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

diagnostic method

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The story about Thomas Rau made me once again look into the plethora of hair-raising nonsense that is being claimed on social media and elsewhere about live-blood analysis (LBA). LBA is a form of ‘dark field microscopy where the sample is illuminated with light that will not be collected by the objective lens and thus will not form part of the image. This generates the appearance of a dark background with bright objects on it. LBA is employed as a diagnostic method used by many practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). The procedure is faily simple:

  1. a drop of blood is taken usually by a finger prick,
  2. it is then put on a glass plate without anticoagulation,
  3. the glass plate id placed on a darkfield microscope,
  4. the blood cells (mostly erythrocytes) are oberved,
  5. the SCAM practitioner can make patients watch their own blood cells on a TV screen while they are listening to his/her interpretation of the phenomena on display.

LBA is quick and simple – provided you have a dark field microscope – looks very ‘cutting edge’ to a lay person, and commands impressive fees. For all of these reasons, it is popular in the realm of SCAM.

The claims that are being made for LBA are varied and far-reaching, e.g.:

  • LBA can allegedly find pleomorphic bacteria in the blood of healthy and diseased humans.
  • LBA can allegedly be used to evaluate immune system status.
  • LBA can allegedly diagnose diseases or predispositions to diseases such as allergies and chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, immunity-related disorders and many more.

LBA has a long and colorful history, e.g.:

  • In the early 1900’s, Béchamp claimed that animal body fluids contained subcellular living particles (i.e., microzymas) that transformed into bacteria upon death and decay of the host (Béchamp, A. The Blood and its Third Anatomical Element. (John Ouseley Ltd, 1912)).
  • Enderlein described small entities called endobionts and protits in human blood and believed that these particles underwent a complex life cycle that correlated with disease progression ( Enderlein, G. Bacteria Cyclogeny. (Verlag Walter de Gruyter, 1925)).
  • In the 1950’s, Villequez proposed that human blood was infected by a latent parasite similar to bacterial L-forms.
  • In the 1960/70s, Tedeschi and Pease reported that the blood of healthy and diseased individuals appeared to be continually infected with bacteria.

For a range of reasons, I am confident that LBA is hocuspocus. In the first 10 years of my career as a scientist, I was a researcher of ‘hemorhelology’, i.e. the flow properties of blood. One of the phenomena of interest in this field is that of red cell aggregation (RCA), the tendency of erythrocytes to reversibly aggregate when left still (i.e. in the absence of shear forces normally provided by the flow of blood). In the course of our research we even developed a method to quantify RCA.

Suffice to say that I think I understand the main phenomenon SCAM practitioners see when they look down their dark field microscope. They see red cells aligning in ‘rouleaux’ similar to stacks of coins. So far, so good! Where they go wrong is the interpretation of this phenomenon. It is the normal tendency of red cells to aggregate. It is not indicative of any of the conditions SCAM practitioners think it to be.

While RCA is well researched and understood, it’s re-branding under the banner of LBA has attracted almost no research at all (and this in itself should make us think: valid methods of diagnosis are invariably well-researched). The little research that did emerge fails to show that LBA is a valid diagnostic tool. Judge for yourself, here are the abstracts of the 3 recent papers on LBA that I managed to find:

1st study:

BACKGROUND: Dark field microscopy according to Enderlin claims to be able to detect forthcoming or beginning cancer at an early stage through minute abnormalities in the blood. In Germany and the USA, this method is used by an increasing number of physicians and health practitioners (non-medically qualified complementary practitioners), because this easy test seems to give important information about patients’ health status.

OBJECTIVE: Can dark field microscopy reliably detect cancer?

MATERIALS AND METHODS: In the course of a prospective study on iridology, blood samples were drawn for dark field microscopy in 110 patients. A health practitioner with several years of training in the field carried out the examination without prior information about the patients.

RESULTS: Out of 12 patients with present tumor metastasis as confirmed by radiological methods (CT, MRI or ultra-sound) 3 were correctly identified. Analysis of sensitivity (0.25), specificity (0.64), positive (0.09) and negative (0.85) predictive values revealed unsatisfactory results.

CONCLUSION: Dark field micoroscopy does not seem to reliably detect the presence of cancer. Clinical use of the method can therefore not be recommended until future studies are conducted.

2nd study:

CONTEXT: In 1925, the German zoologist Günther Enderlein, PhD, published a concept of microbial life cycles. His observations of live blood using darkfield microscopy revealed structures and phenomena that had not yet been described. Although very little research has been conducted to explain the phenomena Dr. Enderlein observed, the diagnostic test is still used in complementary and alternative medicine.

OBJECTIVE: To test the interobserver reliability and test-retest reliability of 2 experienced darkfield specialists who had undergone comparable training in Enderlein blood analysis.

SETTING: Inpatient clinic for internal medicine and geriatrics.

METHODS: Both observers assessed 48 capillary blood samples from 24 patients with diabetes. The observers were mutually blind and assessed their findings according to a specific item randomization list that allowed observers to specify whether Enderlein structures were visible or not.

RESULTS: The interobserver reliability for the visibility of various structures was kappa = .35 (95% CI: .27-.43), the test-retest reliability was kappa = .44 (95% CI: .36-.53).

CONCLUSIONS: This pilot study indicates that Enderlein darkfield analysis is very difficult to standardize and that the reliability of the diagnostic test is low.

3rd study

Although human blood is believed to be a sterile environment, recent studies suggest that pleomorphic bacteria exist in the blood of healthy humans. These studies have led to the development of “live-blood analysis,” a technique used by alternative medicine practitioners to diagnose various human conditions, including allergies, cancer, cardiovascular disease and septicemia. We show here that bacteria-like vesicles and refringent particles form in healthy human blood observed under dark-field microscopy. These structures gradually increase in number during incubation and show morphologies reminiscent of cells undergoing division. Based on lipid analysis and Western blotting, we show that the bacteria-like entities consist of membrane vesicles containing serum and exosome proteins, including albumin, fetuin-A, apolipoprotein-A1, alkaline phosphatase, TNFR1 and CD63. In contrast, the refringent particles represent protein aggregates that contain several blood proteins. 16S rDNA PCR analysis reveals the presence of bacterial DNA in incubated blood samples but also in negative controls, indicating that the amplified sequences represent contaminants. These results suggest that the bacteria-like vesicles and refringent particles observed in human blood represent non-living membrane vesicles and protein aggregates derived from blood. The phenomena observed during live-blood analysis are therefore consistent with time-dependent decay of cells and body fluids during incubation ex vivo.

So, what does all of this mean?

It means that LBA is not a valid diagnostic tool. Its use carries the serious danger of making false-positive and false-negative diagnoses. LBA has a poor reproducibility and is prone to all sorts of artefacts (including temperature, time, contaminants, method of obtaining the blood sample, etc.) that influence RCA. RCA is a normal and reversible phenomenon that determines the flow properties of blood in vivo. In itself, it is not a sign of any disease or disposition to fall ill.

In a nutshell:

LBA is an ideal tool for quacks to rip off their gullible clients.

 

He came to my attention via the sad story recently featured here about patients allegedly being harmed or killed in a Swiss hospital for so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). What I then learned about the doctor in charge of this place fascinated me:

Rau states about himself (my translation):

Early on, Dr Rau focused on natural therapies, in particular homeopathy and dietary changes. The healing success of his patients proved him right, so he studied alternative healing methods with leading practitioners. These included orthomolecular medicine, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine and European holistic medicine. With his wealth of knowledge and over 30 years of experience, Dr Rau formed his own holistic theory of healing: Swiss Biological Medicine – Dr Rau’s Biological Medicine. It is based on the principles of detoxification, nutrition, digestion and sustainable strengthening of the immune system.

Career & studies:

  • Medical studies at the University of Bern
  • Final medical examinations in Switzerland and the USA
  • Subsequent work in rheumatology, internal and general medicine
  • Member of the Swiss Medical Association FMH since 1981
  • 1981 to 1992 conventional physician & medical director of a Swiss spa centre for rheumatology and rehabilitation medicine
  • 1983 to 1992 Doctor at a drug rehabilitation centre
  • 1992 to 2019 Establishment of the Paracelsus Clinic Lustmühle as medical director and partner
  • until 2020 Head of the academic network and training organisation “Paracelsus Academy”

Rau also states this:

  • 2019 mit dem Honorarprofessoren-Titel von der Europäischen Universität in Wien ausgezeichnet (2019, he was awarded the title of homorary professor at the European University in Vienna)

This puzzles me because there is no such institution as the ‘Europäische Universität in Wien’. There is a Central European University but this can hadly be it?!

Now, I am intrigued and see what the ‘honorary professor’ might have published. Sadly, there seems to be nothing on Medline except 2 interviews. In one interview, Rau explains (amongst other things) ‘live blood analysis’, a method that we have repeatedly discussed before (for instance, here and here):

Darkfield microscopy shows a lot. We take 1 drop of blood and look at it under a very large-scale magnification. The blood is life under the glass. Once it’s on the glass, there isn’t oxygen or light or heat. This is a giant stress for the blood. So we see how, over a time, the blood reacts to this stress, and how the blood cells tolerate the stress. You can see the changes. So we take a drop of blood that represents the organism and put it under stress and look at how the cells react to the stress, and then we can see the tolerance and the resistiveness of these cells. Do they have a good cell-membrane face? Do they have good energetic behavior? Do they clot together? Is there a chance for degenerative diseases? Is there a cancerous tendency in this blood? We see tendencies. And that’s what we are interested in, tendencies.

Question: If you saw a cancerous tendency, what would that look like?

Rau: Cancerous tendency is a change in the cells. They get rigid, so to say. They don’t react very well.

Question: And how long does blood live outside the body?

Rau: It can live for several days. But after 1 hour, the blood is already seriously changed. For example, a leukemia patient came to my clinic for another disease. But when we did darkfield, I found the leukemia. We saw that his white blood cells were atypical. Look at this slide—the fact that there are so many white blood cells together is absolutely unusual, and the fact that there are atypical white blood cells. This shows me that the patient has myeloid leukemia. The patient had been diagnosed as having rheumatoid lung pain, but it was absolutely not true. The real cause of his pain was an infiltration of the spinal bone by these lymphocytes.

This is, of course, complete nonsense. As I explained in my blog post, live blood analysis (LBA) is not plausible and there is no evidence to support the claims made for it. It also is by no means new; using his lately developed microscope, Antony van Leeuwenhoek observed in 1686 that living blood cells changed shape during circulation. Ever since, doctors, scientists and others have studied blood samples in this and many other ways.

New, however, is what today’s SCAM practitioners claim to be able to do with LBA. Proponents believe that the method provides information about the state of the immune system, possible vitamin deficiencies, amount of toxicity, pH and mineral imbalance, areas of concern and weaknesses, fungus and yeast infections, as well as just about everything else you can imagine.

LBA is likely to produce false-positive and false-negative diagnoses. A false-positive diagnosis is a condition which the patient does not truly have. This means she will receive treatments that are not necessary, potentially harmful and financially wasteful. A false-negative diagnosis would mean that the patient is told she is healthy, while in fact she is not. This can cost valuable time to start an effective therapy and, in extreme cases, it would hasten the death of that patient. The conclusion is thus clear: LBA is an ineffective, potentially dangerous diagnostic method for exploiting gullible consumers. My advice is to avoid practitioners who employ this technique.

And what does that say about ‘honorary professor’ Rau?

I think I let you answer that question yourself.

 

The NZZ recently published a long and horrific report about a natural health clinic and its doctors. Here is a  version translated and shortened by me; perhaps it makes a few people think twice before they waste their money and risk their health:

It is a narrow mountain road that they are racing down on this spring evening. Over the green Appenzell hills, towards Herisau hospital. Kathrin Pfister* is fighting for her life in the car. At the wheel is Thomas Rau, internationally renowned practitioner of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and director of his own luxury clinic, the Biomed Centre Sonnenberg. Three days later, Kathrin Pfister is dead. The most likely finding according to the experts: Pfister was injected with a drug that was not authorised in Switzerland at the time, the side effects of which killed her.

Pfister is not the only woman to have lost her life following treatment at the Sonnenberg. Other experts accuse Rau of serious breaches of duty that led to the death of a patient. Rau and another doctor are thus being investigated for involuntary manslaughter.

The events remained hidden from the public for over two years. It’s not just about one doctor, not just about one clinic. The events are politically explosive for Appenzell Ausserrhoden. The canton is the centre of alternative medicine in Switzerland. SCAM doctors are an important economic factor in Ausserrhoden. Wealthy people from all over the world fly here for therapies that most conventional doctors just shake their heads at. Treatments lasting several weeks with a hotel stay cost five-figure sums.

The 73-year-old Dr Rau is the star among Swiss alternative medicine practitioners.He describes himself as the “Mozart of medicine”. The Biomed Centre Sonnenberg is “Mozart’s” last big project. The clinic has a hotel and gluten-free vegan restaurant from the Tibits chain. Even the feather pillows are replaced with bamboo ones. All for the “detox” that Rau praises.

Kathrin Pfister’s case began in mid-April 2021, just four months after the Sonnenberg centre opened. She is actually healthy and comes to the clinic anyway; because of some digestive problems and headaches. The hospital records show that Pfister received infusions. Initially only those containing vitamin C and homeopathic remedies. Then one with artesunate, a preparation against malaria. And finally, on a Friday, Pfister was injected with a solution of alpha-lipoic acid into his bloodstream. The infusion is used in Germany for long-term diabetics with nerve damage. It was not authorised as a medicinal product in Switzerland at the time. According to the forensic experts, it was this substance that was “ultimately causally linked to the death”.

A few hours later, Pfister had severe abdominal cramps. Then pain throughout the body. The number of platelets in her blood drops dramatically. Anxiety sets in at the clinic. The intensive care doctors in Herisau and later at the cantonal hospital in St. Gallen can do nothing more. Pfister had a massive blood clotting disorder. Her liver and kidneys were no longer functioning.

Mary Anne Hawrylak meets Thomas Rau by chance at the clinic that weekend. She too is a patient, recently flown in from the USA. Hawrylak had massive side effects after infusions that Friday. “When I told him about it, he turned white as a sheet, like a ghost,” says Hawrylak. “Doctor Rau told me in horror that I had received the same infusions as ‘Kathrin’ and that he had to test my blood.” The tests showed that her blood platelet count had also dropped, says Hawrylak.

The forensic experts point to a central fact: Alpha lipoic acid can cause blood clotting disorders.  They come to the conclusion that this is “most likely a lethal side effect of a drug”. The use of drugs that are not authorised in Switzerland is legal if they are authorised in a country with a comparable procedure. However, there is no real reason to inject this medication into the bloodstream of healthy people. It was authorised in Germany for diabetes patients with nerve damage. So, Pfister did not have this authorisation.

Experts refer to such applications as “off-label use”.  Off-label treatments should only be carried out “on the basis of valid guidelines, generally recognised recommendations or scientific literature”. The guidelines also require that patients are given comprehensive information about off-label use. This counselling session should be documented in writing. None of this can be found in the clinic’s files. No written consent, no documented risk-benefit assessment, no reference to the risk of blood clotting disorders. The forensic experts state: “The scant documentation from the Sonnenberg Biomed Centre does not contain any corresponding information document.” The question arises as to “whether the medical treatment at the Sonnenberg Biomed Centre was carried out with the necessary medical care”.

Patient Hawrylak also says: “I was not told exactly what was in the infusions. I was never told that the medication was not authorised in Switzerland or that its use was off-label. I spoke to Dr Rau about what had happened to ‘Kathrin’ because I was worried about myself,” says Hawrylak. “He said to me: ‘I don’t think it was the infusions. I think it was the Covid vaccinations.” He only justified this with his “intuition”.

The Pfister case triggered an investigation by the public prosecutor’s office. But what hardly anyone knew at the time was that it was not the first questionable death at the clinic – not even the first in a month. Ruth Schmid*, a 77-year-old Swiss woman, had died just three weeks earlier. In this case, the forensic pathologists accused Rau: He had made mistakes that not even a medical student should have made, thus causing Schmid’s death.

Schmid was also in the clinic for a kind of cure. When she was about to leave, she began to tremble violently and had extreme stomach pains. She screamed “like an animal”, her partner said during the interrogation. Ultrasound examinations were carried out at the clinic and Rau gave Schmid painkillers, including morphine. According to the partner’s statement to the public prosecutor’s office, he asked Rau whether Schmid needed to be taken to hospital. Rau said no. Schmid stayed in the hotel room overnight. The next day – according to Rau, she had been feeling better since the previous evening – she travelled home. According to Rau’s confiscated notes, “she was to report closely” and return in four days. At home, Ruth Schmid fell into a coma-like state overnight. Admitted to Zurich University Hospital in an emergency, Schmid died there of cardiovascular failure due to septic shock.

The Zurich forensic pathologists performed an autopsy on Schmid’s body. Their findings: Schmid had suffered from intestinal paralysis. As a result, bacteria entered her body and poisoned her blood, leading to a heart attack. “From a forensic medical point of view, it is incomprehensible why the attending physician, Dr Thomas Rau, did not carry out appropriate diagnostics.” The irritation of the forensic experts is evident in almost every line. There had been several warning signs of intestinal paralysis. The forensic experts wrote: “This knowledge is taught in medical school and is considered basic knowledge in human medicine.” Rau’s behaviour was “a breach of the doctor’s duty of care”. With timely treatment, the prognosis for intestinal paralysis is excellent. The sad conclusion: Ruth Schmid did not have to die.

During questioning by the public prosecutor’s office, Rau denied any guilt. Schmid had left in “good condition”. There was no causality between what happened in the clinic and the death. The findings and conclusions of the Zurich forensic pathologists were wrong. Schmid did not have intestinal paralysis or septicaemia. He had been able to rule out intestinal paralysis because intestinal noises had been audible in the morning. The dose of morphine had been very small, so that it had had no effect. There were no indications of a serious condition. Rau testified that he had acted professionally, as would be expected of an internal medicine doctor.

In the Kathrin Pfister case, the doctors treating her also deny any culpability and question the forensic medical report. The doctor’s lawyer writes that the criminal investigation will show that there was no breach of the doctor’s duty to provide information. Alpha-lipoic acid was not responsible for the death. The expert opinion is not convincing in terms of method or content: “When analysed in depth, it contains no justification that the use of alpha-lipoic acid was in any way causal for the patient’s death.”

During the hearing on the Pfister case, Rau said that restricting the use of alpha-lipoic acid to diabetics was “a joke” and far too narrowly defined. He claimed that Pfister had polyneuropathy, a complex nerve disease. However, there is no mention of this in the files of Rau’s clinic.

The criminal investigation is ongoing in both cases. But did more happen on the Sonnenberg? A former hospital employee, who independently reported to the police, told the public prosecutor about other hair-raising incidents. During the interrogation, she testified that she had seen a young woman being carried out of the clinic extremely weak after an infusion. Days later, she had overheard parts of a telephone conversation between Rau and the patient’s angry husband which made it clear that the woman had died. The former employee also recounted a conversation with Rau’s wife, who is a trained nurse. She said that she had driven a patient to a hospital in Zurich in a private car with Rau because Rau was determined to take her to a particular specialist. The patient was so unwell that she was afraid the woman would die on the way. If this is true, Rau would have travelled past several hospitals with a seriously ill patient.

Hawrylak has one last memory of Appenzell etched in his memory. The departure. She was just leaving the clinic when Rau wished her good luck: “I could only say to him: I wish you good luck too, Doctor Rau. I think you’re really going to need it.”

*Names were altered.

The history of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is rich with ‘discoveries’ that are widely believed to be true events but that, in fact, never happened. Here are 10 examples:

  1. DD Palmer is believed to have cured the deafness of a janitor by manipulating his neck. This, many claim, was the birth of chiropractic. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because the nerve responsible for hearing does not run through the neck.
  2. Samuel Hahnemann swallowed some Cinchona officinalis, a quinine-containing treatment for malaria, and experienced the symptoms of malaria. This was the discovery of the ‘like cures like’ assumption that forms the basis of homeopathy. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because Hahnemann merely had an intolerance to quinine, and like does certainly not cure like.
  3. Edward Bach, for the discovery of each of his flower remedies, suffered from the state of mind for which a particular remedy was required; according to his companion, Nora Weeks, he suffered it “to such an intensified degree that those with him marvelled that it was possible for a human being to suffer so and retain his sanity.” This is how Bach discovered the ‘Bach Flower Remedies‘. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? His experience was not caused by by the remedy, which contain no active ingredients, but by his imagination.
  4. William Fitzgerald found that pressure on specific areas on the soles of a patient’s feet would positively affect a specific organ of that patient. This was the birth of reflexology. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because there are no nerve connections from the sole of our feet to our inner organs.
  5. Max Gerson observed that his special diet with added liver juice, vitamin B3, coffee enemas, etc. cures cancer. This is how Gerson found the Gerson therapy. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because he never could demonstrate this effect and others never were able to replicate his alleged finfings.
  6. George Goodheart was convinced that the strength of a muscle group provides information about the health of inner organs. This formed the basis for applied kinesiology. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because applied kinesiology has been disclosed as a simple party trick.
  7. Paul Nogier thought that the function of inner organs can be influenced by stimulating points on the outer ear. This was the discovery that became auricular therapy. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because Nogier’s assumptions fly in the face of anatomy and physiology.
  8. Antom Mesmer discovered that by moving a magnet over a patient, he would move her vital fluid and affect her health. This discovery became the basis for Mesmer’s ‘animal magnetism‘. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because there is no vital fluid and neither real nor animal magnetism have specific therapeutic effects.
  9. Reinhold Voll observed that the electric resistance over acupuncture points provides diagnostic information about the function of the corresponding organs. He thus invented his ‘electroacupuncture according to Voll‘ (EAV). BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because EAV and the various methods derived from it are not valid and fail to produce reproducible results.
  10. Ignatz von Peczely discovered that discolorations on the iris provide valuable information about the health of inner organs. This was the birth of iridology. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because discolorations develop spontaneously and Peczely’s assumptions about nerval connections between the iris and the organs of the body are pure fantasy.

I hope that you can think of further SCAM discoveries that never happened. If so, please elaborate in the comments section below; you will see, it is good fun!

PS

By sating ‘IT NEVER HAPPENED’, I mean to say that it never happened as reported/imagined by the inventor of the respective SCAM and that the explanations perpetuated by the enthusiasts of the SCAM regarding cause and effect are based on misunderstandings.

There is widespread agreement amongst clinicians that people with non-specific low back pain (NSLBP) comprise a heterogeneous group and that their management should be individually tailored. One treatment known by its tailored design is the McKenzie method (e.g. an individualized program of exercises based on clinical clues observed during assessment) used mostly but not exclusively by physiotherapists.

A recent Cochrane review evaluated the effectiveness of the McKenzie method in people with (sub)acute non-specific low back pain. Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) investigating the effectiveness of the McKenzie method in adults with (sub)acute (less than 12 weeks) NSLBP.

Five RCTs were included with a total of 563 participants recruited from primary or tertiary care. Three trials were conducted in the USA, one in Australia, and one in Scotland. Three trials received financial support from non-commercial funders and two did not provide information on funding sources. All trials were at high risk of performance and detection bias. None of the included trials measured adverse events.

McKenzie method versus minimal intervention (educational booklet; McKenzie method as a supplement to other intervention – main comparison) There is low-certainty evidence that the McKenzie method may result in a slight reduction in pain in the short term (MD -7.3, 95% CI -12.0 to -2.56; 2 trials, 377 participants) but not in the intermediate term (MD -5.0, 95% CI -14.3 to 4.3; 1 trial, 180 participants). There is low-certainty evidence that the McKenzie method may not reduce disability in the short term (MD -2.5, 95% CI -7.5 to 2.0; 2 trials, 328 participants) nor in the intermediate term (MD -0.9, 95% CI -7.3 to 5.6; 1 trial, 180 participants).

McKenzie method versus manual therapy There is low-certainty evidence that the McKenzie method may not reduce pain in the short term (MD -8.7, 95% CI -27.4 to 10.0; 3 trials, 298 participants) and may result in a slight increase in pain in the intermediate term (MD 7.0, 95% CI 0.7 to 13.3; 1 trial, 235 participants). There is low-certainty evidence that the McKenzie method may not reduce disability in the short term (MD -5.0, 95% CI -15.0 to 5.0; 3 trials, 298 participants) nor in the intermediate term (MD 4.3, 95% CI -0.7 to 9.3; 1 trial, 235 participants).

McKenzie method versus other interventions (massage and advice) There is very low-certainty evidence that the McKenzie method may not reduce disability in the short term (MD 4.0, 95% CI -15.4 to 23.4; 1 trial, 30 participants) nor in the intermediate term (MD 10.0, 95% CI -8.9 to 28.9; 1 trial, 30 participants).

The authors concluded that, based on low- to very low-certainty evidence, the treatment effects for pain and disability found in our review were not clinically important. Thus, we can conclude that the McKenzie method is not an effective treatment for (sub)acute NSLBP.

 The hallmark of the McKenzie method for back pain involves the identification and classification of nonspecific spinal pain into homogenous subgroups. These subgroups are based on the similar responses of a patient’s symptoms when subjected to mechanical forces. The subgroups include postural syndrome, dysfunction syndrome, derangement syndrome, or “other,” with treatment plans directed to each subgroup. The McKenzie method emphasizes the centralization phenomenon in the assessment and treatment of spinal pain, in which pain originating from the spine refers distally, and through targeted repetitive movements the pain migrates back toward the spine. The clinician will then use the information obtained from this assessment to prescribe specific exercises and advise on which postures to adopt or avoid. Through an individualized treatment program, the patient will perform specific exercises at home approximately ten times per day, as opposed to 1 or 2 physical therapy visits per week. According to the McKenzie method, if there is no restoration of normal function, tissue healing will not occur, and the problem will persist.

Classification:

The postural syndrome is pain caused by mechanical deformation of soft tissue or vasculature arising from prolonged postural stresses. These may affect the joint surfaces, muscles, or tendons, and can occur in sitting, standing, or lying. Pain may be reproducible when such individuals maintain positions or postures for sustained periods. Repeated movements should not affect symptoms, and relief of pain typically occurs immediately following the correction of abnormal posture.

The dysfunction syndrome is pain caused by the mechanical deformation of structurally impaired soft tissue; this may be due to traumatic, inflammatory, or degenerative processes, causing tissue contraction, scarring, adhesion, or adaptive shortening. The hallmark is a loss of movement and pain at the end range of motion. Dysfunction has subsyndromes based upon the end-range direction that elicits this pain: flexion, extension, side-glide, multidirectional, adherent nerve root, and nerve root entrapment subsyndromes. Successful treatment focuses on patient education and mobilization exercises that focus on the direction of the dysfunction/direction of pain. The goal is on tissue remodeling which can be a prolonged process.

The derangement syndrome is the most commonly encountered pain syndrome, reported in one study to have a prevalence as high as 78% of patients classified by the McKenzie method. It is caused by an internal dislocation of articular tissue, causing a disturbance in the normal position of affected joint surfaces, deforming the capsule, and periarticular supportive ligaments. This derangement will both generate pain and obstruct movement in the direction of the displacement. There are seven different subsyndromes which are classified by the location of pain and the presence, or absence, of deformities. Pain is typically elicited by provocative assessment movements, such as flexion or extension of the spine. The centralization and peripheralization of symptoms can only occur in the derangement syndrome. Thus the treatment for derangement syndrome focuses on repeated movement in a single direction that causes a gradual reduction in pain. Studies have shown approximately anywhere between 58% to 91% prevalence of centralization of lower back pain. Studies have also shown that between 67% to 85% of centralizers displayed the directional preference for a spinal extension. This preference may partially explain why the McKenzie method has become synonymous with spinal extension exercises. However, care must be taken to accurately diagnose the direction of pain, as one randomized controlled study has shown that giving the ‘wrong’ direction of exercises can actually lead to poorer outcomes.

Other or Nonmechanical syndrome refers to any symptom that does not fit in with the other mechanical syndromes, but exhibits signs and symptoms of other known pathology; Some of these examples include spinal stenosis, sacroiliac disorders, hip disorders, zygapophyseal disorders, post-surgical complications, low back pain secondary to pregnancy, spondylolysis, and spondylolisthesis.

CONCLUSION:

“Internationally researched” and found to be ineffective!

‘Spagyric’ is a so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) based on the alchemy of Paracelsus (1493-1541). Paracelsus borrowed the term from “separate” (spao) and “combine” (ageiro) to indicate that spagyric preparations are based on the “separation”, “extraction” and “recombination” of the active ingredients of a substance. Plant, mineral as well as animal source materials are used.

The production of spagyric remedies is based on a complex process of maceration and fermentation of a plant extract in alcohol. It takes place in dark, thick-walled glass flasks that are hermetically sealed and kept at a controlled temperature of 37 °C for 28 days. The tincture thus obtained is then decanted and the drug residue is removed from the solution, completely dried, and burned to ash to recover the inorganic components of the plant material. The ash is subsequently dissolved in the alcoholic solution of maceration, and the finished spagyric preparation is left for 12 days before use.

Spagyric is not the most popular of all SCAMs but it certainly does have a significant following. One enthusiast claims that “spagyric essences work on a vibrational level in their action upon the emotional/mind and physical spheres and can be employed in numerous situations. Most people seek help to relieve physical symptoms. Even so, it is often necessary to address the emotional and psychological aspects which may predispose the illness or imbalance. In an era where many people are experiencing life-changing events, the ability to transition smoothly is essential for well-being and vitality. Guidance and help are required to maintain homeostasis. These medicines can help the patient to understand the root cause of their illness and learn to regain control of their lives. Some medicine systems appear to be less effective than in previous times. It has been suggested that the energetic frequency of both the earth and human organism are changing. Therefore these systems may no longer be a vibrational match for the changing frequencies. Spagyric Medicine is designed to ‘tune in with’ these current frequencies. Research suggests that the Spagyric essences may instigate improved health by energetically influencing DNA.”

After reading such weird statements, I ask myself, is there any evidence that spagyric remedies work? In my search for robust studies, I was unsuccessful. There does not seem to be a single controlled study on the subject. However, there are fragmentary reports of a study initiated and conducted by a now largely unknown healer named Karl Hann von Weyhern.

Von Weyhern (1882 – 1954) had taken a few semesters of pharmacy and medicine in Freiburg but remained without a degree. In 1930, he became a member of the NSDAP (Hitler’s Nazi party) and in 1940 he joined the SS. Around 1935, he settled in Munich as a non-medical practitioner (Heilpraktiker), and Heinrich Himmler who has a soft spot for SCAM enlisted as one of his patients. By then von Weyhern had by then made a steep career in the Nazi hierarchy, and he managed to convince Himmler that his spagyric remedies could cure tuberculosis, which was still rampant at the time. They decided to carry out experiments in this regard in the Dachau concentration camp.

Thus, von Weyhern was allowed to test spagyric remedies on forcibly recruited concentration camp prisoners. These experiments lasted for about one year and included around 150 patients who, according to von Weyhern’s iridology diagnosis, suffered from tuberculosis. Half of them were treated with spagyric remedies and the others with conventional treatments. At the end of the experiment, 27 persons were reportedly released into everyday concentration camp life as ‘fit for work’. How many of the 150 prisoners lost their lives due to these experiments is not known. Von Weyhern never filed a final report. It is to be feared that the death toll was considerable. [1]

After the war, von Weyhern denied belonging to the SS, claimed that he had ‘sacrificed himself’ for his patients in the concentration camp, merely had to pay a fine, and was ‘denazified’ in 1948. Subsequently, he resumed his work as a ‘Heilpraktiker’ in Olching, a village near Dachau. [1]

Of course, these infamous experiments cannot be blamed on spagyric medicine. Yet, I feel they are nevertheless important, not least because they seem to reveal the only thing remotely resembling something like evidence.

[1] Die Ärzte der Nazi-Führer: Karrieren und Netzwerke : Mathias Schmidt (Hg.), Dominik Groß (Hg.), Jens Westemeier (Hg.): Amazon.de: Books

It has been reported that a Vancouver naturopath has been fined and temporarily suspended after a patient complained he failed to notice a rectal tumor during four months of treatment for hemorrhoids.

Jordan Atkinson will have to pay $5,000 and lose his license for 16 days after signing a consent agreement with the College of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C., according to a public notice posted by the COLLEGE OF NATUROPATHIC PHYSICIANS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA.

A former patient had filed the complaint when another medical professional diagnosed a tumor on the rectum following “several appointments” with Atkinson for hemorrhoid treatment. “The patient complained that Dr. Atkinson failed to detect the tumor because he did not perform a competent examination,” the college notice says.  ‘Doctor’ Atkinson disagreed with that allegation but admitted that he didn’t fully document his appointments with the patient.

The college’s inquiry committee, which investigates complaints, found that “Dr. Atkinson’s treatment of the patient fell short of the standard of practice required of a naturopathic doctor in these circumstances.”  Atkinson who is also the subject of a lawsuit from a patient who alleges he seriously injured her while injecting Botox into her face at the base of her nose, has also agreed to a reprimand and “to make reasonable efforts when a language barrier exists to ensure that his patients understand the treatment plan and provide informed consent.” 

Personally, I find it hard to believe that any health professional can administer a prolonged treatment for hemorrhoids, while the patient is actually suffering from a rectal tumor which might well be malign. I find it even harder to believe that, after a complaint had been filed by a victim, the professional body of this professional suspends his license for just 16 days.

In my view, this suggests that this professional body (like so many in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)) is not fit for purpose. That is to say, it does clearly not fulfill its main task adequately which is to protect the public from the malpractice of its members. Rather it seems to prioritize the interests of the member over those of the public. Yet, on its website the COLLEGE OF NATUROPATHIC PHYSICIANS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA state that “the College protects the public interest by ensuring that naturopathic physicians in British Columbia practice safely, ethically, and competently.” As so often in SCAM, what is being stated and what is being done differs dramatically.

At the heart of this and many similar cases, I fear, is that consumers find it difficult to differentiate between well-educated healthcare professionals and poorly trained charlatans. And who could blame them? Calling naturopaths ‘doctors’ cannot be helpful, particularly if the ‘Dr.-title’ is used without a clear qualification that the person who carries it has never seen the inside of a medical school; instead he has learned an abundance of nonsense taught by a quack institution.

In summary one is tempted to conclude that this case yet again confirms that naturopaths are medically incompetent graduates of schools of incompetence protected by organizations of incompetence.

Camilla spent ten days at the end of October in a sophisticated meditation and fitness center in southern India. Life has recently been hectic for the Queen Consort: at 75, she has been in a non-stop succession of various ceremonies for the funeral of Elizabeth II, always one step behind her husband, not to mention her new status as sovereign… Enough to block her chakras in no time.

She came to the resort with her bodyguards and a handful of friends and was able to take advantage of the tailor-made treatments concocted for her by the master of the house, Dr Issac Mathai, who created this high-end holistic centre on a dozen hectares of scented gardens near Bangalore. The program includes massages, herbal steam baths, yoga, naturopathy, homeopathy, meditation, and Ayurvedic treatments to “cleanse, de-stress, soothe and revitalize the mind, body and soul”, as the establishment’s website states.

Guests are required to follow an individualized, meat-free diet, with organic food from the resort’s vegetable gardens, based on lots of salads or soups – Camilla is said to be a fan of sweet corn soup with spinach. Cigarettes and mobile phones are not allowed, although it is assumed that Camilla must have some privileges due to her status… and the basic rate for the suites, which starts at $950 a night – the price of the rooms varies between $260 and $760, the rate including a consultation with the doctors.

Charles and Camilla have been fans of the Soukya Centre in India for a decade. The place corresponds in every way to their deep-rooted convictions about health. Like her husband, Camilla is a follower of organic food, she also practices yoga and treats her face with creams made from nettle and bee venom. For his part, Charles has long been an advocate of alternative medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and also hypnosis… He even set up a foundation to support complementary medicine by lobbying the British health service to include it in complementary therapies for certain patients, which caused an uproar among the pundits of traditional medicine.

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If you suspected I was (yet again) sarcastic about the royal couple, you are mistaken. The text above is only my (slightly shortened) translation of an article published in the French magazine LE POINT (even the title is theirs). I found the article amusing and interesting; so, I looked up the Indian health center. Here are some of the things I found:

The 1st impression is that they are not shy about promotion calling themselves THE WORLD’S BEST AYURVEDA TREATMENT CENTER. The doctor in charge was once a ‘Consultant Physician’ at the Hale Clinic in London, where he treated a number of high-profile people. As his professional background, he offers this:

M.D. (Homeopathy); Hahnemann Post-Graduate Institute of Homeopathy, London M.R.C.H, London; Chinese Pulse Diagnosis and Acupuncture, WHO Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Nanjing, China; Trained (Mind-Body Medicine Programme) at Harvard Medical School, USA

The approach of the center is described as follows:

The fundamental principle underlying Holistic Treatment is that the natural defense and immune system of an individual when strengthened, has the potential to heal and prevent diseases. In the age of super-specialisation where human beings are often viewed as a conglomeration of organs, it is crucial to understand ourselves as multi-dimensional beings with a body, mind and spirit. These interconnected dimensions need to be in perfect harmony to ensure real well-being.

And about homeopathy, they claim this:

Homeopathy originated in 1796 in Germany, and was discovered by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German scientist. Homeopathy is popular today as a non-intrusive, holistic system of medicine. Instead of different medicines for different parts of the body, one single constitutional remedy is prescribed. As a system of medicine, Homeopathy is highly scientific, safe, logical and an extremely effective method of healing. For over 200 years people have used Homeopathy to maintain their good health, and also to treat and cure a wide range of illnesses like allergies, metabolic disorders, atopic dermatitis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Auto-immune disorders.

At this stage, I felt I had seen enough. Yes, you are right, we did not learn a lot from this little exploration. No, hold on! We did learn that homeopathy is highly scientific, safe, logical, and extremely effective!

 

The question, however, is should we believe it?

Yesterday, L’EXPRESS published an interview with me. It was introduced with these words (my translation):

Professor emeritus at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, Edzard Ernst is certainly the best connoisseur of unconventional healing practices. For 25 years, he has been sifting through the scientific evaluation of these so-called “alternative” medicines. With a single goal: to provide an objective view, based on solid evidence, of the reality of the benefits and risks of these therapies. While this former homeopathic doctor initially thought he was bringing them a certain legitimacy, he has become one of their most enlightened critics. It is notable as a result of his work that the British health system, the NHS, gave up covering homeopathy. Since then, he has never ceased to alert us to the abuses and lies associated with these practices. For L’Express, he looks back at the challenges of regulating this vast sector and deciphers the main concepts put forward by “wellness” professionals – holism, detox, prevention, strengthening the immune system, etc.

The interview itself is quite extraordinary, in my view. While UK, US, and German journalists usually are at pains to tone down my often outspoken answers, the French journalists (there were two doing the interview with me) did nothing of the sort. This starts with the title of the piece: “Homeopathy is implausible but energy healing takes the biscuit”.

The overall result is one of the most outspoken interviews of my entire career. Let me offer you a few examples (again my translation):

Why are you so critical of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow who promote these wellness methods?

Sadly, we have gone from evidence-based medicine to celebrity-based medicine. A celebrity without any medical background becomes infatuated with a certain method. They popularize this form of treatment, very often making money from it. The best example of this is Prince Charles, sorry Charles III, who spent forty years of his life promoting very strange things under the guise of defending alternative medicine. He even tried to market a “detox” tincture, based on artichoke and dandelion, which was quickly withdrawn from the market.

How to regulate this sector of wellness and alternative medicines? Today, anyone can present himself as a naturopath or yoga teacher…

Each country has its own regulation, or rather its own lack of regulation. In Germany, for instance, we have the “Heilpraktikter”. Anyone can get this paramedical status, you just have to pass an exam showing that you are not a danger to the public. You can retake this exam as often as you want. Even the dumbest will eventually pass. But these practitioners have an incredible amount of freedom, they even may give infusions and injections. So there is a two-tier health care system, with university-trained doctors and these practitioners.

In France, you have non-medical practitioners who are fighting for recognition. Osteopaths are a good example. They are not officially recognized as a health profession. Many schools have popped up to train them, promising a good income to their students, but today there are too many osteopaths compared to the demand of the patients (knowing that nobody really needs an osteopath to begin with…). Naturopaths are in the same situation.

In Great Britain, osteopaths and chiropractors are regulated by statute. There is even a Royal College dedicated to chiropractic. It’s a bit like having a Royal College for hairdressers! It’s stupid, but we have that. We also have professionals like naturopaths, acupuncturists, or herbalists who have an intermediate status. So it’s a very complex area, depending on the state. It is high time to have more uniform regulations in Europe.

But what would adequate regulation look like?

From my point of view, if you really regulate a profession like homeopaths, it means that these professionals may only practice according to the best scientific evidence available. Which, in practice, means that a homeopath cannot practice homeopathy. This is why these practitioners have a schizophrenic attitude toward regulation. On the one hand, they would like to be recognized to gain credibility. But on the other hand, they know very well that a real regulation would mean that they would have to close shop…

What about the side effects of these practices?

If you ask an alternative practitioner about the risks involved, he or she will take exception. The problem is that there is no system in alternative medicine to monitor side effects and risks. However, there have been cases where chiropractors or acupuncturists have killed people. These cases end up in court, but not in the medical literature. The acupuncturists have no problem saying that a hundred deaths due to acupuncture – a figure that can be found in the scientific literature – is negligible compared to the millions of treatments performed every day in this discipline. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many cases that are not published and therefore not included in the data, because there is no real surveillance system for these disciplines.

Do you see a connection between the wellness sector and conspiracy theories? In the US, we saw that Qanon was thriving in the yoga sector, for example…

Several studies have confirmed these links: people who adhere to conspiracy theories also tend to turn to alternative medicine. If you think about it, alternative medicine is itself a conspiracy theory. It is the idea that conventional medicine, in the name of pharmaceutical interests, in particular, wants to suppress certain treatments, which can therefore only exist in an alternative world. But in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is only too eager to take advantage of this craze for alternative products and well-being. Similarly, universities, hospitals, and other health organizations are all too willing to open their doors to these disciplines, despite the lack of evidence of their effectiveness.

 

I recently came across the ‘Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy’.

Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy?

Really?

I know what osteopathy is but what exactly is a ‘cranial college’?

Perhaps they mean ‘Sutherland College of Cranial Osteopathy’?

Anyway, they explain on their website that:

Cranial Osteopathy uses the same osteopathic principles that were described by Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of Osteopathy. Cranial osteopaths develop a very highly developed sense of palpation that enables them to feel subtle movements and imbalances in body tissues and to very gently support the body to release and re-balance itself. Treatment is so gentle that often patients are quite unaware that anything is happening. But the results of this subtle treatment can be dramatic, and it can benefit whole body health.

Sounds good?

I am sure you are now keen to become an expert in cranial osteopathy. The good news is that the college offers a course where this can be achieved in just 2 days! Here are the details:

This will be a spacious exploration of the nervous system.  Neurological dysfunction and conditions feature greatly in our clinical work and this is especially the case in paediatric practice. The focus of this course is how to approach the nervous system in a fundamental way with reference to both current and historical ideas of neurological function.  The following areas will be considered: 

    1. Attaining stillness and grounding during palpation of the nervous system. It is within stillness that potency resides and when the treatment happens. The placement of attention.  
    2. The pineal and its relationship to the tent, the pineal shift.
    3. The relations of the clivus and the central importance of the SBS, How do we assess and treat compression?
    4. The electromagnetic field and potency.
    5. The suspension of the cord within the spinal canal, the cervical and lumbar expansions.
    6. Listening posts for the central autonomic network.
Hawkwood College accommodation

Please be aware that accommodation at Hawkwood will be in shared rooms (single sex). Some single rooms are available on a first-come-first-served basis and will carry a supplement. Requesting a single room is not a guarantee that one will be provided.

£390.00 – £490.00

29 – 30 APRIL 2023 STROUD, UK
This will be a spacious exploration of the nervous system. Neurological dysfunction and conditions feature greatly in our clinical work and this is especially the case in pediatric practice.

_________________________

You see, not even expensive!

Go for it!!!

Oh, I see, you want to know what evidence there is that cranial osteopathy does more good than harm?

Right! Here is what I wrote in my recent book about it:

Craniosacral therapy (or craniosacral osteopathy) is a manual treatment developed by the US osteopath William Sutherland (1873–1953) and further refined by the US osteopath John Upledger (1932–2012) in the 1970s. The treatment consists of gentle touch and palpation of the synarthrodial joints of the skull and sacrum. Practitioners believe that these joints allow enough movement to regulate the pulsation of the cerebrospinal fluid which, in turn, improves what they call ‘primary respiration’. The notion of ‘primary respiration’ is based on the following 5 assumptions:

  • inherent motility of the central nervous system
  • fluctuation of the cerebrospinal fluid
  • mobility of the intracranial and intraspinal dural membranes
  • mobility of the cranial bones
  • involuntary motion of the sacral bones.

A further assumption is that palpation of the cranium can detect a rhythmic movement of the cranial bones. Gentle pressure is used by the therapist to manipulate the cranial bones to achieve a therapeutic result. The degree of mobility and compliance of the cranial bones is minimal, and therefore, most of these assumptions lack plausibility.

The therapeutic claims made for craniosacral therapy are not supported by sound evidence. A systematic review of all 6 trials of craniosacral therapy concluded that “the notion that CST is associated with more than non‐specific effects is not based on evidence from rigorous RCTs.” Some studies seem to indicate otherwise, but they are of lamentable methodological quality and thus not reliable.

Being such a gentle treatment, craniosacral therapy is particularly popular for infants. But here too, the evidence fails to show effectiveness. A study concluded that “healthy preterm infants undergoing an intervention with craniosacral therapy showed no significant changes in general movements compared to preterm infants without intervention.”

The costs for craniosacral therapy are usually modest but, if the treatment is employed regularly, they can be substantial.

______________________________

As the college states “often patients are quite unaware that anything is happening”. Is it because nothing is happening? According to the evidence, the answer is YES.

So, on second thought, maybe you give the above course a miss?

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