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

risk/benefit

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Osteopathy is hugely popular in France. Despite the fact that osteopathy has never been conclusively shown to generate more good than harm, French osteopaths have somehow managed to get a reputation as trustworthy, evidence-based healthcare practitioners. They tend to treat musculoskeletal and many other issues. Visceral manipulation is oddly popular amongst French osteopaths. Now the trust of the French in osteopathy seems to have received a serious setback.

‘LE PARISIEN‘ has just published an article about the alleged sexual misconduct of one of the most prominent French osteopaths and director of one of the foremost schools of osteopathy in France. Here are some excerpts from the article that I translated for readers who don’t speak French:

The public prosecutor’s office of Grasse (Alpes-Maritimes) has opened a judicial investigation against Marc Bozzetto, the director and founder of the school of osteopathy in Valbonne, accused of rape and sexual assault.

In total, “four victims are targeted by the introductory indictment,” said the prosecutor’s office, stating that Marc Bozzetto had already been placed in police custody since the beginning of the proceedings. The daily paper ‘Nice-Matin’ has listed six complaints and published the testimony of a seventh alleged victim.

This victim claims to have been sexually assaulted in 2013, alleging that, during a professional appointment, Bozzetto had massaged her breasts and her intimate area. “He told me that everything went through my vagina and clitoris, that I had to spread my legs and let the energy flow through my clitoris. That I had to learn how to give myself pleasure on my own,” she told Nice-Matin. The newspaper also recorded the testimonies of a former employee, a top-level sportswoman, an employee from the world of culture, and a former student.

“I take note that a judicial inquiry is open. To date, he has neither been summoned nor indicted,” said Karine Benadava, the Parisian lawyer of the 80-year-old Bozzetto. Her client had already responded following initial accusations from students: “This is a normal feeling for women, but if all the women who work on the pelvis complain, you can’t get away with it and you have to stop working as a pelvic osteopath,” replied Bozzetto. In another interview, he had declared himself “furious” and unable to understand the reaction of these two students.

The school of osteopathy trains about 300 students each five years and presents itself as the first holistic osteopathy campus in France.

______________________________

Such stories of sexual misconduct of practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) are sadly no rarety, particularly those working in the area of manual therapy. They remind me of a case against a Devon SCAM practitioner in which I served as an expert witness many years ago. Numerous women gave witness that he ended up having his fingers in their vagina during therapy. He did not deny the fact but tried to defend himself by claiming that he was merely massaging lymph-nodes in this area. It was my task to elaborate on the plausibility of this claim. The SCAM practitioner in question was eventually sentenced to two years in prison.

It stands to reason that SCAM practitioners working in the pelvic area are at particularly high risk of going atray. The above case might be a good occasion to have a public debate in France and ask: IS VISCERAL OSTEOPATHY EVIDENCE-BASED? The answer is very clearly NO! Surely, this is a message worth noting in view of the current popularity of this ridiculous, costly, and dangerous charlatanry.

And how does one minimize the risk of sexual misconduct of SCAM professionals? The most obvious answer would be, by proper education during their training. In the case mentioned above, this might have been a problem: if the director is into sexual misconduct, what can you expect of the rest of the school? In many other cases, the problem is even greater: many SCAM practitioners have had no training at all, or no training in healthcare ethics to speak of.

 

I am pleased to report that our ‘resident homeopathic doctor’ from Germany, Dr. Heinrich Huemmer, posted a review of my new book on Amazon. As his comments are in German, I translated them which was not easy because they are confusing and confused. Now that it’s done, I cannot resist the temptation to show them to you (the references were inserted by me, and refer to my comments below):

First of all, the author, who as a scientist [1] once had a thoroughly positive attitude towards homeopathy [and in a meta-analysis even attested to it significantly positive results in a certain clinical picture [2]], explains the principles and procedures in homeopathy in a clear and objective manner.
In explaining the principle of potentization, however, Ernst’s one-dimensional and completely unscientific matter-bound, quasi-medieval understanding of science shines through for the first time. With the assertion, “both the dilution and the similarity rule contradict the laws of nature” he clearly reveals his unscientific thinking, whereby he could have easily relativized this by an inserted differentiation “presently, known laws of nature”. [3] And not even the following sentence “…we understand very well that it can function only if the known laws of nature would be invalid” is agreed by critically thinking natural scientists. [3] Also the assertion: “The totality of this evidence does not show that homeopathic remedies would be no more than placebo”, is countered by a well-known – belonging to the skeptic movement – expert of the homeopathic study situation with the remark: “Furthermore, you should read my statements and those of the INH more carefully again: Our statement is that there is no robust/reliable/convincing evidence for efficacy beyond placebo. ALSO NOT “NONE” but “none conclusive”, which yes makes a difference in absolute numbers. Just like “no beer” is different than “not a good beer”. ” [4] Since patients usually turn to homeopathy only when so-called scientific medicine negates their illnesses and accordingly has nothing to offer them [5], Ernst’s reference to the fact that patients could “endanger their health” is to be seen as a cheap attempt at discrediting. [6] The reference that this assessment comes from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council is not without a particularly piquant note, since this NHMRC may have to be held responsible for a particularly infamous attempt at scientific fraud to the disadvantage of homeopathy. [7] Also, the alleged “fact” that “[positive] experiences […] are the result of a long, empathetic, sympathetic encounter with a homoeopath…” can be disproved by immediate – also diagnostically verified – cures, which occurred immediately without a long admission or which failed to appear even after several intensive anamneses under most sympathetic admission against all expectations…..[8] Finally Ernst’s argument “the benefit-cost-argument of homeopathy is not positive” is an absolute air number, because the saving of 1 €/patient and year (in case of abolition of the homeopathy-reimbursement) would not even allow a free new glasses-nose-pad…. [9]

________________________

  1. I am not sure where Homeopathy Heinrich Huemmer (HHH) got the claim from that I, as a scientist, once had a thoroughly positive attitude towards homeopathy. This is not even remotely true! As a very young clinician (40 years ago), I once was quite impressed by homeopathy, never as a scientist (for full details, see my memoir). What HHH seems to display here is his very own misunderstanding about science and scientists: if they are for real (i.e. not pseudoscientists like many of those who research homeopathy), scientists try not to let their personal attitudes get in the way of good science.
  2. I presume that HHH refers here to this meta-analysis: Homeopathy for postoperative ileus? A meta-analysis. I fear that HHH has yet to learn how to read a scientific paper. Our conclusions were: There is evidence that homeopathic treatment can reduce the duration of ileus after abdominal or gynecologic surgery. However, several caveats preclude a definitive judgment. These results should form the basis of a randomized controlled trial to resolve the issue. 
  3. This made me laugh! Does HHH think that only the handful of homeopathic loons who claim that homeopathy has a scientific basis in the unknown laws of nature are truly scientific? And all the rest are unscientific?
  4. I doubt that anyone can understand this passage, perhaps not even HHH. My conclusion that “the totality of this evidence does not show that homeopathic remedies are more than placebo”  merely expresses what even most homeopaths would admit and is unquestionably correct.
  5. This statement is untrue in more than one way. Firstly, responsible clinicians never tell a patient that they have nothing more to offer, simply because this is never the case – there is always something a good clinician can do for his/her patient, even if it is just in terms of palliation or moral support. Secondly, we know that German patients opt to use homeopathy for all sorts of reasons, including as first-line therapy and not as a last resort.
  6. In the book, I refer (and reference the source) to the phenomenon that many homeopaths discourage their patients from vaccination. Unfortunately, this is no ‘cheap attempt’, it is the sad reality. HHH does not even try to dispute it.
  7. HHH does not like the NHMRC report. Fair enough! But he omits to mention that, in the book, I list a total of 4 further official verdicts. Does HHH assume they are all fraudulent? Is there perhaps a worldwide conspiracy against homeopathy?
  8. We all know that HHH is enormously proud of his only publication to which he refers here (on this blog, he must have mentioned it a dozen times). However, in the book, I refer to an RCT for making my point. Which is more convincing, a case report or an RCT?
  9. Here HHH simply demonstrates that he has not understood the concept of cost-effectiveness.

So, what we have here is a near-perfect depiction of a homeopath’s way of thinking. But there is worse in HHH’s comment< I fear.

My book (of 224 pages) scrutinizes – as even its title states – not one but 40 types of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM); 20 of the most effective and 20 of the most dangerous SCAMs. In addition, it covers (in ~ 50 pages) many general topics (like ‘WHAT IS EVIDENCE? or WHY IS SCAM SO POPULAR?). It includes over 200 references to published papers. Yet, HHH reviews and judges the book by commenting exclusively on the meager 5 pages dedicated to homeopathy!

If that does not exemplify the limitations of the homeopathic mind, please tell me what does.

THANK YOU, HHH, FOR MAKING THIS SO CLEAR TO US!

Physicians who include so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) in their practice are thought to have an understanding of health and disease different from that of colleagues practicing conventional medicine. The aim of this study was to identify and compare the thoughts and concepts concerning infectious childhood diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, pertussis, and scarlet fever) of physicians practicing homeopathic, anthroposophic and conventional medicine.

This qualitative study used semistructured interviews. Participating physicians were either general practitioners or pediatricians. Data collection and analysis were guided by a grounded theory approach.

Eighteen physicians were interviewed (6 homeopathic, 6 anthroposophic, and 6 conventional). All physicians agreed that while many classic infectious childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, and rubella are rarely observed today, other diseases, such as chickenpox and scarlet fever, are still commonly diagnosed. All interviewed physicians vaccinated against childhood diseases.

  • A core concern for physicians practicing conventional medicine was the risk of complications of the diseases. Therefore, it was considered essential for them to advise their patients to strictly follow the vaccination schedule.
  • Homeopathic-oriented physicians viewed acute disease as a biological process necessary to strengthen health, fortify the immune system and increase resistance to chronic disease. They tended to treat infectious childhood diseases with homeopathic remedies and administered available vaccines as part of individual decision-making approaches with parents.
  • For anthroposophic-oriented physicians, infectious childhood diseases were considered a crucial factor in the psychosocial growth of children. They tended to treat these diseases with anthroposophic medicine and underlined the importance of the family’s resources. Informing parents about the potential benefits and risks of vaccination was considered important.

All physicians agreed that parent-delivered loving care of a sick child could benefit the parent-child relationship. Additionally, all recognized that existing working conditions hindered parents from providing such care for longer durations of time.

The authors concluded that the interviewed physicians agreed that vaccines are an important aspect of modern pediatrics. They differed in their approach regarding when and what to vaccinate against. The different conceptual understandings of infectious childhood diseases influenced this decision-making. A survey with a larger sample would be needed to verify these observations.

The authors (members of a pro-SCAM research group) stress that the conventional physicians saw many risks in the natural course of classic childhood illnesses and appreciated vaccinations as providing relief for the child and family. By contrast, the physicians trained in homeopathy or anthroposophic medicine expected more prominent unknown risks because of vaccinations, due to suppression of the natural course of the disease. Different concepts of disease lead to differences in the perceptions of risk and the benefit of prevention measures. While prevention in medicine aims to eliminate classic childhood diseases, anthroposophic and homeopathic literature also describes positive aspects of undergoing these diseases for childhood development.

This paper thus provides intriguing insights into the bizarre thinking of doctors who practice homeopathy and anthroposophical medicine. The authors of the paper seem content with explaining and sometimes even justifying these beliefs, creeds, concepts, etc. They make no attempt to discuss the objective truths in these matters or to disclose the errors in the thought processes that underly homeopathy and anthroposophical medicine. They also tell us that ALL  the interviewed physicians vaccinated children. They, however, fail to provide us with information on whether these doctors all recommend vaccinations for all patients against all the named infectious diseases. From much of previous research, we have good reasons to fear that their weird convictions often keep them from adhering strictly to the current immunization guidelines.

 

Yes, I have just published a new book! Its title is ‘Alternativmedizin – was hilft, was schadet: Die 20 besten, die 20 bedenklichsten Methoden’ (Alternative medicine – treatments that help and treatments that harm: The 20 best and the 20 most worrying methods). Yes, it is in German, and somehow I doubt that there will be an English version of it. Therefore I take the liberty of translating a short section for those who do not read German.

But first, let me tell you about the book’s concept.

Some people who read this blog seem to have the impression that I am dead against so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – my friend Dana Ullman, for instance, is convinced of it. This, however, is not quite correct (Dana rarely is). The truth is that I am

  • FOR evidence-based medicine,
  • FOR a level playing field in all areas of healthcare,
  • FOR critically evaluating all options.

This also means, of course, that I am against misleading consumers about the value of SCAM. And therefore I am FOR any SCAM that demonstrably does more good than harm.

This attitude should have been clear from all my books. However, it seems to be difficult to understand for those who are on the more fanatical end of the SCAM spectrum. And because it is not that obvious, I decided to write a book that analyses (understandably yet analytically [including ~300 references of the original science]) the evidence for 20 SCAMs that are supported by reasonably sound evidence together with 20 for which this is not the case. My hope is that, with this approach, I might reach more consumers who are in favour of SCAM.

There is a risk, of course. Chances are that, instead of reaching more people from the pro-camp, I will merely offend both the sceptics as well as the enthusiasts.

We shall see.

Anyway, here is the promised bit that I translated for you. It is the postscript of the book, and I hope it gives you a flavour of what it is all about. Here we go:

 

In the first chapter of the book, I promised that I would neither uncritically hype alternative medicine nor unfairly condemn it. I have taken great pains to keep this promise.

Have I succeeded?

I fear there will be many who answer this question in the negative. And I can’t even blame my critics! Who likes to be criticized for something in which he deeply believes? Who likes to hear that his prejudices against everything called alternative medicine are wrong and counter-productive? Who doesn’t mind an ugly fact that destroys his beautiful theory? Both the dogmatic naysayers and the naive believers will be dissatisfied with my book (or at least parts of).

That’s a shame, but ultimately it is irrelevant. My point was not to take the word of one camp or another in the endless trench warfare that is alternative medicine. My main concern was to present the evidence as up-to-date, understandable, and objective as possible, and to serve those who are seriously interested in facts.

The book is thus not for dogged trench warriors; rather, it is aimed at ordinary consumers with an interest in their health. After all, the vast majority of the population is not among the unteachables of one camp or the other. Most people don’t want ideology, they want effective medicine. And most of them are baffled by the unmanageable variety of alternative medicine on offer, the grandiose promises of healing, and the vehement emotions that it all triggers.

In the area of alternative medicine, there is undoubtedly a lot of nonsense, charlatanry, and danger. But there are also some things that demonstrably do more good than harm. In order to separate the wheat from the chaff, consumers don’t need creeds. What they need above all is reliable evidence!

You can read about this evidence in my book. How you then deal with it is solely your decision. I do not want to tell anyone what to do with my presentation of the facts. But I know that the abundance of misinformation in the field of alternative medicine causes great damage and that the consumer and reader of my book, deserve better than to be led up the garden path.

If this book helps readers to make wise treatment decisions, my efforts will have been worthwhile. And if they get half as much pleasure from reading it as I did from writing it, my goal has been achieved.

THE END

(If by any chance you do read German and are in the position to publish a book review, please let me know and I will see that you get a free review copy of my book)

On 10/1/2021 THE GUARDIAN reported about some bizarre anthroposophic treatments in Germany. About a month before, we had discussed the issue here on this blog. The GUARDIAN article prompted the following press release, dated 12/1/2021, by the ‘International Federation of Anthroposophic Medical Associations’ (oddly abbreviated IVAA):

IVAA welcomes the reporting by The Observer, a sister paper of The Guardian, on the care of Covid-19 patients in German anthroposophic hospitals, including critically ill patients in the intensive care ward. The article rightly highlights how these treatments are provided in addition to state-of-the-art conventional treatments, how anthroposophic medicine is fully integrated into the German health care system and how anthroposophy “enjoys a high level of social acceptance and institutional support in German-speaking countries”. The World Health Organization’s Traditional Medicine Strategy has indeed set integration of traditional and complementary medicine into health care systems as one of its strategic goals.

While the article is generally biased against anthroposophic medicine and only quotes two known opponents of anthroposophy, it nevertheless provides welcome reporting on integrative medicine that is highly popular with patients in Europe.

There are many peer-reviewed studies on anthroposophic medicine and anthroposophic medications have been in use for decades, showing an excellent safety profile. The Observer’s critique that patients should provide consent for such treatments does not hold because the treatments are not experimental, are provided in addition to standard care, based on long clinical experience and in hospitals openly publicizing their integrative medicine approach. As the article reports, German insurance companies pay flat-rate payments for hospital treatment of coronavirus patients; the additional anthroposophic treatments are thus financed out of hospital budgets and are cost-neutral for insurance companies.

Unfortunately, and as correctly reported by The Observer, individual supporters of anthroposophic medicine have sided with demonstrations against corona measures; this does in no way reflect the official position of anthroposophic medicine and IVAA member organizations have clearly distanced themselves.

END OF PRESS RELEASE

One does not need to be a champion in critical thinking to realize that this press release deserves a few comments.

  1. The claim that anthroposophic medicine (AM) is ‘fully integrated into the German healthcare system‘ is misleading. In Germany, AM belongs to the special therapeutic measures (‘besondere Therapierichtungen’) which indicates almost the opposite of ‘fully integrated’.
  2. Similarly, AM is not ‘highly accepted’ but belongs to the fringe of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). There are only very few anthroposophic hospitals in Germany, and most Germans would not even know what AM is.
  3. The press release claims that ‘there are many peer-reviewed studies on anthroposophic medicine‘. The link it provides leads to an AM organization’s list of references. For infections, this list references the following 9 papers:  (1) Martin DD. Fever: Views in Anthroposophic Medicine and their Scientific Validity. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016(1):13 pages.(2) Soldner G, Stellman HM. Individual Paediatrics: Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Aspects of Diagnosis and Counseling – Anthroposophic-homeopathic Therapy, Fourth edition. 4 edition. CRC Press; 2014. 984 S. (3) Glöckler M, Goebel W. A Guide to Child Health: A Holistic Approach to Raising Healthy Children. Floris Books; 2013. (4) Goebel MW, Michael MK, Glöckler MM. Kindersprechstunde: ein medizinisch-pädagogischer Ratgeber. Verlag Urachhaus; 2016. (5) Szoeke H, Marodi M, Sallay Z, Székely B, Sterner M-G, Hegyi G. Integrative versus Conventional Therapy of Chronic Otitis Media with Effusion and Adenoid Hypertrophy in Children: A Prospective Observational Study. Forsch KomplementärmedizinResearch Complement Med. 2016;23(4):231–239. (6) Hamre HJ, Glockmann A, Schwarz R, Riley DS, Baars EW, Kiene H, u. a. Antibiotic use in children with acute respiratory or ear infections: prospective observational comparison of anthroposophic and conventional treatment under routine primary care conditions. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014(Article ID 243801). (7) Hamre HJ, Fischer M, Heger M, Riley D, Haidvogl M, Baars E, u. a. Anthroposophic vs. conventional therapy of acute respiratory and ear infections. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2005;117(7–8):256–268. (8) Hamre HJ, Glockmann A, Fischer M, Riley DS, Baars E, Kiene H. Use and Safety of Anthroposophic Medications for Acute Respiratory and Ear Infections: A Prospective Cohort Study. Drug Target Insights. 14. September 2007;2:209–19. (9) Jeschke E, Lüke C, Ostermann T, Tabali M, Huebner J, Matthes H. Verordnungsverhalten anthroposophisch orientierter Ärzte bei akuten Infektionen der oberen Atemwege. Forsch KomplementärmedizinResearch Complement Med. 2007;14(4):207–215.                                                                       These are mostly NOT peer-reviewed papers, and none yields anything close to conclusive findings about the alleged efficacy of AM treatments. The truth is that there is no good evidence to support AM.
  4.  The mention that AM remedies have been used for decades is a fallacy (appeal to tradition).
  5.  Yes, AM remedies are safe – mainly because they, like homeopathic remedies, usually contain no active ingredients.
  6.  Patients should provide consent for such treatments to ALL treatments, experimental or not.
  7. Clinicians practicing AM have long been known to hold an anti-vax attitude which has also caused problems in the past.

My conclusion: this press release was written in true anthroposophic style and spirit: ill-informed, in disregard of medical ethics, based on wishful thinking and aimed at misleading the public.

I was criticised for not referencing this article in a recent post on adverse effects of spinal manipulation. In fact the commentator wrote: Shame on you Prof. Ernst. You get an “E” for effort and I hope you can do better next time. The paper was published in a third-class journal, but I will nevertheless quote the ‘key messages’ from this paper, because they are in many ways remarkable.

  • Adverse events from manual therapy are few, mild, and transient. Common AEs include local tenderness, tiredness, and headache. Other moderate and severe adverse events (AEs) are rare, while serious AEs are very rare.
  • Serious AEs can include spinal cord injuries with severe neurological consequences and cervical artery dissection (CAD), but the rarity of such events makes the provision of epidemiological evidence challenging.
  • Sports-related practice is often time sensitive; thus, the manual therapist needs to be aware of common and rare AEs specifically associated with spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) to fully evaluate the risk-benefit ratio.

The author of this paper is Aleksander Chaibi, PT, DC, PhD who holds several positions in the Norwegian Chiropractors’ Association, and currently holds a position as an expert advisor in the field of biomedical brain research for the Brain Foundation of the Netherlands. I feel that he might benefit from reading some more critical texts on the subject. In fact, I recommend my own 2020 book. Here are a few passages dealing with the safety of SMT:

Relatively minor AEs after SMT are extremely common. Our own systematic review of 2002 found that they occur in approximately half of all patients receiving SMT. A more recent study of 771 Finish patients having chiropractic SMT showed an even higher rate; AEs were reported in 81% of women and 66% of men, and a total of 178 AEs were rated as moderate to severe. Two further studies reported that such AEs occur in 61% and 30% of patients. Local or radiating pain, headache, and tiredness are the most frequent adverse effects…

A 2017 systematic review identified the characteristics of AEs occurring after cervical spinal manipulation or cervical mobilization. A total of 227 cases were found; 66% of them had been treated by chiropractors. Manipulation was reported in 95% of the cases, and neck pain was the most frequent indication for the treatment. Cervical arterial dissection (CAD) was reported in 57%, and 46% had immediate onset symptoms. The authors of this review concluded that there seems to be under-reporting of cases. Further research should focus on a more uniform and complete registration of AEs using standardized terminology…

In 2005, I published a systematic review of ophthalmic AEs after SMT. At the time, there were 14 published case reports. Clinical symptoms and signs included:

  • central retinal artery occlusion,
  • nystagmus,
  • Wallenberg syndrome,
  • ptosis,
  • loss of vision,
  • ophthalmoplegia,
  • diplopia,
  • Horner’s syndrome…

Vascular accidents are the most frequent serious AEs after chiropractic SMT, but they are certainly not the only complications that have been reported. Other AEs include:

  • atlantoaxial dislocation,
  • cauda equina syndrome,
  • cervical radiculopathy,
  • diaphragmatic paralysis,
  • disrupted fracture healing,
  • dural sleeve injury,
  • haematoma,
  • haematothorax,
  • haemorrhagic cysts,
  • muscle abscess,
  • muscle abscess,
  • myelopathy,
  • neurologic compromise,
  • oesophageal rupture
  • pneumothorax,
  • pseudoaneurysm,
  • soft tissue trauma,
  • spinal cord injury,
  • vertebral disc herniation,
  • vertebral fracture…

In 2010, I reviewed all the reports of deaths after chiropractic treatments published in the medical literature. My article covered 26 fatalities but it is important to stress that many more might have remained unpublished. The cause usually was a vascular accident involving the dissection of a vertebral artery (see above). The review also makes the following important points:

  • … numerous deaths have been associated with chiropractic. Usually high-velocity, short-lever thrusts of the upper spine with rotation are implicated. They are believed to cause vertebral arterial dissection in predisposed individuals which, in turn, can lead to a chain of events including stroke and death. Many chiropractors claim that, because arterial dissection can also occur spontaneously, causality between the chiropractic intervention and arterial dissection is not proven. However, when carefully evaluating the known facts, one does arrive at the conclusion that causality is at least likely. Even if it were merely a remote possibility, the precautionary principle in healthcare would mean that neck manipulations should be considered unsafe until proven otherwise. Moreover, there is no good evidence for assuming that neck manipulation is an effective therapy for any medical condition. Thus, the risk-benefit balance for chiropractic neck manipulation fails to be positive.
  • Reliable estimates of the frequency of vascular accidents are prevented by the fact that underreporting is known to be substantial. In a survey of UK neurologists, for instance, under-reporting of serious complications was 100%. Those cases which are published often turn out to be incomplete. Of 40 case reports of serious adverse effects associated with spinal manipulation, nine failed to provide any information about the clinical outcome. Incomplete reporting of outcomes might therefore further increase the true number of fatalities.
  • This review is focussed on deaths after chiropractic, yet neck manipulations are, of course, used by other healthcare professionals as well. The reason for this focus is simple: chiropractors are more frequently associated with serious manipulation-related adverse effects than osteopaths, physiotherapists, doctors or other professionals. Of the 40 cases of serious adverse effects mentioned above, 28 can be traced back to a chiropractor and none to a osteopath. A review of complications after spinal manipulations by any type of healthcare professional included three deaths related to osteopaths, nine to medical practitioners, none to a physiotherapist, one to a naturopath and 17 to chiropractors. This article also summarised a total of 265 vascular accidents of which 142 were linked to chiropractors. Another review of complications after neck manipulations published by 1997 included 177 vascular accidents, 32 of which were fatal. The vast majority of these cases were associated with chiropractic and none with physiotherapy. The most obvious explanation for the dominance of chiropractic is that chiropractors routinely employ high-velocity, short-lever thrusts on the upper spine with a rotational element, while the other healthcare professionals use them much more sparingly.

Another review summarised published cases of injuries associated with cervical manipulation in China. A total of 156 cases were found. They included the following problems:

  • syncope (45 cases),
  • mild spinal cord injury or compression (34 cases),
  • nerve root injury (24 cases),
  • ineffective treatment/symptom increased (11 cases),
  • cervical spine fracture (11 cases),
  • dislocation or semi-luxation (6 cases),
  • soft tissue injury (3 cases),
  • serious accident (22 cases) including paralysis, deaths and cerebrovascular accidents.

Manipulation including rotation was involved in 42% of all cases. In total, 5 patients died…

To sum up … chiropractic SMT can cause a wide range of very serious complications which occasionally can even be fatal. As there is no AE reporting system of such events, we nobody can be sure how frequently they occur.

[references from my text can be found in the book]

There are of course 2 types of osteopaths: the US osteopaths who are very close to real doctors, and the osteopaths from all other countries who are practitioners of so-called alternative medicine. This post, as all my posts on this subject, is about the latter category.

I was alerted to a paper entitled ‘Osteopathy under scrutiny’. It goes without saying that I thought it relevant; after all, scrutinising so-called altermative medicine (SCAM), such as osteopathy is one of the aims of this blog. The article itself is in German, but it has an English abstract:

Osteopathic medicine is a medical specialty that enjoys a high level of recognition and increasing popularity among patients. High-quality education and training are essential to ensure good and safe patient treatment. At a superficial glance, osteopathy could be misunderstood as a myth; accurately considered, osteopathic medicine is grounded in medical and scientific knowledge and solid theoretical and practical training. Scientific advances increasingly confirm the empirical experience of osteopathy. Although more studies on its efficacy could be conducted, there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable application of osteopathy. Current scientific studies show how a manually executed osteopathic intervention can induce tissue and even cellular reactions. Because the body actively responds to environmental stimuli, osteopathic treatment is considered an active therapy. Osteopathic treatment is individually applied and patients are seen as an integrated entity. Because of its typical systemic view and scientific interpretation, osteopathic medicine is excellently suited for interdisciplinary cooperation. Further work on external evidence of osteopathy is being conducted, but there is enough knowledge from the other pillars of evidence-based medicine (EBM) to support the application of osteopathic treatment. Implementing careful, manual osteopathic examination and treatment has the potential to cut healthcare costs. To ensure quality, osteopathic societies should be intimately involved and integrated in the regulation of the education, training, and practice of osteopathic medicine.

This does not sound as though the authors know what scutiny is. In fact, the abstract reads like a white-wash of quackery. Why might this be so? To answer this question, we need to look no further than to the ‘conflicts of interest’ where the authors state (my translation): K. Dräger and R. Heller state that, in addition to their activities as further education officers/lecturers for osteopathy (Deutsche Ärztegesellschaft für Osteopathie e. V. (DÄGO) and the German Society for Osteopathic Medicine e. V. (DGOM)) there are no conflicts of interest.

But, to tell you the truth, the article itself is worse, much worse that the abstract. Allow me to show you a few quotes (all my [sometimes free] translations).

  • Osteopathic medicine is a therapeutic method based on the scientific findings from medical research.
  • [The osteopath makes] diagnostic and therapeutic movements with the hands for evaluating limitations of movement. Thereby, a blocked joint as well as a reduced hydrodynamic or vessel perfusion can be identified.
  • The indications of osteopathy are comparable to those of general medicine. Osteopathy can be employed from the birth of a baby up to the palliative care of a dying patient.
  • Biostatisticians have recognised the weaknesses of RCTs and meta-analyses, as they merely compare mean values of therapeutic effects, and experts advocate a further evidence level in which statictical correlation is abandonnened in favour of individual causality and definition of cause.
  • In ostopathy, the weight of our clinical experience is more important that external evidence.
  • Research of osteopathic medicine … the classic cause/effect evaluation cannot apply (in support of this statement, the authors cite a ‘letter to the editor‘ from 1904; I looked it up and found that it does in no way substantiate this claim)
  • Findings from anatomy, embryology, physiology, biochemistry and biomechanics which, as natural sciences, have an inherent evidence, strengthen in many ways the plausibility of osteopathy.
  • Even if the statistical proof of the effectiveness of neurocranial techniques has so far been delivered only in part, basic research demonstrates that the effects of traction or compression of bogily tissue causes cellular reactions and regulatory processes.

What to make of such statements? And what to think of the fact that nowhere in the entire paper even a hint of ‘scrutiny’ can be detected? I don’t know about you, but for me this paper reflects very badly on both the authors and on osteopathy as a whole. If you ask me, it is an odd mixture of cherry-picking the evidence, misunderstanding science, wishful thinking and pure, unadulterated bullshit.

You urgently need to book into a course of critical thinking, guys!

The authors of this review wanted to determine similarities and differences in the reasons for using or not using so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) amongst general and condition-specific populations, and amongst populations in each region of the globe.

Quantitative or qualitative original articles in English, published between 2003 and 2018 were reviewed. Conference proceedings, pilot studies, protocols, letters, and reviews were excluded. Papers were appraised using valid tools and a ‘risk of bias’ assessment was also performed. Thematic analysis was conducted. Reasons were coded in each paper, then codes were grouped into categories. If several categories reported similar reasons, these were combined into a theme. Themes were then analysed using χ2 tests to identify the main factors related to reasons for CAM usage.

A total of 231 publications were included. Reasons for SCAM use amongst general and condition-specific populations were similar. The top three reasons were:

  • (1) having an expectation of benefits of SCAM (84% of publications),
  • (2) dissatisfaction with conventional medicine (37%),
  • (3) the perceived safety of SCAM (37%).

Internal health locus of control as an influencing factor was more likely to be reported in Western populations, whereas the social networks was a common factor amongst Asian populations (p < 0.05). Affordability, easy access to SCAM and tradition were significant factors amongst African populations (p < 0.05). Negative attitudes towards SCAM and satisfaction with conventional medicine were the main reasons for non-use (p < 0.05).

The authors concluded that dissatisfaction with conventional medicine and positive attitudes toward SCAM, motivate people to use SCAM. In contrast, satisfaction with conventional medicine and negative attitudes towards SCAM are the main reasons for non-use.

At this point, I thought: so what? This is all very obvious and does not necessitate an extensive review of the published literature. What it actually shows is that the realm of SCAM is obsessed with conducting largely useless surveys, a phenomenon, I once called ‘survey mania‘. But a closer look at the review does reveal some potentially interesting findings.

In less developed parts of the world, like Africa, SCAM use seems to be determined by affordability, accessibility and tradition. This makes sense and ties in with my impression that consumers in such countries would give up SCAM as soon as they can afford proper medicine.

This notion seems to be further supported by the reasons for not using SCAM. Asian consumers claim overwhelmingly that this is because they consider SCAM ineffective and unsafe.

In our review of 2011 (not cited in the new review), we looked at some of the issues from a slightly different angle and evaluated the expectations of SCAM users. Seventy-three articles met our inclusion criteria of our review. A wide range of expectations emerged. In order of prevalence, they included:

  • the hope to influence the natural history of the disease;
  • the desire to prevent disease and promote health/general well-being;
  • the hope of fewer side effects;
  • the wish to be in control over one’s health;
  • the hope for symptom relief;
  • the ambition to boost the immune system;
  • the hope to receive emotional support;
  • the wish to receive holistic care;
  • the hope to improve quality of life;
  • the expectation to relief of side effects of conventional medicine;
  • the desire for a good therapeutic relationship;
  • the hope to obtain information;
  • the hope of coping better with illness;
  • the expectation of supporting the natural healing process;
  • the availability of SCAM.

All of these aspects, issues and notions might be interesting, even fascinating to some, but we should not forget three important caveats:

  • Firstly, SCAM is such a diverse area that any of the above generalisations are highly problematic; the reasons and expectations of someone trying acupuncture may be entirely different from those of someone using homeopathy, for instance.
  • Secondly (and more importantly), the ‘survey mania’ of SCAM researchers has not generated the most reliable data; in fact, most of the papers are hardly worth the paper they were printed on.
  • Thirdly (and even more importantly, in my view), why should any of this matter? We have known about some of these issues for at least 3 decades. Has this line of research changed anything? Has it prevented consumers getting exploited by scrupulous SCAM entrepreneurs? Has it made consumers, politicians or anyone else more aware of the risks associated with SCAM? Has it saved many lives? I doubt it!

This systematic review and meta-analysis was aimed at investigating the effect and safety of acupuncture for the treatment of chronic spinal pain.

The authors included 22 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving patients with chronic spinal pain treated by acupuncture versus sham acupuncture, no treatment, or another treatment were included. Chronic spinal pain was defined as:

  • chronic neck pain,
  • chronic low back pain,
  • or sciatica for more than 3 months.

Fourteen studies had a high risk of bias, 5 studies had a low risk of bias, and 5 studies had an unclear risk of bias. Pooled analysis revealed that:

  • acupuncture can reduce chronic spinal pain compared to sham acupuncture (weighted mean difference [WMD]  -12.05, 95% confidence interval [CI] -15.86 to -8.24),
  • acupuncture can reduce chronic spinal pain compared to mediation control (WMD -18.27, 95% CI -28.18 to -8.37),
  • acupuncture can reduce chronic spinal pain compared to usual care control (WMD -9.57, 95% CI -13.48 to -9.44),
  • acupuncture can reduce chronic spinal pain compared to no treatment control (WMD -17.10, 95% CI -24.83 to -9.37).

In terms of functional disability, acupuncture can improve physical function at

  • immediate-term follow-up (standardized mean difference [SMD] -1.74, 95% CI -2.04 to -1.44),
  • short-term follow-up (SMD -0.89, 95% CI -1.15 to -0.62),
  • long-term follow-up (SMD -1.25, 95% CI -1.48 to -1.03).

Trials assessed as having a high risk of bias (WMD −13.45, 95% CI −17.23 to −9.66, I 2 96.2%, moderate-quality evidence, including 14 studies and 1379 patients) found greater effects of acupuncture treatment than trials assessed as having a low risk of bias (WMD −11.99, 95% CI −13.94 to −10.03, I 2 44.6%, high-quality evidence, including 4 studies and 432 patients), but smaller effects than trials assessed as having an unclear risk of bias (WMD −14.51, 95% CI −17.25 to −11.78, I 2 0%, high-quality evidence, including 3 studies and 190 patients).

Only 6 trials provided information on adverse events. No trial reported data on serious adverse events during acupuncture treatment. The most frequent adverse events were temporarily worsened pain and needle pain at the acupuncture site, which can decrease quickly after a short period of rest.

The authors concluded that compared to no treatment, sham acupuncture, or conventional therapy such as medication, massage, and physical exercise, acupuncture has a significantly superior effect on the reduction in chronic spinal pain and function improvement. Acupuncture might be an effective treatment for patients with chronic spinal pain and it is a safe therapy.

I think this is a thorough review which produced interesting findings. I agree with most of what the authors report, except with their conclusions which I find too optimistic. In view of the facts that

  • only 5 RCTs had a low risk of bias,
  • collectively, the rigorous trials reported smaller effect sizes,
  • the majority of trials failed to mention adverse effects which, in my view, casts considerable doubt on their quality and ethical standard,

I would have phrased the conclusion differently: compared to no treatment, sham acupuncture, or conventional therapies, acupuncture seems to have a significantly superior effect on pain and function. Due to the lack rigour of most studies, these effects are less certain than one would have wished. Many trials fail to report adverse effects which reflects poorly on their quality and ethics and prevents conclusions about the safety of acupuncture. In essence, this means that the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture as a treatment of chronic spinal pain remains uncertain.

I very rarely discuss animal experiments on this blog. Their applicability to clinical situations in human patients is almost invariably doubtful. Of course, this does not mean that they cannot be important; on the contrary, they may point the way towards relevant research and help formulate hypotheses.

This study might be exceptionally relevant in this way. To investigate the safety and efficacy of megadose sodium ascorbate in sepsis, sheep were instrumented with pulmonary and renal artery flow-probes, and laser-Doppler and oxygen-sensing probes in the kidney. Conscious sheep received an infusion of live Escherichia coli for 31 hours. At 23.5 hours of sepsis, sheep received fluid resuscitation (30 mL/kg, Hartmann solution) and were randomized to IV sodium ascorbate (0.5 g/kg over 0.5 hr + 0.5 g/kg/hr for 6.5 hr; n = 5) or vehicle (n = 5). Norepinephrine was titrated to restore mean arterial pressure to baseline values (~80 mm Hg).

Sepsis-induced fever (41.4 ± 0.2°C; mean ± SE), tachycardia (141 ± 2 beats/min), and a marked deterioration in clinical condition in all cases. Mean arterial pressure (86 ± 1 to 67 ± 2 mm Hg), arterial PO2 (102.1 ± 3.3 to 80.5 ± 3.4 mm Hg), and renal medullary tissue PO2 (41 ± 5 to 24 ± 2 mm Hg) decreased, and plasma creatinine doubled (71 ± 2 to 144 ± 15 µmol/L) (all p < 0.01).

Direct observation indicated that in all animals, sodium ascorbate dramatically improved the clinical state, from malaise and lethargy to a responsive, alert state within 3 hours. Body temperature (39.3 ± 0.3°C), heart rate (99.7 ± 3 beats/min), and plasma creatinine (32.6 ± 5.8 µmol/L) all decreased. Arterial (96.5 ± 2.5 mm Hg) and renal medullary PO2 (48 ± 5 mm Hg) increased. The norepinephrine dose was decreased, to zero in four of five sheep, whereas mean arterial pressure increased (to 83 ± 2 mm Hg).

These physiologic findings were subsequently confirmed in a coronavirus patient with shock by compassionate use of 60 g of sodium ascorbate over 7 hours.

The authors concluded that IV megadose sodium ascorbate reversed the pathophysiological and behavioral responses to Gram-negative sepsis without adverse side effects. Clinical studies are required to determine if such a dose has similar benefits in septic patients.

As always with animal experiments, it is difficult to extrapolate to clinical situations in human patients. However, the fact that the authors did try their approach on one COVID-19 patient is encouraging. I agree with their conclusion that careful human studies are now required.

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