Austrian doctors recently received a notice in their mailbox about a postgraduate training event that is remarkable, to say the least.
The Vienna Medical Association is organizing a postgraduate training course on “Complementary Medical Homeopathy for Post- and Long Covid“. The date for the event is 20.4.2023. Registration for it is via the Association’s “Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine”.
In case you ask, what is wrong with such a course? There is no scientific evidence that homeopathy has a specific, positive effect in long/post covid. Therefore the announced event has about the same validity as a lecture series for:
- BUNGEE JUMPING FOR DIABETES
- DOUGHNUT EATING FOR CORONARY HEART DISEASE
- CIGARETTE SMOKING IN CANCER PREVENTION
While relevant pseudomedicine training courses have in the past been organized by the relevant Austrian SCAM-organizations, the Vienna Medical Association itself is now joining the ranks of the organizers of pseudomedicine training courses. Whereas pseudomedicine has so far been the domain of physicians in private practice in Austria, it now appears to be promoted by the Vienna Medical Association in hospitals as well.
The Vienna Medical Association boldly claims that MEDICAL ETHICS IS THE BASIS OF OUR WORK. Well guess what, guys: teaching nonsense is not very ethical!
The ‘tasks and goals’ of the Association’s ‘Department for Complementary and Integrative Medicine’ of the Vienna Medical Association are explained on their website:
The aim of our department is to represent doctors with additional diplomas in the medical association and to inform about the value of their special therapeutic approaches better than previously – particularly in cases of serious side effects of conventional therapies.
In the sense of conveying up-to-date, high-quality, medical, and complementary education and training in complementary medicine, our department aims to publish relevant articles and announcements of dates of the respective professional societies in the chamber’s own media.
Practice-oriented introductory lectures or study groups on the following topics are also planned topics:
- medical homeopathy,
- psychosomatic relaxation therapy (bipolar harmonising abdominal breathing, autogenic training),
- regulation therapy based on skin resistance measurements at acupuncture points,
- herbal therapy, etc.
“Up-to-date, high-quality, medical, and complementary education and training in complementary medicine” – oh really? If the Association’s “Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine” is truly interested in this, I herewith offer to give a free lecture series for them that would teach them the high-quality evidence truly shows.
Meanwhile, as there is no good evidence that homeopathy is an effective therapy for post/long Covid, the question of whether the ‘Vienna Medical Association’ has taken leave of its senses, must be answered in the affirmative.
I am pleased to announce that our regular contributors ‘DC‘ as well as ‘mimi‘ both correctly guessed the person responsible for the quote about informed consent that was the subject of yesterday’s post. Congratulations to both; that certainly wasn’t easy!
The quote is by Karl Brandt.
Who was Karl Brandt?
Brandt was a young and evidently gifted doctor when, during a series of coincidences, he became a member of Hitler’s ‘inner circle’ and acted as one of Hitler’s personal physicians (originally, he had wanted to join the team of Albert Schweitzer!). Hitler liked the good-looking, ambitious Brandt and thus gave him greater and greater responsibilities and power. Amongst other things, Brandt managed to become in charge of the German euthanasia program which killed about 70 000 patients who the Nazis considered to be ‘useless eaters’ and unworthy of their support. It had the cynical purpose of freeing up hospital beds for the war and cleansing the German gene pool. Brandt also was responsible for many of the unspeakably cruel and immoral medical experiments in the concentration camps.
After the war, Brandt was put on trial in Nuremberg. The trial became known as the ‘Doctors’ Trail‘. Twenty of the 23 defendants were medical doctors (Viktor Brack, Rudolf Brandt, and Wolfram Sievers were Nazi officials). They were accused of having been involved in Nazi human experimentation and mass murder under the guise of euthanasia. Brandt insisted that he had never done anything wrong, had followed orders, and had been guided by the highest morals, solid medical ethics, and his determination to do the very best for the German people.
During his interrogations, he stated the sentences that fascinated me when I first read it: ” On the one hand, there are experiments that are carried out for or with someone on a voluntary basis; on the other hand, there are those that take place against the will of the person concerned. A further subdivision indicates whether they are particularly dangerous or comparatively harmless and without any potential for danger. A further distinction must be made as to whether the result of the experiment is important or whether it is merely a ridiculous game played by a scientifically educated person. These six criteria form a kind of guideline that enables one to say YES or NO from a medical point of view.”
The quote is cited in the book by Ulf Schmidt which is extremely well-researched and worth reading for anyone with an interest in the subject. In my view, it gives a unique insight into the thinking of someone who clearly was bright yet power-hungry, scrupulous and deeply immoral:
- experiments “against the will of the person concerned” always were unlawful, immoral, and unethical according to the guidelines that existed at the time;
- “particularly dangerous” experiments should have never been considered;
- research that is merely a “ridiculous game played by a scientifically educated person” is pseudoscience and not ethical.
Brandt tried to present himself as the ‘honest’, upright Nazi who did what he did because of a deep conviction and because he wanted the best. He seemed to have fooled others and possibly even himself. Several influential personalities rallied to his support. Yet, the judges at Nuremberg did neither believe his version of events nor were they inclined to pardon his behavior. Brandt was found guilty of:
- War crimes: performing medical experiments, without the subjects’ consent, on prisoners of war and civilians of occupied countries, in the course of which experiments the defendants committed murders, brutalities, cruelties, tortures, atrocities, and other inhuman acts. Also planning and performing the mass murder of prisoners of war and civilians of occupied countries, stigmatized as aged, insane, incurably ill, deformed, and so on, by gas, lethal injections, and diverse other means in nursing homes, hospitals, and asylums during the Euthanasia Program and participating in the mass murder of concentration camp inmates;
- Crimes against humanity: committing crimes also on German nationals;
- Membership in a criminal organization, the SS. The charges against him included special responsibility for, and participation in, Freezing, Malaria, LOST Gas, Sulfanilamide, Bone, Muscle and Nerve Regeneration and Bone Transplantation, Sea-Water, Epidemic Jaundice, Sterilization, and Typhus Experiments.
Brandt was executed on 2 June 1948.
The discussions around informed consent at the Nuremberg ‘doctors trial’ brought this subject into a renewed focus and eventually led to the formulation of the now famous ‘Nuremberg Code‘.
I have often blogged about informed consent. Recently, I have come across a quote about informed consent to medical research that I find remarkable in several ways. It was made by a German physician and I present you with the original and with my translation of it.
The person who correctly guesses the author of the quote will – if he/she wants – receive a free copy of one of my books delivered through the post.
Here we go:
Zum einen gibt es Versuche, die fuer order mit jemandem auf freiwilliger Basis durchgefuehrt werden; zum anderen solche, die gegen den Willen der betroffenen Person stattfinden. Eine weitere Unterteilung gibt an, of sie besonders gefaehrlich offer vergleichsweise unbedenklich und ohne Gefahrenpotenzial sind. Zu unterscheiden ist ausserdem, ob das Ergebnis des Versuchs wichtig ist oder ob es sich nur um eine laecherliches Spiel einer wissenschaftlich gebildeten Person handelt. Aus diesen sechs Kriterien ergibt sich eine Art Richtlinie, die es einem vom medizinischen Standpunkt aus ermoeglicht JA oder NEIN zu sagen.
On the one hand, there are experiments that are carried out for or with someone on a voluntary basis; on the other hand, there are those that take place against the will of the person concerned. A further subdivision indicates whether they are particularly dangerous or comparatively harmless and without any potential for danger. A further distinction must be made as to whether the result of the experiment is important or whether it is merely a ridiculous game played by a scientifically educated person. These six criteria form a kind of guideline that enables one to say YES or NO from a medical point of view.
I don’t think you will find the author by googling the text. So, don’t bother.
The author, a German physician, is no longer alive but was very famous at one time. I will disclose his – yes it was a man – identity as soon as someone got the correct answer. If nobody does guess correctly, I will disclose it in a few days.
If you are unable to guess the author, I would still be interested in what you think of the quote and the frame of mind of the physician who said these intriguing sentences.
Conspiracy beliefs have become a major issue and obstacle to progress. While holding conspiracy beliefs has been associated with several detrimental social, personal, and health consequences, little research has been dedicated to systematically reviewing the methods that could reduce conspiracy beliefs.
A team of researchers conducted a systematic review to identify and assess interventions that have sought to counter conspiracy beliefs. They included 25 studies (total N = 7179) and discovered that, while the majority of interventions were ineffective in terms of changing conspiracy beliefs, several interventions were particularly effective. Interventions that fostered an analytical mindset or taught critical thinking skills were found to be the most effective in terms of changing conspiracy beliefs.
Approximately half of the examined interventions consisted of priming-based tasks. The majority of these interventions demonstrated a significant change in conspiracy beliefs. The effects were all either small or very small. Participants who were primed to be less susceptible to persuasion tactics showed significantly lower conspiracy beliefs when compared to controls among three experimental comparisons. These effects were shown to range from small to medium.
Interventions that primed participants to engage in analytical thinking resulted in primed participants having lower conspiracy beliefs than controls. However, the effects of these differences were small. Other priming interventions focused on manipulating participants’ sense of control. They had mixed results, either increasing or decreasing conspiracy beliefs with very small effects.
About a sixth of all interventions used inoculation methods. All successfully reduced conspiracy beliefs, relative to controls, all with either medium or large effects. Inoculations that identified the factual inaccuracies of conspiracy beliefs were found to be the most effective of all the interventions in the review. Inoculations that demonstrated the logical fallacies of conspiracy beliefs were found to be the second most effective intervention.
The authors concluded that their review found that overall, the majority of current conspiracy interventions are ineffective in terms of changing conspiracy beliefs. Despite this, we have identified several promising interventions that may be fruitful to pursue in future studies. We propose that a focus on inoculation-based and critical thinking interventions will bear more promising results for future research, though further efforts are needed to reduce participant burden and more easily implement these interventions in the real world.
The identification of the factual inaccuracies of conspiracy beliefs plus the stimulation of critical thinking are two aims I actively pursue with this blog. Thus, one might hope that I do make a small contribution to the reduction of conspiracy beliefs.
Yes, one might hope – but judging from many comments posted in the discussion sections, one could easily get a different impression.
Low back pain (LBP) affects almost all of us at some stage. It is so common that it has become one of the most important indications for most forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). In the discussions about the value (or otherwise) of SCAMs for LBP, we sometimes forget that there are many conventional medical options to treat LBP. It is therefore highly relevant to ask how effective they are. This overview aimed to summarise the evidence from Cochrane Reviews of the efficacy, effectiveness, and safety of systemic pharmacological interventions for adults with non‐specific LBP.
The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews was searched from inception to 3 June 2021, to identify reviews of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that investigated systemic pharmacological interventions for adults with non‐specific LBP. Two authors independently assessed eligibility, extracted data, and assessed the quality of the reviews and certainty of the evidence using the AMSTAR 2 and GRADE tools. The review focused on placebo comparisons and the main outcomes were pain intensity, function, and safety.
Seven Cochrane Reviews that included 103 studies (22,238 participants) were included. There was high confidence in the findings of five reviews, moderate confidence in one, and low confidence in the findings of another. The reviews reported data on six medicines or medicine classes: paracetamol, non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, opioids, and antidepressants. Three reviews included participants with acute or sub‐acute LBP and five reviews included participants with chronic LBP.
There was high‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference between paracetamol and placebo for reducing pain intensity (MD 0.49 on a 0 to 100 scale (higher scores indicate worse pain), 95% CI ‐1.99 to 2.97), reducing disability (MD 0.05 on a 0 to 24 scale (higher scores indicate worse disability), 95% CI ‐0.50 to 0.60), and increasing the risk of adverse events (RR 1.07, 95% CI 0.86 to 1.33).
There was moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring NSAIDs compared to placebo at reducing pain intensity (MD ‐7.29 on a 0 to 100 scale (higher scores indicate worse pain), 95% CI ‐10.98 to ‐3.61), high‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference for reducing disability (MD ‐2.02 on a 0‐24 scale (higher scores indicate worse disability), 95% CI ‐2.89 to ‐1.15), and very low‐certainty evidence for no evidence of an increased risk of adverse events (RR 0.86, 95% CI 0. 63 to 1.18).
Muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines
There was moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring muscle relaxants compared to placebo for a higher chance of pain relief (RR 0.58, 95% CI 0.45 to 0.76), and higher chance of improving physical function (RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.77), and increased risk of adverse events (RR 1.50, 95% CI 1. 14 to 1.98).
None of the included Cochrane Reviews aimed to identify evidence for acute LBP.
No evidence was identified by the included reviews for acute LBP.
No evidence was identified by the included reviews for chronic LBP.
There was low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring NSAIDs compared to placebo for reducing pain intensity (MD ‐6.97 on a 0 to 100 scale (higher scores indicate worse pain), 95% CI ‐10.74 to ‐3.19), reducing disability (MD ‐0.85 on a 0‐24 scale (higher scores indicate worse disability), 95% CI ‐1.30 to ‐0.40), and no evidence of an increased risk of adverse events (RR 1.04, 95% CI ‐0.92 to 1.17), all at intermediate‐term follow‐up (> 3 months and ≤ 12 months postintervention).
Muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines
There was low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring benzodiazepines compared to placebo for a higher chance of pain relief (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.54 to 0.93), and low‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference between muscle relaxants and placebo in the risk of adverse events (RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.67 to 1.57).
There was high‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring tapentadol compared to placebo at reducing pain intensity (MD ‐8.00 on a 0 to 100 scale (higher scores indicate worse pain), 95% CI ‐1.22 to ‐0.38), moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring strong opioids for reducing pain intensity (SMD ‐0.43, 95% CI ‐0.52 to ‐0.33), low‐certainty evidence for a medium between‐group difference favouring tramadol for reducing pain intensity (SMD ‐0.55, 95% CI ‐0.66 to ‐0.44) and very low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring buprenorphine for reducing pain intensity (SMD ‐0.41, 95% CI ‐0.57 to ‐0.26).
There was moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring strong opioids compared to placebo for reducing disability (SMD ‐0.26, 95% CI ‐0.37 to ‐0.15), moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring tramadol for reducing disability (SMD ‐0.18, 95% CI ‐0.29 to ‐0.07), and low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring buprenorphine for reducing disability (SMD ‐0.14, 95% CI ‐0.53 to ‐0.25).
There was low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference for an increased risk of adverse events for opioids (all types) compared to placebo; nausea (RD 0.10, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.14), headaches (RD 0.03, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.05), constipation (RD 0.07, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.11), and dizziness (RD 0.08, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.11).
There was low‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference for antidepressants (all types) compared to placebo for reducing pain intensity (SMD ‐0.04, 95% CI ‐0.25 to 0.17) and reducing disability (SMD ‐0.06, 95% CI ‐0.40 to 0.29).
The authors concluded as follows: we found no high‐ or moderate‐certainty evidence that any investigated pharmacological intervention provided a large or medium effect on pain intensity for acute or chronic LBP compared to placebo. For acute LBP, we found moderate‐certainty evidence that NSAIDs and muscle relaxants may provide a small effect on pain, and high‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference between paracetamol and placebo. For safety, we found very low‐ and high‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference with NSAIDs and paracetamol compared to placebo for the risk of adverse events, and moderate‐certainty evidence that muscle relaxants may increase the risk of adverse events. For chronic LBP, we found low‐certainty evidence that NSAIDs and very low‐ to high‐certainty evidence that opioids may provide a small effect on pain. For safety, we found low‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference between NSAIDs and placebo for the risk of adverse events, and low‐certainty evidence that opioids may increase the risk of adverse events.
This is an important overview, in my opinion. It confirms what I and others have been stating for decades: WE CURRENTLY HAVE NO IDEAL SOLUTION TO LBP.
This is regrettable but true. It begs the question of what one should recommend to LBP sufferers. Here too, I have to repeat myself: (apart from staying as active as possible) the optimal therapy is the one that has the most favourable risk/benefit profile (and does not cost a fortune). And this option is not drugs, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture, or any other SCAM – it is (physio)therapeutic exercise which is cheap, safe, and (mildly) effective.
During the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, Ayurvedic herbal supplements and homeopathic remedies were promoted as immune boosters (IBs) and disease-preventive agents. This happened in most parts of the world but nowhere more intensely than in India.
The present study examined the clinical outcomes among patients with chronic liver disease who presented with complications of portal hypertension or liver dysfunction temporally associated with the use of IBs in the absence of other competing causes. This Indian single-center retrospective observational cohort study included patients with chronic liver disease admitted for the evaluation and management of jaundice, ascites, or hepatic encephalopathy temporally associated with the consumption of IBs and followed up for 180 days. Chemical analysis was performed on the retrieved IBs.
From April 2020 to May 2021, 1022 patients with cirrhosis were screened, and 178 (19.8%) were found to have consumed complementary and alternative medicines. Nineteen patients with cirrhosis (10.7%), jaundice, ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, or their combination related to IBs use were included. The patients were predominantly male (89.5%). At admission, 14 (73.75%) patients had jaundice, 9 (47.4%) had ascites, 2 (10.5%) presented with acute kidney injury, and 1 (5.3%) had overt encephalopathy. Eight patients (42.1%) died at the end of the follow-up period. Hepatic necrosis and portal-based neutrophilic inflammation were the predominant features of liver biopsies.
Ten samples of IBs, including locally made ashwagandha powder, giloy juice, Indian gooseberry extracts, pure giloy tablets, multiherbal immune-boosting powder, other multiherbal tablets, and the homeopathic remedy, Arsenicum album 30C, were retrieved from our study patients. Samples were analyzed for potential hepatotoxic prescription drugs, known hepatotoxic adulterants, pesticides, and insecticides, which were not present in any of the samples. Detectable levels of arsenic (40%), lead (60%), and mercury (60%) were found in the samples analyzed. A host of other plant-derived compounds, industrial solvents, chemicals, and anticoagulants was identified using GC–MS/MS. These include glycosides, terpenoids, phytosteroids, and sterols, such as sitosterol, lupeol, trilinolein, hydroxy menthol, methoxyphenol, butyl alcohol, and coumaran derivatives.
The authors concluded that Ayurvedic and Homeopathic supplements sold as IBs potentially cause the worsening of preexisting liver disease. Responsible dissemination of scientifically validated, evidence-based medical health information from regulatory bodies and media may help ameliorate this modifiable liver health burden.
The authors comment that Ayurvedic herbal supplements and homeopathic remedies sold as IBs, potentially induce idiosyncratic liver injury in patients with preexisting liver disease. Using such untested advertised products can lead to the worsening of CLD in the form of liver failure or portal hypertension events, which are associated with a high risk of mortality compared to those with severe AH-related liver decompensation in the absence of timely liver transplantation. Severe mixed portal inflammation and varying levels of hepatic necrosis are common findings on liver histopathology in IB-related liver injury. Health regulatory authorities and print and visual media must ensure the dissemination of responsible and factual scientific evidence-based information on herbal and homeopathic “immune boosters” and health supplements to the public, specifically to the at-risk patient population.
Research by the Milner Center for Evolution at the University of Bath, U.K., along with colleagues at the Universities of Oxford and Aberdeen, found that trust in scientists has hugely increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. The study also found that people were more likely to take the COVID-19 vaccine if their trust in the science had increased.
Using data from a survey of more than 2,000 U.K. adults commissioned by the Genetics Society, the team asked individuals whether their trust in scientists had gone up, down, or stayed the same.
- A third of people reported that their trust in scientists had gone up.
- When Pfizer, a company that made COVID-19 vaccines, was used as an example of the pharma industry, more people reported a positive response than when GlaxoSmithKline, a company not associated with the COVID-19 vaccine, was mentioned.
- The researchers also found that people who reported holding a negative view of science before the pandemic had become even more negative.
- People reporting increased trust were most likely to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Those preferring not to do so reported a decline in trust.
This is an interesting study with relevance to many discussions we had on this blog. I recommend reading it in full. Here are the abstract and link to the paper:
While attempts to promote acceptance of well-evidenced science have historically focused on increasing scientific knowledge, it is now thought that for acceptance of science, trust in, rather than simply knowledge of, science is foundational. Here we employ the COVID-19 pandemic as a natural experiment on trust modulation as it has enabled unprecedented exposure of science. We ask whether trust in science has on the average altered, whether trust has changed the same way for all and, if people have responded differently, what predicts these differences? We 1) categorize the nature of self-reported change in trust in “scientists” in a random sample of over 2000 UK adults after the introduction of the first COVID vaccines, 2) ask whether any reported change is likely to be real through consideration of both a negative control and through experiment, and 3) address what predicts change in trust considering sex, educational attainment, religiosity, political attitude, age and pre-pandemic reported trust. We find that many more (33%) report increased trust towards “scientists” than report decreased trust (7%), effects of this magnitude not being seen in negative controls. Only age and prior degree of trust predict change in trust, the older population increasing trust more. The prior degree of trust effect is such that those who say they did not trust science prior to the pandemic are more likely to report becoming less trusting, indicative of both trust polarization and a backfire effect. Since change in trust is predictive of willingness to have a COVID-19 vaccine, it is likely that these changes have public health consequences.
Sure, the LP is dangerous nonsense, but this begs the question of whether so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has anything to offer for patients suffering from ME/CFS. If the LP story tells us anything, then it must be this: we should not trust single trials, particularly if they seem dodgy. In other words, we should look at systematic reviews that synthesize ALL clinical trials and evaluate them critically.
To locate this type of evidence I conducted several Medline searches and found several recent systematic reviews that address the issue:
Context: A variety of interventions have been used in the treatment and management of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Currently, debate exists among health care professionals and patients about appropriate strategies for management.
Objective: To assess the effectiveness of all interventions that have been evaluated for use in the treatment or management of CFS in adults or children.
Data sources: Nineteen specialist databases were searched from inception to either January or July 2000 for published or unpublished studies in any language. The search was updated through October 2000 using PubMed. Other sources included scanning citations, Internet searching, contacting experts, and online requests for articles.
Study selection: Controlled trials (randomized or nonrandomized) that evaluated interventions in patients diagnosed as having CFS according to any criteria were included. Study inclusion was assessed independently by 2 reviewers. Of 350 studies initially identified, 44 met inclusion criteria, including 36 randomized controlled trials and 8 controlled trials.
Data extraction: Data extraction was conducted by 1 reviewer and checked by a second. Validity assessment was carried out by 2 reviewers with disagreements resolved by consensus. A qualitative synthesis was carried out and studies were grouped according to type of intervention and outcomes assessed.
Data synthesis: The number of participants included in each trial ranged from 12 to 326, with a total of 2801 participants included in the 44 trials combined. Across the studies, 38 different outcomes were evaluated using about 130 different scales or types of measurement. Studies were grouped into 6 different categories. In the behavioral category, graded exercise therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy showed positive results and also scored highly on the validity assessment. In the immunological category, both immunoglobulin and hydrocortisone showed some limited effects but, overall, the evidence was inconclusive. There was insufficient evidence about effectiveness in the other 4 categories (pharmacological, supplements, complementary/alternative, and other interventions).
Conclusions: Overall, the interventions demonstrated mixed results in terms of effectiveness. All conclusions about effectiveness should be considered together with the methodological inadequacies of the studies. Interventions which have shown promising results include cognitive behavioral therapy and graded exercise therapy. Further research into these and other treatments is required using standardized outcome measures.
Introduction: Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) affects between 0.006% and 3% of the population depending on the criteria of definition used, with women being at higher risk than men.
Methods and outcomes: We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical question: What are the effects of treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and other important databases up to March 2010 (Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically; please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Results: We found 46 systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.
Conclusions: In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: antidepressants, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), corticosteroids, dietary supplements, evening primrose oil, galantamine, graded exercise therapy, homeopathy, immunotherapy, intramuscular magnesium, oral nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, and prolonged rest.
Background: Throughout the world, patients with chronic diseases/illnesses use complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). The use of CAM is also substantial among patients with diseases/illnesses of unknown aetiology. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also termed myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is no exception. Hence, a systematic review of randomised controlled trials of CAM treatments in patients with CFS/ME was undertaken to summarise the existing evidence from RCTs of CAM treatments in this patient population.
Methods: Seventeen data sources were searched up to 13th August 2011. All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of any type of CAM therapy used for treating CFS were included, with the exception of acupuncture and complex herbal medicines; studies were included regardless of blinding. Controlled clinical trials, uncontrolled observational studies, and case studies were excluded.
Results: A total of 26 RCTs, which included 3,273 participants, met our inclusion criteria. The CAM therapy from the RCTs included the following: mind-body medicine, distant healing, massage, tuina and tai chi, homeopathy, ginseng, and dietary supplementation. Studies of qigong, massage and tuina were demonstrated to have positive effects, whereas distant healing failed to do so. Compared with placebo, homeopathy also had insufficient evidence of symptom improvement in CFS. Seventeen studies tested supplements for CFS. Most of the supplements failed to show beneficial effects for CFS, with the exception of NADH and magnesium.
Conclusions: The results of our systematic review provide limited evidence for the effectiveness of CAM therapy in relieving symptoms of CFS. However, we are not able to draw firm conclusions concerning CAM therapy for CFS due to the limited number of RCTs for each therapy, the small sample size of each study and the high risk of bias in these trials. Further rigorous RCTs that focus on promising CAM therapies are warranted.
Background: There is no curative treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is widely used in the treatment of CFS in China.
Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of TCM for CFS.
Methods: The protocol of this review is registered at PROSPERO. We searched six main databases for randomized clinical trials (RCTs) on TCM for CFS from their inception to September 2013. The Cochrane risk of bias tool was used to assess the methodological quality. We used RevMan 5.1 to synthesize the results.
Results: 23 RCTs involving 1776 participants were identified. The risk of bias of the included studies was high. The types of TCM interventions varied, including Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, qigong, moxibustion, and acupoint application. The results of meta-analyses and several individual studies showed that TCM alone or in combination with other interventions significantly alleviated fatigue symptoms as measured by Chalder’s fatigue scale, fatigue severity scale, fatigue assessment instrument by Joseph E. Schwartz, Bell’s fatigue scale, and guiding principle of clinical research on new drugs of TCM for fatigue symptom. There was no enough evidence that TCM could improve the quality of life for CFS patients. The included studies did not report serious adverse events.
Conclusions: TCM appears to be effective to alleviate the fatigue symptom for people with CFS. However, due to the high risk of bias of the included studies, larger, well-designed studies are needed to confirm the potential benefit in the future.
Background: As the etiology of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is unclear and the treatment is still a big issue. There exists a wide range of literature about acupuncture and moxibustion (AM) for CFS in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). But there are certain doubts as well in the effectiveness of its treatment due to the lack of a comprehensive and evidence-based medical proof to dispel the misgivings. Current study evaluated systematically the effectiveness of acupuncture and moxibustion treatments on CFS, and clarified the difference among them and Chinese herbal medicine, western medicine and sham-acupuncture.
Methods: We comprehensively reviewed literature including PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane library, CBM (Chinese Biomedical Literature Database) and CNKI (China National Knowledge Infrastructure) up to May 2016, for RCT clinical research on CFS treated by acupuncture and moxibustion. Traditional direct meta-analysis was adopted to analyze the difference between AM and other treatments. Analysis was performed based on the treatment in experiment and control groups. Network meta-analysis was adopted to make comprehensive comparisons between any two kinds of treatments. The primary outcome was total effective rate, while relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were used as the final pooled statistics.
Results: A total of 31 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were enrolled in analyses. In traditional direct meta-analysis, we found that in comparison to Chinese herbal medicine, CbAM (combined acupuncture and moxibustion, which meant two or more types of acupuncture and moxibustion were adopted) had a higher total effective rate (RR (95% CI), 1.17 (1.09 ~ 1.25)). Compared with Chinese herbal medicine, western medicine and sham-acupuncture, SAM (single acupuncture or single moxibustion) had a higher total effective rate, with RR (95% CI) of 1.22 (1.14 ~ 1.30), 1.51 (1.31-1.74), 5.90 (3.64-9.56). In addition, compared with SAM, CbAM had a higher total effective rate (RR (95% CI), 1.23 (1.12 ~ 1.36)). In network meta-analyses, similar results were recorded. Subsequently, we ranked all treatments from high to low effective rate and the order was CbAM, SAM, Chinese herbal medicine, western medicine and sham-acupuncture.
Conclusions: In the treatment of CFS, CbAM and SAM may have better effect than other treatments. However, the included trials have relatively poor quality, hence high quality studies are needed to confirm our finding.
Objectives: This meta-analysis aimed to assess the effectiveness and safety of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) in treating chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Methods: Nine electronic databases were searched from inception to May 2022. Two reviewers screened studies, extracted the data, and assessed the risk of bias independently. The meta-analysis was performed using the Stata 12.0 software. Results: Eighty-four RCTs that explored the efficacy of 69 kinds of Chinese herbal formulas with various dosage forms (decoction, granule, oral liquid, pill, ointment, capsule, and herbal porridge), involving 6,944 participants were identified. This meta-analysis showed that the application of CHM for CFS can decrease Fatigue Scale scores (WMD: -1.77; 95%CI: -1.96 to -1.57; p < 0.001), Fatigue Assessment Instrument scores (WMD: -15.75; 95%CI: -26.89 to -4.61; p < 0.01), Self-Rating Scale of mental state scores (WMD: -9.72; 95%CI:-12.26 to -7.18; p < 0.001), Self-Rating Anxiety Scale scores (WMD: -7.07; 95%CI: -9.96 to -4.19; p < 0.001), Self-Rating Depression Scale scores (WMD: -5.45; 95%CI: -6.82 to -4.08; p < 0.001), and clinical symptom scores (WMD: -5.37; 95%CI: -6.13 to -4.60; p < 0.001) and improve IGA (WMD: 0.30; 95%CI: 0.20-0.41; p < 0.001), IGG (WMD: 1.74; 95%CI: 0.87-2.62; p < 0.001), IGM (WMD: 0.21; 95%CI: 0.14-0.29; p < 0.001), and the effective rate (RR = 1.41; 95%CI: 1.33-1.49; p < 0.001). However, natural killer cell levels did not change significantly. The included studies did not report any serious adverse events. In addition, the methodology quality of the included RCTs was generally not high. Conclusion: Our study showed that CHM seems to be effective and safe in the treatment of CFS. However, given the poor quality of reports from these studies, the results should be interpreted cautiously. More international multi-centered, double-blinded, well-designed, randomized controlled trials are needed in future research.
What does all that tell us?
Disappointingly, it tells me that SCAM has preciously little to offer for ME/CFS patients.
But what about the TCM treatments? Aren’t the above reviews quite positive TCM?
Yes, they are but I nevertheless recommend taking them with a healthy pinch of salt.
Because we have seen many times before that, for a range of reasons, Chinese researchers of TCM draw false positive conclusions. That may sound unfair, harsh, or even racist, but I think it’s true. If you disagree, please show me a couple of systematic reviews of TCM for any human disease by Chinese researchers that have drawn negative conclusions.
And what is my advice to patients suffering from ME/CSF?
I think the best I can offer is this: be very cautious about the many claims made by SCAM enthusiasts; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
It has been reported that the PLASTIC SURGERY INSTITUTE OF ·UTAH, INC.; MICHAEL KIRK MOORE JR.; KARI DEE BURGOYNE; KRISTIN JACKSON ANDERSEN; AND SANDRA FLORES, stand accused of running a scheme out of the Plastic Surgery Institute of Utah, Inc. to defraud the United States and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Michael Kirk Moore, Jr. and his co-defendants at the Plastic Surgery Institute of Utah have allegedly given falsified vaccine cards to people in exchange for their donating $50 to an unnamed organization, one which exists to “liberate the medical profession from government and industry conflicts of interest.” As part of the scheme, Moore and his co-defendants are accused of giving children saline injections so that they would believe they were really being vaccinated.
The co-defendants are Kari Dee Burgoyne, an office manager at the Plastic Surgery Institute of Utah; Sandra Flores, the office’s receptionist; and, strangest of all, a woman named Kristin Jackson Andersen, who according to the indictment is Moore’s neighbor. Andersen has posted copious and increasingly conspiratorial anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Instagram; Dr. Moore himself was a signatory on a letter expressing support for a group of COVID-skeptical doctors whose certification was under review by their respective medical boards. The letter expresses support for ivermectin, a bogus treatment for COVID.
According to the indictment, the Plastic Surgery Center of Utah was certified as a real vaccine provider and signed a standard agreement with the CDC, which among other things requires doctor’s offices not to “sell or seek reimbursement” for vaccines.
Prosecutors allege that, when people seeking falsified vaccine cards contacted the office, Burgoyne, the office manager, referred them to Andersen, Dr. Moore’s neighbor. Andersen, according to the indictment, would ask for the name of someone who’d referred them—it had to be someone who’d previously received a fraudulent vaccine card, per the indictment—then direct people to make a $50 donation to a charitable organization, referred to in the indictment only as “Organization 1.” Each vaccine card seeker was required to put an orange emoji in the memo line of their donation.
After making a donation to the unnamed charitable organization, prosecutors allege, Andersen would send a link to vaccine card seekers to enable them to make an appointment at the Plastic Surgery Institute. With adult patients, Moore would allegedly use a real COVID vaccine dose in a syringe, but squirt it down the drain. Flores, the office’s receptionist, gave an undercover agent a note, reading “with 18 & younger, we do a saline shot,” meaning that kids were injected with saline instead of a vaccine. Prosecutors allege the team thus disposed of at least 1,937 doses of COVID vaccines.
All four people are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to convert, sell, convey, and dispose of government property; and conversion, sale, conveyance, and disposal of government property and aiding and abetting.
Throughout the scheme, the group reported the names of all the vaccine seekers to the Utah Statewide Immunization Information System, indicating that the practice had administered 1,937 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which included 391 pediatric doses. The value of all the doses totaled roughly $28,000. With the money from the $50 vaccination cards totaling nearly $97,000, the scheme was valued at nearly $125,000, federal prosecutors calculated.
“By allegedly falsifying vaccine cards and administering saline shots to children instead of COVID-19 vaccines, not only did this provider endanger the health and well-being of a vulnerable population, but also undermined public trust and the integrity of federal health care programs,” Curt Muller, special agent in charge with the Department of Health and Human Services for the Office of the Inspector General, said in a statement.
I am already baffled by anti-vax attitudes when they originate from practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). When they come from real physicians and are followed by real actions, I am just speechless. As I stated many times before: studying medicine does unfortunately not protect you from recklessness, greed, or stupidity.
Two years ago, I published a blog about the research activity in SCAM. To demonstrate the volume of SCAM research I looked into Medline to find the number of papers published in 2020 for the SCAMs listed below. Now I repeated the exercise for the year 2022. The respective 1st numbers below are those of 2020, and the second ones refer to 2022 (in bold):
- acupuncture 2 752 – 3,565
- anthroposophic medicine 29 – 28
- aromatherapy 173 – 205
- Ayurvedic medicine 183 – 249
- chiropractic 426 – 498
- dietary supplement 5 739 – 8,915
- essential oil 2 439 – 3,340
- herbal medicine 5 081 – 16,207
- homeopathy 154 – 212
- iridology 0 – 0
- Kampo medicine 132 – 176
- massage 824 – 996
- meditation 780 – 1,016
- mind-body therapies 968 – 1,616
- music therapy 539 – 716
- naturopathy 68 – 92
- osteopathic manipulation 71 – 85
- Pilates 97 – 152
- qigong 97 – 121
- reiki 133 – 158
- tai chi 397 – 470
- Traditional Chinese Medicine 15 277 – 22,586
- yoga 698 – 837
These data suggest the following:
- As before, the research activity in SCAM seems relatively low.
- Most numbers are pretty stable with a slight overall increase.
- The meager numbers for anthroposophic medicine, homeopathy, iridology, Kampo, and naturopathy are remarkable.
- In absolute terms, only acupuncture, dietary supplements, essential oil, herbal medicine, and TCM are impressive; by and large, these are areas where commercial interest and sponsors exist.
- The ‘big winners’ in terms of increase over time are acupuncture, supplements, essential oil, herbal medicine, and TCM; I suspect that much of this is due to the fast-growing (and repeatedly mentioned) influence that China is gaining in SCAM.