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

death

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Astrology is a subject that regularly crops up in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Thus we have dealt with it on several occasions, e.g.:

Many SCAM proponents evidently believe that astrology works.

The question is, does astrology have any value at all in healthcare?

Several recent papers go some way in answering it.

The first paper evaluated the existing research base on correlates of belief in astrology and fortune-telling. the researchers conducted a scoping review to synthesize the available literature base on belief in astrology and to review the evidence for “fortune-telling addiction” using Arksey and O’Malley’s methodological framework. Databases of PubMed, ProQuest, EBSCO, and SCOPUS were searched for relevant studies published in peer-reviewed journals.

The search findings revealed the association of belief in astrology with cognitive, personality, and psychological factors such as thinking style, self-concept verification, and stress. Case studies on “fortune-telling addiction” have conceptualized it as a possible behavioral addiction and have reported symptoms such as distress, cravings, and salience.

The second study examined the relationship between Western zodiac signs and subjective well-being in a nationally representative American sample from the General Social Survey (N = 12,791). Well-being was measured across eight components:

  • general unhappiness,
  • depressive symptoms,
  • psychological distress,
  • work dissatisfaction,
  • financial dissatisfaction,
  • perceived dullness of one’s life,
  • self-rated health,
  • unhappiness with marriage.

Parametric and nonparametric analyses consistently revealed no robust associations between zodiac signs and any of the well-being variables, regardless of whether demographic factors were controlled for. The effect sizes were negligible, accounting for 0.3% or less of the variance in well-being, demonstrating that zodiac signs lack predictive power for well-being outcomes. An additional analysis revealed that astrological signs were no more predictive of than random numbers. Thus, a randomly generated number between 1 and 12 is statistically as predictive of one’s well-being as one’s zodiac sign.

The authors concluded that these findings challenge popular astrological claims about the influence of zodiac signs on well-being and quality of life.

The third paper reports a retrospective, single-center cohort study of 2545 adult patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection presenting to the emergency room over a 14-month period (September 2020 to November 2021). COVID-19 infectivity was determined based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Western and Chinese Zodiac signs were designated using date of birth. Both Zodiac signs were evaluated for risk of infection and death.

Mortality rates across the zodiac and astrology signs showed no statistical difference using the 12-sample test for equality of proportions. Coincidentally, the mean age for the deceased was 74.5 years, and it was 53.9 years for those alive, resulting in a difference of 20.6 years. A two-sample t-test confirms that the observed difference of 20.6 years of age between the two groups is statistically significant with a p-value <0.05. The coefficient of the predictor age is statistically significant. The odds ratio estimate of age is 1.06, with the corresponding 95% confidence interval (CI) being (1.048, 1.073). This means that the odds of dying increase by 6% for every additional year.

The authors concluded that there was no statistical significance between Western and Chinese Zodiac signs and mortality or infections. 

So, does astrology have any value in healthcare?

The answer is as simple as it is unsurprising:

No!

This systematic review and meta-analysis investigated the impact of quality of life (QoL) on mortality risk in patients with esophageal cancer.

A literature search was conducted using the CINAHL, PubMed/MEDLINE, and Scopus databases for articles published from inception to December 2022. Observational studies that examined the association between QoL and mortality risk in patients with esophageal cancer were included. Subgroup analyses were performed for time points of QoL assessment and for types of treatment.

Seven studies were included in the final analysis.

  • Overall, global QoL was significantly associated with mortality risk (hazard ratio 1.02, 95% confidence interval 1.01–1.04; p < 0.00004).
  • Among the QoL subscales of QoL, physical, emotional, role, cognitive, and social QoL were significantly associated with mortality risk.
  • A subgroup analysis by timepoints of QoL assessment demonstrated that pre- and posttreatment global and physical, pretreatment role, and posttreatment cognitive QoL were significantly associated with mortality risk.
  • Moreover, another subgroup analysis by types of treatment demonstrated that the role QoL in patients with surgery, and the global, physical, role, and social QoL in those with other treatments were significantly associated with mortality risk.

The authors concluded that these findings indicate that the assessment of QoL in patients with esophageal cancer before and after treatment not only provides information on patients’ condition at the time of treatment but may also serve as an outcome for predicting life expectancy. Therefore, it is important to conduct regular QoL assessments and take a proactive approach to improve QoL based on the results of these assessments.

Am I missing something here?

Isn’t this rather obvious?

The way this paper is written, some practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) might feel that, by improving QoL (for instance, by some fancy aromatherapy, reflexology, etc.), they can significantly better the cancer prognosis.

Patients with a poor prognosis are more seriously ill and therefore have a lowe QoL. Assessing QoL might be a useful marker, but would it not be better to ask why the QoL is in some patients less than in others?

I am glad to hear that the Vatican is issueing  new guidelines on supernatural phenomena. The document, compiled by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, will lay out rules to assess the truthfulness of supernatural claims. Reports of such phenomena are said to have soared in recent years in an era of social media – sometimes spread through disinformation and rumour. The guidelines are likely to tighten criteria for the screening, analysis, and possible rejection of cases.

Apparitions have been reported across the centuries. Those recognised by the Church have prompted pilgrims, and popes, to visit spots where they are said to have taken place. Millions flock to Lourdes in France, for example, or Fatima in Portugal, where the Virgin Mary is alleged to have appeared to children, promising a miracle – after which crowds are said to have witnessed the sun zig-zagging through the sky. The visitation was officially recognised by the Church in 1930.

But other reports are found by church officials to be baloney. In 2016, an Italian woman began claiming regular apparitions of Jesus and Mary in a small town north of Rome after she brought back a statue from Medjugorje in Bosnia, where the Virgin Mary is also said to have appeared. Crowds prayed before the statue and received messages including warnings against same-sex marriage and abortion. It took eight years for the local bishop to debunk the story.

_________________________

 

Perhaps the Vatican should also have a look at faith healing*, the attempt to bring about healing through divine intervention. The Bible and other religious texts provide numerous examples of divine healing, and believers see this as a proof that faith healing is possible. There are also numerous reports of people suffering from severe diseases, including cancer and AIDS, who were allegedly healed by divine intervention.

Faith healing has no basis in science, is biologically not plausible. Some methodologically flawed studies have suggested positive effects, however, this is not confirmed by sound clinical trials. Several plausible explanations exist for the cases that have allegedly been healed by divine intervention, for instance, spontaneous remission or placebo response. Another explanation is fraud. For instance, the famous German faith healer, Peter Popoff, was exposed in 1986 for using an earpiece to receive radio messages from his wife giving him the home addresses and ailments of audience members which he purported had come from God during his faith healing rallies.

Faith healing may per se be safe, but it can nevertheless do untold indirect harm, and even fatalities are on record: “Faith healing, when added as an adjuvant or alternative aid to medical science, will not necessarily be confined to mere arguments and debates but may also give rise to series of complications, medical emergencies and even result in death.”

Alternatively, the Vatican might look at the healing potential of pilgrimages*, journeys to places considered to be sacred. The pilgrims often do this in the hope to be cured of a disease. The purpose of Christian pilgrimage was summarized by Pope Benedict XVI as follows:

To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.

There are only few scientific studies of pilgrimages. The purpose of this qualitative research was to explore whether pilgrims visiting Lourdes, France had transcendent experiences. The authors concluded that visiting Lourdes can have a powerful effect on a pilgrim and may include an “out of the ordinary” transcendent experience, involving a sense of relationship with the divine, or experiences of something otherworldly and intangible. There is a growing focus on Lourdes as a place with therapeutic benefits rather that cures: our analysis suggests that transcendent experiences can be central to this therapeutic effect. Such experiences can result in powerful emotional responses, which themselves may contribute to long term well-being. Our participants described a range of transcendent experiences, from the prosaic and mildly pleasant, to intense experiences that affected pilgrims’ lives. The place itself is crucially important, above all the Grotto, as a space where pilgrims perceive that the divine can break through into normal life, enabling closer connections with the divine, with nature and with the self.

Other researchers tested the effects of tap water labelled as Lourdes water versus tap water labelled as tap water found that placebos in the context of religious beliefs and practices can change the experience of emotional salience and cognitive control which is accompanied by connectivity changes in the associated brain networks. They concluded that this type of placebo can enhance emotional-somatic well-being, and can lead to changes in cognitive control/emotional salience networks of the brain.

The risks involved in pilgrimages is their often considerable costs. It is true, as the text above points out that “millions flock to Lourdes in France”. In other words, pilgrimiges are an important source of income, not least for the catholoc church.

A more important risk can be that they are used as an alternative to effective treatments. This, as we all know, can be fatal. As there is no good evidence that pilgrimiges cure diseases, their risk/benefit balance as a treatment of disease cannot be positive.

So, will the new rules of the Vatican curtail the risks on supernatural healing practises? I would not hold my breath!

_________________

* for references see my book from where this text has been borrowed and modified.

EuroConsum‘ is an organisation that aims “to focus on areas that otherwise receive too little attention. Together with our approximately 6,000 members, member and partner organisations, we find these areas and work on them in numerous projects. We have been entered in the list of qualified organisations for this purpose since 2012 and, as a public body, carry out market inspections with a focus on the retail sector and have maintained the market watchdog Psychomarkt since 2015. We are particularly committed to the principle of scientific rigour and evidence.” (my translation)

‘EuroConsum’ recently published a bizarre statement:

For more than a decade, EuroConsum has worked closely with the Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (GWUP e.V.). Under the leadership of Amardeo Sarma and Dr Holm Hümmler, we experienced a fruitful and always respectful cooperation that contributed significantly to the improvement of consumer advice and information. This cooperation was in line with shared values, which manifested themselves in a commitment to an informed public and against quackery and evidence-free advertising promises.

The murder of Halit Yozgat by right-wing terrorists of the so-called “National Socialist Underground” (NSU) and the assassination of the Kassel district president Dr Walter Lübcke, also by a right-wing terrorist, took place during the same period. The racist murders in Hanau, which could have been prevented and in which a right-wing terrorist took the lives of Gökhan Gültekin, Sedat Gürbüz, Said Nesar Hashemi, Mercedes Kierpacz, Hamza Kurtović, Vili Viorel Păun, Fatih Saraçoğlu, Ferhat Unvar, Kaloyan Velkov and Gabriele Rathjen, also took place during this time. Not only these murders, but also the involvement of state authorities in these events have increased pain and caused suffering. Many of our members know the victims or their surviving relatives personally. These events are fundamental and guiding for us and our work.They remind us every day.

For us, one of the lessons of this terror is that we must clearly distance ourselves from right-wing extremist and neo-right-wing movements. We must also fight to improve social conditions alongside those who share our values; in particular, these are groups in which people who are themselves affected by discrimination and marginalisation organise themselves. Work that does not take into account the perspectives of these people does not meet our own standards; work that is directed against the legitimate concerns of marginalised people and groups is inconceivable for us.

At the GWUP’s general meeting on 11 May 2024, a new election of the GWUP Board was held, which was previously presented as a “directional election”. The decision was close, as ultimately only around 20 votes made the difference. We perceive the result of the election as a decision on the future positioning of the GWUP in terms of content and as a commitment to a new direction for the GWUP and recognise it in this respect.

With this election, the GWUP has declared that it is taking a new course, which we do not want to follow against the background of our own association identity and cannot follow for personal reasons. EuroConsum will therefore terminate its cooperation with the GWUP immediately and finalise joint projects promptly. A statement to this effect was sent by post today.

This decision was not taken lightly, particularly in view of the long-standing good relationship and the considerable overlap within the groups and circles supporting our two associations. However, after an intensive discussion, there is no alternative for us.

EuroConsum would like to continue to engage in dialogue and cooperation with all sceptical people who share our values and want to work towards a fair and inclusive society.

(my translation)

_________________

WHAT?

ARE THEY SERIOUS?

‘EuroConsum’ seems to be disappointed with the result of the recent election of the GWUP-Board – I did previously mention the contest between ‘TEAM HUEMMLER’ and ‘TEAM SEBASTIANI’. The latter group won, and several Huemmler fans, including ‘EuroConsum’, have since left the GWUP. Nothing wrong about that! Everyone is free to do what they think is right, of course.

To associate the new GWUP leadership with a series of right-wing murders, is however an entirely different matter. In my view, this is not just extremely bad taste and utterly unjustifiable; it is slanderous and potentially actionable.

PS

What is perhaps also worth mentioning in this context an exchange that occurred on ‘X’ when ‘EuroConsum’ made the announcement. Here is the part of it that I could retrieve (my translation):

  • Holm Gero Hümmler: Surprised. Not.
  • Jörg Wipplinger: Wow, listing the right-wing extremist murders creates a context that, in my view, borders on character assassination. It doesn’t imply any affinity with right-wing ideas, but puts you in the neighbourhood of right-wing extremist murderers. Don’t you realise that or do you think it’s okay anyway?
  • Holm Gero Hümmler: If that is your only worry…
  • Jörg Wipplinger: What kind of answer is that? I find it extremely disturbing when a club, a board that has never worked a day, is portrayed in this way. I’m not with the club, but if that happened to me, I’d be pretty upset.
  • Jörg Wipplinger: It’s not about all the gwup stories at all, zero. It’s about Euroconsum’s explanation, which provides no real explanation, but a list of murderers as ‘context. Holm shared this and I want to know if he thinks it’s good. I find it shocking.
  • Holm Gero Hümmler: Euroconsum has always clearly positioned itself against anti-democratic tendencies.
    So I think it’s only natural that we don’t want to have anything to do with people who are in favour of the GWUP spreading the narratives of enemies of democracy and using their rhetoric.

 

 

Vertebral artery dissections (VAD) pose a significant risk for strokes, particularly in young adults. This case report details the presentation and management of a 48-year-old patient who was diagnosed with an extracranial VAD following cervical spine manipulation (CSM).

The patient’s symptoms included:

  • acute right-sided ataxia,
  • giddiness,
  • vertigo,
  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • persistent pain behind the right ear.

They prompted immediate evaluation. After ruling out acute intracerebral hemorrhages, a computed tomography angiogram (CTA) of the head and neck identified a severe narrowing of the right distal vertebral artery with a string sign at the level of the right C1 loop (V3 segment), indicating an extracranial VAD. This finding was further supported when ultrasound (US) imaging revealed a high resistance flow pattern in the right distal vertebral artery. Furthermore, T2 and diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) confirmed a 1.8 cm VAD/hematoma and a 1.4 cm acute/subacute infarct in the right posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA) territory.

The authors concluded by stressing the importance of recognizing and addressing that neck pain can be a symptom of musculoskeletal dysfunction or could have neurovascular origins. In this case, the patient’s neck pain may have been musculoskeletal or could have been due to a previous dissection. Thus, differentiation should be considered before cervical spine manipulation.

The link between CSM and arterial dissection is hard to deny. On this blog, we have discussed these issues with depressing regularity, e.g.:

Whether the CSM was the cause of the dissection of a previously intakt artery, or whether the CSM made a pre-existing problem worse, might often be difficult to decide in retrospect. What is crucial in both scenarios, is that CSM carries serious risks. This insight is all the more important, if we consider that the benefits of CSM are minimal or unproven. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that the risk/benefit balance of CSM is not positive. In other words, the only sensible advice here is this:

don’t allow chiropractors (who use CSM more often that any other profession), osteopaths, physiotherapists, etc. perform CSMs on your neck.

I received an email – a round robin, actually – from my ex-friend Wayne Jonas and was amazed to read the following passage:

My new book, “Healing and Cancer,” co-written with Alyssa McManamon, MD, is now available! Whole person care in oncology centers the person with cancer – their history, intuition, and understanding of what constitutes a good life and, eventually, a dignified end …

For those who don’t know him, here is what Wiki has to say about Wayne:

Wayne B. Jonas is an American family physician, retired army medical officer,[1] and alternative medicine researcher. He is the former president and CEO of the Samueli Institute.[2][3] The institute does research into the efficacy of alternative medicine, such as on the effects of prayer on treating disease, use of homeopathy to fight bioterrorism, and use of magnetic healing devices on orthopedic injuries, with Jonas commenting on these research programs, “There is a good case for looking at these things scientifically, because we don’t know a lot about them”.[3] He is professor of family medicine at Georgetown University and an adjunct professor at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.[2]

Jonas received his medical degree from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.[2]

Jonas began his career as the Director of the Medical Research Fellowship at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.[2] From 1995 to 1998, Jonas was the director of the Office of Alternative Medicine (since renamed the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health), a branch of the National Institutes of Health.[2] In 2001, the Samueli Institute was founded. Jonas has served as its president and CEO ever since.[3].

Some of my regular readers might also know Wayne, as he is a member of my ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME. But back to his recent email. I was not sure whether to laugh or cry when I read the above-cited passage:

  1. I honestly don’t know what it means ‘to center the person with cancer’. It sounds very much like new age BS to me, I’m afraid. What I do know, however, is this: almost all cancer patients have formost one wish, and that is to get rid of their cancer. I have never met one who wants to be “centered” with the disease.
  2. I am also sure that cancer patients would want even less to be centered with their cancer, if they knew that this approach eventually entails a ‘dignified end‘. All of us want to live – and cancer patients are certainly no exceptions.

Perhaps it is just Wayne’s clumsy way of trying to express something very profound. Or perhaps it is my mistake for misunderstanding his new age phraseology. In any case, ‘whole person’ cancer care sounds all very attractive – untill you get the diagnosis, that is. Then, you are desperately looking towards a cure, and not towards a ‘dignified end‘. The cure, of that I am quite sure, cannot come from holistic BS, but must come from the best treatments conventional oncology has to offer.

In a nutshell:

if I had the choice between ‘whole person’ care followed by a ‘dignified end’ or conventional oncology followed by survival, I would chose the latter.

 

It has been reported that a former model almost died trying to cure her cancer with a juice diet. Medics tried to get Irena Stoynova to use conventional cancer treatments after she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June 2021, but she ‘shut them out’. Instead of chemotherapy, she sought out so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) online and took the advice of a social media influencer who claims the body can ‘heal itself’ with help of a radical lifestyle and diet changes.

Ms Stoynova thus followed various diets and holistic therapies for two-and-a-half years, which left her emaciated and with fluid on her lungs.

Doctors said she was on the verge of death when she was taken to Frimley Park Hospital by ambulance in May last year. She was told by Dr Clare Rees that she would likely die without treatment for her stage three cancer. But Ms Stoynova continued to refuse for a number of days before finally agreeing to receive chemotherapy. Ms Stoynova then spent 50 days in the hospital’s acute dependency unit.

She said when she was first diagnosed that she decided against traditional treatments after ‘reading about and watching many doctors and professors talk about the success rate of alternative therapies online’. The 39-year-old, who now works in sales, said she did a juice diet for two-and-a-half years, but also tried a raw diet, intermittent fasting, boiling herbs and special teas.

Speaking about her diagnosis, she said: ‘I was devastated, the whole world just closed around me and I felt really alone.’ She said that she was advised to start chemotherapy, but instead turned to the internet to find alternative advice. ‘I found an American guy who has millions of followers who promoted holistic treatment,’ she said. ‘He had a podcast where he interviewed very knowledgeable doctors and professors who are talking about holistic treatment and they called standard treatment “outrageous”. ‘They said that people who had chemotherapy are “lazy” and don’t want to put in the hard work of holistic treatment.’ Ms Stoynova continued: ‘The guy has three or four books on how to heal cancer holistically – how to make salads, use different herbs, juicing, intermittent fasting – there were so many testimonials, so many people that did it. ‘I spent £2,000 on juicers – one for smoothies, one for carrots, one for citrus and one for everything else. I spent two to three hours a day making juice for the next day.

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The ‘juice diet’ seems to have been the Gerson therapy or a variation of it. We have discussed this particular SCAM several times before, e.g.:

I just wish Irena Stoynova had read my blog instead of following the criminal quackery of the ‘American guy’.

My conclusion:

reading this blog and telling others about it can saave lives

Prof Michael Frass is the undisputed star amongst researchers of homeopathy. Here are the awards and achievements that he mentions on his website:

  • 1994 until 2019Head, Special Outpatient Clinic “Homeopathy in Malignant Diseases”, Department of Internal Medicine I, General Hospital of the City of Vienna
  • 1992 until Feb. 2004Director, Intensivstation 13.i2, Klinik für Innere Medizin I
  • 1994 until 1998 Medical Director Maimonides Center
  • since May 1994Vice President of the “Medical Society for Classical Homeopathy” (ÄKH)
  • since Oct. 1995Head of the Working Group for Homeopathy of the ÄKH in Vienna
  • since Jan. 1998 Speaker of the ÄKH at training courses
  • 1999 – 2012Training Officer of the Austrian Society for Internal and General Intensive Care Medicine (ÖGIAIM)
  • 2001 until 2019 Coordinator of the lecture series “Selected chapters and scientific discussion of complementary medicine methods”, Med. Univ. Vienna, VO 560480
  • May 2002 – Dec. 2005Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Homeopathy
  • since June 2003Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Vienna International Academy of Holistic Medicine
  • 2004 until 2019Expert in Airway Management and Homeopathy in Intensive Care Medicine at the Center of Excellence in Internal Critical Care Medicine (CEMIC).
  • 2005 until 2019Coordinator of the free elective “Homeopathy”, Med. Univ. Vienna, VO 562 923
  • since June 2005Director, Institute for Homeopathy Research
  • 2006 until 2019Member of the planning area + lecturer for the line element “Interdisciplinary Patient Management” (compulsory lecture for medical students)
  • since June 2006President of the Austrian Umbrella Association for Medical Holistic Medicine.
  • since Nov. 2010Chairman of the Scientific Society for Homeopathy (WissHom)

Many of my readers will remember the case of the Prof. Frass et al study of homeopathy for cancer. On this blog, we have seen several articles about it:

The study and the suspicion of scientific misconduct it raised eventually resulted in an official complaint by the Viennese Medical School to the authority that deals with suspicions of publication fraud, the ‘Austrian Agency for Scientific Integrity’. It took a very long time, but recently they have published their final on-line summary of their assessment of the case; here is my translation:

Enquiry A 2021/10:
After an Austrian university was informed externally and by name of possible scientific misconduct in a study and the resulting publication, the institution concerned submitted the already publicised suspected case in the field of applied natural sciences to the OeAWI with a request for examination by the Commission.

After establishing sufficient suspicion of various violations of good scientific practice, the Commission declared itself responsible and initiated proceedings. In the course of this, the principal investigator was given the opportunity to submit a written statement and to provide the Commission for Research Integrity Annual Report 2022 material that would help to clarify the facts of the case, which the accused submitted in large quantities.

In a very complex, comprehensive investigation, which required, among other things, the on-site inspection of original documents, the Commission was able to substantiate the suspicion of data falsification, fabrication and manipulation. In a final statement, the study director, who no longer works for the university in question, and the numerous co-authors were informed in detail about the course and results of the commission’s investigation and informed of the recommendations to the university and journal.  The Commission recommended that the university concerned should consider investigating its own responsibilities and act accordingly, and that the publication should be withdrawn as a matter of urgency. The journal responsible for the publication was asked to withdraw the publication on the basis of the findings of the investigation.

Nobody who has studied the Frass paper in some detail can be surprised by the verdict. I do applaud the ‘Austrian Agency for Scientific Integrity’ for their work. Yet, I do also have some criticism: health fraud on the scale of Frass can easily costs lives. I find it therefore unacceptable that the verdict took so long to get published.

Even worse is, in my view, the fact that the journal, ‘Oncologist’, is still offering this paper today, albeit with this ‘expression of concern’:

This is an Expression of Concern regarding: Michael Frass, Peter Lechleitner, Christa Gründling, Claudia Pirker, Erwin Grasmuk-Siegl, Julian Domayer, Maximilian Hochmair, Katharina Gaertner, Cornelia Duscheck, Ilse Muchitsch, Christine Marosi, Michael Schumacher, Sabine Zöchbauer-Müller, Raj K. Manchanda, Andrea Schrott, Otto Burghuber, Homeopathic Treatment as an Add-On Therapy May Improve Quality of Life and Prolong Survival in Patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: A Prospective, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind, Three-Arm, Multicenter Study, The Oncologist, Volume 25, Issue 12, December 2020, Pages e1930–e1955, https://doi.org/10.1002/onco.13548

In August 2022, the journal editors received credible information from the Austrian Agency for Research Integrity about potential data falsification and data manipulation in this article.*** While The Oncologist editorial team investigates and communicates with the corresponding author, the editors are publishing this Expression of Concern to alert readers that, pending the outcome and review of a full investigation, the research results presented may not be reliable.

Cancer patients will thus still read the dangerously misleading conclusions of the Frass fabrication: “Quality of life (QoL) improved significantly in the homeopathy group compared with placebo. In addition, survival was significantly longer in the homeopathy group versus placebo and control. A higher QoL might have contributed to the prolonged survival. The study suggests that homeopathy positively influences not only QoL but also survival. Further studies including other tumor entities are warranted.” And lives of cancer patients remain needlessly at risk. In my view, this is seriously unethical.

***As far as I know, they received credible information from others long before that!

Spinal manipulation is usually performed by a therapist (chiropractor, osteopath, physiotherpist, doctor, etc.). But many people do it themselves. Self-manipulation is by no means safer than the treatment by a therapist, it seems. We have previously seen cases where the results were dramatic:

Now, a further case has been reported. In this paper, American pathologists present a tragic case of fatal vertebral artery dissection that occurred as the result of self-manipulation of the cervical spine.

The decedent was a 40-year-old man with no significant past medical history. He was observed to “crack his neck” while at work. Soon after, he began experiencing neck pain, then developed stroke-like symptoms and became unresponsive. He was transported to a local medical center, where imaging showed bilateral vertebral artery dissection. His neurological status continued to decline, and brain death was pronounced several days later.

An autopsy examination showed evidence of cerebellar and brainstem infarcts, herniation, and diffuse hypoxic-ischemic injury. A posterior neck dissection was performed to expose the vertebral arteries, which showed grossly visible hemorrhage and dilation. There was no evidence of traumatic injury to the bone or soft tissue of the head or neck. Bilateral dissection tracts were readily appreciated on microscopic examination. Death was attributed to self-manipulation of the neck, which in turn led to bilateral vertebral artery dissection, cerebellar and brainstem infarcts, herniation, hypoxic-ischemic injury, and ultimately brain death.

It seems clear to me that only few and spectacular cases of this nature are being published. In other words, the under-reporting of adverse effects of self-manipulation must be close to 100%. It follows that the risk of sel-manipulation is impossible to quantify. I suspect it is substancial. In any case, the precautionary principle compells me to re-issue my warning:

do not allow anybody to manipulate your neck, not even yourself!

An interesting and fully referenced (205 references) article caught my attention; it seems highly relevant to the discussions we are having on this blog. Let me show you the abstract:

Medical misinformation has always existed, but it has recently become more frequent due to the development of the internet and social media. Medical misinformation can cover a wide variety of topics, and studies show that some groups are more likely to be affected by medical misinformation than others, like those with less trust in health care, less health literacy, and a more positive attitude toward alternative medicines. Aspects of the internet, like echo chambers and algorithms, have contributed to the rise of medical misinformation, along with belief in anecdotal evidence and alternative remedies that are not backed by science. Some personal beliefs and a lack of media literacy skills are also contributing to medical misinformation. Medical misinformation causes higher rates of death and negative health outcomes, a lack of trust in medical professionals, and more racism and hate crimes. One possible way to combat the spread of misinformation is education surrounding media literacy. Still, there are gaps in this practice that must be addressed like a lack of high-quality research about different educational programs.

The author also offers the following key points:

  • Medical misinformation is becoming an urgent issue for United States citizens—leading to increased deaths,
    a lack of trust in health professionals, and hate crimes and racism.
  • Although this is a worldwide issue, the United States has the second highest rate of misinformation of any
    country, behind India.
  • One piece of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic stated that highly concentrated alcohol could
    disinfect the body and kill the virus. Studies show that 800 people died, 5,876 were hospitalized, and 60
    became completely blind from drinking methanol, thinking it would cure coronavirus.
  • Studies estimate that only 14% of the United States population has proficient health literacy, which makes it difficult to recognize medical misinformation.
  • Media literacy education is being pursued in order to combat the spread of misinformation, but more research is needed in order to understand the long-term effects of this education and what programs are best.

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I would like to stress, as indeeed the author does as well, that medical misinformation is a phenomenon that is by no means confined to the US. Like most information, misinformation has become a global issue. Its dangers cannot be under-estimated. My blog offers an abundance of reports where misinformation in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has caused harm and even death. The author advocates media literacy as a remedy for the problem. I would argue that even more important would be to teach CRITICAL THINKING, a task that has to start at school and must continue well into adult life.

This conclusion is so very obvious that it begs an important question: WHY HAS IT NOT BEEN DONE YEARS AGO? The answer, I fear, is simple: for reasons that are self-evident, governments have little interst in the public being able to think critically. On the contrary, governments across the world foremost want to be re-elected, and critical thinking would be a major obstacle to this aim.

 

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