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

pregnancy

The Sunday Times reported yesterday reported that five NHS trusts currently offer moxibustion to women in childbirth for breech babies, i.e. babies presenting upside down. Moxibustion is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where mugwort is burned close to acupuncture points. The idea is that this procedure would stimulate the acupuncture point similar to the more common way using needle insertion. The fifth toe is viewed as the best traditional acupuncture point for breech presentation, and the treatment is said to turn the baby in the uterus so that it can be delivered more easily.

At least four NHS trusts are offering acupuncture and reflexology with aromatherapy to help women with delayed pregnancies, while 15 NHS trusts offer hypnobirthing classes. Some women are asked to pay fees of up to £140 for it. These treatments are supposed to relax the mother in the hope that this will speed up the process of childbirth.

The Nice guidelines on maternity care say the NHS should not offer acupuncture, acupressure, or hypnosis unless specifically requested by women. The reason for the Nice warning is simple: there is no convincing evidence that these therapies are effective.

Campaigner Catherine Roy who compiled the list of treatments said: “To one degree or another, the Royal College of Midwives, the Care Quality Commission and parts of the NHS support these pseudoscientific treatments.

“They are seen as innocuous but they carry risks, can delay medical help and participate in an anti-medicalisation stance specific to ‘normal birth’ ideology and maternity care. Nice guidelines are clear that they should not be offered by clinicians for treatment. NHS England must ensure that pseudoscience and non-evidence based treatments are removed from NHS maternity care.”

Birte Harlev-Lam, executive director of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “We want every woman to have as positive an experience during pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period as possible — and, most importantly, we want that experience to be safe. That is why we recommend all maternity services to follow Nice guidance and for midwives to practise in line with the code set out by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.”

A spokeswoman for Nice said it was reviewing its maternity guidelines. NHS national clinical director for maternity and women’s health, Dr Matthew Jolly, said: “All NHS services are expected to offer safe and personalised clinical care and local NHS areas should commission core maternity services using the latest NICE and clinical guidance. NHS trusts are under no obligation to provide complementary or alternative therapies on top of evidence-based clinical care, but where they do in response to the wishes of mothers it is vital that the highest standards of safety are maintained.”

On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed the strange love affair of midwives with so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), for instance, here. In 2012, we published a summary of 19 surveys on the subject. It showed that the prevalence of SCAM use varied but was often close to 100%. Much of it did not seem to be supported by strong evidence for efficacy. We concluded that most midwives seem to use SCAM. As not all SCAMs are without risks, the issue should be debated openly. Today, there is plenty more evidence to show that the advice of midwives regarding SCAM is not just not evidence-based but also often dangerous. This, of course, begs the question: when will the professional organizations of midwifery do something about it?

Acupuncture is emerging as a potential therapy for relieving pain, but the effectiveness of acupuncture for relieving low back and/or pelvic pain (LBPP) during pregnancy remains controversial. This meta-analysis aimed to investigate the effects of acupuncture on pain, functional status, and quality of life for women with LBPP pain during pregnancy.

The authors included all RCTs evaluating the effects of acupuncture on LBPP during pregnancy. Data extraction and study quality assessments were independently performed by three reviewers. The mean differences (MDs) with 95% CIs for pooled data were calculated. The primary outcomes were pain, functional status, and quality of life. The secondary outcomes were overall effects (a questionnaire at a post-treatment visit within a week after the last treatment to determine the number of people who received good or excellent help), analgesic consumption, Apgar scores >7 at 5 min, adverse events, gestational age at birth, induction of labor and mode of birth.

Ten studies, reporting on a total of 1040 women, were included. Overall, acupuncture

  • relieved pain during pregnancy (MD=1.70, 95% CI: (0.95 to 2.45), p<0.00001, I2=90%),
  • improved functional status (MD=12.44, 95% CI: (3.32 to 21.55), p=0.007, I2=94%),
  • improved quality of life (MD=−8.89, 95% CI: (−11.90 to –5.88), p<0.00001, I2 = 57%).

There was a significant difference in overall effects (OR=0.13, 95% CI: (0.07 to 0.23), p<0.00001, I2 = 7%). However, there was no significant difference in analgesic consumption during the study period (OR=2.49, 95% CI: (0.08 to 80.25), p=0.61, I2=61%) and Apgar scores of newborns (OR=1.02, 95% CI: (0.37 to 2.83), p=0.97, I2 = 0%). Preterm birth from acupuncture during the study period was reported in two studies. Although preterm contractions were reported in two studies, all infants were in good health at birth. In terms of gestational age at birth, induction of labor, and mode of birth, only one study reported the gestational age at birth (mean gestation 40 weeks).

The authors concluded that acupuncture significantly improved pain, functional status and quality of life in women with LBPP during the pregnancy. Additionally, acupuncture had no observable severe adverse influences on the newborns. More large-scale and well-designed RCTs are still needed to further confirm these results.

What should we make of this paper?

In case you are in a hurry: NOT A LOT!

In case you need more, here are a few points:

  • many trials were of poor quality;
  • there was evidence of publication bias;
  • there was considerable heterogeneity within the studies.

The most important issue is one studiously avoided in the paper: the treatment of the control groups. One has to dig deep into this paper to find that the control groups could be treated with “other treatments, no intervention, and placebo acupuncture”. Trials comparing acupuncture combined plus other treatments with other treatments were also considered to be eligible. In other words, the analyses included studies that compared acupuncture to no treatment at all as well as studies that followed the infamous ‘A+Bversus B’ design. Seven studies used no intervention or standard of care in the control group thus not controlling for placebo effects.

Nobody can thus be in the slightest surprised that the overall result of the meta-analysis was positive – false positive, that is! And the worst is that this glaring limitation was not discussed as a feature that prevents firm conclusions.

Dishonest researchers?

Biased reviewers?

Incompetent editors?

Truly unbelievable!!!

In consideration of these points, let me rephrase the conclusions:

The well-documented placebo (and other non-specific) effects of aacupuncture improved pain, functional status and quality of life in women with LBPP during the pregnancy. Unsurprisingly, acupuncture had no observable severe adverse influences on the newborns. More large-scale and well-designed RCTs are not needed to further confirm these results.

PS

I find it exasperating to see that more and more (formerly) reputable journals are misleading us with such rubbish!!!

Earlier this year, I started the ‘WORST PAPER OF 2022 COMPETITION’. As a competition without a prize is no fun, I am offering the winner (that is the lead author of the winning paper) one of my books that best fits his/her subject. I am sure this will overjoy him or her.

And how do we identify the winner? I will continue blogging about nominated papers (I hope to identify about 10 in total), and towards the end of the year, I let my readers decide democratically.

In this spirit of democratic voting, let me suggest to you ENTRY No 8 (it is so impressive that I must show you the unadulterated abstract):

Introduction

Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) seriously affects the quality of life of women. However, most women do not have access to effective treatment.

Aim

This study aimed to determine the feasibility and effectiveness of the use of acupuncture in FSD treatment based on existing clear acupuncture protocol and experience-supported face-to-face therapy.

Methods

A retrospective analysis was performed on 24 patients with FSD who received acupuncture from October 2018 to February 2022. The Chinese version of the female sexual function index , subjective sensation, sexual desire, sexual arousal, vaginal lubrication, orgasm, sexual satisfaction, and dyspareunia scores were compared before and after the treatment in all 24 patients.

Main Outcome Measure

A specific female sexual function index questionnaire was used to assess changes in female sexual function before and after the acupuncture treatment.

Results

In this study, the overall treatment improvement rate of FSD was 100%. The Chinese version of the female sexual function index total score, sexual desire score, sexual arousal score, vaginal lubrication score, orgasm score, sexual satisfaction score, and dyspareunia score during intercourse were significantly different before and after the treatment (P < .05). Consequently, participants reported high levels of satisfaction with acupuncture. This study indicates that acupuncture could be a new and effective technique for treating FSD. The main advantages of this study are its design and efficacy in treating FSD. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of FSD using the female sexual function index scale from 6 dimensions. The second advantage is that the method used (ie, the nonpharmacological method) is simple, readily available, highly safe with few side effects, and relatively inexpensive with high patient satisfaction. However, limitations include small sample size and lack of further detailed grouping, pre and post control study of patients, blank control group, and pre and post control study of sex hormones.

Conclusion

Acupuncture can effectively treat FSD from all dimensions with high safety, good satisfaction, and definite curative effect, and thus, it is worthy of promotion and application.

My conclusion is very different: acupuncture can effectively kill any ability for critical thinking.

I hardly need to list the flaws of this paper – they are all too obvious, e.g.:

  • there is no control group; the results might therefore be due to a host of factors that are unrelated to acupuncture,
  • the trial was too small to allow far-reaching conclusions,
  • the study does not tell us anything about the safety of acupuncture.

The authors call their investigation a ‘pilot study’. Does that excuse the flimsiness of their effort? No! A pilot study cannot draw conclusions such as the above.

What’s the harm? you might ask; nobody will ever read such rubbish and nobody will have the bizarre idea to use acupuncture for treating FSD. I’m afraid you would be wrong to argue in this way. The paper already got picked up by THE DAILY MAIL in an article entitled “Flailing libido? Acupuncture could help boost sex drive, scientists say” which was as devoid of critical thinking as the original study. Thus we can expect that hundreds of desperate women are already getting needled and ripped off as we speak. And in any case, offensively poor science is always harmful; it undermines public trust in research (and it renders acupuncture research the laughing stock of serious scientists).

 

I have often called out unreliable or fraudulent research in the realm of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I think it is important to do so because the abundance of scientific misconduct is such that it has become a danger to public health. Today, I present yet another example:

This recent review claimed to summarize the evidence on TCM in treating MI, the clinical evaluations of TCM in treating male infertility (MI), and the molecular mechanisms of TCM effects. I was alerted to the fact that the authors cite a paper on acupuncture that I had co-authored. Here is the section in question from the review:

Acupuncture is one of the therapeutic techniques that are part of TCM. Acupuncture is a non-invasive technique and is regarded as free of risk if performed by trained personnel [35]. One of the advantages of acupuncture was that the incidence of adverse effects was substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted [35]. Acupuncture has been used in the treatment of male and female infertility and in assisted reproductive technology treatments for many years. A total of 100 patients with MI who met the diagnostic criteria were randomly divided into two groups [7]. Half of the patients received acupuncture treatment, and the other half received placebo acupuncture. After 10 weeks treatment, acupuncture successfully improved the indicators of the semen, including the spermatozoa survival rate, b-level activity rate, sperm density, sperm activity rate. A total of 28 infertile patients with severe oligoasthenozoospermia received acupuncture according to the principles of acupuncture and 29 infertile patients received placebo acupuncture. A significantly higher percentage of motile sperm (World Health Organization categories A-C), but no effect on sperm concentration, was found after acupuncture compared with placebo acupuncture [36]. Of the 279 cases of male sterility treated by the combination of acupuncture, pilose antler essence injection to acupoints and oral administration of Chinese materia medica, 142 cases (47.8%) were cured, 81 cases (27.3%) markedly effective, 53 cases (17.8%) effective and 21 cases (7.1%) ineffective [37]. The therapeutic effect of the combination of these three treatments was satisfactory.

Ref 7

Emerging evidence has shown that cell-cell interactions between testicular cells, in particular at the Sertoli cell-cell and Sertoli-germ cell interface, are crucial to support spermatogenesis. The unique ultrastructures that support cell-cell interactions in the testis are the basal ES (ectoplasmic specialization) and the apical ES. The basal ES is found between adjacent Sertoli cells near the basement membrane that also constitute the blood-testis barrier (BTB). The apical ES is restrictively expressed at the Sertoli-spermatid contact site in the apical (adluminal) compartment of the seminiferous epithelium. These ultrastructures are present in both rodent and human testes, but the majority of studies found in the literature were done in rodent testes. As such, our discussion herein, unless otherwise specified, is focused on studies in testes of adult rats. Studies have shown that the testicular cell-cell interactions crucial to support spermatogenesis are mediated through distinctive signaling proteins and pathways, most notably involving FAK, Akt1/2 and Cdc42 GTPase. Thus, manipulation of some of these signaling proteins, such as FAK, through the use of phosphomimetic mutants for overexpression in Sertoli cell epithelium in vitro or in the testis in vivo, making FAK either constitutively active or inactive, we can modify the outcome of spermatogenesis. For instance, using the toxicant-induced Sertoli cell or testis injury in rats as study models, we can either block or rescue toxicant-induced infertility through overexpression of p-FAK-Y397 or p-FAK-Y407 (and their mutants), including the use of specific activator(s) of the involved signaling proteins against pAkt1/2. These findings thus illustrate that a potential therapeutic approach can be developed to manage toxicant-induced male reproductive dysfunction. In this review, we critically evaluate these recent findings, highlighting the direction for future investigations by bringing the laboratory-based research through a translation path to clinical investigations.

This paper does not relate to the statement it is meant to support by the review authors.

Ref 35

The review by Qin et al (1) includes 5 trials none of which should have been included in a quality metaanalysis as the methodology was unconvincing: In the trial by Alraek et al., patients were randomised to receive either acupuncture or no treatment. This means that no attempt was made to control for the effects of placebo or extra attention. Therefore, this study does not demonstrate an effect of acupuncture as the outcome could be due to non-specific effects unrelated with this therapy. By contrast, the trial by Aune et al. did attempt to control for placebo effects by using a sham control group. Sham acupuncture was given using six needles superficially inserted in the calves, thighs or abdomen outside known acupuncture points or meridians. Needles were not manipulated in the sham group. Sham or placebo controls have the purpose of rendering patients unaware of whether they receive the real or the sham treatment. The method used here cannot achieve this aim; patients would be easily able to tell which intervention they received. In other words, this study also did not adequately control for placebo effects. The remaining three trials are all not Medline-listed, authored by Chinese investigators and published in inaccessible journals. This should disqualify them from inclusion as they were unverifiable by the peer review process. According to the published table, they were equivalence trials of acupuncture versus antibiotics with a sample size around 30. This means they are grossly underpowered and thus unable to generate reliable results. Unless BJOG peer reviewers could see the primary articles, or be provided with translations from Chinese, the systematic review should not have been accepted. The “many eyes of science” requires transparency, testing, challenge and verification. Although in the past, inconclusive results of acupuncture have not been thought to be due to Chinese influence (2), it has been noted that virtually all recent published acupuncture trials are “positive” (3), raising questions of publication and other biases. Our colleagues are under tremendous pressure to publish, but we do them no favours by effectively lowering the standard of scientific peer review. Elite journals too have an obligation to train and reiterate about publication ethics and sound scientific writing (4). As none of the primary studies convincingly demonstrated that acupuncture is an effective therapy for recurrent urinary tract infections, no positive conclusion was warranted. Although Qin et al. did state that the risk of bias of the included trials was generally high or unclear (1), the BJOG nevertheless allowed them to turn massive uncertainty into relatively firm, positive conclusions in the abstract (“Acupuncture appeared to be beneficial for treatment and prophylaxis of rUTIs”) and tweetable abstract (“This review found that acupuncture may improve treatment and prevent recurrence of urinary tract infection in women”), thus leading to excited media headlines that inevitably mislead the public. ‘May’ is a weasel word which should be avoided as it is unfalsifiable (for example, pigs do not fly but they ‘may’ fly in the future). The definite, straightforward conclusion must be “There is no good evidence to support the use of acupuncture for the treatment and prophylaxis of recurrent UTIs”. It is not acceptable to give international credibility to an implausible modality that no objective, independent high-quality review has found effective beyond placebo (5). The dampening accompanying mini-commentary (6) does not undo the damage.
The review should be withdrawn while the primary papers are translated for peer reviewers to examine, the above limitations discussed in the text, and the positive ‘spin’ in conclusions corrected. These improvements would consolidate the researchers’ probity and justify the accolade of BJOG publication.

Our letter to the editor does not bear any relation to the statement it is meant to support by the review authors.

Ref 36

In this first prospective, randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled study, 28 infertile patients with severe oligoasthenozoospermia received acupuncture according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and 29 infertile patients received placebo acupuncture. A significantly higher percentage of motile sperm (World Health Organization categories A–C), but no effect on sperm concentration, was found after acupuncture compared with placebo acupuncture.

This small study is far from convincing and does not lend itself to far-reaching conclusions

Ref 37

Of the 279 cases of male sterility treated by the combination of acupuncture, pilose antler
essence injection to acupoints and oral administration of Chinese materia medica, 142
cases (47.8%) were cured, 81 cases (27.3%) markedly effective, 53 cases (17.8%) effective
and 21 cases (7.1%) ineffective. The therapeutic effect of the combination of these three
treatments was satisfactory.

This study had no control group and used two different therapies. Therefore, it does not allow any conclusion about the effectiveness of acupuncture.

____________________

Perhaps you feel that these errors are trivial. But I would disagree. The review authors’ praise of acupuncture for MI is misplaced and will mislead the public. There are plenty of reviews on the subject, and those that are not overtly biased arrive at conclusions like these:

So, how did this sloppy review come about?

Its authors are affiliated to the TCM Regulating Metabolic Diseases Key Laboratory of Sichuan Province, Hospital of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chengdu 610072, China, and the Tea Research Institute, Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Chengdu 610066, China. A footnote tells us that their review was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China [No. 81973647] and the Xinglin scholar discipline promotion talent program of Chengdu University of traditional Chinese medicine [No. BSH2021018]. This sounds respectable enough.

The journal that published the review is ‘Pharmacological Research – Modern Chinese Medicine‘. Its stated aims are as follows: The journal publishes articles reporting on advances in our comprehension of mechanism and safety in experimental pharmacology and clinical efficacy and safety of pharmacologically active substances, including compound prescriptions, utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine applying modern scientific research methods. Studies reporting also on the mechanisms of actions of the active substance(s) investigated are encouraged.

The editors in chief of the journal are Guan-Hua Du, PhD, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences Institute of Chinese Materia Medica, Beijing, China and Emilio Clementi, M.Mus, MD, PhD, University of Milan, Milan, Italy. No doubt, these are respectable scientists. And because they are, they should make sure that what they publish is correct – a criterion this recent review clearly does not meet.

Many chiropractors seem to view the present pandemic as a business opportunity and make no end of false claims to attract customers. This has now been outlawed in the US. Medscape reported that a US district court will decide whether a chiropractor who is charged with 10 counts of making false marketing claims related to COVID-19 will be the first person convicted under a new federal law.

On his website, chiropractor ‘Dr.’ Eric Neptune advertises his services as follows:

Have you ever been told by your medical doctor that you or a member of your family had a specific disease, syndrome, or sickness? Did your doctor then recommend a drug or surgery to fix the issue, or tell you that you would have to live with it for the rest of your life? If so, you are not alone!

Nepute Wellness Center is unlike any medical clinic you may have been to. The clinic team is focused on finding and fixing the CAUSE of your problem vs. seeking out and treating only the SYMPTOMS. Nepute Wellness Center is equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and testing, as well as medical doctors, nurses, and chiropractors who have been uniquely trained to treat your whole body, regardless of age, and return your body to a healthy balance so that it can heal itself the way God intended.

If you are tired of trying to treat your symptoms using prescription and over-the-counter pills, or even considering surgery, then Nepute Wellness Center may be right for you! Or like many, you want to be proactive with your health and prevent sickness and disease before you begin to suffer any symptoms, allowing you to live the full life you deserve, then make Nepute Wellness Center your partner in health!

Already over a year ago, Eric Nepute, the owner of Quickwork, based in St. Louis, Missouri, managed to make headlines. He had recorded a video that racked up more than 21 million views and suggested that drinking tonic water would prevent COVID-19 infections. Now, Mr. Neptune is the first person charged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the new COVID- 19 Consumer Protection Act. His company which has several locations in St. Louis County advertised its vitamin D and zinc products on social media and the internet as drugs that could treat or prevent COVID-19 claiming that their products are “more effective than the available COVID-19 vaccines”.

The FTC warned Nepute’s company in May 2020 about making unsubstantiated claims for other products regarding efficacy against COVID-19 and advised him to immediately stop making claims that were not supported by scientific evidence. However, Nepute seemed undeterred.

The FTC is seeking to fine Nepute and Quickwork up to US$43,792 for each violation of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. In addition, the FTC seeks to bar the company from making health claims unless they are true and can be substantiated by scientific evidence.

Through his attorney, Neptune told the local NBC TV news affiliate, “I feel that I have not done anything wrong. I encourage everyone to live a healthy lifestyle during this unprecedented time. My attorneys are reviewing the complaint and I have no further comments at this time.”

If you ask me, it is time that all counties make the publication of false medical claims illegal as well – not just those made by chiros, and not just those related to COVID-19 either.

 

I have become used to lamentably poor research in the realm of SCAM, particularly homeopathy. Thus, there is little that can amaze me these days; at least this is what I had thought. But this paper is an exception. The new trial is entitled ‘ETHICAL CLINICAL TRIAL OF LESSER KNOWN HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES IN INFERTILITY IN FEMALES’, and it is truly outstanding. Here is the abstract:

Background & Objective:  Homoeopathy with time honoured results, has a great number of cured cases of infertility, but without much evidence. So, it is imperative to show scientifically the scope of homoeopathy in treating infertility cases. Materials and Methodology: 7 lesser known medicines (Alteris farinosa, Janosia Ashoka, Viburnum opulus, Euphonium, Ustilago, Bacillus sycocuss, Bacillus morgan) were prescribed to the sample size (n=23), at the project site O.P.D/I.P.D. of Homoeopathy university, Saipura, Jaipur and Dr Madan Pratap Khunteta Homoeopathic Medical College, Hospital & Research Centre, Station Road, Jaipur & its extension O.P.D.’s. for study within 12 months. Result-In the present study 7 (30.43%) patients were prescribed Janosia Ashoka amongst whom 2(28.57%) showed marked improvement, while 5(71.43%) remained in the state of status quo. Conclusion- Study has shown encouraging and effective treatment in infertility in females.

It does not tell us much; therefore, let me copy several crucial passages from the paper itself:

Objectives of the study-

  • To study the efficacy of homoeopathic medicines in the treatment of infertility in females.
  • To enhance the knowledge of materia medica in cases of infertility in females.

Material and Methodology-

The study was conducted at O.P.D./I.P.D.of Homoeopathy University, Saipura, Sanganer and Dr M.P.K. Homoeopathic Medical College &Research Centre, Station Road, Jaipur from 2010 to 2013 for a total period of 3 Years. A sample size of n=23 and 7 lesser known remedies were selected for the studies.

Result-

Inferences- Based on clinical symptoms and pathological investigations. It was inferred that out of 23 patients taken for study, 2 (8.69%) patients showed marked improvement, while 21 (91.31%) patients remained in the state of status quo.

_________________________________________________

No, I am not kidding you. There is no further relevant information about the trial methodology nor about the results. Therefore, I feel unable to even criticise this study; it is even too awful for a critique.

As I said: outstanding!

And all this could be quite funny – except, of course, some nutter will undoubtedly use this paper for claiming that there is evidence for homeopathy to efficiently treat female infertility.

You have to be a homeopath to call this an ethical trial!

I regularly scan the new publications in alternative medicine hoping that I find some good quality research. And sometimes I do! In such happy moments, I write a post and make sure that I stress the high standard of a paper.

Sadly, such events are rare. Usually, my searches locate a multitude of deplorably poor papers. Most of the time, I ignore them. Sometime, I do write about exemplarily bad science, and often I report about articles that are not just bad but dangerous as well. The following paper falls into this category, I fear.

The aim of this systematic review was to assess the efficacy and safety of herbal medicines for the induction of labor (IOL). The researchers considered experimental and non-experimental studies that compared relevant pregnancy outcomes between users and non-user of herbal medicines for IOL.

A total of 1421 papers were identified and 10 studies, including 5 RCTs met the authors’ inclusion criteria. Papers not published in English were not considered. Three trials were conducted in Iran, two in the USA and one each in South Africa, Israel, Thailand, Australia and Italy.

The quality of the included trial, even of the 5 RCTs, was poor. The results suggest, according to the authors of this paper, that users of herbal medicine – raspberry leaf and castor oil – for IOL were significantly more likely to give birth within 24 hours than non-users. No significant difference in the incidence of caesarean section, assisted vaginal delivery, haemorrhage, meconium-stained liquor and admission to nursery was found between users and non-users of herbal medicines for IOL.

The authors concluded that the findings suggest that herbal medicines for IOL are effective, but there is inconclusive evidence of safety due to lack of good quality data. Thus, the use of herbal medicines for IOL should be avoided until safety issues are clarified. More studies are recommended to establish the safety of herbal medicines.

As I stated above, I am not convinced that this review is any good. It included all sorts of study designs and dismissed papers that were not in English. Surely this approach can only generate a distorted or partial picture. The risks of herbal remedies for mother and baby are not well investigated. In view of the fact that even the 5 RCTs were of poor quality, the first sentence of this conclusion seems most inappropriate.

On the basis of the evidence presented, I feel compelled to urge pregnant women NOT to consent to accept herbal remedies for IOL.

And on the basis of the fact that far too many papers on alternative medicine that emerge every day are not just poor quality but also dangerously mislead the public, I urge publishers, editors, peer-reviewers and researchers to pause and remember that they all have a responsibility. This nonsense has been going on for long enough; it is high time to stop it.

We recently discussed the deplorable case of Larry Nassar and the fact that the ‘American Osteopathic Association’ stated that intravaginal manipulations are indeed an approved osteopathic treatment. At the time, I thought this was a shocking claim. So, imagine my surprise when I was alerted to a German trial of osteopathic intravaginal manipulations.

Here is the full and unaltered abstract of the study:

Introduction: 50 to 80% of pregnant women suffer from low back pain (LBP) or pelvic pain (Sabino und Grauer, 2008). There is evidence for the effectiveness of manual therapy like osteopathy, chiropractic and physiotherapy in pregnant women with LBP or pelvic pain (Liccardione et al., 2010). Anatomical, functional and neural connections support the relationship between intrapelvic dysfunctions and lumbar and pelvic pain (Kanakaris et al., 2011). Strain, pressure and stretch of visceral and parietal peritoneum, bladder, urethra, rectum and fascial tissue can result in pain and secondary in muscle spasm. Visceral mobility, especially of the uterus and rectum, can induce tension on the inferior hypogastric plexus, which may influence its function. Thus, stretching the broad ligament of the uterus and the intrapelvic fascia tissue during pregnancy can reinforce the influence of the inferior hypogastric plexus. Based on above facts an additional intravaginal treatment seems to be a considerable approach in the treatment of low back pain in pregnant women.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to compare the effect of osteopathic treatment including intravaginal techniques versus osteopathic treatment only in females with pregnancy-related low back pain.
Methods: Design: The study was performed as a randomized controlled trial. The participants were randomized by drawing lots, either into the intervention group including osteopathic and additional intravaginal treatment (IV) or a control group with osteopathic treatment only (OI). Setting: Medical practice in south of Germany.
Participants 46 patients were recruited between the 30th and 36th week of pregnancy suffering from low back pain.
Intervention Both groups received three treatments within a period of three weeks. Both groups were treated with visceral, mobilization, and myofascial techniques in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, the pelvic and the abdominal region (American Osteopathic Association Guidelines, 2010). The IV group received an additional treatment with intravaginal techniques in supine position. This included myofascial techniques of the M. levator ani and the internal obturator muscles, the vaginal tissue, the pubovesical and uterosacral ligaments as well as the inferior hypogastric plexus.
Main outcome measures As primary outcome the back pain intensity was measured by Visual Analogue Scale (VAS). Secondary outcome was the disability index assessed by Oswestry-Low-Back-Pain-Disability-Index (ODI), and Pregnancy-Mobility-Index (PMI).
Results: 46 participants were randomly assigned into the intervention group (IV; n = 23; age: 29.0 ±4.8 years; height: 170.1 ±5.8 cm; weight: 64.2 ±10.3 kg; BMI: 21.9 ±2.6 kg/m2) and the control group (OI; n = 23; age: 32.0 ±3.9 years; height: 168.1 ±3.5 cm; weight: 62.3 ±7.9 kg; BMI: 22.1 ±3.2 kg/m2). Data from 42 patients were included in the final analyses (IV: n=20; OI: n=22), whereas four patients dropped out due to general pregnancy complications. Back pain intensity (VAS) changed significantly in both groups: in the intervention group (IV) from 59.8 ±14.8 to 19.6 ±8.4 (p<0.05) and in the control group (OI) from 57.4 ±11.3 to 24.7 ±12.8. The difference between groups of 7.5 (95%CI: -16.3 to 1.3) failed to demonstrate statistical significance (p=0.93). Pregnancy-Mobility-Index (PMI) changed significantly in both groups, too. IV group: from 33.4 ±8.9 to 29.6 ±6.6 (p<0.05), control group (OI): from 36.3 ±5.2 to 29.7 ±6.8. The difference between groups of 2.6 (95%CI: -5.9 to 0.6) was not statistically significant (p=0.109). Oswestry-Low-Back-Pain-Disability-Index (ODI) changed significantly in the intervention group (IV) from 15.1 ±7.8 to 9.2 ±3.6 (p<0.05) and also significantly in the control group (OI) from 13.8 ±4.9 to 9.2 ±3.0. Between-groups difference of 1.3 (95%CI: -1.5 to 4.1) was not statistically significant (p=0.357).
Conclusions: In this sample a series of osteopathic treatments showed significant effects in reducing pain and increasing the lumbar range of motion in pregnant women with low back pain. Both groups attained clinically significant improvement in functional disability, activity and quality of life. Furthermore, no benefit of additional intravaginal treatment was observed.

END OF QUOTE

My first thoughts after reading this were: how on earth did the investigators get this past an ethics committee? It cannot be ethical, in my view, to allow osteopaths (in Germany, they have no relevant training to speak of) to manipulate women intravaginally. How deluded must an osteopath be to plan and conduct such a trial? What were the patients told before giving informed consent? Surely not the truth!

My second thoughts were about the scientific validity of this study: the hypothesis which this trial claims to be testing is a far-fetched extrapolation, to put it mildly; in fact, it is not a hypothesis, it’s a very daft idea. The control-intervention is inadequate in that it cannot control for the (probably large) placebo effects of intravaginal manipulations. The observed outcomes are based on within-group comparisons and are therefore most likely unrelated to the treatments applied. The conclusion is as barmy as it gets; a proper conclusion should clearly and openly state that the results did not show any effects of the intravaginal manipulations.

In summary, this is a breathtakingly idiotic trial, and everyone involved in it (ethics committee, funding body, investigators, statistician, reviewers, journal editor) should be deeply ashamed and apologise to the poor women who were abused in a most deplorable fashion.

Placentophagy is the act of eating the placenta after childbirth. It seems to be advocated widely. But why would anyone even think of doing such a weird thing?

According to Wikipedia, the placenta contains high levels of prostaglandin. Prostaglandin stimulates involution (an inward curvature or penetration, or, a shrinking or return to a former size) of the uterus. The placenta also contains small amounts of oxytocin which eases birth stress and causes the smooth muscles around the mammary cells to contract and eject milk.

Wiki also tells us that human placenta has also been an ingredient in some traditional Chinese medicines, including using dried human placenta, known as “Ziheche” (simplified Chinese: 紫河车; traditional Chinese: 紫河車; pinyin: Zǐhéchē), to treat wasting diseases, infertility, impotence and other conditions. Most recently, the Center for Disease Control published a report of a newborn infected with Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria likely after the mother ingested placenta capsules. Consequently, the CDC said that placenta capsule ingestion should be avoided and to educate mothers interested in placenta encapsulation about the potential risks. A recent publication advised that physicians should discourage placentophagy because it is potentially harmful with no documented benefit.

The benefits of placentophagy are, according to many proponents of this therapy, considerable. This website, for instance, claims the following effects:

START OF QUOTE

BALANCE HORMONES
When  a woman births the placenta, she loses the many useful hormones contained in it that were produced during pregnancy.  It can take months for the body to balance these hormones again. Taking placenta pills helps reintroduce these hormones into the mother’s body  in small doses, until her body resumes its natural hormonal balance.

DECREASE THE INCIDENCE OF POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
Iron-deficiency in postpartum women can lead to fatigue, and may be a contributing factor to depressive symptoms. The placenta is extremely rich in natural iron and can be a valuable and natural resource to replenish the mother’s lost iron supply.  It is also rich in naturally-produced B6 which is often used to combat depression.  Many mothers find the combination of these substances in placenta encapsulation to be helpful in improving their post-birth emotional experience.

INCREASE ENERGY & FACILITATE FASTER HEALING
The placenta contains hormones and nutrients that have been found to increase energy and promote healing.  It is also rich in naturally-produced iron and protein, which can help replenish the mother’s nutrients following childbirth.

LESSEN POSTPARTUM BLEEDING
Historically, midwives have utilized a small portion of the placenta to control postpartum bleeding during and after childbirth.  Placenta pills contain these same hormones and can lessen bleeding and help promote uterine healing.

PROMOTE HEALTHY BREAST MILK PRODUCTION
The  placenta contains Human Placental Lactogen and Prolactin, which help prepare the mammary glands and stimulate milk production.  These are often beneficial in successful breastfeeding of a new infant.

END OF QUOTE

As we all know, bogus claims abound in alternative medicine; the question, as always is: are they true?

There have been no studies of whether placentophagy provides hormonal effects in humans, Wiki claims. But this last statement is no longer true. The first human trial of placentophagy has just been published. The objective of this study was to investigate whether salivary hormone concentrations of women ingesting their own encapsulated placenta during the early postpartum differed from those of women consuming a placebo.

Randomly assigned participants (N=27) were given a supplement containing either their dehydrated and homogenized placenta (n=12), or placebo (n=15). Saliva samples were collected during late pregnancy and early postpartum. Samples of participants’ processed placenta, and the encapsulated placebo, were also collected. Hormone analyses were conducted on all samples utilizing liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry.

The results show that there were no significant differences in salivary hormone concentrations between the placenta and placebo groups post-supplementation that did not exist pre-supplementation. There were, however, significant dose-response relationships between the concentration of all 15 detected hormones in the placenta capsules and corresponding salivary hormone measures in placenta group participants not seen in the placebo group. The higher salivary concentrations of these hormones in the placenta group reflects the higher concentrations of these hormones in the placenta supplements, compared to the placebo.

In a second paper on the same trial, the authors assessed the maternal mood, bonding, and fatigue via validated scales across 4 time points during late pregnancy and early postpartum.

The results show no significant main effects related to maternal mood, bonding, or fatigue between placenta and placebo group participants. However, examination of individual time points suggested that some measures had specific time-related differences between placenta and placebo groups that may warrant future exploration. Though statistical significance should not be interpreted in these cases, the authors did find some evidence of a decrease in depressive symptoms within the placenta group but not the placebo group, and reduced fatigue in placenta group participants at the end of the study compared to the placebo group.

The authors concluded that no robust differences in postpartum maternal mood, bonding, or fatigue were detected between the placenta and placebo groups. This finding may be especially important for women considering maternal placentophagy as a ‘natural’ (i.e., non-pharmacological) means of preventing or treating blues/depression. Given the study limitations, these findings should be interpreted as preliminary. Small, time-related improvements in maternal mood and lower fatigue post-supplementation among placenta group participants may warrant further research.

Will this largely negative evidence stop enthusiasts of placentophagy making therapeutic claims?

I very much doubt it!

 

Perhaps I have a weak spot for fish oil; more likely, however, I just like positive news – and, in alternative medicine, there is not much of it. That’s why I have written about the potential benefits of fish-oil again and again and again and again.

Reduced intake of fish oil, i.e. n−3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), may be a contributing factor to the increasing prevalence of asthma and other wheezing disorders. Yet the evidence is neither clear nor strong. This study was aimed at shedding more light on the issue; specifically, it tested the effect of supplementation with n−3 LCPUFAs in pregnant women on the risk of persistent wheeze and asthma in their offspring.

The investigators randomly assigned 736 pregnant women at 24 weeks of gestation to receive 2.4 g of n−3 LCPUFA (fish oil) or placebo (olive oil) per day. Their children were followed prospectively with extensive clinical phenotyping. Neither the investigators nor the participants were aware of group assignments during follow-up for the first 3 years of the children’s lives, after which there was a 2-year follow-up period during which only the investigators were unaware of group assignments. The primary end point was persistent wheeze or asthma, and the secondary end points included lower respiratory tract infections, asthma exacerbations, eczema, and allergic sensitization.

A total of 695 children were included in the trial, and 95.5% completed the 3-year, double-blind follow-up period. The risk of persistent wheeze or asthma in the treatment group was 16.9%, versus 23.7% in the control group (hazard ratio, 0.69; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.49 to 0.97; P=0.035), corresponding to a relative reduction of 30.7%. Prespecified subgroup analyses suggested that the effect was strongest in the children of women whose blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid were in the lowest third of the trial population at randomization: 17.5% versus 34.1% (hazard ratio, 0.46; 95% CI, 0.25 to 0.83; P=0.011). Analyses of secondary end points showed that supplementation with n−3 LCPUFA was associated with a reduced risk of infections of the lower respiratory tract (31.7% vs. 39.1%; hazard ratio, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.58 to 0.98; P=0.033), but there were no statistically significant associations between supplementation and asthma exacerbations, eczema, or allergic sensitization.

The authors concluded that supplementation with n−3 LCPUFA in the third trimester of pregnancy reduced the absolute risk of persistent wheeze or asthma and infections of the lower respiratory tract in offspring by approximately 7 percentage points, or one third.

The authors must be congratulated. This trial is stunning in many ways: it was carefully designed and executed; its results are clear and important; its write-up is excellent. The research was supported by private and public research funds, all of which are listed at www.copsac.com. The Lundbeck Foundation, the Danish Ministry of Health, the Danish Council for Strategic Research, the Danish Council for Independent Research, and the Capital Region Research Foundation provided core support.

It is debatable whether the intake of fish oil falls under the umbrella of alternative medicine. In a way, it reminds me of the famous saying: what do we call alternative medicine that works? We call it medicine. It also holds an important reminder for all who make claims about the benefit of alternative therapies: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Can these findings be translated into practical advice to consumers? The NEJM discussed this question in an accompanying article in which the case of a fictional pregnant woman (Ms. Franklin) was considered. Here is what they concluded: …there is benefit and little risk associated with n−3 LCPUFA supplementation. Even though we do not know Ms. Franklin’s EPA and DHA levels, there is likely to be a benefit for her child, at little risk, cost, or inconvenience. She should start taking n−3 LCPUFA supplements.

Despite my soft spot for fish oil, I might add that, while we give advice of this nature, we nevertheless need to insist on independent replications to have certainty.

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