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

Monthly Archives: July 2021

Withania somnifera, commonly known as Ashwagandha, is a plant belonging to the family of Solanaceae. It is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. The plant is promoted as an immunomodulator, anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, anti-Parkinson, anti-Alzheimer, cardioprotective, neural and physical health enhancer, neuro-defensive, anti-diabetic, aphrodisiac, memory-boosting, and ant-cancer remedy. It contains diverse phytoconstituents including alkaloids, steroids, flavonoids, phenolics, nitrogen-containing compounds, and trace elements.

But how much of the hype is supported by evidence? Unsurprisingly, there is a shortage of good clinical trials. Yet, during the last few years, a surprising number of reviews of the accumulating evidence have emerged:

  • One review suggested that pre-clinical, as well as clinical studies, suggest the effectiveness of Withania somnifera (L.) against neurodegenerative disease.
  • A further review suggested a potential role of W. somnifera in managing diabetes.
  • A systematic review of 5 clinical trials found that W. somnifera extract improved performance on cognitive tasks, executive function, attention, and reaction time. It also appears to be well tolerated, with good adherence and minimal side effects.
  • Another systematic review included 4 clinical trials and reported significant improvements in serum hormonal profile, oxidative biomarkers, and antioxidant vitamins in seminal plasma. No adverse effects were reported in infertile men taking W. somnifera treatment.
  • Another review concluded that the root of the Ayurvedic drug W. somnifera (Aswagandha) appears to be a promising safe and effective traditional medicine for management of schizophrenia, chronic stress, insomnia, anxiety, memory/cognitive enhancement, obsessive-compulsive disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, type-2 diabetes and male infertility, and bears fertility promotion activity in females adaptogenic, growth promoter activity in children and as adjuvant for reduction of fatigue and improvement in quality of life among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
  • A systematic review of 13 RCTs found that Ashwagandha supplementation was more efficacious than placebo for improving variables related to physical performance in healthy men and women.
  • Another systematic review concluded that Ashwagandha supplementation might improve the VO2max in athletes and non-athletes.

Impressed?

This certainly looks as though that this plant is worthy of further study. But I can never help feeling a bit skeptical when I hear of such a multitude of benefits without evidence for adverse effects (other than minor upset stomach, nausea, and drowsiness).

In 2020, a German court had ruled that pharmacies should be allowed to advertise homeopathic products by naming their alleged source materials, even if the dilution is so high that there is nothing in the products. An appeal against this was launched and it has now ended in defeat. The consequences for homeopathy could be far-reaching.

In homeopathy, it is customary to label and advertise products by naming the starting material or ‘mother tincture’. A German pharmacy thus named one of its products “HCG C30 globules” – HCG is a pregnancy hormone, C30 means it is diluted 30 times in the ratio 1:10o.  A group sued arguing that this was misleading.

The Darmstadt Regional Court first ruled that just because the original substance is no longer detectable does not mean that it is no longer present. And in any case, proponents of homeopathy would consider a high dilution to be important in order to reduce side effects. This ruling and the way it was justified caused considerable criticism. However, the plaintiff did not let up and appealed.

In the second instance, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court (Case No. 6 U 49/20) took a completely different view of the matter. In the appeal hearing, it clarified first that advertisements for homeopathy address not only enthusiasts of homeopathy but the general public. Therefore, it must be in accordance with the general understanding of the population. And the public expects a product labeled “HCG” to actually contain the pregnancy hormone. If this ingredient cannot be detected, the product labeling would be misleading.

In essence, this means that all high potency homeopathic remedies (all beyond a C12) may no longer print the name of the mother tincture on the label. One can expect that this will seriously impact the sales of homeopathic products in Germany. This might re-open the discussion on the question of whether pharmacies should sell homeopathic preparations in the first place. As I have pointed out ad nauseam (e.g. here, here, and here), if pharmacists offer them to their customers pretending they are effective medicines, they violate their own ethical code. In other words, there is no place for homeopathy in pharmacies.

 

Beer is the main food source of isoxanthohumol, a precursor of 8-prenylnaringenin, the strongest phytoestrogen identified to date. As phytoestrogens are reported to reduce perimenopausal symptoms, this study evaluated if daily moderate consumption of beer with (AB) and without alcohol (NAB) could improve menopausal symptoms and modify cardiovascular risk factors.

A total of 37 postmenopausal women were enrolled in a parallel controlled intervention trial and assigned to three study groups:

  • 16 were administered AB (330 mL/day),
  • 7 to NAB (660 mL/day),
  • 14 were in the control group and received no beer.

After a 6-month follow-up of the 34 participants who finished the trial, both interventions (AB and NAB) significantly reduced the severity of the menopause-related symptoms. Moreover, AB had a beneficial net effect on psychological menopausal discomforts compared to the control group. As the sex hormone profile did not differ significantly between the study groups, the effects of both types of beers (AB and NAB) are attributed to the non-alcoholic fraction of beer. Furthermore, moderate NAB consumption improved the lipid profile and decreased blood pressure in postmenopausal women.

The authors concluded that a daily moderate AB and NAB consumption may provide an alternative approach for postmenopausal women seeking relief from mild to moderate climacteric symptoms. Moreover, NAB was found to have a beneficial effect on LDL-C, ApoA1, and DBP measurements, all known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. However, these results must be considered as preliminary and will require confirmation with larger sample sizes.

The clinical implications of daily moderate AB and NAB consumption have been revealed in this study, but the mechanisms of action and impacts on sex hormones remain unknown. The most effective quantity of beer, with or without alcohol, that can be safely consumed by a postmenopausal woman still needs to be determined, taking into consideration factors such as age, genetics, and ethnicity.

I am impressed and only have this comment: let’s please not forget the male menopause …

and if they ever did a trial, can I please go in group AB?

Regular readers of this blog will know the US homeopath, Dana Ullman. He has been the star of several of my posts (for instance here, here, and here). Dana is prolific in his writing but he has published not published much in proper journals. Now he has almost doubled this list by publishing TWO (!) proper papers in real journals within just one month.

Congratulations, Dana!

The first is in CUREUS, a very unusual journal with a most unusual peer-review process. Allow me to show you the abstract of Dana’s article:

Homeopathic medicine is a controversial system of medicine that has been used worldwide for over 200 years. Recently, several governments, in part, owing to government-funded reviews of research on homeopathic medicine, have stopped reimbursements for homeopathic medicines and have discouraged their use by medical professionals. This review critically evaluates four government-funded reviews of clinical research on homeopathic medicine. An analysis of government-sponsored reviews of clinical research on homeopathic medicine was conducted, including two studies from Switzerland, one from England, and one from Australia. Three of the four government-funded reviews were critical of homeopathy, claiming that there was no reliable evidence that homeopathic medicines were effective. Three of these reviews had significant flaws, with potential ethical concerns raised in one of the reviews. The most comprehensive review of homeopathic research, including analysis of clinical and basic science concerns, found the most positive results for homeopathy.

The second paper was published in a journal called DOSE RESPONSE. The editor in chief of this journal is Prof E J Calabrese who has published numerous articles about homeopathy/hormesis. Here is the abstract of Dana’s 2nd article:

Serially diluted succussed solutions of a suitable drug/toxic substance can exhibit physicochemical and biological properties even far beyond Avogadro’s limit defying conventional wisdom. They can show hormesis, and homeopathy uses them as medicines. Many studies confirm that they can have an impact on gene expression different than controls. Water in the exclusion zone phase can have memory but for a short period. However, the nanoparticle as the physical substrate can hold information. Nanoparticle and exclusion zone duo as nanoparticle-exclusion zone shell can provide a prolonged memory. The Nanoparticle-Exclusion Zone Shell Model may be an important step toward explaining the nature and bioactivity of serially diluted succussed solutions used as homeopathic medicines. This model may also provide insight into the workings of hormesis. Hormesis is the primary phenomenon through which homeopathic phenomenon may have evolved exhibiting the principle of similars. Hahnemann exploited it to establish homeopathy. The nanoparticle-exclusion zone shells present in the remedy, selected on the principle of similars, can be patient-specific nanoparticles in a symptom syndrome-specific manner. They can carry the drug-specific information for safer clinical applications in an amplified form for high yielding. It suggests homeopathy is a type of nanopharmacology.

So, are Dana’s two articles significant? Both are reviews. The 1st tries to persuade us that homeopathy has clinical effects beyond placebo and that reports that say otherwise are full of errors and fraud and thus not reliable. The second tells us that these clinical effects of homeopathy can be explained by nano-pharmacology.

Is he right?

Please tell me what you think.

We have discussed Marma massage, we have repeatedly discussed acupuncture, of course, but we have so far never considered marmapuncture. The ‘British Institute of Marmapuncture‘ explains what it is:

Marmapuncture is traditionally known as Bhedan karma (meaning the action of piercing through) is a time tested therapeutic intervention, which treats the energetic body through an elaborate network of channels known as srotas.

Despite the widely held belief that Marmapuncture is a derivative of Chinese Acupuncture, that was popularised in 200-400 BC in text of the Yellow Emperor) modern archaeological evidence points to the fact that Suchi Bhaden, Shira Bhedan and Bhadhan Karma where practised in Sri Lanka well before this time. Finds discovered in caves in the Balangoda region of Sri Lanka, suggest there has been continuous habitation for over 37,000 years. Micro lithic tools were crafted from flint, fish bones and a type of rock known as Chert. These where used to penetrate the skin, which affected a therapeutic response in the body.

Another website informs us what marmapuncture can achieve:

Marmapuncture can relieve a wide range of symptoms associated with musculoskeletal pain or injury, chronic fatigue, bowel complaints (IBS) and indigestion, stress, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, skin complaints, asthma and breathing disorders, low/excessive appetite and infertility (male and female).

And why do I mention all this? Last weekend, I read the Guardian (3/7/2021) and there it was: a half-page article entitled MARMAPUNCTURE. THIS INNOVATIVE FACIAL TREATMENT IS MORE THAN SKIN DEEP. WE FIND OUT HOW IT IS USED IN AYURVEDIC MEDICINE AND PUT IT TO THE TEST. In the article, Mattie Lacey-Davidson had the treatment and found that marmapuncture (dubbed ‘natural Botox’) is not truly comparable to botox. Then Mattie mentioned a 2013 study that allegedly reported ‘promising results as a therapy for facial elasticity with evidence of skin tightening across the face’. I think I found the study; here it is:

Background. The use of acupuncture for cosmetic purposes has gained popularity worldwide. Facial cosmetic acupuncture (FCA) is applied to the head, face, and neck. However, little evidence supports the efficacy and safety of FCA. We hypothesized that FCA affects facial elasticity by restoring resting mimetic muscle tone through the insertion of needles into the muscles of the head, face, and neck. Methods. This open-label, single-arm pilot study was implemented at Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong from August through September 2011. Participants were women aged 40 to 59 years with a Glogau photoaging scale III. Participants received five treatment sessions over three weeks. Participants were measured before and after FCA. The primary outcome was the Moire topography criteria. The secondary outcome was a patient-oriented self-assessment scale of facial elasticity. Results. Among 50 women screened, 28 were eligible and 27 completed the five FCA treatment sessions. A significant improvement after FCA treatment was evident according to mean change in Moire topography criteria (from 1.70 ± 0.724 to 2.26 ± 1.059, P < 0.0001). The most common adverse event was mild bruising at the needle site. Conclusions. In this pilot study, FCA showed promising results as a therapy for facial elasticity. However, further large-scale trials with a controlled design and objective measurements are needed.

As we see, it is neither a study of marmapuncture or a controlled trial. Its results are utterly meaningless. But is there any evidence at all to support the many claims made for marmapuncture?

No!

Last question: who is Mattie Lacey-Davidson?

She is a blogger/influencer/content creator based in London.

Say no more!

It was recently reported that about one-third of people who had been infected with COVID report suffering from long COVID:

  • Some 37% of people experienced at least one symptom lasting 12 weeks or more
  • Almost 15% said they had three or more symptoms for at least 12 weeks
  • Long-term problems were more common in women, and with increasing age
  • Higher weight, smoking, lower incomes, having a chronic illness, and having been hospitalized with Covid were linked to a higher chance of experiencing long-lasting symptoms
  • Tiredness was one of the most common symptoms, and in people who were severely ill with Covid, shortness of breath was a dominant long-lasting symptom

These are worrying figures indeed. Common symptoms of ‘long COVID’ include persistent breathlessness, fatigue, and cough; less common symptoms are chest pain, palpitations, neurological and cognitive deficits, rashes, and gastrointestinal dysfunction. Several research papers describe abnormalities confirming pathophysiological damage ranging from abnormal blood tests to organ damage seen on MRI imaging or in postmortem findings.

Yes, there are good reasons to be worried. Yet others might see this situation as an opportunity. One does not need to be clairvoyant to predict that, in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), long-COVID will be the next big thing. Whenever there is a new, common, difficult-to-treat condition, SCAM practitioners and SCAM entrepreneurs fall over themselves claiming that their therapy is the solution. Gwyneth Paltrow’s bizarre was one of the first with her methods of easing long Covid symptoms. The Hollywood star and snake oil saleswoman said she had embarked on a “keto and plant-based” regime on the advice of an alternative medicine doctor. And, of course, it did her a world of good … Gwyneth approves of anything that is alternative.

On Medline, we already find an abundance of articles such as this one:

There is currently no drug or therapy that can cure the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which is highly contagious and can be life-threatening in severe cases. Therefore, seeking potential effective therapies is an urgent task. An older female at the Leishenshan Hospital in Wuhan, China, with a severe case of COVID-19 with significant shortness of breath and decrease in peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2), was treated using manual acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine granule formula Fuzheng Rescue Lung with Xuebijing Injection in addition to standard care. The patient’s breath rate, SpO2, heart rate, ratio of neutrophil/lymphocyte (NLR), ratio of monocyte/lymphocyte (MLR), C-reactive protein (CRP), and chest computed tomography were monitored. Acupuncture significantly improved the patient’s breathing function, increased SpO2, and decreased her heart rate. Chinese herbal medicine might make the effect of acupuncture more stable; the use of herbal medicine also seemed to accelerate the absorption of lung infection lesions when its dosage was increased. The combination of acupuncture and herbs decreased NLR from 14.14 to 5.83, MLR from 1.15 to 0.33 and CRP from 15.25 to 6.01 mg/L. These results indicate that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, as adjuvants to standard care, might achieve better results in treating severe cases of COVID-19.

A telephone survey included 495 COVID patients in India. 26% of them said they had people used 161 SCAM products and home remedies during and after COVID infections. More than half of the participants (59.6%) among them had consumed Ayurvedic Kadha. Many respondents consumed more than one SCAM product or home remedy.

A recent review evaluated the effect of SCAM on COVID patients. A total of 14 studies performed on 972 COVID patients were included. The results suggested that different SCAM interventions (acupuncture, Traditional Chinese medicine [TCM], relaxation, Qigong) significantly improved various psychological symptoms (depression, anxiety, stress, sleep quality, negative emotions, quality of life) and physical symptoms (inflammatory factors, physical activity, chest pain, and respiratory function) of COVID patients. The authors concluded that various SCAM interventions have a positive effect on improving the various dimensions of coronavirus disease but since there are few studies in this regard, further studies using different CAM approaches are recommended.

This conclusion is, of course, pure wishful thinking; the available evidence is in fact more than flimsy, and claims of effectiveness are not justified. But will this stop SCAM enthusiasts to make such claims? I fear not. My prediction is that, as this homeopath already indicated, they will see COVID as an opportunity: For homeopathy, shunned during its 200 years of existence by conventional medicine, this outbreak is a key opportunity to show potentially the contribution it can make in treating COVID-19 patients. 

 

This study assessed the effects of being born under the zodiac sign Pisces on mortality. For that purpose, a retrospective observational study was conducted of the data from 26 Scandinavian intensive care units between 2009 and 2011. Patients aged 18 years or older with severe sepsis and in need of fluid resuscitation were included from the Scandinavian Starch for Severe Sepsis/ Septic Shock (6S) trial. The main outcome measure was the 90-day mortality.

The researchers included all 798 patients in the study; 70 (9%) of them were born under the sign of Pisces. The primary outcome (death within 90 days) occurred in 25 patients (35.7%) in the Pisces group, compared with 348 patients (48%) in the non-Pisces group (relative risk, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.54-1.03; one-sided P = 0.03).

The authors concluded that in a multicentre randomised clinical trial of IV fluids, being born under the sign of Pisces was associated with a decreased risk of death. Our study shows that with convenient use of statistics and an enticing explanatory hypothesis, it is possible to achieve significant findings in post-hoc analyses of data from large trials.

This is an excellent paper! It showcases the sort of nonsense one can do with datasets, statistics, and post hoc hypotheses. The authors entitled their article “Gone fishing in a fluid trial”, and this title should ensure that there are not some astrology nutters who mistake correlation for causation

… I hope

… but, of course, I am an optimist.

I recently discussed the incredible paper by Walach et al. To remind you, here is its abstract again:

COVID-19 vaccines have had expedited reviews without sufficient safety data. We wanted to compare risks and benefits.

Method: We calculated the number needed to vaccinate (NNTV) from a large Israeli field study to prevent one death. We accessed the Adverse Drug Reactions (ADR) database of the European Medicines Agency and of the Dutch National Register (lareb.nl) to extract the number of cases reporting severe side effects and the number of cases
with fatal side effects.

Result: The NNTV is between 200–700 to prevent one case of COVID-19 for the mRNA vaccine marketed by Pfizer, while the NNTV to prevent one death is between 9000 and 50,000 (95% confidence interval), with 16,000 as a point estimate. The number of cases experiencing adverse reactions has been reported to be 700 per 100,000 vaccinations. Currently, we see 16 serious side effects per 100,000 vaccinations, and the number of fatal side effects is at 4.11/100,000 vaccinations. For three deaths prevented by vaccination we have to accept two inflicted by vaccination.

Conclusions: This lack of clear benefit should cause governments to rethink their vaccination policy.

In my post, I pointed out that the analysis was deeply flawed and its conclusion ridiculous. Many other observers agreed, and several editorial board members of the journal, Vaccines, that unbelievably had published this junk resigned. Yesterday, the journal reacted by retracting the paper. Here is their statement:

The journal retracts the article, The Safety of COVID-19 Vaccinations—We Should Rethink the Policy.

Serious concerns were brought to the attention of the publisher regarding misinterpretation of data, leading to incorrect and distorted conclusions.

The article was evaluated by the Editor-in-Chief with the support of several Editorial Board Members. They found that the article contained several errors that fundamentally affect the interpretation of the findings.

These include, but are not limited to:

The data from the Lareb report (https://www.lareb.nl/coronameldingen) in The Netherlands were used to calculate the number of severe and fatal side effects per 100,000 vaccinations. Unfortunately, in the manuscript by Harald Walach et al. these data were incorrectly interpreted which led to erroneous conclusions. The data was presented as being causally related to adverse events by the authors. This is inaccurate. In The Netherlands, healthcare professionals and patients are invited to report suspicions of adverse events that may be associated with vaccination. For this type of reporting a causal relation between the event and the vaccine is not needed, therefore a reported event that occurred after vaccination is not necessarily attributable to vaccination. Thus, reporting of a death following vaccination does not imply that this is a vaccine-related event. There are several other inaccuracies in the paper by Harald Walach et al. one of which is that fatal cases were certified by medical specialists. It should be known that even this false claim does not imply causation, which the authors imply. Further, the authors have called the events ‘effects’ and ‘reactions’ when this is not established, and until causality is established they are ‘events’ that may or may not be caused by exposure to a vaccine. It does not matter what statistics one may apply, this is incorrect and misleading.

The authors were asked to respond to the claims, but were not able to do so satisfactorily. The authors were notified of the retraction and did not agree.

In my blog post about the paper, I wrote: Let’s hope the journal editor in chief (who failed miserably when publishing this idiocy) has the wisdom to retract it swiftly. I am glad that the retraction has been done quickly. This shows that the important self-cleansing process of science is working.

Two questions still remain to be answered:

  1. Were Walach et al just incompetent or did they wilfully try to mislead us?
  2. How much nonsense is Walach allowed to publish before he is finally stopped?

Boris Johnson has recently bent over backward in order to please the Indian PM, Narendra Mondi. Some even say that a trade agreement between the two countries was achieved at the cost of letting the Delta variant into the UK. Now it seems that political considerations are at the heart of the decision to lend official support to Indian traditional medicine in the UK. The ‘2030 Roadmap for India-UK future relations‘ is a policy document of the UK government. In it, we find that the UK government intends to:

  • Explore cooperation on research into Ayurveda and promote yoga in the UK.
  • Increase opportunities for generic medicine supply from India to the UK by seeking access for Indian pharma products to the NHS and recognition of Indian generic and Ayurvedic medicines that meet UK regulatory standards.

This clearly begs the question, are these plans good or bad for UK public health?

Ayurveda is a system of healthcare developed in India around the mid-first millennium BCE. Ayurvedic medicine involves a range of techniques, including meditation, physical exercises, nutrition, relaxation, massage, and medication. Ayurvedic medicine thrives for balance and claims that the suppression of natural urges leads to illness. Emphasis is placed on moderation. Ayurvedic medicines are extremely varied. They usually are mixtures of multiple ingredients and can consist of plants, animal products, and minerals. They often also contain toxic substances, such as heavy metals which are deliberately added in the ancient belief that they can have positive health effects. The truth, however, is that they can cause serious adverse effects.

Relatively few studies of Ayurvedic remedies exist and most are methodologically weak. A Cochrane review, for instance, concluded that” although there were significant glucose-lowering effects with the use of some herbal mixtures, due to methodological deficiencies and small sample sizes we are unable to draw any definite conclusions regarding their efficacy. Though no significant adverse events were reported, there is insufficient evidence at present to recommend the use of these interventions in routine clinical practice and further studies are needed.”

The efficacy of Ayurvedic remedies obviously depends on the exact nature of the ingredients. Generalizations are therefore problematic. Promising findings exist for a relatively small number of ingredients, including Boswellia, Frankincense, Andrographis paniculata.

Yoga has been defined in several different ways in the various Indian philosophical and religious traditions. From the perspective of alternative medicine, it is a practice of gentle stretching exercises, breathing control, meditation, and lifestyles. The aim is to strengthen prana, the vital force as understood in traditional Indian medicine. Thus, it is claimed to be helpful for most conditions affecting mankind. Most people who practice yoga in the West practise ‘Hatha yoga’, which includes postural exercises (asanas), breath control (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana). It is claimed that these techniques bring an individual to a state of perfect health, stillness, and heightened awareness. Other alleged benefits of regular yoga practice include suppleness, muscular strength, feelings of well-being, reduction of sympathetic drive, pain control, and longevity. Yogic breathing exercises are said to reduce muscular spasms, expand available lung capacity and thus alleviate the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

There have been numerous clinical trials of various yoga techniques. They tend to suffer from poor study design and incomplete reporting. Their results are therefore not always reliable. Several systematic reviews have summarised the findings of these studies. An overview included 21 systematic reviews relating to a wide range of conditions. Nine systematic reviews arrived at positive conclusions, but many were associated with a high risk of bias. Unanimously positive evidence emerged only for depression and cardiovascular risk reduction (Ernst E, Lee MS: Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 15(4) December 2010 274–27).

Yoga is generally considered to be safe. However, the only large-scale survey specifically addressing the question of adverse effects found that approximately 30% of yoga class attendees had experienced some type of adverse event. Although the majority had mild symptoms, the survey results indicated that attendees with chronic diseases were more likely to experience adverse events associated with their disease. Therefore, special attention is necessary when yoga is introduced to patients with stress-related, chronic diseases. 

So, should we be pleased about the UK government’s plan to promote Ayurveda and yoga? In view of the mixed and inconclusive evidence, I feel that a cautious approach would be wise. Research into these subjects could be a good idea, particularly if it were aimed at finding out what the exact risks are. Whole-sale integration does, however, not seem prudent at this stage. In other words, let’s find out what generates more good than harm for which conditions and subsequently consider adopting those elements that fulfill this vital criterium.

The use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is common among cancer patients and it may reflect the individual and societal beliefs on cancer therapy. This paper aimed to evaluate the trends of CAM use among patients with cancer between 2006 and 2018.

The researchers included 2 Cohorts of patients with cancer seen at the Oncology Department at King Abdulaziz Medical City of Ministry of National Guard Health Affairs, Riyadh, KSA, who were recruited for Cohort 1 between 2006 and 2008 and for Cohort 2 between 2016 and 2018. The study is a cross-sectional study obtaining demographic and clinical information and inquiring about the types of SCAM used, the reasons to use them and the perceived benefits. The researchers compared the changes in the patterns of SCAM use and other variables between the two cohorts.

A total of 1416 patients were included in the study, with 464 patients in Cohort 1 and 952 patients in Cohort 2. Patients in Cohort 2 used less SCAM (78.9%) than Cohort 1 (96.8%). Cohort 1 was more likely to use SCAM to treat cancer compared to Cohort 2 (84.4% vs. 73%, respectively, p < 0.0001,); while Cohort 2 used SCAM for symptom management such as pain control and improving appetite among others. Disclosure of SCAM use did not change significantly over time and remains low (31.6% in Cohort 1 and 35.7% for Cohort 2). However, physicians were more likely to express an opposing opinion against SCAM the use in Cohort 2 compared to Cohort 1 (48.7% vs. 19.1%, p < 0.001, respectively).

The authors concluded that there is a significant change in SCAM use among cancer patients over the decade, which reflects major societal and cultural changes in this population. Further studies and interventions are needed to improve the disclosure to physicians and to improve other aspects of care to these patients.

I think that these are interesting findings. Should both patients and conventional healthcare professionally truly become more sceptical about SCAM? It would be good, in my view, but can we be sure?

The answer is NO!

Firstly, we would need data from other countries (SCAM use is known to show marked national differences). Secondly, we would require more up-to-date evidence. The present paper has suggested that, within one decade, SCAM use can change. Therefore, it is only reasonable to assume that it has changed again since 2016/18.

My hope is that progress continues. And by progress, I mean that those forms of SCAM that are demonstrably useful in palliative and supportive cancer care are employed wisely, while all the many bogus alternative cancer ‘cures’ are rapidly falling by the wayside.

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