At the heart of this story is Joseph Mercola, a dietary supplement entrepreneur and osteopath.
His website states that:
EVERYONE can benefit from Dr Mercola’s unparalleled knowledge. For expertise in alternative healthcare and high quality supplemental medicine, it’s hard to beat visionary Dr Joseph Mercola. The Chicago-based health wizard has his own website, Mercola.com (‘Take Control of Your Health’), but you can find so many of his health support products right here at Evolution Organics. Our customers swear by them. They love the diversity of the range, and that the products are priced affordably, meaning that everyone can benefit from Dr Mercola’s vast experience and unmatched know-how. And it’s not just men, women and children who can feel better ‘the Dr Mercola way’ – his brand includes health support products for pets, too.
However, an article in the Washington Post tells a different story; allow me to quote a few excerpts:
The National Vaccine Information Center was founded in 1982 by Barbara Loe Fisher, who has said that her son was injured by a vaccine. The group claimed credit this year for helping to defeat legislation in a dozen states that would have made it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. At the beginning of last year’s flu season, Fisher and Mercola appeared in a YouTube video urging people to be skeptical about flu shots. Mercola claimed that vaccines have been associated with “deaths and permanent neurological complications,” and he said vitamin D supplements were among “far more effective, less expensive and less risky alternatives.” … Fisher said in an interview that Mercola has asked for nothing in exchange for his donations and that the National Vaccine Information Center does not sell or advertise Mercola’s products on its site. “I do not take funding for a quid pro quo,” she said. “When [Mercola] called me, he said, ‘I admire your work. I’d like to help you.’ ” The center’s homepage, which the group says was visited more than 1.2 million times last year, displays Mercola.com’s logo. An affiliated website run by Fisher’s group refers numerous times to Mercola.com as one of the most popular health and wellness websites…
In recent years, the center has been at the forefront of a movement that has led some parents to forgo or delay immunizing their children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles… The Northern Virginia-based National Vaccine Information Center lists Mercola.com as a partner on its homepage and links to the website, where readers can learn about and purchase Mercola’s merchandise…Asked if his companies benefit from his donations to the anti-vaccine group, Mercola said in an email that “being an adversary to powerful industries is not a positive for a business like mine.” …
On this blog, I have repeatedly warned that many so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) practitioners recommend against vaccinations. Specifically implicated are:
- Physicians practising integrative medicine
- Doctors of anthroposophical medicine
We knew about the ‘ideology’ and the misinformation pushing SCAM-related anti-vaccination sentiments. The article in the Washington Post is a stark reminder of the financial interests behind all this. As a result, SCAM-use is associated with low vaccination-uptake (as we have discussed ad nauseam – see for instance here, here, here and here). Anyone who needs more information will find it by searching this blog. Anyone claiming that this is all my exaggeration might look at papers which have nothing to do with me (there are plenty more for those who are willing to conduct a Medline search):
- Lehrke P, Nuebling M, Hofmann F, Stoessel U. Attitudes of homeopathic physicians towards vaccination. Vaccine. 2001;19:4859–4864. doi: 10.1016/S0264-410X(01)00180-3. [PubMed]
- Halper J, Berger LR. Naturopaths and childhood immunizations: Heterodoxy among the unorthodox. Pediatrics. 1981;68:407–410. [PubMed]
- Colley F, Haas M. Attitudes on immunization: A survey of American chiropractors. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 1994;17:584–590. [PubMed]
Recently, we discussed the findings of a meta-analysis which concluded that walking, which is easy to perform and highly accessible, can be recommended in the management of chronic LBP to reduce pain and disability.
At the time, I commented that
this will hardly please the legions of therapists who earn their daily bread with pretending their therapy is the best for LBP. But healthcare is clearly not about the welfare of the therapists, it is/should be about patients. And patients should surely welcome this evidence. I know, walking is not always easy for people with severe LBP, but it seems effective and it is safe, free and available to everyone.
My advice to patients is therefore to walk (slowly and cautiously) to the office of their preferred therapist, have a little rest there (say hello to the staff perhaps) and then walk straight back home.
Now, there is new evidence that seems to confirm what I wrote. An international team of researchers requested individual participant data (IPD) from high-quality randomised clinical trials of patients suffering from persistent low back pain. They conducted descriptive analyses and one-stage IPD meta-analysis. They received IPD for 27 trials with a total of 3514 participants.
For studies included in this analysis, compared with no treatment/usual care, exercise therapy on average reduced pain (mean effect/100 (95% CI) -10.7 (-14.1 to -7.4)), a result compatible with a clinically important 20% smallest worthwhile effect. Exercise therapy reduced functional limitations with a clinically important 23% improvement (mean effect/100 (95% CI) -10.2 (-13.2 to -7.3)) at short-term follow-up.
Not having heavy physical demands at work and medication use for low back pain were potential treatment effect modifiers-these were associated with superior exercise outcomes relative to non-exercise comparisons. Lower body mass index was also associated with better outcomes in exercise compared with no treatment/usual care.
But you cannot dismiss so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), just like that, I hear my chiropractic and other manipulating friends exclaim – at the very minimum, we need direct comparisons of the two approaches!!!
Alright, you convinced me; here you go:
The purpose of this systematic review was to determine the effectiveness of spinal manipulation vs prescribed exercise for patients diagnosed with chronic low back pain (CLBP). Only RCTs that compared head-to-head spinal manipulation to an exercise group were included in this review. Only three RCTs met the inclusion criteria. The outcomes used in these studies included Disability Indexes, Pain Scales and function improvement scales. One RCT found spinal manipulation to be more effective than exercise, and the results of another RCT indicated the reverse. The third RCT found both interventions offering equal effects in the long term. The author concluded that there is no conclusive evidence that clearly favours spinal manipulation or exercise as more effective in treatment of CLBP. More studies are needed to further explore which intervention is more effective.
But I am!
Exercise is preferable to chiropractic and other manipulating SCAMs because:
- It is cheaper.
- It is safer.
- It is readily available to anyone.
- And you don’t have to listen to the bizarre and often dangerous advice many chiros offer their clients.
Spinal manipulation is a treatment employed by several professions, including physiotherapists and osteopaths; for chiropractors, it is the hallmark therapy.
- They use it for (almost) every patient.
- They use it for (almost) every condition.
- They have developed most of the techniques.
- Spinal manipulation is the focus of their education and training.
- All textbooks of chiropractic focus on spinal manipulation.
- Chiropractors are responsible for most of the research on spinal manipulation.
- Chiropractors are responsible for most of the adverse effects of spinal manipulation.
Spinal manipulation has traditionally involved an element of targeting the technique to a level of the spine where the proposed movement dysfunction is sited. This study evaluated the effects of a targeted manipulative thrust versus a thrust applied generally to the lumbar region.
Sixty patients with low back pain were randomly allocated to two groups: one group received a targeted manipulative thrust (n=29) and the other a general manipulation thrust (GT) (n=31) to the lumbar spine. Thrust was either localised to a clinician-defined symptomatic spinal level or an equal force was applied through the whole lumbosacral region. The investigators measured pressure-pain thresholds (PPTs) using algometry and muscle activity (magnitude of stretch reflex) via surface electromyography. Numerical ratings of pain and Oswestry Disability Index scores were collected.
Repeated measures of analysis of covariance revealed no between-group differences in self-reported pain or PPT for any of the muscles studied. The authors concluded that a GT procedure—applied without any specific targeting—was as effective in reducing participants’ pain scores as targeted approaches.
The authors point out that their data are similar to findings from a study undertaken with a younger, military sample, showing no significant difference in pain response to a general versus specific rotation, manipulation technique. They furthermore discuss that, if ‘targeted’ manipulation proves to be no better than ‘general’ manipulation (when there has been further research, more studies), it would challenge the need for some current training courses that involve comprehensive manual skill training and teaching of specific techniques. If simple SM interventions could be delivered with less training, than the targeted approach currently requires, it would mean a greater proportion of the population who have back pain could access those general manipulation techniques.
Assuming that the GT used in this trial was equivalent to a placebo control, another interpretation of these results is that the effects of spinal manipulation are largely or even entirely due to a placebo response. If this were confirmed in further studies, it would be yet one more point to argue that spinal manipulation is not a treatment of choice for back pain or any other condition.
A systematic review of the evidence for effectiveness and harms of specific spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) techniques for infants, children and adolescents has been published by Dutch researchers. I find it important to stress from the outset that the authors are not affiliated with chiropractic institutions and thus free from such conflicts of interest.
They searched electronic databases up to December 2017. Controlled studies, describing primary SMT treatment in infants (<1 year) and children/adolescents (1–18 years), were included to determine effectiveness. Controlled and observational studies and case reports were included to examine harms. One author screened titles and abstracts and two authors independently screened the full text of potentially eligible studies for inclusion. Two authors assessed risk of bias of included studies and quality of the body of evidence using the GRADE methodology. Data were described according to PRISMA guidelines and CONSORT and TIDieR checklists. If appropriate, random-effects meta-analysis was performed.
Of the 1,236 identified studies, 26 studies were eligible. In all but 3 studies, the therapists were chiropractors. Infants and children/adolescents were treated for various (non-)musculoskeletal indications, hypothesized to be related to spinal joint dysfunction. Studies examining the same population, indication and treatment comparison were scarce. Due to very low quality evidence, it is uncertain whether gentle, low-velocity mobilizations reduce complaints in infants with colic or torticollis, and whether high-velocity, low-amplitude manipulations reduce complaints in children/adolescents with autism, asthma, nocturnal enuresis, headache or idiopathic scoliosis. Five case reports described severe harms after HVLA manipulations in 4 infants and one child. Mild, transient harms were reported after gentle spinal mobilizations in infants and children, and could be interpreted as side effect of treatment.
The authors concluded that, based on GRADE methodology, we found the evidence was of very low quality; this prevented us from drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of specific SMT techniques in infants, children and adolescents. Outcomes in the included studies were mostly parent or patient-reported; studies did not report on intermediate outcomes to assess the effectiveness of SMT techniques in relation to the hypothesized spinal dysfunction. Severe harms were relatively scarce, poorly described and likely to be associated with underlying missed pathology. Gentle, low-velocity spinal mobilizations seem to be a safe treatment technique in infants, children and adolescents. We encourage future research to describe effectiveness and safety of specific SMT techniques instead of SMT as a general treatment approach.
We have often noted that, in chiropractic trials, harms are often not mentioned (a fact that constitutes a violation of research ethics). This was again confirmed in the present review; only 4 of the controlled clinical trials reported such information. This means harms cannot be evaluated by reviewing such studies. One important strength of this review is that the authors realised this problem and thus included other research papers for assessing the risks of SMT. Consequently, they found considerable potential for harm and stress that under-reporting remains a serious issue.
Another problem with SMT papers is their often very poor methodological quality. The authors of the new review make this point very clearly and call for more rigorous research. On this blog, I have repeatedly shown that research by chiropractors resembles more a promotional exercise than science. If this field wants to ever go anywhere, if needs to adopt rigorous science and forget about its determination to advance the business of chiropractors.
I feel it is important to point out that all of this has been known for at least one decade (even though it has never been documented so scholarly as in this new review). In fact, when in 2008, my friend and co-author Simon Singh, published that chiropractors ‘happily promote bogus treatments’ for children, he was sued for libel. Since then, I have been legally challenged twice by chiropractors for my continued critical stance on chiropractic. So, essentially nothing has changed; I certainly do not see the will of leading chiropractic bodies to bring their house in order.
May I therefore once again suggest that chiropractors (and other spinal manipulators) across the world, instead of aggressing their critics, finally get their act together. Until we have conclusive data showing that SMT does more good than harm to kids, the right thing to do is this: BEHAVE LIKE ETHICAL HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS: BE HONEST ABOUT THE EVIDENCE, STOP MISLEADING PARENTS AND STOP TREATING THEIR CHILDREN!
Myelopathy is defined as any neurologic deficit related to the spinal cord. When due to trauma, it is known as (acute) spinal cord injury. When caused by inflammatory, it is known as myelitis. Disease that is vascular in nature is known as vascular myelopathy.
The symptoms of myelopathy include:
- Pain in the neck, arm, leg or lower back
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty with fine motor skills, such as writing or buttoning a shirt
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of urinary or bowel control
- Issues with balance and coordination
The causes of myelopathy include:
- Tumours that put pressure on the spinal cord
- Bone spurs
- A dislocation fracture
- Autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis
- Congenital abnormality
- A traumatic injury
This review presents a series of cases with cervical spine injury and myelopathy following therapeutic manipulation of the neck, and examines their clinical course and neurological outcome.
Its authors conducted a search for patients who developed neurological symptoms due to cervical spinal cord injury following neck SMT in the database of a spinal unit in a tertiary hospital between the years 2008 and 2018. Patients with vertebral artery dissections were excluded. Patients were assessed for the clinical course and deterioration, type of manipulation used and subsequent management.
A total of four patients were identified, two men and two women, aged between 32 and 66 years. In three patients neurological deterioration appeared after chiropractic adjustment and in one patient after tuina therapy. The patients had experienced symptoms within one day to one week after neck manipulation. The four patients had signs of:
- central cord syndrome,
- spastic quadriparesis,
- spastic quadriparesis,
- radiculopathy and myelomalacia.
Three patients were managed with anterior cervical discectomy and fusion while one patient declined surgical treatment.
The authors note that their data cannot determine whether the spinal cord dysfunction was caused my the spinal manipulations or were pre-existing problems which were aggravated by the treatments. They recommend that assessment for subjective and objective evidence of cervical myelopathy should be performed prior to cervical manipulation, and suspected myelopathic patients should be sent for further workup by a specialist familiar with cervical myelopathy, such as a neurologist, a neurosurgeon or orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in spinal surgery. They also state that manipulation therapy remains an important and generally safe treatment modality for a variety of cervical complaints. Their review, the authors stress, does not intend to discard the role of spinal manipulation as a significant part in the management of patients with neck related symptoms, rather it is meant to draw attention to the need for careful clinical and imaging investigation before treatment. This recommendation might be medically justified, yet one could argue that it is less than practical.
This paper from Israel is interesting in that it discloses possible complications of cervical manipulation. It confirms that chiropractors are most frequently implicated and that – as in our survey – under-reporting is exactly 100% (none of the cases identified by the retrospective chart review had been previously reported).
In light of this, some of the affirmations of the authors are bizarre. In particular, I ask myself how they can claim that cervical manipulation is a ‘generally safe’ treatment. With under-reporting at such high levels, the only thing one can say with certainty is that serious complications do happen and nobody can be sure how frequently they occur.
In a paper discussed in a previous blog, Ioannidis et al published a comprehensive database of a large number of scientists across science. They used Scopus data to compile a database of the 100,000 most-cited authors across all scientific fields based on their ranking of a composite indicator that considers six citation metrics (total citations; Hirsch h-index; coauthorship-adjusted Schreiber hm-index; number of citations to papers as single author; number of citations to papers as single or first author; and number of citations to papers as single, first, or last author). The authors also added this caution:
Citation analyses for individuals are used for various single-person or comparative assessments in the complex reward and incentive system of science. Misuse of citation metrics in hiring, promotion or tenure decision, or other situations involving rewards (e.g., funding or awards) takes many forms, including but not limited to the use of metrics that are not very informative for scientists and their work (e.g., journal impact factors); focus on single citation metrics (e.g., h-index); and use of calculations that are not standardized, use different frames, and do not account for field. The availability of the data sets that we provide should help mitigate many of these problems. The database can also be used to perform evaluations of groups of individuals, e.g., at the level of scientific fields, institutions, countries, or memberships in diversely defined groups that may be of interest to users.
It seems thus obvious and relevant to employ the new metrics for defining the most ‘influential’ (most frequently cited) researchers in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Doing this creates not one but two non-overlapping tables (because ‘complementary&alternative medicine’ is listed both as a primary and a secondary field (not sure about the difference)). Below, I have copied a small part of these tables; the first three columns are self-explanatory; the 4th relates to the number of published articles, the 4th to the year of the author’s first publication, the 5th to the last, the 6th column is the rank amongst 100 000 scientists of all fields who have published more than a couple of papers.
|Ernst, E.||University of Exeter||gbr||2253||1975||2018||104|
|Davidson, Jonathan R. T.||Duke University||usa||426||1972||2017||1394|
|Kaptchuk, Ted J.||Harvard University||usa||245||1993||2018||6545|
|Eisenberg, David M.||Harvard University||usa||127||1991||2018||8641|
|Linde, Klaus||Technische Universitat Munchen||deu||276||1993||2018||19488|
|Schwartz, Gary E.||University of Arizona||usa||264||1967||2018||21893|
|Eloff, J.N.||University of Pretoria||zaf||204||1997||2018||23830|
|Birch, Stephen||McMaster University||can||244||1985||2018||31925|
|Wilson, Kenneth H.||Duke University||usa||76||1976||2017||40760|
|Kemper, Kathi J.||Ohio State University||usa||181||1988||2017||45193|
|Oken, Barry S.||Oregon Health and Science University||usa||121||1974||2018||51325|
|Postuma, Ronald B.||McGill University||can||159||1998||2018||61018|
|Patwardhan, Bhushan||University of Pune||ind||144||1989||2018||64465|
|Krucoff, Mitchell W.||Duke University||usa||261||1986||2016||66028|
|Baliga, Manjeshwar Shrinath||142||2002||2018||83030|
|Mischoulon, David||Harvard University||usa||194||1992||2018||91705|
|Büssing, Arndt||University of Witten/Herdecke||deu||207||1980||2018||95907|
|Langevin, Helene M.||Harvard University||usa||67||1999||2018||98290|
|Kuete, Victor||University of Dschang||cmr||239||2005||2018||128347|
|White, Adrian||University of Plymouth||gbr||294||1990||2016||16714|
|Astin, John A.||California Pacific Medical Center||usa||50||1994||2014||21379|
|Kelly, Gregory S.||37||1985||2011||31037|
|Walach, Harald||University of Medical Sciences Poznan||pol||246||1996||2018||31716|
|Berman, Brian M.||University of Maryland School of Medicine||usa||211||1986||2018||34022|
|Lewith, George||University of Southampton||gbr||380||1980||2018||34830|
|Kidd, Parris M.||University of California at Berkeley||usa||38||1976||2011||36571|
|Jonas, Wayne B.||187||1992||2018||42445|
|MacPherson, Hugh||University of York||gbr||143||1996||2018||49923|
|Bell, Iris R.||University of Arizona||usa||142||1984||2015||51016|
|Ritenbaugh, Cheryl||University of Arizona||usa||172||1981||2018||63248|
|Boon, Heather||University of Toronto||can||188||1988||2017||69066|
|Aickin, Mikel||University of Arizona||usa||149||1996||2014||72040|
|Lee, Myeong Soo||430||1996||2018||72358|
|Lao, Lixing||University of Hong Kong||hkg||247||1990||2018||74896|
|Witt, Claudia M.||Charite – Universitatsmedizin Berlin||deu||238||2001||2018||78849|
|Sherman, Karen J.||136||1984||2017||82542|
|Verhoef, Marja J.||University of Calgary||can||190||1989||2016||84314|
|Smith, Caroline A.||University of Western Sydney||aus||135||1979||2018||94130|
|Miller, Alan L.||30||1980||2016||94421|
|Paterson, Charlotte||University of Bristol||gbr||71||1995||2017||95130|
|Milgrom, Lionel R.||London Metropolitan University||gbr||107||1979||2017||112943|
|Adams, Jon||University of Technology NSW||aus||294||1999||2018||128486|
|Litscher, Gerhard||Medical University of Graz||aut||245||1986||2018||133122|
|Chen, Calvin Yu-Chian||China Medical University Taichung||chn||130||2007||2016||164522|
No other researchers are listed in the ‘Complementary&Alternative Medicine’ categories and made it into the list of the 100 000 most-cited scientists.
To make this easier to read, I have ordered all SCAM researchers according to their rank in one single list and, where known to me, added the respective focus in SCAM research (ma = most areas of SCAM):
- ERNST EDZARD (ma)
- DONALDSON JONATHAN
- KAPTCHUK TED (acupuncture)
- EISENBERG DAVID (TCM)
- WHITE ADRIAN (acupuncture)
- LUNDEBERG THOMAS (acupuncture)
- LINDE KLAUS (homeopathy)
- ASTIN JOHN (mind/body)
- SCHWARTZ GARRY (healing)
- ELOFF JN
- KELLY GREGORY
- WALLACH HARALD (homeopathy)
- BIRCH STEVEN (acupuncture)
- BERMAN BRIAN (acupuncture)
- LEWITH GEORGE (acupuncture)
- KIDD PARRIS
- WILSON KENNETH
- JONAS WAYNE (homeopathy)
- KEMPER KATHIE (ma)
- MACPHERSON HUGH (acupuncture)
- BELL IRIS (homeopathy)
- OKEN BARRY (dietary supplements)
- PITTLER MAX (ma)
- PATRICK LYN
- RITENBAUGH CHERYL (ma)
- POSTUMA RONALD
- PATWARDHAN BHUSHAN
- KRUCOFF MICHELL
- BOON HEATHER
- AICKIN MIKEL (ma)
- LEE MYEONG SOO (TCM)
- LAO LIXING (acupuncture)
- WITT CLAUDIA (ma)
- CHIESA ALBERTO
- SHERMAN KAREN (acupuncture)
- BALIGA MANJESHWAR
- VERHOEF MARIA (ma)
- MISCHOULON DAVID
- SMITH CAROLINE (acupuncture)
- MILLER ALAN
- PATERSON CHARLOTTE (ma)
- BUESSING ARNDT (anthroposophical medicine)
- LANGEVIN HELENE (ma)
- CREATH KATHERINE
- MILGROM LIONEL (homeopathy)
- KUETE VICTOR
- ADAMS JON (ma)
- LITSCHER GERHARD
- CHEN CALVIN
The list is interesting in several regards. Principally, it offers individual SCAM researchers for the first time the opportunity to check their international standing relative to their colleagues. But, as the original analysis in Ioannidis’s paper contains much more data than depicted above, there is much further information to be gleaned from it.
For instance, I looked at the rate of self-citation (not least because I have sometimes been accused of overdoing this myself). It turns out that, with 7%, I am relative modest and well below average in that regard. Most of my colleagues are well above that figure. Researchers who have exceptionally high self-citation rates include Buessing (30%), Kuete (43%), Adams (36%), Litscher (45%), and Chen (53%).
The list also opens the possibility to see which countries dominate SCAM research. The dominance of the US seems fairly obvious and would have been expected due to the size of this country and the funds the US put into SCAM research. Considering the lack of funds in the UK, my country ranks surprisingly high, I find. No other country is well-represented in this list. In particular Germany does not appear often (even if we would classify Wallach as German); considering the large amounts of money Germany has invested in SCAM research, this is remarkable and perhaps even a bit shameful, in my view.
Looking at the areas of research, acupuncture and homeopathy seem to stand out. Remarkably, many of the major SCAMs are not or not well represented at all. This is in particular true for herbal medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy.
The list also confirms my former team as the leaders in SCAM research. (Yes, I know: in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.) Pittler, White and Lee were, of course, all former co-workers of mine.
Perhaps the most intriguing finding, I think, relates to the many SCAM researchers who did not make it into the list. Here are a few notable absentees:
- Behnke J – GERMANY (homeopathy)
- Bensoussan A – AUSTRALIA (acupuncture)
- Brinkhaus B – GERMANY (acupuncture)
- Bronfort G – US (chiropractic)
- Chopra D – US (mind/body)
- Cummings M – UK (acupuncture)
- Dixon M – UK (ma)
- Dobos G – GERMANY (ma)
- Fisher P – UK (homeopathy)
- Fonnebo V – NORWAY (ma)
- Frass M – AUSTRIA (homeopathy)
- Goertz C – US (chiropractic)
- Hawk C -US (chiropractic)
- Horneber M – GERMANY (ma)
- Jacobs J – US (homeopathy)
- Jobst K – UK (homeopathy)
- Kraft K – GERMANY (naturopathy)
- Lawrence D – US (chiropractic)
- Long CR – US (chiropractic)
- Meeker WC – US (chiropractic)
- Mathie R – UK (homeopathy)
- Melchart – GERMANY (ma)
- Michalsen A – GERMANY (ma)
- Mills S – UK (herbal medicine)
- Peters D – UK (ma)
- Reilly D -US (homeopathy)
- Reily D – UK (homeopathy)
- Robinson N – UK (ma)
- Streitberger K – GERMANY (acupuncture)
- Tuchin PJ – US (chiropractic)
- Uehleke – GERMANY (naturopathy)
- Ullman D – US (homeopathy)
- Weil A – US (ma)
I leave it to you to interpret this list and invite you to add more SCAM researchers to it.
(thanks to Paul Posadski for helping with the tables)
I have often felt that practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) tend to be foolishly overconfident, often to the point of being dangerous. In a word, they are plagued by hubris.
Here is an example of osteopathic hubris:
The aim of this study was to determine the impact of visceral osteopathy on the incidence of nausea/vomiting, constipation and overall quality of life (QoL) in women operated for breast cancer and undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy in Centre Georges François Leclerc, CGFL.
Ninety-four women operated for a breast cancer stage 1-3, in complete resection and to whom a 3 FEC 100 chemotherapy was prescribed, were randomly allocated to experimental or placebo group. Experimental group underwent a visceral osteopathic technique and placebo group was subjected to a superficial manipulation after each chemotherapy cycle. Rate of grade ≥1 nausea/vomiting or constipation, on the first 3 cycles of FEC 100, were reported. QoL was evaluated using the EORTC QLQ-C30 questionnaire.
Rate of nausea/vomiting episodes of grade ≥1 was high in both experimental and placebo group. Constipation episodes of grade ≥1 were also frequent. No significant differences were found between the two groups concerning the rate of nausea/vomiting (p = 0.569) or constipation (p = 0.204) according to clinician reported side-effects but patient reported impact of constipation and diarrhoea on quality of life was significantly lower in experimental group (p = 0.036 and p = 0.038, respectively).
The authors concluded that osteopathy does not reduce the incidence of nausea/vomiting in women operated for breast cancer and undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy. In contrast, patient reported digestive quality of life was significantly ameliorated by osteopathy.
Several studies have assessed the diagnostic reliability of the techniques involved. The totality of this evidence fails to show that they are sufficiently reliable to be of practical use.
Other studies have tested whether the therapeutic techniques used in visceral osteopathy are effective in curing disease or alleviating symptoms. The totality of this evidence fails to show that visceral osteopathy works for any condition.
The treatment itself is probably safe, yet the risks of visceral osteopathy are nevertheless considerable: if a patient suffers from symptoms related to her inner organs, a visceral osteopath is likely to misdiagnose them and subsequently mistreat them. If the symptoms are due to a serious disease, this would amount to medical neglect and could, in extreme cases, cost the patient’s life.
The key message here should be that visceral osteopathy lacks plausibility. So why test its effectiveness for any condition, especially chemo-induced nausea where there is no conceivable mechanism of action and no hint that it might work?
The answer, I am afraid, might be quite simple: osteopathic hubris!
As most of us know, the use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) can be problematic; its use in children is often most problematic:
- There are hardly any SCAMs that have been shown to work for paediatric conditions.
- Most SCAMs can cause considerable harm to children.
- Some might even amount to child abuse.
- Most SCAM practitioners lack adequate training to treat children.
- Many SCAM providers offer dangerous advice to parents.
- Parents are sometimes unable to differentiate between nonsense and medicine.
- Informed consent can present a trick subject when treating children.
In this context, the statement from the ‘Spanish Association Of Paediatrics Medicines Committee’ is of particular value and importance:
Currently, there are some therapies that are being practiced without adjusting to the available scientific evidence. The terminology is confusing, encompassing terms such as “alternative medicine”, “natural medicine”, “complementary medicine”, “pseudoscience” or “pseudo-therapies”. The Medicines Committee of the Spanish Association of Paediatrics considers that no health professional should recommend treatments not supported by scientific evidence. Also, diagnostic and therapeutic actions should be always based on protocols and clinical practice guidelines. Health authorities and judicial system should regulate and regularize the use of alternative medicines in children, warning parents and prescribers of possible sanctions in those cases in which the clinical evolution is not satisfactory, as well responsibilities are required for the practice of traditional medicine, for health professionals who act without complying with the “lex artis ad hoc”, and for the parents who do not fulfill their duties of custody and protection. In addition, it considers that, as already has happened, Professional Associations should also sanction, or at least reprobate or correct, those health professionals who, under a scientific recognition obtained by a university degree, promote the use of therapies far from the scientific method and current evidence, especially in those cases in which it is recommended to replace conventional treatment with pseudo-therapy, and in any case if said substitution leads to a clinical worsening that could have been avoided.
Of course, not all SCAM professions focus on children. The following, however, treat children regularly:
- anthroposophical doctors
- craniosacral therapists
- energy healers
I believe that all SCAM providers who treat children should consider the above statement very carefully. They must ask themselves whether there is good evidence that their treatments generate more good than harm for their patients. If the answer is not positive, they should stop. If they don’t, they should realise that they behave unethically and quite possibly even illegally.
The effectiveness of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) for improving athletic performance in healthy athletes (or anything else for that matter) is unclear. The objective of this systematic review was to systematically review the literature on the effect of SMT on performance-related outcomes in asymptomatic adults.
The authors searched electronic databases from 1990 to March, 2018. Inclusion criteria was any study examining a performance-related outcome of SMT in asymptomatic adults. Methodological quality was assessed using the SIGN criteria. Studies with a low risk of bias were considered scientifically admissible for a best evidence synthesis.
Of 1415 articles screened, 20 studies had low risk of bias, seven were randomized crossover trials, 10 were randomized controlled trials (RCT) and three were RCT pilot trials. Four studies showed SMT had no effect on physiological parameters at rest or during exercise. There was no effect of SMT on scapular kinematics or transversus abdominus thickness. Three studies identified changes in muscle activation of the upper or lower limb, compared to two that did not. Five studies showed changes in range of motion (ROM). One study showed an increase lumbar proprioception and two identified changes in baropodometric variables after SMT. Sport-specific studies showed no effect of SMT except for a small increase in basketball free-throw accuracy.
The authors, who are all affiliated to the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, concluded that the preponderance of evidence suggests that SMT in comparison to sham or other interventions does not enhance performance-based outcomes in asymptomatic adult population. All studies are exploratory with immediate effects. In the few studies suggesting a positive immediate effect, the importance of such change is uncertain. Further high-quality performance specific studies are required to confirm these preliminary findings.
I think, this says it (almost) all: yet another lucrative claim made by many chiropractors and osteopaths turns out to be not backed up by good evidence. The only thing worth adding is the fact that only 4 of the studies mentioned adverse effects. This means the vast majority of studies failed to comply with this basic requirement of research ethics – and this really says it all!
Treating children is an important income stream for chiropractors and osteopaths. There is plenty of evidence to suspect that their spinal manipulations generate more harm than good; on this blog, we have discussed this problem more often than I care to remember (see for instance here, here, here, here and here). Yet, osteopaths and chiropractors carry on misleading parents to abuse their children with ineffective and dangerous spinal manipulations. A new and thorough assessment of the evidence seems to confirm this suspicion.
This systematic review evaluated the evidence for effectiveness and harms of specific SMT techniques for infants, children and adolescents. Controlled studies, describing primary SMT treatment in infants (<1 year) and children/adolescents (1-18 years), were included to determine effectiveness.
Of the 1,236 identified studies, 26 studies were eligible. Infants and children/adolescents were treated for various (non-)musculoskeletal indications, hypothesized to be related to spinal joint dysfunction. Studies examining the same population, indication and treatment comparison were scarce. The results showed that:
- Due to very low quality evidence, it is uncertain whether gentle, low-velocity mobilizations reduce complaints in infants with colic or torticollis, and whether high-velocity, low-amplitude manipulations reduce complaints in children/adolescents with autism, asthma, nocturnal enuresis, headache or idiopathic scoliosis.
- Five case reports described severe harms after HVLA manipulations in 4 infants and one child. Mild, transient harms were reported after gentle spinal mobilizations in infants and children, and could be interpreted as side effect of treatment.
The authors concluded that due to very low quality of the evidence, the effectiveness of gentle, low-velocity mobilizations in infants and HVLA manipulations in children and/or adolescents is uncertain. Assessments of intermediate outcomes are lacking in current pediatric SMT research. Therefore, the relationship between specific treatment and its effect on the hypothesized spinal dysfunction remains unclear. Gentle, low-velocity spinal mobilizations seem to be a safe treatment technique. Although scarcely reported, HVLA manipulations in infants and young children could lead to severe harms. Severe harms were likely to be associated with unexamined or missed underlying medical pathology. Nevertheless, there is a need for high quality research to increase certainty about effectiveness and safety of specific SMT techniques in infants, children and adolescents. We encourage conduction of controlled studies that focus on the effectiveness of specific SMT techniques on spinal dysfunction, instead of concluding about SMT as a general treatment approach. Large observational studies could be conducted to monitor the course of complaints/symptoms in children and to gain a greater understanding of potential harms.
The situation regarding spinal manipulation for children might be summarised as follows:
- Spinal manipulations are not demonstrably effective for paediatric conditions.
- They can cause serious direct and indirect harm.
- Chiropractors and osteopaths are not usually competent to treat children.
- They nevertheless treat children regularly.
In my view, this is unethical and can amount to child abuse.