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

The author of this study introduces the subject by stating that Reiki is a biofield energy therapy that focuses on optimizing the body’s natural healing abilities balancing the life force energy or qi/chi. Reiki has been shown to reduce stress, pain levels, help with depression/anxiety, increase relaxation, improve fatigue, and quality of life.

Despite the fact that the author seems to have no doubt about the effectiveness of Reiki, she decided single-handedly to conduct a study of it – well, not a real study but a ‘pilot study’:

In this pilot randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled study, the effects of Reiki on heart rate, diastolic and systolic blood pressure, body temperature, and stress levels were explored in an effort to gain objective outcome measures and to understand the underlying physiological mechanisms of how Reiki may be having these therapeutic effects on subjective measures of stress, pain, relaxation, and depression/anxiety.

Forty-eight subjects were block-randomized into three groups (Reiki treatment, sham treatment, and no treatment). The changes in pre-and post-treatment measurements for each outcome measure were analyzed through analysis of variance (ANOVA) post hoc multiple comparison test, which found no statistically significant difference between any of the groups. The p-value for the comparison of Reiki and sham groups for heart rate was 0.053, which is very close to being significant and so, a definitive conclusion can not be made based on this pilot study alone.

The author concluded that a second study with a larger sample size is warranted to investigate this finding further and perhaps with additional outcome measures to look at other possible physiological mechanisms that may underlie the therapeutic effects of Reiki.

I have a few questions about this paper:

  • If a researcher already knows that a treatment works, why do a study?
  • If she nevertheless does a study, why a pilot that is not meant for evaluating effects but for testing the feasibility?
  • Why does the author calculate effects instead of evaluating the feasibility of his project?
  • Why does the author try to interpret a negative outcome as though it signifies an almost positive effect?
  • Why did someone who knows how to do research at the Ohio Wesleyan University (the author’s affiliation) not give her some guidance?
  • Why did the reviewers of this paper let it pass?
  • Why does any journal publish such rubbish?

Oh, the embarrassment!

It’s a journal for which I once (a long time ago) served on the editorial board.

9 Responses to The effects of reiki on heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and stress levels

  • “The effects of reiki on heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and stress levels”
    Reiki increases my heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and stress level. Because I always get a little apprehensive when I see people spread nonsense like this.

    • You should really try something before you bash it.

      These studies here complete debunk your statement of this being nonsense

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871310/

      • I’m sorry to have offended you … Indeed, you are right: reiki can absolutely have consistent and profound effects, sometimes even at distances up to several feet from someone’s body, resolving conditions such as congestive hyperpecuniosis in the leathery structure called ‘the wallet’.

      • “Physiological Responses to Reiki”

        In Witte and Dundes there were 3 arms each of 25 participants. Significant differences were found that ordered Reiki as best, sham Reiki as second-best and placebo as worst, but only for one of the two outcomes.

        In Baldwin and Schultz there were 3 arms each of 4 participants. Any effect would need to be very large to achieve the claimed statistical significance for Reiki treatment.

        In Baldwin et al, three arms each of 3 rate, and again statistical significance was claimed for one of the outcomes (but not for the other).

        Díaz-Rodríguez et al, only 21 subjects in 2 arms, single blinded, and and it claimed significance only on the qualitative outcome, not on the quantitative one.

        In Salles et al, there were 3 arms each of 22 subjects, reduction in blood pressure was found to be significantly different and ordered Reiki as best, sham Reiki as second-best and placebo as worst.

        The summary for that section seems a bit of an over-stretch: “All 5 of these studies provide evidence that Reiki is better than placebo for inducing a physically relaxed state. This appears to be an objective fact, given that it has been replicated in both humans and rats.” They were all small trials (some tiny) and it seems to stretch credibility that they all found such large differences that statistical significance (to an unspecified level) was reached on such small numbers. The “teplicated on rats” claim seems extraordinary for a result in only a single trial and with only 3 animals in each arm. Also, no indication about whether useful, rather than simply statistical, differences were achieved.

        “Reiki as a Complementary Therapy for Chronic Conditions”

        Dressen and Singg: 4 arms each with 30 subjects. Claimed “It was found that Reiki was more effective than the other treatments for reducing pain, depression, and state anxiety in chronically ill patients.” and “Reiki was also found to cause desirable changes in personality”. But there was no mention of any of the changes reaching statistical significance.

        Catlin and Taylor-Ford: 3 arms each of 63. The review says that “participants in both the Reiki and sham Reiki placebo groups showed improvement in pre- and postcomfort and well-being outcomes, while those in the standard care groups showed no differences in well-being or comfort”, but also that “Reiki was no better than sham Reiki and that the attentive presence of a designated nurse at the bedside was more important for patient well-being and comfort than the delivery of Reiki.” I’m now confused. And there was no mentiuon of whether the differences reached statistical significance.

        Erdogan and Cinar: 3 arms of 30. Claimed to be double-blinded, but there was a “no-treatment” group! Claimed a significant improvement for depression scores in the Reiki group, but not in the sham Reiki and placebo groups. I suspect that a quite large effect size would have been needed to achieve statistical significance on those numbers.

        Alarcão and Fonseca: 2 arms, 58 & 42 subjects. “It was found that the Reiki group showed significantly more improvements in the general, physical, environmental, and social dimensions of the WHOQoL-Bref.” There was no explicit mention of statistical significance of the result, but perhaps it’s intended to be implied.

        “Reiki as an Adjunctive Treatment for Chronic Conditions”

        Gillespie et al: 3 arms, 93, 88, 26 participants. Claimed to be “semi-double blinded”, but one of the groups was “usual care”. But anyway: “The researchers found that global pain scores and walking distance improved in both the Reiki and placebo groups. However, there were no significant differences between groups at the final visit.”

        Assefi et al: 2 arms each of 25. “The trial results showed that neither of the treatments improved the pain, fatigue, well-being, or physical and mental functioning of patients with fibromyalgia. These researchers concluded that adults with fibromyalgia are unlikely to benefit from Reiki.”

        In the review author’s summary, though, it was said: “In the trial by Gillespie et al, both Reiki and placebo showed some promise for relieving the pain of painful diabetic neuropathy, but the experiment did not have sufficient statistical power to detect a significant difference between treatments.” It seems that for the reviewer studies being underpowered is only a problem when they are negative.

        “In the trial by Assefi et al … Reiki is not a potential cure for this recalcitrant and difficult condition.” That seems to be taken as conclusive, even though the study seems to be even more underpowered than Gillespie et al.

        “Reiki as a Complementary Therapy in Acute Settings”

        Bourque et al: It’s a bit of a weird setup: “3 treatment arms: (1) Reiki (n = 25), (2) sham Reiki placebo (n = 5), and (3) retrospective chart review of prior patients as the control (n = 30)” The sham Reiki arm seems tiny and there’s no mention of why it was so small compared to the treatment arm. But anyway, negative: “no statistically significant difference in meperidine administration between the patients in the control and Reiki groups.”

        Kundu et al: 2 arms, 20 & 18 subjects. Negative outcome: “there was no evidence of benefit”.

        The summary of these seems reasonable: “Reiki was not found to be more effective than placebo for reducing acute pain during medical procedures.” But then complains that these studies were underpowered: no matter what the study size is, it seems consistently the case that being underpowered is only acknowledged to be a problem for negative outcomes.

        The study sizes all seemed to be in the “small to tiny” range.

        Really, is this the [i]best[/i] that Reiki proponents can offer?

  • But have you seen some of these studies? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871310/

    It’s assholes like you that make it hard for world to actually heal and realize their full potential

      • Your reply with your own article and thoughts clearly shows you’re wayy too much in your own head ? I challenge you to try something before you go criticizing it and calling someone who is advocating something an embarrassment when you are actually just embarrassing yourself

        • Kind of feel sorry for you and your patients

        • @ CHRISTINA TODD

          “try something before you go criticizing it”

          alt med proponents always trot this out and it is silly advice. The result would just be an anecdote – one person’s experience – so what? It proves nothing. That is why believers in pseudoscience are so easily deceived – one placebo effect and they are convinced! “Try it yourself” is a fallacy!

          “Why Bogus Therapies Seem to Work” – by the late great Barry Bayerstein – see here:

          https://quackwatch.org/related/altbelief/

          Science Based Medicine – as distinct from Evidence Based Medicine – insists that we look for a scientific basis for effects and a plausible mechanism. There is no plausible mechanism for Reiki – it is utter pseudoscience.
          People waving their hands above the body convinced they are affecting this invisible “biofield” that cannot be measured or even detected is not science.

          I have seen your link. One of the problems with pseudoscience is that there are so many poorly run small studies out there. Using current standards we can expect conventional medical studies to produce 1 in 20 false positive results by chance alone. When you are doing enough studies of outright quackery you will get some positive results by sheer chance. Then all you have to do is cherry pick the positive results and you have whole bunch. That doesn’t prove that biofields exist or that Reiki works – it remains highly implausible and rank quackery.

          If people choose to believe in homeopathy or reiki – that is what it is – belief. It is not science. It is outright quackery not matter how many rats they sacrifice in the process. Without evidence that all these investigations were conducted as rigorously as claimed and in larger numbers this “evidence” is not convincing.
          Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This is nowhere near meeting that standard.

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