Black salve is a paste for external use made from a variable mixture of herbal and non-herbal ingredients. It usually contains bloodroot and/or chaparral and/or zinc chloride which are all ingredients that render the products corrosive. This means black salve destroys living cells that come in contact with it.
Black salve is said to originate from native American tribes who used the paste as a treatment for various conditions. It was adopted by conventional medicine during the Victorian era as a treatment for a range of skin problems, including skin cancers. When effective treatments became available, it became obsolete.
Black salve was recently re-discovered by some practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) who now recommend it as a natural treatment for various skin conditions, including cancer. Black salve is readily available, for instance, via the Internet. Several national regulators have issued warnings to consumers not to use it. Consumers have little means of telling what is the nature, quality or strength of the black salve they might be purchasing.
No compelling evidence exists that black salve is efficacious for any condition, especially not for any type of skin cancer. Rigorous clinical trials testing its efficacy are not available. A recent review of the published evidence concluded as follows: Black salve is not a natural therapy. It contains significant concentrations of synthetic chemicals. Black salve does not appear to possess tumour specificity with in vitro and in vivo evidence indicating normal cell toxicity. Black salve does appear to cure some skin cancers, although the cure rate for this therapy is currently unknown. The use of black salve should be restricted to clinical research in low risk malignancies located at low risk sites until a better understanding of its efficacy and toxicity is developed. Where a therapy capable of harm is already being used by patients, it is ethically irresponsible not to study and analyse its effects. Although cautionary tales are valuable, black salve research needs to move beyond the case study and into the carefully designed clinical trial arena. Only then can patients be properly informed of its true benefits and hazards.
Due to its erosive nature, black salve burns away the tissue with which it comes into contact. Numerous case reports of the resulting deformations have been published., Many horrendous pictures of patients maimed by their use of black salve are available on the Internet and give a dramatic impression of the harm caused. Black salve is unquestionably a treatment that can cause considerable damage and should be regarded as unsafe. One paper concluded that it is vital that members of the public are aware of the potential effects and toxicity of commercial salve products.
In conclusion, black salve is not of proven efficacy as a treatment of any condition. It is well documented to cause much harm. Its use should be discouraged. Practitioners who employ or recommend it are, in my view, irresponsible to the extreme.
 Croaker A, King GJ, Pyne JH, Anoopkumar-Dukie S, Liu L. A Review of Black Salve: Cancer Specificity, Cure, and Cosmesis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:9184034. doi:10.1155/2017/9184034
 Ong NC, Sham E, Adams BM. Use of unlicensed black salve for cutaneous malignancy. Med J Aust. 2014;200(6):314. doi:10.5694/mja14.00041
 Saltzberg F, Barron G, Fenske N. Deforming self-treatment with herbal “black salve”. Dermatol Surg. 2009;35(7):1152-1154. doi:10.1111/j.1524-4725.2009.01206.x
 Lim A. Black salve treatment of skin cancer: a review. J Dermatolog Treat. 2018;29(4):388-392. doi:10.1080/09546634.2017.1395795
Guest post by Ken McLeod
‘Ayurvedic Medicine,’ or Ayurveda, is an alternative medicine system which originated in India as long as 5,000 years ago, according to its proponents. Science-based medicine refers to it as pseudoscientific and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) characterises it as quackery.  Ayurvedic practitioners claim that its popularity through the ages vindicates it as safe and effective.
That last bit is of course the appeal to antiquity, or the appeal to tradition (also known as argumentum ad antiquitatem.  This proposes that if something was supported by people for a long time it must be valid. That is bunkum; many ancient ideas have long since been discredited; the Earth is not flat, no matter for how long people thought it was.
Nevertheless, ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ has many practitioners and supporters in the supposedly rational West, including Bondi Junction here in Australia. Despite the many warnings about it,  people still go to practitioners, and occasionally they are injured.
One such injury and the consequent complaint to the New South Wales regulator, the Health Care Complaints Commission, (HCCC), has resulted in a Public Warning dated 18 September concerning levels of heavy metals in Ayurvedic Medication. 
The HCCC said:
‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission is concerned about a complaint received regarding the prescription of “Manasamithra Vatika,” (Manasamitram Pills) an Ayurvedic medication.
‘The complaint related to prescription of this medication to a child for treatment of autism.
‘This medication was found to contain concerning levels of lead and other heavy metals.’
That’s all very bland, no headlines there. But then it got into:
“The Commission strongly urges those individuals seeking alternative therapies to be vigilant in their research prior to proceeding with any natural therapy medications or medicines and to discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.”
Not so bland there; that’s very comprehensive; ‘any natural therapy medications or medicines’ and ‘discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.” ‘Note the HCCC’s emphasis on “registered.” That rules out Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners, homeopaths, and other assorted cranks; go to a real doctor.
Surely that is headline material; a regulator responsible for promoting the health of citizens warns them to go to real doctors before going to these quacks.
Then it gets better, (or worse if you are an Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner). At the same time the HCCC issued an Interim Prohibition Order against Mr Rama Prasad (“Ayurveda Doctor Rama Prasad.”)  The HCCC’s Order says:
‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (“the Commission”) is currently investigating Mr Rama Prasad in relation to his prescribing of the Ayurvedic Medication “Manasamithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) to both children and adults and about his claims that his treatments can reverse several aspects of autism in children.
‘The Ayurvedic Medication “Manasmithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) was found to contain elevated levels of lead and other heavy metals.
‘One case with mildly elevated blood level was notified to the South Eastern Sydney Public Health Unit after consuming this product.
‘Clients residing in NSW who are considered to have been placed at possible risk have now been contacted by NSW Health public health personnel.
‘The Commission has issued an interim prohibition order in relation to Mr Rama Prasad, under section 41AA of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 (‘The Act’). Mr Prasad is currently prohibited from providing any health services, either in paid employment or voluntarily, to any member of the public.
‘This interim prohibition order will remain in force for a period of eight weeks and may be renewed where appropriate in order to protect the health or safety of the public.’
That should send chills down the spine of any Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner. A complete Prohibition Order ordering Prasad not to engage in providing any health service as defined in the Act  for eight weeks, which may be renewed or even made permanent, depending on what the investigation finds. The Act includes a comprehensive list of activities that comprise a ‘health service’:
‘health service includes the following services, whether provided as public or private services:
- (a) medical, hospital, nursing and midwifery services,
- (b) dental services,
- (c) mental health services,
- (d) pharmaceutical services,
- (e) ambulance services,
- (f) community health services,
- (g) health education services,
- (h) welfare services necessary to implement any services referred to in paragraphs (a)–(g),
- (i) services provided in connection with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practices and medical radiation practices,
- (j) Chinese medicine, chiropractic, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, physiotherapy, podiatry and psychology services,
- (j1) optical dispensing, dietitian, massage therapy, naturopathy, acupuncture, speech therapy, audiology and audiometry services,
- (k) services provided in other alternative health care fields,
- (k1) forensic pathology services,’
Note the inclusion of ‘health education.’ This is where so many cranks fall foul of the law; setting yourself up as a health educator makes you subject to the Act. Even if you claim to be a master chef, homeopath or Ayurvedic Medicine Practitioner, you are not exempt.
It’s early days yet in this particular saga, and there are many questions to be answered, for example:
- – How did this “medicine” get past Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, (Australia’s equivalent to the US FDA)?
- – Did the TGA list or register it?
- – If not why not? If it was who is responsible?
- – Was this detected only after a child was so sickened that they were taken to hospital?
- – Why is the practitioner concerned still advertising his Ayurvedic medicine courses?  Is this a breach of his Prohibition Order which prohibits ‘health education services’?’
So stay tuned for updates as this case progresses. In the meantime note that an Australian Health regulator is advising the public to seek advice from real doctors before going to alternative therapists, including ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ practitioners. That is a real headline.
 Such as from the Victoria Dept of Health at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/ayurveda
 Health Care Complaints Act 1993 https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1993-105
One of the many issues that needs addressing about chiropractic is its safety. On this blog, we have had dozens of posts and debates on this topic. Today, I want to try and summarise them by providing a fictitious dialogue between a critic and a chiropractor.
Here we go:
Critic (CR): It seems to me that most of the chiros I talk to are convinced that their hallmark therapy, spinal manipulation, is risk-free.
Chiro (CH): Hallmark therapy? Not true! Osteopaths, physios, doctors they all use spinal manipulation.
CR: I know, but name me a profession that employs it more regularly than you chiros.
CH: In any case, it is as good as risk-free; nothing is totally devoid of risk, but chiropractic spinal manipulation (CSMT) is generally very safe, because we are better trained at it than the others.
CR: Do you say that because you believe it or because you know it?
CH: I know it.
CR: That means you have the evidence to prove it?
CH: Yes, of course. Over the years, I have treated over a thousand patients and never heard of any problems.
CR: Without a monitoring system of adverse events that occur after chiropractic spinal manipulation, this is pretty meaningless.
CH: Monitoring systems do not establish causality.
CR: No, but they are a start and can tell you whether there is a problem that requires looking into.
CH: Let me remind you please that the question of safety is foremost an issue for conventional medicine; this is why a monitoring system is useful for drugs. We actually do not need one, because CSMT is safe.
CR: Are you sure?
CR: The much-cited paper by Dabbs and Lauretti is out-dated, poor quality, and heavily biased. It provides no sound basis for an evidence-based judgement on the relative risks of cervical manipulation and NSAIDs. The notion that cervical manipulations are safer than NSAIDs is therefore not based on reliable data. Thus, it is misleading and irresponsible to repeat this claim. Is there not a better comparison for supporting your point?
CH: Not as far as I know. But you can trust our collective experience: CSMT is safe!
CR: Don’t you think that the issue is too important to rely purely on experience? Your collective experience can be very misleading, you know.
CH: Then tell me why chiros pay only a fraction of the insurance premium compared to doctors.
CR: Yes, that is the argument many chiros love. But it also is a very poor one: doctors treat patients who are often very ill, while chiros treat mostly sore backs. Don’t you think that explains a lot about the difference in insurance premiums?
CH: Perhaps, but if you claim CSMT to be harmful, how about you supporting your claim with evidence?
CR: Sure, the best is to review systematically all prospective studies on the topic; and if you do this, the conclusion is that data from prospective studies suggest that minor, transient adverse events occur in approximately half of all patients receiving spinal manipulation. The most common serious adverse events are vertebrobasilar accidents, disk herniation, and cauda equina syndrome. Estimates of the incidence of serious complications range from 1 per 2 million manipulations to 1 per 400,000. Given the popularity of spinal manipulation, its safety requires rigorous investigation.
CH: I bet these are studies done by people who are against chiropractic.
CR: No, actually the primary studies were all done by chiropractors.
CH: Minor transient problems! These are merely what we expect; things often need to get worse before they get better.
CR: Imagine that a drug company claims such BS about the side-effects of a new drug.
CH: But that’s different!
CR: In what way?
CH: Big Pharma is only out to make money.
CR: And chiros?
CH: That’s different too.
CR: What about the serious adverse events like vertebrobasilar accidents, disk herniation, and cauda equina syndrome? Are you going to deny they exist?
CH: Some of those serious complications, while rare, are conditions that existed prior to CSMT being performed with the practitioner missing it upon initial examination.
CR: How do you know?
CH: I know this from experience.
CR: I already told you that experience is unreliable.
CH: Then show me the evidence that I am wrong.
CR: No, you have to come up with the evidence; the burden of proof is evidently on your shoulders.
CH: Whatever! As long as there is no good evidence, I cannot accept that serious complications are a real problem.
CR: That’s just fine: you say “as long as there is no good evidence…” and, at the same time, you prevent good evidence from emerging by preventing a decent AE monitoring system.
CH: I always knew that one cannot have a reasonable discussion with you. I consider that I have won this debate; this issue is now closed.
The definitions of a quack as used in healthcare vary somewhat:
- ignorant, misinformed, or dishonest practitioner of medicine
- untrained person who pretends to be a physician and dispenses medical advice and treatment
- people who claim to be skilled in medicine but are not
- person who dishonestly pretends to have medical skills or knowledge
- one who misrepresents ability and experience in diagnosis and treatment of disease or the effects to be achieved by treatment
Richard Lanigan, in his post entitled Skeptics like Edzard Ernst remind me of Humpty Dumpty in their use of words. They make them up as they go along prefers the the definition from the Oxford dictionary: “a person who dishonestly claims to have special knowledge and skill in some field, typically medicine” (actually, the version of the Oxford dictionary I accessed defines a quack not quite like this but as a person who dishonestly claims to have medical knowledge or skills).
More importantly, Richard claims in an oddly incoherent post that not the chiropractors but the critics of chiropractic are are the true quacks:
It would appear “quacks” are people who pretend to have expertise in subjects they know little about, presumably subjects like, chiropractic medicine or acupuncture. I practice chiropractic, I dont diagnose or treat illness or disease, I dont make medical claims. You may not like chiropractic or understand it, however practicing chiropractic would not appear to conform to the definition of “quackery”, however claiming to have “special knowledge” about chiropractic and having only been trained as a medical practitioner may in fact make you a “quack” professor Ernst. All I do is maintain movement in spinal joints that become stiff from sedentary lifestyles, movement effects function of mechano receptors(nerves) in spinal joints. You may not believe that is possible, you may not believe maintaining joint function is important or that it effects wellbeing, you are perfectly entitled to your opinion, however I am not so confident of you depth and breath knowledge in anatomy and physiology. You might start by asking, why joints were immobility post surgery in the 80s and now post surgical treatment is all about maintaining joint motion as chiropractors have been advocating for years.
If I understand this correctly, this means: any non-chiropractor who criticises chiropractic is a quack. Moreover, it means that, as chiropractic is very rarely criticised by a chiropractor, chiropractors cannot be quacks.
I find this fascinating. It amounts to the legitimisation of any healthcare profession, however bizarre, unproven, disproven or dangerous their practice might be:
- crystal therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- rebirthing practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- applied kinesiologists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- bioresonance practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- Bach flower therapists therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- colour therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- colon therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- dowsers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- ear candle practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- feng shui practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- faith healers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- gua sha practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- iridologists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- homeopaths cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- naprapathy therapists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- neurolinguistic programmers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- osteopaths cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- pranic healers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- psychic surgeons cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- radionics practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- reflexologists cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- Reiki masters cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- shiatsu practitioners cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- therapeutic touchers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- vaginal steamers cannot be accused of quackery, because only their kind understand their business;
- etc, etc.
I can, of course, easily see why Richard Lanigan would like this concept to be true. Alas, Richard (and all the other SCAM-enthusiasts who make similar arguments), it does not work like this! A quack might be defined as listed above or in many other ways. But, in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), a quack foremost is a person who habitually misleads the public by making claims that are not supported by sound evidence. And as some wise guy once observed: honest conviction renders a quack only more dangerous. As to the professional background of a quack:
I do not care a hoot!
I have done my best to disclose quackery no matter whether it came from a medic or a SCAM-practitioner, a physio or a nurse, an entrepreneur or a fruitcake, an evangelist or a politician, royalty or commoner. And, believe me, Richard (plus all the other SCAM-enthusiasts who make similar arguments), I will carry on doing so, whether it fits into your little scheme of wishful thinking or not.
Many people think that homeopathy is akin to herbal medicine and that its remedies are based on plants. This could not be further from the truth. Herbal remedies are not diluted, while homeopathics are – usually to the point where not a single molecule is left of the mother tincture. Some homeopathic remedies are clearly plant-based, but many are not. In fact, homeopathics can be made from just about anything.
In this series of posts, I intend to list a few surprising materials that are used to produce homeopathic remedies. Confusingly, I will start with a list of remedies where even the mother tinctures are based on an absence of any material. For want of a better term, I shall call them radiant remedies. As this might be unbelievable to some consumers, I include the link to the manufacturer.
- Blue (colour)
- Eclipse Totality
- Electricitas (Electricity – 80,000 volts)
- Electricitas (High Voltage Pylon)
- Green (colour)
- Halogen light
- Indigo (colour)
- Laser – red (Diode Laser Red)
- Laser Beam (2940 nm)
- LED (white) (White L(ight) E(mitting) D(iode) Light)
- LIGHT (ENERGY SAVING BULB)
- Luna (Moonlight)
- Microwave 750 MHz
- Milky Way (Essence)
- Mobile phone (Eising)
- Mobile Phone 1800MHz
- Mobile Phone 900Mhz
- Mobile Phone Mast G3
- Polaris (North star)
- Purple (Colour)
- Radiation Combination (Guild Radiation Combination)
- Rainbow (Spectrum)
- Red (colour)
- Red ( A. Wauters)
- Sol Africana
- Sol Australis (Sunlight – Australia)
- Sol Britannic (Sunlight British)
- Stonehenge (Emanation)
- Sunlight Blue (Prismatic blue from sunlight)
- Sunlight Green (Prismatic green from sunlight)
- Sunlight Orange (Prismatic orange from sunlight)
- Sunlight Purple (Prismatic purple from sunlight)
- Sunlight Red (Prismatic Red from Sunlight)
- Sunlight Yellow (Prismatic yellow from sunlight)
- Ultrasound (General)
- Ultrasound (Vaginal)
- Ultraviolet Light
- Wind (South-West)
About 200 years ago, Hahnemann postulated that his remedies work via a ‘spirit like’ activity. This fantasy has been all but abandoned by today’s homeopaths. They currently like to claim that homeopathics work because, during the process of potentisation (shaking at every step of multiple dilutions), nano-particles of the active material are being generated. And these nano-particles, they believe, somehow bring about the desired pharmacological actions.
Now, here is my question to those ‘nano-homeopaths’:
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE MODE OF ACTION OF ANY OF THE ABOVE-LISTED REMEDIES?
This Cochrane review assessed the efficacy and safety of aromatherapy for people with dementia. The researchers included randomised controlled trials which compared fragrance from plants in an intervention defined as aromatherapy for people with dementia with placebo aromatherapy or with treatment as usual. All doses, frequencies and fragrances of aromatherapy were considered. Participants in the included studies had a diagnosis of dementia of any subtype and severity.
The investigators included 13 studies with 708 participants. All participants had dementia and in the 12 trials which described the setting, all were resident in institutional care facilities. Nine trials recruited participants because they had significant agitation or other behavioural and psychological symptoms in dementia (BPSD) at baseline. The fragrances used were:
- lavender (eight studies);
- lemon balm (four studies);
- lavender and lemon balm,
- lavender and orange,
- cedar extracts (one study each).
For six trials, assessment of risk of bias and extraction of results was hampered by poor reporting. Four of the other seven trials were at low risk of bias in all domains, but all were small (range 18 to 186 participants; median 66). The primary outcomes were:
- overall behavioural,
- psychological symptoms,
- adverse effects.
Ten trials assessed agitation using various scales. Among the 5 trials for which the confidence in the results was moderate or low, 4 trials reported no significant effect on agitation and one trial reported a significant benefit of aromatherapy. The other 5 trials either reported no useable data or the confidence in the results was very low. Eight trials assessed overall BPSD using the Neuropsychiatric Inventory and there was moderate or low confidence in the results of 5 of them. Of these, 4 reported significant benefit from aromatherapy and one reported no significant effect.
Adverse events were poorly reported or not reported at all in most trials. No more than two trials assessed each of our secondary outcomes of quality of life, mood, sleep, activities of daily living, caregiver burden. There was no evidence of benefit on these outcomes. Three trials assessed cognition: one did not report any data and the other two trials reported no significant effect of aromatherapy on cognition. The confidence in the results of these studies was low.
The authors reached the following conclusions: We have not found any convincing evidence that aromatherapy (or exposure to fragrant plant oils) is beneficial for people with dementia although there are many limitations to the data. Conduct or reporting problems in half of the included studies meant that they could not contribute to the conclusions. Results from the other studies were inconsistent. Harms were very poorly reported in the included studies. In order for clear conclusions to be drawn, better design and reporting and consistency of outcome measurement in future trials would be needed.
This is a thorough review. It makes many of the points that I so often make regarding SCAM research:
- too many of the primary studies are badly designed;
- too many of the primary studies are too small;
- too many of the primary studies are poorly reported;
- too many of the primary studies fail to mention adverse effects thus violating research ethics;
- too many of the primary studies are done by pseudo-scientists who use research for promotion rather than testing hypotheses.
It is time that SCAM researchers, ethic review boards, funders, editors and journal reviewers take these points into serious consideration – if only to avoid clinical research getting a bad reputation and losing the support of patients without which it cannot exist.
My new book has just been published. Allow me to try and whet your appetite by showing you the book’s introduction:
“There is no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which scientific evidence is lacking.” These words of Fontanarosa and Lundberg were published 22 years ago. Today, they are as relevant as ever, particularly to the type of healthcare I often call ‘so-called alternative medicine’ (SCAM), and they certainly are relevant to chiropractic.
Invented more than 120 years ago by the magnetic healer DD Palmer, chiropractic has had a colourful history. It has now grown into one of the most popular of all SCAMs. Its general acceptance might give the impression that chiropractic, the art of adjusting by hand all subluxations of the three hundred articulations of the human skeletal frame, is solidly based on evidence. It is therefore easy to forget that a plethora of fundamental questions about chiropractic remain unanswered.
I wrote this book because I feel that the amount of misinformation on chiropractic is scandalous and demands a critical evaluation of the evidence. The book deals with many questions that consumers often ask:
- How well-established is chiropractic?
- What treatments do chiropractors use?
- What conditions do they treat?
- What claims do they make?
- Are their assumptions reasonable?
- Are chiropractic spinal manipulations effective?
- Are these manipulations safe?
- Do chiropractors behave professionally and ethically?
Am I up to this task, and can you trust my assessments? These are justified questions; let me try to answer them by giving you a brief summary of my professional background.
I grew up in Germany where SCAM is hugely popular. I studied medicine and, as a young doctor, was enthusiastic about SCAM. After several years in basic research, I returned to clinical medicine, became professor of rehabilitation medicine first in Hanover, Germany, and then in Vienna, Austria. In 1993, I was appointed as Chair in Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter. In this capacity, I built up a multidisciplinary team of scientists conducting research into all sorts of SCAM with one focus on chiropractic. I retired in 2012 and am now an emeritus professor. I have published many peer-reviewed articles on the subject, and I have no conflicts of interest. If my long career has taught me anything, it is this: in the best interest of consumers and patients, we must insist on sound evidence; not opinion, not wishful thinking; evidence.
In critically assessing the issues related to chiropractic, I am guided by the most reliable and up-to-date scientific evidence. The conclusions I reach often suggest that chiropractic is not what it is often cracked up to be. Hundreds of books have been published that disagree. If you are in doubt who to trust, the promoter or the critic of chiropractic, I suggest you ask yourself a simple question: who is more likely to provide impartial information, the chiropractor who makes a living by his trade, or the academic who has researched the subject for the last 30 years?
This book offers an easy to understand, concise and dependable evaluation of chiropractic. It enables you to make up your own mind. I want you to take therapeutic decisions that are reasonable and based on solid evidence. My book should empower you to do just that.
When chiropractors try to play medical doctors, their patients are in danger. When they try to play epidemiologists, we might all be in danger. Already in April 2020, the Australian ‘Patrons of Chiropractic Science’ issued a press release on COVID 19 stating:
Good function of the body’s joints, particularly within the spine, may improve neurological function, which is important for an effective natural immune system. Treatment by a qualified and experienced chiropractor offers one of the most effective methods to improve and maintain good spinal joint function. The chiropractic profession attends to many patients, and like all other health workers, the profession truly cares for the welfare of every individual.
Now they have gone further. Their press release of 18/8/2020 states amongst other things:
- Approximately 1.5% of those infected with SARS-CoV-2 may die; all people with a compromised immune system, that being the aged or those suffering a co-morbidity;
- 98.5% of those infected with the COVID-19 virus suffer either no symptoms, mild symptoms or treatable symptoms no worse than seasonal influenza;
- COVID-19 positive test numbers are largely irrelevant, as 98.5% of those testing positive will simply develop natural immunity and recover as the virus moves through the population. Recent studies by the UK based Centre for Evidence Based Medicine confirms increased COVID testing is the primary reason for increased case numbers, which have little relationship to mortality. The focus on case numbers is again designed to engender public fear and compliance;
Patrons of Chiropractic Science demands that the Victorian Government and its senior health officials cease distorting facts, stop blaming Victorian non-compliance for the increased positive testing numbers, and assume full responsibility for the aged care deaths and the current economic damage.
Simple facts: it is critical and more effective to isolate and protect the high-risk groups, effectively quarantine return travellers, but cease the illogical isolation of the vast majority of the population who are not at risk as the virus naturally circulates, and allow them to recommence working to save many businesses and initiate economic recovery.
Implying that regular chiropractic manipulations improve immunity or protect people from the corona virus is bad enough. But the new press release is worse:
- It is not true that only people with impaired immune systems, of old age, or affected by other diseases die of COVID 19.
- It is not true that all of the 98.5% who do not die have treatable symptoms not worse than a flu; an undefined percentage of the survivors suffer from very severe and sometimes long-lasting conditions.
- It is not true that 98.5% of those testing positive will simply develop natural immunity and recover; many will not recover completely, and the question whether mildly affected individuals develop immunity and for how long is as yet unanswered.
- It is not true that COVID testing results are unrelated to mortality; the figures need, of course, careful interpretation; the percentage of positive tests per number of tests done, for instance, should be independent of the frequency of testing.
- It is not true that the vast majority of the population are not at risk, if the virus were to circulate naturally.
All this looks to me as though the ‘Patrons of Chiropractic Science’ are in urgent need of learning some science. Meanwhile, it would be most helpful, if they could keep quiet.
Breast cancer and its treatments lead to a decrease in patients’ quality of life (QOL). This systematic review aimed to assess the effectiveness of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) on the QOL of women with breast cancer.
A total of 28 clinical trials were included in the systematic review, 18 of which were randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Participants included women with breast cancer who were undergoing the first three phases of breast cancer or post-cancer rehabilitation. One study tested a dietary supplement, and the other 27 tested a variety of mind-body techniques (the authors counted the following modalities in this category: acupuncture, hyperthermia, movement therapy (qigong), laser therapy, orthomolecular therapy, osteopathy, phototherapy, healing touch, homeopathy, lymphatic drainage, magnet field therapy, manual therapy, neural therapy, Shiatsu). Twenty-seven studies showed improved QOL.
The authors concluded that the findings may indicate the potential benefits of SCAMs, especially mind-body techniques on QOL in breast cancer patients. Further RCTs or long-term follow-up studies are recommended. Moreover, the use of similar QOL assessment tools allows for more meta-analysis and generalizability of results, especially for the development of clinical guidelines.
This is a somewhat odd paper:
- it is poorly written,
- it lumps together SCAMs that do not belong in the same category,
- it only considered studies published in English,
- it included studies regardless of study design, even those without any control groups.
Regardless of these consideration, it stands to reason that patients’ QoL can be improved by SCAM. Only a fool would deny that a bit of extra care, kindness, attention and time is good for patients. The relevant questions, however, are quite different:
- Is this effect due to the extra attention and care or is it due to specific effects of SCAM?
- Which SCAM is best at achieving an improvement of QoL?
- Are the truly effective SCAMs better than conventional interventions aimed at improving QoL?
These are by no means academic questions but issues that need to be addressed to improve cancer care, and tackling them is in the best interest of suffering patients. Sadly, none of them can be answered by conducting poor quality systematic reviews of the evidence. Even more sadly, few of the proponents of integrated medicine want to face the music and answer these questions. They seem to prefer to stand in the way of progress, to ignore medical ethics, to blindly and naively integrate any old nonsense from the realm of SCAM (anything from homeopathy to Reiki) into routine care without probing further and without wanting to know the facts.
It is almost as though they are afraid of the truth.
I have long cautioned that chiropractic overuse of X-rays is a safety problem. Is this still an issue? A recent paper was aimed at finding out.
The objective of this review was to determine the diagnostic and therapeutic utility of routine or repeat radiographs (in the absence of red flags) of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine for the functional or structural evaluation of the spine. Investigate whether functional or structural findings on repeat radiographs are valid markers of clinically meaningful outcomes. The research objectives required that the researchers determine the validity, diagnostic accuracy and reliability of radiographs for the structural and functional evaluation of the spine.
The investigators searched MEDLINE, CINAHL, and Index to Chiropractic Literature from inception to November 25, 2019. They used rapid review methodology recommended by the World Health Organization. Eligible studies (cross-sectional, case-control, cohort, randomized controlled trials, diagnostic and reliability) were critically appraised. Studies of acceptable quality were included in our synthesis.
Twenty-three papers were critically appraised. No relevant studies assessed the clinical utility of routine or repeat radiographs (in the absence of red flags) of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine for the functional or structural evaluation of the spine. No studies investigated whether functional or structural findings on repeat radiographs are valid markers of clinically meaningful outcomes. Nine low risk of bias studies investigated the validity (n = 2) and reliability (n = 8) of routine or repeat radiographs. These studies provided no evidence of clinical utility.
The authors’ conclusions are clear: We found no evidence that the use of routine or repeat radiographs to assess the function or structure of the spine, in the absence of red flags, improves clinical outcomes and benefits patients. Given the inherent risks of ionizing radiation, we recommend that chiropractors do not use radiographs for the routine and repeat evaluation of the structure and function of the spine.
In the paper, the authors provided further valuable information and background:
In the United States in 2010, the rate of spine radiographs within 5 days of presenting to a chiropractor was 204 per 1000 new patients. An analysis of national trends in the United States suggests that the rate of spinal radiography by chiropractors and podiatrists increased by 14.4% between 2003 and 2015. This increase occurred despite the publication of several evidence-based clinical practice guidelines and clinical prediction rules to assist chiropractors in determining the indication for spine radiographs to assist with diagnosing a pathology. Overall, guidelines suggest that radiographs are indicated when signs and symptoms of potentially serious underlying pathology (red flags) are identified through the clinical history and physical examination. However, on its own, an isolated “red flag” may have a high false positive rate for the diagnosis of underlying spinal pathology, such as cancer. For example, the presence of a solitary “red flag” such as age over 50 years may not be sufficient to warrant taking spine radiographs. Therefore, clinicians are encouraged to combine sound clinical judgement and the assessment of red flags when ordering radiographs.
In the absence of “red flags”, the use of spinal radiographs is not recommended. Nevertheless, factions of chiropractors, including the International Chiropractic Association promote the use of routine or repeat radiographs to assess the structure and function of the spine. This practice which dates back to 1910 was initiated when no evidence was available to guide the judicious use of spine radiographs. Historically, these groups of chiropractors have argued that radiographs are helpful to measure postural abnormalities, identify vertebral misalignment or subluxation and guide treatment with spinal manipulative therapy. The belief that radiographs are useful to detect and correct spine structure and function provides the foundation for many chiropractic technique systems that are still in use today. To our knowledge, approximately 23 chiropractic techniques use spine radiography (including full spine radiography) to guide the clinical management of patients. These include the Gonstead, Chiropractic BioPhysics®, Toggle-Recoil, and National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA) techniques. Proponents of these techniques claim that the use of routine and repeat radiographs is supported by scientific evidence and have published a guideline to assist clinicians with the biomechanical assessment of spinal subluxation in chiropractic clinical practice using radiography. However, these claims have not yet been evaluated for their clinical utility, the benefit a patient gains from a test or treatment. This was a particular concern for the College of Chiropractors of British Columbia (CCBC) which regulates the practice of chiropractic in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The mission of the CCBC is to protect the public by regulating British Columbia’s doctors of chiropractic to ensure safe, qualified and ethical delivery of care.
The references from these two paragraphs can be found in the original paper. One reference the authors did not include was my article of 1998 which, at the time, received plenty of angry responses from chiropractors. Here is its conclusion: DATA SUGGEST AN OVERUSE OF RADIOGRAPHY BY THE CHIROPRACTIC PROFESSION. THIS CONSTITUTES A SAFETY PROBLEM THAT DESERVES TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AND REQUIRES FURTHER RESEARCH.
Twenty-two years later, do I get the impression that the chiropractic profession might not be the fastest in getting its act together?