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

EBM

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Jennifer Jacobs started publishing peer-reviewed papers on homeopathy in the early 1990s. This happens to be around the same time as I did. So, we both have about 30 years of research into homeopathy behind us.

Jennifer just authored a paper entitled “Thirty Years of Homeopathic Research – Lessons Learned“. Here is its abstract:

Conducting double-blind randomized controlled trials is difficult, even in the allopathic medical system. Doing so within the paradigm of classical homeopathy is even more challenging. More than thirty years of experience in carrying out such trials has taught me much about the pitfalls to avoid as well as the factors that can lead to success. The initial steps of putting together a research protocol, securing funding, and obtaining human subjects’ approval can be daunting. After that comes developing questionnaires and surveys, hiring study personnel, and recruitment of subjects. The actual implementation of the research comes with its own set of possible missteps. Sample size determination, entry criteria, as well as type, frequency and duration of treatment are all crucial. Finally, statistical analysis must be performed to a high standard and a manuscript prepared to submit for publication. Even then there can be one or more manuscript revisions to make, based on feedback from reviewers, before a study is actually published. The entire process can take at least two years and is usually much longer.

Mistakes at any one of these steps can damage the outcome, as well as the impact of the study. With examples from my body of research, I will discuss some of the things that I wish I had done differently, as well as those that turned out to be correct. Homeopathic research is held to a much higher standard than conventional trials. Any flaws in study design, implementation, and analysis can be used by critics to negate the results. I am hopeful that the next generation of homeopathic researchers will learn from my experiences and carry on with great success.

Jennifer’s example motivated me to follow suit and contribute some very brief thoughts about my 30 years of homeopathy research and the lessons I have learnt:

  Conducting double-blind randomized controlled trials is difficult in any area of medicine. Yet these types of studies are by far the best way to find out which treatments work and which don’t. Therefore, they need doing, regardless of the obstacles they may pose.

In homeopathy, we now have a large body of such trials. Sadly, not all of them are reliable. Those that are, according to accepted criteria, tend to fail to show that homeopathy works better than a placebo. Understandably, homeopaths are disappointed with this overall result and have made numerous attempts to invalidate it.

The main problem with research into homeopathy is not the research methodology. It is well established for clinical trials and can be easily modified to fit all the demands made by individualised treatment or other pecularities that may apply to homeopathy. The main problem is the homeopath who finds it impossible to accept the truth, namely that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos and any observed benefits of homeopathy are due to non-specific effects such as the empathetic encounter or a placebo response.

The lesson to be learned from the past is that, in medicine, even the most obsessive belief, conviction or wishful thinking will eventually have to give way to the scientific evidence. In the case of homeopathy, this process has taken an extraordinary amount of time and effort but, finally, we are almost there and the writing is on the wall for everyone to see.

Two resumes of 30 years of work, research and experience!

And what a difference between them!

Who do you think gets closer to the truth,

Jennifer or I?

Current interventions for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are efficacious, yet effectiveness may be limited by adverse effects and high withdrawal rates. Acupuncture is an intervention with some positive preliminary but methodologically flawed data for PTSD.  Therefore a new study compared verum acupuncture with sham acupuncture (minimal needling) on clinical and physiological outcomes.

This was a 2-arm, parallel-group, prospective blinded randomized clinical trial hypothesizing superiority of verum to sham acupuncture. The study was conducted at a single outpatient-based site, the Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California, with recruitment from April 2018 to May 2022, followed by a 15-week treatment period. Following exclusion for characteristics that are known PTSD treatment confounds, might affect biological assessment, indicate past nonadherence or treatment resistance, or indicate risk of harm, 93 treatment-seeking combat veterans with PTSD aged 18 to 55 years were allocated to group by adaptive randomization and 71 participants completed the intervention protocols.

Verum and sham were provided as 1-hour sessions, twice weekly, and participants were given 15 weeks to complete up to 24 sessions. The primary outcome was pretreatment to posttreatment change in PTSD symptom severity on the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale-5 (CAPS-5). The secondary outcome was pretreatment to posttreatment change in fear-conditioned extinction, assessed by fear-potentiated startle response. Outcomes were assessed at pretreatment, midtreatment, and posttreatment. General linear models comparing within- and between-group were analyzed in both intention-to-treat (ITT) and treatment-completed models.

A total of 85 male and 8 female veterans (mean [SD] age, 39.2 [8.5] years) were randomized. There was a large treatment effect of verum (Cohen d, 1.17), a moderate effect of sham (d, 0.67), and a moderate between-group effect favoring verum (mean [SD] Δ, 7.1 [11.8]; t90 = 2.87, d, 0.63; P = .005) in the intention-to-treat analysis. The effect pattern was similar in the treatment-completed analysis: verum d, 1.53; sham d, 0.86; between-group mean (SD) Δ, 7.4 (11.7); t69 = 2.64; d, 0.63; P = .01). There was a significant pretreatment to posttreatment reduction of fear-potentiated startle during extinction (ie, better fear extinction) in the verum but not the sham group and a significant correlation (r = 0.31) between symptom reduction and fear extinction. Withdrawal rates were low.

The authors concluded that the acupuncture intervention used in this study was clinically efficacious and favorably affected the psychobiology of PTSD in combat veterans. These data build on extant literature and suggest that clinical implementation of acupuncture for PTSD, along with further research about comparative efficacy, durability, and mechanisms of effects, is warranted.

I am not sure that the authors’ enthusiastic verdict is correct. Its lead author was even quoted stating that his study, which used improved controls, was needed to “definitively” support acupuncture for PTSD. He noted that “acupuncture ought to be considered a potential first-line treatment for PTSD.”

While the study is an improvement on the previous research in this area, it is by no means compelling. My main point of criticism is the nature of the sham acupuncture. Such controls are used to account for placebo effects which, of course, can be considerable in the case of acupuncture.

For this concept to work adequately, the patient and the therapist need to be blinded. In the case of acupuncture, therapist blinding is difficult (but not impossible). In this study, therepists were not blinded. Thus they could have influenced the outcome by verbal and non-verbal clues given to the patient. As acupuncturists inevitably have an interest in the positive result of their study, this effect seems inevitable to me.

More important, however, is the adequate blinding of the patient. In this study, it was attempted by using shallow needling as a sham intervention. Yet, shallow needling can easily distinguished from real acupuncture by the patient. At the very least, patients should be asked what treatment – sham or real – they thought they had received. This did not happen, and we therefore might assume that the effect of patient de-blinding – combined with the confounder described above – was sufficient to bring about the relatively small effect sizes observed by the authors.

One might argue that this does not really matter; all that counts is to alleviate the suffering of the patients, never mind by what mechanism. I think, this would be erroneous. It matters because, if acupuncture itself is ineffective (which I suggest), settling for acupuncture as a first line therapy for PTSD is in nobody’s interest and a disservice to severely suffering patients. It would inhibit meaningful research aimed at finding an optimal therapy (one that works beyond placebo) and be a waste of resources.

 

A recent post of mine started an interesting discussion about the research of the NCCIH. Richard Rasker made the following comment:

The NCCIH was initially established as the Office for Alternative Medicine (OAM) for mostly the same reason that Edzard’s department at Exeter was founded, i.e. to study alternative modalities, and determine once and for all which ones were effective and which ones weren’t. Unfortunately, OAM and its subsequent incarnations were taken over by SCAM proponents almost right away, with its core mission changed into validating (NOT ‘studying’) SCAM modalities – a small but crucial difference that will all but guarantee that even long-obsolete and totally ineffective quackery will continue to be ‘researched’ and promoted.

So what’s the score now, after more than 30 years and well over 4 billion dollars in taxpayers’ money? How many SCAM modalities have they managed to ‘validate’, i.e. definitively proven to be effective? The answer is: none, for all intents and purposes. Even their research into herbal medicine – one of the most effective (or should I say: least ineffective) SCAMs out there – is best described as woefully lacking. Their list of herbs and plants names just 55 species of plants, and the individual descriptions are mostly to the tune of ‘a lot of research was done, but we can’t say anything definite’.

I think I can contribute meaningfully to this important comment and topic. Several years ago, my Exeter team – together with several other researches – systematically reviewed the NCCIH (formerly NCCAM)-sponsored clinical trials. Specifically, we focussed on 4 different subject areas. Here are the conclusions of our articles reporting the findings:

      1. ACUPUNCTURE

Seven RCTs had a low risk of bias. Numerous methodological shortcomings were identified. Many NCCAM-funded RCTs of acupuncture have important limitations. These findings might improve future studies of acupuncture and could be considered in the ongoing debate regarding NCCAM-funding. [Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 17(1) March 2012 15–21]

       2. HERBAL MEDICINE

This independent assessment revealed a plethora of serious concerns related to NCCAM studies of herbal medicine. [Perfusion 2011; 24: 89-102]

       3. ENERGY MEDICINE

In conclusion, the NCCAM-funded RCTs of energy medicine are prime examples of misguided investments into research. In our opinion, NCCAM should not be funding poor-quality studies of implausible practices. The impact of any future studies of energy medicine would be negligible or even detrimental. [Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 16(2) June 2011 106–109 ]

       4. CHIROPRACTIC

In conclusion, our review demonstrates that several RCTs of chiropractic have been funded by the NCCAM. It raises numerous concerns in relation to these studies; in particular, it suggests that many of these studies are seriously flawed. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21207089]

The overall conclusion that comes to my mind is this:

The NCCIH has managed to spend more money on SCAM research than any other institution in the world (in the 20 years that I ran the Exeter research unit, we spent around £2 million in total). The NCCIH has wasted precious funds on plenty of dubious studies; arguably, this is unethical. It has misappropriated its role from testing to validating SCAMs. And it has validated none.

PS

As some of the above-cited papers are not easily accessible, I offer to send copies to interested individuals on request.

Mercury is a highly toxic chemical that threatens the health of humans and the environment. When it is released into the environment, it enters the food chain where it accumulates, particularly in fish. Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause harm to the brain, lungs, kidneys and the immune system. For these reasons, dental amalgam fillings which contain mercury have long been criticized. This is particularly true in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) where, as discussed repeatedly, amalgam has long been a subject of both concern and misinformation, e.g.:

In the EU, dental amalgam might soon be merely of historical interest.

It has been announced that the EU Parliament and Council reached a provisional political agreement on the Commission’s proposal to address the remaining uses of mercury in products in the EU in line with commitments set out in the EU’s Zero Pollution Ambition.

In spite of viable mercury-free alternatives, around 40 tonnes of mercury are still used in the EU annually for dental amalgam as current rules only forbid the use of dental amalgam for treating teeth in children under 15 years old as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Negotiators agreed to phase out the use of dental amalgam in the EU by 1 January 2025 except if deemed strictly necessary by the dental practitioner based on the duly justified specific medical needs of the patient.

EU countries that have not yet adjusted their reimbursement system to cover alternatives, may postpone the phase-out up until 30 June 2026, to avoid negative repercussions for low-income individuals that would otherwise be socio-economically disproportionally affected by the phase-out.

The export of dental amalgam will also be prohibited from 1 January 2025, whereas the manufacturing and import into the EU will be banned from 1 July 2026.

After the agreement, rapporteur Marlene Mortler (EPP, Germany) said: “After an intensive week of negotiations, we were able to reach an agreement today to ban dental amalgam containing mercury. This is an important step towards a mercury-free future. I am very pleased with the result – because we have ensured that such dental amalgam may only be used in medically necessary cases. Some Member States have been granted an exemption in order to mitigate the socio-economic consequences of the amalgam phase-out. After all, the ban on dental amalgam must not mean that low-income EU citizens can no longer afford adequate dental treatment in these countries. Another key point of this agreement is the decision that lamps containing mercury may only be exported to countries outside the EU until 30 June 2026. This will ensure that products that are already banned in the EU are not sold to third countries and have environmentally harmful consequences there.”

The deal still has to be adopted by the EU Parliament and Council, after which the new law will be published in the EU Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later.

If I had a £ for each time I was asked during the last few days whether King Charles is going to treat his cancer with homeopathy, I would have my pockets full of cash. The question seems reasonable because he has been singing the praise of homeopathy for decades. But, as I have pointed out previously, he is unlikely to use homeopathy or any other unproven cancer cure; on the contrary he will certainly receive the most effective therapies available today.

In any case, the homeopathic treatment of cancer is currently a most popular topic. As if on command, an article appeared on my screen that promises to address the subject:

“Homoeopathy and Cancer – An Alternative Approach towards the path of Healing”

Here is the abstract of this remarkable paper:

Homoeopathy is a holistic system of medicine rooted on the principle of “Similia Similibus Curentur”. It has gained attention for its potential therapeutic benefits. It offers a holistic approach that addresses both the physical symptoms and emotional well-being of individuals. While this alternative approach of healing has been explored in various health contexts, a notable gap remains in understanding its application in the realm of cancer care. This review seeks to fill this void by exploring the broader landscape of homoeopathy’s principles and applications. Through a critical examination of existing research and evidence, it aims to offer valuable insights into the potential role of homoeopathy as a complementary approach in cancer care and symptomatic relief. This review underscores the need for further research and a more nuanced understanding of homoeopathy’s place in healthcare, particularly in the context of cancer patients and their well-being.

I am sure you are as impressed as I am and keen to learn more. In the article itself, the authors offer some brand-new, cutting-edge science to back up their views:

According to Samuel Hahnemann, “When a person is ill, it is originally merely the spirit-like, autonomic life force (life principle), which is always there in the organism, that is mistuned by the dynamic effect of a morbific agent inimical to life.Only the life principle, tuned incorrectly to such an anomalyis capable of causing irregular functions the body. Cancer may initially be treated as a one-sided disease because the expanded pathology weakens the Vital Force. According to Hahnemann, “Diseases that seem to have just a few symptoms are called one-sided because only one or two prominent symptoms are indicated. This makes these diseases, which primarily fall under the category of chronic diseases, harder to cure. According to Arthur Hill Grimmer, the biggest challenge in treating advanced cancer cases is getting therapeutic individualization of symptoms. Even with all the typical symptoms, it is quite difficult to create a potent homoeopathic prescription. Burnett considered both the characteristic aspects of the patient as well as the ‘action’ or‘organ affinity’ of the remedy he prescribed.

Eventually, the authors (who are affiliated with prestigeous institutions: Rajasthan Ayurved University, Jodhpur; Swasthya Kalyan Homoeopathic Medical College & Research Centre, Jaipur) arrive at the following conclusion:

In the scientific literature, homoeopathy’s use in the treatment of cancer is still largely unexplored. Pioneers have offered intriguing perspectives on disease origins and treatment challenges. The miasmatic perspective offers a distinctive approach that emphasises individualised strategies based on symptoms and characteristics. Some studies suggest an improvement in quality of life of the individuals suffering from cancer. In the dynamic landscape of cancer treatment, more studies are warranted to enhance the scope of holistic, patient-centered care through homoeopathy.

Yes, homeopathy is a joke. This paper (and the many similar publications out there) could thus be intensely funny – except for the fact that these charlatans are playing with the lives of many vulnerable and desperate patients. I sincerely hope Charles manages to stay well clear of homeopathy and its irresponsible practitioners which clearly is one precondition for making a full recovery.

Yestderday, it was announced that King Charles has cancer. He had been in hospital for surgery for his enlarged prostate. Initially, the news was positive, as it was confirmed not to be prostate cancer. However, during the investigations, a cancer was discovered that apparently is unrelated to the prostate. Since the announcement, many journalists and other people have written to me asking what I think about it and what treatment Charles is likely to receive. I therefore decided to write a short post about the matter.

As a physician and human being I am very sorry whenever I hear that anyone has fallen ill, particularly if the condition is serious and potentially life-threatening. That this includes Charles goes without saying. Equally it is self-evident that I wish that all goes well for him, that the treatment he reportedly has already started is not too arduous, that he keeps in good spirit, that he has empathetic support from all his family and recovers quickly and fully.

Charles will, I am sure, have the best treatment anyone could wish for. Will he use so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), for example, the Gerson therapy, one of the SCAMs he once promoted as a cure of cancer? Of course not! He will receive the most effective, evidence-based care that is currently available. Will he thus not try any SCAM at all? I am confident that he will use SCAM wisely, namely not as a cure but as a supportive measure. In my book on this very subject, I go through all the relevant evidence and conclude that, while SCAM is most certainly not a cancer cure, it can have a place in supportive cancer care. Depending on the symptoms that develop during and after the conventional treatments, certain SCAMs can, according to fairly sound evidence, be helpful in improving wellness and quality of life.

Going through a battle against cancer is often a most humbling experience. Therefore, I am hopeful that, as he recovers from his ordeal, Charles will see that modern medicine – he once described it as being out of balance like the leaning tower of Pisa – is not just effective, empathetic and caring but also not nearly as unbalanced and unholistic as he often proclaimed it to be. In that sense, the experience might reform our king, and – who knows? – he might, after all, turn out to be not the self-proclaimed enemy but a true friend of the Enlightenment.

I have to admit that I came across the ‘ARCIM’ (Academic Research in Complementary and Integrative Medicine) Institute only yesterday when writing the post about Buteyko. Naturally, the institution interested me, and I tried to find out more about it. As pointed out previously, the aim of the ARCIM research institute, founded in 2010, is to research complementary and integrative medicine, in particular anthroposophic medicine, on a scientific basis according to rigorous scientific standards established by the Equator Network criteria (http://www.equator-network.org/).

On the ARCIM’s website we furthermore learn that:

  • ARCIM exists since 2010.
  • Consists of a team of 8 co-workers.
  • Its director is the physician Jan Vagedes.
  • Who have published a sizable amount of papers.
  • Is funded by the following sponsors: Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Mahle-Foundation (Mahle Stiftung), Software AG (Software AG), DAMUS-DONATA e.V.
  • Is located in the buildings of the ‘Filderclinic’.

This begs, I think, several questions:

Why is the Federal Ministry of Education and Research sponsoring the ARCIM?

As anthroposophical medicine is based on concepts that fly in the face of science, this seems a legitimate question. Sadly, I have no answer to it.

What is the ‘Filderclinic’?

The Filderklinik in Filderstadt-Bonlanden is one of six anthroposophically orientated hospitals in Germany. It is operated by the non-profit organisation Filderklinik gGmbH. The main founders of the Filderklinik, which has existed since 1975, were Hermann and Ernst Mahle, the founders of the Mahle Group. The Mahle-Stiftung GmbH is the main shareholder and also the largest sponsor of Filderklinik gGmbH. The hospital employs around 915 staff and has 300 beds.

Who is Jan Vagedes?

Jan Vagedes is a specialist for paediatrics and adolescent medicine, neonatology and a doctor for anthroposophic medicine. He studied in and graduated from the LMU in Munich (my alma mater) in 1997. He is the Founder and Scientific Director of the ARCIM Institute, a research associate at the University Children’s Hospital Tübingen, and Head of paediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Filderclinic.

He has no ‘habilitation’ (PhD and in Germany precondition for a professorship). Medline currently lists 42 articles in his name most of which are in 3rd class journals. His first Medline-listed article is dated 2012. As the ARCIM was established in 2010, this means that, when he was appointed as its ‘scientific director’, he had exactly zero published science to his name.

Why did he get the job?

I have absolutely no idea?

(If you know more than I do, I’d be grateful to hear about it.)

 

 

An alarming story of research fraud in the area of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is unfolding: Bharat B. Aggarwal, the Indian-American biochemist who worked at MD Anderson Cancer Center, focused his research on curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, and authored more than 125 Medline-listed articles about it. They reported that curcumin had therapeutic potential for a variety of diseases, including various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and, more recently, COVID-19.

The last of these papers, entitled “Curcumin, inflammation, and neurological disorders: How are they linked?”, was publiched only a few months ago. Here is its abstract:

Background: Despite the extensive research in recent years, the current treatment modalities for neurological disorders are suboptimal. Curcumin, a polyphenol found in Curcuma genus, has been shown to mitigate the pathophysiology and clinical sequalae involved in neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative diseases.

Methods: We searched PubMed database for relevant publications on curcumin and its uses in treating neurological diseases. We also reviewed relevant clinical trials which appeared on searching PubMed database using ‘Curcumin and clinical trials’.

Results: This review details the pleiotropic immunomodulatory functions and neuroprotective properties of curcumin, its derivatives and formulations in various preclinical and clinical investigations. The effects of curcumin on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), brain tumors, epilepsy, Huntington’s disorder (HD), ischemia, Parkinson’s disease (PD), multiple sclerosis (MS), and traumatic brain injury (TBI) with a major focus on associated signalling pathways have been thoroughly discussed.

Conclusion: This review demonstrates curcumin can suppress spinal neuroinflammation by modulating diverse astroglia mediated cascades, ensuring the treatment of neurological disorders.

  The Anderson Cancer Center initially appeared to approve of Aggarwal’s work. However, in 2012, following concerns about image manipulation raised by pseudonymous sleuth Juuichi Jigen, MD Anderson Cancer Center launched a research fraud probe against Aggarwal which eventually led to 30 of Aggarwal’s articles being retracted. Moreover, PubPeer commenters have noted irregularities in many publications beyond the 30 that have already been retracted. Aggarwal thus retired from M.D. Anderson in 2015.

Curcumin doesn’t work well as a therapeutic agent for any disease – see, for instance, the summary from Nelson et al. 2017:

“[No] form of curcumin, or its closely related analogues, appears to possess the properties required for a good drug candidate (chemical stability, high water solubility, potent and selective target activity, high bioavailability, broad tissue distribution, stable metabolism, and low toxicity). The in vitro interference properties of curcumin do, however, offer many traps that can trick unprepared researchers into misinterpreting the results of their investigations.”

Despite curcumin’s apparent lack of therapeutic promise, the volume of research produced on curcumin grows each year.  More than 2,000 studies involving the compound are now published annually. Many of these studies bear signs of fraud and involvement of paper mills. As of 2020, the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) has spent more than 150 million USD funding projects related to curcumin.

Graphs describing the volume of curcumin research from various sources. Data collected from PubMed and NIH RePORTER. Data may be incomplete in recent years.

This proliferation of research has fueled curcumin’s popularity as a dietary supplement. It is estimated that the global market for curcumin as a supplement is around 30 million USD in 2020.

The damage done by this epic fraud is huge and far-reaching. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, countless hours spent toiling by junior scientists, thousands of laboratory animals sacrificed, thousands of cancer patients enrolled in clinical trials for ineffective treatments, and countless people who have eschewed effective cancer treatment in favor of curcumin, were encouraged by research steeped in lies.

After the nationwide huha created by the BBC’s promotion of auriculotherapy and AcuSeeds, it comes as a surprise to learn that, in Kent (UK), the NHS seems to advocate and provide this form of quackery. Here is the text of the patient leaflet:

Kent Community Health, NHS Foundation Trust

Auriculotherapy

This section provides information to patients who might benefit from auriculotherapy, to complement their acupuncture treatment, as part of their chronic pain management plan.

What is auriculotherapy?

In traditional Chinese medicine, the ear is seen as a microsystem representing the entire body. Auricular acupuncture focuses on ear points that may help a wide variety of conditions including pain. Acupuncture points on the ear are stimulated with fine needles or with earseeds and massage (acupressure).

How does it work?

Recent research has shown that auriculotherapy stimulates the release of natural endorphins, the body’s own feel good chemicals, which may help some patients as part of their chronic pain management plan.

What are earseeds?

Earseeds are traditionally small seeds from the Vaccaria plant, but they can also be made from different types of metal or ceramic. Vaccaria earseeds are held in place over auricular points by a small piece of adhesive tape, or plaster. Applying these small and barely noticeable earseeds between acupuncture treatments allows for patient massage of the auricular points. Earseeds may be left in place for up to a week.

Who can use earseeds?

Earseeds are sometimes used by our Chronic Pain Service to prolong the effects of standard acupuncture treatments and may help some patients to self manage their chronic pain.

How can I get the most out my treatment with earseeds?

It is recommended that the earseeds are massaged two to three times a day or when symptoms occur by applying gentle pressure to the earseeds and massaging in small circles.

Will using earseeds cure my chronic pain?

As with any treatment, earseeds are not a cure but they can reduce pain levels for some patients as part of their chronic pain management programme.

________________________

What the authors of the leaflet forgot to tell the reader is this:

  • Auriculotherapy is based on ideas that fly in the face of science.
  • The evidence that auriculotherapy works is flimsy, to say the least.
  • The evidence earseeds work is even worse.
  • To arrive at a positive recommendation, the NHS had to heavily indulge in the pseudo-scientific art of cherry-picking.
  • The positive experience that some patients report is due to a placebo response.
  • For whichever condition auriculotherapy is used, there are treatments that are much more adequate.
  • Advocating auriculotherapy is therefore not in the best interest of the patient.
  • Arguably, it is unethical.
  • Definitely, it is not what the NHS should be doing.

This review aimed to investigate and categorize the causes and consequences of ‘quack medicine’ in the healthcare.

A scoping review, using the 5 stages of Arksey and O’Malley’s framework, was conducted to retrieve and analyze the literature. International databases including the PubMed, Scopus, Embase and Web of Science and also national Iranian databases were searched to find peer reviewed published literature in English and Persian languages. Grey literature was also included. Meta-Synthesis was applied to analyze the findings through an inductive approach.

Out of 3794 initially identified studies, 30 were selected for this review. Based on the findings of this research, the causes of quackery in the health were divided into six categories:

  • political,
  • economic,
  • socio-cultural,
  • technical-organizational,
  • legal,
  • and psychological.

Additionally, the consequences of this issue were classified into three categories:

  • health,
  • economic,
  • and social.

Economic and social factors were found to have the most significant impact on the prevalence of quackery in the health sector. Legal and technical-organizational factors played a crucial role in facilitating fraudulent practices, resulting in severe health consequences.

The authors concluded that it is evident that governing bodies and health systems must prioritize addressing economic and social factors in combating quackery in the health sector. Special attention should be paid to the issue of cultural development and community education to strengthen the mechanisms that lead to the society access to standard affordable services. Efforts should be made also to improve the efficiency of legislation, implementation and evaluation systems to effectively tackle this issue.

The authors point out that, in the health systems, particularly those of developing countries, a phenomenon known as “Quack Medicine” has been a persistent problem, causing harm in various branches of health care services. They define quackery as unproven or fraudulent medical practices that have no scientifically plausible rationale behind them. Someone who does not have professional qualification, formal registration from a legitimated institution, or required knowledge of a particular branch of medicine but practices in the field of medicine, is a quack, according to the authors’ definition. Finally, they define quack medicine as a fraudulent practice of quacks claiming to possess the ability and experience to diagnose and treat diseases, and pretending that the medicine or treatment they provide are effective, generally for personal and financial gain.

The authors rightly point out that, in some countries, there may be a lack of willpower, determination and effort among political leaders to deal with and prevent fraud and charlatanism in various fields, especially in the health system. This can be due to conflict of interests, corruption network, or insufficient infrastructure and resources, such as financial capacity and human resources. In some cases, they stress, policy makers may choose to tolerate small levels of unproven medical practices if the cost of prosecuting and correcting the situation outweigh the financial benefits. This can lead to a cycle of continued fraud and a lack of effective interventions to address the issue. In many countries laws against quack medicine do exist. However, their effectiveness depends on proper and strict implementation. More efforts and measures must be taken to implement the existing laws. Inadequate enforcement of laws and approval of pseudo-medicine can result in people receiving improper care.

The authors recommend that the healthcare systems, prioritize addressing economic and sociocultural factors in order to effectively combat this issue. In developing solutions, attention must be given to cultural development and community education, and efforts should be made to strengthen mechanisms that provide access to affordable, standard healthcare services for all. Lastly, it is crucial to enhance the performance of systems responsible for legislation, implementation and evaluation of laws and regulations related to quack medicine.

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