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

A reader of this blog reminded me of the fact that I have so far not written anything about VAT (thanks Kathryn) – no, not ‘value added tax’ but Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy. This so-called alternative therapy (SCAM) uses sound and vibrations and is promoted mainly for:

  • reducing stress,
  • relieving pain,
  • improving sleep,
  • ‘restoring balance’ (bank balance of the therapist?),
  • and enhancing the quality of life.

The VAT frequencies range between 30Hz and 120Hz and are applied directly to the body through a treatment table topped with a water-filled mattress. If you go on the Internet, you will find that there are lots of devices you can buy, if you want to do the therapy at home.

Like so many other SCAMs, VAT is claimed to work with resonant frequency whereby our cells copy vibrations they are exposed to.  VAT is said to introduce the healthy vibration of cells into the body.  This results in a healthy resonant response in our cells, VAT-proponents claim. Over 100 customized frequencies can be employed to address specific health problems.

Yes, you are right: this is about as genuine as a £4 note.

Those practitioners offering VAT sessions claim that the best results occur with cumulative sessions for between 10 – 12 weeks and recommend a minimum treatment schedule of 8 weeks for the majority of cases, either once or twice per week.  In view of the fact that these would-be healthcare professionals want to make a living, this seems almost modest, in my view. But, as they are keen to point out, more chronic conditions require 2-3 times per week.

Any evidence?

I found plenty of statements arguing that VAT is solidly evidence-based. However, when I searched for it, I failed to locate anything other than uncontrolled studies, pilot studies and promotional articles of VAT. I admit that I did not spend much time looking (it somehow did not seem worth the effort); it is therefore possible that I missed the definitive RCT of VAT. If someone knows of a piece of conclusive evidence, I’d be most thankful to learn about it.

Under the heading ‘Who should not receive vibroacoustic therapy?’ one VAT practitioner listed several contra-indications for VAT:
•    Individuals with Pacemakers
•    People with very low blood pressure
•    People with a DVT, bleeding disorder, or recent surgery
•    Individuals who have had a recent psychotic episode

To this list, I would urgently add this: individuals who are capable of critical thinking!!!

35 Responses to Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy: introducing the ‘healthy vibration of cells’ into the body

  • In Camden Market in London many years ago I found a shop with ‘new age’ stuff – crystals etc for sale. There was a device called a Mind Machine. Essentially, a pair of headphones which would play slightly different frequencies in each ear. Doing this gives rise to the phenomenon of “Binaural Beats”, in which you hear a pulse with a frequency of the difference between the two sources.

    So if one side of the headphone plays 440Hz and the other plays 460Hz, you hear a pulse in the sound of 20Hz – constructive interference. It is not quite clear if this always arises simply through bone conduction, or if for some people, a psycho-acoustic phenomenon of hearing actually synthesises the 20Hz sound in the brain. Anyway, this was being sold as a machine that would enhance the mind. It so happens that I am an experienced piano technician and very familiar with the phenomenon of ‘beats’, so I was interested to discuss the device with the guy. He, however, was not at all interested to discuss the science, and was keen only to make a sale. However ‘spiritual’ he might have been, he seemed sufficiently of this world to care only about the money.

    I felt that the people who would fall for the stuff in that shop, would be of a sort who would hold a child’s kaleidoscope up to their eye, and reckon the coloured shapes to be a great spiritual experience (though I am not suggesting that specific wavelengths of light might not have physiological effects).

    It will be interesting indeed to see if there is any shred of evidence that “VAT” produces any effect whatever on any health condition. For my money, the kind of acoustic vibration that might make me feel better, would come from the performance of a Beethoven piano sonata.

    • David B,

      So if one side of the headphone plays 440Hz and the other plays 460Hz, you hear a pulse in the sound of 20Hz – constructive interference. It is not quite clear if this always arises simply through bone conduction, or if for some people, a psycho-acoustic phenomenon of hearing actually synthesises the 20Hz sound in the brain

      I would be surprised if if this phenomenon arises through anything other than bone conduction. The hair cells of the inner ear are responsible for translating acoustic vibrations into nervous inpulses. Each hair cell is tuned to a specific frequency; this is partly mechanical and partly electrical. When it is stimulated by that frequency it produces a train of transient nervous impulses. These are spikes are all of the same amplitude, and loudness is encoded by their frequency, up to about 300 per second (they are generated an random intervals, so this isn’t the same as the frequency of a wave). The signals have to cross several synapses (junctions between nerve fibres, where the signal is propagated chemically) before the input from both ears are put together, so there is no possibility of acoustical interference producing beats.

      Rather amazingly, the system is somehow able to preserve timing information, since clicks presented through headphones to each ear with a delay in the range 1 – 5 ms are heard as a single click, the length of the delay determining the apparent direction of the sound.

      The phenomenon of beats is used in some organ stops, where two ranks of pipes sound together, one of them (often called a celeste) being tuned a little sharp or flat relative to the other. Generally this is used with “string” stops – pipes of a narrow scale, which reduces the volume of sound but increases its harmonic content.

      I believe some organs are tuned with the octaves stretched slightly, which gives a slight chorus effect and a richer tone; possibly this is the case with pianos as well – you would know more about this than I would.

      Beats can also be a problem with organs as there are stops designed to reinforce specific harmonics (usually fifths and thirds), particularly in instruments from Northern Europe where these stops can be quite loud, as with an equally-tempered instrument such as the piano (and most UK organs) the harmonics are not at the same pitch as the instrument is tuned to. However, many of these instruments are tuned with unequal temperament, which gets round this problem but results in some very unmusical-sounding intervals when playing in keys with a lot of accidentals. Bach appears to have made use of this phenomenon as you can hear the tension in his music accentuated by unharmonious chords in distant keys resolving into harmony when he returns to the home key.

      When he was able to tune his own instrument (i.e. harpsichords and clavichords, not organs) he used his own system, which is thought not to have been equally-tempered, but which worked in every key.

  • Anybody interested in experiencing the benefits of low-frequency acoustic vibrations should listen to organ music. I can particularly recommend J S Bach.

  • Obviously a ridiculous idea. It is clear that a Rocking Bed (incredibly annoying web site) is much more effective.

    I think some researchers at McGill actually have some positive preliminary results on a rocking bed but my Googling skills are not sufficient to find anything on it.

    • I don’t think the movement of that bed properly fits the definition of ‘rocking’!

      It is merely oscillating side-to-side in a flat plane. I cannot, despite repeated listening, make out what the period of oscillation is – something point two five Hertz, he says.

      “Rocking”, to me, implies movement in some kind of arc. The old-fashioned perambulator with suspension springs, with a parent jiggling the handle, would rock a baby in more than one plane – up and down, head-to-toe, and maybe a little side to side. A traditional cradle with arc-shaped feet would rock in a semicircular motion around the central axis, as would an old-fashioned rocking chair. Actually, a bed that gently moved in a kind of arc motion head to toe up and down and side to side MIGHT be very soothing. That would be “rocking” as I understand the term. The bed in the annoying website doesn’t rock, and doesn’t rock.

      • I believe you are correct. The site was so irritating I just took its word that the bed rocked. Stupid of me. The McGill study IIRC actually rocked in an arc.

        • Perhaps they should call it a Shuffle Bed. Or, to employ a wonderful Scots vernacular word, a Shoogle Bed. (A shoogle is something between a shake and a wobble).

  • Another entrepreneurial theatric masquerading as healthcare. Funny how all manner of quackery can invoke the “researchers at the NIH”. Perhaps they are including the janitorial and kitchen staffers in the pool of “researchers”?

      • @RG: so your point…IF I’m understanding your response: it’s better to believe and support utterly implausible, vaguely defined, fact-less and purely testimonial-driven pseudoscientific entrepreneurial-theatrics BECAUSE there may be corruption in real-science…or in its dissemination? I would guess (IF you are a citizen of the US) that you are equally comfortable tearing down the entire constitution, bill of rights, capitalism and all of law enforcement BECAUSE occasionally there are bad people in positions of power doing bad things? You are clearly a very rational character.

        • @Michael Kenny

          ” BECAUSE there may be corruption in real-science…or in its dissemination?”

          No, not because there MAY be, because there is. I know because I’ve been a target of it many times, me, my friends and family.

          I’m not sure what prompted you to veer-off on the political side of your rant. I do support conserving the constitution. The thing I detest crony capitalism, also known as corporatism. It has wreaked havoc on the US over the past decades, and continues to do so. It’s still better than socialism, but capitalism previous to corporations was much better than now. Politician were not swayed nearly as easy to bend for business interest, and workers were valued more.

          Bad people in positions of power hopefully get voted out, assuming a means of doing so is available.

          • @RG: in your ongoing investigations of all things human, have you in fact found anything NOT somewhat corrupted by greed, avarice, ego or spite? If so please elaborate. As to real-science I will point out that IT has very direct and empowered methods of self-policing. Real-scientists tend to find corruption from the inside and seek to reveal it and fix it. Clearly pseudoscience and parsimonious approaches to chimerical problems despise an expose’ scrutiny and calls for facts, data and research. Science eventually rights itself, pseudoscience never does, and in fact fights doggedly against it.

          • @Micheal Kenny

            I did not intend to suggest that political nor economic greed did not preexist. We know it has existed for thousands of years.
            My point was that in my lifetime, I has seen a change for the worse. Possibly because it’s more obvious…. I can’t say.

            Since EBM almost never is effective 100% of the time, it leaves me quite skeptical since it has only worked sporadically in my experience. You folks want to provide a narrative that since science has proved a therapy works, that it works across the board. That simply is not the case, EBM fails everyday.

          • thank you for confirming yet again how little you have understood and how unable you are to learn.
            “EBM fails everyday”
            of course it does. nobody would dispute this platitude.
            but it fails far less than non-evidence based medicine.

          • RG,

            Since EBM almost never is effective 100% of the time, it leaves me quite skeptical since it has only worked sporadically in my experience.

            Medicine has never claimed to be 100% effective or to be able to eradicate chronic diseases (indeed, by definition those are ones that it can’t). Every doctor know that the greatest healer is time, and understands the importance of working with, and not against, nature. One of the most important skills is knowing when to leave well alone.

            The importance of basing treatment on evidence, and a sound understanding of what is going on (anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology etc.) is that it does at least mean that it is likely to do more good than harm, and it allows for research which will ultimately improve patient management.

            Covid-19 provides a good example: We now know that hypoxic patients do better starting assisted ventilation early (before they start going into respiratory failure) but that it is better to uses CPAP (continuous positive airways pressure) rather then full ventilation in many cases. We also know that the administration of dexamethasone to these very sick individuals greatly improves their chance of surval. We know that it isn’t specifically a disease of the respiratory system and that one of the features is a profound disruption of coagulation, that it can infect the heart, that loss of smell can be an important diagnostic feature, that swabs from the upper airways for viral RNA are negative in about 30% of patients sick enough to require hospital admission. We know that chloroquine is at best useless and probably harmful. We know that spread can be reduced by the use of masks and in particular by hand-washing. All of this is evidence-based and has directly benefited many people already. But no doctor involved in managing this group is making the absurd claims of succes that have been bandied about for other approaches on this forum.

            Your disappointment and frustration with conventional medicine always seems to me to be the outcome of disillusionment after initially holding unrealistic expectations, and you do tend to take a polarised position on issues where the reality can be quite nuanced.

          • well said!
            it made me think of this ancient joke:
            all these fans of alternative medicine will feel very stupid one day lying in hospital dying of nothing.

          • @EE

            So if EBM had trial data resulting to indicate it has a benefit 55% of the time, I should accept it over a CAM method that failed approval because the benefit was effective only 45% of the time…. no thanks.

            I am one of millions that limit our EBM exposure due to outcome failures and unwanted side effects. Why would millions of patients needlessly turn away from therapies that are effective, and don’t create more disease ? …. they wouldn’t.

          • you have such good arguments, and therefore you have finally convinced me. what SCAM should I start with in my reformed life as a SCAM proponent? please give me some guidance.

          • It would be interesting to read of any credible study demonstrating a success rate of 45% for an CAM treatment. Including relevant information of course, of the definition of ‘success’.

          • RG,

            So if EBM had trial data resulting to indicate it has a benefit 55% of the time, I should accept it over a CAM method that failed approval because the benefit was effective only 45% of the time…. no thanks.

            I think you are rather missing the point here.

            Sticking with my previous example of covid-19, the RECOVERY trial, run by researchers at Oxford University, found that giving intravenous dexamethasone to patients requiring ventilation reduced the death rate by about a third (i.e. from about 40% to about 27%). One way of looking at those figures would be to say that it benefited about 1 in 8 people treated since the other 7 either still died or else were going to recover anyway (with ventilation, of course, and all that this entails). Applying your criteria this would be a failed treatment that should not be accepted, but happily the WHO don’t see it that way and are now recommending dexamethasone in this group.

            The benefit from giving adjuvant chemotherapy is not always as great as this (adjuvant chemotherapy is given in addition to the main treatment, usually surgery, where the intention is to cure the patient). Most people consider that it is worthwhile when the evidence shows an absolute survival benefit of 5% or more. Put another way this means that for every 20 people going through a difficult and unpleasant course of chemotherapy, only one of them benefits from it. This is because many of them are already cured by their surgery, but in some of them the cancer will one day return despite chemotherapy, and eventually kill them. For that one person in 20, however, the chemotherapy makes the difference between death and long-term cure. I used to explain it to my patients that way (though depending on the type of cancer the difference could be more like 10 – 15% rather than 5%), so that they were in a position to make an informed choice about how they wanted to proceed. Put like that, most of them chose chemotherapy, but some preferred to take their chances, and I was happy to support their decision whichever way it went.

            Of course the treatment had already been approved by the regulating bodies for use in this situation before I was in a position to offer it. But a treatment being approved is very different from it being appropriate in a particular case.

            Another example is IVF – success depends on many factors, the most important being the age of the mother (or egg donor) at the time the eggs are harvested (dropping off very rapidly above the age of 40), but about 20 – 25% of treatment cycles result in a live birth. It always baffles me why so many people believe that they have the necessary control over their bodies to put off starting a family until they are well past the peak of fertility, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Another example of unrealistic expectations ending in bitter disappointment.

            I don’t know of any so-called CAM where there is convincing evidence of a benefit as much as even 5% of the time, or any benefit whatsoever in the case of most of them.

  • This could be related to Rife’s ideas – randomly chosen article, https://behiveofhealing.com/forgotten-genius-royal-raymond-rife and lots of opinion on the web, mostly reliant on the Prime Pseudo-Skeptic Fallacy (lack of suitable evidence meaning something).

    Or perhaps they just do it for the buzz (Rife reportedly used RF).

    Then again, remember Semmelweis.

    https://maisonsaine.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/are20there20evidence20based20studies.pdf

    • Will,

      As a mechanical engineer and microscopy expert, he built a microscope that could magnify 60,000 times, and the superior magnification was equaled by its resolution. The microorganisms Rife was viewing were so infinitesimally small that the atoms in the chemical stain normally used to expose microorganisms would have obscured them. Instead Rife’s microscope used monochromatic light that caused the organism to fluoresce. Rife could identify the virus he was observing by the color it refracted.

      I have just taken this from the Web site you linked to about Rife. I don’t know what contributions he might have made to the field of microscopy, but whoever wrote this clearly has no idea what they are talking about. It is about on a par with most science reporting in the mainstream media.

      • More likely you have just not heard of it – it isn’t widely promulgated – so there’s the cognitive dissonance/ cognitive ease thing and the gravitation toward rubbishing what you don’t know about.Oh, Dear.

        I can’t account for the ‘public understanding of science’ stuff which I find largely appallingly misleading propaganda for the scientism movement.

        As an inquiring mind you might also be interested in the ‘somatoscope’ and the idea of somatids (“soma-tides”) http://customers.hbci.com/~wenonah/new/naessen.htm
        Naessens perhaps more famous for the attempts to stop him treating cancer successfully. That’s an entire other rabbit hole. http://customers.hbci.com/~wenonah/new/somatid.htm

        You would think people would want these things. But they do tend to offer proof counter to current paradigms in which a lot of money and reputation is invested. Scientific method, you know, advances should trump theory, but in practice authority does not like to be dislodged.

        Once again, any true pseudo-skeptic (are there any here?) would dismiss all this out of hand in an instant with suitably unfounded opinion.

        • Will,

          More likely you have just not heard of it – it isn’t widely promulgated – so there’s the cognitive dissonance/ cognitive ease thing and the gravitation toward rubbishing what you don’t know about.Oh, Dear.

          It is true that I have never heard of it, but after reading the account on the Beehive of Healing Web site I am none the wiser. It reads like an explanation of something given by somebody who doesn’t understand it themselves, and that is what I am calling out.

          I followed your link to the account of Gaston Naessens and somatid biology. The description of the Modern Universal Microscope is more detailed, but doesn’t really ring true. How are beams of light from a mercury source and a halogen source supposed to “beat against” (i.e. interfere with) each other? In order to do that they have to be coherent, i.e. produced by laser. In any case why use mixed light sources when the beam is then passed through a monochromatic filter, which will remove everything from one of the sources and nearly everything from the other, beats and all? How is a coil able to produce an electromagnetic field of a high enough frequency to split a beam of light? A Kerr cell is able to use high frequencies to modulate light, but not to increase the frequency (i.e. energy) of the light itself. The whole thing sounds like an elaborate and fanciful way to produce a monochromatic ultraviolet beam.

          The beam is then used to induce fluorescence in the specimen, except that the term “fluorescence” is never mentioned. The implication is that the phenomenon of fluorescence is something discovered by Naessens (or Rife?) himself and then suppressed. Indeed the knowledge of this type of microscopy seems to have been so effectively hidden from the mainstream that I was astonished to find that you can readily buy the necessary equipment from Leica:
          https://www.leica-microsystems.com/products/thunder-imaging-systems/?nlc=20191205-SFDC-008190&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=%2Bfluorescence%20%2Bmicroscopy&utm_campaign=WF_Thunder_Generic_English&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIr-bQnt7H6gIVFO3tCh24KQxYEAAYASAAEgKyB_D_BwE

          The rest of the site seems to be promotional material for a bogus cure-all, written in a manner that might appeal to conspiracy theorists and those with no knowledge of molecular biology.

          I am reminded of a scene in The Sting where Robert Redford’s character invites the mark to view a room supposedly full of computer equipment (though actually empty) which can predict the outcome of horse races. Their millionaire victim states that he has no knowledge of such things and declines the offer, happy to entrust his money to them without feeling the need to understand how their scheme works.

      • I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the absolute stupidity of that statement… I think I just killed off a few brain cells…

    • No-one denies, I am sure, that Bad Science exists. The alternative to Bad Science is not No Science, but Good Science.

  • Everything works with the frequencies of Energy and Vibration but any improvement has to be retained, No retention then no last effect

  • So, have any if you actually tried these “SCAMS” or do you just like to spend your days bashing things you know nothing about?

    “Scientific proof” means nothing. Data can be manipulated to yield whatever outcome the researcher wants based on their own interests. That is why half the “experts” claim “research shows” one thing works or is helpful and the opposing group claims to also have definitive scientific proof it doesn’t or is harmful. Researcher bias is rampant in science, particularly when said research is being conducted by companies that make millions or billions off the results. You show me any purely scientific study that says one thing and I will find you at least one with opposite results.

    When it comes to vibroacoustic therapy I have seen first-hand it diminish a Parkinson’s patient’s tremors. How it works or why, I do not care. What matters is that a human-being improved his quality of life based on using what you like to call a SCAM. The evidence was in seeing him walk in with tremors and after a few sessions his tremors were less. No, it did not cure him of Parkinson’s, but it helped his daily functioning while he was having sessions. I also saw a girl who was in agony after an injury that almost caused a leg amputation, and using vibroacoustic therapy was the only thing that gave her relief. No science journal is going to convince me that these people did not feel better after using vibroacoustic therapy.

    And for the nay-sayers that automatically jump to the placebo affect, does your science-mind really need to be so right that you would rather see a person suffer than feel better, even if it was just because their mind tricked them into feeling better? Is the goal not to have people feel better and be able to live with health and vitality? The mind is a powerful tool for healing. I actually feel sorry for people who are so closed-minded that they would rather suffer or see others suffer than to give something alternative a chance when nothing else mainstream has worked.

    • “does your science-mind really need to be so right that you would rather see a person suffer than feel better, even if it was just because their mind tricked them into feeling better?”
      if I treat a patient with an effective therapy, she benefits from a specific + a placebo effect. if I merely give a placebo, I therefore cheat the patient out of the specific effect which conveys the most benefit.

    • Sarah C,

      “Scientific proof” means nothing. Data can be manipulated to yield whatever outcome the researcher wants based on their own interests.

      I don’t think you have quite grasped how the scientific process works.

      And for the nay-sayers that automatically jump to the placebo affect, does your science-mind really need to be so right that you would rather see a person suffer than feel better, even if it was just because their mind tricked them into feeling better?

      There are two different issues here. The first is therapeutic: doctors have been harnessing the power of the placebo effect for millenia, and aren’t likely to stop any time soon, though these days we require evidence of more than just placebo before adopting anything new. The second the the question of how to apply the scientific method to determine what is true. Don’t conflate the two.

      placebo affect

      I am sure that this is a simple typo, but for the benefit of those that don’t know the difference between these four words:

      affect (verb): to influence or change something
      affect (noun): the outward manifestation of a person’s mood
      effect (verb): to bring about
      effect (noun): the result of an action

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