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

clinical trial

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Sixty thousand people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) each year, making it the second most common neurodegenerative disorder. PD results in a variety of gait disturbances, including muscular rigidity and decreased range of motion (ROM), that increase the fall risk of those afflicted. Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) might address the somatic dysfunction associated with neurodegeneration in PD. Moreover, osteopathic cranial manipulative medicine (OCMM) might improve gait performance by improving circulation to the affected nervous tissue. Are these ideas realistic hypotheses or merely wishful thinking?

This study aimed to determine whether a single session of OMT or OMT + OCMM can improve the gait of individuals with PD by addressing joint restrictions in the sagittal plane and by increasing ROM in the lower limb. It was designed as a two-group, randomized controlled trial in which individuals with PD (n=45) and age-matched healthy control participants (n=45) were recruited from the community. PD participants were included if they were otherwise healthy, able to stand and walk independently, had not received OMT or physical therapy (PT) within 30 days of data collection, and had idiopathic PD in Hoehn and Yahr stages 1.0-3.0.

PD participants were randomly assigned to one of three experimental treatment protocols:

  1. a ‘whole-body’ OMT protocol (OMT-WB), which included OMT and OCMM techniques;
  2. a ‘neck-down’ OMT protocol (OMT-ND), including only OMT techniques;
  3. and a sham treatment protocol.

Control participants were age-matched to a PD participant and were provided the same OMT experimental protocol.

An 18-camera motion analysis system was utilized to capture 3-dimensional (3D) position data in a treadmill walking trial before and after the assigned treatment protocol. Pretreatment and posttreatment hip, knee, and ankle ROM were compared with paired t-tests, and joint angle waveforms during the gait cycle were analyzed with statistical parametric mapping (SPM), which is a type of waveform analysis.

Individuals with PD had significantly reduced hip and knee extension in the stance phase compared to controls (32.9-71.2% and 32.4-56.0% of the gait cycle, respectively). Individuals with PD experienced a significant increase in total sagittal hip ROM (p=0.038) following a single session of the standardized OMT-WB treatment protocol. However, waveform analysis found no significant differences in sagittal hip, knee, or ankle angles at individual points of the gait cycle following OMT-WB, OMT-ND, or sham treatment protocols.

The authors concluded that the increase in hip ROM observed following a single session of OMT-WB suggests that OCMM in conjunction with OMT may be useful for improving gait kinematics in individuals with PD. Longitudinal studies over multiple visits are needed to determine the long-term effect of regular OMT and OMT+OCMM treatments on Parkinsonian gait characteristics.

The study has many significant limitations. For instance, the hypotheses tested lack plausibility and the outcome measures are of doubtful validity. Most importantly, the observed effects are only short term and their clinical relevance is highly questionable.

Dietary supplements are touted for cognitive protection, but supporting evidence is mixed. COSMOS-Mind tested whether daily administration of cocoa extract (containing 500 mg/day flavanols) versus placebo and a commercial multivitamin-mineral (MVM) versus placebo improved cognition in older women and men.

COSMOS-Mind, a large randomized two-by-two factorial 3-year trial, assessed cognition by telephone at baseline and annually. The primary outcome was a global cognition composite formed from mean standardized (z) scores (relative to baseline) from individual tests, including the Telephone Interview of Cognitive Status, Word List and Story Recall, Oral Trail-Making, Verbal Fluency, Number Span, and Digit Ordering. Using intention-to-treat, the primary endpoint was change in this composite with 3 years of cocoa extract use. The pre-specified secondary endpoint was change in the composite with 3 years of MVM supplementation. Treatment effects were also examined for executive function and memory composite scores, and in pre-specified subgroups at higher risk for cognitive decline.

A total of 2262 participants were enrolled (mean age = 73y; 60% women; 89% non-Hispanic White), and 92% completed the baseline and at least one annual assessment. Cocoa extract had no effect on global cognition (mean z-score = 0.03, 95% CI: -0.02 to 0.08; P = .28). Daily MVM supplementation, relative to placebo, resulted in a statistically significant benefit on global cognition (mean z = 0.07, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.12; P = .007), and this effect was most pronounced in participants with a history of cardiovascular disease (no history: 0.06, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.11; history: 0.14, 95% CI -0.02 to 0.31; interaction, nominal P = .01). Multivitamin-mineral benefits were also observed for memory and executive function. The cocoa extract by MVM group interaction was not significant for any of the cognitive composites.

The authors concluded that the Cocoa extract did not benefit cognition. However, COSMOS-Mind provides the first evidence from a large, long-term, pragmatic trial to support the potential efficacy of a MVM to improve cognition in older adults. Additional work is needed to confirm these findings in a more diverse cohort and to identify mechanisms to account for MVM effects.

This trial certainly has a few stunning features. For instance, its sample size was impressive and its follow-up period long. But it also has a few weak points. The study was conducted remotely via mail or telephone which means that compliance was impossible to control. Moreover, the outcome measures were subjective, and blinding was not checked. In addition, I fail to see a plausible mechanism of action. Most importantly, the generalizability of the results to the population at large seems questionable. It might make sense that older individuals many of whom might have low vitamin levels can profit from MVM. Whether this is also true for younger people who are well-nourished might be a different matter.

Earlier this year, I started the ‘WORST PAPER OF 2022 COMPETITION’. As a competition without a prize is no fun, I am offering the winner (that is the lead author of the winning paper) one of my books that best fits his/her subject. I am sure this will overjoy him or her.

And how do we identify the winner? I will continue blogging about nominated papers (I hope to identify about 10 in total), and towards the end of the year, I let my readers decide democratically.

In this spirit of democratic voting, let me suggest to you ENTRY No 8 (it is so impressive that I must show you the unadulterated abstract):

Introduction

Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) seriously affects the quality of life of women. However, most women do not have access to effective treatment.

Aim

This study aimed to determine the feasibility and effectiveness of the use of acupuncture in FSD treatment based on existing clear acupuncture protocol and experience-supported face-to-face therapy.

Methods

A retrospective analysis was performed on 24 patients with FSD who received acupuncture from October 2018 to February 2022. The Chinese version of the female sexual function index , subjective sensation, sexual desire, sexual arousal, vaginal lubrication, orgasm, sexual satisfaction, and dyspareunia scores were compared before and after the treatment in all 24 patients.

Main Outcome Measure

A specific female sexual function index questionnaire was used to assess changes in female sexual function before and after the acupuncture treatment.

Results

In this study, the overall treatment improvement rate of FSD was 100%. The Chinese version of the female sexual function index total score, sexual desire score, sexual arousal score, vaginal lubrication score, orgasm score, sexual satisfaction score, and dyspareunia score during intercourse were significantly different before and after the treatment (P < .05). Consequently, participants reported high levels of satisfaction with acupuncture. This study indicates that acupuncture could be a new and effective technique for treating FSD. The main advantages of this study are its design and efficacy in treating FSD. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of FSD using the female sexual function index scale from 6 dimensions. The second advantage is that the method used (ie, the nonpharmacological method) is simple, readily available, highly safe with few side effects, and relatively inexpensive with high patient satisfaction. However, limitations include small sample size and lack of further detailed grouping, pre and post control study of patients, blank control group, and pre and post control study of sex hormones.

Conclusion

Acupuncture can effectively treat FSD from all dimensions with high safety, good satisfaction, and definite curative effect, and thus, it is worthy of promotion and application.

My conclusion is very different: acupuncture can effectively kill any ability for critical thinking.

I hardly need to list the flaws of this paper – they are all too obvious, e.g.:

  • there is no control group; the results might therefore be due to a host of factors that are unrelated to acupuncture,
  • the trial was too small to allow far-reaching conclusions,
  • the study does not tell us anything about the safety of acupuncture.

The authors call their investigation a ‘pilot study’. Does that excuse the flimsiness of their effort? No! A pilot study cannot draw conclusions such as the above.

What’s the harm? you might ask; nobody will ever read such rubbish and nobody will have the bizarre idea to use acupuncture for treating FSD. I’m afraid you would be wrong to argue in this way. The paper already got picked up by THE DAILY MAIL in an article entitled “Flailing libido? Acupuncture could help boost sex drive, scientists say” which was as devoid of critical thinking as the original study. Thus we can expect that hundreds of desperate women are already getting needled and ripped off as we speak. And in any case, offensively poor science is always harmful; it undermines public trust in research (and it renders acupuncture research the laughing stock of serious scientists).

 

This study aimed to evaluate the efficacy of Persian barley water in controlling the clinical outcomes of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. It was designed as a single-blind, add-on therapy, randomized controlled clinical trial and conducted in Shiraz, Iran, from January to March 2021. One hundred hospitalized COVID-19 patients with moderate disease severity were randomly allocated to receive routine treatment (per local protocols) with or without 250 ml of Persian barley water (PBW) daily for two weeks. Clinical outcomes and blood tests were recorded before and after the study period. Multivariable modeling was applied using Stata software for data analysis.

The length of hospital stay (LHS) was 4.5 days shorter in the intervention group than the control group regardless of history of cigarette smoking (95% confidence interval: -7.22, -1.79 days). Also, body temperature, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), and creatinine significantly dropped in the intervention group compared to the control group. No adverse events related to PBW occurred.

The authors from the Department of Traditional Medicine, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran, concluded that this clinical trial demonstrated the efficacy of PBW in minimizing the LHS, fever, and levels of ESR, CRP, and creatinine among hospitalized COVID-19 patients with moderate disease severity. More robust trials can help find safe and effective herbal formulations as treatments for COVID-19.

I must admit, I did not know about PBW. The authors explain that PBW is manufactured from Hordeum vulgare via a specific procedure. According to recent studies, barley is rich in constituents such as selenium, tocotrienols, phytic acid, catechin, lutein, vitamin E, and vitamin C; these compounds are responsible for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Barley grains also have immune-stimulating effects, antioxidant properties, protective effects on the liver and digestive systems, anti-cancer effects, and act to reduce uric acid levels.

But even if these effects would constitute a plausible mechanism for explaining the observed effects (which I do not think they do), the study itself is more than flimsy.

I do not understand why researchers investigating an important issue do not make sure that their study is as rigorous as possible.

  • Why not use an adequately large sample size?
  • Why not employ a placebo?
  • Why not double-blind?
  • Why not report the most important outcome, i.e. mortality?

As it stands, nobody will take this study seriously. Perhaps this is a good thing – but perhaps PBW does have positive effects (I know it’s a long shot) and, in this case, a poor-quality study would only prevent an effective therapy come to light.

Osteopathic tradition in the cranial field (OCF) postulates that the primary respiratory mechanism (PRM) relies on the anatomical links between the occiput and sacrum. Few studies investigated this relationship with inconsistent results. No studies investigated the occiput-sacrum connection from a neurophysiological perspective.

This study aims to determine whether the sacral technique (ST), compared to the compression of the fourth ventricle (CV4) technique, can affect brain alpha-band power (AABP) as an indicator of a neurophysiological connection between the occiput and sacrum.

Healthy students, 22-30 years old for men and 20-30 years old for women, were enrolled in the study and randomized into eight intervention groups. Each group received a combination of active techniques (CV4 or ST) and the corresponding sham techniques (sham compression of the fourth ventricle [sCV4] or sham sacral technique [sST] ), organized in two experimental sessions divided by a 4 h washout period. AABP was continuously recorded by electroencephalogram (EEG) of the occipital area in the first 10 min of resting state, during each intervention (active technique time) and after 10 min (post-active technique time), for a total of approximately 50 min per session. Analysis was carried out utilizing a repeated-measure ANOVA within the linear general model framework, consisting of a within-subject factor of time and a within-subject factor of treatment (CV4/ST).

Forty healthy volunteers (mean age ± SD, 23.73±1.43 years; range, 21-26 years; 16 male and 24 female) were enrolled in the study and completed the study protocol. ANOVA revealed a time × treatment interaction effect statistically significant (F=791.4; p<0.001). A particularly high increase in mean AABP magnitude was recorded during the 10 min post-CV4, compared to both the CV4 and post-sCV4 application (p<0.001). During all the times analyzed for ST and sST application, no statistically significant differences were registered with respect to the resting state.

The authors concluded that the ST does not produce immediate changes on occipital AABP brain activity. CV4, as previous evidence supported, generates immediate effects, suggesting that a different biological basis for OCF therapy’s connection between the head and sacrum should be explored.

Why on earth should a different biological mechanism be explored? Why not conclude that OCF and its assumptions are pure nonsense?

The answer to these questions is not difficult to find: the authors are from the ‘Istituto Superiore di Osteopatia, Milan, Italy’! One can understand that, at this institution, people are unlikely to agree with my conclusion that OCF is based on absurd concepts and does not merit further research.

Developing interventions against age-related memory decline and for older adults experiencing neurodegenerative disease is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our generation. Spermidine supplementation has shown beneficial effects on brain and cognitive health in animal models, and there has been preliminary evidence of memory improvement in individuals with subjective cognitive decline.

This randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled phase 2b trial was aimed at determining the effect of longer-term spermidine supplementation on memory performance and biomarkers in this at-risk group. The study was a monocenter trial carried out at an academic clinical research center in Germany. Eligible individuals were aged 60 to 90 years with subjective cognitive decline who were recruited from health care facilities as well as through advertisements in the general population.

One hundred participants were randomly assigned (1:1 ratio) to 12 months of dietary supplementation with either a spermidine-rich dietary supplement extracted from wheat germ (0.9 mg spermidine/d) or placebo (microcrystalline cellulose). Eighty-nine participants (89%) successfully completed the trial. The primary outcome was change in memory performance from baseline to 12-month postintervention assessment (intention-to-treat analysis), operationalized by mnemonic discrimination performance assessed by the Mnemonic Similarity Task. Secondary outcomes included additional neuropsychological, behavioral, and physiological parameters. Safety was assessed in all participants and exploratory per-protocol, as well as subgroup, analyses were performed.

A total of 100 participants (51 in the spermidine group and 49 in the placebo group) were included in the analysis (mean [SD] age, 69 [5] years; 49 female participants [49%]). Over 12 months, no significant changes were observed in mnemonic discrimination performance (between-group difference, -0.03; 95% CI, -0.11 to 0.05; P = .47) and secondary outcomes. Exploratory analyses indicated possible beneficial effects of the intervention on inflammation and verbal memory. Adverse events were balanced between groups.

The authors concluded that in this randomized clinical trial, longer-term spermidine supplementation in participants with subjective cognitive decline did not modify memory and biomarkers compared with placebo. Exploratory analyses indicated possible beneficial effects on verbal memory and inflammation that need to be validated in future studies at higher dosage.

The absence of an effect might have, according to the authors, two reasons.

  1. The daily dose of 0.9 mg spermidine might not have been sufficient to achieve strong effects on memory function and biomarkers in cognitively healthy older individuals.
  2. The supplementation with dietary spermidine might not act as a memory booster, but rather prevent age-related memory impairment and development of AD, a possibility supported by evidence from animal studies.

I am tempted to add a third one: spermidine might not be effective at all for this indication (or any other condition)!

According to the authors of this study, research is lacking regarding osteopathic approaches in treating polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), one of the prevailing endocrine abnormalities in reproductive-aged women. Limited movement of pelvic organs can result in functional and structural deficits, which can be resolved by applying visceral manipulation (VM). Already with these two introductory sentences, I have problems. But for the moment, we can leave this aside and have a look at their trial.

The study was aimed at analyzing the effect of VM on dysmenorrhea, irregular, delayed, and/or absent menses, and premenstrual symptoms in PCOS patients.

Thirty Egyptian women with PCOS, with menstruation-related complaints and free from systematic diseases and/or adrenal gland abnormalities, prospectively participated in a single-blinded, randomized controlled trial. They were recruited from the women’s health outpatient clinic in the faculty of physical therapy at Cairo University, with an age of 20-34 years, and a body mass index (BMI) ≥25, <30 kg/m2. Patients were randomly allocated into two equal groups (15 patients); the control group received a low-calorie diet for 3 months, and the study group received the same hypocaloric diet plus VM to the pelvic organs and their related structures, according to assessment findings, for eight sessions over 3 months. Evaluations for body weight, BMI, and menstrual problems were done by weight-height scale, and menstruation-domain of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Health-Related Quality of Life Questionnaire (PCOSQ), respectively, at baseline and after 3 months of treatments.

A total of 30 patients were included, with baseline mean age, weight, BMI, and menstruation domain score of 27.5 ± 2.2 years, 77.7 ± 4.3 kg, 28.6 ± 0.7 kg/m2, and 3.4 ± 1.0, respectively, for the control group, and 26.2 ± 4.7 years, 74.6 ± 3.5 kg, 28.2 ± 1.1 kg/m2, and 2.9 ± 1.0, respectively, for the study group. Of the 15 patients in the study group, uterine adhesions were found in 14 patients (93.3%), followed by restricted uterine mobility in 13 patients (86.7%), restricted ovarian/broad ligament mobility (9, 60%), and restricted motility (6, 40%). At baseline, there was no significant difference (p>0.05) in any of the demographics (age, height), or dependent variables (weight, BMI, menstruation domain score) among both groups. Post-study, there was a statistically significant reduction (p=0.000) in weight, and BMI mean values for the diet group (71.2 ± 4.2 kg, and 26.4 ± 0.8 kg/m2, respectively) and the diet + VM group (69.2 ± 3.7 kg; 26.1 ± 0.9 kg/m2, respectively). For the improvement in the menstrual complaints, a significant increase (p<0.05) in the menstruation domain mean score was shown in the diet group (3.9 ± 1.0), and the diet + VM group (4.6 ± 0.5). On comparing both groups post-study, there was a statistically significant improvement (p=0.024) in the severity of menstruation-related problems in favor of the diet + VM group.

The authors concluded that VM yielded greater improvement in menstrual pain, irregularities, and premenstrual symptoms in PCOS patients when added to caloric restriction than utilizing the low-calorie diet alone in treating that condition.

VM involves the manual manipulation by a therapist of internal organs, blood vessels and nerves (the viscera) mostly from outside the body, but sometimes, the therapist also puts his/her fingers into the patient’s vagina. It was developed by the osteopath Jean-Piere Barral. He stated that through his clinical work with thousands of patients, he created this modality based on organ-specific fascial mobilization. And through work in a dissection lab, he was able to experiment with visceral manipulation techniques and see the internal effects of the manipulations. According to its proponents, visceral manipulation is based on the specific placement of soft manual forces looking to encourage the normal mobility, tone, and motion of the viscera and their connective tissues. The idea is that these gentle manipulations may potentially improve the functioning of individual organs, the systems the organs function within, and the structural integrity of the entire body.

I don’t see any reason to believe the concepts of VM are plausible. Thus I find the hypothesis of this trial extremely far-fetched. The results are equally unconvincing. As we have often discussed, the ‘A+B vs B’ design cannot prove a causal relationship between the intervention and the outcome.

The most likely explanation for the findings is that the patients receiving VM experienced or merely reported improvements because the extra attention of mildly invasive treatments produced a powerful placebo effect. To put it bluntly: this is a poor, arguably unethical study where over-enthusiastic researchers reach a conclusion that is not supported by the data.

Many older adults commonly take multivitamin-multimineral (MVM) supplements to promote health. Yet, evidence on the use of daily MVMs on invasive cancer is limited. 

The objective of this study was therefore to determine if a daily MVM decreases total invasive cancer among older adults. For this purpose,  a team of researchers performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, 2-by-2 factorial trial of a daily MVM and cocoa extract for prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD) among 21,442 US adults (12,666 women aged ≥65 y and 8776 men aged ≥60 y) free of major CVD and recently diagnosed cancer. The intervention phase was from June 2015 through December 2020. This article reports on the MVM intervention.

Participants were randomly assigned to daily MVM or placebo. The primary outcome was total invasive cancer, excluding nonmelanoma skin cancer. Secondary outcomes included major site-specific cancers, total CVD, all-cause mortality, and total cancer risk among those with a baseline history of cancer.

During a median follow-up of 3.6 y, invasive cancer occurred in 518 participants in the MVM group and 535 participants in the placebo group (HR: 0.97; 95% CI: 0.86, 1.09; P = 0.57). No significant effect was observed of a daily MVM on breast cancer (HR: 1.06; 95% CI: 0.79, 1.42) or colorectal cancer (HR: 1.30; 95% CI: 0.80, 2.12). The researchers observed a protective effect of a daily MVM on lung cancer (HR: 0.62; 95% CI: 0.42, 0.92). The composite CVD outcome occurred in 429 participants in the MVM group and 437 participants in the placebo group (HR: 0.98; 95% CI: 0.86, 1.12). MVM use did not significantly affect all-cause mortality (HR: 0.93; 95% CI: 0.81, 1.08). There were no safety concerns.

The authors concluded that a daily MVM supplement, compared with placebo, did not significantly reduce the incidence of total cancer among older men and women. Future studies are needed to determine the effects of MVMs on other aging-related outcomes among older adults.

This is an excellent and important study with clear findings. Nevertheless, the authors insist that several limitations should be considered. First, the COSMOS intervention was relatively short to detect a potential small-to-moderate effect on cancer outcomes given the long duration of time typically required for nutritional interventions to potentially reduce cancer risk. Second, the secondary and exploratory analyses should be interpreted with caution, especially given an overall lack of effect of an MVM on the primary outcome of total invasive cancer. Third, the authors successfully leveraged existing cohorts with mass mailings to expedite recruitment and randomization of 21,442 participants into COSMOS. However, generalizability may be limited, with modest diversity of 10% non-Whites and 2.6% Hispanics plus healthy volunteer bias for participants willing and eligible to enroll in a mail-based clinical trial.

Despite considerable doubts about its effectiveness, osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) continues to be used for a range of pediatric conditions. Here is just one example of many osteopaths advertising their services:

I qualified as an Osteopath in 2009 after 4 years of intensive training from the British College of Osteopathic medicine, where I received a distinction for my efforts. After having two children I decided to do a 2-year Postgraduate training in Pediatric Osteopathy from the Osteopathic Centre for Children in London. Whilst at the centre I was lucky enough to meet a wide variety of children from premature babies in a Neonate Hospital ward to children with developmental issues and disabilities, children on the Autistic spectrum, to kids doing exams or experiencing high levels of stress. We also saw lots of children with normal coughs, colds, lumps and bumps.

And the ‘Institute of Osteopathy states this:

Parents visit osteopaths for a range of reasons to support their child’s health. Children, like adults, can be affected by general joint and muscle issues, which is one of the reasons people visit an osteopath. Parents will also take their children to visit an osteopath for a variety of other health reasons that may benefit from osteopathic care.

As osteopathic care is based on the individual needs of the patient, it will vary depending on your child’s age and the diagnosis. Osteopaths generally use a wide range of gentle hands-on techniques that focus on releasing tension, improving mobility and optimising function. This is often used together with exercise and helpful advice. Some osteopaths have been trained in very gentle techniques which are particularly suitable to assess and treat very young children, including new-borns. You do not need to consult your GP before you visit an osteopath, although you may wish to do so.

So, how good or bad is osteopathy for kids? Our systematic review wanted to find out. Specifically, the aim of this paper is to update our previous systematic review (SR) initially published in 2013 by critically evaluating the evidence for or against this treatment.

Eleven databases were searched (January 2012 to November 2021). Only randomized clinical trials (RCTs) of OMT in pediatric patients compared with any type of controls were considered. The Cochrane risk-of-bias tool was used. In addition, the quality of the evidence was rated using Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) criteria, as recommended by the Cochrane Collaboration.

Thirteen trials met the eligibility criteria, of which four could be subjected to a meta-analysis. The findings show that, in preterm infants, OMT has little or no effect on reducing the length of hospital stay (standardized mean difference (SMD) -0.03; 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.44 to 0.39; very low certainty of the evidence) when compared with usual care alone. Only one study (8.3%) was judged to have a low risk of bias and showed no effects of OMT on improving exclusive breastfeeding at one month. The methodological quality of RCTs published since 2013 has improved. However, adverse effects remain poorly reported.

We concluded that the quality of the primary trials of OMT has improved during recent years. However, the quality of the totality of the evidence remains low or very low. Therefore, the effectiveness of OMT for selected pediatric populations remains unproven.

These days, it is not often that I am the co-author of a systematic review. So, allow me to discuss one of my own papers for a change by making a few very brief points:

  • Considering how many osteopaths treat children, the fact that only 13 trials exist is shameful. To me, it suggests that the osteopathic profession has little interest in research.
  • The finding that adverse effects are poorly reported is even more shameful, in my view. It suggests that the few osteopaths who do some research don’t mind violating research ethics.
  • The fact that overall our review fails to yield good evidence that osteopathy is effective for any pediatric condition is the most shameful finding of them all. It means that osteopaths are either not informed about the evidence for their own approach, or that they are informed but don’t give a hoot and treat kids regardless. In both cases, they behave unethically.

Placebo effects are a fascinating subject. In so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), they are particularly important because much of SCAM seems to rely on little more than placebo effects. Therefore, I think this new paper is of some relevance to us.

The aim of this systematic review was to quantify the placebo effect of intraarticular injections for knee osteoarthritis in terms of pain, function, and objective outcomes. Factors influencing placebo effect were investigated.

The authors concluded that the placebo effect of knee injections is significant, with functional improvements lasting even longer than those reported for pain perception. The high, long-lasting, and heterogeneous effects on the scales commonly used in clinical trials further highlight that the impact of placebo should not be overlooked in the research on and management of knee osteoarthritis.

The authors furthermore confirmed that “the main finding of this meta-analysis is that placebo is an important component of the effect of injective treatments for patients with KOA, with saline injections being able to provide relevant and long-lasting results not only in terms of pain relief but also with respect to stiffness resolution and function improvement. These results are both statistically and clinically significant and can be perceived by patients up to 6 months.”

I would dispute that!

To explain why it might help to read our 1995 BMJ paper on the subject:

We often and wrongly equate the response seen in the placebo arm of a clinical trial with the placebo effect. In order to obtain the true placebo effect, other non-specific effects can be identified by including an untreated control group in clinical trials. A review of the literature shows that most authors confuse the perceived placebo effect with the true placebo effect. The true placebo effect is highly variable, depending on several factors that are not fully understood. A distinction between the perceived and the true placebo effects would be helpful in understanding the complex phenomena involved in a placebo response.

In other words, what the authors picked up in their analysis (i.e. the changes that occurred in the placebo groups between the start of a trial and after placebo application) is not just the placebo response; it is, in fact, a combination of a placebo effect, concomitant interventions/care, regression towards the mean, natural history of the condition and possibly other factors.

Does it matter?

Yes, it does!

Placebo effects are not nearly as powerful and long-lasting as the authors conclude. And this means virtually all their implications for clinical practice are incorrect.

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