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

medical ethics

The primary objective of this paper was to assess the efficacy of homeopathy by systematically reviewing existing systematic reviews and meta-analyses and to systematically review trials on open-label placebo (OLP) treatments. A secondary objective was to understand whether homoeopathy as a whole may be considered as a placebo treatment. Electronic databases and previously published papers were systematically searched for systematic reviews and meta-analyses on homoeopathy efficacy. In total, 61 systematic reviews of homeopathy were included.

The same databases plus the Journal of Interdisciplinary Placebo Studies (JIPS) were also systematically searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) on OLP treatments, and 10 studies were included.

Qualitative syntheses showed that homoeopathy efficacy can be considered comparable to placebo. Twenty‐five reviews demonstrated that homoeopathy efficacy is comparable to placebo, 20 reviews did not come to a definite conclusion, and 16 reviews concluded that homoeopathy has some effect beyond placebo (in some cases of the latter category, authors  drew cautious conclusions, due to low methodological quality of included trials, high risk of bias and sparse data).

Qualitative syntheses also showed that OLP treatments may be effective in some health conditions.

The authors concluded that, if homoeopathy efficacy is comparable to placebo, and if placebo treatments can be effective in some conditions, then homoeopathy as a whole may be considered as a placebo treatment. Reinterpreting homoeopathy as a placebo treatment would define limits and possibilities of this practice. This perspective shift suggests a strategy to manage patients who seek homoeopathic care and to reconcile them with mainstream medicine in a sustainable way.

The authors also mention in their discussion section that  one of the most important work which concluded that homoeopathy has some effect beyond placebo is the meta‐analysis performed by Linde et al. (1997), which included 119 trials with 2,588 participants and aimed to assess the efficacy of homoeopathy for many conditions. Among these ones, there were conditions with various degrees of placebo responsiveness. This work was thoroughly re‐analysed by Linde himself and other authors (Ernst, 1998; Ernst & Pittler, 2000; Linde et al., 1999; Morrison et al., 2000; Sterne et al., 2001), who, selecting high‐quality extractable data and taking into consideration some methodological issues and biases of included trials (like publication bias and biases within studies), underscored that it cannot be demonstrated that homoeopathy has effects beyond placebo.

I agree with much of what the authors state. However, I fail to see that homeopathy should be used as an OLP treatment. I have several reasons for this, for instance:

  1. Placebo effects are unreliable and do occur only in some but not all patients.
  2. Placebo effects are usually of short duration.
  3. Placebo effects are rarely of a clinically relevant magnitude.
  4. The use of placebo, even when given as OLP, usually involves deception which is unethical.
  5. Placebos might replace effective treatments which would amount to neglect.
  6. One does not need a placebo for generating a placebo effect.

The idea that homeopathic remedies could be used in clinical practice as placebos to generate positive health outcomes is by no means new. I know that many doctors have used it that way. The idea that homeopathy could be employed as OLP, might be new, but it is neither practical, nor ethical, nor progressive.

Regardless of this particular debate, this new review confirms yet again:

HOMEOPATHY = PLACEBO THERAPY

This systematic review was aimed at evaluating the effects of acupuncture on the quality of life of migraineurs.  Only randomized controlled trials that were published in Chinese and English were included. In total, 62 trials were included for the final analysis; 50 trials were from China, 3 from Brazil, 3 from Germany, 2 from Italy and the rest came from Iran, Israel, Australia and Sweden.

Acupuncture resulted in lower Visual Analog Scale scores than medication at 1 month after treatment and 1-3 months after treatment. Compared with sham acupuncture, acupuncture resulted in lower Visual Analog Scale scores at 1 month after treatment.

The authors concluded that acupuncture exhibits certain efficacy both in the treatment and prevention of migraines, which is superior to no treatment, sham acupuncture and medication. Further, acupuncture enhanced the quality of life more than did medication.

The authors comment in the discussion section that the overall quality of the evidence for most outcomes was of low to moderate quality. Reasons for diminished quality consist of the following: no mentioned or inadequate allocation concealment, great probability of reporting bias, study heterogeneity, sub-standard sample size, and dropout without analysis.

Further worrisome deficits are that only 14 of the 62 studies reported adverse effects (this means that 48 RCTs violated research ethics!) and that there was a high level of publication bias indicating that negative studies had remained unpublished. However, the most serious concern is the fact that 50 of the 62 trials originated from China, in my view. As I have often pointed out, such studies have to be categorised as highly unreliable.

In view of this multitude of serious problems, I feel that the conclusions of this review must be re-formulated:

Despite the fact that many RCTs have been published, the effect of acupuncture on the quality of life of migraineurs remains unproven.

 

In the latest issue of ‘Simile’ (the Faculty of Homeopathy‘s newsletter), the following short article with the above title has been published. I took the liberty of copying it for you:

Members of the Faculty of Homeopathy practising in the UK have the opportunity to take part in a trial of a new homeopathic remedy for treating infant colic. An American manufacturer of homeopathic remedies has made a registration application for the new remedy to the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) under the UK “National Rules” scheme. As part of its application the manufacturer is seeking at least two homeopathic doctors who would be willing to trial the product for about a year, then write a short report about using the remedy and its clinical results. If you would like to take part in the trial, further details can be obtained from …

END OF QUOTE

A homeopathic remedy for infant colic?

Yes, indeed!

The British Homeopathic Association and many similar ‘professional’ organisations recommend homeopathy for infant colic: Infantile colic is a common problem in babies, especially up to around sixteen weeks of age. It is characterised by incessant crying, often inconsolable, usually in the evenings and often through the night. Having excluded underlying pathology, the standard advice given by GPs and health visitors is winding technique, Infacol or Gripe Water. These measures are often ineffective but for­tunately there are a number of homeo­pathic medicines that may be effective. In my experience Colocynth is the most successful; alternatives are Carbo Veg, Chamomilla and Nux vomica.

SO, IT MUST BE GOOD!

But hold on, I cannot find a single clinical trial to suggest that homeopathy is effective for infant colic.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I see, that’s why they now want to conduct a trial!

They want to do the right thing and do some science to see whether their claims are supported by evidence.

How very laudable!

After all, the members of the Faculty of Homeopathy are doctors; they have certain ethical standards!

After all, the Faculty of Homeopathy aims to provide a high level of service to members and members of the public at all times.

Judging from the short text about the ‘homeopathy for infant colic trial’, it will involve a few (at least two) homeopaths prescribing the homeopathic remedy to patients and then writing a report. These reports will unanimously state that, after the remedy had been administered, the symptoms improved considerably. (I know this because they always do improve – with or without treatment.)

These reports will then be put together – perhaps we should call this a meta-analysis? – and the overall finding will be nice, positive and helpful for the American company.

And now, we all understand what homeopaths, more precisely the Faculty of Homeopathy, consider to be evidence.

 

 

On this blog and elsewhere, I have repeatedly criticised the concepts of ‘integrative medicine’ (IM). But criticising is easy, improving would be better. Today, I want to re-visit and revise the idea of IM and propose the concept of a ‘reformed integrated medicine’ (RIM).

Proponents of IM suggest that we should use ‘the best of both worlds’ for the benefit of our patients. This seems to be a progressive and ethical approach to improving healthcare. Therefore, I fully accept this idea. However, I suggest to not stop here; if we are serious about wanting the best for our patients, we must not just integrate, we should also disintegrate! We also need to think about disintegrating (discarding) modalities that are not fit for purpose. This, in a nutshell, is the concept of RIM.

In order to make real progress, we need to have a critical look at all the diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic and rehabilitative practices available to date and:

  1. integrate those into routine care that demonstrably generate more good than harm,
  2. disintegrate those that do not meet this criterion.

THE BEST, AND ONLY THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS!!!

This means, we use must throw overboard those that are not best. In healthcare ‘best’ can, of course, only mean effective and safe.

I am aware that this is only a very rough sketch of what RIM stands for. But even in this preliminary form, it is easy to see that, although IM and RIM seem to differ only marginally, their effects on healthcare would differ dramatically. Let me demonstrate this by providing 5 examples from my area of expertise:

Iridology embraced by IM discarded by RIM
Homeopathy embraced by IM discarded by RIM
Chiropractic embraced by IM discarded by RIM
Reiki embraced by IM discarded by RIM
Reflexology embraced by IM discarded by RIM

I am sure, you get the gist of it. In RIM, we no longer employ things that don’t work. They are of no real use to patients and possibly even cause harm. RIM not only is the only ethical approach, it also generates progress.

So, RIM – just a tiny adaptation of IM – is the solution.

Gosh, I am proud of my splendid innovation.

Progress at last!

 

 

__________________________________________________________________

Ooops …  I just realised, RIM has one little flaw: it already exists.

It’s called evidence-based medicine.

 

A survey was commissioned in 2015 to obtain general population figures for practitioner-led CAM use in England, and to discover people’s views and experiences regarding access.

Of 4862 adults surveyed, 766 (16%) had seen a CAM practitioner. People most commonly visited CAM practitioners for manual therapies (massage, osteopathy, chiropractic) and acupuncture, as well as yoga, pilates, reflexology, and mindfulness or meditation. Women, people with higher socioeconomic status (SES) and those in south England were more likely to access CAM. Musculoskeletal conditions (mainly back pain) accounted for 68% of use, and mental health 12%. Most was through self-referral (70%) and self-financing. GPs (17%) or NHS professionals (4%) referred and/or recommended CAM to users. These CAM users were more often unemployed, with lower income and social grade, and receiving NHS-funded CAM. Responders were willing to pay varying amounts for CAM; 22% would not pay anything. Almost two in five responders felt NHS funding and GP referral and/or endorsement would increase their CAM use.

The authors concluded that CAM use in England is common for musculoskeletal and mental health problems, but varies by sex, geography, and SES. It is mainly self-referred and self-financed; some is GP-endorsed and/or referred, especially for individuals of lower SES. Researchers, patients, and commissioners should collaborate to research the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of CAM and consider its availability on the NHS.

The table below shows the percentage figures for specific CAMs (right column).

Type of CAM practitioner n %
Massage practitioner 143 19
Osteopath 91 12
Acupuncturist 88 11
Chiropractor 87 11
Yoga teacher 52 7
Physiotherapist-delivered CAM 41 5
Pilates teacher 28 4
Reflexologist 22 3
Meditation and/or mindfulness teacher 20 3
Homeopath 20 3
Reiki practitioner 17 2
Hypnotherapist 15 2
Herbalist 14 2
Chinese herbal medical practitioner 12 2
Other 74 10

Our own survey suggested that, in 2005, the 1-year prevalence of CAM-use in England was 26.3 % and the practitioner-led CAM-use was 12.1 %. The two surveys are, however, not comparable because they did use different methodologies; for instance, they included different types of CAM. I therefore think that any conclusion of an increase in practitioner-led CAM-use between 2005 and 2015 is not warranted. It also follows that the graphic below is misleading.

In the discussion, the authors of the new survey make the following point: Ability to pay may be a factor in accessing CAM (indicated by the association of CAM use with higher SES; lower SES responders being more likely to be GP-referred to CAM; and responders stating that they may use more CAM if the NHS provided services, and GPs endorsed and/or referred them). Integration of CAM into the NHS through primary care could promote continuity of care, safety, and balance of power. An integrative medicine approach includes many of the values recently included in UK health policy documents; for example, Five Year Forward View. It is patient-centred, as discussed in 2010, focuses on prevention, and emphasises patient self-management and person- and community-centred approaches to health and wellbeing. Many of these values underpin social prescribing, which is an increasingly popular model of health care. There seems to be significant patient demand for CAM and more holistic approaches, and a view that CAM may improve patient satisfaction.

I have in a previous post commented on prevalence surveys: the argument that is all too often spun around such survey data goes roughly as follows: a large percentage of the population uses alternative medicine; people pay out of their own pocket for these treatments; they are satisfied with them (if not, they would not pay for them). BUT THIS IS GROSSLY UNFAIR! Why should only those individuals who are rich enough to afford alternative medicine benefit from it? ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE SHOULD BE MADE AVAILABLE FOR ALL.

To me, it is obvious that this line of argument is dangerously wrong. It lends itself to the promotion of unproven therapies to the detriment of good healthcare and progress. Sadly, I fear that the new survey is going to be misused in this way.

The DAILY MAIL is by no means my favourite paper (see, for instance, here, here and here). This week, the Mail published another article which, I thought, is worth mentioning. The Mail apparently asked several UK doctors which dietary supplements they use for their own health (no mention of the number they had to approach to find any fitting into this category). The results remind me of a statement by the Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby in the famous TV series YES MINISTER: “if nobody knows anything then nobody can accuse anybody else of knowing nothing, and so the one thing we do know is that nobody knows anything, and that’s better than us knowing nothing”.

Below, I present the relevant quotes by the doctors who volunteered to be interviewed and add the most up-to date evidence on each subject.

Professor Christopher Eden, 57, is a consultant urological surgeon at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford.

“I take a 1g supplement of vitamin C daily. (The recommended daily amount, or RDA, is 40mg, which is equivalent to a large orange.) This amount of vitamin C makes the urine mildly acidic and increases the levels of an antimicrobial protein called siderocalin, found naturally in urine, which makes the environment less favourable to bad bacteria and reduces the risk of infection.”

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) cannot be recommended for the prevention of urinary tract infections.

Louise Newson, 48, is a GP and menopause specialist based in Stratford-upon-Avon.

“Women going through the menopause or perimenopause may get bowel symptoms such as bloating which are due to hormone imbalances affecting the balance of gut bacteria. Probiotic (good bacteria) supplements correct this imbalance and are also linked to levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which can improve mood. This is important during the menopause. I make sure I take a probiotic daily, specifically one with a high bacteria count including Lactobacillus acidophilus. I look for one that has to be kept in the fridge, as this is a sign of a quality product.”

For … probiotics, prebiotics, acupuncture, homeopathy and DHEA-S, randomized, placebo-controlled trials are scarce and the evidence is unconvincing.

Professor Tony Kochhar, 45, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at London Bridge Hospital.

“Having taken statins for a couple of years, I developed tendonitis, inflammation in the foot, which caused pain around the outside of it. My GP told me to stop taking the statins, which helped, and I now control my condition with diet. I also take a supplement of collagen (a natural protein found in the tendons) to build up tendon structure and reduce pain. I take two 1,200mg collagen supplements daily and it has really helped. Within two weeks of starting them, my pain had gone.”

it is not possible to draw any definitive raccomendations on the use of nutraceutical supplementation in tendinopathies.

Dr Anne Rigg, 51, is a consultant oncologist at London Bridge Hospital.

“One theory is that vitamin D may help control normal breast cell growth and may even stop breast cancer cells from growing. The body creates vitamin D from sunlight on the skin when we are outdoors, but because of the British weather and the rightful use of sunscreen, it’s easy to become deficient. I take the recommended daily dose of 10mcg. [Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are good sources, too, but you’d have to eat them in large amounts to get the recommended daily dosage.] It’s vital not to overdose, as it can increase the risk of kidney stones: the vitamin helps absorb calcium from the diet, which can build up into stones.”

Supplementation with vitamin D did not result in a lower incidence of invasive cancer…

Dr Rob Hogan, 62, is an optometrist at iCare Consulting.

“I’m aware, too, of the increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of sight loss in people over 60. This is where the small central portion of the retina (the macula) at the back of the eye deteriorates. So I take MacuShield, a supplement which, studies have found, can help improve vision and keep the back of the eye healthy. It contains a mixture of natural compounds — lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin — which are antioxidants that have been found in studies to improve vision and eye health. I take one a day, usually with a meal.”

In early AMD, macular pigment can be augmented with a variety of supplements, although the inclusion of MZ may confer benefits in terms of panprofile augmentation and in terms of contrast sensitivity enhancement.

Dr Milad Shadrooh, 37, is a dentist in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

“I take a varied supplement daily to maintain good health and, specifically, healthy teeth. It contains calcium (an adult’s RDA is 700mg, which is equivalent to three 200ml cups of milk) as most people, including me, don’t get enough in their diet.”

calciumsupplements that are used to prevent or treat osteoporosis appear to have beneficial effects on tooth retention as well.

Dr Joanna Gach, 49, is a consultant dermatologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.

“Every so often, I take a multivitamin capsule containing zinc, selenium and biotin. These are all helpful for sorting out my brittle nails and maintaining healthy hair.”

 no evidence supports the use of vitamin supplementation with vitamin E, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin A, retinoids, retinol, retinal, silicon, zinc, iron, copper, selenium, or vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) for improving the nail health of well-nourished patients or improving the appearance of nails affected by pathologic disease.

Luke Cascarini, 47, is a consultant maxillofacial surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

“I take a daily vitamin drink containing a high-dose vitamin B complex, which is necessary for good oral health.”

The published research reveals only a possible relationship between vitamins and minerals and periodontal disease. Vitamin E, zinc, lycopene and vitamin B complex may have useful adjunct benefits. However, there is inadequate evidence to link the nutritional status of the host to periodontal inflammation. More randomized controlled trials are needed to explore this association.

Dr Jenni Byrom, 44, is a consultant gynaecologist at Birmingham’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

“I take evening primrose oil for premenstrual symptoms such as breast pain. I take 1g of evening primrose oil daily and have found it really makes a difference.”

Evening primrose oil has not been shown to improve breast pain, and has had its licence withdrawn for this indication in the UK owing to lack of efficacy (it is still available to purchase without prescription).

Dr Sarah Myhill, 60, is a GP based in Wales.

“I take 10g of vitamin C dissolved in a glass of water every day before I start my shift — and I never get colds. I believe that high doses of vitamin C can kill bad microbes on contact — or, at least, help reduce the severity of infections such as colds and sore throats.”

 vitamin C has minimal or no impact on the duration of common cold or in the number of days at home or out of work.

Jonathan Dearing, 49, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon specialising in sports injuries at BMI Carrick Glen Hospital in Ayrshire.

“I carry a vitamin D oral spray and use it after exercise, as it helps improve muscle recovery by regulating various processes that help them repair and grow.”

… supraphysiological dosages of vitamin D3 have potential ergogenic effects on the human metabolic system and lead to multiple physiological enhancements. These dosages could increase aerobic capacity, muscle growth, force and power production, and a decreased recovery time from exercise. These dosages could also improve bone density. However, both deficiency (12.5 to 50 nmol/L) and high levels of vitamin D (>125 nmol/L) can have negative side effects, with the potential for an increased mortality. Thus, maintenance of optimal serum levels between 75 to 100 nmol/L and ensuring adequate amounts of other essential nutrients including vitamin K are consumed, is key to health and performance. Coaches, medical practitioners, and athletic personnel should recommend their patients and athletes to have their plasma 25(OH)D measured, in order to determine if supplementation is needed. Based on the research presented on recovery, force and power production, 4000-5000 IU/day of vitamin D3 in conjunction with a mixture of 50 mcg/day to 1000 mcg/day of vitamin K1 and K2 seems to be a safe dose and has the potential to aid athletic performance. Lastly, no study in the athletic population has increased serum 25(OH)D levels past 100 nmol/L, (the optimal range for skeletal muscle function) using doses of 1000 to 5000 IU/day. Thus, future studies should test the physiological effects of higher dosages (5000 IU to 10,000 IU/day or more) of vitamin D3 in combination with varying dosages of vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 in the athletic population to determine optimal dosages needed to maximize performance.

Dr Glyn Thomas, 46, is a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist at the Bristol Heart Institute.

“I take a magnesium supplement as it can help address an extra heartbeat — something I suffered with for 20 years.”

Whether magnesium supplementation could have a role in the prevention of AF in the community has not been tested.

_____________________________________________________

Firstly, let me congratulate those colleagues who actually might have got it right:

  1. Dr Hogan
  2. Dr Shadrooh
  3. Mr Cascarini
  4. Mr Dearing

I say ‘MIGHT HAVE GOT IT RIGHT’ because, even in their cases, the evidence is far from strong and certainly not convincing.

Secondly, let me commiserate those who spend their money on unproven supplements. I find it sad that this group amounts to two thirds of all the ‘experts’ asked.

Thirdly, let me remind THE DAILY MAIL of what I posted recently:  journalists to be conscious of their responsibility not to mislead the public and do more rigorous research before reporting on matters of health. Surely, the Mail did us no favour in publishing this article. It will undoubtedly motivate lots of gullible consumers to buy useless or even harmful supplements.

And lastly, let me remind all healthcare professionals that promoting unproven treatments to the unsuspecting public is not ethical.

 

The public is often impressed by scenes shown on TV where surgeons in China operate patients apparently with no other anaesthesia than acupuncture. Such films have undoubtedly contributed significantly to the common belief that acupuncture cannot possibly be a placebo (every single time I give a public talk about acupuncture, the issue comes up, and someone asks me: how can you doubt the efficacy of acupuncture when, in China, they use it for major operations?).

Some years ago, I have myself been involved is such a BBC broadcast and had to learn the hard way that such scenes are more than just a bit misleading.

Unfortunately, the experts rarely object to any of this. They seem to have become used to the false claims and overt propaganda that is rife in the promotion of acupuncture, and have resigned to the might of poor journalism.

The laudable exception is a team of French authors of a recent and excellent paper.

This unusual article analysed a clip from the program “Acupuncture, osteopathy, hypnosis: do complementary medicines have superpowers?” about acupuncture as an anaesthetic for surgical procedures in China. Their aim was to propose a rational explanation for the phenomena observed and to describe the processes leading a public service broadcasting channel to offer this type of content at prime time and the potential consequences in terms of public health. For this purpose, they used critical thinking attitudes and skills, along with a bibliographical search of Medline, Google Scholar and Cochrane Library databases.

Their results reveal that the information delivered in the television clip is ambiguous. It did not allow the viewer to form an informed opinion on the relevance of acupuncture as an anaesthetic for surgical procedures. It is reasonable to assume that the clip shows surgery performed with undisclosed epidural anaesthesia coupled with mild intravenous anaesthesia, sometimes performed in other countries.

What needs to be highlighted, the authors of this critique state, is the overestimation of acupuncture added to the protocol. The media tend to exaggerate the risks and expected effects of the treatments they report on, which can lead patients to turn to unproven therapies.

The authors concluded that broadcasting such a clip at prime time underlines the urgent need for the public and all health professionals to be trained in sorting and critically analysing health information.

In my view, broadcasting such misleading films also underlines the urgent need for journalists to be conscious of their responsibility not to mislead the public and do more rigorous research before reporting on matters of health.

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the Kristallnacht, the infamous start of the Nazi holocaust. For Cristian Becker, a German PR man who is currently spending much of his time promoting homeopathy and attacking critics of homeopathy, it was the occasion to publish this tweet:

I will try to translate it for you:

Today, on 9 November, all fundamentalist GWUP-sceptics such as Natalie Grams and Edzard Ernst reflect on what hate can bring about. First, one hates homeopathy, then advocates of homeopathy, and then it can seem as though one tolerates violence.

I struggle to respond to such vitriolic stupidity.

What makes this even more shocking is the fact that, as far as I see, none of the professional bodies of German homeopathy have distanced themselves for it.

I know Dr Grams a little, and can honestly say that neither of us ‘hates’ homeopathy nor homeopaths. And crucially, we both detest violence.

If such pseudo-arguments are now being used by the defenders of homeopathy, it mainly shows, I think, two things:

  1. They clearly have run out of real arguments which, in turn, suggests that the end of publicly funded homeopathy is imminent.
  2. Homeopathic remedies are not an effective therapy against feeble-mindedness.

The Clinic for Complementary Medicine and Diet in Oncology was opened, in collaboration with the oncology department, at the Hospital of Lucca (Italy) in 2013. It uses a range of alternative therapies aimed at reducing the adverse effects of conventional oncology treatments.

Their latest paper presents the results of complementary medicine (CM) treatment targeted toward reducing the adverse effects of anticancer therapy and cancer symptoms, and improving patient quality of life. Dietary advice was aimed at the reduction of foods that promote inflammation in favour of those with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

This is a retrospective observational study on 357 patients consecutively visited from September 2013 to December 2017. The intensity of symptoms was evaluated according to a grading system from G0 (absent) to G1 (slight), G2 (moderate), and G3 (strong). The severity of radiodermatitis was evaluated with the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) scale. Almost all the patients (91.6%) were receiving or had just finished some form of conventional anticancer therapy.

The main types of cancer were breast (57.1%), colon (7.3%), lung (5.0%), ovary (3.9%), stomach (2.5%), prostate (2.2%), and uterus (2.5%). Comparison of clinical conditions before and after treatment showed a significant amelioration of all symptoms evaluated: nausea, insomnia, depression, anxiety, fatigue, mucositis, hot flashes, joint pain, dysgeusia, neuropathy.

The authors concluded that the integration of evidence-based complementary treatments seems to provide an effective response to cancer patients’ demand for a reduction of the adverse effects of anticancer treatments and the symptoms of cancer itself, thus improving patient’s quality of life and combining safety and equity of access within public healthcare systems. It is, therefore, necessary for physicians (primarily oncologists) and other healthcare professionals in this field to be appropriately informed about the potential benefits of CMs.

Why do I call this ‘wishful thinking’?

I have several reasons:

  1. A retrospective observational study cannot establish cause and effect. It is likely that the findings were due to a range of factors unrelated to the interventions used, including time, extra attention, placebo, social desirability, etc.
  2. Some of the treatments in the therapeutic package were not CM, reasonable and evidence-based. Therefore, it is likely that these interventions had positive effects, while CM might have been totally useless.
  3. To claim that the integration of evidence-based complementary treatments seems to provide an effective response to cancer patients’ is pure fantasy. Firstly, some of the CMs were certainly not evidence-based (the clinic’s prime focus is on homeopathy). Secondly, as already pointed out, the study does not establish cause and effect.
  4. The notion that it is necessary for physicians (primarily oncologists) and other healthcare professionals in this field to be appropriately informed about the potential benefits of CMs is not what follows from the data. The paper shows, however, that the authors of this study are in need to be appropriately informed about EBM as well as CM.

I stumbled across this paper because a homeopath cited it on Twitter claiming that it proves the effectiveness of homeopathy for cancer patients. This fact highlights why such publications are not just annoyingly useless but acutely dangerous. They mislead many cancer patients to opt for bogus treatments. In turn, this demonstrates why it is important to counterbalance such misinformation, critically evaluate it and minimise the risk of patients getting harmed.

Acupuncture is a branch of alternative medicine where pseudo-science abounds. Here is yet another example of this deplorable phenomenon.

This study was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of acupuncture in the management of primary dysmenorrhea.

Sixty females aged 17-23 years were randomly assigned to either a study group or a control group.

  • The study group received acupuncture for the duration of 20 minutes/day, for 15 days/month, for the period of 90 days.
  • The control group did not receive acupuncture for the same period.

Both groups were assessed on day 1; day 30 and day 60; and day 90. The results showed a significant reduction in all the variables such as the visual analogue scale score for pain, menstrual cramps, headache, dizziness, diarrhoea, faint, mood changes, tiredness, nausea, and vomiting in the study group compared with those in the control group.

The authors concluded that acupuncture could be considered as an effective treatment modality for the management of primary dysmenorrhea.

These findings contradict those of a recent Cochrane review (authored by known acupuncture-proponents) which included 42 RCTs and concluded that there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate whether or not acupuncture or acupressure are effective in treating primary dysmenorrhoea, and for most comparisons no data were available on adverse events. The quality of the evidence was low or very low for all comparisons. The main limitations were risk of bias, poor reporting, inconsistency and risk of publication bias.

The question that I ask myself is this: why do researchers bother to conduct studies that contribute NOTHING to our knowledge and progress? The new study had a no-treatment control group which means it cannot control for the effects of placebo, the extra attention, social desirability etc. In view of the fact that already 42 poor quality trials exist, it is not just useless to add a 43rd but, in my view, it is scandalous! A 43rd useless trial:

  • tells us nothing of value;
  • misleads the public;
  • pollutes the medical literature;
  • is a waste of resources;
  • undermines the trust in clinical research;
  • is deeply unethical.

It is high time to stop such redundant, foolish, wasteful and unethical pseudo-science.

 

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