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

risk

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The concept of ultra-processed food (UPF) was initially developed and the term coined by the Brazilian nutrition researcher Carlos Monteiro, with his team at the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health (NUPENS) at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. They argue that “the issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing,” and “from the point of view of human health, at present, the most salient division of food and drinks is in terms of their type, degree, and purpose of processing.”

Examples of UPF include:

Ultra-processed food is bad for our health! This message is clear and has been voiced so many times – not least by proponents of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – that most people should now understand it.

But how bad?

And what diseases does UPF promote?

How strong is the evidence?

I did a quick Medline search and was overwhelmed by the amount of research on this subject. In 2022 alone, there were more than 2000 publications! Here are the conclusions from just a few recent studies on the subject:

Don’t get me wrong: this is not a systematic review of the subject. I am merely trying to give a rough impression of the research that is emerging. A few thoughts seem nonetheless appropriate.

  1. The research on this subject is intense.
  2. Even though most studies disclose associations and not causal links, there is in my view no question that UPF aggravates many diseases.
  3. The findings of the current research are highly consistent and point to harm done to most organs.
  4. Even though this is a subject on which advocates of SCAM are exceedingly keen, none of the research I saw was conducted by SCAM researchers.
  5. The view of many SCAM proponents that conventional medicine does not care about nutrition is clearly not correct.
  6. Considering how unhealthy UPF is, there seems to be a lack of effective education and action aimed at preventing the harm UPF does to us.

This study examined the incidence and severity of adverse events (AEs) of patients receiving chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), with the hypothesis that < 1 per 100,000 SMT sessions results in a grade ≥ 3 (severe) AE. A secondary objective was to examine independent predictors of grade ≥ 3 AEs.

The researchers retrospectively identified patients with SMT-related AEs from January 2017 through August 2022 across 30 chiropractic clinics in Hong Kong. AE data were extracted from a complaint log, including solicited patient surveys, complaints, and clinician reports, and corroborated by medical records. AEs were independently graded 1–5 based on severity (1-mild, 2-moderate, 3-severe, 4-life-threatening, 5-death).

Among 960,140 SMT sessions for 54,846 patients, 39 AEs were identified, two were grade 3, both of which were rib fractures occurring in women age > 60 with osteoporosis, while none were grade ≥ 4, yielding an incidence of grade ≥ 3 AEs of 0.21 per 100,000 SMT sessions (95% CI 0.00, 0.56 per 100,000). There were no AEs related to stroke or cauda equina syndrome. The sample size was insufficient to identify predictors of grade ≥ 3 AEs using multiple logistic regression.

The authors concluded that, in this study, severe SMT-related AEs were reassuringly very rare.

This is good news for all patients who consult chiropractors. However, there seem to be several problems with this study:

  • Data originated from 30 affiliated chiropractic clinics with 38 chiropractors (New York Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Center, EC Healthcare, Hong Kong). These clinics are integrated into a larger healthcare organization, including several medical specialties and imaging and laboratory testing centers that utilize a shared medical records system. The 38 chiropractors represent only a little more than 10% of all chiropractors working in Hanh Kong and are thus not representative of all chiropractors in that region. Is it possible that the participating chiropractors were better trained, more gentle, or more careful than the rest?
  • Data regarding AEs was obtained from a detailed complaint log that was routinely aggregated from several sources by a customer service department. One source of AEs in this log was a custom survey administered to patients after their 1st, 2nd, and 16th visits. Additional AEs derived from follow-up phone calls by a personal health manager. This means that not all AE might have been noted. Some patients might not have complained, others might have been too ill to do so. And, of course, dead patients cannot complain. The authors state that “the response to the SMS questionnaire was low. It is possible that severe AEs occurred but were not reported or recorded through these or other methods of ascertainment”.
  • The 39 AEs potentially related to chiropractic SMT included increased symptoms related to the patient’s chief complaint (n = 28), chest pain without a fracture on imaging (n = 4), jaw pain (n = 3), rib fracture confirmed by imaging (n = 2), headache and dizziness without evidence of stroke (n = 1), and new radicular symptoms (n = 1). Of the 39 AEs, grade 2 were most common (n = 32, 82%), followed by grade 1 (n = 5, 13%), and grade 3 (n = 2, 5%). There were no cases of stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), vertebral or carotid artery dissection, cauda equina syndrome, or spinal fracture. Yet, headache and dizziness could be signs of a TIA.
  • Calculating the rate of AEs per SMT session might be misleading and of questionable value. Are incidence rates of AEs not usually expressed as AE/patient? In this case, the % rate would be almost 20 times higher.

Altogether, this is a laudable effort to generate evidence for the risks of SMT. The findings seem reassuring but sadly they are not fully convincing.

 

On 20/1/2023, I conducted multiple Medline searches aimed at generating a rough idea about which areas of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) are currently more research active than others. I searched for:

  1. the topic in question
  2. clinical trial
  3. publication in 2023

Here are my findings (subject area and the number of hits):

  • TCM 56
  • dietary supplements 47
  • acupuncture 34
  • integrative medicine 27
  • mindfulness 26
  • herbal medicine 23
  • massage 10
  • aromatherapy 2
  • hypnotherapy 2
  • osteopathy 2
  • tai chi 2
  • chiropractic 1
  • homeopathy 0
  • iridology 0
  • naturopathy 0
  • Reiki 0

Several caveats must be considered, of course: The searches do not include all SCAMs. The results are not precise and most of the retrieved articles are not really clinical trials (in fact, only a minority are). The numbers are low because I deliberately did this exercise early in the year.

Yet, the findings do, I think, give an indication as to the current state of SCAM research and indicate which areas are more research active than others. To put the numbers in perspective, here are a few conventional therapies for which I searched on the same day and in the same manner:

  • pharmacology 539
  • physiotherapy 162
  • psychiatry 239
  • surgery 879

I think this makes one point fairly clear: SCAM is not an impressively research-active area. Another point stems from looking at the individual articles. TCM and acupuncture articles are almost exclusively authored by Chinese researchers. While this might not be surprising, the fact that herbal medicine is similar did amaze me; about half of the papers in this category are by Chinese authors. Essentially, this suggests that more than half of the SCAM articles currently originate from China. Considering the concerns one must have about Chinese SCAM research (see for instance here and here), do you think this finding might be worrying?

The far greater worry, I feel, is the attitude of the SCAM researchers publishing their work. Glancing at these papers I did not get the impression that many approached their subject critically, In fact, most of the papers looked to me overtly promotional and of poor quality. For instance, I did not see a single paper assessing the risks of SCAM which arguably is the most important issue in SCAM research. I admit that these concerns cannot be addressed by the above simple head count; they are best dealt with by critically analyzing individual studies – a task I regularly try to tackle on this blog

 

About a century ago, Royal Raymond Rife developed special microscopes and claimed he could visualize living microorganisms, including viruses too small to be seen with any other existing technology, via the color of auras emitted as they vibrated. In 1961, he explained this as follows: “A special risley prism which works on a counter rotation principle selects a portion of the light frequency which illuminates these viruses in their own characteristic chemical colors by emission of coordinative light frequency and the viruses become readily identifiable by the colors revealed on observation.”. The principles and alleged function of these microscopes have never been validated, and they have never been adopted for use.

Rife went on to postulate that the microorganisms he was seeing were involved in human diseases, including cancer . He also invented a machine that he claimed could transmit radio frequency energy into a person and vibrate these microorganisms at a “mortal oscillatory rate”, thereby killing them and improving the disease they were causing. The concept that diseases can be cured by radio frequency energy, originally proposed by Albert Abrams and referred to as ‘radionics’, was later investigated and disproven. Nonetheless, there remain enthusiasts who believe in Rife’s work, claim it was suppressed as part of an elaborate conspiracy. and continue to sell energy-transmitting devices and cures.

Rife machines (also called a Rife frequency generator.) produce low electromagnetic energy waves. These waves are similar to radio waves. Supporters of the treatment claim that the Rife machine can treat different conditions including cancer. There is no reliable evidence that the Rife machine works as a cure for cancer.

The Rife machine produces low-energy waves, also called radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. They have low energy compared to x-rays or radiotherapy.

Here is what proponents of the Rife therapy say:

… Although no official health claims are made for Rife therapy, testimonials from many countries point to its efficacy in the support of the body in maintaining or regaining good, natural health. A good Rife machine normally contains all of the original Royal Rife frequencies plus others that have been researched and utilised over the years.

WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE?

In most Rife sessions the client is seated. They have their feet on footplate electrodes and in their lap they hold in their hands plasma tubes. Thus they get the frequencies in normal form through the feet and in radio wave form through their hands. There are variations on this but this is the basic set up.

Some practitioners will occasionally employ something called a Beam Ray Tube. This is essentially a large plasma tube on a stand that plugs into the machine. The client just sits in front of it, about 3 feet away, while the frequencies are generated. In this instance the client does not have to hold anything or have their feet on footplates.

HOW LONG DO SESSIONS LAST?

The length of a session varies, depending on what is being addressed. Any session would be a minimum of 30 minutes but in serious or chronic conditions can last over 2 hours, occasionally more. However, clients can take breaks during the therapy.

HOW FREQUENT ARE TREATMENTS?

Once a week or once a fortnight is a common pattern of treatments. But in the case of more frequent sessions a minimum of 48 hours should be left between therapy. The duration of treatments varies on the condition being addressed. Sometimes it’s just a few visits…for conditions like Lyme Disease the treatments are ongoing for well over a year. The practitioner will answer your specific questions on this.

There are also frequencies to support regeneration and boost functions such as the immune system, the adrenals and several others.

ARE THERE ANY CONTRAINDICATIONS?

Rife therapy is not suitable for people with pacemakers or similar devices. It should not be given to children under 4 years of age. If a client is undergoing radiotherapy or frequency therapy for kidney stones etc there should should be no Rife sessions administered during these periods.

The day after some sessions a client may occasionally get a Herxheimer’s reaction. This is a feeling of tiredness, almost as if one is about to go down with flu. It was named after Dr Herxheimer who, along with one other doctor, discovered that when the liver and kidneys etc get overworked in disposing of waste products, this phenomena happens. The answer is just to drink lots of fluid to help the body dispose of the cells or toxins that have been eliminated by the Rife session. The day after that, the client is back to normal and usually feeling better than before the session.

I think that such promotional texts could and should be much shorter, more truthful, and hugely more informative, e.g.:

Rife therapy is not biologically plausible, has never been shown to be effective for any condition, might have adverse effects, and is not cheap. Therefore, we have a responsibility to warn consumers and patients not to use it.

The impact of drug-induced liver injury (DILI) on patients with chronic liver disease (CLD) is unclear. There are few reports comparing DILI in CLD and non-CLD patients. In this study, the researchers aimed to determine the incidence and outcomes of DILI in patients with and without CLD.

They collected data on eligible individuals with suspected DILI between 2018 and 2020 who were evaluated systematically for other etiologies, causes, and the severity of DILI. They compared the causative agents, clinical features, and outcomes of DILI among subjects with and without CLD who were enrolled in the Thai Association for the Study of the Liver DILI registry. Subjects with definite, or highly likely DILI were included in the analysis.

The researchers evaluated the causal relationship between the clinical pattern of liver injury and the suspected drugs or SCAM products with the Roussel Uclaf Causality Assessment Method (RUCAM) system. RUCAM is a validated and established tool to quantitatively assess causality in cases of suspected DILI and/or SCAM product-induced liver injury. They also used the Clinical Assessment of Causality Scale to assess the association as definite (>95% likelihood), highly likely (75–95%), probable (50–74%), possible (25–49%) or unlikely (<25%).

A total of 200 subjects diagnosed with DILI were found in the registry. Of those, 41 had CLD and 159 had no evidence of CLD. So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) products were identified as the most common class of DILI agents. Approximately 59% of DILI in the CLD and 40% in non-CLD group were associated with SCAM use. Individuals with pre-existing CLD had similar severity including mortality. Twelve patients (6%) developed adverse outcomes related to DILI including seven (3.5%) deaths and five (2.5%) with liver failure. Mortality was 4.88% in CLD and 3.14% in non-CLD subjects over median periods of 58 (8-106) days and 22 (1-65) days, respectively.

The authors concluded that, in this liver disease registry, the causes, clinical presentation, and outcomes of DILI in subjects with CLD and without CLD patients were not different. Further study is required to confirm our findings.

Consumers often prefer SCAM to conventional medicine because SCAM is viewed as gentle and safe. The notions are that they

  • are natural and therefore harmless;
  • have been in use for ages and thus have stood the test of time.

Readers of this blog will appreciate that both notions are, in fact, fallacies:

  • appeal to nature;
  • appeal to tradition.

This new paper is an impressive reminder that SCAM’s reputation as a safe option is not justified, and that SCAM relies more on fallacies than on facts.

Yesterday, Harriet’s many friends received the sad news of her unexpected death on 11 January. Harriet was not just a good and loyal friend, she was a tirelessly working, determined, and effective skeptic. Her work focussed on so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), and thus the two of us were on the same wavelength.

Harriet’s husband, Kirk, posted this short note about her death on social media:

I know Harriet’s work was followed and admired by many of you. It is with great sadness that I must tell you my beloved wife passed away quietly and unexpectedly in her sleep last night. At this moment, she would probably simply ask you to have a kind thought for her, be kind to each other and continue to support her belief in the truth.

I feel that, without intending to, Kirk described Harriet’s character very well. She was a quiet and kind person. Yet she inspired many, and her influence was considerable. Harriet Hall had been the founding member of skeptic organizations, author of books and countless articles, recipient of awards, author of many brilliant lectures, and much more.

Harriet and I have met in person only 2 or 3 times. But we did keep in contact and exchanged many emails. Most generously, she published reviews of most of my books and was often immeasurably supportive of my work.

Harriet Hall will be remembered by skeptics around the world for her quiet enthusiasm, her kindness, and her honesty. I will always remember her for coining an absolutely perfect term for the pseudo-research that plagues the field of SCAM:

TOOTH FAIRY SCIENCE

I lost a friend; the world lost a great skeptic.

We will all miss you, Harriet!

We have discussed the UK conservative MP and arch-Brexiteer, Andrew Bridgen, and his anti-vax stance before. Yesterday, it has been reported that he lost the Tory whip, i.e. he was expelled from the Tory party. The reason for this step is that he had taken to social media and claimed the Covid vaccine to be the “biggest crime against humanity since the holocaust”.

The North West Leicestershire MP has been vocal in remarks questioning the coronavirus vaccine.

On Wednesday he shared an article on vaccines on Twitter, adding: “As one consultant cardiologist said to me, this is the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust.”

Renouncing Bridgen’s right to sit as a Tory MP in Parliament, Conservative chief whip Simon Hart said: “Andrew Bridgen has crossed a line, causing great offence in the process. “As a nation, we should be very proud of what has been achieved through the vaccine programme. The vaccine is the best defence against Covid that we have. “Misinformation about the vaccine causes harm and costs lives. I am therefore removing the whip from Andrew Bridgen with immediate effect, pending a formal investigation.”

Earlier, former Cabinet minister Simon Clarke had condemned his colleague’s tweet referencing the Holocaust, calling it “disgraceful”.

Bridgen is currently already suspended from the Commons after he was found to have displayed a “very cavalier” attitude to the rules in a series of lobbying breaches. MPs agreed on Monday to suspend the North West Leicestershire MP for five sitting days from Tuesday.

Comments from different sources are not flattering for Bridgen:

  • Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said Bridgen’s tweet was “highly irresponsible, wholly inappropriate and an elected politician should know better”.
  • Anneliese Dodds, the Labour chair, said: “Andrew Bridgen has been spreading dangerous misinformation on Covid vaccines for some time now. He could have been disciplined weeks ago. “To invoke the Holocaust, as he did today, is utterly shameful, but it should never have reached this point.”
  • Andrew Percy, the Conservative MP who is vice-chair of the all-party group against antisemitism, called the comment “disgusting”. Asked by Times Radio if Bridgen should be allowed to stand again, Percy said: “I don’t think anybody who believes this kind of crap should, but that’s a matter for the whips not for me.”
  • John Mann, the former Labour MP who is now a non-affiliated peer and the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, said Bridgen should not be allowed to stand again as a Tory. “There is no possibility that Bridgen can be allowed to stand at the next election,” he said. “He cannot claim that he didn’t realise the level of offence that his remarks cause.”

____________________________

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a UK politician has been punished in this way. But it may well be also the first time that a sitting UK politician has uttered such insane stupidity. Bridgen’s chronic ineptitude is all the more significant as he really should know better. He studied genetics and behaviour at the University of Nottingham and graduated with a degree in biological sciences!

Here are some reactions from people commenting on Twitter about the twit:

  • Tory MP, Andrew Bridgen highlights… – Lies in court over family dispute and ordered by judge to pay £800k – Suspended for breaching MP lobbying rules – Thought all Brits entitled to Irish passport after Brexit – Likens vaccines to holocaust What a guy.
  • Spreads a dangerous, baseless smear his party colluded in a vaccine Holocaust and at the same time manages to insults victims of a grotesque wartime Holocaust. Conspiracy theorist Andrew Bridgen’s lost the plot. See no way back for the Tory MP now.
  • Grubby and despicable: Tory MP Andrew Bridgen loses whip over ‘dangerous’ Covid vaccine claims
  • To be fair, Bridgen kept the whip after saying the MI5 knew about the pandemic six months early, then colluded with shadowy elites to impose needless restrictions for their own nefarious ends. So the bar is high.
  • Politicians like Andrew Bridgen have succeeded in bringing conspiracy theories into the mainstream. They need to be called out, their arguments dismantled and their political influence cast out to the fringes where it belongs.
  • A Holocaust survivor has condemned a Tory MP’s “mind-boggling ignorance” after he compared the mass genocide of Jewish people during World War II to the COVID vaccine rollout
  • Many congratulations to Andrew Bridgen on his imminent selection as the Reform Party candidate for North West Leicestershire in the 2024 election
  • Andrew Bridgen. Perjury, bullying, misuse of money, months of anti-vaccine garbage, finally loses whip after comparing vaccination to the Holocaust. Scum.
  • Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. COVID vaccines have saved millions. The false and outrageous comparisons must end.
  • Andrew Bridgen suspended as Tory MP he said: “As one consultant cardiologist said to me, this is the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust.” Crucially a cardiologist saying this too. Who are they? Should GMC act in same way as Whips Office?

The prime candidate for the cardiologist in question must, of course, be Aseem Malhotra who also appeared on September 27, 2022, in a press conference with the World Council for Health — a group that has previously spread vaccine misinformation — to call for the “immediate and complete suspension of Covid-19 vaccine.”

Who was it that coined the bon mot: We were all born ignorant but to remain so requires hard work

I have tried!

Honestly!

But at present, it is simply not possible to escape the revelations and accusations by Harry Windsor.

So, eventually, I gave in and had a look at the therapy he often refers to. He claims that he is deeply traumatized by what he had to go through and, to help him survive the ordeal, Harry has been reported to use EMDR.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a fringe psychotherapy that was developed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. It is supposed to facilitate the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experiences with a view of bringing these to an adaptive resolution. The claim is that, after successful treatment with EMDR therapy, affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal is reduced.

During EMDR therapy the patient must attend to emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus. Therapist-directed lateral eye movements are commonly used as external stimulus but a variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and audio stimulation can also be employed.

Francine Shapiro, the psychologist who invented EMDR claims to have serendipitously discovered this technique by experiencing spontaneous saccadic eye movements in response to disturbing thoughts during a walk in the woods. Yet, as GM Rosen explains, this explanation is difficult to accept because normal saccadic eye movements appear to be physiologically undetectable and are typically triggered by external stimuli.

Shapiro hypothesizes that EMDR therapy facilitates the access to the traumatic memory network, so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations are alleged to result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and development of cognitive insights.

EMDR therapy uses a three-pronged protocol:

  • (1) the past events that have laid the groundwork for dysfunction are processed, forging new associative links with adaptive information;
  • (2) the current circumstances that elicit distress are targeted, and internal and external triggers are desensitized;
  • (3) imaginal templates of future events are incorporated, to assist the client in acquiring the skills needed for adaptive functioning.

The question I ask myself is, of course: Does EMDR work?

The evidence is mixed and generally flimsy. A systematic review showed that “limitations to the current evidence exist, and much current evidence relies on small sample sizes and provides limited follow-up data”.

What might be particularly interesting in relation to Harry Windsor is that EMDR techniques have been associated with memory-undermining effects and may undermine the accuracy of memory, which can be risky if patients, later on, serve as witnesses in legal proceedings.

Personally, I think that Harry’s outbursts lend support to the hypothesis that EMDR is not effective. In the interest of the royal family, we should perhaps see whether so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) does offer an effective treatment against navel gazing?

It has been reported that a German consumer association, the ‘Verbraucherzentrale NRW’, has first cautioned the manufacturer MEDICE Arzneimittel Pütter GmbH & Co. and then sued them for misleading advertising statements. The advertisement in question gave the wrong impression that their homeopathic remedy MEDITONSIN would:

  1. for certain generate a health improvement,
  2. have no side effects,
  3. be superior to “chemical-synthetic drugs”.

The study used by the manufacturer in support of such claims was not convincing according to the Regional Court of Dortmund. The results of a “large-scale study with more than 1,000 patients” presented a pie chart indicating that 90% of the patients were satisfied or very satisfied with the effect of Meditonsin. However, this was only based on a “pharmacy-based observational study” with little scientific validity, as pointed out by the consumer association. Despite the lack of evidence, the manufacturer claimed that their study “once again impressively confirms the good efficacy and tolerability of Meditonsin® Drops”. The Regional Court of Dortmund disagreed with the manufacturer and agreed with the reasoning of the consumer association.

“It is not permitted to advertise with statements that give the false impression that a successful treatment can be expected with certainty, as suggested by the advertising for Meditonsin Drops,” emphasizes Gesa Schölgens, head of “Faktencheck Gesundheitswerbung,” a joint project of the consumer centers of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. According to German law, this is prohibited. In addition, the Regional Court of Dortmund considered consumers to be misled by the advertising because the false impression was created that no harmful side effects are to be expected when Meditonsin Drops are taken. The package insert of the drug lists several side effects, according to which there could even be an initial worsening of symptoms after taking the drug.

The claim of advantages of the “natural remedy” represented by the manufacturer in comparison with “chemical-synthetic medicaments, which merely suppress the symptoms”, was also deemed to be inadmissible. Such comparative advertising is inadmissible.

__________________________________

This ruling is, I think, interesting in several ways. The marketing claims of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) products seem all too often not within the limits of the laws. One can therefore hope that this case might inspire many more legal cases against the inadmissible advertising of SCAMs.

 

Animals cannot consent to the treatments they are given when ill. This renders the promotion and use of SCAM in animals a tricky issue. This systematic review assessed the evidence for the clinical efficacy of 24 so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) used in cats, dogs, and horses.

A bibliographic search, restricted to studies in cats, dogs, and horses, was performed on Web of Science Core Collection, CABI, and PubMed. Relevant articles were assessed for scientific quality, and information was extracted on study characteristics, species, type of treatment, indication, and treatment effects.

Of 982 unique publications screened, 42 were eligible for inclusion, representing 9 different SCAM therapies, which were

  • aromatherapy,
  • gold therapy,
  • homeopathy,
  • leeches (hirudotherapy),
  • mesotherapy,
  • mud,
  • neural therapy,
  • sound (music) therapy,
  • vibration therapy.

For 15 predefined therapies, no study was identified. The risk of bias was assessed as high in 17 studies, moderate to high in 10, moderate in 10, low to moderate in four, and low in one study. In those studies where the risk of bias was low to moderate, there was considerable heterogeneity in reported treatment effects.

The authors concluded that the present systematic review has revealed significant gaps in scientific knowledge regarding the effects of a number of “miscellaneous” SCAM methods used in cats, dogs, and horses. For the majority of the therapies, no relevant scientific articles were retrieved. For nine therapies, some research documentation was available. However, due to small sample sizes, a lack of control groups, and other methodological limitations, few articles with a low risk of bias were identified. Where beneficial results were reported, they were not replicated in other independent studies. Many of the articles were in the lower levels of the evidence pyramid, emphasising the need for more high-quality research using precise methodologies to evaluate the potential therapeutic effects of these therapies. Of the publications that met the inclusion criteria, the majority did not have any scientific documentation of sufficient quality to draw any conclusion regarding their effect. Several of our observations may be translated into lessons on how to improve the scientific support for SCAM therapies. Crucial efforts include (a) a focus on the evaluation of therapies with an explanatory model for a mechanism of action accepted by the scientific community at large, (b) the use of appropriate control animals and treatments, preferably in randomized controlled trials, (c) high-quality observational studies with emphasis on control for confounding factors, (d) sufficient statistical power; to achieve this, large-scale multicenter trials may be needed, (e) blinded evaluations, and (f) replication studies of therapies that have shown promising results in single studies.

What the authors revealed in relation to homeopathy was particularly interesting, in my view. The included studies, with moderate risk of bias, such as homeopathic hypotensive treatment in dogs with early, stage two heart failure and the study on cats with hyperthyroidism, showed no differences between treated and non-treated animals. An RCT with osteoarthritic dogs showed a difference in three of the six variables (veterinary-assessed mobility, two force plate variables, an owner-assessed chronic pain index, and pain and movement visually analogous scales).

The results on homeopathy are supported by another systematic review of 18 RCTs, representing four species (including two dog studies) and 11 indications. The authors excluded generalized conclusions about the effect of certain homeopathic remedies or the effect of individualized homeopathy on a given medical condition in animals. In addition, a meta-analysis of nine homeopathy trials with a high risk of bias, and two studies with a lower risk of bias, concluded that there is very limited evidence that clinical intervention in animals using homeopathic remedies can be distinguished from similar placebo interventions.

In essence, this review confirms what I have been pointing out numerous times: SCAM for animals is not evidence-based, and this includes in particular homeopathy. It follows that its use in animals as an alternative to treatments with proven effectiveness borders on animal abuse.

 

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