Bioenergy (or energy healing) therapies are among the popular alternative treatment options for many diseases, including cancer. Many studies deal with the advantages and disadvantages of bioenergy therapies as an addition to established treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation in the treatment of cancer. However, a systematic overview of this evidence is thus far lacking. For this reason, German authors reviewed and critically examined the evidence to determine what benefits the treatments have for patients.
In June 2022, a systematic search was conducted searching five electronic databases (Embase, Cochrane, PsychInfo, CINAHL and Medline) to find studies concerning the use, effectiveness, and potential harm of bioenergy therapies including the following modalities:
- Therapeutic Touch,
- Healing Touch,
- Polarity Therapy.
From all 2477 search results, 21 publications with a total of 1375 patients were included in this systematic review. The patients treated with bioenergy therapies were mainly diagnosed with breast cancer. The main outcomes measured were:
- quality of life (QoL),
The studies were predominantly of moderate quality and, for the most part, found no effect. In terms of QoL, pain, and nausea, there were some positive short-term effects of the interventions, but no long-term differences were detectable. The risk of side effects from bioenergy therapies appears to be relatively small.
The authors concluded that considering the methodical limitations of the included studies, studies with high study quality could not find any difference between bioenergy therapies and active (placebo, massage, RRT, yoga, meditation, relaxation training, companionship, friendly visit) and passive control groups (usual care, resting, education). Only studies with a low study quality were able to show significant effects.
Energy healing is as popular as it is implausible. What these ‘healers’ call ‘energy’ is not how it is defined in physics. It is an undefined, imagined entity that exists only in the imagination of its proponents. So why should it have an effect on cancer or any other condition?
Energy healing is an umbrella term for a range of paranormal healing practices. Their common denominator is the belief in a mystical ‘energy’ that can be used for therapeutic purposes.
- Forms of energy healing have existed in many ancient cultures. The ‘New Age’ movement has brought about a revival of these ideas, and today energy healing systems are amongst the most popular alternative therapies in the US as well as in many other countries. Popular forms of energy healing include those listed above. Each of these are discussed and referenced in separate chapters of this book.
- Energy healing relies on the esoteric belief in some form of ‘energy’ which is distinct from the concept of energy understood in physics and refers to some life force such as chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or prana in Ayurvedic medicine.
- Some proponents employ terminology from quantum physics and other ‘cutting-edge’ science to give their treatments a scientific flair which, upon closer scrutiny, turns out to be but a veneer of pseudo-science.
- The ‘energy’ that energy healers refer to is not measurable and lacks biological plausibility.
- Considering its implausibility, energy healing has attracted a surprisingly high level of research activity. Its findings are discussed in the respective chapters of each of the specific forms of energy healing.
- Generally speaking, the methodologically best trials of energy healing fail to demonstrate that it generates effects beyond placebo.
- Even though energy healing is per se harmless, it can do untold damage, not least because it significantly undermines rational thought in our societies.
As you can see, I do not entirely agree with my German friends on the issue of harm. I think energy healing is potentially dangerous and should be discouraged.