on day 1 of follow-up in the H+UC group compared with UC alone. This trend persisted until day 5. The time taken to reach a platelet count of 100,000/mm3 was nearly 2 days earlier in the H+UC group compared with UC alone.

The authors concluded that these results suggest a positive role of adjuvant homeopathy in thrombocytopenia due to dengue. Randomized controlled trials may be conducted to obtain more insight into the comparative effectiveness of this integrative approach.

The design of the study is not able to control for placebo effects. Therefore, the question raised by this study is the following: can an objective parameter like the platelet count be influenced by placebo? The answer is clearly YES.

Why do researchers go to the trouble of conducting such a trial, while omitting both randomisation as well as placebo control? Without such design features the study lacks rigour and its results become meaningless? Why can researchers of Dengue fever run a trial without reporting symptomatic improvements?  Could the answer to these questions perhaps be found in the fact that the authors are affiliated to the ‘Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy, New Delhi?

One could argue that this trial – yet another one published in the journal ‘Homeopathy’ – is a waste of resources and patients’ co-operation. Therefore, one might even argue, such a study might be seen as unethical. In any case, I would argue that this study is irrelevant nonsense that should have never seen the light of day.

 

Power Point therapy (PPT) is not what you might think it is; it is not related to a presentation using power point. Power According to the authors of the so far only study of PPT, it is based on the theories of classic acupuncture, neuromuscular reflexology, and systems theoretical approaches like biocybernetics. It has been developed after four decades of experience by Mr. Gerhard Egger, an Austrian therapist. Hundreds of massage and physiotherapists in Europe were trained to use it, and apply it currently in their practice. The treatment can be easily learned. It is taught by professional PPT therapists to students and patients for self-application in weekend courses, followed by advanced courses for specialists.

The core hypothesis of the PPT system is that various pain syndromes have its origin, among others, in a functional pelvic obliquity. This in turn leads to a static imbalance in the posture of the body. This may result in mechanical strain and possible spinal nerve irritation that may radiate and thus affect dermatomes, myotomes, enterotomes, sclerotomes, and neurotomes of one or more vertebra segments. Therefore, treating reflex zones for the pelvis would reduce and possibly resolve the functional obliquity, improve the statics, and thus cure the pain through improved function. In addition, reflex therapy might be beneficial also in patients with unknown causes of back pain. PPT uses blunt needle tips to apply pressure to specific reflex points on the nose, hand, and feet. PPT has been used for more than 10 years in treating patients with musculoskeletal problems, especially lower back pain.

Sounds more than a little weird?

Yes, I agree.

Perhaps we need some real evidence.

The aim of this RCT was to compare 10 units of PPT of 10 min each, with 10 units of standard physiotherapy of 30 min each. Outcomes were functional scores (Roland Morris Disability, Oswestry, McGill Pain Questionnaire, Linton-Halldén – primary outcome) and health-related quality of life (SF-36), as well as blinded assessments by clinicians (secondary outcome).

Eighty patients consented and were randomized, 41 to PPT, 39 to physiotherapy. Measurements were taken at baseline, after the first and after the last treatment (approximately 5 weeks after enrolment). Multivariate linear models of covariance showed significant effects of time and group and for the quality of life variables also a significant interaction of time by group. Clinician-documented variables showed significant differences at follow-up.

The authors concluded that both physiotherapy and PPT improve subacute low back pain significantly. PPT is likely more effective and should be studied further.

I was tempted to say ‘there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this study’. But then I hesitated and, on second thought, found a few things that do concern me:

  • The theory on which PPT is based is not plausible (to put it mildly).
  • It would have been easy to conduct a placebo-controlled trial of PPT. The authors justify their odd study design stating this: This was the very first randomized controlled trial of PPT. Therefore, the study has to be considered a pilot. For a pivotal study, a clearly defined primary outcome would have been essential. This was not possible, as no previous experience was able to suggest which outcome would be the best. In my view, this is utter nonsense. Defining the primary outcome of a back pain study is not rocket science; there are plenty of validated measures of pain.
  • The study was funded by the Foundation of Natural Sciences and Technical Research in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. I cannot find such an organisation on the Internet.
  • The senior author of this study is Prof H Walach who won the prestigious award for pseudoscientist of the year 2012.
  • Walach provides no less than three affiliations, including the ‘Change Health Science Institute, Berlin, Germany’. I cannot find such an organisation on the Internet.
  • The trial was published in a less than prestigious SCAM journal, ‘Forschende Komplementarmedizin‘ – its editor in-chief: Harald Walach.

So, in view of these concerns, I think PPT might not be nearly as promising as this study implies. Personally, I will wait for an independent replication of Walach’s findings.

Actually, the article is not entitled ‘Explaining Homeopathy with Quantum Bollocks’, it has the title ‘Explaining Homeopathy with Quantum Electrodynamics’. Its two Italian authors have prestigious affiliations in the world of quantum physics:

  • Independent Researcher
  • Homeopathic Clinic, Bassano del Grappa

What they write must therefore be authorative and important. Let’s have a look; here is the abstract:

Every living organism is an open system operating far from thermodynamic equilibrium and exchanging energy, matter and information with an external environment. These exchanges are performed through non-linear interactions of billions of different biological components, at different levels, from the quantum to the macro-dimensional. The concept of quantum coherence is an inherent property of living cells, used for long-range interactions such as synchronization of cell division processes. There is support from recent advances in quantum biology, which demonstrate that coherence, as a state of order of matter coupled with electromagnetic (EM) fields, is one of the key quantum phenomena supporting life dynamics. Coherent phenomena are well explained by quantum field theory (QFT), a well-established theoretical framework in quantum physics. Water is essential for life, being the medium used by living organisms to carry out various biochemical reactions and playing a fundamental role in coherent phenomena.

Quantum electrodynamics (QED), which is the relativistic QFT of electrodynamics, deals with the interactions between EM fields and matter. QED provides theoretical models and experimental frameworks for the emergence and dynamics of coherent structures, even in living organisms. This article provides a model of multi-level coherence for living organisms in which fractal phase oscillations of water are able to link and regulate a biochemical reaction. A mathematical approach, based on the eigenfunctions of Laplace operator in hyper-structures, is explored as a valuable framework to simulate and explain the oneness dynamics of multi-level coherence in life. The preparation process of a homeopathic medicine is analyzed according to QED principles, thus providing a scientific explanation for the theoretical model of “information transfer” from the substance to the water solution. A subsequent step explores the action of a homeopathic medicine in a living organism according to QED principles and the phase-space attractor’s dynamics.

According to the developed model, all levels of a living organism organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, whole organism-are characterized by their own specific wave functions, whose phases are perfectly orchestrated in a multi-level coherence oneness. When this multi-level coherence is broken, a disease emerges. An example shows how a homeopathic medicine can bring back a patient from a disease state to a healthy one. In particular, by adopting QED, it is argued that in the preparation of homeopathic medicines, the progressive dilution/succussion processes create the conditions for the emergence of coherence domains (CDs) in the aqueous solution. Those domains code the original substance information (in terms of phase oscillations) and therefore they can transfer said information (by phase resonance) to the multi-level coherent structures of the living organism.

We encourage that QED principles and explanations become embodied in the fundamental teachings of the homeopathic method, thus providing the homeopath with a firm grounding in the practice of rational medicine. Systematic efforts in this direction should include multiple disciplines, such as quantum physics, quantum biology, conventional and homeopathic medicine and psychology.

I hope you agree that this is remarkable, perhaps even unique. The only similar paper I can remember is the one by my good friend Lionel Milgrom which concluded that quantum field theory demonstrates that quantum properties can be physical without being observable. Thus, an underlying similarity in discourse could exist between homeopathy and quantum theory which could be useful for modelling the homeopathic process. This preliminary investigation also suggested that key elements of previous quantum models of the homeopathic process, may become unified within this new QFT-type approach.

As far as I can see, the two authors of the new paper (published in the journal ‘Homeopathy‘) have just revolutionised our understanding of:

  • quantum physics,
  • human physiology,
  • pathophysiology,
  • therapeutics,
  • homeopathy.

Not a mean feast, you must admit.

Alternatively – and I am genuinely uncertain here – the journal ‘Homeopathy’ has just fallen victim of a hilarious spoof.

Please, do tell me which is the case.

The Horse‘ is not a publication I often read. But I was alerted to an article in this magazine that fascinated me. Allow me to show you a few short quotes:

In essence, holistic medicine falls under the realm of what we now refer to as, “complementary, alternative, and integrative veterinary medicine,” or CAIVM. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) describes CAIVM as “a heterogeneous group of preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic philosophies and practices that are not considered part of conventional (Western) medicine as practiced by most veterinarians.”

… Joyce Harman, DVM, owner of ­Harmany Equine Ltd., in Flint Hill, Virginia, is one veterinarian committed to the practice of CAIVM. She’s certified in acupuncture and chiropractic and has completed advanced training in veterinary homeopathy, nutrition, and herbal medicine. “If you’re looking for a local practitioner, find one with extensive training in the modality you’re interested in,” she says…

Let’s have a look at the actual evidence for or against these treatments. Here are (again) the most up-to-date systematic reviews for acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathy in veterinary medicine:

ACUPUNCTURE

Acupuncture is a popular complementary treatment option in human medicine. Increasingly, owners also seek acupuncture for their animals. The aim of the systematic review reported here was to summarize and assess the clinical evidence for or against the effectiveness of acupuncture in veterinary medicine. Systematic searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, Amed, Cinahl, Japana Centra Revuo Medicina and Chikusan Bunken Kensaku. Hand-searches included conference proceedings, bibliographies, and contact with experts and veterinary acupuncture associations. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. All controlled clinical trials testing acupuncture in any condition of domestic animals were included. Studies using laboratory animals were excluded. Titles and abstracts of identified articles were read, and hard copies were obtained. Inclusion and exclusion of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers. Methodologic quality was evaluated by means of the Jadad score. Fourteen randomized controlled trials and 17 nonrandomized controlled trials met our criteria and were, therefore, included. The methodologic quality of these trials was variable but, on average, was low. For cutaneous pain and diarrhea, encouraging evidence exists that warrants further investigation in rigorous trials. Single studies reported some positive intergroup differences for spinal cord injury, Cushing’s syndrome, lung function, hepatitis, and rumen acidosis. These trials require independent replication. On the basis of the findings of this systematic review, there is no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals. Some encouraging data do exist that warrant further investigation in independent rigorous trials.

CHIROPRACTIC

There are no studies of chiropractic for animals and hence no systematic review. However, I did publish a blog-post about veterinary chiropractic. It arrived at this conclusion: chiropractors treating animals and those treating humans have one important characteristic in common. THEY HAPPILY PROMOTE BOGUS TREATMENTS.

HOMEOPATHY

Meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of veterinary homeopathy has not previously been undertaken. For all medical conditions and species collectively, we tested the hypothesis that the outcome of homeopathic intervention (treatment and/or prophylaxis, individualised and/or non-individualised) is distinguishable from corresponding intervention using placebos.

All facets of the review, including literature search strategy, study eligibility, data extraction and assessment of risk of bias, were described in an earlier paper. A trial was judged to comprise reliable evidence if its risk of bias was low or was unclear in specific domains of assessment. Effect size was reported as odds ratio (OR). A trial was judged free of vested interest if it was not funded by a homeopathic pharmacy. Meta-analysis was conducted using the random-effects model, with hypothesis-driven sensitivity analysis based on risk of bias.

Nine of 15 trials with extractable data displayed high risk of bias; low or unclear risk of bias was attributed to each of the remaining six trials, only two of which comprised reliable evidence without overt vested interest. For all N = 15 trials, pooled OR = 1.69 [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.12 to 2.56]; P = 0.01. For the N = 2 trials with suitably reliable evidence, pooled OR = 2.62 [95% CI, 1.13 to 6.05]; P = 0.02).

Meta-analysis provides some very limited evidence that clinical intervention in animals using homeopathic medicines is distinguishable from corresponding intervention using placebos. The low number and quality of the trials hinders a more decisive conclusion.

So, what shall we make of ‘holistic horse care’ in view of this evidence?

I think I let you answer this question.

As you can imagine, I get quite a lot of ‘fan-post’. Most of the correspondence amounts to personal attacks and insults which I usually discard. But some of these ‘love-letters’ are so remarkable in one way or another that I answer them. This short email was received on 20/3/19; it belongs to the latter category:

Dr Ernst,

You have been trashing homeopathy ad nauseum for so many years based on your limited understanding of it. You seem to know little more than that the remedies are so extremely dilute as to be impossibly effective in your opinion. Everybody knows this and has to confront their initial disbelief.

Why dont you get some direct understanding of homeopathy by doing a homeopathic proving of an unknown (to you) remedy? Only once was I able to convince a skeptic to take the challenge to do a homeopathic proving. He was amazed at all the new symptoms he experienced after taking the remedy repeatedly over several days.

Please have a similar bravery in your approach to homeopathy instead of basing your thoughts purely on your speculation on the subject, grounded in little understanding and no experience of it.

THIS IS HOW I RESPONDED

Dear Mr …

thank you for this email which I would like to answer as follows.

Your lines give the impression that you might not be familiar with the concept of critical analysis. In fact, you seem to confuse my criticism of homeopathy with ‘trashing it’. I strongly recommend you read up about critical analysis. No doubt you will then realise that it is a necessary and valuable process towards generating progress in healthcare and beyond.

You assume that I have limited understanding of homeopathy. In fact, I grew up with homeopathy, practised homeopathy as a young doctor, researched the subject for more than 25 years and published several books as well as over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers about it. All of this, I have disclosed publicly, for instance, in my memoir which might interest you.

The challenge you mention has been taken by me and others many times. It cannot convince critical thinkers and, frankly, I am surprised that you found a sceptic who was convinced by what essentially amounts to little more than a party trick. But, as you seem to like challenges, I invite you to consider taking the challenge of the INH which even offers a sizable amount of money, in case you are successful.

Your final claim that my thoughts are based purely on speculation is almost farcically wrong. The truth is that sceptics try their very best to counter-balance the mostly weird speculations of homeopaths with scientific facts. I am sure that, once you have acquired the skills of critical thinking, you will do the same.

Best of luck.

Edzard Ernst

This paper notes that, according to the World Naturopathic Federation (WNF), the naturopathic profession is based on two fundamental philosophies of medicine (vitalism and holism) and seven principles of practice (healing power of nature; treat the whole person; treat the cause; first, do no harm; doctor as teacher; health promotion and disease prevention; and wellness). The philosophy, theory, and principles are translated to clinical practice through a range of therapeutic modalities. The WNF has identified seven core modalities: (1) clinical nutrition and diet modification/counselling; (2) applied nutrition (use of dietary supplements, traditional medicines, and natural health care products); (3) herbal medicine; (4) lifestyle counselling; (5) hydrotherapy; (6) homeopathy, including complex homeopathy; and (7) physical modalities (based on the treatment modalities taught and allowed in each jurisdiction, including yoga, naturopathic manipulation, and muscle release techniques).

The ‘scoping’ review was to summarize the current state of the research evidence for whole-system, multi-modality naturopathic medicine. Studies were included, if they met the following criteria:

  • Controlled clinical trials, longitudinal cohort studies, observational trials, or case series involving five or more cases presented in any language
  • Human studies
  • Multi-modality treatment administered by a naturopath (naturopathic clinician, naturopathic physician) as an intervention
  • Non-English language studies in which an English title and abstract provided sufficient information to determine effectiveness
  • Case series in which five or more individual cases were pooled and authors provided a summative discussion of the cases in the context of naturopathic medicine
  • All human research evaluating the effectiveness of naturopathic medicine, where two or more naturopathic modalities are delivered by naturopathic clinicians, were included in the review.
  • Case studies of five or more cases were included.

Thirty-three published studies with a total of 9859 patients met inclusion criteria (11 US; 4 Canadian; 6 German; 7 Indian; 3 Australian; 1 UK; and 1 Japanese) across a range of mainly chronic clinical conditions. A majority of the included studies were observational cohort studies (12 prospective and 8 retrospective), with 11 clinical trials and 2 case series. The studies predominantly showed evidence for the efficacy of naturopathic medicine for the conditions and settings in which they were based. Overall, these studies show naturopathic treatment results in a clinically significant benefit for treatment of hypertension, reduction in metabolic syndrome parameters, and improved cardiac outcomes post-surgery.

The authors concluded that to date, research in whole-system, multi-modality naturopathic medicine shows that it is effective for treating cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal pain, type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, depression, anxiety, and a range of complex chronic conditions. Overall, these studies show naturopathic treatment results in a clinically significant benefit for treatment of hypertension, reduction in metabolic syndrome parameters, and improved cardiac outcomes post-surgery.

Where to start?

There are many issues here to choose from:

  • The definition of naturopathy used in this review may be the one of the WHF, but it has little resemblance to the one used elsewhere. German naturopathic doctors, for instance, would not consider homeopathy to be a naturopathic treatment. They would also not, like the WNF does, subscribe to the long-obsolete humoral  theory of disease. The only German professional organisation that is a member of the WNF is thus not one of naturopathic doctors but one of Heilpraktiker (the notorious German lay-practitioner created by the Nazis during the Third Reich).
  • A review that includes observational studies and even case series, while drawing far-reaching conclusions on therapeutic effectiveness is, in my view, little more than embarrassing pseudo-science. Such studies are unable to differentiate between specific and non-specific therapeutic effects and therefore can tell us nothing about the effectiveness of a treatment.
  • A review on a subject such as naturopathy (an approach which, after all, originated in Europe) that excludes studies not published in English (and without an English abstract providing sufficient information to determine effectiveness) is likely to be incomplete.
  • The authors call their review a ‘scoping review’; they nevertheless draw conclusions not about the scope but the effectiveness of naturopathy.
  • Many of the studies included in this review do, in fact, not comply with the inclusion criteria set by the review-authors.
  • The review does not assess or even comment on the risks of naturopathic treatments.
  • Several of the included studies are not investigations of naturopathy but of approaches that squarely fall under the umbrella of integrative or alternative medicine.
  • Of the 33 studies included, only 5 were RCTs, and none of these was free of major limitations.
  • None of the RCTs have been independently replicated.
  • There is a remarkable absence of negative trials suggestion a strong influence of bias.
  • The review lacks any trace of critical thinking.
  • The authors are affiliated to institutions of naturopathy but declare no conflicts of interest.
  • No funding source was named but it seems that it was supported by the WNF; their primary goal is to promote and advance the naturopathic profession.
  • The review appeared in the notorious Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Prof Dwyer, the founding president of the Australian ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’, said the study damaged Southern Cross University’s reputation. “At the heart of this is the credibility of Southern Cross University,” he said. “There’s been a stand-off between SCU and the rest of the scientific community in Australia for a number of years and there have been challenges to whether they are really upholding the highest standards of evidence-based medicine.” Professor Dwyer also raised questions about the university’s credibility late last year when it accepted a $10 million donation from vitamin company Blackmore’s to establish a National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine.

My conclusion of naturopathy, as defined by the WNF, is that it is an obsolete form of quackery steeped in concepts of vitalism that should be abandoned sooner rather than later. And my conclusion about the new review agrees with Prof Dwyer’s judgement: it is an embarrassment to all concerned.

This ‘nationwide, population-based ‘cohort study’ was meant to investigate the probable effect of TCM to decrease the fracture rate. Its authors identified cases with osteoporosis and selected a comparison group that was frequency-matched according to sex, age (per 5 years), diagnosis year of osteoporosis, and index year. The difference between the two groups in the development of fracture was estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method and the log-rank test.

After inserting age, gender, urbanization level, and comorbidities into the Cox’s proportional hazard model, patients who used TCM had a lower hazard ratio (HR) of fracture compared to the non-TCM user group. The Kaplan-Meier curves showed that osteoporosis patients who used TCM had a lower incidence of fracture events than those who did not. Our study also demonstrated that the longer the TCM use, the lesser the fracture rate.

The authors concluded that their study showed that TCM might have a positive impact on the prevention of osteoporotic fracture.

The authors also mention three weaknesses of their study:

  • Firstly, we were unable to include medicines taken at the patient’s own expense. According to the specification of the NHI program, Western medicine for osteoporosis can only be applied after a fracture occurred. It is possible that the patients source such medicines at their own expense when they were diagnosed with osteoporosis before a fracture happens.
  • Secondly, some data related to fractures, such as a patient’s exercise, lifestyle, BMI, alcohol, and cigarette use is not available from the NHI program.
  • Thirdly, the Kaplan–Meier curve might be influenced by economic levels and patient severity. However, we can conclude that TCM might have a positive impact on the prevention of osteoporotic fracture…

Disregarding these limitations, they nevertheless state that their study not only reveals the preventative value of TCM use for patients with osteoporosis in the clinical setting, but also provides valuable information regarding the most common prescriptions provided to osteoporotic patients.

So, is there a causal link between TCM and osteoporosis?

Yes, it is possible.

But is it proven?

No!

Is it likely?

No!

By far the most plausible explanation of the findings is that the two groups that were compared here were not comparable in many ways that affect the osteoporosis-risk.

Major risk factors of osteoporosis include:

  • Inadequate nutritional absorption
  • Lack of physical activity or fall risk
  • Weight loss
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Air pollution
  • Stress

I suggest therefore that this study shows that the two populations differed regarding these risk factors.

I also suggest that researchers of SCAM might benefit from a minimum of critical thinking.

I furthermore suggest that, if SCAM-fans want to test whether causal effects exist, they use controlled clinical trials rather than cohort or case-control studies

Lastly, I suggest that authors, journal editors, reviewers and funders (this study was funded by the ‘Taiwan Ministry of Health and Welfare Clinical Trial Center’) remind themselves that they have a responsibility and thus avoid misleading the public.

An impressive 17% of US chiropractic patients are 17 years of age or younger. This figure increases to 39% among US chiropractors who have specialized in paediatrics. Data for other countries can be assumed to be similar. But is chiropractic effective for children? All previous reviews concluded that there is a paucity of evidence for the effectiveness of manual therapy for conditions within paediatric populations.

This systematic review is an attempt to shed more light on the issue by evaluating the use of manual therapy for clinical conditions in the paediatric population, assessing the methodological quality of the studies found, and synthesizing findings based on health condition.

Of the 3563 articles identified through various literature searches, 165 full articles were screened, and 50 studies (32 RCTs and 18 observational studies) met the inclusion criteria. Only 18 studies were judged to be of high quality. Conditions evaluated were:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
  • autism,
  • asthma,
  • cerebral palsy,
  • clubfoot,
  • constipation,
  • cranial asymmetry,
  • cuboid syndrome,
  • headache,
  • infantile colic,
  • low back pain,
  • obstructive apnoea,
  • otitis media,
  • paediatric dysfunctional voiding,
  • paediatric nocturnal enuresis,
  • postural asymmetry,
  • preterm infants,
  • pulled elbow,
  • suboptimal infant breastfeeding,
  • scoliosis,
  • suboptimal infant breastfeeding,
  • temporomandibular dysfunction,
  • torticollis,
  • upper cervical dysfunction.

Musculoskeletal conditions, including low back pain and headache, were evaluated in seven studies. Only 20 studies reported adverse events.

The authors concluded that fifty studies investigated the clinical effects of manual therapies for a wide variety of pediatric conditions. Moderate-positive overall assessment was found for 3 conditions: low back pain, pulled elbow, and premature infants. Inconclusive unfavorable outcomes were found for 2 conditions: scoliosis (OMT) and torticollis (MT). All other condition’s overall assessments were either inconclusive favorable or unclear. Adverse events were uncommonly reported. More robust clinical trials in this area of healthcare are needed.

There are many things that I find remarkable about this review:

  • The list of indications for which studies have been published confirms the notion that manual therapists – especially chiropractors – regard their approach as a panacea.
  • A systematic review evaluating the effectiveness of a therapy that includes observational studies without a control group is, in my view, highly suspect.
  • Many of the RCTs included in the review are meaningless; for instance, if a trial compares the effectiveness of two different manual therapies none of which has been shown to work, it cannot generate a meaningful result.
  • Again, we find that the majority of trialists fail to report adverse effects. This is unethical to a degree that I lose faith in such studies altogether.
  • Only three conditions are, according to the authors, based on evidence. This is hardly enough to sustain an entire speciality of paediatric chiropractors.

Allow me to have a closer look at these three conditions.

  1. Low back pain: the verdict ‘moderate positive’ is based on two RCTs and two observational studies. The latter are irrelevant for evaluating the effectiveness of a therapy. One of the two RCTs should have been excluded because the age of the patients exceeded the age range named by the authors as an inclusion criterion. This leaves us with one single ‘medium quality’ RCT that included a mere 35 patients. In my view, it would be foolish to base a positive verdict on such evidence.
  2. Pulled elbow: here the verdict is based on one RCT that compared two different approaches of unknown value. In my view, it would be foolish to base a positive verdict on such evidence.
  3. Preterm: Here we have 4 RCTs; one was a mere pilot study of craniosacral therapy following the infamous A+B vs B design. The other three RCTs were all from the same Italian research group; their findings have never been independently replicated. In my view, it would be foolish to base a positive verdict on such evidence.

So, what can be concluded from this?

I would say that there is no good evidence for chiropractic, osteopathic or other manual treatments for children suffering from any condition.

And why do the authors of this new review arrive at such dramatically different conclusion? I am not sure. Could it perhaps have something to do with their affiliations?

  • Palmer College of Chiropractic,
  • Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College,
  • Performance Chiropractic.

What do you think?

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