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

“energy” healing

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What is it about Reiki that fascinates me?

It must be the exemplary poor science that its proponents use trying to convince us that it is valid.

This randomized controlled trial investigated the effect of Reiki on pain, functional status, and holistic well-being in patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA). The sample consisted of 42 patients.

  • The control group received standardized treatment only.
  • The intervention group received face-to-face Reiki (nine positions; 39 minutes) and distance Reiki on two consecutive days in addition to standardized treatment in addition to standard treatment.

The results show that the Reiki group had lower pain scores than the control group as measured by the Visual Analog Scale (p < .001) and the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index pain score (p < .001). Those participating in the Reiki group had improved holistic well-being scores specifically for the subscales of Sadness, Perception of Sadness, Spiritual Disruption, Cognitive Awareness, and General mood.

The authors concluded that Reiki is a safe, noninvasive, and cost-effective alternative treatment technique that has the potential to reduce symptoms of pain and improve holistic well-being in patients with knee OA.

So many falsehoods in one sentence!

Is this a new record?

Let’s analyse these conclusions a little, shall we?

  • Reiki is safe: this does not follow from the data because the sample was far too small for assessing rare safety issues, safety was not measured, and half of the Reiki group might have dropped dead a week after the study.
  • Reiki is non-invasive: that might be true.
  • Reiki is cost-effective: cost-effectiveness was not an endpoint; the statement is thus not supported by the data.
  • Reiki reduces the symptoms of pain and improve holistic well-being in patients with knee OA: I disagree! The observed outcomes are much more likely caused by the considerable amount of extra attention and treatment time given to the Reiki group, and the results were entirely unrelated to any specific effects of the therapy.

So, I feel the need for re-phrasing the conclusions as follows:

Reiki is an implausible treatment and the outcomes of this study are unrelated to any alleged specific effects of this therapy.

Of all the many forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), Reiki is perhaps the one that has the least plausibility. It assumes that a Reiki healer can send healing energy into the body of a patient which, in turn, stimulates the self-healing ability of the body and thus cures illness. Neither the source of the energy, its nature, or its effects have ever been convincingly demonstrated. These facts, however, do not stop enthusiasts to conduct clinical trials of Reiki.

The aim of this randomised clinical trial was to investigate the effect of the application of Reiki on fatigue and sleep quality in people with MS. A total of 60 people (control group = 30, intervention group = 30) participated in this study. Personal Information Form, Piper Fatigue Scale (PFS) and Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) were used as endpoints.

It was found that the PFS and PSQI total and subcomponent scores of the intervention group decreased after Reiki compared to the control group and this was statistically significant (p<0.05). The study showed that Reiki was significantly effective in improving fatigue and sleep quality in people with MS.

The authors concluded that, as Reiki is a simple, inexpensive and accessible method, it was suggested that its use in the management of MS should be encouraged and maintained in nursing practice.

In the introduction, the authors state this:

Reiki is a non-invasive, low-cost, easy-to-apply practice with no side effects and no negative effects on the existing treatment, and prevents acute and chronic conditions. It is frequently preferred in rehabilitation centres, emergency care units, nursing homes, elderly care centres, paediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynaecology clinics. Reiki can be applied by trained practitioners such as health professionals who have received first level reiki training in hospitals and clinics, caregivers or patients themselves. Reiki can be administered from with the patient or remotely when the patient and practitioner are in separate locations. Both types of Reiki are based on the premise of a universal source of healing energy that the Reiki practitioner can channel through intention.

For me, this begs the questions:

  • If all of this were true, why do we need a study?
  • If anyone believes such BS, are they the ideal people to conduct a study of Reiki?

Anyway, we should ask why this study generated a positive result. The most plausible explanation is that, as the study was not blind, the Reiki healers managed to maximise patient expectation. This, in turn, has generated a placebo respose which affected the subjective outcome measures. In other words, Reiki has no specific effect but patients tend to improve because of non-specific effects.

This review aimed to assess the therapeutic efficacy of Reiki therapy in alleviating anxiety.

In adherence to academic standards, a thorough search was conducted across esteemed databases such as PubMed, Web of Science, Science Direct, and the Cochrane Library. The primary objective of this search was to pinpoint peer-reviewed articles published in English that satisfied specific criteria: (1) employing an experimental or quasi-experimental study design, (2) incorporating Reiki therapy as the independent variable, (3) encompassing diverse patient populations along with healthy individuals, and (4) assessing anxiety as the measured outcome.

The study involved 824 participants, all of whom were aged 18 years or older. Reiki therapy was found to have a significant effect on anxiety intervention(SMD=-0.82, 95CI -1.29∼-0.36, P = 0.001). Subgroup analysis indicated that the types of subjects (chronically ill individuals and the general adult population) and the dosage/frequency of the intervention (≤ 3 sessions and 6–8 sessions) were significant factors influencing the variability in anxiety reduction.

The authors concluded that short-term Reiki therapy interventions of ≤ 3 sessions and 6–8 sessions have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing health and procedural anxiety in patients with chronic conditions such as gastrointestinal endoscopy inflammation, fibromyalgia, and depression, as well as in the general population. It is important to note that the efficacy of Reiki therapy in decreasing preoperative anxiety and death-related anxiety in preoperative patients and cancer patients is somewhat less consistent. These discrepancies may be attributed to individual pathophysiological states, psychological conditions, and treatment expectations.

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This is a truly stunning finding considering that few treatments are less plausible that Reiki. I strongly suspect that these conclusions are not tenable. To see whether this is true, we must look at the primary studies (tedious, I know, but can’t be helped). Here are the abstracts of the 13 studies included in this review:

STUDY No 1

Purpose: The purpose of the study was to investigate changes in the anxiety levels of patients receiving preoperative Reiki.

Material and methods: This study used a quasi-experimental model with a pretest-posttest control group.

Methods: Subjects (n = 210) were recruited from a hospital in Turkey, from June 2013 to July 2014. Subjects were then assigned to experimental (n = 105) and control (n = 105) groups.

Results: The level of anxiety of experimental group patients did not change according to their state anxiety scores (p > 0.10); however, the anxiety level of control group patients increased (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: The results of this study imply that the administration of Reiki is effective in controlling preoperative anxiety levels and in preventing them from increasing.

I am not sure what is meant by “a quasi-experimental model with pretest- posttest control group”. Yet, I suspect this was not a properly randomised trial and should thus have been exclused from the review. There was no control of placebo effects.

STUDY No 2

Fatigue is an extremely common side effect experienced during cancer treatment and recovery. Limited research has investigated strategies stemming from complementary and alternative medicine to reduce cancer-related fatigue. This research examined the effects of Reiki, a type of energy touch therapy, on fatigue, pain, anxiety, and overall quality of life. This study was a counterbalanced crossover trial of 2 conditions: (1) in the Reiki condition, participants received Reiki for 5 consecutive daily sessions, followed by a 1-week washout monitoring period of no treatments, then 2 additional Reiki sessions, and finally 2 weeks of no treatments, and (2) in the rest condition, participants rested for approximately 1 hour each day for 5 consecutive days, followed by a 1-week washout monitoring period of no scheduled resting and an additional week of no treatments. In both conditions, participants completed questionnaires investigating cancer-related fatigue (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy Fatigue subscale [FACT-F]) and overall quality of life (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy, General Version [FACT-G]) before and after all Reiki or resting sessions. They also completed a visual analog scale (Edmonton Symptom Assessment System [ESAS]) assessing daily tiredness, pain, and anxiety before and after each session of Reiki or rest. Sixteen patients (13 women) participated in the trial: 8 were randomized to each order of conditions (Reiki then rest; rest then Reiki). They were screened for fatigue on the ESAS tiredness item, and those scoring greater than 3 on the 0 to 10 scale were eligible for the study. They were diagnosed with a variety of cancers, most commonly colorectal (62.5%) cancer, and had a median age of 59 years. Fatigue on the FACT-F decreased within the Reiki condition (P=.05) over the course of all 7 treatments. In addition, participants in the Reiki condition experienced significant improvements in quality of life (FACT-G) compared to those in the resting condition (P <.05). On daily assessments (ESAS) in the Reiki condition, presession 1 versus postsession 5 scores indicated significant decreases in tiredness (P <.001), pain (P <.005), and anxiety (P<.01), which were not seen in the resting condition. Future research should further investigate the impact of Reiki using more highly controlled designs that include a sham Reiki condition and larger sample sizes.

This was a pilot study which should not report efficacy outcomes merely test the feasibility of a definitive trial. There was no control of placebo effects.

STUDY No 3

Purpose: This study’s aim is to determine the effect of Reiki when applied before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy on levels of anxiety, stress, and comfort.

Design: This single-blind, a pretest and post-test design, randomized, sham-controlled study was held between February and July 2021.

Methods: Patients who met the inclusion criteria were separated by randomization into three groups: Reiki, sham Reiki, and control. A total of 159 patients participated in the study. In the intervention groups (Reiki and sham Reiki), Reiki and sham Reiki were applied once for approximately 20 to 25 minutes before gastrointestinal endoscopy.

Findings: When the Reiki group was compared to the sham Reiki and control groups following the intervention, the decrease in the levels of patient stress (P < .001) and anxiety (P < .001) and the increase in patient comfort (P < .001) were found to be statistically significant.

Conclusions: Reiki applied to patients before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy was effective in reducing stress and anxiety and in increasing comfort.

Here an attempt was made to control for placebo effects and to blind patients. Whether the latter was successful was not tested. Thus a placebo effects cannot be excluded.

STUDY No 4

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of Reiki as an alternative and complementary approach to treating community-dwelling older adults who experience pain, depression, and/or anxiety. Participants (N = 20) were randomly assigned to either an experimental or wait list control group. The pre- and posttest measures included the Hamilton Anxiety Scale, Geriatric Depression Scale-Short Form, Faces Pain Scale, and heart rate and blood pressure. The research design included an experimental component to examine changes in these measures and a descriptive component (semi-structured interview) to elicit information about the experience of having Reiki treatments. Significant differences were observed between the experimental and treatment groups on measures of pain, depression, and anxiety; no changes in heart rate and blood pressure were noted. Content analysis of treatment notes and interviews revealed five broad categories of responses: Relaxation; Improved Physical Symptoms, Mood, and Well-Being; Curiosity and a Desire to Learn More; Enhanced Self-Care; and Sensory and Cognitive Responses to Reiki.

No attempt to control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 5

Purpose: The purpose of this randomized pilot was to determine feasibility of testing Reiki, a complementary therapy intervention, for women undergoing breast biopsy (BB).

Background: Increasingly women face the possibility of BB, the definitive test for breast cancer. Psychological distress associated with BB includes anxiety and depression. Reiki was proposed as an intervention to decrease anxiety and promote relaxation.

Method: Thirty-two women scheduled for BB were randomized to Reiki intervention versus conventional care control. Anxiety and depression were evaluated using self-report questionnaires.

Findings: Analysis found no significant mean differences between groups over time. Comparably low baseline anxiety levels (possible selection bias) decreased naturally with time allowing little room for observing treatment effect.

Conclusions: Reiki, when administered in the naturalistic setting of a complementary therapy office, did not suggest evidence of efficacy. An intervention offered within the bounds of the conventional care setting may be more feasible for addressing BB distress.

The study failed to produce a positive finding.

STUDY No 6

The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of Reiki on pain, anxiety, and hemodynamic parameters on postoperative days 1 and 2 in patients who had undergone cesarean delivery. The design of this study was a randomized, controlled clinical trial. The study took place between February and July 2011 in the Obstetrical Unit at Odemis Public Hospital in Izmir, Turkey. Ninety patients equalized by age and number of births were randomly assigned to either a Reiki group or a control group (a rest without treatment). Treatment applied to both groups in the first 24 and 48 hours after delivery for a total of 30 minutes to 10 identified regions of the body for 3 minutes each. Reiki was applied for 2 days once a day (in the first 24 and 48 hours) within 4-8 hours of the administration of standard analgesic, which was administered intravenously by a nurse. A visual analog scale and the State Anxiety Inventory were used to measure pain and anxiety. Hemodynamic parameters, including blood pressure (systolic and diastolic), pulse and breathing rates, and analgesic requirements also were recorded. Statistically significant differences in pain intensity (p = .000), anxiety value (p = .000), and breathing rate (p = .000) measured over time were found between the two groups. There was a statistically significant difference between the two groups in the time (p = .000) and number (p = .000) of analgesics needed after Reiki application and a rest without treatment. Results showed that Reiki application reduced the intensity of pain, the value of anxiety, and the breathing rate, as well as the need for and number of analgesics. However, it did not affect blood pressure or pulse rate. Reiki application as a nursing intervention is recommended as a pain and anxiety-relieving method in women after cesarean delivery.

No control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 7

Objective: to evaluate the effectiveness of massage and reiki in the reduction of stress and anxiety in clients at the Institute for Integrated and Oriental Therapy in Sao Paulo (Brazil).

Method: clinical tests randomly done in parallel with an initial sample of 122 people divided into three groups: Massage + Rest (G1), Massage + Reiki (G2) and a Control group without intervention (G3). The Stress Systems list and the Trace State Anxiety Inventory were used to evaluate the groups at the start and after 8 sessions (1 month), during 2015.

Results: there were statistical differences (p = 0.000) according to the ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) for the stress amongst the groups 2 and 3 (p = 0.014) with a 33% reductions and a Cohen of 0.78. In relation to anxiety-state, there was a reduction in the intervention groups compared with the control group (p < 0.01) with a 21% reduction in group 2 (Cohen of 1.18) and a 16% reduction for group 1 (Cohen of 1.14).

Conclusion: Massage + Reiki produced better results amongst the groups and the conclusion is for further studies to be done with the use of a placebo group to evaluate the impact of the technique separate from other techniques.

No control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 8

This randomized controlled study aimed to determine the effect of Reiki and aromatherapy on vital signs, oxygen saturation, and anxiety level in patients undergoing upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. The sample consisted of 100 patients divided into Reiki (n = 34), aromatherapy (n = 33), and control (n = 33) groups. Data were collected 3 times (before, during, and after the procedure) using a descriptive characteristics questionnaire, a follow-up form, and the State Anxiety Subscale. The Reiki group had a mean State Anxiety Subscale score of 53.59 ± 2.98 and 43.94 ± 4.31 before and after the procedure, respectively. The aromatherapy group had a mean State Anxiety Subscale score of 54.03 ± 4.03 and 43.85 ± 3.91 before and after the procedure, respectively. The control group had a mean State Anxiety Subscale score of 38.79 ± 4.68 and 53.30 ± 7.26 before and after the procedure, respectively (P < .05). The results showed that the Reiki and aromatherapy groups had significantly lower State Anxiety Subscale scores than the control group after the procedure, indicating that Reiki and aromatherapy help reduce anxiety levels. There was a significant difference in the mean respiratory rates and oxygen saturation levels between the groups (P < .05). In conclusion, patients who do Reiki or undergo aromatherapy are less likely to experience anxiety before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy.

No control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 9

The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of Reiki application on pain, anxiety, and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. The study was completed with a total of 50 patients: 25 in the experimental group and 25 in the control group. Reiki was applied to the experimental group and sham Reiki to the control group once a week for 4 weeks. Data were collected from the participants using the Information Form, Visual Analog Scale, McGill-Melzack Pain Questionnaire, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and Short Form-36. There was a significant difference between the mean Visual Analog Scale pain scores during and before the first week (P = .012), second week (P = .002), and fourth week (P = .020) measurements of the individuals in the experimental and control groups, after application. In addition, at the end of the 4-week period, the State Anxiety Inventory (P = .005) and the Trait Anxiety Inventory (P = .003) were significantly decreased in the Reiki group compared with the control group. Physical function (P = .000), energy (P = .009), mental health (P = .018), and pain (P = .029) subdimension scores of quality of life in the Reiki group increased significantly compared with the control group. Reiki application to patients with fibromyalgia may have positive effects on reducing pain, improving quality of life, and reducing state and trait anxiety levels.

Here an attempt was made to control for placebo effects and to blind patients. Whether the latter was successful was not tested. Thus a placebo effects cannot be excluded. The sample size was small.

STUDY No 10

Background: Reiki is a biofield therapy which is based on the explanatory model that the fields of energy and information of living systems can be influenced to promote relaxation and stimulate a healing response.

Objective: To conduct a pragmatic within-subject pilot trial of a remote Reiki program for frontline healthcare workers’ health-related symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Healthcare professionals in the UK (eg, physicians, nurses, and paramedics) were eligible to sign up for a distance Reiki program and were also invited to participate in the research study. Eight Reiki practitioners simultaneously gave each participant Reiki remotely for 20 minutes on 4 consecutive days. Feasibility of the research was assessed, including recruitment, data completeness, acceptability and intervention fidelity, and preliminary evaluation of changes in outcome measures. Participants’ stress, anxiety, pain, wellbeing, and sleep quality were evaluated with 7-point numerical rating scales. Measures were completed when signing up to receive Reiki (pre) and following the final Reiki session (post). Pre and post data were analyzed using Wilcoxon signed ranks tests.

Results: Seventy-nine healthcare professionals signed up to receive Reiki and took the baseline measures. Of those, 40 completed post-measures after the 4-day intervention and were therefore included in the pre-post analysis. Most participants were female (97.5%), and the mean age was 43.9 years old (standard deviations = 11.2). The study was feasible to conduct, with satisfactory recruitment, data completeness, acceptability, and fidelity. Wilcoxon signed ranks tests revealed statistically significant decreases in stress (M = -2.33; P < .001), anxiety (M = -2.79; P < .001) and pain (M = -.79; P < .001), and significant increases in wellbeing (M = -1.79; P < .001) and sleep quality (M = -1.33; P = .019).

Conclusions: The Reiki program was feasible and was associated with decreased stress, anxiety and pain, and increased wellbeing and sleep quality in frontline healthcare workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pilot study should not report efficacy findings and should be excluded.

STUDY No 11

Background: There is a scarcity of studies in the international literature regarding alternative treatment to the pharmacological and psychotherapeutic intervention in the face of depression symptoms. This study aimed to test a protocol based on natural therapy, alternatives to pharmacological and psychotherapeutic, through Mindfulness Meditation, Reiki, Acupuncture and Auriculotherapy, to treat the symptoms of depression for those who were with no pharmacological or psychotherapeutic treatment for these symptoms.

Methods: this is a randomized single-blind controlled pilot study. The final sample was 21 participants divided in two groups: experimental and control. Participants were evaluated by validated instruments during the screening process and after the intervention. The instruments were: Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale and Beck Depression Inventory. Intervention was performed in eight sessions, during two months. All the techniques were used in the experimental group. Analysis of variance with repeated measures was used to compare pre-intervention to post-intervention moments.

Results: the result of analysis indicates a significant reduction in the symptoms of depression after the intervention among the experimental group.

Limitations: there is no way to determine which of the techniques used produced the most significant result.

Conclusions: The protocol proposed in this study was effective in reducing the symptoms of depression to whom are not eligible for traditional treatment.

This is a pilot study and should not report efficacy findings. It is also not a study of just Reiki. It should have been excluded.

STUDY No 12

This is a constructive replication of a previous trial conducted by Bowden et al. (2010), where students who had received Reiki demonstrated greater health and mood benefits than those who received no Reiki. The current study examined impact on anxiety/depression. 40 university students-half with high depression and/or anxiety and half with low depression and/or anxiety-were randomly assigned to receive Reiki or to a non-Reiki control group. Participants experienced six 30-minute sessions over a period of two to eight weeks, where they were blind to whether noncontact Reiki was administered as their attention was absorbed in a guided relaxation. The efficacy of the intervention was assessed pre-post intervention and at five-week follow-up by self-report measures of mood, illness symptoms, and sleep. The participants with high anxiety and/or depression who received Reiki showed a progressive improvement in overall mood, which was significantly better at five-week follow-up, while no change was seen in the controls. While the Reiki group did not demonstrate the comparatively greater reduction in symptoms of illness seen in our earlier study, the findings of both studies suggest that Reiki may benefit mood.

No control for placebo effects

STUDY No 13

This is a constructive replication of a previous trial conducted by Bowden et al. (2010), where students who had received Reiki demonstrated greater health and mood benefits than those who received no Reiki. The current study examined impact on anxiety/depression. 40 university students-half with high depression and/or anxiety and half with low depression and/or anxiety-were randomly assigned to receive Reiki or to a non-Reiki control group. Participants experienced six 30-minute sessions over a period of two to eight weeks, where they were blind to whether noncontact Reiki was administered as their attention was absorbed in a guided relaxation. The efficacy of the intervention was assessed pre-post intervention and at five-week follow-up by self-report measures of mood, illness symptoms, and sleep. The participants with high anxiety and/or depression who received Reiki showed a progressive improvement in overall mood, which was significantly better at five-week follow-up, while no change was seen in the controls. While the Reiki group did not demonstrate the comparatively greater reduction in symptoms of illness seen in our earlier study, the findings of both studies suggest that Reiki may benefit mood.

This is the only rigorous study included in the review. Its findings are not easy to interpret (“For the sample as a whole, as can be seen from the total group means, there was little change over the course of the study”)

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Even though I did not have access to the full text of all of these RCTs, this analysis tells me a few important things; here are some of the main points I discovered:

  • the new review is fatally flawed;
  • the authors’ statement that their “article presents a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that were conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines” is nonsensical;
  • PRISMA guidelines were certainly not adhered to;
  • there is no truly critical assessment of the primary studies;
  • the literature searches were incomplete;
  • the risk of bias tool for evaluating the primary studies was employed incorrectly;
  • the review did not include all RCTs of Reiki (our own 2008 review included several trials that are not included here, and this blog has a few more);
  • the review includes several studies that should have been excluded;
  • most Reiki studies are of poor quality;
  • with both the review and most of the primary studies, one feels a strong bias towards trying to prove that Reiki works;
  • Reiki research is firmly in the hands of nurses (almost all the studies were conducted by nurses);
  • almost all of the RCTs test Reiki versus no treatment, and this means that most do not control for placebo (or other non-specific) effects. In other words, the conclusions stating that Reiki is effective are simply wrong.

I am dismayed to see that a decent journal (BMC Palliative Care) published such a fatally flawed review. The paper fails to discuss any of its obvious flaws. Specifically, it does not even specify what interventions were used in the various control groups. Do the journal editors, peer-reviewers and authors not appreciate that, without such information, the findings are uninterpretable? Or do they perhaps deliberately try to mislead us?

If you ask me, this paper should be best withdrawn.

Our own review of Reiki is no longer up-to-date. Yet, it’s conclusion is, in my view, far more accurate than the one offered by the authors of the fatally flawed new review:

the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of reiki remains unproven.

Phantom pain (pain felt in an amputated limb) affects the lives of individuals in many ways and can negatively affect the well-being of individuals. Distant Reiki is sometimes used in the management of these problems. But does it work?

This study was conducted to examine the effect of distant Reiki applied to individuals  suffering from phantom pain on:

1) pain level,

2) holistic well-being.

This study was designed as a single group pre-test/post-test comparison. The research was conducted between September 2022 and April 2023 and included 25 individuals with extremity amputations. Distant Reiki was performed for 20 minutes every day for 10 days. Data were collected at the beginning of the study and at the end of the 10th day. The measurements included an Introductory Information Form, the Visual Analog Scale for Pain, and Holistic Well-Being Scale (HWBS).

The results show that there was a significant difference between pre-test and post-test pain levels of the participants (p < .05) and HWBS subscale scores (p < .05). Accordingly, it was determined that after 20-minute distant Reiki sessions for 10 consecutive days, the pain levels of the individuals were significantly reduced and their holistic well-being improved.

The authors concluded that distant Reiki has been found to be easy to administer, inexpensive, non-pharmacological, and appropriate for independent nursing practice to be effective in reducing phantom pain levels and increasing holistic well-being in people with limb amputation.

Yes, I agree that Reiki might have been easy to administer.

I also agree that it is inexpensive and non-pharmacological.

I disagree, however that it is an appropriate therapy for an independent nursing practice.

And I disagree even more that this study shows or even suggests that Reiki is effective.

Why?

You probably kow the reason: this study had no control group. The observed outcomes can have several explanations that are unrelated to Reiki. For instance, the 200 minutes of attention, empathy and encouragement are likely to have generated an impact.

My conclusion: it is high time that researchers, peer-reviewers, editors, etc. stop trying to mislead the public with offensively poor-quality research and false conclusions. Reiki is an utterly implausible therapy for which no sound evidence exist.

I am glad to hear that the Vatican is issueing  new guidelines on supernatural phenomena. The document, compiled by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, will lay out rules to assess the truthfulness of supernatural claims. Reports of such phenomena are said to have soared in recent years in an era of social media – sometimes spread through disinformation and rumour. The guidelines are likely to tighten criteria for the screening, analysis, and possible rejection of cases.

Apparitions have been reported across the centuries. Those recognised by the Church have prompted pilgrims, and popes, to visit spots where they are said to have taken place. Millions flock to Lourdes in France, for example, or Fatima in Portugal, where the Virgin Mary is alleged to have appeared to children, promising a miracle – after which crowds are said to have witnessed the sun zig-zagging through the sky. The visitation was officially recognised by the Church in 1930.

But other reports are found by church officials to be baloney. In 2016, an Italian woman began claiming regular apparitions of Jesus and Mary in a small town north of Rome after she brought back a statue from Medjugorje in Bosnia, where the Virgin Mary is also said to have appeared. Crowds prayed before the statue and received messages including warnings against same-sex marriage and abortion. It took eight years for the local bishop to debunk the story.

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Perhaps the Vatican should also have a look at faith healing*, the attempt to bring about healing through divine intervention. The Bible and other religious texts provide numerous examples of divine healing, and believers see this as a proof that faith healing is possible. There are also numerous reports of people suffering from severe diseases, including cancer and AIDS, who were allegedly healed by divine intervention.

Faith healing has no basis in science, is biologically not plausible. Some methodologically flawed studies have suggested positive effects, however, this is not confirmed by sound clinical trials. Several plausible explanations exist for the cases that have allegedly been healed by divine intervention, for instance, spontaneous remission or placebo response. Another explanation is fraud. For instance, the famous German faith healer, Peter Popoff, was exposed in 1986 for using an earpiece to receive radio messages from his wife giving him the home addresses and ailments of audience members which he purported had come from God during his faith healing rallies.

Faith healing may per se be safe, but it can nevertheless do untold indirect harm, and even fatalities are on record: “Faith healing, when added as an adjuvant or alternative aid to medical science, will not necessarily be confined to mere arguments and debates but may also give rise to series of complications, medical emergencies and even result in death.”

Alternatively, the Vatican might look at the healing potential of pilgrimages*, journeys to places considered to be sacred. The pilgrims often do this in the hope to be cured of a disease. The purpose of Christian pilgrimage was summarized by Pope Benedict XVI as follows:

To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.

There are only few scientific studies of pilgrimages. The purpose of this qualitative research was to explore whether pilgrims visiting Lourdes, France had transcendent experiences. The authors concluded that visiting Lourdes can have a powerful effect on a pilgrim and may include an “out of the ordinary” transcendent experience, involving a sense of relationship with the divine, or experiences of something otherworldly and intangible. There is a growing focus on Lourdes as a place with therapeutic benefits rather that cures: our analysis suggests that transcendent experiences can be central to this therapeutic effect. Such experiences can result in powerful emotional responses, which themselves may contribute to long term well-being. Our participants described a range of transcendent experiences, from the prosaic and mildly pleasant, to intense experiences that affected pilgrims’ lives. The place itself is crucially important, above all the Grotto, as a space where pilgrims perceive that the divine can break through into normal life, enabling closer connections with the divine, with nature and with the self.

Other researchers tested the effects of tap water labelled as Lourdes water versus tap water labelled as tap water found that placebos in the context of religious beliefs and practices can change the experience of emotional salience and cognitive control which is accompanied by connectivity changes in the associated brain networks. They concluded that this type of placebo can enhance emotional-somatic well-being, and can lead to changes in cognitive control/emotional salience networks of the brain.

The risks involved in pilgrimages is their often considerable costs. It is true, as the text above points out that “millions flock to Lourdes in France”. In other words, pilgrimiges are an important source of income, not least for the catholoc church.

A more important risk can be that they are used as an alternative to effective treatments. This, as we all know, can be fatal. As there is no good evidence that pilgrimiges cure diseases, their risk/benefit balance as a treatment of disease cannot be positive.

So, will the new rules of the Vatican curtail the risks on supernatural healing practises? I would not hold my breath!

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* for references see my book from where this text has been borrowed and modified.

This randomized controlled, pretest-post-test intervention study examined the effect of distance reiki on state test anxiety and test performance.
First-year nursing students (n = 71) were randomized into two groups. One week before the examination,

  • the intervention group participants received reiki remotely for 20 minutes for 4 consecutive days,
  • the control group participants received no intervention.
The intervention group had lower posttest cognitive and psychosocial subscale scores than pretest scores (p > .05). The control group had a significantly higher mean posttest physiological subscale score than pretest score (p < .05). Final grade point averages were not significantly different between the intervention and control groups (p > .05). One quarter of the intervention group participants noted reiki reduced their stress and helped them perform better on the examination.The authors concluded that Reiki is a safe and easy-to-practice method to help students cope with test anxiety.What a conclusion!What a study!

A controlled clinical trial has the purpose of comparing outcomes of two or more treatments. Therefore, intra-group changes are utterly irrelevant. The only thing of interest is the comparison between the intervention and control groups. In the present study, this did not show a significant difference. In other words, distant Reiki had no effect.

This means that the bit in the conclusion telling us that Reiki helps students cope with test anxiety is quite simply not true.

This leaves us with the first part of the conclusion: Reiki is a safe and easy-to-practice method. This may well be true – yet it is meaningless. Apart from the fact that the study was not aimed at assessing safety or ease of practice, the statement is true for far too many things to be meaningful, e.g.:

  • Not having Reiki (the control group) is a safe and easy-to-practice method.
  • Going for a walk is a safe and easy-to-practice method.
  • Cooking a plate of spagetti is a safe and easy-to-practice method.
  • Having a nap is a safe and easy-to-practice method.
  • Reading a book is a safe and easy-to-practice method.

(I think you get my gist)

To make the irony complete, let me tell you that this trial was published in Journal of Nursing Education. On the website, the journal states: The Journal of Nursing Education is a monthly, peer-reviewed journal publishing original articles and new ideas for nurse educators in various types and levels of nursing programs for over 60 years. The Journal enhances the teaching-learning process, promotes curriculum development, and stimulates creative innovation and research in nursing education.

I suggest that the journal urgently embarks on a program of educating its editors, reviewers, contributors and readers about science, pseudoscience, minimal standards, scientific rigor, and medical ethics.

 

 

The BBC stands for reliable information, at least that’s what I used to believe. After reading a recent article published on the BBC website, I have my doubts, however. See for yourself; here are a few excerpts:

On a holiday to Kerala on India’s south-western Malabar Coast, Shilpa Iyer decided to visit Kotakkal, a town that became famous after the establishment of Arya Vaidya Sala, Kerala’s best-known centre for the practice of Ayurveda, in 1902. Seven days later, she left the historical treatment centre after completeing panchakarma, a cleansing and rejuvenating programme for the body, mind and consciousness.

“There was nothing really wrong, but I was always busy with the demands of modern life and plagued with continual aches and pains. So, I decided to focus on my own health,” Iyer says.

Panchakarma, a holistic Ayurvedic therapy, involves a series of detoxifying procedures. It integrates herbal medicines, cleansing therapies, personalised diet plans and wellness activities to eliminate the root cause of disease, revive and rejuvenate the body, and ensure health and longevity.

Iyer says she left “feeling lighter, healthier and better than ever before”. She isn’t the only one who signed up for an Ayurvedic treatment in Kerala; the holistic system of medicine is a way of life in this coastal paradise.

… Ayurveda translates to “knowledge of life” and originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. It is based on the ideology that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, spirit and environment, and places great emphasis on preventive strategies rather than curative ones. The ancient system of medicine is centred on the idea of universal interconnectedness between prakriti (the body’s constitution) and doshas (life forces). Varied combinations of the five elements — aakash (sky), jal (water), prithvi (earth), agni (fire) and vayu (air) – create the three doshas.

Kerala Tourism Ayurveda places great emphasis on preventive strategies rather than curative ones (Credit: Kerala Tourism)

Dr Gaurang Paneri, an Ayurveda practitioner, explains every person has the three doshas, vatapitta and kapha, in varying strength and magnitude. “The predominant dosha determines their prakriti. Diseases arise when doshas are affected because of an external or internal stimulus (typically linked to eating habits, lifestyle or physical exercise). Ayurveda works to ensure harmony between the three,” he says…

The small state has more than 100 Ayurvedic government-run hospitals, 800 Ayurvedic pharmaceutical factories and 800 Ayurvedic medicine dispensaries. As many as 120 holiday resorts and private wellness centres offer specialised treatments such as kasti vvasti, an oil-based treatment for back pain and inflammation in the lumbosacral region; elakkizhi, a treatment with heated herbal poultices to tackles aches, pains and muskoskeletal trauma; njavara kizhi, a massage therapy for arthritis or chronic musculoskeletal discomfort; and shirodhara, a restorative therapy to ease stress and anxiety and that involves pouring warm, medicated oil over the forehead.

Most treatment centres offer therapies and treatments for a range of health issues, including immunity, mental health, anxiety, pain management, weight loss, skin and health care, sleep issues, psoriasis, eczema, eye care, arthritis, sciatica, gastric problems and paralysis. The treatments typically include dietary changes, herbal medicines, massage therapies, poultices, meditation and breath exercises…

___________________________

I find such advertisements disguised as journalism disturbing:

  • No mention that the treatments in question lack conclusive evidence of effectiveness.
  • Not a word about the fact that many can be outright dangerous.
  • No mention of the often exorbitant fees visitors are asked to pay.

Please do better next time you report about health matters, BBC!

This study evaluated and compared the effectiveness of Reiki and Qi-gong therapy techniques in improving diabetic patients’ negative emotional states. This quas-experimental research design was carried out at the National Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology’s Hospital in Cairo, Egypt. It included 200 Type 2 diabetes patients randomized into two equal groups, one for Qigong and one for Reiki techniques. A self-administered questionnaire with a standardized tool (Depression Anxiety Stress Scales [DASS[) was used in data collection. The intervention programs were administered in the form of instructional guidelines through eight sessions for each group.

The results showed that the two study groups had similar socio-demographic characteristics. After implementation of the intervention, most patients in the two groups were having no anxiety, no depression, and no stress. Statistically significant improvements were seen in all three parameters in both groups (p<0.001). The multivariate analysis identified the study intervention as the main statistically significant independent negative predictor of the patients’ scores of anxiety, depression, and stress. Reiki technique was also a statistically significant independent negative predictor of these scores.

The authors conclused that both Reiki and Qi-gong therapy techniques were effective in improving diabetic patients’ negative emotional states of anxiety, depression, and stress, with slight superiority of the Reiki technique. The inclusion of these techniques in the management plans of Type-2 diabetic patients is recommended.

This is an excellent example of how NOT to design a clinical trial!

  • If your aim is to test the efficacy of Reiki, conduct a trial of Reiki versus sham-Reiki.
  • If your aim is to test the efficacy of Qi-gong, conduct a trial of Qi-gong versus sham-Qi-gong.
  • If you compare two therapies in one trial, one has to be of proven and undoubted efficacy.
  • Comparing two treatments of unproven efficacy cannot normally lead to a meaningful result.
  • It is like trying to solve a mathematical equasion with two unknowns.
  • A study that cannot produce a meaningful result is a waste of resorces.
  • It arguably also is a neglect of research ethics.
  • Even if we disregarded all these flaws and problems, recommending therapies for routine use on the basis of one single study is irresponsible nonsense.

All this is truly elementary and should be known by any researcher (not to mention research supervisor). Yet, in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), it needs to be stressed over and over again. The ‘National Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology’s Hospital in Cairo’ (and all other institutions that produce such shameful pseudoscience) urgently need to get their act together:

you are doing nobody a favour!

In the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), we see a lot of papers that are bizarre to the point of being disturbing and often dangerous nonsense. Yesterday, I came across an article that fits this bill well; in fact, I have not seen such misleading BS for quite a while. Let me present to you the abstract of this paper:

Introduction

There has been accumulating interest in the application of biofield therapy as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat various diseases. The practices include reiki, qigong, blessing, prayer, distant healing, known as biofield therapies. This paper aims to state scientific knowledge on preclinical and clinical studies to validate its potential use as an alternative medicine in the clinic. It also provides a more in-depth context for understanding the potential role of quantum entanglement in the effect of biofield energy therapy.

Content

A comprehensive literature search was performed using the different databases (PubMed, Scopus, Medline, etc.). The published English articles relevant to the scope of this review were considered. The review gathered 45 papers that were considered suitable for the purpose. Based on the results of these papers, it was concluded that biofield energy therapy was effective in treating different disease symptoms in preclinical and clinical studies.

Summary

Biofield therapies offer therapeutic benefits for different human health disorders, and can be used as alternative medicine in clinics for the medically pluralistic world due to the growing interest in CAM worldwide.

Outlook

The effects of the biofield energy therapies are observed due to the healer’s quantum thinking, and transmission of the quantum energy to the subject leads to the healing that occurs spiritually through instantaneous communication at the quantum level via quantum entanglement.

The authors of this article are affiliated with Trivedi Global, an organisation that states this about ‘biofield energy’:

Human Biofield EBnergy has subtle energy that has the capacity to work in an effective manner. This energy can be harnessed and transmitted by the gifted into living and non-living things via the process of a Biofield Energy Healing Treatment or Therapy.

If they aleady know that “Biofield EBnergy has subtle energy that has the capacity to work in an effective manner”, I wonder why they felt the need to conduct this review. Even more wonderous is the fact that their review showed such a positive result.

How did they manage this?

The answer might lie in their methodology: they “gathered 45 papers that were considered suitable”. While scientists gather the totality of the available evidence (and assess it critically), they merely selected what was suitable for the purpose of generating a positive result. This must be the reason our two studies on the subject were discretely omitted:

Our 1st study

Purpose: Distant healing, a treatment that is transmitted by a healer to a patient at another location, is widely used, although good scientific evidence of its efficacy is sparse. This trial was aimed at assessing the efficacy of one form of distant healing on common skin warts.

Subjects and methods: A total of 84 patients with warts were randomly assigned either to a group that received 6 weeks of distant healing by one of 10 experienced healers or to a control group that received a similar preliminary assessment but no distant healing. The primary outcomes were the number of warts and their mean size at the end of the treatment period. Secondary outcomes were the change in Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and patients’ subjective experiences. Both the patients and the evaluator were blinded to group assignment.

Results: The baseline characteristics of the patients were similar in the distant healing (n = 41) and control groups (n = 43). The mean number and size of warts per person did not change significantly during the study. The number of warts increased by 0.2 in the healing group and decreased by 1.1 in the control group (difference [healing to control] = -1.3; 95% confidence interval = -1.0 to 3.6, P = 0.25). Six patients in the distant healing group and 8 in the control group reported a subjective improvement (P = 0.63). There were no significant between-group differences in the depression and anxiety scores.

Conclusion: Distant healing from experienced healers had no effect on the number or size of patients’ warts.

Our 2nd study

Spiritual healing is a popular complementary and alternative therapy; in the UK almost 13000 members are registered in nine separate healing organisations. The present randomized clinical trial was designed to investigate the efficacy of healing in the treatment of chronic pain. One hundred and twenty patients suffering from chronic pain, predominantly of neuropathic and nociceptive origin resistant to conventional treatments, were recruited from a Pain Management Clinic. The trial had two parts: face-to-face healing or simulated face-to-face healing for 30 min per week for 8 weeks (part I); and distant healing or no healing for 30 min per week for 8 weeks (part II). The McGill Pain Questionnaire was pre-defined as the primary outcome measure, and sample size was calculated to detect a difference of 8 units on the total pain rating index of this instrument after 8 weeks of healing. VASs for pain, SF36, HAD scale, MYMOP and patient subjective experiences at week 8 were employed as secondary outcome measures. Data from all patients who reached the pre-defined mid-point of 4 weeks (50 subjects in part I and 55 subjects in part II) were included in the analysis. Two baseline measurements of outcome measures were made, 3 weeks apart, and no significant differences were observed between them. After eight sessions there were significant decreases from baseline in McGill Pain Questionnaire total pain rating index score for both groups in part I and for the control group in part II. However, there were no statistically significant differences between healing and control groups in either part. In part I the primary outcome measure decreased from 32.8 (95% CI 28.5-37.0) to 23.3 (16.8-29.7) in the healing group and from 33.1 (27.2-38.9) to 26.1 (19.3-32.9) in the simulated healing group. In part II it changed from 29.6 (24.8-34.4) to 24.0 (18.7-29.4) in the distant healing group and from 31.0 (25.8-36.2) to 21.0 (15.7-26.2) in the no healing group. Subjects in healing groups in both parts I and II reported significantly more ‘unusual experiences’ during the sessions, but the clinical relevance of this is unclear. It was concluded that a specific effect of face-to-face or distant healing on chronic pain could not be demonstrated over eight treatment sessions in these patients.

In addition, they, of course, also omitted many further studies by other investigators that failed to be positive. Considering this amount of cherry-picking, it is easy to understand how they arrived at their conclusion. It is all a question of chosing the right methodology!

A few decades ago, the cigarette industry employed this technique to show that smoking did not cause cancer! Luckily, we have since moved away from such pseudo-scientific ‘research’ – except, of course, in the realm of SCAM where it is still hughely popular.

Of all the forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), Reiki is amongst the least plausible. It is a form of paranormal or ‘energy healing’ popularised by Japanese Mikao Usui (1865–1926). Reiki is based on the assumptions of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the existence of ‘chi’, the life-force that is assumed to determine our health.

Reiki practitioners believe that, with their hands-on healing method, they can transfer ‘healing energy’ to a patient which, in turn, stimulates the self-healing properties of the body. They assume that the therapeutic effects of this technique are obtained from a ‘universal life energy’ that provides strength, harmony, and balance to the body and mind.

Despite its implausibility, Reiki is used for a very wide range of conditions. Some people are even convinced that it has positive effects on sexuality. But is that really so?

This randomised clinical trial was aimed at finding out. Specifically, its authors wanted to determine the effect of Reiki on sexual function and sexual self-confidence in women with sexual distress*. It was was conducted with women between the ages of 15–49 years who were registered at a family health center in the eastern region of Turkey and had sexual distress.

The sample of the study consisted of 106 women, 53 in the experimental group and 53 in the control group. Women in the experimental group received Reiki once a week for four weeks, while no intervention was applied to those in the control group. Data were collected using the Female Sexual Distress Scale-Revised (FSDS-R), the Arizona Sexual Experiences Scale (ASEX), and the Sexual Self-confidence Scale (SSS).

The levels of sexual distress, sexual function, and sexual self-confidence of women in both groups were similar before the intervention, and the difference between the groups was not statistically significant (p > 0.05). After the Reiki application, the FSDS-R and ASEX mean scores of women in the experimental group significantly decreased, while their SSS mean score significantly increased, and the difference between the groups was statistically significant (p < 0.05).

The authors concluded that Reiki was associated with reduced sexual distress, positive outcomes in sexual functions, and increase sexual self-confidence in women with sexual distress. Healthcare professionals may find Reiki to positively enhance women’s sexuality.

Convinced?

I hope not!

The study has the most obvious of all design flaws: it does not control for a placebo effect, nor the effect of empaty/sympathy received from the therapist, nor the negative impact of learning that you are in the control group and will thus not receive any treatment or attention.

To me, it is obvious that these three factors combined must be able to bring about the observed outcomes. Therefore, I suggest to re-write the conclusions as follows:

The intervention was associated with reduced sexual distress, positive outcomes in sexual functions, and increase sexual self-confidence in women with sexual distress. Considering the biological plausibility of a specific effect of Reiki, the most likely cause for the outcome are non-specific effects of the ritual.

*[Sexual distress refers to persistent, recurrent problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm or pain that distress you or strain your relationship with your partner. Yes, I had to look up the definition of that diagnosis.]

 

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