Acupuncture is questionable.
Acupressure is highly questionable.
Auricular acupressure is extremely questionable.
This study investigated the effect of auricular acupressure on the severity of postpartum blues. A randomized sham-controlled trial was conducted from February to November 2021, with 74 participants who were randomly allocated into two groups of either routine care + auricular acupressure (n = 37), or routine care + sham control (n = 37). Vacaria seeds with special non-latex adhesives were used to perform auricular acupressure on seven ear acupoints. There were two intervention sessions with an interval of five days. In the sham group, special non-latex adhesives without vacaria seeds were attached in the same acupoints as the intervention group. The severity of postpartum blues, fatigue, maternal-infant attachment, and postpartum depression was assessed.
Auricular acupressure was associated with a significant effect in the reduction of postpartum blues on the 10th and 15th days after childbirth (SMD = −2.77 and −2.15 respectively), postpartum depression on the 21st day after childbirth (SMD = −0.74), and maternal fatigue on 10th, 15th and 21st days after childbirth (SMD = −2.07, −1.30 and −1.32, respectively). Also, the maternal-infant attachment was increased significantly on the 21st day after childbirth (SMD = 1.95).
The authors concluded that auricular acupressure was effective in reducing postpartum blues and depression, reducing maternal fatigue, and increasing maternal-infant attachment in the short-term after childbirth.
Let me put my doubts about these conclusions in the form of a few questions:
- If you had sticky tape on your ear, would you sometimes touch it?
- If you touched it, would you feel whether a vacaria seed was contained in it or not?
- Would you, therefore, say that such a trial could be properly blinded (not to forget the therapists who were, of course, in the know)?
- If the trial was thus de-blinded, would you claim that patient expectation did not influence the outcomes?
If you answered all of these questions with NO, you are – like I – of the opinion that the results of this trial could have easily been brought about, not by the alleged effects of acupressure, but by placebo and other non-specific effects.
It has been reported that King Charles refused to pay Prince Andrew’s £ 32,000-a-year bill for his personal healing guru. The Duke of York has allegedly submitted the claim to the Privy Purse as a royal expense having sought the help of a yoga teacher.
However, the claim has reportedly been denied by the King, who is said to have told Andrew the bill will need to be covered using his own money. It comes after sources claimed Andrew has been using the Indian yogi for a number of years for chanting, massages, and holistic therapy in the privacy of his mansion. The healer has reportedly enjoyed month-long stays at a time at the £30 million Royal Lodge in Windsor.
Previously, the Queen seems to have passed the claims. But now Charles is in control. A source said: “While the Queen was always happy to indulge her son over the years, Charles is far less inclined to fund such indulgences, particularly in an era of a cost-of-living crisis. “Families are struggling and would rightly baulk at the idea of tens of thousands paid to an Indian guru to provide holistic treatment to a non-working royal living in his grace and favour mansion. This time the King saw the bill for the healer submitted by Andrew to the Privy Purse and thought his brother was having a laugh.”
How is he going to cope without his guru?
Will he be able to recover from the mysterious condition that prevents him to sweat?
Will his ego take another blow?
How will he be able to afford even the most basic holistic wellness?
How can Charles – who knows only too well about its benefits – be so cruel to his own brother?
Should I start a collection so that Andrew can pay for his most basic needs?
Yes, these are the nagging questions and deep concerns that keep me awake at night!
I have just been asked if, by any chance, the yoga teacher is a 16-year-old female. I have to admit that I cannot answer this question.
During the last few days, several journalists have asked me about ayahuasca. Apparently, Harry Windsor said in an interview that it changed his life! However, the family of a young woman who took her own life after using ayahuasca has joined campaigners condemning his comments. Others – including myself – claim that Harry is sending a worrying message talking about his ‘positive’ experience with ayahuasca, saying it ‘brought me a sense of relaxation, release, comfort, a lightness that I managed to hold on to for a period of time’.
So, what is ayahuasca?
This paper explains it quite well:
Ayahuasca is a hallucinogen brew traditionally used for ritual and therapeutic purposes in Northwestern Amazon. It is rich in the tryptamine hallucinogens dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which acts as a serotonin 5-HT2A agonist. This mechanism of action is similar to other compounds such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin. The controlled use of LSD and psilocybin in experimental settings is associated with a low incidence of psychotic episodes, and population studies corroborate these findings. Both the controlled use of DMT in experimental settings and the use of ayahuasca in experimental and ritual settings are not usually associated with psychotic episodes, but little is known regarding ayahuasca or DMT use outside these controlled contexts. Thus, we performed a systematic review of the published case reports describing psychotic episodes associated with ayahuasca and DMT intake. We found three case series and two case reports describing psychotic episodes associated with ayahuasca intake, and three case reports describing psychotic episodes associated with DMT. Several reports describe subjects with a personal and possibly a family history of psychosis (including schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorders, psychotic mania, psychotic depression), nonpsychotic mania, or concomitant use of other drugs. However, some cases also described psychotic episodes in subjects without these previous characteristics. Overall, the incidence of such episodes appears to be rare in both the ritual and the recreational/noncontrolled settings. Performance of a psychiatric screening before administration of these drugs, and other hallucinogens, in controlled settings seems to significantly reduce the possibility of adverse reactions with psychotic symptomatology. Individuals with a personal or family history of any psychotic illness or nonpsychotic mania should avoid hallucinogen intake.
In other words, ayahuasca can lead to serious side effects. They include vomiting, diarrhea, paranoia, and panic. Ayahuasca can also interact with many medications, including antidepressants, psychiatric medications, drugs used to control Parkinson’s disease, cough medicines, weight loss medications, and more. Those with a history of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, should avoid ayahuasca because this could worsen their psychiatric symptoms. Additionally, taking ayahuasca can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which may result in dangerous consequences for those who have a heart condition.
Thus ayahuasca is an interesting albeit dangerous herb (in most countries it is illegal to possess or consume it). Currently, it is clearly under-researched, which means we know very little about its potential benefits and even less about the harm it can do.
Considering this, one would think that any half-intelligent person with loads of influence would not promote or encourage its use – but, sadly, it seems that one would be mistaken.
Norbert Hofer is the former leader of the Austrian right-wing FPÖ party who almost became Austria’s President. Currently, he is the 3rd member of the National Council. Hofer is a man full of surprises; he stated, for instance, that the Quran was more dangerous than COVID-19 during a speech held at a 2020 campaign event. As a result, he was sued for hate-speech.
- L-tryptophan; a Cochrane review concluded that “a large number of studies appear to address the research questions, but few are of sufficient quality to be reliable. Available evidence does suggest these substances are better than placebo at alleviating depression. Further studies are needed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of 5‐HTP and tryptophan before their widespread use can be recommended. The possible association between these substances and the potentially fatal Eosinophilia‐Myalgia Syndrome has not been elucidated. Because alternative antidepressants exist which have been proven to be effective and safe the clinical usefulness of 5‐HTP and tryptophan is limited at present.”
- Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, a common delivery system.
- Rhodiola rosea extracts; human studies evaluating R. rosea did not have sufficient quality to determine whether it has properties affecting fatigue or any other condition.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters to manufacturers of R. rosea dietary supplement products unapproved as new drugs, adulterated, misbranded and in federal violation for not having proof of safety or efficacy for the advertised conditions of alleviating Raynaud syndrome, altitude sickness, depression or cancer.
- Ginseng root extract. Although ginseng has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, modern research is inconclusive about its biological effects. Preliminary clinical research indicates possible effects on memory, fatigue, menopause symptoms, and insulin response in people with mild diabetes. Out of 44 studies examined between 2005–2015, 29 showed positive, limited evidence, and 15 showed no effects. As of 2021, there is insufficient evidence to indicate that ginseng has any health effects. A 2021 review indicated that ginseng had “only trivial effects on erectile function or satisfaction with intercourse compared to placebo”. The constituents include steroid saponins known as ginsenosides, but the effects of these ginseng compounds have not been studied with high-quality clinical research as of 2021, and therefore remain unknown. As of 2019, the United States FDA and Federal Trade Commission have issued numerous warning letters to manufacturers of ginseng dietary supplements for making false claims of health or anti-disease benefits, stating that the “products are not generally recognized as safe and effective for the referenced uses” and are illegal as unauthorized “new drugs” under federal law. Concerns exist when ginseng is used chronically, potentially causing side effects such as headaches, insomnia, and digestive problems. Ginseng may have adverse effects when used with the blood thinner warfarin. Ginseng also has adverse drug reactions with phenelzine, and a potential interaction has been reported with imatinib, resulting in hepatotoxicity, and with lamotrigine. Other side effects may include anxiety, insomnia, fluctuations in blood pressure, breast pain, vaginal bleeding, nausea, or diarrhea.
- Zinc gluconate which has been used in lozenges for treating the common cold. However, controlled trials with lozenges which include zinc acetate have found it has the greatest effect on the duration of coldsInstances of anosmia (loss of smell) have been reported with intranasal use of some products containing zinc gluconate. In September 2003, Zicam faced lawsuits from users who claimed that the product, a nasal gel containing zinc gluconate and several inactive ingredients, negatively affected their sense of smell and sometimes taste. Some plaintiffs alleged experiencing a strong and very painful burning sensation when they used the product. Matrixx Initiatives, Inc., the maker of Zicam, responded that only a small number of people had experienced problems and that anosmia can be caused by the common cold itself. In January 2006, 340 lawsuits were settled for $12 million.
- Pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6) is usually well tolerated, though overdose toxicity is possible. Occasionally side effects include headache, numbness, and sleepiness. Pyridoxine overdose can cause a peripheral sensory neuropathy characterized by poor coordination, numbness, and decreased sensation to touch, temperature, and vibration.
‘Formula Fortuna’ allegedly is for lifting your mood. If I, however, tell you that you need to pay one Euro per day for the supplement, your mood might even change in the opposite direction.
I think I might design a dietary supplement against stupidity. It will not carry any of the risks of Hofer’s new invention but, I am afraid, it might be just as ineffective as Hofer’s ‘Formual Fortuna’.
In case you have categorized Harry Windsor as an ungrateful brat, you are entirely wrong! He did thank a lot of people – Ophra and Gwyneth Paltrow, for instance. No, I did not read Harry’s bestseller ‘SPARE’. But I did, of course, read the odd report about it simply because it is almost impossible to escape the current press hoo-ha about it.
Most of what I learned is of no interest to me. Some of it, I have to admit, made me concerned about Hary’s wellbeing – after all, we know that chronic drug-taking can severely affect one’s mental health! However, one recent article in Newsweek managed to reassure me on that score:
Among the “professionals, medical experts, and coaches” thanked by the prince for “keeping me physically and mentally strong over the years,” is John Amaral, a Los Angeles-based chiropractor, energy practitioner, author and educator. Amaral is known for his self-developed “energy flow formula,” which combines body and energy work to include mindfulness, meditation and breathing.
This sounded sufficiently relevant for me to look up Amaral. This is what we learn from one website:
Dr. John Amaral is a holistic chiropractor that practices Network Spinal (NSA). This technique helps people release stored tension in their muscles and joints through gentle force adjustments, also known as entrainments. Instead of the traditional cracking or popping of bones that you’re used to seeing at chiropractic offices, John Amaral leverages different energetic intelligences to help people heal physically and emotionally.
Another source tells us the following:
John Amaral is a chiropractor, energy healer and educator who works behind the scenes helping celebrities, entrepreneurs, pro athletes and influencers elevate their energy so they feel and perform their best. John has worked with thousands of people from over 50 countries. He is the Founder of Body Centered Leadership… How much do his sessions cost? According to the Wall Street Journal, a healing session with Amaral will run you $2,500.
And a third website informs us that:
Amaral works with what he calls the “subtle energy body”, which is the energy field around the body that can extend around 3 to 8 feet from the physical body. His work is primarily focused on shifting the tension state of the body and help in freeing up bound-up energy that’s held in different parts of the body. He accesses the energy around the body to achieve this.
In case you have not yet got the drift, take a look at this video; impressive isn’t it?
Yes, Amaral is not cheap but he must be worth it! And because he is such a genial healer, I am confident that we can all relax now knowing that Harry’s health is in such good hands. Personally, I am thrilled by Harry’s hint that there might be a second book in the offing – one with the really dirty linen. I think I might actually buy that one, now that I know how badly he needs the money for keeping healthy.
Electroacupuncture (EA) is often advocated for depression and sleep disorders but its efficacy remains uncertain. The aim of this study was, therefore, to “assess the efficacy and safety of EA as an alternative therapy in improving sleep quality and mental state for patients with insomnia and depression.”
A 32-week patient- and assessor-blinded, randomized, sham-controlled clinical trial (8-week intervention plus 24-week follow-up) was conducted from September 1, 2016, to July 30, 2019, at 3 tertiary hospitals in Shanghai, China. Patients were randomized to receive
- EA treatment and standard care,
- sham acupuncture (SA) treatment and standard care,
- standard care only as control.
Patients in the EA or SA groups received a 30-minute treatment 3 times per week (usually every other day except Sunday) for 8 consecutive weeks. All treatments were performed by licensed acupuncturists with at least 5 years of clinical experience. A total of 6 acupuncturists (2 at each center; including X.Y. and S.Z.) performed EA and SA, and they received standardized training on the intervention method before the trial. The regular acupuncture method was applied at the Baihui (GV20), Shenting (GV24), Yintang (GV29), Anmian (EX-HN22), Shenmen (HT7), Neiguan (PC6), and SanYinjiao (SP6) acupuncture points, with 0.25 × 25-mm and 0.30 × 40-mm real needles (Wuxi Jiajian Medical Device Co, Ltd), or 0.30 × 30-mm sham needles (Streitberger sham device [Asia-med GmbH]).
For patients in the EA group, rotating or lifting-thrusting manipulation was applied for deqi sensation after needle insertion. The 2 electrodes of the electrostimulator (CMNS6-1 [Wuxi Jiajian Medical Device Co, Ltd]) were connected to the needles at GV20 and GV29, delivering a continuous wave based on the patient’s tolerance. Patients in the SA group felt a pricking sensation when the blunt needle tip touched the skin, but without needle insertion. All indicators of the nearby electrostimulator were set to 0, with the light switched on. Standard care (also known as treatment as usual or routine care) was used in the control group. Patients receiving standard care were recommended by the researchers to get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, and manage their stress level during the trial. They were asked to keep the regular administration of antidepressants, sedatives, or hypnotics as well. Psychiatrists in the Shanghai Mental Health Center (including X.L.) guided all patients’ standard care treatment and provided professional advice when a patient’s condition changed.
The primary outcome was change in Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) from baseline to week 8. Secondary outcomes included PSQI at 12, 20, and 32 weeks of follow-up; sleep parameters recorded in actigraphy; Insomnia Severity Index; 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale score; and Self-rating Anxiety Scale score.
Among the 270 patients (194 women [71.9%] and 76 men [28.1%]; mean [SD] age, 50.3 [14.2] years) included in the intention-to-treat analysis, 247 (91.5%) completed all outcome measurements at week 32, and 23 (8.5%) dropped out of the trial. The mean difference in PSQI from baseline to week 8 within the EA group was -6.2 (95% CI, -6.9 to -5.6). At week 8, the difference in PSQI score was -3.6 (95% CI, -4.4 to -2.8; P < .001) between the EA and SA groups and -5.1 (95% CI, -6.0 to -4.2; P < .001) between the EA and control groups. The efficacy of EA in treating insomnia was sustained during the 24-week postintervention follow-up. Significant improvement in the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (-10.7 [95% CI, -11.8 to -9.7]), Insomnia Severity Index (-7.6 [95% CI, -8.5 to -6.7]), and Self-rating Anxiety Scale (-2.9 [95% CI, -4.1 to -1.7]) scores and the total sleep time recorded in the actigraphy (29.1 [95% CI, 21.5-36.7] minutes) was observed in the EA group during the 8-week intervention period (P < .001 for all). No between-group differences were found in the frequency of sleep awakenings. No serious adverse events were reported.
The result of the blinding assessment showed that 56 patients (62.2%) in the SA group guessed wrongly about their group assignment (Bang blinding index, −0.4 [95% CI, −0.6 to −0.3]), whereas 15 (16.7%) in the EA group also guessed wrongly (Bang blinding index, 0.5 [95% CI, 0.4-0.7]). This indicated a relatively higher degree of blinding in the SA group.
The authors concluded that, in this randomized clinical trial of EA treatment for insomnia in patients with depression, quality of sleep improved significantly in the EA group compared with the SA or control group at week 8 and was sustained at week 32.
This trial seems rigorous, it has a sizable sample size, uses a credible placebo procedure, and is reported in sufficient detail. Why then am I skeptical?
- Perhaps because we have often discussed how untrustworthy acupuncture studies from China are?
- Perhaps because I fail to see a plausible mechanism of action?
- Perhaps because the acupuncturists could not be blinded and thus might have influenced the outcome?
- Perhaps because the effects of sham acupuncture seem unreasonably small?
- Perhaps because I cannot be sure whether the acupuncture or the electrical current is supposed to have caused the effects?
- Perhaps because the authors of the study are from institutions such as the Shanghai Municipal Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Huadong Hospital, Fudan University, Shanghai,
- Perhaps because the results seem too good to be true?
If you have other and better reasons, I’d be most interested to hear them.
Bioenergy (or energy healing) therapies are among the popular alternative treatment options for many diseases, including cancer. Many studies deal with the advantages and disadvantages of bioenergy therapies as an addition to established treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation in the treatment of cancer. However, a systematic overview of this evidence is thus far lacking. For this reason, German authors reviewed and critically examined the evidence to determine what benefits the treatments have for patients.
In June 2022, 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 bioenergy therapies including the following modalities:
- Therapeutic Touch,
- Healing Touch,
- Polarity Therapy.
From all 2477 search results, 21 publications with a total of 1375 patients were included in this systematic review. The patients treated with bioenergy therapies were mainly diagnosed with breast cancer. The main outcomes measured were:
- quality of life (QoL),
The studies were predominantly of moderate quality and, for the most part, found no effect. In terms of QoL, pain, and nausea, there were some positive short-term effects of the interventions, but no long-term differences were detectable. The risk of side effects from bioenergy therapies appears to be relatively small.
The authors concluded that considering the methodical limitations of the included studies, studies with high study quality could not find any difference between bioenergy therapies and active (placebo, massage, RRT, yoga, meditation, relaxation training, companionship, friendly visit) and passive control groups (usual care, resting, education). Only studies with a low study quality were able to show significant effects.
Energy healing is as popular as it is implausible. What these ‘healers’ call ‘energy’ is not how it is defined in physics. It is an undefined, imagined entity that exists only in the imagination of its proponents. So why should it have an effect on cancer or any other condition?
Energy healing is an umbrella term for a range of paranormal healing practices. Their common denominator is the belief in a mystical ‘energy’ that can be used for therapeutic purposes.
- Forms of energy healing have existed in many ancient cultures. The ‘New Age’ movement has brought about a revival of these ideas, and today energy healing systems are amongst the most popular alternative therapies in the US as well as in many other countries. Popular forms of energy healing include those listed above. Each of these are discussed and referenced in separate chapters of this book.
- Energy healing relies on the esoteric belief in some form of ‘energy’ which is distinct from the concept of energy understood in physics and refers to some life force such as chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or prana in Ayurvedic medicine.
- Some proponents employ terminology from quantum physics and other ‘cutting-edge’ science to give their treatments a scientific flair which, upon closer scrutiny, turns out to be but a veneer of pseudo-science.
- The ‘energy’ that energy healers refer to is not measurable and lacks biological plausibility.
- Considering its implausibility, energy healing has attracted a surprisingly high level of research activity. Its findings are discussed in the respective chapters of each of the specific forms of energy healing.
- Generally speaking, the methodologically best trials of energy healing fail to demonstrate that it generates effects beyond placebo.
- Even though energy healing is per se harmless, it can do untold damage, not least because it significantly undermines rational thought in our societies.
As you can see, I do not entirely agree with my German friends on the issue of harm. I think energy healing is potentially dangerous and should be discouraged.
Cannabis use is a frequently-discussed subject, not just in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). In general, SCAM advocates view it as an herbal medicine and recommend it for all sorts of conditions. They also often downplay the risks associated with cannabis use. Yet, these risks might be substantial.
Cannabis potency, defined as the concentration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has increased internationally, which could increase the risk of adverse health outcomes for cannabis users. The first systematic review of the association of cannabis potency with mental health and addiction was recently published in ‘The Lancet Psychiatry’.
The authors searched Embase, PsycINFO, and MEDLINE (from database inception to Jan 14, 2021). Included studies were observational studies of human participants comparing the association of high-potency cannabis (products with a higher concentration of THC) and low-potency cannabis (products with a lower concentration of THC), as defined by the studies included, with depression, anxiety, psychosis, or cannabis use disorder (CUD).
Of 4171 articles screened, 20 met the eligibility criteria:
- eight studies focused on psychosis,
- eight on anxiety,
- seven on depression,
- and six on CUD.
Overall, higher potency cannabis, relative to lower potency cannabis, was associated with an increased risk of psychosis and CUD. Evidence varied for depression and anxiety. The association of cannabis potency with CUD and psychosis highlights its relevance in healthcare settings, and for public health guidelines and policies on cannabis sales.
The authors concluded that standardisation of exposure measures and longitudinal designs are needed to strengthen the evidence of this association.
The fact that cannabis use increases the risk of psychosis has long been general knowledge. The notion that the risk increases with increased potency of cannabis seems entirely logical and is further supported by this systematic review. Perhaps it is time to educate the public and make cannabis users more aware of these risks, and perhaps it is time that SCAM proponents negate the harm cannabis can do.
The ‘My Resilience in Adolescence (MYRIAD) Trial’evaluated the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of SBMT compared with teaching-as-usual (TAU).
MYRIAD was a parallel group, cluster-randomised controlled trial. Eighty-five eligible schools consented and were randomized 1:1 to TAU (43 schools, 4232 students) or SBMT (42 schools, 4144 students), stratified by school size, quality, type, deprivation, and region. Schools and students (mean (SD); age range=12.2 (0.6); 11–14 years) were broadly UK population-representative. Forty-three schools (n=3678 pupils; 86.9%) delivering SBMT, and 41 schools (n=3572; 86.2%) delivering TAU, provided primary end-point data. SBMT comprised 10 lessons of psychoeducation and mindfulness practices. TAU comprised standard social-emotional teaching. Participant-level risk for depression, social-emotional-behavioural functioning and well-being at 1 year follow-up were the co-primary outcomes. Secondary and economic outcomes were included.
An analysis of the data from 84 schools (n=8376 participants) found no evidence that SBMT was superior to TAU at 1 year. Standardised mean differences (intervention minus control) were: 0.005 (95% CI −0.05 to 0.06) for risk for depression; 0.02 (−0.02 to 0.07) for social-emotional-behavioural functioning; and 0.02 (−0.03 to 0.07) for well-being. SBMT had a high probability of cost-effectiveness (83%) at a willingness-to-pay threshold of £20 000 per quality-adjusted life year. No intervention-related adverse events were observed.
The authors concluded that the findings do not support the superiority of SBMT over TAU in promoting mental health in adolescence.
Even though the results are negative, MYRIAD must be praised for its scale and rigor, and for highlighting the importance of large, well-designed studies before implementing measures of this kind on a population basis. Co-author Tim Dalgliesh, director of the Cambridge Centre for Affective Disorders, said: “For policymakers, it’s not just about coming up with a great intervention to teach young people skills to deal with their stress. You also have to think about where that stress is coming from in the first place.”
“There had been some hope for an easy solution, especially for those who might develop depression,” says Til Wykes, head of the School of Mental Health and Psychological Sciences at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King’s College London. “There may be lots of reasons for developing depression, and these are probably not helped by mindfulness,” she says. “We need more research on other potential factors that might be modified, and perhaps this would provide a more targeted solution to this problem.”
Personally, I feel that mindfulness has been hyped in recent years. Much of the research that seemed to support it was less than rigorous. What is now needed is a realistic approach based on sound evidence and critical thinking.
Given the high prevalence of burdensome symptoms in palliative care (PC) and the increasing use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) therapies, research is needed to determine how often and what types of SCAM therapies providers recommend to manage symptoms in PC.
This survey documented recommendation rates of SCAM for target symptoms and assessed if, SCAM use varies by provider characteristics. The investigators conducted US nationwide surveys of MDs, DOs, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners working in PC.
Participants (N = 404) were mostly female (71.3%), MDs/DOs (74.9%), and cared for adults (90.4%). Providers recommended SCAM an average of 6.8 times per month (95% CI: 6.0-7.6) and used an average of 5.1 (95% CI: 4.9-5.3) out of 10 listed SCAM modalities. Respondents recommended mostly:
- mind-body medicines (e.g., meditation, biofeedback),
The most targeted symptoms included:
- mood disturbances,
Recommendation frequencies for specific modality-for-symptom combinations ranged from little use (e.g. aromatherapy for constipation) to occasional use (e.g. mind-body interventions for psychiatric symptoms). Finally, recommendation rates increased as a function of pediatric practice, noninpatient practice setting, provider age, and proportion of effort spent delivering palliative care.
The authors concluded that to the best of our knowledge, this is the first national survey to characterize PC providers’ SCAM recommendation behaviors and assess specific therapies and common target symptoms. Providers recommended a broad range of SCAM but do so less frequently than patients report using SCAM. These findings should be of interest to any provider caring for patients with serious illness.
Initially, one might feel encouraged by these data. Mind-body therapies are indeed supported by reasonably sound evidence for the symptoms listed. The evidence is, however, not convincing for many other forms of SCAM, in particular massage or acupuncture/acupressure. So encouragement is quickly followed by disappointment.
Some people might say that in PC one must not insist on good evidence: if the patient wants it, why not? But the point is that there are several forms of SCAMs that are backed by good evidence for use in PC. So, why not follow the evidence and use those? It seems to me that it is not in the patients’ best interest to disregard the evidence in medicine – and this, of course, includes PC.