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

malpractice

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‘WORLD HOMEOPATHY DAY’ is upon us and the Internet is awash with pro-homeopathy comments, e.g.:

  • World Homeopathy Day is observed annually on April 10th to commemorate the birth anniversary of Samuel Hahnemann, a prominent figure in the development of homeopathy. This day celebrates the principles and practices of homeopathy, an alternative medicinal approach that emphasizes treating ailments by utilizing natural substances and stimulating the body’s inherent healing abilities.
  • The theme for World Homeopathy Day 2024 is ‘Empowering Research, Enhancing Proficiency: A Homeopathy Symposium”. This theme underscores the significance of continuous research in homeopathy and the need to upgrade capability in its training to give better medical care results.

Even slightly less biased sources cannot bring themselves to a more realistic approach, e.g.:

The significance of the World Homeopathy Day is said to be as follows:

  • Raising Awareness: World Homeopathy Day has successfully brought homeopathy to the forefront of public attention, generating dialogue and interest in its principles and practices.
  • Bridging Communities: The Day serves as a platform for bringing together homeopaths, practitioners, researchers, and individuals interested in alternative medicine, fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange.
  • Focus on Education: World Homeopathy Day emphasizes the importance of education and ethical practices within the field, promoting responsible usage and informed choices for individuals seeking homeopathic care.

World Homeopathy Day is about understanding and exploring the potential of this alternative medicine system while keeping an open mind and prioritizing evidence-based healthcare practices.

So, let me try to counter-balance these texts by showing you what my recently published 7 key points about homeopathy tell us:

Homeopathy is popular, particularly in India, Germany, France and parts of South America. It was invented more than 200 years ago and still divides opinions like few other subjects in alternative medicine.

  1. Homeopathy was invented by the German physician, Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843). At the time, our understanding of the laws of nature was woefully incomplete, and therefore Hahnemann’s ideas seemed less implausible than today. The conventional treatments of this period were often more dangerous than the disease they were supposed to cure. Consequently, homeopathy was repeatedly shown to be superior to ‘allopathy’ (a term coined by Hahnemann to denigrate conventional medicine) and Hahnemann’s treatments were an almost instant, worldwide success.[1]
  2. Many consumers confuse homeopathy with herbal medicine; yet the two are fundamentally different. Herbal medicines are plant extracts that contain potentially active ingredients. Homeopathic remedies are based on plants or any other material and they are typically so dilute that they contain not a single molecule of the substance advertised on the bottle. The most frequently used dilution (homeopaths call them ‘potencies’) is a ‘C30’; a C30-potency has been diluted 30 times at a ratio of 1:100. This means that one drop of the staring material is dissolved in 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 drops of diluent (usually a water/alcohol mixture)—and that equates to less than one molecule of the original substance per all the molecules of the universe.
  3. Homeopaths claim that their remedies work via some ‘energy’ or ‘vital force’ and that the process of preparing the homeopathic dilutions (it involves vigorous shaking the mixtures at each dilution step) transfers this ‘energy’ or information from one to the next dilution. They also believe that the process of diluting and agitating their remedies, which they call potentisation, renders them not less or not more potent. Homeopathic remedies are usually prescribed according to the ‘like cures like’ principle: if, for instance, a patient suffers from runny eyes, a homeopath might prescribe a remedy made of onion, because onion make a healthy person’s eyes water. This and all other assumptions of homeopathy contradict the known laws of nature. In other words, we do not fail to comprehend how homeopathy works, but we understand that it cannot work unless the known laws of nature are wrong.
  4. According to Hahnemann’s classical homeopathy, homeopaths are focussed on the symptoms and characteristics of the patient. They conduct a lengthy medical history, and they show little or no interest in a physical examination of their patient or other diagnostic procedures. Once they are confident to have all the information they need, they try to find the optimal homeopathic remedy. This is done by matching the symptoms with the drug pictures of homeopathic remedies. Any homeopathic drug picture is essentially based on what has been noted in homeopathic provings where healthy volunteers take a remedy and monitor all that symptoms, sensations and feelings they experience subsequently. Thus, the optimal homeopathic remedy can be seen as a diagnosis which makes homeopathy also a diagnostic method.[2]
  1. Today, around 500 clinical trials of homeopathy have been published. The totality of this evidence fails to show that homeopathic remedies are more than placebos.[3] Numerous official statements from various countries confirm the absurdity of homeopathy, for instance:
  • “The principles of homeopathy contradict known chemical, physical and biological laws and persuasive scientific trials proving its effectiveness are not available” (Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia)
  • “Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.” (National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia)
  • “Homeopathic remedies don’t meet the criteria of evidence-based medicine.” (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungary)
  • “The incorporation of anthroposophical and homeopathic products in the Swedish directive on medicinal products would run counter to several of the fundamental principles regarding medicinal products and evidence-based medicine.” (Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden)
  • “There is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition” (National Health Service, England)
  1. Yet, many patients undeniably do get better after taking homeopathic remedies. The best evidence available today clearly shows that this improvement is unrelated to the homeopathic remedy per se. It is the result of a lengthy, empathetic, compassionate encounter with a homeopath, a placebo-response or other factors which experts often call ‘context effects’.[4]
  2. Whenever homeopaths advise their patients (as they often do) to forgo effective conventional treatments, they are likely to do harm. This phenomenon is best documented in relation to the advice of many homeopaths against immunisations.[5]
[For references, see the original text]

I do not expect fans of homeopathy to be impressed by my evidence-based assessment of their cult. In fact, just looking what is currently being posted on ‘X’ today about the ‘WORLD HOMEOPATHY DAY’ seems to justify my expectation. Here are the 10 first postings that appeared on my screen about an hour ago:

  1. Today, on #WorldHomeopathyDay, we celebrate the birth anniversary of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. Let’s embrace the principles of natural healing and holistic well-being.
  2. On #WorldHomeopathyDay President #DroupadiMurmu to inaugurate 2-day Homeopathic Symposium at Yashobhoomi Convention Centre Dwarka, New Delhi. Organized by Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy (CCRH) based on theme of ‘Empowering Research, Enhancing Proficiency.’
  3. Dr. Ashvini Kumar Dwivedi, Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Central Council for Research in Homeopathy, Ministry of Ayush, Government of India, and #ASSOCHAM Ayush task force member, underlined the significance of #WorldHomeopathyDay, observed on April 10th each year
  4. Today, we celebrate #WorldHomeopathyDay 2024, embracing the gentle healing power of nature.
  5. Happy #WorldHomeopathyDay!  Let’s celebrate the holistic approach to health that homeopathy offers, honoring its contributions to alternative medicine and its focus on individualized care. Here’s to exploring natural remedies and supporting wellness for all! #HolisticHealth
  6. Happy World Homeopathy Day Embracing the gentle yet powerful healing of homeopathy, let’s cherish its holistic essence, promoting balance and well-being worldwide. Here’s to the harmony it brings to mind, body, and spirit.
  7. #WorldHomeopathyDay: President #DroupadiMurmu to inaugurate 2-day Homeopathic Symposium at Yashobhoomi Convention Centre Dwarka, New Delhi. Organized by Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy (CCRH) based on theme of ‘Empowering Research, Enhancing Proficiency.’
  8. Celebrate #WorldHomeopathyDay with us & enter to win these two enlightening reads by renowned homeopath Dr. Mukesh Batra. What inspired you to explore homeopathy? Share your story in the comments section & get a chance to win a copy of #HealWithHomeopathy and #FeelGoodHealGood!
  9. #WorldHomeopathyDay is celebrated on April 10th, promoting awareness of the principles and benefits of homeopathic medicine. It aims to address the whole body, including hereditary predispositions and disease history, and encourages people to pursue homeopathy as a profession.…
  10. On World Homeopathy Day, we celebrate Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the pioneer of homeopathy. His gentle remedies, made from natural substances, have helped countless people heal without side effects.

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In view of this volume of pure BS, I encourage everyone to post (here, or on ‘X’, or elsewhere) some evidence-based comments on homeopathy, Hahnemann and the ‘World Homeopathy Day’.

Let me make a start:

Homeopaths are as deluded as their remedies are diluted

Spinal manipulation is usually performed by a therapist (chiropractor, osteopath, physiotherpist, doctor, etc.). But many people do it themselves. Self-manipulation is by no means safer than the treatment by a therapist, it seems. We have previously seen cases where the results were dramatic:

Now, a further case has been reported. In this paper, American pathologists present a tragic case of fatal vertebral artery dissection that occurred as the result of self-manipulation of the cervical spine.

The decedent was a 40-year-old man with no significant past medical history. He was observed to “crack his neck” while at work. Soon after, he began experiencing neck pain, then developed stroke-like symptoms and became unresponsive. He was transported to a local medical center, where imaging showed bilateral vertebral artery dissection. His neurological status continued to decline, and brain death was pronounced several days later.

An autopsy examination showed evidence of cerebellar and brainstem infarcts, herniation, and diffuse hypoxic-ischemic injury. A posterior neck dissection was performed to expose the vertebral arteries, which showed grossly visible hemorrhage and dilation. There was no evidence of traumatic injury to the bone or soft tissue of the head or neck. Bilateral dissection tracts were readily appreciated on microscopic examination. Death was attributed to self-manipulation of the neck, which in turn led to bilateral vertebral artery dissection, cerebellar and brainstem infarcts, herniation, hypoxic-ischemic injury, and ultimately brain death.

It seems clear to me that only few and spectacular cases of this nature are being published. In other words, the under-reporting of adverse effects of self-manipulation must be close to 100%. It follows that the risk of sel-manipulation is impossible to quantify. I suspect it is substancial. In any case, the precautionary principle compells me to re-issue my warning:

do not allow anybody to manipulate your neck, not even yourself!

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.

It has been reported that 5 people who took a Japanese health supplement have died and more than 100 have been hospitalized as of Friday, a week after a pharmaceutical company issued a recall of the products, officials said. Osaka-based Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. came under fire for not going public quickly with problems known internally as early as January. Yet the first public announcement came only on 22 March. Company officials said 114 people were being treated in hospitals after taking products — including Benikoji Choleste Help meant to lower cholesterol — that contain an ingredient called benikoji, a red species of mold. Some people developed kidney problems after taking the supplements, but the exact cause was still under investigation in cooperation with government laboratories, according to the manufacturer.

“We apologize deeply,” President Akihiro Kobayashi told reporters last Friday, bowing for a long time to emphasize the apology alongside three other top company officials. He expressed remorse to those who have died and have been taken ill and to their families. He also apologized for the troubles caused to the entire health food industry and the medical profession, adding that the company was working to prevent further damage and improve crisis management.

The company’s products have been recalled — as have dozens of other products that contain benikoji, including miso paste, crackers, and a vinegar dressing. Japan’s health ministry put up a list on its official site of all the recalled products, including some that use benikoji for food coloring. The ministry warned the deaths could keep growing. The supplements could be bought at drug stores without a prescription from a doctor, and some may have been purchased or exported before the recall, including by tourists who may not be aware of the health risks.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical had been selling benikoji products for years, with a million packages sold over the past 3 fiscal years, but a problem crept up with the supplements produced in 2023. Kobayashi Pharmaceutical said it produced 18.5 tons of benikoji last year. Some analysts blame the recent deregulation initiatives, which simplified and sped up approval for health products to spur economic growth.

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Anouther source reported that Japanese authorities on Saturday raided a drug factory after a pharmaceutical company reported at least five deaths and 114 hospitalizations possibly linked to a health supplement. About a dozen Japanese health officials walked into the Osaka plant of the Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., as seen in footage of the raid widely telecasted on Japanese news. The health supplement in question is a pink pill called Benikoji Choleste Help. It is said to help lower cholesterol levels. A key ingredient is benikoji, a type of red mold. The company has said it knows little about the cause of the sickness, which can include kidney failure. It is currently investigating the effects in cooperation with Japan’s government.

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More recent reports update the figure of affected individuals: Japanese dietary supplements at the center of an expanding health scare have now been linked to at least 157 hospitalizations, a health ministry official said Tuesday.The figure reflects an increase from the 114 hospitalization cases that Kobayashi Pharmaceutical said on Friday were linked to its products containing red yeast rice, or beni kōji.

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A Kobayashi Pharmaceutical spokeswoman confirmed the latest hospitalization cases without elaborating further.

Benikoji is widely sold and used; not just in Japan. It comes under a range of different names:

  • red yeast rice,
  • red fermented rice,
  • red kojic rice,
  • red koji rice,
  • anka,
  • angkak,
  • Ben Cao Gang Mu.

It is a bright reddish purple fermented rice which acquires its color from being cultivated with the mold Monascus purpureus. Red yeast rice is used as food and as a medicine in Asian cultures, such as Kampo and TCM.

It contains lovastatin which, of course, became patented  and is marketed as the prescription drug, Mevacor. Red yeast rice went on to become a non-prescription dietary supplement in the United States and other countries. In 1998, the U.S. FDA banned a dietary supplement containing red yeast rice extract, stating that red yeast rice products containing monacolin K are identical to a prescription drug, and thus subject to regulation as a drug.

Some abstracts of medical papers are so bizarre that they must not be tempered with, I find. This is one of them:

Rationale:

This case report aims to provide clinical evidence on the effectiveness of integrating chiropractic and moxibustion techniques for treating pseudomyopia accompanied by elevated intraocular pressure resulting from cervical spine issues because the application of complementary medicine modalities for managing such vision disorders currently lacks adequate investigations.

Patient concerns:

A 6-year-old patient presented with blurred vision, intermittent ocular discomfort, and upper cervical discomfort.

Diagnoses:

Spine-related increased intraocular pressure and pseudomyopia.

Interventions:

The patient received integrative treatment of chiropractic and walnut-shell moxibustion 3 times a week for a total of 10 treatment sessions.

Outcomes:

The patient exhibited progressive improvements in visual acuity and reductions in intraocular pressure over the treatment period, with unaided vision exceeding 2 lines of improvement in visual acuity charts and normalized intraocular pressure after 10 treatment sessions. These therapeutic effects were sustained at 3-month follow-up.

Lessons:

The integrative use of chiropractic and walnut-shell moxibustion demonstrates considerable potential in alleviating symptoms of pseudomyopia, reducing intraocular pressure, and restoring visual function in spine-related pseudomyopia cases.

Pseudomyopia is a spasm of the ciliary muscle that prevents the eye from focusing in the distance. It differs from myopia which is caused by the eye’s shape or other basic anatomy. Pseudomyopia may be either organic, through stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, or functional in origin, through eye strain or fatigue of ocular systems. It is common in young adults after a change in visual requirements, such as students preparing for an exam, or a change in occupation. The condition is often transitory and it is necessary to request psychiatric consultation in each case of pseudomyopia. Comorbidity of anxiety and depressive disorders is more common in pseudomyopia cases. In addition, as the severity of psychiatric symptoms increases, the amount of accommodation also appears to increase.

A few question, if I may:

  • Walnut-shell moxibustion? Yes, it exists! Moxibustion with walnut shell spectacles is a characteristic therapy of Guang’anmen Hospital, developed on the basis of walnut shell moxibustion, and mainly composed of an eye moxibustion frame, a walnut shell soaked with wolfberry and chrysanthemum liquid, and moxibustion strips. Moxibustion with a walnut shell was first recorded by Shicheng Gu for treating surgical ulcers in the Qing dynasty. Then, moxibustion with walnut shell spectacles was reformed by us, combining Shicheng Gu’s experience with our clinical practice, and is mainly used for the treatment of optic nerve atrophy and myopia.
  • The authors state that, “based on traditional Chinese medicine principles, moxibustion is known to warm meridians, dredge collaterals, relax tendons, and enhance blood circulation”. Is this true? Well, based on TCM, anything goes, but it does not make it true.
  • How can we know whether chiropractic or walnut-shell moxibustion or both caused the outcome? We can’t!
  • Can we be sure what caused the child’s problem? No!
  • Do we know whether the outcome was not a spontaneous recovery? No!
  • The authors claim that “cervical spine imbalance leads to visual impairment”. Is that correct? Not as far as I know.
  • The authors state that “the patient in this case, presenting with pseudomyopia, elevated intraocular pressure, and neck pain, likely had a cervical spine-derived condition. Currently, such spine-derived vision disorders lack sufficient clinical recognition.” Is this true? No, I’d say such spine-derived vision disorders might not even exist.
  • Why would anyone publish a paper about the case? Search me!

 

The aim of this study was to establish an international consensus regarding the use of spinal manipulation and mobilisation among infants, children, and adolescents among expert international physiotherapists. Twenty-six international expert physiotherapists in manual therapy and paediatrics voluntarily participated in a 3-Round Delphi survey to reach a consensus via direct electronic mail solicitation using Qualtrics®. Consensus was defined a-priori as ≥75% agreement on all items with the same ranking of agreement or disagreement. Round 1 identified impairments and conditions where spinal mobilisation and manipulation might be utilised. In Rounds 2 and 3, panelists agreed or disagreed using a 4-point Likert scale.

Eleven physiotherapists from seven countries representing five continents completed all three Delphi rounds. Consensus regarding spinal mobilisation or manipulation included:

● Manipulation is not recommended: (1) for infants across all conditions, impairments, and
spinal levels; and (2) for children and adolescents across most conditions and spinal levels.
● Manipulation may be recommended for adolescents to treat spinal region-specific joint
hypomobility (thoracic, lumbar), and pain (thoracic).
● Mobilisation may be recommended for children and adolescents with hypomobility, joint
pain, muscle/myofascial pain, or stiffness at all spinal levels.

The authors of this paper concluded that consensus revealed spinal manipulation should not be performed on infants regardless of condition, impairment, or spinal level. Additionally, the panel agreed that manipulation may be recommended only for adolescents to treat joint pain and joint hypomobility (limited to thoracic and/or lumbar levels). Spinal mobilisation may be recommended for joint hypomobility, joint pain, muscle/myofascial pain, and muscle/myofascial stiffness at all spinal levels among children and adolescents.

Various forms of spinal manipulations are the hallmark therapy of chiropractors. Almost 100% of their patients recieve these interventions. So, what will our friends, the chiros, say about the consensus? Might it be this:

  • Physiotherapists are not the experts on spinal manipulation.
  • Only chiropractors can do them properly.
  • And when WE do them, they are very good*!

 

 

 

(* for our income)

An article about chiropractic caught my attention. Let me show you its final section which, I think, is relevant to what we often discuss on this blog:

If chiropractic treatment is unscientific, then why do I feel better? Because lots of things alleviate pain. Massage, analgesia and heat – but also a provider who listens, empathises and bothers to examine a patient. Then there is the placebo effect. For centuries, doctors have recognised that different interventions with unclear pathways result in clinical improvement. Among the benefits patients attributed to placebo 100 years ago: “I sleep better; my appetite is improved; my breathing is better; I can walk further without pain in my chest; my nerves are steadier.” Nothing has changed. Pain is a universal assignment; no one has a monopoly on its relief.

The chiropractic industry owes its existence to a ghost. Its founder, David Palmer, wrote in his memoir The Chiropractor that the principles of spinal manipulation were passed on to him during a séance by a doctor who had been dead for half a century. Before this, Palmer was a “magnetic healer”.

Today, chiropractors preside over a multibillion-dollar regulated industry that draws patients for various reasons. Some can’t find or afford a doctor, feel dismissed, or worse, mistreated. Others mistrust the medical establishment and big pharma. Still others want natural healing. But none of these reasons justifies conflating a chiropractor with a doctor. The conflation feels especially hazardous in an environment of health illiteracy, where the mere title of doctor confers upon its bearer strong legitimacy.

Chiropractors don’t have the same training as doctors. They cannot issue prescriptions or order advanced imaging. They do not undergo lifelong peer review or open themselves to monthly morbidity audits.

I know that doctors could do with a dose of humility, but I can’t find any evidence (or the need) for the assertion on one website that chiropractors are “academic overachievers”. Or the ambit claim that most health professionals have no idea how complicated the brain is, but chiropractors do.

Forget doctors, patients deserve more respect.

My friend’s back feels better for now. When it flares, I wonder if she will seek my advice – and I am prepared to hear no. Everyone is entitled to see a chiropractor. But no patient should visit a chiropractor thinking that they are seeing a doctor.

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I would put it more bluntly:

  • chiropractors are poorly trained; in particular, they do not learn to question their own, often ridiculous beliefs;
  • they are poorly regulated; in the UK, the GCC seems to protect the chiros rather than the public;
  • chiropractors regularly disregard essential rules of medical ethics, e.g. informed consent;
  • many try to mislead us by pretending they are physicians;
  • their hallmark intervention, spinal manipulation, can cause considerable harm;
  • it generates hardly any demonstrable benefit for any condition;
  • chiropractors also cause considerable harm, e.g. by interfering with real medicine, e.g. vaccinations;
  • thus, in general, chiropractors do more harm than good;
  • yes, everyone is entitled to see a chiropractor, but before they do, reliable information should be mandatory.

The Amercian Medical Association (AMA) recently published a lengthy article on naturopathy in the US. Here are some excerpts:

There are three types of health professionals who offer naturopathic treatment:

  • Naturopathic doctors. These nonphysicians graduate from a four-year, professional-level program at an accredited naturopathic medical school, earning either the doctor of naturopathy (ND) degree or the doctor of naturopathic medicine (NMD) degree.
  • Traditional naturopaths, who have obtained education through some combination of a mentorship program with another professional or at an alternative clinic, distance-learning program or classroom schooling on natural health, or other holistic studies.
  • Other health professionals such as chiropractors, massage therapists, dentists, nurses, nutritionists, or physicians who practice under a professional license but include some naturopathic methods in their practice and who may have studied on their own or taken courses on naturopathic methods.

At least 24 states and the District of Columbia regulate the practice of naturopathy. In order to be licensed, naturopaths in these states must earn an ND or NMD from an accredited naturopathic program and pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam. Three states—Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee—prohibit the practice of naturopathy. In states that neither license nor prohibit the practice of naturopathy, traditional naturopaths and NDs alike may practice without being subject to state regulation.

Postgraduate training is neither common nor required of graduates of naturopathic schools, except in Utah … less than 10% of naturopaths participate in an approved residency, and such residencies last only a year and lack a high degree of standardization.

… naturopaths are required to get at least 1,200 hours of direct patient contact, physicians get 12,000–16,000 hours of clinical training…

ND programs emphasize naturopathic principes—for example, the healing power of nature—and naturopathic therapeutics such as botanical medicine, homeopoathy and hydrotherapy. Coursework in naturopathic therapeutics is combined with, and taught alongside, coursework in sciences. But there are no specifications around the number of hours required in each area … naturopathic students may lack exposure to key clinical scenarios in the course of their training … naturopathic students’ clinical experience is typically gained through outpatient health care clinics, as naturopathic medical schools typically do not have significant hospital affiliation. This means there is no guarantee that a naturopathic student completing a clinical rotation will see patients who are actually sick or hospitalized, and they may not be exposed to infants, children, adolescents or the elderly. It has been said that naturopaths tend to treat the “worried well.”

… Naturopaths claim they are trained as primary care providers and, as such, are educated and trained to diagnose, manage and treat many conditions, including bloodstream infections, heart disease and autoimmune disorders. Yet their education and training falls several years and thousands of hours short of what physicians get.

…The AMA believes it is the responsibility of policymakers to ensure that naturopaths’ claims that they can treat a broad range of conditions are backed by facts—facts that include the specific education and training necessary to ensure patient safety.

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The AMA is clearly cautious here. A less polite statement might simply stress that naturopaths are taught a lot of nonsense which they later tend to administer to their unsuspecting patients. On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed the danger naturopaths present to public health in the US and elsewhere, e.g.:

Claims that naturopaths are a viable alternative to evidence-based medicine are wrong, irresponsible and dangerous. Regulators must be reminded that they have the duty to protect the public from charlatans and should therefore ensure that no false therapeutic or diagnostic claims can be made by naturopaths.

Dry needling is a therapy that is akin to acupuncture and trigger point therapy. It is claimed to be safe – but is this true?

Researchers from Ghent presented a series of 4 women aged 28 to 35 who were seen at the emergency department (ED) with post-dry needling pneumothorax between September 2022 and December 2023. None of the patients had any relevant medical history. All had been treated for a painful left shoulder, trapezius muscle or neck region in outpatient physiotherapist practices. At least three different physiotherapists were involved.

One patient presented to the ER on the same day as the dry needling procedure, the others presented the day after. All mentioned thoracic pain and dyspnoea. Clinical examination in all of these patients was unremarkable, as were their vital signs. Diagnosis was confirmed with ultrasound (US) and chest X-ray (CXR) in all patients. The latter exam showed left-sided apical pleural detachment with a median of 3.65 cm in expiration.

Two patients were managed conservatively. One patient (initial pneumothorax 2.5 cm) was discharged. The US two days later displayed a normally expanded lung. One patient with an initial apical size of 2.8 cm was admitted with 2 litres of oxygen through a nasal canula and discharged from the hospital the next day after US had shown no increase in size. Her control CXR 4 days later showed only minimal pleural detachment measuring 6 mm. The two other patients were treated with US guided needle aspiration. One patient with detachment initially being 4.5 cm showed decreased size of the pneumothorax immediately after aspiration. She was admitted to the respiratory medicine ward and discharged the next day. Control US and CXR after 1 week showed no more signs of pneumothorax. In the other patient, with detachment initially being 5.5 cm, needle aspiration resulted in complete deployment on US immediately after the procedure, but control CXR showed a totally collapsed lung 3 hours later. A small bore chest drain was placed but persistent air leakage was seen. Several trials of clamping the drain resulted in recurrent collapsing of the lung. After CT-scan had shown no structural deformities of the lung, suction was gradually reduced and the drain was successfully removed on the sixth day after placement. The patient was then discharged home. Control CXR 3 weeks later was normal.

The authors concluded that post-dry needling pneumothorax is, contrary to numbers cited in literature, not extremely rare. With rising popularity of the technique we expect complications to occur more often. Patients and referring doctors should be aware of this. In their informed consent practitioners should mention pneumothorax as a considerable risk of dry needling procedures in the neck, shoulder or chest region. 

The crucial question, in my view, is this: do the risks of dry-needling out weigh the risks of this form of therapy? Let’s have a look at some of the recent evidence that we discussed on this blog:

The evidence is clearly mixed and unconvincing. I am not sure whether it is strong enough to afford a positive risk/benefit balance. In other words: dry needling is a therapy that might best be avoided.

According to its authors, this study‘s objective was to demonstrate that acupuncture is beneficial for decreasing the risk of ischaemic stroke in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The investigation was designed as a propensity score-matched cohort nationwide population-based study. Patients with RA diagnosed between 1 January 1997 and 31 December 2010, through the National Health Insurance Research Database in Taiwan. Patients who were administered acupuncture therapy from the initial date of RA diagnosis to 31 December 2010 were included in the acupuncture cohort. Patients who did not receive acupuncture treatment during the same time interval constituted the no-acupuncture cohort. A Cox regression model was used to adjust for age, sex, comorbidities, and types of drugs used. The researchers compared the subhazard ratios (SHRs) of ischaemic stroke between these two cohorts through competing-risks regression models.

After 1:1 propensity score matching, a total of 23 226 patients with newly diagnosed RA were equally subgrouped into acupuncture cohort or no-acupuncture cohort according to their use of acupuncture. The basic characteristics of these patients were similar. A lower cumulative incidence of ischaemic stroke was found in the acupuncture cohort (log-rank test, p<0.001; immortal time (period from initial diagnosis of RA to index date) 1065 days; mean number of acupuncture visits 9.83. In the end, 341 patients in the acupuncture cohort (5.95 per 1000 person-years) and 605 patients in the no-acupuncture cohort (12.4 per 1000 person-years) experienced ischaemic stroke (adjusted SHR 0.57, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.65). The advantage of lowering ischaemic stroke incidence through acupuncture therapy in RA patients was independent of sex, age, types of drugs used, and comorbidities.

The authors concluded that this study showed the beneficial effect of acupuncture in reducing the incidence of ischaemic stroke in patients with RA.

It seems obvious that the editors of ‘BMJ Open’, the peer reviewers of the study and the authors are unaware of the fact that the objective of such an investigeation is not to to demonstrate that acupuncture is beneficial but to test whether acupuncture is beneficial. Starting a study with the intention to to show that my pet therapy works is akin to saying: “I am intending to mislead you about the value of my intervention”.

One needs therefore not be surprised that the authors of the present study draw very definitive conclusions, such as “acupuncture therapy is beneficial for ischaemic stroke prevention”. But every 1st year medical or science student should know that correlation is not the same as causation. What the study does, in fact, show is an association between acupuncture and stroke. This association might be due to dozens of factors that the ‘propensity score matching’ could not control. To conclude that the results prove a cause effect relationship is naive bordering on scientific misconduct. I find it most disappointing that such a paper can pass all the hurdles to get published in what pretends to be a respectable journal.

Personally, I intend to use this study as a good example for drawing the wrong conclusions on seemingly rigorous research.

 

 

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