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

Edzard

Acupuncture is a veritable panacea; it cures everything! At least this is what many of its advocates want us to believe. Does it also have a role in supportive cancer care?

Let’s find out.

This systematic review evaluated the effects of acupuncture in women with breast cancer (BC), focusing on patient-reported outcomes (PROs).

A comprehensive literature search was carried out for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) reporting PROs in BC patients with treatment-related symptoms after undergoing acupuncture for at least four weeks. Literature screening, data extraction, and risk bias assessment were independently carried out by two researchers. The authors stated that they followed the ‘Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses’ (PRISMA) guidelines.

Out of the 2, 524 identified studies, 29 studies representing 33 articles were included in this meta-analysis. The RCTs employed various acupuncture techniques with a needle, such as hand-acupuncture and electroacupuncture. Sham/placebo acupuncture, pharmacotherapy, no intervention, or usual care were the control interventions. About half of the studies lacked adequate blinding.

At the end of treatment (EOT), the acupuncture patients’ quality of life (QoL) was measured by the QLQ-C30 QoL subscale, the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Endocrine Symptoms (FACT-ES), the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–General/Breast (FACT-G/B), and the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire (MENQOL), which depicted a significant improvement. The use of acupuncture in BC patients lead to a considerable reduction in the scores of all subscales of the Brief Pain Inventory-Short Form (BPI-SF) and Visual Analog Scale (VAS) measuring pain. Moreover, patients treated with acupuncture were more likely to experience improvements in hot flashes scores, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and anxiety compared to those in the control group, while the improvements in depression were comparable across both groups. Long-term follow-up results were similar to the EOT results. Eleven RCTs did not report any information on adverse effects.

The authors concluded that current evidence suggests that acupuncture might improve BC treatment-related symptoms measured with PROs including QoL, pain, fatigue, hot flashes, sleep disturbance and anxiety. However, a number of included studies report limited amounts of certain subgroup settings, thus more rigorous, well-designed and larger RCTs are needed to confirm our results.

This review looks rigorous on the surface but has many weaknesses if one digs only a little deeper. To start with, it has no precise research question: is any type of acupuncture better than any type of control? This is not a research question that anyone can answer with just a few studies of mostly poor quality. The authors claim to follow the PRISMA guidelines, yet (as a co-author of these guidelines) I can assure you that this is not true. Many of the included studies are small and lacked blinding. The results are confusing, contradictory and not clearly reported. Many trials fail to mention adverse effects and thus violate research ethics, etc., etc.

The conclusion that acupuncture might improve BC treatment-related symptoms could be true. But does this paper convince me that acupuncture DOES improve these symptoms?

No!

Two chiropractors conducted a retrospective review of publicly available data from the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Their aim was to determine categories of offense, experience, and gender of disciplined doctors of chiropractic (DC) in California and compare them with disciplined medical physicians in California.

Retrospective reviews of publicly available data from the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners.

The DC disciplinary categories, in descending order, were

  • fraud (44%),
  • sexual boundary issues (22%),
  • other offences (13%),
  • abuse of alcohol or drugs (10%),
  • negligence or incompetence (6%),
  • poor supervision (2%),
  • mental impairment (.3%).

The authors concluded that the professions differ in the major reasons for disciplinary actions. Two thirds (67%) of the doctors of chiropractic were disciplined for fraud and sexual boundary issues, compared with 59% for negligence and substance misuse for medical physicians. Additional study in each profession may reveal methods to identify causes and possible intervention for those who are at high risk.

The two authors of this paper should be congratulated for their courage to publish such a review. These figures seem shocking. But I think that in reality some of them might be far higher. Take the important matter of competence, for instance. If you consider it competent that chiropractors treat conditions other than back pain, you might arrive at the above-mentioned figure of 6%. If you consider this as incompetent, as I do, the figure might be one order of magnitude higher (for more on unprofessional conduct by chiropractors see here).

The abstract of the paper does not provide comparisons to the data related to the medical profession. Here they are; relative to doctors, chiropractors are:

  • 2x more likely to be involved in malpractice,
  • 9x more likely to be practising fraud,
  • 2x more likely to transgress sexual boundaries.

The frequency of fraud is particularly striking. Come to think of it, however, it is not all that amazing. I have said it before: chiropractic is in my view mostly about money.

It has been reported that B.C.’s chiropractors are deeply divided about the future of their profession, disagreeing on everything from false advertising to the use of routine X-rays.

Chiropractors attending an extraordinary general meeting of the College of Chiropractors of B.C. were split nearly down the middle on a series of non-binding resolutions addressing actions the College has taken in recent years. By the narrowest of margins, with at most 54% support, the members voted in favor of the college’s moves to limit the use of diagnostic X-rays and ban claims that aren’t supported by scientific evidence. The question that remains is who represents the bulk of the profession in B.C. — chiropractors advocating for what they describe as evidence-based practice targeting the musculoskeletal system, or “vitalists” who argue that chiropractic treatment can help with everything from immunity to brain function.

The modernizers see it as “a deliberate attempt to take over the college by a small group of chiropractors with no respect or knowledge of regulation … funded by organizations out of the province and out of the country,” Victoria chiropractor Clark Konczak told the virtual meeting.

At issue was a series of policies the college introduced in the wake of what Konczak called “the smoothie episode.” He was referring to a video posted on Facebook in 2017 by the then-vice chair of the college’s board, Avtar Jassal, in which he falsely suggested fruit smoothies are better than vaccines at preventing the flu.

Earlier this year, the college introduced amendments that bar chiropractors from performing routine and repeat X-rays, saying radiography is only scientifically supported when there are red flags that something is seriously wrong. The policy change on X-rays was the flashpoint in the long-simmering tension within the profession. A group of chiropractors has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court, alleging the college is preventing them from providing “safe, ethical, and effective care to their patients.” Their legal action has backing from national and international vitalistic organizations. During the recent meeting, a group of chiropractors argued unsuccessfully for the new X-ray policy to be tossed. Some suggested that chiropractors who don’t perform X-rays as a matter of routine are actually harming their patients. Another extraordinary general meeting has been called for July 20 to vote on resolutions calling for the removal of four college board members.

As I have often pointed out, chiropractic is all about money. The ‘chiro-wars’ have been going on for quite a while now, and they are by no means confined to B. C. or Canada. In a nutshell, they suggest to me that a significant proportion of chiropractors prefer money to progress.

Bernie Garrett is a professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia. He is being mentioned here because he has written a book entitled THE NEW ALCHEMISTS which deals (mostly) with so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). It is a well-written, informative, critical, and evidence-based text that I can recommend wholeheartedly. It will be available in the UK on 29 July but you can pre-order it already.

On Amazon, It is being advertised with the following words:

How to identify and see through deceptive and unethical health marketing practices Health scams come in all shapes and sizes-from the suppression of side-effects from prescription drugs to the unproven benefits of ‘traditional’ health practices-taking advantage of the human tendency to assume good intentions in others. So how do we avoid being deceived? Professor of Nursing, Bernie Garrett explores real-world examples of medical malpractice, pseudo and deceptive health science, dietary and celebrity health fads, deception in alternative medicine and problems with current healthcare regulation, ending with a simple health-scam detection kit. And he looks at how these practices and ineffective regulations affect our lives.

The book is written for the interested layperson. But I am sure that healthcare professionals will like it too, not least because it is fully referenced. Its aim is to inform and prevent consumers from being deceived and exploited by charlatans, an aim shared with this blog – while reading the book, I often got the impression that Bernie Garrett might be a regular reader of my blog.

This does not mean that I did not learn a lot from reading Bernie’s book. On the contrary, there was a lot that I did not know before and that is worth knowing. For instance, were you aware that you can earn a ‘Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, Advanced Diploma’ or Reiki master qualification for $ 12.99 in a 6-hour online course (if you want to know where you’ll have to get Bernie’s book)?  Well, I didn’t.

Yes, I did enjoy reading this book, and I share Bernie’s views on SCAM. In his overall conclusions, he writes: “The sad truth is, many health fraudsters are highly skilled manipulators, and do not always end up being held to account for their crimes, and many continue to profit from them.” Because this is so, it is good to have another splendid book that will help us in our struggle to inform the public responsibly.

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. 

 

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