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

cult

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In 2007, we published a systematic review summarizing the efficacy of homeopathic remedies used as a sole or additional therapy in cancer care. We have searched the literature using the databases: Amed (from 1985); CINHAL (from 1982); EMBASE (from 1974); Medline (from 1951); and CAMbase (from 1998). Randomized and non-randomized controlled clinical trials including patients with cancer or past experience of cancer receiving single or combined homeopathic interventions were included. The methodological quality of the trials was assessed by Jadad score. Six studies met our inclusion criteria (five were randomized clinical trials and one was a non-randomized study); but the methodological quality was variable including some high-standard studies. Our analysis of published literature on homeopathy thus found insufficient evidence to support the clinical efficacy of homeopathic therapy in cancer care.

Meanwhile, more trials have emerged, not least a dubious study by Frass et al which is currently under investigation. This means that a new evaluation of the totality of the available evidence might be called for. I am pleased to report that such an assessment has just been published.

In this systematic review, the researchers included clinical studies from 1800 until 2020 to evaluate evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathy on physical and mental conditions in patients during oncological treatment.

In February 2021 a systematic search was conducted searching five electronic databases (Embase, Cochrane, PsychInfo, CINAHL, and Medline) to find studies concerning the use, effectiveness, and potential harm of homeopathy in cancer patients.

From all 1352 search results, 18 studies with 2016 patients were included in this SR. The patients treated with homeopathy were mainly diagnosed with breast cancer. The therapy concepts include single and combination homeopathic remedies (used systemically or as mouth rinses) of various dilutions. Outcomes assessed were the influence on toxicity of cancer treatment (mostly hot flashes and menopausal symptoms), time to drain-removal in breast cancer patients after mastectomy, survival, quality of life, global health and subjective well-being, anxiety, and depression as well as safety and tolerance.

The included studies reported heterogeneous results: some studies described significant differences in quality of life or toxicity of cancer treatment favoring homeopathy, whereas others did not find an effect or reported significant differences to the disadvantage of homeopathy or side effects caused by homeopathy. The majority of the studies have low methodological quality.

The authors concluded that, for homeopathy, there is neither a scientifically based hypothesis of its mode of action nor conclusive evidence from clinical studies in cancer care.

I predict that, if we wait another 15 years, we will have even more studies. I also predict that some of them will be less than reliable or even fake. Finally, I predict that the overall result will still be mixed and unconvincing.

Why can I be so sure?

  1. Because homeopathy lacks biological plausibility as a treatment of cancer (or any other condition).
  2. Because highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos.
  3. Because homeopathy has developed into a cult where one is no longer surprised to see studies emerging that are too good to be true.

I only now learned of the death of one of the most bizarre proponents that the cult of homeopathy has ever produced in its 200-year history. From his official obituary, one would not suspect much weirdness:

John R. Benneth obituary, 1952-2021, Portland, OR
John R. Benneth passed away Nov. 9, 2021 in Chico, Calif., after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

John shepherded the Pixieland Theatre in Lincoln City for many years, writing, directing, and acting in plays that kept audiences coming back. He appeared often on stage in Portland and became a familiar face in local and national commercials. In the mid-1980s he was the host, writer, and creative force behind The Portland Underground, a weekly, live, late-night local access show. He gave many local actors a chance to stretch their improv talents on that and his earlier show, Mysterious Planet. His was the voice of both Portland Talk Radio’s controversial Jack Hammer, and Kandu the Mystic. He later performed regularly as Mark Twain in Virginia City, Nev., and on cruises on Lake Tahoe. John started working as a private investigator in Portland in 1978, and in 1982, he founded the National Missing Children’s Locate Center, helping parents to find their children across the U.S. He later became internationally known for his research into and advocacy for Homeopathic Medicine and was invited to present a treatise on the subject at London’s Oxford University in 2010.
John was a member of both Hawthorne and Washington Masonic lodges and the Scottish Rite of Portland.
He was preceded in death by his parents, John and Bettiana Benneth; and by his wife, Catherine Benneth. He is survived by his brother, David; and his four sons, Horatio, Merlin, Cyrano and Evan.

The ‘Bolen report’ offers a little more, albeit weirdly unreliable information:

John Benneth, PG Hom.- London (Hons) is the renowned discoverer of the link between Homeopathy and Conventional Ionic Chemistry.

The first to accept a notorious challenge to Homeopathy, he forced the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), in 1999, to back down from a spurious offer to award $1,000,000 for a test identifying homeopathic solutes from their liquid aqueous vehicles.

In 2010, by invitation of Nobel laureate physicist Brian Josephson at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, he presented the Supramolecular Chemistry of the Homeopathic Remedy revealing structural changes and the physics of hydrolysis and molecular self assembling chain reactions.

He is the author of Ebola Prophylaxis and Cure detailing the use of FDA approved homeopathic pharmaceuticals in the treatment of hemorrhagic fevers, presented in advance of the reported successful use of homeopathic remedies to cure Ebola.

He is a proponent for the use of homeopathic pharmaceuticals to cure sepsis and other dire conditions for conventional use in hospital emergency and intensive care, and the Ionic Vaccine for the safe and effective non-molecular prevention of epidemic diseases.

To estimate the true extent of Benneth’s eccentricity, we need to read some of the posts by John himself johnbenneth.wordpress.com. Alternatively, we might access some of his appearances on youtube, quackometer, or even just a post I published several years ago.

I am sad that John is gone. I always thought he was mad like a hatter, but he had me in stitches whenever our paths crossed.

Quackademia is a lovely term for describing quackery at the academic level. The name may be amusing but the phenomenon isn’t. And this seems to be nowhere more true than in the US. The Certificate in Holistic Health and Healing Arts (HHHA) at the University of New Mexico allegedly “lays the groundwork for careers in holistic health and the healing arts while familiarizing students with practices that promote self-healing, longevity, and vitality.” To me, it seems to be a prime example of quackademia. Here is a selection of the courses offered by the HHHA:

INTRODUCTION TO HEALING ARTS

HHHA 101 (3 credits)

This entirely-online class grounds students in the foundation of Holistic Health and Healing Arts, introducing a wide range of healing modalities so that students can discover what works best for them. Often offered in Fall semester and asynchronously online.

This course is required for the HHHA Certificate.

MEDITATION, CONSCIOUSNESS, and SELF-HEALING

HHHA 102 (3 credits)

This course invites students to explore the deeply rejuvenating effects of meditation and mindfulness.  Often offered fall semester.

This course is required for the HHHA Certificate. 

HATHA YOGA

HHHA 104 (3 credits)

Students practice of fundamental and accessible asanas and discuss philosophy and ethics through the lens of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. Students will also lead practices and discussions of their choosing. Often offered in spring.

This course is required for the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Diploma.

TAI-JI/QIGONG

HHHA 105 (3 credits)

Students practice meditative movements that restore vitality, improve balance, increase strength and promote the wellbeing of mind, body, and spirit. Often offered over Summer semester.

YOGA FOR WELLNESS

HHHA 110 (1-3 Credits)

This beginner-friendly movement class will focus on stress reduction, flexibility, and general wellbeing. Offered varying semesters, usually face-to-face.

INTRODUCTION TO ORIENTAL MEDICINE

HHHA 116 (3 credits)

This class illuminates the fundamentals of this ancient system of medicine which emphasizes the interconnectedness of the body and the world. Often offered in Fall semester.

DREAMS, VISIONS, AND ARTMAKING

HHHA 117 (3 credits)

Students are led on a journey of self-discovery through guided visualizations. The images and intuition students tap into serve as fodder for their own creative work. Often offered in Fall semester, face-to-face.

AYURVEDA

HHHA 118 (3 credits)

This class introduces the ancient Indian healing modality called “The Science of Life” and guides students to an awareness of their constitutions (doshas). Students learn the nutritional and lifestyle approaches that can help create greater energetic balance. Often offered in Fall semester.

YOGA STYLES AND SAFETY

HHHA 120 (3 credits)

This class explores the different styles of yoga as well as ways of sequencing and cuing poses. Students show their understanding of class concepts through practice teaching. Often offered in Fall semester.

This course is required for the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Diploma.

YOGA FOR COMMON CONDITIONS

HHHA 121

 (3 credits)

The class will prepare future yoga teachers and/or interested yoga students to design classes for themselves and others that safely accommodate many underlying injuries and conditions, observing, in the process, that a class that accommodates students with underlying conditions is a class for everyone. Often offered in Fall semester.

This course is required for the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Diploma.

REIKI HEALING I

HHHA 146 (3 credits)

This introduction to energy work helps students to develop their energetic sensitivity and spiritual awareness while learning hands-on and intention-based techniques that encourage bodies to heal themselves. Often offered in Fall semester, face-to-face.

REIKI HEALING II

HHHA 147 (3 credits)

This class builds on the principles introduced in Reiki Healing I. Often offered in Fall semester, face-to-face.

INTRODUCTION TO HOMEOPATHY

HHHA 148 (3 credits)

Students learn the philosophical underpinnings and practical applications of homeopathy, a complete therapeutic system of medicine that aims to promote general health and reinforce the body’s own natural healing capacity. Often offered in Spring semester and asynchronously online.

YOGA AND PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CHAKRAS

HHHA 263 (3 credits)

Guided by Anodea Judith’s seminal Eastern Body, Western Mind, students explore the energetics as well as the biomechanics and alignment of the body chakra by chakra. Students will show their mastery of the concepts covered through practice teaching and reflective written assignments. May be offered spring or fall.

This course is required for the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Diploma.

This amount of cheer nonsense taught at the university level beats everything I have seen before. Perhaps it is not that unusual in the US, yet after having been a university professor in three European countries, I find it truly baffling. Call me old-fashioned, but I had always assumed that the educational function of universities was about teaching knowledge and facts rather than myths and delusions. Universities must be the guardians of reason, not its destructors! How long will it be, I ask myself, until the first US university introduces a course in the design of flying carpets or a diploma in telekinesis?

When I first saw this, I was expecting something like If Homeopathy Beats Science (Mitchell and Webb) – YouTube : videos (reddit.com). But no, “Acute Care Homeopathy for Medical Professionals” is not a masterpiece by gifted satirists. It is much better; it is for real! In fact, it is a collaboration between the “Academy of Homeopathy Education” (AHE) and the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH). Together, they published the following announcement:

AHE and AIH are pleased to present a customized educational program designed for busy medical professionals interested in enhancing their practice and expanding the treatment tools available with Homeopathy. Grounded in the original theory and philosophy of Homeopathy, AHE’s quality curriculum empowers practitioners and the material’s inspirational delivery encourages further study towards the mastery of Homeopathy for chronic care.

This course is open to all licensed healthcare providers— medical, osteopathic, naturopathic, dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians, nurse practitioners, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacologists and pharmacists.

Acute-care homeopathy addresses the challenges of 21st-century medical practice.

Among many things, you’ll learn safe and effective ways to manage pain and mitigate antibiotic overuse with FDA-regulated and approved Homeopathic remedies. AHE delivers an integrated learning experience that combines online real-time classroom experiences culminating in a telehealth based clinical internship allowing participants to study from anywhere in the world.

AHE’s team of Homeopathy experts have taught thousands of students around the globe and are known for unparalleled academic rigor, comprehensive clinical training, and robust research initiatives. AHE ensures that every graduate develops the necessary critical thinking skills in homeopathy case taking, analysis, and prescribing to succeed in practice with confidence and competence.

  • Smart and savvy tech support team helps to on-board and train even the most reticent digital participants
  • Academic support professionals provide an educational safety-net
  • Stellar faculty to inspire confidence and encourage students to achieve their best work
  • “Fireside Chats,” forums, and social gatherings build community
  • Tried and true administrative systems keep things running smoothly so you can focus on learning Homeopathy.

All AHE students receive Radar Opus, the leading software package used by professional homeopaths worldwide.

Upon completion of the didactic program, practitioners begin an Acute Care Internship through AHE and the Homeopathy Help Network’s Acute Care Telehealth Clinic “Homeopathy Help Now” (HHN) which sees thousands of cases each year. Upon successful completion of the internship, practitioners will be invited to participate in ongoing supervised practice through HHN.

AHE is part of a larger vision to shape the future of Homeopathy: HOHM Foundation and the Homeopathy Help NetworkAll clinical services are delivered in an education and research-driven model. HOHM’s Office of Research has multiple peer-reviewed publications focused on education, practice, and clinical outcomes. HOHM is committed to funding Homeopathy study and research at every level.

The Academy of Homeopathy Education (AHE) operates in conjunction with HOHM Foundation, a 501c3 initiative committed to education, advocacy, and access. The Homeopathy Help Network is a telehealth clinic providing fee-for-service chronic care as well as donation-based acute care through Homeopathy Help Now.

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I suspect you simply cannot wait to enroll. To learn more about “Acute Care Homeopathy for Medical Professionals” please fill out the form.

… and don’t forget to pay the fee of US$ 5 500.

No, it’s not expensive, if you think about it. After all, acute-care homeopathy addresses the challenges of 21st-century medical practice.

Today is WORLD ASTHMA DAY, a good opportunity perhaps to revisit a few of our own evaluations of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for asthma. Here are the abstracts of some of our systematic reviews on the subject:

YOGA

Objective: The objective of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness of yoga as a treatment option for asthma.

Method: Seven databases were searched from their inception to October 2010. Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) and non-randomized clinical trials (NRCTs) were considered, if they investigated any type of yoga in patients with asthma. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers.

Results: Six RCTs and one NRCT met the inclusion criteria. Their methodological quality was mostly poor. Three RCTs and one NRCT suggested that yoga leads to a significantly greater reduction in spirometric measures, airway hyperresponsivity, dose of histamine needed to provoke a 20% reduction in forced expiratory volume in the first second, weekly number of asthma attacks, and need for drug treatment. Three RCTs showed no positive effects compared to various control interventions.

Conclusions: The belief that yoga alleviates asthma is not supported by sound evidence. Further, more rigorous trials are warranted.

SPINAL MANIPULATION

Some clinicians believe that spinal manipulation is an effective treatment for asthma. The aim of this systematic review was to critically evaluate the evidence for or against this claim. Four electronic databases were searched without language restrictions from their inceptions to September 2008. Bibliographies and departmental files were hand-searched. The methodological quality of all included studies was assessed with the Jadad score. Only randomised clinical trials of spinal manipulation as a treatment of asthma were included. Three studies met these criteria. All of them were of excellent methodological quality (Jadad score 5) and all used sham-manipulation as the control intervention. None of the studies showed that real manipulation was more effective than sham-manipulation in improving lung function or subjective symptoms. It is concluded that, according to the evidence of the most rigorous studies available to date, spinal manipulation is not an effective treatment for asthma.

ACUPUNCTURE

Contradictory results from randomised controlled trials of acupuncture in asthma suggest both a beneficial and detrimental effect. The authors conducted a formal systematic review and meta-analysis of all randomised clinical trials in the published literature that have compared acupuncture at real and placebo points in asthma patients. The authors searched for trials published in the period 1970-2000. Trials had to measure at least one of the following objective outcomes: peak expiratory flow rate, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity. Estimates of the standarised mean difference, between acupuncture and placebo were computed for each trial and combined to estimate the overall effect. Hetereogeneity was investigated in terms of the characteristics of the individual studies. Twelve trials met the inclusion criteria but data from one could not be obtained. Individual patient data were available in only three. Standardised differences between means ranging from 0.071 to 0.133, in favour of acupuncture, were obtained. The overall effect was not conventionally significant and it corresponds to an approximate difference in FEV1 means of 1.7. After exploring hetereogenenity, it was found that studies where bronchoconstriction was induced during the experiment showed a conventionally significant effect. This meta-analysis did not find evidence of an effect of acupuncture in reducing asthma. However, the meta-analysis was limited by shortcomings of the individual trials, in terms of sample size, missing information, adjustment of baseline characteristics and a possible bias against acupuncture introduced by the use of placebo points that may not be completely inactive. There was a suggestion of preferential publication of trials in favour of acupuncture. There is an obvious need to conduct a full-scale randomised clinical trial addressing these limitations and the prognostic value of the aetiology of the disease.

RELAXATION THERAPIES

Background: Emotional stress can either precipitate or exacerbate both acute and chronic asthma. There is a large body of literature available on the use of relaxation techniques for the treatment of asthma symptoms. The aim of this systematic review was to determine if there is any evidence for or against the clinical efficacy of such interventions.

Methods: Four independent literature searches were performed on Medline, Cochrane Library, CISCOM, and Embase. Only randomised clinical trials (RCTs) were included. There were no restrictions on the language of publication. The data from trials that statistically compared the treatment group with that of the control were extracted in a standardised predefined manner and assessed critically by two independent reviewers.

Results: Fifteen trials were identified, of which nine compared the treatment group with the control group appropriately. Five RCTs tested progressive muscle relaxation or mental and muscular relaxation, two of which showed significant effects of therapy. One RCT investigating hypnotherapy, one of autogenic training, and two of biofeedback techniques revealed no therapeutic effects. Overall, the methodological quality of the studies was poor.

Conclusions: There is a lack of evidence for the efficacy of relaxation therapies in the management of asthma. This deficiency is due to the poor methodology of the studies as well as the inherent problems of conducting such trials. There is some evidence that muscular relaxation improves lung function of patients with asthma but no evidence for any other relaxation technique.

HERBAL MEDICINE

Background: Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in modern society and there is increasing evidence to suggest that its incidence and severity are increasing. There is a high prevalence of usage of complementary medicine for asthma. Herbal preparations have been cited as the third most popular complementary treatment modality by British asthma sufferers. This study was undertaken to determine if there is any evidence for the clinical efficacy of herbal preparations for the treatment of asthma symptoms.

Methods: Four independent literature searches were performed on Medline, Pubmed, Cochrane Library, and Embase. Only randomised clinical trials were included. There were no restrictions on the language of publication. The data were extracted in a standardised, predefined manner and assessed critically.

Results: Seventeen randomised clinical trials were found, six of which concerned the use of traditional Chinese herbal medicine and eight described traditional Indian medicine, of which five investigated Tylophora indica. Three other randomised trials tested a Japanese Kampo medicine, marihuana, and dried ivy leaf extract. Nine of the 17 trials reported a clinically relevant improvement in lung function and/or symptom scores.

Conclusions: No definitive evidence for any of the herbal preparations emerged. Considering the popularity of herbal medicine with asthma patients, there is urgent need for stringently designed clinically relevant randomised clinical trials for herbal preparations in the treatment of asthma.

BREATHING TECHNIQUES

Breathing techniques are used by a large proportion of asthma sufferers. This systematic review was aimed at determining whether or not these interventions are effective. Four independent literature searches identified six randomized controlled trials. The results of these studies are not uniform. Collectively the data imply that physiotherapeutic breathing techniques may have some potential in benefiting patients with asthma. The safety issue has so far not been addressed satisfactorily. It is concluded that too few studies have been carried out to warrant firm judgements. Further rigorous trials should be carried out in order to redress this situation.

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So, if you suffer from asthma, my advice is to stay away from SCAM. This might be easier said than done because SCAM practitioners are only too willing to lure asthma patients into their cult. In 2003, we have demonstrated this phenomenon by conducting a survey with chiropractors. Here is our short paper in full:

Classic chiropractic theory claims that vertebral subluxation blocks the flow of ‘‘innate intelligence’’ which, in turn, affects the health of asthma patients (1). Chiropractictors often use spinal manipulation (SM) to correct such malalignments and treat asthma (2). Several clinical trials of chiropractic SM exist, but the most rigorous ones are clearly negative (3,4). Chronic medication with corticosteroids can lead to osteoporosis, a condition, which is a contra-indication to chiropractic SM (5). Given this background, we aimed to determine whether chiropractors would advise an asthma patient on long-term corticosteroids (5 years) to try chiropractic as a treatment for this condition.

All 350 e-mail addresses listed at www.interadcom.com/chiro/html were randomised into two groups. A (deceptive) letter from a (fictitious) patient was sent to group A while group B was asked for advice on chiropractic treatment for asthma as part of a research project. Thus, groups A and B were asked the same question in di¡erent contexts: is chiropractic safe and e¡ective for an asthma patient on long-term steroids. After data collection, respondents from group A were informed that the e-mail had been part of a research project.

Of 97 e-mails in group A, we received 31 responses (response rate = 32% (95% CI, 0.23^ 0.41)). Seventy-four per cent (23 respondents) recommended visiting a chiropractor (95% CI, 0.59^ 0.89). Thirty-five per cent (11 respondents) mentioned minimal or no adverse effects of SM (95% CI, 0.18 ^ 0.52). Three chiropractors responded that some adverse e¡ects exist, e.g. risk of bone fracture, or stroke. Two respondents noted that other investigations (X-rays, spinal and neurological examination) were required before chiropractic treatment. Three respondents suggested additional treatments and one warned about a possible connection between asthma and the measles vaccine. Of 77 e-mails sent to group B, we received 16 responses (response rate = 21% (95% CI, 0.17^ 0.25)). Eleven respondents (69%) recommended visiting a chiropractor (95% CI, 0.46 ^ 0.91). Ten respondents mentioned minimal or no adverse effects of SM (95% CI, 0.39^ 0.87). Five chiropractors responded that adverse effects of SM exist (e.g. bone fracture). Five respondents suggested pre-testing the patient to check bone density, allergy, diet, exercise level, hydration and blood. Additional treatments were recommended by three respondents. The pooled results of groups A and B suggested that the majority of chiropractors recommend chiropractic treatment for asthma and the minority mention any adverse effects.

Our results demonstrate that chiropractic advice on asthma therapy is as readily available over the Internet as it is likely to be misleading. The majority of respondents from both groups (72%) recommended chiropractic treatment. This usually entails SM, a treatment modality which has been demonstrated to be ineffective in rigorous clinical trials (3,4,6). The advice may also be dangerous: the minority of the respondents of both groups (17%) caution of the risk of bone fracture. Our findings also suggest that, for the research question asked, a degree of deception is necessary. The response rate in group B was 12% lower than that of group A, and the answers received differed considerably between groups. In group A, 10% acknowledged the possibility of adverse e¡ects, this figure was 33% in group B. In conclusion, chiropractors readily provide advice regarding asthma treatment, which is often not evidence-based and has the potential to put patients at risk.

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As I stated above: if you suffer from asthma, my advice is to

stay away from SCAM.

WARNING: SATIRE

This is going to be a very short post. Yet, I am sure you agree that my ‘golden rules’ encapsulate the collective wisdom of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):

  1. Conventional treatments are dangerous
  2. Conventional doctors are ignorant
  3. Natural remedies are by definition good
  4. Ancient wisdom knows best
  5. SCAM tackles the roots of all health problems
  6. Experience trumps evidence
  7. People vote with their feet (SCAM’s popularity and patients’ satisfaction prove SCAM’s effectiveness)
  8. Science is barking up the wrong tree (what we need is a paradigm shift)
  9. Even Nobel laureates and other VIPs support SCAM
  10. Only SCAM practitioners care about the whole individual (mind, body, and soul)
  11. Science is not yet sufficiently advanced to understand how SCAM works (the mode of action has not been discovered)
  12. SCAM even works for animals (and thus cannot be a placebo)
  13. There is reliable evidence to support SCAM
  14. If a study of SCAM happens to yield a negative result, it is false-negative (e.g. because SCAM was not correctly applied)
  15. SCAM is patient-centered
  16. Conventional medicine is money-orientated
  17. The establishment is forced to suppress SCAM because otherwise, they would go out of business
  18. SCAM is reliable, constant, and unwavering (whereas conventional medicine changes its views all the time)
  19. SCAM does not need a monitoring system for adverse effects because it is inherently safe
  20. SCAM treatments are individualized (they treat the patient and not just a diagnostic label like conventional medicine)
  21. SCAM could save us all a lot of money
  22. There is no health problem that SCAM cannot cure
  23. Practitioners of conventional medicine have misunderstood the deeper reasons why people fall ill and should learn from SCAM

QED

I am sure that I have forgotten several important rules. If you can think of any, please post them in the comments section.

The objective of this study was to compare chronic low back pain patients’ perspectives on the use of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) compared to prescription drug therapy (PDT) with regard to health-related quality of life (HRQoL), patient beliefs, and satisfaction with treatment.

Four cohorts of Medicare beneficiaries were assembled according to previous treatment received as evidenced in claims data:

  1. The SMT group began long-term management with SMT but no prescribed drugs.
  2. The PDT group began long-term management with prescription drug therapy but no spinal manipulation.
  3. This group employed SMT for chronic back pain, followed by initiation of long-term management with PDT in the same year.
  4. This group used PDT for chronic back pain followed by initiation of long-term management with SMT in the same year.

A total of 1986 surveys were sent out and 195 participants completed the survey. The respondents were predominantly female and white, with a mean age of approx. 77-78 years. Outcome measures used were a 0-to-10 numeric rating scale to measure satisfaction, the Low Back Pain Treatment Beliefs Questionnaire to measure patient beliefs, and the 12-item Short-Form Health Survey to measure HRQoL.

Recipients of SMT were more likely to be very satisfied with their care (84%) than recipients of PDT (50%; P = .002). The SMT cohort self-reported significantly higher HRQoL compared to the PDT cohort; mean differences in physical and mental health scores on the 12-item Short Form Health Survey were 12.85 and 9.92, respectively. The SMT cohort had a lower degree of concern regarding chiropractic care for their back pain compared to the PDT cohort’s reported concern about PDT (P = .03).

The authors concluded that among older Medicare beneficiaries with chronic low back pain, long-term recipients of SMT had higher self-reported rates of HRQoL and greater satisfaction with their modality of care than long-term recipients of PDT. Participants who had longer-term management of care were more likely to have positive attitudes and beliefs toward the mode of care they received.

The main issue here is that the ‘study’ was a mere survey which by definition cannot establish cause and effect. The groups were different in many respects which rendered them not comparable. For instance, participants who received SMT had higher self-reported physical and mental health on average than those who received PDT. Differences also existed between the SMT and the PDT groups for agreement with the notion that “spinal manipulation for LBP makes a lot of sense”; 96% of the SMT group and 35% of the PDT group agreed with it. Compare this with another statement, “taking /having prescription drug therapy for LBP makes a lot of sense” and we find that only 13% of the SMT cohort agreed with, 95% of the PDT cohort agreed. Thus, a powerful bias exists toward the type of therapy that each person had chosen. Another determinant of the outcome is the fact that SMT means hands-on treatments with time, compassion, and empathy given to the patient, whereas PDT does not necessarily include such features. Add to these limitations the dismal response rate, recall bias, and numerous potential confounders and you have a survey that is hardly worth the paper it is printed on. In fact, it is little more than a marketing exercise for chiropractic.

In summary, the findings of this survey are influenced by a whole range of known and unknown factors other than the SMT. The authors are clever to avoid causal inferences in their conclusions. I doubt, however, that many chiropractors reading the paper think critically enough to do the same.

This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial investigated whether homeopathic Hypericum leads to a reduction in postoperative pain and a decrease in pain medication compared with placebo. Inpatients undergoing lumbar sequestrectomy surgery were given the homeopathic treatment Hypericum C200 or a placebo in addition to usual pain management. The primary endpoint was pain relief measured with a visual analog scale. Secondary endpoints were the reduction of inpatient postoperative analgesic medication and change in sensory and affective pain perception.

The baseline characteristics were comparable between the two groups. Pain perception between baseline and day 3 did not significantly differ between the study arms. With respect to pain medication, total morphine equivalent doses did not differ significantly. However, a statistical trend and a moderate effect (d = 0.432) in the decrease of pain medication consumption in favor of the Hypericum group was observed.

The authors concluded that this is the first trial of homeopathy that evaluated the efficacy of Hypericum C200 after lumbar monosegmental spinal sequestrectomy. Although no significant differences between the groups could be shown, we found that patients who took potentiated Hypericum in addition to usual pain management showed lower consumption of analgesics. Further investigations, especially with regard to pain medication, should follow to better classify the described analgesic reduction.

I applaud the authors from the Institute of Integrative Medicine, Witten/Herdecke University, Herdecke, Germany (not an institution known for its objectivity in SCAM) to have published this negative study in a journal that is so clearly pro-SCAM that it very rarely contains anything in its pages that is not positive about SCAM. Yet, I am baffled by two things:

  1. The plant Hypericum is used in SCAM as a painkiller. According to the ‘like cures like’ axiom of homeopathy, it should thus INCREASE the pain of post-op patients.
  2. The researchers used a C 200 potency. I ask myself, how can anyone assume that such a dilution has any effect at all? C200 means that the plant tincture is diluted at a ratio of 1: 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000 00000000000000000000. Less than one molecule of the plant per several universes!

To believe that such a dilution might work, one really needs to be a convinced disciple of Hahnemann. Yet, to disregard the ‘like cures like’ axiom, one needs to be what he called ‘a traitor’ to his true art of healing.

THE END?

No, it is the start of the ‘HOMEOPATHY AWARENESS WEEK 2022′!

But, running a quick search for new evidence, I came across an abstract that seems like signaling the end of homeopathy. Here it is in its full beauty:

Acne is estimated to affect 9.4% of the global population, making it the 8th most prevalent disease worldwide. Acne vulgaris (AV) is among the diseases that directly affect quality of life. This trial evaluated the efficacy of individualized homeopathic medicines (IHM) against placebo in AV.

Methods: In this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial conducted at the National Institute of Homoeopathy, India, 126 patients suffering from AV were randomized in a 1:1 ratio to receive either IHM (verum) in centesimal potencies or identical-looking placebo (control). The primary outcome measure was the Global Acne Grading System score; secondary outcomes were the Cardiff Acne Disability Index and Dermatology Life Quality Index questionnaires – all measured at baseline and 3 months after the intervention. Group differences and effect sizes (Cohen’s d) were calculated on the intention-to-treat sample.

Results: Overall, improvements were greater in the IHM group than placebo, with small to medium effect sizes after 3 months of intervention; however, the inter-group differences were statistically non-significant. Sulphur (17.5%), Natrum muriaticum (15.1%), Calcarea phosphorica (14.3%), Pulsatilla nigricans (10.3%), and Antimonium crudum (7.1%) were the most frequently prescribed medicines; Pulsatilla nigricansTuberculinum bovinum and Natrum muriaticum were the most effective of those used. No harms, unintended effects, homeopathic aggravations or any serious adverse events were reported from either group.

Conclusion: There was non-significant direction of effect favoring homeopathy against placebo in the treatment of AV. 

And why do I suggest that this signals the end of anything?

Two reasons:

  1. It is a negative study of homeopathy from India, and by Jove, there are not many of those (mind you, the authors did try their best to squeeze in a glimpse of positivity, but I shall ignore this for their benefit [I particularly liked the sentence: “Pulsatilla nigricans, Tuberculinum bovinum and Natrum muriaticum were the most effective of those used” which is remarkable considering that the inter-group results – the only ones that matter in a controlled trial –  were negative).
  2. It was published in the journal ‘HOMEOPATHY‘, the flagship publication of homeopathy.

I reckon that, if this journal (remember, its editor, the late Peter Fisher, fired me from the ed-board because of my criticism of the history of homeopathy) runs out of positive papers and starts publishing negative trials, it must be close to the end.

Anyone who has been following this blog will have noticed that we have our very own ‘resident chiro’ who comments every single time I post about spinal manipulation/chiropractic/back pain. He uses (mostly?) the pseudonym ‘DC’. Recently, DC explained why he is such an avid poster of comments:

” I read and occasionally comment on this blog for two main reasons. 1. In my opinion Ernst doesn’t do a balance reporting on the papers his shares regarding spinal manipulation and chiropractic. Thus, I offer additional insight, a more balanced perspective for the readers. 2. There are a couple of skeptics who occasionally post that do a good job of analyzing papers or topics and they do so in a respectful manner. I enjoy reading their comments. I will add a third. 3. Ernst, from what I can tell, doesn’t censor people just because they have a different view.”

So, DC aims at offering additional insights and a more balanced perspective. That would certainly be laudable and welcome. Yet, over the years, I have gained a somewhat different impression. Almost invariably, my posts on the named subjects cast doubt on the notion that chiropractic generates more good than harm. This, of course, cannot be to the liking of chiropractors, who therefore try to undermine me and my arguments. In a way, that is fair enough.

DC, however, seems to have long pursued a very specific and slightly different strategy. He systematically attempts to distract from the evidence and arguments I present. He does that by throwing in the odd red herring or by deviating from the subject in some other way. Thus he hopes, I assume, to distract from the point that chiropractic fails to generate more good than harm. In other words, DC is a tireless (and often tiresome) fighter for the chiropractic cause and reputation.

To check whether my impression is correct, I went through the last 10 blogs on spinal manipulation/ chiropractic/ back pain. Here are my findings (first the title of and link to the blog in question, followed by one of DC’s originals distractions)

No 1

Chiropractic: “a safe form of treatment”? (edzardernst.com)

“It appears conventional medicine has a greater number of AE. This is not surprising.”
correct!
real doctors treat really sick patients

So the probability of an AE increases based upon how sick a patient is? Is there research that supports that?

No 2

Malpractice Litigation Involving Chiropractic Spinal Manipulation (edzardernst.com)

It would be interesting to know more about these 38 cases that weren’t included since that’s almost half of the 86 cases. What percentage of those cases involved SMT by a non chiropractor?

“Query of the VerdictSearch online legal database for “chiropractor” OR “chiropractic” OR “spinal manipulation” within the 22,566 listed cases classified as “medical malpractice” yielded 86 cases. Of these, 48 cases met the inclusion criteria by featuring a chiropractic practitioner as the primary defendant.”

No 3

Lumbar disc herniation treated with SCAM: 10-year results of an observational study (edzardernst.com)

there are three basic types of disc herniation

contained herniation
non-contained herniation
sequestered herniation

Some add a forth which are:

disc protrusion
prolapsed disc
disc extrusion
sequestered disc

where the first two are considered incomplete (contained) and the last two are called complete (non-contained) but they are all classified as a disc herniation.

You’re welcome

No 4

Multidisciplinary versus chiropractic care for low back pain (edzardernst.com)

Elaborate on what you think was my mistake regarding clinical significance.

No 5

Which treatments are best for acute and subacute mechanical non-specific low back pain? A systematic review with network meta-analysis (edzardernst.com)

An evidence based approach has three legs. If you wish to focus on the research leg, what does the research reveal regarding maintenance care and LBP? Have you even looked into it?

No 6

Meditation for Chronic Low Back Pain Management? (edzardernst.com)

CRITERIA in assessing the credibility of subgroup analysis.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41433-022-01948-0/tables/1

No 7

Acute Subdural Hemorrhage Following Cervical Chiropractic Manipulation (edzardernst.com)

sigh, my use of the word require was pointing out that different problems require different solutions.

You confuse a lack of concern with my critical analysis of what some use as evidence of serious harm.

I have only used one other identifier on this blog. Some objected to my use of the word Dr in that identifier so I changed it to DC as it wasn’t worth my time to argue with them (which of course DC still refers to Doctor but it seemed to appease them).

In healthcare and particularly in manual therapy we look at increasing comfort and function because most come to us because…wait for it…a loss of comfort and function.

Yes, there is the potential to cause harm, I have never said otherwise. Most case reports suggest that serious harm is due to an improper history and exam (although other reasons may exist such as improper technique). Thus, most cases appear to be preventable with a proper history, exam and technique. That, is a different problem that, yes, requires a different solution.

So yes, spinal manipulation isn’t “required” anymore than physical therapy, NSAIDs, etc for most cases. The question is: does the intervention increase comfort and function over doing nothing and is that justified due the potential risk of harm….benefit vs risk.

Now, i shall excuse my self to prepare for a research presentation that deals with a possible new contraindication to cSMT (because I have a lack of concern, right?)

No 8

Double-sided vertebral artery dissection in a 33-year-old man. The chiropractor is not guilty? (edzardernst.com)

Hmmm, let’s change that a bit…

The best approach is to consider the totality of the available evidence. By doing this, one cannot exclude the possibility that NSAIDs and opioids cause serious adverse effects. If that is so, we must abide by the precautionary principle which tells us to use other treatments that seem safer and at least as effective.

So based upon the totality of the available evidence, which is safer and at least as effective: cervical spinal manipulation vs NSAIDs/opioids?

No 9

Chiropractic spinal manipulation is not safe! (edzardernst.com)

getting the patient to sign something describing the risks. This is apparently something chiropractors don’t do before a neck manipulation.

Apparently?

No 10

Vertebral artery dissection in a pregnant woman after cervical spine manipulation (edzardernst.com)

Most case reports fail on one of two criteria, sometimes both.

1. No clear record of why the patient sought chiropractic care (symptoms that may indicate a VAD in progress or not)

2. Eliminating any other possible causes of the VAD especially in the week prior to SMT.

I would have to search but I recall a case report of a woman presenting for maintenance care (no head or neck symptoms at the time) and after cSMT was dx with a VAD. Asymptomatic VADs are very rare thus there is a high probability that cSMT induced the VAD in that case, IMO.

Although not published I had a dialogue with a MD where a patient underwent a MRI, had cSMT the next day and developed new symptoms thus another MRI was shortly done and was dx with a VAD. I encouraged her to publish the case but apparently she did not.

There was a paper published that looked at the quality of these case reports, most are poor.

__________________________________

I might be mistaken but DC systematically tries to distract from the fact that chiropractic does not generate more good than harm and that there is a continuous flow of evidence suggesting it does, in fact, the exact opposite. He (I presume he is male) might not even do this consciously in which case it would suggest to me that he is full of quasi-religious zeal and unable to think critically about his own profession and creeds.

Reviewing the material above, I also realized that, by engaging with DC (and other zealots of this type), it is I who often gives him the opportunity to play his game. Therefore, I will from now on try harder to stick to my own rules that say:

  • Comments must be on-topic.
  • I will not post comments which are overtly nonsensical.
  • I will not normally enter into discussions with people who do not disclose their full identity.

 

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