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

quality of life

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Every now and then, I like to look at what our good friend and SCAM entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow is offering via her extraordinary ripoff called GOOP. When I recently browsed through her goodies, I find lots of items that made me blush (common decency does not permit me to go into details here). But I also found something that I am sure many of us might need after the over-indulgence of recent weeks:Preview Changes (opens in a new tab)

“The Martini” Emotional Detox Bath Soak

The product is described as follows:

This body-and-spirit-centering bath soak, infused with Himalayan pink salt, helps take the edge off during turbulent times (or after a crazy day). Called “The Martini” after the traditional name for the last take of the day in filmmaking,  the soak is made with pharmaceutical-grade Epsom salts, chia-seed oil, passionflower, valerian root, myrrh, Australian sandalwood, and wild-crafted frankincense.

Here at goop we believe in making every choice count, which is why we’ve always been outspoken about the toxic ingredients used in personal-care and beauty products (all are effectively unregulated in this country). We’re also passionate about the idea that beauty comes from the inside out. So we use clinically proven and best-in-class ingredients at active levels to create skin care, skin-boosting ingestibles, and body essentials that are luxurious, deliver high-performance results, and enliven the senses with exquisite textures and beautiful scents. We don’t rest until we think our products are perfect—safe enough and powerful enough for noticeable results. (All our products are formulated without parabens, petroleum, phthalates, SLS, SLES, PEGs, TEA, DEA, silicones, or artificial dyes or fragrances. And our formulas are not tested on animals.) We hope you love them as much as we do.

Yes, there is a whole world out there of which a retired chap like myself knows as good as nothing. And it has its very own terminology: 

  • emotional detox
  • body-and-spirit-centering
  • pharmaceutical-grade Epsom salts
  • wild-crafted
  • clinically proven and best-in-class ingredients
  • skin-boosting ingestibles
  • body essentials
  • high-performance results

By now, I am sure, you are dying to learn what the Emotional Detox Bath Soak contains:

Sodium Chloride, Magnesium Sulfate, Passiflora Incarnata Extract, Valeriana Officinalis Root Extract, Salvia Hispanica Seed Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary), Leaf Extract, Maltodextrin, Boswellia Carterii Oil, Commiphora Myrrha Oil, Fusanus Spicatus Wood Oil, Cyperus Scariosus (Nagarmotha) Oil, Vetiveria Zizanoides Root Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Tocopherol.

Clinically proven, you ask?

Well, perhaps not in the sense that sad, retired academics tend to understand the term, but you have to realize, this is a different world where words have different meanings, the meaning entretreneurs want them to have. What is proven though is this: at $40 a tiny jar, the detox bath will eliminate some cash from your pocket – after all, that’s what detox is all about, isn’t 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!!!

I just got this email with sad news: Ken Frazier “died peacefully this morning, three weeks after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Judy and I were fortunate to spend time with Ken and Ruth last week and tell Ken personally how much he has meant to us over our entire lives.”

Ken was a part of CFI history quite literally from Day One. In May 1976, writing for Science News, Ken reported on the formation of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). In 1977, Ken joined CSICOP to serve as editor of The Zetetic, which became Skeptical Inquirer in 1978. He held that position ever since, spending the better part of five decades defining and steering the work of the skeptical community in combatting disinformation and pseudoscience. Ken has also published numerous papers and books, e.g.:

Ken’s book Science Under Siege: Defending Science, Exposing Pseudoscience was featured by Science News for its “engaging, insightful, and often surprising essays by researchers and journalists” about “what science is and is not, and what happens when the facts get twisted.” And he was working on yet another book; only a few months ago he wrote to me taking me for help with it:

… I am completing [ a book] on science and pseudoscience, titled Shadows of Science.  It was just accepted by Prometheus Books for publication in Fall 2023.  I am now working on a final chapter on “Pseudomedicine,” pseudoscience in medicine.  This is not my area of expertise so I am relying on many medical professionals who have investigated and written about medical pseudoscience, most prominently you.

My chapter is mainly concerned with broad points and principles in identifying and describing pseudoscience in medicine — SCAM.

I merely ask if you mind if I quote from and paraphrase from a number of your writings—all with full credit to you in the text itself in addition to in the bibliography

I have always been particularly impressed with the Introduction to your So-Called Alternative Medicine (SCAM) for Cancer as well as parts of your earlier book SCAM: So-Called Alternative Medicine (which carries my testimonial to you on the back cover!).  This includes your definition of SCAM and your list of popular therapies and perhaps some of your common assumptions about SCAM. I also would love to draw upon some of the information in your boxes in the opening parts of SCAM…

Ken has on many occasions been most helpful and kind to me, and it goes without saying that I was delighted to assist.

He was a giant amongst the US skeptics, and we will all miss him badly.

Camilla spent ten days at the end of October in a sophisticated meditation and fitness center in southern India. Life has recently been hectic for the Queen Consort: at 75, she has been in a non-stop succession of various ceremonies for the funeral of Elizabeth II, always one step behind her husband, not to mention her new status as sovereign… Enough to block her chakras in no time.

She came to the resort with her bodyguards and a handful of friends and was able to take advantage of the tailor-made treatments concocted for her by the master of the house, Dr Issac Mathai, who created this high-end holistic centre on a dozen hectares of scented gardens near Bangalore. The program includes massages, herbal steam baths, yoga, naturopathy, homeopathy, meditation, and Ayurvedic treatments to “cleanse, de-stress, soothe and revitalize the mind, body and soul”, as the establishment’s website states.

Guests are required to follow an individualized, meat-free diet, with organic food from the resort’s vegetable gardens, based on lots of salads or soups – Camilla is said to be a fan of sweet corn soup with spinach. Cigarettes and mobile phones are not allowed, although it is assumed that Camilla must have some privileges due to her status… and the basic rate for the suites, which starts at $950 a night – the price of the rooms varies between $260 and $760, the rate including a consultation with the doctors.

Charles and Camilla have been fans of the Soukya Centre in India for a decade. The place corresponds in every way to their deep-rooted convictions about health. Like her husband, Camilla is a follower of organic food, she also practices yoga and treats her face with creams made from nettle and bee venom. For his part, Charles has long been an advocate of alternative medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and also hypnosis… He even set up a foundation to support complementary medicine by lobbying the British health service to include it in complementary therapies for certain patients, which caused an uproar among the pundits of traditional medicine.

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If you suspected I was (yet again) sarcastic about the royal couple, you are mistaken. The text above is only my (slightly shortened) translation of an article published in the French magazine LE POINT (even the title is theirs). I found the article amusing and interesting; so, I looked up the Indian health center. Here are some of the things I found:

The 1st impression is that they are not shy about promotion calling themselves THE WORLD’S BEST AYURVEDA TREATMENT CENTER. The doctor in charge was once a ‘Consultant Physician’ at the Hale Clinic in London, where he treated a number of high-profile people. As his professional background, he offers this:

M.D. (Homeopathy); Hahnemann Post-Graduate Institute of Homeopathy, London M.R.C.H, London; Chinese Pulse Diagnosis and Acupuncture, WHO Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Nanjing, China; Trained (Mind-Body Medicine Programme) at Harvard Medical School, USA

The approach of the center is described as follows:

The fundamental principle underlying Holistic Treatment is that the natural defense and immune system of an individual when strengthened, has the potential to heal and prevent diseases. In the age of super-specialisation where human beings are often viewed as a conglomeration of organs, it is crucial to understand ourselves as multi-dimensional beings with a body, mind and spirit. These interconnected dimensions need to be in perfect harmony to ensure real well-being.

And about homeopathy, they claim this:

Homeopathy originated in 1796 in Germany, and was discovered by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German scientist. Homeopathy is popular today as a non-intrusive, holistic system of medicine. Instead of different medicines for different parts of the body, one single constitutional remedy is prescribed. As a system of medicine, Homeopathy is highly scientific, safe, logical and an extremely effective method of healing. For over 200 years people have used Homeopathy to maintain their good health, and also to treat and cure a wide range of illnesses like allergies, metabolic disorders, atopic dermatitis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Auto-immune disorders.

At this stage, I felt I had seen enough. Yes, you are right, we did not learn a lot from this little exploration. No, hold on! We did learn that homeopathy is highly scientific, safe, logical, and extremely effective!

 

The question, however, is should we believe it?

Guest post by Norbert Aust and Viktor Weisshäupl

Readers of this blog may remember the recent study of Frass et al. about the adjunct homeopathic treatment of patients suffering from non-small cell lung cancer (here). It was published in 2020 by the ‘Oncologist’, a respectable journal, and came to stunning results about to the effectiveness of homeopathy.

In our analysis, however, we found strong indications for duplicity: important study parameters like exclusion criteria or observation time were modified post hoc, and data showed characteristics that occur when unwanted data sets get removed.

We, that is the German Informationsnetzwerk Homöopathie and the Austrian ‘Initiative für wissenschaftliche Medizin’, had informed the Medical University Vienna about our findings – and the research director then asked the Austrian Agency for Scientific Integrity (OeAWI) to review the paper. The analysis took some time and included not only the paper and publicly available information but also the original data. In the end, OeAWI corroborated our findings: The results are not based on sound research but on modified or falsified data.

Here is their conclusion in full:

The committee concludes that there are numerous breaches of scientific integrity in the Study, as reported in the Publication. Several of the results can only be explained by data manipulation or falsification. The Publication is not a fair representation of the Study. The committee cannot for all the findings attribute the wrongdoings and incorrect representation to a single individual. However following our experience it is highly unlikely that the principal investigator and lead author, but also the co-authors were unaware of the discrepancies between the protocols and the Publication, for which they bear responsibility. (original English wording)

Profil, the leading news magazine of Austria reported in its issue of October 24, 2022, pp 58-61 (in German). There the lead author, Prof. M. Frass, a member of Edzard’s alternative medicine hall of fame, was asked for his comments. Here is his concluding statement:

All the allegations are known to us and completely incomprehensible, we can refute all of them. Our work was performed observing all scientific standards. The allegation of breaching scientific integrity is completely unwarranted. To us, it is evident that not all documents were included in the analysis of our study. Therefore we requested insight into the records to learn about the basis for the final statement.

(Die Vorwürfe sind uns alle bekannt und absolut unverständlich, alle können wir entkräften. Unsere Arbeit wurde unter Einhaltung aller wissenschaftlichen Standards durchgeführt. Der Vorhalt von Verstößen gegen die wissenschaftliche Intergrität enbehrt jeder Grundlage. Für uns zeigt sich offenkundig, dass bei der Begutachtung unserer Studie nicht alle Unterlagen miteinbezogen wurden. Aus diesem Grunde haben wir um Akteneinsicht gebeten, um die Grundlagen für das Final Statment kennenzulernen.)

The OeAWI together with the Medical University Vienna asked the ‘Oncologist’ for a retraction of this paper – which has not occurred as yet.

Aging often contributes to a decrease in physical activity. As age advances, a decrease in muscle mass, muscle strength, and flexibility can impair physical function. One obvious way to prevent these developments might be regular physical exercise.

This open-label, randomized trial was intended to evaluate the effects of an integrated yoga module in improving the flexibility, muscle strength, and quality of life (QOL) of older adults. Participants were 96 older adults, aged 60-75 years (64.1 ± 3.95 years). The program was a three-month, yoga-based lifestyle intervention. The participants were randomly allocated to the intervention group (n = 48) or to a waitlisted control group (n = 48). The intervention group underwent three one-hour sessions of yoga weekly, with each session including loosening exercises, asanas, pranayama, and meditation spanning.

At baseline and post-intervention, the following assessments were made:

  • spinal flexibility using a sit-and-reach test,
  • back and leg strength using a back leg dynamometer,
  • handgrip strength (HGS) and endurance (HGE) using a hand-grip dynamometer,
  • Older People’s Quality of Life (OPQOL) questionnaire.

Analysis was performed employing Wilcoxon’s Sign Rank tests and Mann-Whitney Tests, using an intention-to-treat approach.

The results show that, compared to the control group, the intervention group experienced a significantly greater increase in spinal flexibility (P < .001), back leg strength (P < .001), HGE (P < .01), and QOL (P < .001) after three months of yoga.

The authors concluded that yoga can be used safely for older adults to improve flexibility, strength, and functional QOL. Larger randomized controlled trials with an active control intervention are warranted.

I agree with the authors that this trial was too small and not properly controlled. I disagree that their study shows yoga to be effective or safe. In fact, the two sentences of the conclusion do not seem to fit together at all.

Is it surprising that doing yoga exercises is better than doing nothing at all?

No!

Is it relevant to demonstrate this fact in an RCT?

No!

If anyone wants to test the value of yoga exercises, they must compare them to conventional exercises. And why don’t they do this? Could it be because they know they would be unlikely to show that yoga is superior?

 

This study aimed to evaluate the efficacy of Persian barley water in controlling the clinical outcomes of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. It was designed as a single-blind, add-on therapy, randomized controlled clinical trial and conducted in Shiraz, Iran, from January to March 2021. One hundred hospitalized COVID-19 patients with moderate disease severity were randomly allocated to receive routine treatment (per local protocols) with or without 250 ml of Persian barley water (PBW) daily for two weeks. Clinical outcomes and blood tests were recorded before and after the study period. Multivariable modeling was applied using Stata software for data analysis.

The length of hospital stay (LHS) was 4.5 days shorter in the intervention group than the control group regardless of history of cigarette smoking (95% confidence interval: -7.22, -1.79 days). Also, body temperature, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), and creatinine significantly dropped in the intervention group compared to the control group. No adverse events related to PBW occurred.

The authors from the Department of Traditional Medicine, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran, concluded that this clinical trial demonstrated the efficacy of PBW in minimizing the LHS, fever, and levels of ESR, CRP, and creatinine among hospitalized COVID-19 patients with moderate disease severity. More robust trials can help find safe and effective herbal formulations as treatments for COVID-19.

I must admit, I did not know about PBW. The authors explain that PBW is manufactured from Hordeum vulgare via a specific procedure. According to recent studies, barley is rich in constituents such as selenium, tocotrienols, phytic acid, catechin, lutein, vitamin E, and vitamin C; these compounds are responsible for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Barley grains also have immune-stimulating effects, antioxidant properties, protective effects on the liver and digestive systems, anti-cancer effects, and act to reduce uric acid levels.

But even if these effects would constitute a plausible mechanism for explaining the observed effects (which I do not think they do), the study itself is more than flimsy.

I do not understand why researchers investigating an important issue do not make sure that their study is as rigorous as possible.

  • Why not use an adequately large sample size?
  • Why not employ a placebo?
  • Why not double-blind?
  • Why not report the most important outcome, i.e. mortality?

As it stands, nobody will take this study seriously. Perhaps this is a good thing – but perhaps PBW does have positive effects (I know it’s a long shot) and, in this case, a poor-quality study would only prevent an effective therapy come to light.

One should never assume that one has seen everything so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has to offer. New interventions pop up all the time. The ingenuity of the SCAM entrepreneur is limitless. Here is a particularly audacious innovation:

Aura sprays deliver healing gemstone energies to your body, emotions, memory, and mind via your aura.

They give you:

  • Instant relief from negative, harmful, or unwanted energies.
  • Support that you cannot get from herbs and medicines.
  • Deep nourishment to help you overcome weakness and depletion.

And you can choose from an entire range:

7-Color-Ray Diamond Spray $34.95 – $89.95

Energy Clearing Spray $24.95 – $59.95

Electromagnetic Radiation EMR Clearing $24.95 – $59.95

Sparkler Diamond Spray $34.95

I was particularly fascinated by the EMR spray and found further relevant information about it:

Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) floods our environment and is potentially harmful. GEMFormulas’ EMR Clearing spray clears this energetic toxin from the body and teaches it to become immune. This is essential if we are to thrive in a modern world.

Use this spray to help clear your body and aura of harmful electromagnetic radiation frequencies, which can weaken tissue, inhibit cellular function, and interfere with normal energy flows in the body.

**Harmful electromagnetic radiation is emitted by computers, cell phones, motors, microwave ovens, and other electrical appliances.**

Use When You Are Feeling:

  • Weakened in the vicinity of electromagnetic fields.
  • Dermatological symptoms such as redness, tingling, and burning sensations.
  • Symptoms typical of EHS (Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity) such as fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, and digestive disturbances.
  • A range of non-specific, medically unexplained symptoms.

And When You Want to:

  • Become more resilient to the effects of potentially harmful EMR.
  • Build immunity to EMR, heal from damage caused by EMR, and protect yourself from further EMR damage.
  • Clear harmful EMR residues from your body and aura.
  • Maximize your health potential.

Ideal For People Who:

  • Work with computers all day long.
  • Live near sources of high electromagnetic radiation.
  • Suspect they have Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS).
  • Plan to become pregnant.
  • Are trying to heal from another affliction.

Additional Benefits: Clear Therapeutic Gemstones and Crystals

You can also use the spray to clear electromagnetic radiation that therapeutic gemstone necklaces naturally accumulate during normal wear in areas of high electromagnetic fields, when stored too close to computers or other electronic devices, and when worn while you are holding a cell phone.

I am tempted!

Not that I plan to become pregnant but I am trying to heal from another affliction: gullibility.

________________________

Seriously: how can anyone fall for such nonsense???

But obviously, some people do and pay good money to ruthless con artists (if you look on the Internet, there are dozens of firms offering such quackery).

Even after 30 years of research, so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has a sheer inexhaustible ability to amaze me.

The tales of Kate Moss’s excesses are legendary. Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll have always been an integral part of the supermodel’s life. Stories of wild behavior, random sexual encounters, and copious drug use seemed endless. Now, it seems she is adding a new element to her tumultuous career:

Quackery.

The supermodel is the latest in the long line of VIPs jumping on the quackery bandwagon by marketing her very own brand of over-priced nonsense. She was reported to have worked with Victoria Young, a homeopath and “spiritual guide”, on the products. There’s a Dawn Tea at £20 for 25 tea bags, “inspired by Kate’s English garden” – “With ingredients like hibiscus, rosemary, and nettle leaf, this first step of the Dawn Ritual gently energizes and strengthens the body”. There’s also a Dusk Tea.

There is also a 100ml bottle called Sacred Mist for £120. It is described as “a unique eau de parfum blended with essential oils for the body and surroundings.” There’s a 30ml bottle for £105 called Golden Nectar, which is pro-collagen. CBD oil drops to “holistically support body, mind, and soul”. A 50ml face cream for £95. A 100ml face cleanser for £52.

The website of Moss’ new enterprise claims that “COSMOSS draws on the extraordinary life experience of Kate Moss — someone whose career and image has touched on and influenced so many others and yet has taken her own, rich journey of transformation gradually and privately. COSMOSS is a celebration of every day exactly as it is, with all its imperfections. Each product has been meticulously crafted with wellbeing in mind, using potent, natural substances. Each ritual opens a door to balance, restoration, and love; each fragrance and infusion recentres and completes. COSMOSS is self-care created for life’s modern journeys to make them beautiful, mesmerising and magical.”

In a far cry from her past, Moss explained: “I’ve been meditating, doing yoga, just being much healthier. All the stuff that can make you feel more grounded and balanced.”

Personally, I am glad to hear that Kate is off cocaine and now into other, less harmful ‘natural substances’. Her customers wellbeing might not improve, but I suspect her bank account might.

Horticultural therapy (HT)?

What on earth is that?

Don’t worry, it was new to me too and I first thought of the treatment of plants.

HT is said to be a “time-proven practice. The therapeutic benefits of garden environments have been documented since ancient times. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and recognized as the “Father of American Psychiatry,” was first to document the positive effect working in the garden had on individuals with mental illness. In the 1940s and 1950s, rehabilitative care of hospitalized war veterans significantly expanded acceptance of the practice. No longer limited to treating mental illness, horticultural therapy practice gained in credibility and was embraced for a much wider range of diagnoses and therapeutic options. Today, horticultural therapy is accepted as a beneficial and effective therapeutic modality. It is widely used within a broad range of rehabilitative, vocational, and community settings. Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. Horticultural therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In vocational horticultural therapy settings, people learn to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions. Horticultural therapists are professionals with specific education, training, and credentials in the use of horticulture for therapy and rehabilitation. Read the formal definition of the role of horticultural therapists.”

As always, the question is DOES IT WORK?

This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate HT for general health in older adults. Electronic databases as well as grey literature databases, and clinical trials registers were searched from inception to March 2021. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-RCTs (QRCTs), and cohort studies about HT for adults aged over 60 were included in this review. Outcome measures were physical function, quality of life, BMI, mood tested by self-reported questionnaire and the expression of the immune cells.

Fifteen studies (thirteen RCTs and two cohort studies) involving 1046 older participants were included. Meta-analysis showed that HT resulted in better quality of life (MD 2.09, 95% CI [1.33, 2.85], P<0. 01) and physical function (SMD 0.82, 95% [0.36, 1.29], P<0.01) compared with no-gardener; the similar findings showed in BMI (SMD -0.30, 95% [-0.57, -0.04], P = 0.02) and mood tested by self-reported questionnaire (SMD 2.80, 95% CI [1.82, 3.79], P<0. 01). And HT might be beneficial for blood pressure and immunity, while all the evidence was moderate-quality judged by GRADE.

The authors concluded that HT may improve physical function and quality of life in older adults, reduce BMI and enhance positive mood. A suitable duration of HT may be between 60 to 120 minutes per week lasting 1.5 to 12 months. However, it remains unclear as to what constitutes an optimal recommendation.

I have considerable problems with this review and its conclusion:

  • It is simply untrue that there were 13 RCTs; several of these studies were clearly not randomized.
  • Most of the studies are of very poor quality. For instance, they often did not make the slightest attempt to control for non-specific effects, yet they concluded that the observed outcome was a specific effect of HT.

My biggest problem does, however, not relate to methodological issues. My main issue with this paper is one of definition. What is a ‘therapy’ and what not? If we call a bit of gardening a ‘therapy’ are we not descending to the level of those who call a bit of shopping ‘retail therapy’? To put it differently, is HT superior to retail therapy? And do we need RCTs to answer this question?

What is wrong with encouraging people who like gardening to just do it? I, for instance, like drumming; but I do not believe we need a few RCTs to prove that it is healthy. Not every past-time or hobby that makes you feel good is a therapy and needs to be scrutinized as such.

 

 

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