This retrospective cohort study investigated the effect of reflexology on immunological parameters of people living with HIV (PLWH). All patients who received at least one reflexology treatment were included and compared with the group of PLWH who were not treated with reflexology. Measured parameters included CD4 count, CD4%, CD8 count, CD8%, CD4/CD8 ratio, and HIV viral load (VL). Changes in these parameters before and after the treatment were compared with changes in two consecutive measurements in the control group.

In total, 74 patients who received reflexology treatments were matched by age and sex to 144 controls. There was a male predominance of 86% in both groups. Patients in the control group were slightly older, with a median age of 45 versus 43 in the treatment group (p = 0.022). The median baseline CD4 count (730 vs. 795, p = 0.187) and CD8 count (890 vs. 832, p = 0.32) did not differ between the groups. Baseline CD4% tended to be lower in the treatment group (34% vs. 36%, p = 0.058), CD8% was higher in the treatment group (40% vs. 38%, p = 0.03), and the
CD4/CD8 ratio was lower in the treatment group (0.8 vs. 1, p = 0.002).

After therapy, there was a significantly higher increase in CD4, CD4%, and CD4/CD8 in the treatment group (p = 0.006, 0.0004, <0.001, respectively), whereas CD8% decreased significantly and CD8 tended to decrease in the treatment group (p < 0.001, 0.054, respectively).

The authors concluded that reflexology showed a positive impact on the immunological parameters of PLWH.

Who on earth conceives such a study?

Who funds such offensive rubbish?

Who publishes it?

We may well ask these questions, because the paper is pure nonsense!

The authors are very clear about their conviction that the observed differences were caused by the reflexology treatment. They don’t even discuss other options. Yet, there are several plausible explanations that have nothing to do with reflexology.

The patients in the control group originate from the hospital’s register from the time before reflexology had been introduced in the standard care package. Thus these patients differ in numerous ways from those of the experimental group. To name just one possibility, these patients were treated at a time when the treatment of PLWH was less sophicticated and thus had worse outcomes.

The two patient groups are clearly not comparable! This is also shown by the data published in the paper. So why compare them?

The only sensible conclusion of this paper is in my view:

In an effort to prove that their SCAM works, enthusiasts without research expertise often go to great lengths. As a result they mislead us all and do a great disservice to science and medicine.

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