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

EBM

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So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is, as we all know, an umbrella term. Under this umbrella, we find hundreds of different modalities that have little in common with each other. Here I often focus on:

  • homeopathy,
  • chiropractic,
  • acupuncture,
  • herbal medicine.

There are uncounted others, and in my recent book, I published critical evaluations 150 of them. But for the moment, let’s keep to the 4 SCAMs listed above.

What strikes me regularly is that many SCAM enthusiasts do seem to appreciate my critical assessments of SCAM; for instance:

  • When I point out that the assumptions of homeopathy fly in the face of science, most SCAM enthusiasts agree.
  • When I point out that chiropractic spinal manipulations might not be safe, most SCAM enthusiasts agree.
  • When I point out that acupuncture is not a panacea, most SCAM enthusiasts agree.
  • When I point out that herbal remedies can interact with prescribed drugs, most SCAM enthusiasts agree.

Most but not all!

  • Those who find my criticism of homeopathy unfair are the homeopaths and their proponents.
  • Those who find my criticism of chiropractic unfair are the chiropractors and their proponents.
  • Those who find my criticism of acupuncture unfair are the acupuncturists and their proponents.
  • Those who find my criticism of herbal medicine unfair are the herbalists and their proponents.

Hardly ever does a herbalist defend homeopathy’s weird assumptions; rarely does an acupuncturist tell me that I am too harsh with the chiropractors; never have I heard a chiropractor complain that my criticism of acupuncture is unjustified.

Entirely obvious?

Perhaps!

But I find it nevertheless curious, because my critical stance is always the same. I do not change it for this or that form of SCAM (I would also not change it for conventional medicine, but I leave it to those who have more specific expertise to do the criticising). I have no axe to grind against any particular SCAM. All I do is point out flaws in their logic, limitations in their studies, gaps in the evidence. All I do is provide my honest interpretation of the evidence.

It really seems to me that everyone appreciates my honesty, until I start being honest with them.

And this is why I find it curious. Homeopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists, herbalists and all the other types of SCAM practitioners like to be seen on the side of science, evidence, critical thinking and progress. This, I suppose, is good for the (self) image; it might even help the delusion that they are all evidence-based. But as soon as someone applies science, evidence, critical thinking and progress to their very own little niche within SCAM, they stop liking it and start aggressing the critic.

I suppose this is entirely obvious as well?

Perhaps!

But it also exposes the double standard that is so deeply ingrained in SCAM.

I was alerted to an article in which some US doctors, including the famous Andrew Weil, promote the idea that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has a lot to offer for people recovering from Covid-19 infections. There would be a lot to argue about their recommendations, but today I will not go into this (I find it just too predictable how SCAM proponents try to promote SCAM on the basis of flimsy evidence; perhaps I am suffering from ‘BS for Covid fatigue’?). What did, however, strike me in their paper was a definition of INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE (IM) that I had not yet come across:

Integrative medicine is defined as healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapies.

Ever since the term IM became fashionable, there have been dozens of definitions of the term (almost as though IM proponents were not quite sure themselves what they were promoting). And ever since I first heard about IM, I felt it was a thinly disguised attempt to smuggle unproven treatments into the routine of evidence-based medicine (EBM). In 2002, I published my 1st comment on the subject. In it, I warned that IM must not become an excuse for using every conceivable untested treatment under the banner of holism. Nineteen years on, this is exactly what has happened, and one definition of IM after the next is soaked in platitudes, falsehoods and misunderstandings.

So, let’s see how reasonable this new definition is. I will try to do this by briefly discussing each element of the two sentences.

  1. IM is healing-oriented medicine: this is a transparently daft platitude. Does anyone know a medicine that is not oriented towards healing? Healing is the process of becoming well again, especially after a cut or other injury, or of making someone well again. Healing is what medicine has always been and always be aimed at. In other words, it is not something that differentiates IM from other forms of healthcare.
  2. IM takes account of the whole person: This is the little holistic trick that IM proponents like to adopt. It implies that normal medicine or EBM is not holistic. This implication is wrong. Any good medicine is holistic, and if a sector of healthcare fails to account for the whole person, we need to reform it. (Here are the conclusions of an editorial I published in 2007 entitled ‘Holistic heath care?‘: good health care is likely to be holistic but holistic health care, as it is marketed at present, is not necessarily good. The term ‘holistic’ may even be a ‘red herring’ which misleads patients. What matters most is whether or not any given approach optimally benefits the patient. This goal is best achieved with effective and safe interventions administered humanely — regardless of what label we put on them.) Creating a branch of medicine that, like IM, pretends to have a monopoly on holism can only hinder this process.
  3. IM includes all aspects of lifestyle: really, all of them? This is nonsense! Good physicians take into account the RELEVANT lifestyles of their patients. If, for instance, my patient with intermittent claudication is a postman, his condition would affect him differently from a patient who is a secretary. But all lifestyles? No! I fear this ‘over the top’ statement merely indicates that those who have conceived it have difficulties differentiating the important from the trivial.
  4. IM emphasizes the therapeutic relationship: that’s nice! But so do all other physicians (except perhaps pathologists). As medical students, we were taught how to do it, some physicians wrote books about it (remember Balint?), and many of us ran courses on the subject. Some conventional clinicians might even feel insulted by the implication that they do not emphasize the therapeutic relationship. Again, the IM brigade take an essential element of good healthcare as their monopoly. It almost seems to be a nasty habit of theirs to highjack a core element of healthcare and declare it as their invention.
  5. IM is informed by evidence: that is brilliant, finally there emerges a real difference between IM and EBM! While proper medicine is BASED on evidence, IM is merely INFORMED by it. The difference is fundamental, because it allows IM clinicians to use any un- or disproven SCAM. The evidence for homeopathy fails to show that it is effective? Never mind, IM is not evidence-based, it is evidence-informed. IM physiciance know homeopathy is a placebo therapy (if not they would be ill-informed which would make them unethical), but they nevertheless use homeopathy (try to find an IM clinic that does not offer homeopathy!), because IM is not EBM. IM is evidence-informed!
  6. IM makes use of all appropriate therapies: and the last point takes the biscuit. Are the IM fanatics honestly suggesting that conventional doctors use inappropriate therapies? Does anyone know a branch of health care where clinicians systematically employ therapies that are not appropriate? Appropriate means suitable or right for a particular situation or occasion. Are IM practitioners the only ones who use therapies that are suitable for a particular situation? This last point really does count on anyone falling for IM not to have the slightest ability to think analytically.

This short analysis confirms yet again that IM is little more than a smokescreen behind which IM advocates try to smuggle nonsense into routine healthcare. The fact that, during the last two decades, the definition constantly changed, while no half decent definition emerged suggests that they themselves don’t quite know what it is. They like moving the goal post but seem unsure in which direction. And their latest attempt to define IM indicates to me that IM advocates might not be the brightest buttons in the drawer.

In the last few years, several individuals in Germany have, from entirely different angles, taken a fresh look at the evidence on homeopathy and found it to be desperately wanting. Independent of each other, they published articles and books about their research and insights. Here are 5 examples:

Die Homöopathie-Lüge: So gefährlich ist die Lehre von den weißen KügelchenChristian WeymayrNicole Heißmann, 2012

In Sachen Homöopathie: Eine Beweisaufnahme, Norbert Aust, 2013

Homöopathie neu gedacht: Was Patienten wirklich hilft, Natalie Grams, 2015

Der Glaube an die Globuli: Die Verheißungen der HomöopathieNorbert SchmackeBernd Hontschik, 2015

Der wahrscheinlich teuerste Zucker der Welt: Was Sie über Homöopathie und Alternativmedizin wissen sollten, Oliver Grunau, 2017

Inevitably, these individuals came into contact with each other and subsequently founded several working-groups to discuss their concerns and coordinate their activities. Thus the INH and the Muensteraner Kreis were born. So, now we have at least three overlapping groups of enthusiastic, multidisciplinary experts who voluntarily work towards informing the German public that paying for homeopathy out of public funds is unethical, nonsensical and not in the interest of progress:

  • the GWUP,
  • the INH
  • and the Muensteraner Kreis.

No wonder then, that the German homeopathic industry and other interested parties got worried. When they realised that (presumably due to the work of these altruistic enthusiasts) the sales figures of homeopathics in Germany had, for the first time since many years, started declining, they panicked.

Their reaction was, as far as I can see, similar to their previous response to criticism: they started a media campaign in an attempt to sway public opinion. And just like before, they have taken to employing PR-people who currently spend their time defaming all individuals voicing criticism of homeopathy in Germany. Their prime targets are those experts who are most exposed to activities of responsibly informing the public about homeopathy via lectures, publications social media, etc. All of us currently receive floods of attack, insults and libellous defamations. As before (innovation does not seem to be a hallmark of homeopathy), these attacks relate to claims that:

  • we are incompetent,
  • we do not care about the welfare of patients,
  • we are habitual liars,
  • we are on the payroll of the pharmaceutical industry,
  • we aim at limiting patient choice,
  • we do what we do because we crave the limelight.

So, what is going to happen?

I cannot read tea leaves but am nevertheless sure of a few things:

  • The German homeopathy lobby will not easily give up; after all, they have half a billion Euros per year to lose.
  • They will not argue on the basis of science or evidence, because they know that neither are in their favour.
  • They will fight dirty and try to defame everyone who stands in their way.
  • They will use their political influence and their considerable financial power.

AND YET THEY WILL LOSE!

Not because we are so well organised or have great resources – in fact, as far as I can see, we have none – but because, in medicine, the evidence is invincible and will eventually prevail. Progress might be delayed, but it cannot be halted by those who cling to an obsolete dogma.

______________________________________

The above text is from a blog post I published 17 moths ago. It seems that my prediction was not wrong. Today, I saw two tweets which suggest that, in Germany, homeopathy is continuing to disappear from the realm of conventional medicine:

  1. Soeben erreicht mich die Nachricht, dass der Vorstand der Bayerischen Landesärztekammer in der Sitzung am 5.12. einstimmig beschlossen hat, die Zusatzweiterbildung Homöopathie aus der ärztlichen Weiterbildungsordnung zu entfernen. EINSTIMMIG!!!
  2. 11 von 17 Ärztekammern haben die Homöopathie gekickt. Bleiben noch 6. Die nächste Entscheidung steht in Berlin an.

I’ll translate them for you:

  1. I have just received the news that the Board of the Bavarian Medical Association has unanimously decided in the meeting on 5.12. to remove the additional training in homeopathy from the medical training regulations. UNANIMOUSLY!!!
  2. 11 of 17 medical associations have kicked homeopathy. That leaves 6. The next decision is due in Berlin.

This means that in most German counties (there is hope that, sooner or later, the other 6 will follow suit), doctors will no longer be able to train in homeopathy and use the title ‘homeopath’.

Yes, it took a while – about 200 years – but it seems that the German medical profession is finally realising that homeopathy is treatment with placebos.

Some consumers believe that research is by definition reliable, and patients are even more prone to this error. When they read or hear that ‘RESEARCH HAS SHOWN…’ or that ‘A RECENT STUDY HAS DEMONSTRATED…’, they usually trust the statements that follow. But is this trust in research and researchers justified? During 25 years that I have been involved in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), I have encountered numerous instances which make me doubt. In this post, I will briefly discuss some the many ways in which consumers can be mislead by apparently sound evidence (for an explanation as to what is and what isn’t evidence, see here).

ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE

I have just finished reading a book by a German Heilpraktiker that is entirely dedicated to SCAM. In it, the author makes hundreds of statements and presents them as evidence-based facts. To many lay people or consumers, this will look convincing, I am sure. Yet, it has one fatal defect: the author fails to offer any real evidence that would back up his statements. The only references provided were those of other books which are equally evidence-free. This popular technique of making unsupported claims allows the author to make assertions without any checks and balances. A lay person is usually unable or unwilling to differentiate such fabulations from evidence, and this technique is thus easy and poular for misleading us about SCAM.

FAKE-EVIDENCE

On this blog, we have encountered this phenomenon ad nauseam: a commentator makes a claim and supports it with some seemingly sound evidence, often from well-respected sources. The few of us who bother to read the referenced articles quickly discover that they do not say what the commentator claimed. This method relies on the reader beeing easily bowled over by some pretend-evidence. As many consumers cannot be bothered to look beyond the smokescreen supplied by such pretenders, the method usually works surprisingly well.

An example: Vidatox is a homeopathic cancer ‘cure’ from Cuba. The Vidatox website clains that it is effective for many cancers. Considering how sensational this claim is, one would expect to find plenty of published articles on Vidatox. However, a Medline search resulted in one paper on the subject. Its authors drew the following conclusion: Our results suggest that the concentration of Vidatox used in the present study has not anti-neoplastic effects and care must be taken in hiring Vidatox in patients with HCC. 

The question one often has to ask is this: where is the line between misleading research and fraud?

SURVEYS

There is no area in healthcare that produces more surveys than SCAM. About 500 surveys are published every year! This ‘survey-mania’ has a purpose: it promotes a positive message about SCAM which hypothesis-testing research rarely does.

For a typical SCAM survey, a team of enthusiastic researchers might put together a few questions and design a questionnaire to find out what percentage of a group of individuals have tried SCAM in the past. Subsequently, the investigators might get one or two hundred responses. They then calculate simple descriptive statistics and demonstrate that xy % use SCAM. This finding eventually gets published in one of the many third-rate SCAM journals. The implication then is that, if SCAM is so popular, it must be good, and if it’s good, the public purse should pay for it. Few consumers would realise that this conclusion is little more that a fallacious appeal to popularity.

AVOIDING THE QUESTION

Another popular way of SCAM researchers to mislead the public is to avoid the research questions that matter. For instance, few experts would deny that one of the most urgent issues in chiropractic relates to the risk of spinal manipulations. One would therefore expect that a sizable proportion of the currently published chiropractic research is dedicated to it. Yet, the opposite is the case. Medline currently lists more than 3 000 papers on ‘chiropractic’, but only 17 on ‘chiropractic, harm’.

PILOT-STUDIES

A pilot study is a small scale preliminary study conducted in order to evaluate feasibility, time, cost, adverse events, and improve upon the study design prior to performance of a full-scale research project. Yet, the elementary preconditions are not fulfilled by the plethora of SCAM pilot studies that are currently being published. True pilot studies of SCAM are, in fact, very rare. The reason for the abundance of pseudo-pilots is obvious: they can easily be interpreted as showing encouragingly positive results for whatever SCAM is being tested. Subsequently, SCAM proponents can mislead the public by claiming that there are plenty of positive studies and therefore their SCAM is supported by sound evidence.

‘SAFE‘ STUDY-DESIGNS

As regularly mentioned on this blog, there are several ways to design a study such that the risk of producing a negative result is minimal. The most popular one in SCAM research is the ‘A+B versus B’ design. In this study, for instance, cancer patients who were suffering from fatigue were randomised to receive usual care or usual care plus regular acupuncture. The researchers then monitored the patients’ experience of fatigue and found that the acupuncture group did better than the control group. The effect was statistically significant, and an editorial in the journal where it was published called this evidence “compelling”. Due to a cleverly over-stated press-release, news spread fast, and the study was celebrated worldwide as a major breakthrough in cancer-care.

Imagine you have an amount of money A and your friend owns the same sum plus another amount B. Who has more money? Simple, it is, of course your friend: A+B will always be more than A [unless B is a negative amount]. For the same reason, such “pragmatic” trials will always generate positive results [unless the treatment in question does actual harm]. Treatment as usual plus acupuncture is more than treatment as usual alone, and the former is therefore more than likely to produce a better result. This will be true, even if acupuncture is a pure placebo – after all, a placebo is more than nothing, and the placebo effect will impact on the outcome, particularly if we are dealing with a highly subjective symptom such as fatigue.

A more obvious method for generating false positive results is to omit blinding. The purpose of blinding the patient, the therapist and the evaluator of the group allocation in clinical trials is to make sure that expectation is not a contributor to the result. Expectation might not move mountains, but it can certainly influence the result of a clinical trial. Patients who hope for a cure regularly do get better, even if the therapy they receive is useless, and therapists as well as evaluators of the outcomes tend to view the results through rose-tinted spectacles, if they have preconceived ideas about the experimental treatment.

Failure to randomise is another source of bias which can mislead us. If we allow patients or trialists to select or chose which patients receive the experimental and which get the control-treatment, it is likely that the two groups differ in a number of variables. Some of these variables might, in turn, impact on the outcome. If, for instance, doctors allocate their patients to the experimental and control groups, they might select those who will respond to the former and those who don’t to the latter. This may not happen with intent but through intuition or instinct: responsible health care professionals want those patients who, in their experience, have the best chances to benefit from a given treatment to receive that treatment. Only randomisation can, when done properly, make sure we are comparing comparable groups of patients. Non-randomisation can easily generate false-positive findings.

It is also possible to mislead people with studies which do not test whether an experimental treatment is superior to another one (often called superiority trials), but which assess whether it is equivalent to a therapy that is generally accepted to be effective. The idea is that, if both treatments produce similarly positive results, both must be effective.  Such trials are called non-superiority or equivalence trials, and they offer a wide range of possibilities for misleading us. If, for example, such a trial has not enough patients, it might show no difference where, in fact, there is one. Let’s consider a simple, hypothetical example: someone comes up with the idea to compare antibiotics to acupuncture as treatments of bacterial pneumonia in elderly patients. The researchers recruit 10 patients for each group, and the results reveal that, in one group, 2 patients died, while, in the other, the number was 3. The statistical tests show that the difference of just one patient is not statistically significant, and the authors therefore conclude that acupuncture is just as good for bacterial infections as antibiotics.

Even trickier is the option to under-dose the treatment given to the control group in an equivalence trial. In the above example, the investigators might subsequently recruit hundreds of patients in an attempt to overcome the criticism of their first study; they then decide to administer a sub-therapeutic dose of the antibiotic in the control group. The results would then seemingly confirm the researchers’ initial finding, namely that acupuncture is as good as the antibiotic for pneumonia. Acupuncturists might then claim that their treatment has been proven in a very large randomised clinical trial to be effective for treating this condition. People who do not happen to know the correct dose of the antibiotic could easily be fooled into believing them.

Obviously, the results would be more impressive, if the control group in an equivalence trial received a therapy which is not just ineffective but actually harmful. In such a scenario, even the most useless SCAM would appear to be effective simply because it is less harmful than the comparator.

A variation of this theme is the plethora of controlled clinical trials in SCAM which compare one unproven therapy to another unproven treatment. Perdicatbly, the results would often indicate that there is no difference in the clinical outcome experienced by the patients in the two groups. Enthusiastic SCAM researchers then tend to conclude that this proves both treatments to be equally effective. The more likely conclusion, however, is that both are equally useless.

Another technique for misleading the public is to draw conclusions which are not supported by the data. Imagine you have generated squarely negative data with a trial of homeopathy. As an enthusiast of homeopathy, you are far from happy with your own findings; in addition you might have a sponsor who puts pressure on you. What can you do? The solution is simple: you only need to highlight at least one positive message in the published article. In the case of homeopathy, you could, for instance, make a major issue about the fact that the treatment was remarkably safe and cheap: not a single patient died, most were very pleased with the treatment which was not even very expensive.

OMISSION

A further popular method for misleading the public is the outright omission findings that SCAM researchers do not like. If the aim is that the public believe the myth that all SCAM is free of side-effects, SCAM researchers only need to omit reporting them in clinical trials. On this blog, I have alerted my readers time and time again to this common phenomenon. We even assessed it in a systematic review. Sixty RCTs of chiropractic were included. Twenty-nine RCTs did not mention adverse effects at all. Sixteen RCTs reported that no adverse effects had occurred. Complete information on incidence, severity, duration, frequency and method of reporting of adverse effects was included in only one RCT.

Most trails have many outcome measures; for instance, a study of acupuncture for pain-control might quantify pain in half a dozen different ways, it might also measure the length of the treatment until pain has subsided, the amount of medication the patients took in addition to receiving acupuncture, the days off work because of pain, the partner’s impression of the patient’s health status, the quality of life of the patient, the frequency of sleep being disrupted by pain etc. If the researchers then evaluate all the results, they are likely to find that one or two of them have changed in the direction they wanted (especially, if they also include half a dozen different time points at which these variables are quatified). This can well be a chance finding: with the typical statistical tests, one in 20 outcome measures would produce a significant result purely by chance. In order to mislead us, the researchers only need to “forget” about all the negative results and focus their publication on the ones which by chance have come out as they had hoped.

FRAUD

When it come to fraud, there is more to chose from than one would have ever wished for. We and others have, for example, shown that Chinese trials of acupuncture hardly ever produce a negative finding. In other words, one does not need to read the paper, one already knows that it is positive – even more extreme: one does not need to conduct the study, one already knows the result before the research has started. This strange phenomenon indicates that something is amiss with Chinese acupuncture research. This suspicion was even confirmed by a team of Chinese scientists. In this systematic review, all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture published in Chinese journals were identified by a team of Chinese scientists. A total of 840 RCTs were found, including 727 RCTs comparing acupuncture with conventional treatment, 51 RCTs with no treatment controls, and 62 RCTs with sham-acupuncture controls. Among theses 840 RCTs, 838 studies (99.8%) reported positive results from primary outcomes and two trials (0.2%) reported negative results. The percentages of RCTs concealment of the information on withdraws or sample size calculations were 43.7%, 5.9%, 4.9%, 9.9%, and 1.7% respectively. The authors concluded that publication bias might be major issue in RCTs on acupuncture published in Chinese journals reported, which is related to high risk of bias. We suggest that all trials should be prospectively registered in international trial registry in future.

A survey of clinical trials in China has revealed fraudulent practice on a massive scale. China’s food and drug regulator carried out a one-year review of clinical trials. They concluded that more than 80 percent of clinical data is “fabricated“. The review evaluated data from 1,622 clinical trial programs of new pharmaceutical drugs awaiting regulator approval for mass production. Officials are now warning that further evidence malpractice could still emerge in the scandal.

I hasten to add that fraud in SCAM research is certainly not confined to China. On this blog, you will find plenty of evidence for this statement, I am sure.

CONCLUSION

Research is obviously necessary, if we want to answer the many open questions in SCAM. But sadly, not all research is reliable and much of SCAM research is misleading. Therefore, it is always necessary to be on the alert and apply all the skills of critical evaluation we can muster.

 

In its homeland, Germany, homeopathy had a free ride for many decades. Only in the last 5 years or so, has a vocal opposition emerged of people who argue that disproven treatments should not be paid for by the public purse. Most political parties have been clever enough to pick up on the changed attitude of the German people and have thus joined more or less openly into the growing criticism of homeopathy. One noteable exception has been the German Green Party who have a long tradition of being in favour of all things alternative. Now this seems to have finally changed.

The ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ (FAZ) just reported that the German Green Party no longer backs homeopathy. After many years of supporting homeopathy and other so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) and after years of agonising about it, the party has now decided to side with reason, science and evidence. Last Sunday, on their annual party conference, the Greens have voted to back a statement according to which the German health insurers should only reemburse treatments which are “medically reasonable and justifiable and which are supported by evidence of efficacy that is scientifically proven”. Even though they did not mention it in the text, it is understood that the they meant foremost homeopathy.

The Greens rejected a suggestion to go even further and would have stated that a treatment should not be covered, if “its efficacy has not been scientifically proven to be better than a placebo.” They also did not agree to an application by the homeopathy lobby to state that would have allowed the reembursement of homeopathy.

For those of my readers who read German, here is the short article from the FAZ.

Die Grünen haben in ihrem langwierigen Streit um die Homöopathie eine Lösung gefunden. Der Parteitag billigte am Sonntag eine Formulierung, derzufolge nur noch Leistungen von den gesetzlichen Krankenkassen übernommen werden sollten, „die medizinisch sinnvoll und gerechtfertigt sind und deren Wirksamkeit wissenschaftlich erwiesen ist“. Damit gehen die Grünen auf Distanz zu Homöopathie als Kassenleistung – auch wenn die umstrittene Heilmethode in dem Text nicht ausdrücklich genannt wird.

Eine noch weitergehende Formulierung, derzufolge Leistungen, deren Wirksamkeit über den Placeboeffekt hinaus nicht wissenschaftlich bewiesen sei, explizit als Kassenleistung ausgeschlossen werden sollten, fand aber keine Mehrheit.

It has been pointed out to me that my recent posts on the thorny subject of Donald Trump have angered many of his devoted fans. I am so sorry! Now that Trump is (almost) history, these poor, disappointed people need our help; they urgently need some effective anger management before they start firing those weapons they have been amassing.

This is why, in the spirit of building bridges and in the interest of peace, I have made an effort and put together a list of so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) that might be useful.

Various pharmaceutical medications are available for treating anxiety, stress and anger problems:

Anxiolytics e.g. Alprazolam, Diazepam,
Antidepressants e.g. Paroxetine, Fluoxetine,
Antipsychotics e.g. Paliperidone, Risperidone,
Mood regulators e.g. Lithium, Valproate.

Oh, sorry! I have angered you again! I forgot, you are SCAM only. Let me have a look into my own book and find something that works for your problems.

ANXIETY

  • Massage
  • Music therapy
  • Various relaxation techniques

DEPRESSION

  • St John’s wort

Yes, these are the only SCAMs that are listed as being supported by sound evidence.

What, you say, you care a f**k about evidence? Of course, I should have known!

But my book offers nothing for delusional disorders, sorry.

Not good enough, you say? Alright, alright, keep your gun where it is. I better look elsewhere.

Found something. Thanks heavens for homeopathy! One can always rely on homeopaths to offer help, and they certainly know a thing or two about delusions! One website has this long list of remedies for delusional disorders:

Stramonium

Vision of animals, black dogs etc. (It also cured pneumonia on these symptoms). Thinks himself double, tall and a part missing and objects around him small. Cannot bear solitude and darkness; must have light and company. Sees ghosts, hears voices and talks with spirits. Feeling as if a long trail of bedbugs is pursuing her, and after them a procession of beetles and then comes crawling over her a host of cockroaches. Sees horrifying images at his side than in front of him. Sings amorous songs and utters obscene speeches. Hallucination and delirium. Attempts to stab and bite. Calls things by wrong names, his boots the logs of wood; his bedroom the stable. Has communication from God, delivers sermons, prophecies.

Lactuca Virosa

As if swimming in the air or walking above the ground.

Chloralum

Night terrors. Sees visions of arches. Hears voices when in the dark or when eyes are shut.

Lac Can

Delusions about snakes. Imagines he is surrounded by them. Afraid of closing the eyes for fear of being bitten by a snake. Feels to be walking in air. Tormenting thoughts. No reality in things; thinks that everything she says is a lie; she is not herself; her properties not her own; wears someone else’s nose.

Sabadilla

Erroneous impressions as to the state of her body e.g. that she is pregnant when she is merely swollen with flatus.

Platinum

Pride or over-estimate of one-self. Thinks she is superior to all others. Thinks her body is longer than those of others. Arrogant and haughty.

Camphor

Everything that moves is a ghost and inanimate things in the room become alive and terrify him. Extreme nervousness. Fear of strangers and of the dark.

Calcarea Carb

Sees and talks to persons who are not present. Imagines as if she is surrounded by dogs. Aversion to do any business. She is sad and melan­choly. Full of fear, weary of life.

Ailanthus

Feels as if a rat or something small is crawling up the limb and over the body.

Anacardium

The patient finds himself to be between good and evil will. His external will wants him to do some­thing evil, but his internal will stops him from doing this.

Indecisive

One moment he thinks it is so and the next moment has enough reason left that it is not so. Low spirited, disheartened, fears he is pursued by someone; looks for thieves, expects enemies, fears everything and everybody. He is pursuaded by his evil will to do acts of violence and injustice, but is withheld and restrained by his good will. (See also Hyosc, Bell., and Stram.) Hears voices of sister and mother who are far away.

Helleborus Nig

Stupefaction and sluggishness of the body and mind. Stupor from which he can be aroused with” difficulty and when so aroused he will talk about spirits or say that he sees devils with horns and tails. Hallucination.

Causticum

Conscience stricken as if she had committed a crime.

Ferrum Iod:

As if body had grown 30 feet high.

Baptisia T:

Feels as if body scattered into pieces.

Chamomilla

Hearing voices of absent persons which disturb his sleep.

Zincum Met

Voices from within him speaking in abusive and filthy language.

Belladonna

Sees frightful faces and monsters. Bites and strikes. Patient will not injure himself or others unless he thinks he is acting in self-defence. He will attack the person who is “acting against the patient’s will.

Spigelia

For apprehensive and nervous persons. Will not use razor, as something is constantly urging him to cut throat with it. Urge to commit suicide with fork when at dining table and so on. Afraid of sharp and pointed instruments.

Thuja

Sensation as though a living child were in the abdomen. Feels body thin and delicate, frail, easily breakable as if made of glass.

Cannabis Ind

Errors of perception as to space and as to time. The patient feels as if he had not taken any food for the last six months, although he had just finished his meals. A mile distance looks as if it were a hundred miles. Mind is full of unfinished ideas. Delusion of rhinoceros and elephants following him up. Imagines he hears sweet music, shuts his eyes and is lost in most delicious thoughts and dreams. Imagines someone calling him. Imagines as if he exists without form throughout a vast extent of space. His body seems to expand and the arch of his skull to be broader than the vault of heaven. All seem unreal. Feels himself unreal. All impressions extremely exaggerated. Hears voices and most sublime music; sees vision of beauty and glory, only to be equalled in paradise.

Arsenic Alb

Imagines house full of thieves. Runs through the house in search of them or hides himself in the house on account of fear.

Cicuta Virosa

Feels as if he were in a strange place and not living in ordinary conditions; everything appeared strange and almost frightful. Contempt of mankind. Runs away from his friends on account of disgust with their follies.

Viscum Alb

Delusion as if upper part of the body is floating in the air.

Coculus

Delusion as if something is rolling on walls, chairs, floor or elsewhere and will also roll on him.

Hyoscyamus

Talks to imaginary people as if they are sitting by his side. Talking to dead wife, sister or husband as if they were here again on earth. Imagines the things are worms, vermin, rats, cats, and mice. Feels as if his hands and fingers are too large.

Cocaine

Thinks he hears unpleasant remarks about himself; hallucination of hearing. Cannot sleep for hours after retiring. Sees and feels bugs and worms in his room and bed. Moral sense blunted.

Alumina

When he says anything, he feels as if another person has said it. Similarly if he sees anything, he feels as if another person had seen it, or as if he could transfer himself into another person and then only he could see. Confusion of personal identity.

Glonoine

Chin feels elongated to knees. Touching the chin repeatedly to be sure that it was not so.

Carboneum Sul

Hears voices and believes he has committed robbery.

Lachesis

When she sees anyone in whispering conversation, she thinks they are talking about her to her detriment. She thinks herself under superhuman control whose commands (partly in dream) she must obey. Fears that she is pursued by enemies; the medicine is a poison; that there are robbers in the house and she wants to jump out of window.

Melilotus

Delusion; thinks everyone is looking at her; fears to talk aloud; wants to run away.

Agnus C

Delusion of smell as of herring (kind of fish) or musk.

Coca

Delusion; of worms on the skin or clothing.

Aethusa

Delusion; sees cats and dogs; wants to jump out of bed or window.

Asarum Europ

As if hovering in the air. Vertigo as if drunk.

Baryta Carb

As if everything rocks with him, as in a ship.

Crocus

As if something alive is in abdomen. Imaginary pregnancy. Alternating mood.

Morphinum

As if room filled with babies. Man at foot of bed. Cannot describe symptoms.  Sobs at trifles.

Medorrhinum

Feels as if things done today were done a week ago; as if someone is whispering behind her, faces appearing from behind the furniture and look at her and say, “come”. Feels life unreal like a dream. Had committed unpardonable sin, and was going to hell. Not caring whether she goes to hell or heaven. Impatient, very selfish.

Mercurius

Feels as if worm rising in throat; apple-core stuck in throat; ice hi ear; cold water running from ears.

Palladium

Feels that she has been neglected. Wounded pride.

Petroleum

Imagines that another person or a child is in bed with her. Dreams that she is two or more. That her limbs are double.

Psorinum

Feels as if brain separated from the body; as if there is not enough room in forehead; as if he heard with ears not his own.

Cyclamen

Thinks herself impure and wants to take bath every time she touches somebody or something. Every thing seems double. As if person lying in bed. Ailments from duty not done or bad act committed.

Staphisagria

When he walks he feels as if someone were following him. This causes anxiety and fear and he cannot look behind.

Sulphur

Everything turns into beauty. Old rag and old stick looks to be a beautiful piece of workmanship. Every thing looks pretty which the patient takes fancy to. Wishing to touch everything.

Cannabis Sat

Hears hissing whisper to kill himself. This is an order from the Most High Command.

Cuprum Aceticum

Delusion that a policeman has come to seize him. Hallucinations of all kinds of figures and premises, especially in the evening, when shutting eyes or when going to sleep.

Oleander

Washes herself and her clothes after touching anything or any person, as she believes she has touched a dirty thing as a result of which she must wash.

Pyrogenium

Hallucination that he is very wealthy and has a large sum of money in the bank.

Nux Moschata

Seems as if he is two persons and watches his other self playing. He seems lost, and when spoken to would come to himself confused. Feels as if she has two heads.

________________________________

Did you find something that fits?

No?

Then let me help you: Pride or over-estimate of one-self. Thinks she is superior to all others. Arrogant and haughty. Yes, that must be for you; PLATINUM it is!!!

Hope you get better soon.

And, if I may, I suggest PYROGENIUM for your idol.

____________________________

 

 

PS

A personal note: during the last 4 years, I have turned down all invitations for lectures in the US and argued that I do not travel to counties with fascistoid leaders. Once the pandemic is under control, I’d be happy to reconsider.

As the world is waiting for the drawn-out process of vote-counting in the US to end, and as Trump has already declared himself to be the winner, it is easy to get emotional about the harm the current POTUS has done (and might do in future) to his country and the world. One comment I read this morning:

Christians have feared the arrival of the Anti-Christ for 2 000 years. And as soon as he appears, they vote for him.

I have to admit that I find it amazing that close to 50% of the US citizens, after observing Trump in action, are not wiser than to vote for him – amazing and frightening!

Yet, we must remain rational.

He might still be voted out!

To remind myself why I, as a scientist, find Donald Trump so deeply objectionable, I have collected a few of his quotes on science. I hope you see my point:

  • Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health
  • Remember, new “environment friendly” lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful– the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.
  • Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!
  • The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
  • So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too. It sounds interesting…
  • And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.
  • People are surprised that I understand it [science]. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.
  • Some say that and some say differently [global warming]. I mean, you have scientists on both sides of it. My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.
  • And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over.
  • I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.
  • What do I know about it? All I know is what’s on the internet

To this picture, we evidently have to add

NO UNDERSTANDING OF OR RESPECT FOR SCIENCE.

This recent review claimed to evaluate the evidence on the use of human and veterinary homeopathy, evidence level 1a studies were considered. Focusing on the external evidence on the use of homeopathy in infections, some evidence level 1a, 1b, 2c studies, and a case report, are described in more detail.

In conclusion, evidence for the effectiveness of human and veterinary homeopathy in general, and in particular, of homeopathic treatment for infections, is available. Especially, individualized homeopathy demonstrates effects at all quality levels according to Cochrane criteria, even in the methodologically high-quality studies. As in most areas of veterinary medicine and medicine, further good/excellent studies are necessary. In compliance with the principles of homeopathy, further methodologically high-quality trials focusing on the homeopathic treatment of infections are the next logical step. The selection of the simile (individually fitting homeopathic medicinal product) by appropriately trained homeopathic doctors/veterinarians is essential for the effectiveness of homeopathy. Implementation of studies at university facilities is a prerequisite for quality assurance. Consequently, further integration of homeopathy at universities is a necessary requirement for the patients’ best interests.

Who wrote this bizarre paper?

The authors who state to have no conflicts of interest are P Weiermayer 1M Frass 2T Peinbauer 3L Ellinger 4

  • 1Tierärztin, Tierarztpraxis Dr. Weiermayer, Diplom der Europ. Akademie für Veterinärhomöopathie (EAVH), Fachtierärztin für Homöopathie, Sprecherin der Sektion Forschung der Wissensch. Gesellsch. für Homöopathie (WissHom), Präsidentin ÖGVH, Wien, Österreich.
  • 2Facharzt für Innere Medizin und Internistische Intensivmedizin, em. Professor für Innere Medizin der Medizinischen Universität Wien, Diplom der Österreichischen Ärztekammer (ÖÄK) für Homöopathie sowie für Begleitende Krebsbehandlung, Wien, Österreich.
  • 3Arzt für Allgemeinmedizin, ÖÄK-Diplom für Homöopathie, Universitätslektor für Allgemeinmedizin und Modulbeauftragter für Komplementärmedizin, Medizinische Fakultät, Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, Österreich.
  • 4Tierärztin, Centaurea, Apeldoorn, Holland.

This already explains quite a lot, I think.

The paper itself is in German, so I will try to make some sense of part of it for you.

In their ‘methods section’, the authors explain that they evaluated meta-analyses and systematic reviews (SRs) of homeopathy for various conditions. Furthermore, they considered the ‘1st and 2nd’ NHMRC reports. Specifically for the question whether homeopathy is the answer to antibiotic resistance, the authors also considered RCTs, observational studies, heath service research and even case-studies. The authors then elaborate at length on the assumptions of homeopathy, on legal issues and on the nature of evidence-based medicine all of which I disregard for the moment (suffice to say that this material has been often and better reviewed before).

When finally discussing the evidence on homeopathy for human conditions, the authors state that, up until 2014, six comprehensive SRs had been published. In their opinion, these are the following 6 papers:

  1. Kleijnen, J., Knipschild, P., Ter Riet, G. (1991): Clinical trials
    of homeopathy. BMJ 302(6772): 316-23.
  2. Linde, K., Clausius, N., Ramirez, G., Melchart, D., Eitel, F.,
    Hedges, L.V., Jonas, W.B. (1997): Are the clinical effects of
    homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 350(9081): 834–843.
  3. Linde, K., Scholz, M., Ramirez, G., Clausius, N., Melchart,
    D., Jonas, W.B. (1999): Impact of study quality on outcome
    in placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy. J Clin Epidemiol 52(7): 631–636.
  4. Cucherat, M., Haugh, M.C., Gooch, M., Boissel, J.P. (2000): Evidence of clinical efficacy of homeopathy. A meta-analysis of clinical trials. HMRAG. Homeopathic Medicines Research Advisory Group. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 56(1): 27–33.
  5. Mathie, R.T., Lloyd, S.M., Legg, L.A., Clausen, J., Moss, S.,Davidson, J.R.T., Ford, I. (2014a): Randomised placebocontrolled trials of individualised homeopathic treatment: systematic review and meta-analysis. Syst Rev 3: 142.
  6. Shang, A., Huwiler-Müntener, K., Nartey, L., Jüni, P., Dörig, S., Sterne, J.A.C., Pewsner, D., Egger, M. (2005): Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy and allopathy. Lancet 366(9487): 726–32.

(As it happens, I have reviewed these papers here and come to very different conclusions)

Without bothering about a critical assessment of these papers, the authors report that all arrived at a positive conclusion, except the last one. They then claim that the ‘1st’ NHMRC report was partly positive but was initially suppressed by the Australian government. Instead it was replaced with the 2nd NHMRC report which was designed to arrive at a wholly negative conclusion. Likewise, the ‘EASAC Statement’ neglected some of the available positive evidence. These facts, the authors believe, discredits all of these negative reports.

The authors then discuss the various reviews by Mathie et al and point out that, in their view, these papers are superior to all other documents as they arrive at very clearly positive conclusions.

Next the authors focus on the field of veterinary homeopathy, while admitting weaker and weaker evidence, inclusing case-reports. This is also where I lost the will to live and gave up my detailed criticism of the text; the task is too tedious and simply not worth it, I felt.

In summary, here are few points relating to the human evidence:

The authors seem to have no intention of conducting an objective, systematic review. Such a project is essentially based on two principles. Firstly, it needs to include all eligible evidence according to pre-defined criteria. Secondly, it must include a critical evaluation of the admitted evidence. This review fails on both of these principles.

There are virtually dozens of systematic reviews which the authors decided to ignore. Here are just six of them:

  1. … homoeopathy as a whole may be considered as a placebo treatment.
  2. We tested whether p-curve accurately rejects the evidential value of significant results obtained in placebo-controlled clinical trials of homeopathic ultramolecular dilutions. Our results suggest that p-curve can accurately detect when sets of statistically significant results lack evidential value.
  3. We found no evidence to support the efficacy of homeopathic medicinal products
  4. … no firm conclusions regarding the effectiveness and safety of homeopathy for the treatment of IBS can be drawn.
  5. Due to both qualitative and quantitative inadequacies, proofs supporting individualized homeopathy remained inconclusive.
  6. … the use of homeopathy currently cannot claim to have sufficient prognostic validity where efficacy is concerned.

Why do they do it? A reasonable reply to this question might be, because their findings did not fit the preconceived ideas of the authors. This omission alone makes the article little more than a poorly conceived marketing brochure.

Even more important is the second omission. The paper  lacks any kind of critical evaluation of the included evidence. On the contrary, the authors praise the evidence that generated what they think was a positive result (even in cases where the actual result was not all that positive; for instance: A meta-analysis of all extractable data leads to rejection of our null hypothesis, but analysis of a small sub-group of reliable evidence does not support that rejection. Reliable evidence is lacking in condition-specific meta-analyses, precluding relevant conclusions) and bash all negative findings. This goes as far as perpetuating untruth about the two NHMRC reports: what they call the 1st report was a draft that had been rejected because it was deemed to be of sub-standard quality. What is here called the ‘2nd’ report is thus the only valid document ever published. Similarly, the authors pretend that the Mathie reviews were all clearly positive and fail to mention even the most obvious problems with these articles, such as the facts that Mathie was paid by a homeopathy-lobby group or that even he included important caveats in his conclusions.

As to the focus of the review, the question whether homeopathy might be a solution to antibiotic resistance, the authors found virtually no compelling evidence from trials directly comparing antibiotics with homeopathy. This seems to bother the authors little – they conclude that “the data demonstrate the potential of a significant reduction of antibiotic usage through homeopathic treatments”. They seem to have reached this conclusion by turning a blind eye to all the evidence that does not fit their preconceived idea.

As the paper is published in German and in a journal which hardly anyone will ever read, one could easily argue that none of all this does really matter because it is merely a storm in a very small tea cup. Perhaps that’s true. But this paper nevertheless might attain some significance because it is already being heavily promoted by the homeopathy lobby. And no doubt, it will thus be cited in the English literature which, in turn, will be read by people who do not read German, unable to check the original and are thus likely to believe the nonsense promoted by Frass and friends.

For this reason, I want to conclude by making it quite clear that

this ‘review’ is a dilettante attempt to white-wash the evidence on homeopathy and mislead the public.

 

Several strands of evidence have indicated that vitamin D supplementation might be helpful for COVID-19 infections. Now we also have a study testing whether it works.

Spanish researchers evaluated the effect of calcifediol treatment on Intensive Care Unit Admission and Mortality rate among patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in a randomized, double blind clinical trial. A total of 76 consecutive patients hospitalized with COVID-19 infection and clinical picture of acute respiratory infection (confirmed by a radiographic pattern of viral pneumonia and by a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR with CURB65 severity scale) were included. All patients received as best available therapy the same standard care. This consisted of a combination of:

  • hydroxychloroquine (400 mg every 12 h on the first day, and 200 mg every 12 h for the following 5 days),
  • azithromycin (500 mg orally for 5 days.

Eligible patients were allocated at a 2 calcifediol : 1 no calcifediol ratio through electronic randomization on the day of admission to take oral calcifediol (0.532 mg), or not. Patients in the calcifediol group continued with oral calcifediol (0.266 mg) on day 3 and 7, and then weekly until discharge or ICU admission. Outcomes of effectiveness included rate of ICU admission and deaths.

Of the 50 patients treated with calcifediol, one required admission to the ICU (2%), while of 26 untreated patients, 13 required admission (50 %). Univariate Risk Estimate Odds Ratio for ICU in patients with Calcifediol treatment versus without Calcifediol treatment: 0.02 (95 %CI 0.002-0.17). Multivariate Risk Estimate Odds Ratio for ICU in patients with Calcifediol treatment vs Without Calcifediol treatment ICU (adjusting by Hypertension and T2DM): 0.03 (95 %CI: 0.003-0.25). Of the patients treated with calcifediol, none died, and all were discharged, without complications. The 13 patients not treated with calcifediol, who were not admitted to the ICU, were discharged. Of the 13 patients admitted to the ICU, two died and the remaining 11 were discharged.

The authors concluded as follows:

Our pilot study demonstrated that administration of calcifediol may improve the clinical outcome of subjects requiring hospitalization for COVID-19. Whether that would also apply to patients with an earlier stage of the disease and whether baseline vitamin D status modifies these results is unknown. Therefore, a multicenter randomized controlled trial using calcifediol, properly matched (Prevention and Treatment With Calcifediol of COVID-19 Induced Acute Respiratory Syndrome (COVIDIOL)), in 15 Spanish hospitals, funded by Clinical Research Program at COVID-19 “Progreso y Salud” Foundation and Foundation for Biomedical Research of Córdoba (FIBICO), Spain, (registered as NCT04366908 in NIH Trialnet database) will be carried out with the number of patients recalculated from the data provided by this study.

An interesting perspective of the new COVIDIOL trial with the recently available information, could be to evaluate calcifediol associated to dexamethasone or other corticoid vs. dexamethasone or other corticosteroid, since dexamethasone, which has potent anti-inflammatory actions, has recently been shown to reduce mortality in hospitalized patients on Covid-19 who are on respiratory assistance; so that treatment guidelines have been updated to recommend the use of glucocorticoids (including dexametasone), now proposed as the best available treatment in many hospitals around the world.

It is undeniable that this trial has several important limitations (and its authors are very honest to point them out). However, it is equally undeniable, in my view, that it is an important contribution to our current knowledge.

Much of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is used in the management of osteoarthritis pain. Yet few of us ever seem to ask whether SCAMs are more or less effective and safe than conventional treatments.

This review determined how many patients with chronic osteoarthritis pain respond to various non-surgical treatments. Published systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that included meta-analysis of responder outcomes for at least 1 of the following interventions were included: acetaminophen, oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), topical NSAIDs, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, cannabinoids, counselling, exercise, platelet-rich plasma, viscosupplementation (intra-articular injections usually with hyaluronic acid ), glucosamine, chondroitin, intra-articular corticosteroids, rubefacients, or opioids.

In total, 235 systematic reviews were included. Owing to limited reporting of responder meta-analyses, a post hoc decision was made to evaluate individual RCTs with responder analysis within the included systematic reviews. New meta-analyses were performed where possible. A total of 155 RCTs were included. Interventions that led to more patients attaining meaningful pain relief compared with control included:

  • exercise (risk ratio [RR] of 2.36; 95% CI 1.79 to 3.12),
  • intra-articular corticosteroids (RR = 1.74; 95% CI 1.15 to 2.62),
  • SNRIs (RR = 1.53; 95% CI 1.25 to 1.87),
  • oral NSAIDs (RR = 1.44; 95% CI 1.36 to 1.52),
  • glucosamine (RR = 1.33; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.74),
  • topical NSAIDs (RR = 1.27; 95% CI 1.16 to 1.38),
  • chondroitin (RR = 1.26; 95% CI 1.13 to 1.41),
  • viscosupplementation (RR = 1.22; 95% CI 1.12 to 1.33),
  • opioids (RR = 1.16; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.32).

Pre-planned subgroup analysis demonstrated no effect with glucosamine, chondroitin, or viscosupplementation in studies that were only publicly funded. When trials longer than 4 weeks were analysed, the benefits of opioids were not statistically significant.

The authors concluded that interventions that provide meaningful relief for chronic osteoarthritis pain might include exercise, intra-articular corticosteroids, SNRIs, oral and topical NSAIDs, glucosamine, chondroitin, viscosupplementation, and opioids. However, funding of studies and length of treatment are important considerations in interpreting these data.

Exercise clearly is an effective intervention for chronic osteoarthritis pain. It has consistently been recommended by international guideline groups as the first-line treatment in osteoarthritis management. The type of exercise is likely not important.

Pharmacotherapies such as NSAIDs and duloxetine demonstrate smaller but statistically significant benefit that continues beyond 12 weeks. Opioids appear to have short-term benefits that attenuate after 4 weeks, and intra-articular steroids after 12 weeks. Limited data (based on 2 RCTs) suggest that acetaminophen is not helpful. These findings are consistent with recent Osteoarthritis Research Society International guideline recommendations that no longer recommend acetaminophen for osteoarthritis pain management and strongly recommend against the use of opioids.

Limited benefit was observed with other interventions including glucosamine, chondroitin, and viscosupplementation. When only publicly funded trials were examined for these interventions, the results were no longer statistically significant.

Adverse events were inconsistently reported. However, withdrawal due to adverse events was consistently reported and found to be greater in patients using opioids, SNRIs, topical NSAIDs, and viscosupplementation.

Few of the interventions assessed fall under the umbrella of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):

  • some forms of exercise,
  • cannabinoids,
  • counselling,
  • chondroitin,
  • glucosamine.

It is unclear why the authors did not include SCAMs such as chiropractic, osteopathy, massage therapy, acupuncture, herbal medicines, neural therapy, etc. in their review. All of these SCAMs are frequently used for osteoarthritis pain. If they had included these treatments, how do you think they would have fared?

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