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

pseudo-science

1 2 3 108

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convinced?

I hope not!

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

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

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

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

 

Yes, I often moan about the abundance of poor-quality prevalence surveys that we are confronted with when scanning the literaturee on so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), e.g.:

Here is another example that recently appeared on my screen and that allows me to explain (yet again) why these surveys are such a waste of space:

The Use of Traditional and Complementary Medicine Among Patients With Multiple Sclerosis in Morocco

Let’s assume the survey is done perfectly (a condition that most are very far from meeting). If the information generated by such a perfect survey were worthwhile, we would also need to consider possible mutations that would be just as relevant:

  • We have just over 200 nations (other than Morocco) on the planet.
  • I assume there are about 1000 conditions (other than multiple sclerosis) for which SCAM is used.
  • There are, I estimate, 100 different definitions of SCAM (other than ‘traditional and complementary medicine’) that all include different modalities.

So, this alone would make 20 000 000 surveys that would be important enough to get published. But that’s not all. The usage and nature of SCAM change fairly quickly. That means we would need these 20 million surveys to be repeated every 2 to 3 years to be up-to-date.

For all this, we would need, I estimate, 200 000 research groups doing the work and about 20 000 SCAM journals to publish their results.

I think we can agree that this would be a nonsensical effort for producing millions of papers reaching dramatic conclusions that read something like this:

Our survey shows that patients suffering from xy  living in yz use much SCAM. This level of popularity suggests that SCAM is much appreciated and needs to be made available more widely and free of charge. 

I rest my case.

A recent post of mine started an interesting discussion about the research of the NCCIH. Richard Rasker made the following comment:

The NCCIH was initially established as the Office for Alternative Medicine (OAM) for mostly the same reason that Edzard’s department at Exeter was founded, i.e. to study alternative modalities, and determine once and for all which ones were effective and which ones weren’t. Unfortunately, OAM and its subsequent incarnations were taken over by SCAM proponents almost right away, with its core mission changed into validating (NOT ‘studying’) SCAM modalities – a small but crucial difference that will all but guarantee that even long-obsolete and totally ineffective quackery will continue to be ‘researched’ and promoted.

So what’s the score now, after more than 30 years and well over 4 billion dollars in taxpayers’ money? How many SCAM modalities have they managed to ‘validate’, i.e. definitively proven to be effective? The answer is: none, for all intents and purposes. Even their research into herbal medicine – one of the most effective (or should I say: least ineffective) SCAMs out there – is best described as woefully lacking. Their list of herbs and plants names just 55 species of plants, and the individual descriptions are mostly to the tune of ‘a lot of research was done, but we can’t say anything definite’.

I think I can contribute meaningfully to this important comment and topic. Several years ago, my Exeter team – together with several other researches – systematically reviewed the NCCIH (formerly NCCAM)-sponsored clinical trials. Specifically, we focussed on 4 different subject areas. Here are the conclusions of our articles reporting the findings:

      1. ACUPUNCTURE

Seven RCTs had a low risk of bias. Numerous methodological shortcomings were identified. Many NCCAM-funded RCTs of acupuncture have important limitations. These findings might improve future studies of acupuncture and could be considered in the ongoing debate regarding NCCAM-funding. [Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 17(1) March 2012 15–21]

       2. HERBAL MEDICINE

This independent assessment revealed a plethora of serious concerns related to NCCAM studies of herbal medicine. [Perfusion 2011; 24: 89-102]

       3. ENERGY MEDICINE

In conclusion, the NCCAM-funded RCTs of energy medicine are prime examples of misguided investments into research. In our opinion, NCCAM should not be funding poor-quality studies of implausible practices. The impact of any future studies of energy medicine would be negligible or even detrimental. [Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 16(2) June 2011 106–109 ]

       4. CHIROPRACTIC

In conclusion, our review demonstrates that several RCTs of chiropractic have been funded by the NCCAM. It raises numerous concerns in relation to these studies; in particular, it suggests that many of these studies are seriously flawed. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21207089]

The overall conclusion that comes to my mind is this:

The NCCIH has managed to spend more money on SCAM research than any other institution in the world (in the 20 years that I ran the Exeter research unit, we spent around £2 million in total). The NCCIH has wasted precious funds on plenty of dubious studies; arguably, this is unethical. It has misappropriated its role from testing to validating SCAMs. And it has validated none.

PS

As some of the above-cited papers are not easily accessible, I offer to send copies to interested individuals on request.

Yesterday, someone (hopefully) unknown to me (hiding under the pseudonym ‘Queristfrei’) tweeted this rather bizarre comment [in German, my translation]:

This trivialisation of the unjust GDR state, in which people died for political reasons, shows how “lost” the people are who @amardeo, @Skepges, @EdzardErnst and the @Skepges respect and defend. That’s historical fabrication to the power of ten! #GWUP

Normally, I would have discarded the comment as just one of those many irrelevant idiocies posted by cranks that I am constantly exposed to on social media. However, the mention of the GWUP, the German skeptics organisation, links it to the current woke-motivated destruction of the GWUP and thus gives it special significance.

‘Woke’ and the various related terms are in fashion and polute discussions on far too many subjects. To be blunt, I don’t like ‘woke, WOKE, anti-woke, unwoke, wokerati’, etc. – so much so that, for the purpose of this post, I will invent an umbrella term that captures all of these words: ANTI-UNWOKERATI, AUWEI for short (yes, there might be a German root in this abbreviation. I know it is a silly acronym but, in my mind, the subject deserves nothing serious).

As already mentioned, I am anti-AUWEI which means I am as much anti-woke as anti-antiwoke. Or, to put it differently, I feel that the world would be a better place, if ‘woke’ had never become en vogue. Here I have listed (in no particular order) several reasons why I dislike AUWEI:

  • AUWEI means different things to different people and is thus a fertile basis for misunderstandings.
  • Every Tom, Dick and Harry uses the AUWEI terminology pretending to be an expert without expertise.
  • Much of what is said and written in the name of AUWEI is pure bullshit.
  • AUWEI has become an ideology.
  • Even worse, it is a straight jacket of the mind that makes us pre-judge a subject regardless of the evidence.
  • Worse still, it is abused by all the wrong politicians.
  • AUWEI serves many as a replacement for evidence.
  • Even worse, it often seems to be an alternative to critical thinking.
  • Most AUWEI-obsessed people seem to have lost their humor (or never had any).
  • AUWEI renders complex issues falsely simple.
  • AUWEI inhibits free thought.
  • AUWEI inhibits nuances and puts you in one camp or another – black or white.
  • AUWEI is unnecessarily devisive.
  • AUWEI invites intolerance and unproductive dispute.

Personally, I like to make up my own mind about things; to do this, I want to see the evidence. Once I have understood it, I go where the evidence leads me – not where AUWEI dictates me to go.

There are many AUWEI subjects that do not interest me and perhaps even more that I find outright silly. Personally, I don’t want AUWEI to tell me that I must have an opinion on them or quietly follow that of my AUWEI ‘peers’.

No, really; AUWEI is not for me.

Some of these irritating skeptics claim that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is useless. They are wrong, of course! SCAM’s incredible uselulness is never more obvious that on Valentine’s Day. Here are just a few exaples that will make even the most hard-nosed skeptic reconsider:

Since acupuncture helps in promoting the circulation of blood, it may increase your sexual drive as well. As a result, you may experience intense and enhanced orgasms. When Qi (Chi) gets blocked, it may hamper healthy circulation in the body, which is why an acupuncture session may help in getting you back in touch with your sensual side.

Homeopathy: Nuphar Luteum is a homeopathic remedy for low libido in men. It helps when there is a decline in sexual desire, a lack of physical stamina, or difficulty keeping an erection during sexual engagement. Damiana is a popular homeopathic remedy for low libido in women. It can help enhance sexual desire and stimulate the reproductive system. Damiana is also known for its positive effects on reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of relaxation.The fundamental causes of low libido must be recognized before selecting the appropriate homeopathic cure. A complete study of your physical, mental, and emotional conditions can help you determine what is causing your diminished sexual desire. A qualified homeopath will consider these factors and select a remedy that matches your unique constitution.

Meditation: No matter how healthy you are, being stressed out can affect your libido. Some research suggests that women may be particularly susceptible to the effects stress can have on one’s sex life. Men, on the other hand, may use sex to relieve stress. Sometimes, these differences in the approach can cause conflict, ultimately increasing stress between partners. Meditation can help relieve stress.

Bach flower remedies: N°44™ Libido. Organic drop composition with the original Bach Flower Remedies of Dr. Bach The Original N°44-Composition contains the 7 Bach Flowers: Wild RoseFlower of joy of life; HornbeamFlower of drive and energy; GentianFlower of encouragement; ImpatiensFlower of inner calmness; LarchFlower of self-assurance; PineFlower of forgiveness; Crab AppleFlower of purification.

Herbal remedies: VigRX is a male enhancement supplement that was developed over 15 years ago and has gone on to become the World’s biggest selling and most popular product of its generation. Ingredients such as Asian Ginseng & Ginkgo Biloba have made these capsules very potent. If you then consider the other 6 nutrients which are then fused together, it makes this blend unique and the reason why so many people have ordered it time and time again and made it the brand of choice for most men.

Massage: Touching is a powerful thing, especially in areas other than your fun bits. ResearchTrusted Source shows that the act of physically touching your partner helps create intimacy and relieve stress. Which means, in the bigger picture of many sexual dysfunctions, touch could help dissolve mental or emotional blockages. Especially for women who feel expected to live up to or act out certain expectations.

Chiropractic: Are you suffering from a mediocre sex life? Do you find intercourse painful or uninteresting? If so, chiropractic care might be something to consider. This holistic form of medicine can help improve your sex life in many ways, including boosting your libido and reducing back or neck pain. Below you’ll find more information about how chiropractic can be beneficial.

Crystal therapy: Which stones stimulate your libido? Carnelian. “Connected to vital energies, carnelian helps to recharge the sacred chakra and to watch over its balance. It helps stimulate sexual energy, energize female organs and take care of a good internal balance in woman.” Garnet. “A stone of vitality and physical energy, garnet works directly on sexual desire. It revives passions, strengthens intimate bonds and stimulates the libido.” Sunstone. “Sunstone brings self-confidence and assurance and helps overcome complexities and blockages. It soothes the mind and helps to promote confidence in one’s sexual life.”

And lastly: perineum sunning is linked to increased sexual energy, improved sexual health and boosted libido. … But please make sure that your neighbors are out when you do it in your garden!

Happy Valentine, everyone!

This pilot study is “delving into the potential benefits of Reiki therapy as a complementary intervention for the treatment and management of stress and anxiety”.

A total of 31 volunteers self-reporting stress, anxiety, or psychological disorders were enrolled. Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) was assessed using the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) Questionnaire for anxiety and depression. Pre- and post-treatment HRQoL scores were meticulously compared, and the significance of the disparities in these scores was meticulously computed.

Analysis was restricted to volunteers who completed the 3-day Reiki sessions. Statistically significant enhancements were discerned across all outcome measures, encompassing positive affect, negative affect, pain, drowsiness, tiredness, nausea, appetite, shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, and overall well-being (P<0.0001).

The authors concluded that the constancy and extensive scope of these improvements suggest that Reiki therapy may not only address specific symptoms but also contribute significantly to a predominant escalation of mental and physical health.

This study is almost comical.

Amongst all the many forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), Reiki is perhaps the most ridiculous scam. It is a form of paranormal or ‘energy healing’ popularised by Japanese Mikao Usui (1865–1926). Rei means universal spirit (sometimes thought of as a supreme being) and ki is the assumed universal life energy. It is based on the assumptions of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the existence of ‘chi’, the life-force that is assumed to determine our health.

Reiki practitioners believe that, with their hands-on healing method, they can transfer ‘healing energy’ to a patient which, in turn, stimulates the self-healing properties of the body. They assume that the therapeutic effects of this technique are obtained from a ‘universal life energy’ that provides strength, harmony, and balance to the body and mind. There is no scientific basis for such notions, and reiki is therefore not plausible.

Reiki is used for a number of conditions, including the relief of stress, tension and pain. There have been several clinical trials testing its effectiveness. Those that are rigorous fail to show that the treatment is effective – and those that are dripping with bias, like the one discussed here, tend to produce false-positive results.

The present study has many flaws that are too obvious to even mention. While reading it, I asked myself the following questions:

  • How could a respectable university ever allow this pseudo-research to go ahead?
  • How could a respectable ethics committee ever permit it?
  • How could a respectable journal ever publish it?

The answers must be that, quite evidently, they are not respectable.

 

Medical Acupuncture is the name of a quarterly journal published for the ‘American Academy of Medical Acupuncture’ that publishes around 60 pro-acupuncture articles every year. Its editor is Richard C. Niemtzow, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H. Richard is a retired US Air Force colonel who was the first full-time physician acupuncturist in the US Armed Forces. He is probably best known for his invention called ‘BATTLE FIELD ACUPUNCTURE’, a form of ear-acupuncture allegedly reducing pain in emergency situations.

Medline lists 79 papers (mostly published in 3rd class journals such as ‘Medical Acupuncture’) in Niemtzow’s name. Only one of them – 21 years ago – was a clinical trial. Here it is:

Purpose: We performed a pilot trial to assess the response of lower urinary tract symptoms and prostate specific antigen (PSA) to acupuncture in a population of patients biopsy negative for prostate cancer.

Materials and methods: A total of 30 patients were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 study groups, including observation for 3 months with 6 blood samples for PSA at set intervals, 9 sessions of acupuncture in 3 months to points of the kidney-bladder distinct meridian expected to treat the prostate with 6 blood samples for PSA at set intervals and 9 sessions of acupuncture in 3 months to points not expected to treat the prostate with 6 blood samples for PSA at set intervals. The effect of acupuncture on lower urinary tract symptoms was assessed monthly using the International Prostate Symptom Score.

Results: Trend analysis (repeated measures ANOVA) revealed no significant changes in the 3-month period in the randomized arms. Statistical analysis showed p = 0.063 for the International Prostate Symptom Score, p = 0.945 for PSA and p = 0.37 for the free-to-total PSA ratio.

Conclusions: Acupuncture to the kidney-bladder distinct meridian neither relieves lower urinary tract symptoms nor impacts PSA.

Yes, an acupuncture study with a negative result!

Niemtzow has, as far as I can see, never himself conducted a study of ‘battle field acupuncture’. In fact, there only very few trials of ‘battle field acupuncture‘. The most recent (albeit lousy) study even suggest that it is less effective than electroacupuncture (EA): EA was more effective than ‘battle field auricular acupuncture’ at reducing pain severity, but both similarly improved physical and mental health scores.

This does not stop Niemtzow to continue praising acupuncture in dozens of papers, particularly his ‘battle field’ version and especially in his ‘own’ journal. The most recent example has just been published; allow me to present an excerpt to you:

In December of 2023, I had the opportunity to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The only day I had for this visit was characterized by a pouring and chilling rain. This did not stop the crowds of people visiting this famous exhibition. I reminded myself that Van Gogh was a troubled spirit. He lived a short tumultuous life characterized by cutting off his left ear lobe and he spent a sojourn in an asylum. Yet, his art emerged in all its beauty and splendor to become famous in the world. Despite all his troubles, he contributed a precious collection of magnificent art. Many individuals would not have surfaced out of personal disorders to produce such a wonderful gift to society. However, history tells us that many sensational contributions originated from people embroiled in mental health illnesses.

Medical Acupuncture published more than 13 years ago the acupuncture ‘‘diagnosis’’ of Vincent Van Gogh. The article, which is worth rereading, discussed the Five-Element pattern associated with the artist’s hallucinations, alcoholism, severe depression, insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, headaches, nightmares, etc. The author, Vera Kaikobad, LAc, stated: ‘‘It is poignant to realize that a few needles in the hands of a skilled acupuncturist may have spared this great artist such torment and perhaps saved his life.’’ Feasibly, in 2024 we should not only examine our patients for their physical complaints; we should venture into their mental health status as well. A back or neck pain is important, but so is anxiety, insomnia, etc. In promoting mental health, we may assist many patients who are perhaps capable of contributing to the well-being of the world. It is our responsibility as acupuncturists not to think of our patients as a neck or back pain, etc.; instead, we must see them as whole persons having spiritual and physical needs that must be addressed.

I feel that, overall, this remarkable effort justifies Niemtzow’s admission to my ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME.

WELCOME, RICHARD!

And let me introduce you to the rest of the 24 laureates:

  1. Helmut Kiene (anthroposophical medicine)
  2. Helge Franke (osteopathy, Germany)
  3. Tery Oleson (acupressure , US)
  4. Jorge Vas (acupuncture, Spain)
  5. Wane Jonas (homeopathy, US)
  6. Harald Walach (various SCAMs, Germany)
  7. Andreas Michalsen ( various SCAMs, Germany)
  8. Jennifer Jacobs (homeopath, US)
  9. Jenise Pellow (homeopath, South Africa)
  10. Adrian White (acupuncturist, UK)
  11. Michael Frass (homeopath, Austria)
  12. Jens Behnke (research officer, Germany)
  13. John Weeks (editor of JCAM, US)
  14. Deepak Chopra (entrepreneur, US)
  15. Cheryl Hawk (chiropractor, US)
  16. David Peters (osteopathy, homeopathy, UK)
  17. Nicola Robinson (TCM, UK)
  18. Peter Fisher (homeopathy, UK)
  19. Simon Mills (herbal medicine, UK)
  20. Gustav Dobos (various SCAMs, Germany)
  21. Claudia Witt (homeopathy, Germany/Switzerland)
  22. George Lewith (acupuncture, UK)
  23. John Licciardone (osteopathy, US)

If I had a £ for each time I was asked during the last few days whether King Charles is going to treat his cancer with homeopathy, I would have my pockets full of cash. The question seems reasonable because he has been singing the praise of homeopathy for decades. But, as I have pointed out previously, he is unlikely to use homeopathy or any other unproven cancer cure; on the contrary he will certainly receive the most effective therapies available today.

In any case, the homeopathic treatment of cancer is currently a most popular topic. As if on command, an article appeared on my screen that promises to address the subject:

“Homoeopathy and Cancer – An Alternative Approach towards the path of Healing”

Here is the abstract of this remarkable paper:

Homoeopathy is a holistic system of medicine rooted on the principle of “Similia Similibus Curentur”. It has gained attention for its potential therapeutic benefits. It offers a holistic approach that addresses both the physical symptoms and emotional well-being of individuals. While this alternative approach of healing has been explored in various health contexts, a notable gap remains in understanding its application in the realm of cancer care. This review seeks to fill this void by exploring the broader landscape of homoeopathy’s principles and applications. Through a critical examination of existing research and evidence, it aims to offer valuable insights into the potential role of homoeopathy as a complementary approach in cancer care and symptomatic relief. This review underscores the need for further research and a more nuanced understanding of homoeopathy’s place in healthcare, particularly in the context of cancer patients and their well-being.

I am sure you are as impressed as I am and keen to learn more. In the article itself, the authors offer some brand-new, cutting-edge science to back up their views:

According to Samuel Hahnemann, “When a person is ill, it is originally merely the spirit-like, autonomic life force (life principle), which is always there in the organism, that is mistuned by the dynamic effect of a morbific agent inimical to life.Only the life principle, tuned incorrectly to such an anomalyis capable of causing irregular functions the body. Cancer may initially be treated as a one-sided disease because the expanded pathology weakens the Vital Force. According to Hahnemann, “Diseases that seem to have just a few symptoms are called one-sided because only one or two prominent symptoms are indicated. This makes these diseases, which primarily fall under the category of chronic diseases, harder to cure. According to Arthur Hill Grimmer, the biggest challenge in treating advanced cancer cases is getting therapeutic individualization of symptoms. Even with all the typical symptoms, it is quite difficult to create a potent homoeopathic prescription. Burnett considered both the characteristic aspects of the patient as well as the ‘action’ or‘organ affinity’ of the remedy he prescribed.

Eventually, the authors (who are affiliated with prestigeous institutions: Rajasthan Ayurved University, Jodhpur; Swasthya Kalyan Homoeopathic Medical College & Research Centre, Jaipur) arrive at the following conclusion:

In the scientific literature, homoeopathy’s use in the treatment of cancer is still largely unexplored. Pioneers have offered intriguing perspectives on disease origins and treatment challenges. The miasmatic perspective offers a distinctive approach that emphasises individualised strategies based on symptoms and characteristics. Some studies suggest an improvement in quality of life of the individuals suffering from cancer. In the dynamic landscape of cancer treatment, more studies are warranted to enhance the scope of holistic, patient-centered care through homoeopathy.

Yes, homeopathy is a joke. This paper (and the many similar publications out there) could thus be intensely funny – except for the fact that these charlatans are playing with the lives of many vulnerable and desperate patients. I sincerely hope Charles manages to stay well clear of homeopathy and its irresponsible practitioners which clearly is one precondition for making a full recovery.

This study tested whether trigger point acupuncture (TrPA) is beneficial for office workers who have reduced job performance (presenteeism) due to chronic neck and shoulder pain (katakori).

A 4-week single-center randomized clinical trial was conducted on 20 eligible female office workers with chronic neck and shoulder pain of at least 3-month duration. The control group implemented only workplace-recommended presenteeism measures, whereas the intervention group received TrPA up to 4 times per month in addition to the presenteeism measures recommended by each workplace. The major outcome measure was the relative presenteeism score on the World Health Organization Health and Work Performance (WHO-HPQ). The secondary outcome measures were pain intensity (numerical rating scale), absolute presenteeism (WHO-HPQ), anxiety and depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale; HADS), catastrophic thoughts related to pain (Pain Catastrophizing Scale; PCS), and sleep (Athens Insomnia Scale; AIS).

All 9 cases in the intervention group and 11 cases in the control group were analyzed. TrPA up to 4 times per month reduced the intensity of neck and shoulder pain by 20% (P < .01, d = 1.65) and improved labor productivity (relative presenteeism value) by 0.25 (P < .01, d = 1.33) compared with the control group over 1 month. No significant differences were observed between the 2 groups in terms of absolute presenteeism score, HADS, PCS, or AIS.

The authors concluded that these results suggest that regular intervention with TrPA may be effective in the relative presenteeism score before and after the intervention and the degree of neck and shoulder pain over 28 days compared with the control group.

Sure, TrPA may be effective.

But is it?

I thought the trial was aimed at answering that question!

But it didn’t!

Why not?

Because, as we have discussed ad nauseam on this blog, the A+B versus B study design cannot answer it. On the contrary, it will always generate a positive result without determining whether the treatment or a nonspecific (placebo) effect caused the outcome (which, of course, is the reason why this study design is so popular in SCAM research).

In view of this, I suggest to re-formulate the conclusions as follows:

The study suggests that the researchers were ill-informed when designing it. Therefore, the findings show nothing of value.

The Buteyko techniques (known in Russia as ‘Voluntary Elimination of Deep Breathing’) are treatments to control respiration developed by the Russian Konstantin Buteyko (1923–2003). Inspired by the methods of respiratory control in yoga, the original Buteyko technique was specifically aimed at easing the symptoms of respiratory conditions, particularly asthma. Konstantin Buteyko postulated that there is a connection between hyperventilation and asthma and that it should be possible to reduce asthma symptoms by deliberate breath control.

The Eucapnic Buteyko method is an adaptation of Buteyko’s original technique which was first introduced in Australia and is now used worldwide. It includes the same focus on ventilation control, but the approach has been re-designed with the aim of achieving better patient-compliance. Both treatments and further variations depend crucially on the cooperation of the patient who has to attend long sessions of learning the technique and must follow the somewhat tedious programme rigorously.

A Cochrane review of Buteyko and similar breathing techniques concluded that “there is no credible evidence regarding the effectiveness of breathing exercises for the clinical symptoms of dysfunctional breathing/hyperventilation syndrome. It is currently unknown whether these interventions offer any added value in this patient group or whether specific types of breathing exercise demonstrate superiority over others.”

Now, a new study adds to this knowledge. This randomized clinical trial included two groups (n = 30 each) of patients with asthma. They received either:

  • Buteyko breathing technique (BBT) together with usual therapy (UT)
  • or UT alone over a period of 3 months.

The primary outcome comprised the voluntary control pause (CP) after 3 months, secondary outcomes an additional breathhold parameter, forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1), capnovolumetry, exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO), Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ) and Nijmegen Questionnaire (NQ), and the use of medication (β2-agonists; inhaled corticosteroids, ICS).

CP showed significant time-by-group interaction [F(1,58.09) = 28.70, p < 0.001] as well as main effects for study group [F(1,58.27) = 5.91, p = 0.018] and time [F(1,58.36) = 17.67, p < 0.001]. ACQ and NQ scores were significantly (p < 0.05 each) improved with BBT. This was associated with reductions in the use of β2-agonists and ICS (p < 0.05 each) by about 20% each. None of these effects occurred in the UT group. While FEV1 and the slopes of the capnovolumetric expiratory phases 2 and 3 did not significantly change, the capnovolumetric threshold volume at tidal breathing increased (p < 0.05) with BBT by about 10 mL or 10%, compared to baseline, suggesting a larger volume of the central airways. No significant changes were seen for FeNO.

The authors concluded that BBT was clinically effective, as indicated by the fact that the improvement in symptom scores and the small increase in bronchial volume occurred despite the significant reduction of respiratory pharmacotherapy. As the self-controlled Buteyko breathing therapy was well-accepted by the participants, it could be considered as supporting tool in asthma therapy being worth of wider attention in clinical practice.

I disagree with this conclusion and think it ought to be changed to:

BBT or a placebo effect was clinically effective.

The reason is that, as many readers have heard me say before, the infamous A+B versus B design does not control for placebo effects and thus is guaranteed to produce a positive result.

The research was conducted by an international team evidently led by the relatively new ARCIM Institute which claims on its website:

The acronym ARCIM stands for Academic Research in Complementary and Integrative Medicine.

The bridging between different treatment and research approaches, disciplines and ways of thinking achieved by the research work of the ARCIM Institute can be symbolized by our logo’s bridge arch. ARCIM integrates this bridge-building metaphor within its name since the Latin term “arcus” means “arch” or “bridge.”

The aim of the ARCIM research institute, founded in 2010, is to research complementary and integrative medicine, in particular anthroposophic medicine, on a scientific basis according to rigorous scientific standards established by the Equator Network criteria (http://www.equator-network.org/).
______________________
“rigorous scientific standards”?
… … …
You could have fooled me!
1 2 3 108
Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new blog posts by email.

Recent Comments

Note that comments can be edited for up to five minutes after they are first submitted but you must tick the box: “Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.”

The most recent comments from all posts can be seen here.

Archives
Categories