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

risk/benefit

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‘WORLD HOMEOPATHY DAY’ is upon us and the Internet is awash with pro-homeopathy comments, e.g.:

  • World Homeopathy Day is observed annually on April 10th to commemorate the birth anniversary of Samuel Hahnemann, a prominent figure in the development of homeopathy. This day celebrates the principles and practices of homeopathy, an alternative medicinal approach that emphasizes treating ailments by utilizing natural substances and stimulating the body’s inherent healing abilities.
  • The theme for World Homeopathy Day 2024 is ‘Empowering Research, Enhancing Proficiency: A Homeopathy Symposium”. This theme underscores the significance of continuous research in homeopathy and the need to upgrade capability in its training to give better medical care results.

Even slightly less biased sources cannot bring themselves to a more realistic approach, e.g.:

The significance of the World Homeopathy Day is said to be as follows:

  • Raising Awareness: World Homeopathy Day has successfully brought homeopathy to the forefront of public attention, generating dialogue and interest in its principles and practices.
  • Bridging Communities: The Day serves as a platform for bringing together homeopaths, practitioners, researchers, and individuals interested in alternative medicine, fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange.
  • Focus on Education: World Homeopathy Day emphasizes the importance of education and ethical practices within the field, promoting responsible usage and informed choices for individuals seeking homeopathic care.

World Homeopathy Day is about understanding and exploring the potential of this alternative medicine system while keeping an open mind and prioritizing evidence-based healthcare practices.

So, let me try to counter-balance these texts by showing you what my recently published 7 key points about homeopathy tell us:

Homeopathy is popular, particularly in India, Germany, France and parts of South America. It was invented more than 200 years ago and still divides opinions like few other subjects in alternative medicine.

  1. Homeopathy was invented by the German physician, Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843). At the time, our understanding of the laws of nature was woefully incomplete, and therefore Hahnemann’s ideas seemed less implausible than today. The conventional treatments of this period were often more dangerous than the disease they were supposed to cure. Consequently, homeopathy was repeatedly shown to be superior to ‘allopathy’ (a term coined by Hahnemann to denigrate conventional medicine) and Hahnemann’s treatments were an almost instant, worldwide success.[1]
  2. Many consumers confuse homeopathy with herbal medicine; yet the two are fundamentally different. Herbal medicines are plant extracts that contain potentially active ingredients. Homeopathic remedies are based on plants or any other material and they are typically so dilute that they contain not a single molecule of the substance advertised on the bottle. The most frequently used dilution (homeopaths call them ‘potencies’) is a ‘C30’; a C30-potency has been diluted 30 times at a ratio of 1:100. This means that one drop of the staring material is dissolved in 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 drops of diluent (usually a water/alcohol mixture)—and that equates to less than one molecule of the original substance per all the molecules of the universe.
  3. Homeopaths claim that their remedies work via some ‘energy’ or ‘vital force’ and that the process of preparing the homeopathic dilutions (it involves vigorous shaking the mixtures at each dilution step) transfers this ‘energy’ or information from one to the next dilution. They also believe that the process of diluting and agitating their remedies, which they call potentisation, renders them not less or not more potent. Homeopathic remedies are usually prescribed according to the ‘like cures like’ principle: if, for instance, a patient suffers from runny eyes, a homeopath might prescribe a remedy made of onion, because onion make a healthy person’s eyes water. This and all other assumptions of homeopathy contradict the known laws of nature. In other words, we do not fail to comprehend how homeopathy works, but we understand that it cannot work unless the known laws of nature are wrong.
  4. According to Hahnemann’s classical homeopathy, homeopaths are focussed on the symptoms and characteristics of the patient. They conduct a lengthy medical history, and they show little or no interest in a physical examination of their patient or other diagnostic procedures. Once they are confident to have all the information they need, they try to find the optimal homeopathic remedy. This is done by matching the symptoms with the drug pictures of homeopathic remedies. Any homeopathic drug picture is essentially based on what has been noted in homeopathic provings where healthy volunteers take a remedy and monitor all that symptoms, sensations and feelings they experience subsequently. Thus, the optimal homeopathic remedy can be seen as a diagnosis which makes homeopathy also a diagnostic method.[2]
  1. Today, around 500 clinical trials of homeopathy have been published. The totality of this evidence fails to show that homeopathic remedies are more than placebos.[3] Numerous official statements from various countries confirm the absurdity of homeopathy, for instance:
  • “The principles of homeopathy contradict known chemical, physical and biological laws and persuasive scientific trials proving its effectiveness are not available” (Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia)
  • “Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.” (National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia)
  • “Homeopathic remedies don’t meet the criteria of evidence-based medicine.” (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungary)
  • “The incorporation of anthroposophical and homeopathic products in the Swedish directive on medicinal products would run counter to several of the fundamental principles regarding medicinal products and evidence-based medicine.” (Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden)
  • “There is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition” (National Health Service, England)
  1. Yet, many patients undeniably do get better after taking homeopathic remedies. The best evidence available today clearly shows that this improvement is unrelated to the homeopathic remedy per se. It is the result of a lengthy, empathetic, compassionate encounter with a homeopath, a placebo-response or other factors which experts often call ‘context effects’.[4]
  2. Whenever homeopaths advise their patients (as they often do) to forgo effective conventional treatments, they are likely to do harm. This phenomenon is best documented in relation to the advice of many homeopaths against immunisations.[5]
[For references, see the original text]

I do not expect fans of homeopathy to be impressed by my evidence-based assessment of their cult. In fact, just looking what is currently being posted on ‘X’ today about the ‘WORLD HOMEOPATHY DAY’ seems to justify my expectation. Here are the 10 first postings that appeared on my screen about an hour ago:

  1. Today, on #WorldHomeopathyDay, we celebrate the birth anniversary of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. Let’s embrace the principles of natural healing and holistic well-being.
  2. On #WorldHomeopathyDay President #DroupadiMurmu to inaugurate 2-day Homeopathic Symposium at Yashobhoomi Convention Centre Dwarka, New Delhi. Organized by Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy (CCRH) based on theme of ‘Empowering Research, Enhancing Proficiency.’
  3. Dr. Ashvini Kumar Dwivedi, Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Central Council for Research in Homeopathy, Ministry of Ayush, Government of India, and #ASSOCHAM Ayush task force member, underlined the significance of #WorldHomeopathyDay, observed on April 10th each year
  4. Today, we celebrate #WorldHomeopathyDay 2024, embracing the gentle healing power of nature.
  5. Happy #WorldHomeopathyDay!  Let’s celebrate the holistic approach to health that homeopathy offers, honoring its contributions to alternative medicine and its focus on individualized care. Here’s to exploring natural remedies and supporting wellness for all! #HolisticHealth
  6. Happy World Homeopathy Day Embracing the gentle yet powerful healing of homeopathy, let’s cherish its holistic essence, promoting balance and well-being worldwide. Here’s to the harmony it brings to mind, body, and spirit.
  7. #WorldHomeopathyDay: President #DroupadiMurmu to inaugurate 2-day Homeopathic Symposium at Yashobhoomi Convention Centre Dwarka, New Delhi. Organized by Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy (CCRH) based on theme of ‘Empowering Research, Enhancing Proficiency.’
  8. Celebrate #WorldHomeopathyDay with us & enter to win these two enlightening reads by renowned homeopath Dr. Mukesh Batra. What inspired you to explore homeopathy? Share your story in the comments section & get a chance to win a copy of #HealWithHomeopathy and #FeelGoodHealGood!
  9. #WorldHomeopathyDay is celebrated on April 10th, promoting awareness of the principles and benefits of homeopathic medicine. It aims to address the whole body, including hereditary predispositions and disease history, and encourages people to pursue homeopathy as a profession.…
  10. On World Homeopathy Day, we celebrate Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the pioneer of homeopathy. His gentle remedies, made from natural substances, have helped countless people heal without side effects.

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In view of this volume of pure BS, I encourage everyone to post (here, or on ‘X’, or elsewhere) some evidence-based comments on homeopathy, Hahnemann and the ‘World Homeopathy Day’.

Let me make a start:

Homeopaths are as deluded as their remedies are diluted

Spinal manipulation is usually performed by a therapist (chiropractor, osteopath, physiotherpist, doctor, etc.). But many people do it themselves. Self-manipulation is by no means safer than the treatment by a therapist, it seems. We have previously seen cases where the results were dramatic:

Now, a further case has been reported. In this paper, American pathologists present a tragic case of fatal vertebral artery dissection that occurred as the result of self-manipulation of the cervical spine.

The decedent was a 40-year-old man with no significant past medical history. He was observed to “crack his neck” while at work. Soon after, he began experiencing neck pain, then developed stroke-like symptoms and became unresponsive. He was transported to a local medical center, where imaging showed bilateral vertebral artery dissection. His neurological status continued to decline, and brain death was pronounced several days later.

An autopsy examination showed evidence of cerebellar and brainstem infarcts, herniation, and diffuse hypoxic-ischemic injury. A posterior neck dissection was performed to expose the vertebral arteries, which showed grossly visible hemorrhage and dilation. There was no evidence of traumatic injury to the bone or soft tissue of the head or neck. Bilateral dissection tracts were readily appreciated on microscopic examination. Death was attributed to self-manipulation of the neck, which in turn led to bilateral vertebral artery dissection, cerebellar and brainstem infarcts, herniation, hypoxic-ischemic injury, and ultimately brain death.

It seems clear to me that only few and spectacular cases of this nature are being published. In other words, the under-reporting of adverse effects of self-manipulation must be close to 100%. It follows that the risk of sel-manipulation is impossible to quantify. I suspect it is substancial. In any case, the precautionary principle compells me to re-issue my warning:

do not allow anybody to manipulate your neck, not even yourself!

Cervical spondylosis is a chronic degenerative process of the cervical spine characterized by pain in neck, degenerative changes in intervertebral disc and osteophyte formation. The present study was aimed at evaluating the effect of wet cupping (Ḥijāma Bish Sharṭ) in the pain management of cervical spondylosis.

This Open, randomized, clinical study was conducted on 44 patients.

  • Subjects in the test group (n = 22) received a series of three-staged wet cupping treatment, performed on 0, 7th and 14th day.
  • Subjects in the control group (n = 22) received 12 sittings of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): 6 sittings per week for two weeks.

The outcomes were assessed with the help of VAS, Neck Disability Index (NDI) and Cervical range of motion.

Intra group comparison in test group from baseline to 21st day were found highly significant (p < 0.001) in terms of VAS, NDI, Flexion, Extension and Left rotation score. While in Right rotation, Left rotation and Left lateral flexion score were found moderately significant (p < 0.01). Statistically significant difference was observed between two groups at 21st day in VAS scale, NDI, and Cervical range of motion score (p < 0.001).

The authors concluded that Ḥijāma Bish Sharṭ was found better in the management of pain due to cervical spondylosis than TENS. It can be concluded that Ḥijāma Bish Sharṭ may a better option for the pain management of cervical spondylosis.

Wet cupping is the use of a vacuum cup applied to the skin which has previously been lacerated. It draws blood and can thus be seen as a form of blood letting. It has been used in various cultures for the treatment of joint pain and many other conditions since antiquity.

The authors point out that, in Unani medicine, it is believed to reduce pain and other symptoms by diverting and evacuating the causative pathological humours (akhlāṭ-e-fasida). Galen (Jalinoos) mentioned wet cupping as a very useful modality in evacuating the thick humours (akhlāṭ-e-Ghaleez) (Nafeesi, 1954; Qamri, 2008). Wet cupping works on the principle of diversion and evacuation of morbid matter (imala wa tanqiya-i-mawād-i-fasida). It opens the pores of the skin, enhances the blood circulation, nourishes the affected area with fresh blood, improves the eliminative function and facilitates the evacuation of morbid matter from the body.

There are several studies of wet cupping, most of which are as flawed as the one above. This new trial has several limitations, e.g.:

  • It makes no attempt to control for placebo effects which could well be more prominent for wet cupping than for TENS.
  • It did not inhibit the influence of verbal or non-verbal communications between therapists and patients which are likely to influence the results.
  • The sample size is far too small, particularly as the study was designed as an equivalence study.

But some might say that my arguments a petty and argue that, regardless of a flimsy study, wet cupping is still worth a try. I would disagree – not because of the flaws of this study, nor the implausibility of the long-obsolete assumptions that underpin the therapy, but because wet cupping is associaated with infections of the skin lacerations which occasionally can be serious.

 

It does not happen often, but when it does, it should be aknowledged. I am speaking of papers from chiropractors that make sense. If you are interested in chiropractic, I do encourage you to read the articles of which I will here only present bits of the conclusions:

Part 1

The chiropractic profession is weighed down by the burden of historical theories regarding spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), which, for some in the profession, have all the characteristics of dogmatic articles of faith. In our opinion, the unlimited scope of practice, which is still advocated by some chiropractors, and which has not been met with unequivocal political rejection, an over-reliance on SMT in the management of MSK disorders, and an over-emphasis on the technical intricacies of SMT represent weaknesses within chiropractic. We argue that these are obstacles to professional development and the major causes of professional stagnation both intellectually and in the market place.

We also discussed what we consider to be threats to the chiropractic profession. Science, the impact of EBM, and accountability to authorities and third party-payers all pose threats to the traditional chiropractic paradigm and, thus, to those within the profession, who practice within such a paradigm. In the marketplace, competition from other professions that provide care of patients with MSK disorders, including SMT, and are better positioned to be integrated into the wider health-care system/market represent a threat. Moreover, finally, the internal schism in chiropractic represents a threat to professional development, as it prevents the profession moving forward in unison with a coherent external message.

We have described those weaknesses and threats, knowing full well, that we do so from our perspective of chiropractic as EBM with a limited MSK scope of practice, i.e. from outside the subluxation frame of reference.

We recognize that for those who look at SMT from the perspective of traditional, subluxation-based chiropractic, things will look very different: What we identify as weaknesses may be seen by others as the pillars of chiropractic practice, and what we see as threats could appear as just peripheral and ephemeral distractions to the enduring core of chiropractic ideas. Such is the character of the schism at the heart of chiropractic.

None-the-less, having described what we identify as serious weaknesses and threats arising from the profession’s relationship to SMT, it has not escaped our attention that it also gives rise to several strengths, which serve the profession and its patients well. In turn, it follows that a number of opportunities are presenting themselves for the future of SMT and chiropractic.

Part 2

The onus is now on the chiropractic profession itself to redefine its raison d’être in a way that plays to those strengths and delivers in terms of the needs of patients and the wider healthcare system/market. We suggest chiropractors embrace and cultivate a role as coordinators of long-term and broad-focused management of musculoskeletal disorders. We make specific recommendations about how the profession, from individual clinicians to political organizations, can promote such a development.

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For readers in a hurry:

Progress is an inevitable threat to obsolete and useless practices of any kind. In that, chiropractic is no exception.

The aim of this study was to establish an international consensus regarding the use of spinal manipulation and mobilisation among infants, children, and adolescents among expert international physiotherapists. Twenty-six international expert physiotherapists in manual therapy and paediatrics voluntarily participated in a 3-Round Delphi survey to reach a consensus via direct electronic mail solicitation using Qualtrics®. Consensus was defined a-priori as ≥75% agreement on all items with the same ranking of agreement or disagreement. Round 1 identified impairments and conditions where spinal mobilisation and manipulation might be utilised. In Rounds 2 and 3, panelists agreed or disagreed using a 4-point Likert scale.

Eleven physiotherapists from seven countries representing five continents completed all three Delphi rounds. Consensus regarding spinal mobilisation or manipulation included:

● Manipulation is not recommended: (1) for infants across all conditions, impairments, and
spinal levels; and (2) for children and adolescents across most conditions and spinal levels.
● Manipulation may be recommended for adolescents to treat spinal region-specific joint
hypomobility (thoracic, lumbar), and pain (thoracic).
● Mobilisation may be recommended for children and adolescents with hypomobility, joint
pain, muscle/myofascial pain, or stiffness at all spinal levels.

The authors of this paper concluded that consensus revealed spinal manipulation should not be performed on infants regardless of condition, impairment, or spinal level. Additionally, the panel agreed that manipulation may be recommended only for adolescents to treat joint pain and joint hypomobility (limited to thoracic and/or lumbar levels). Spinal mobilisation may be recommended for joint hypomobility, joint pain, muscle/myofascial pain, and muscle/myofascial stiffness at all spinal levels among children and adolescents.

Various forms of spinal manipulations are the hallmark therapy of chiropractors. Almost 100% of their patients recieve these interventions. So, what will our friends, the chiros, say about the consensus? Might it be this:

  • Physiotherapists are not the experts on spinal manipulation.
  • Only chiropractors can do them properly.
  • And when WE do them, they are very good*!

 

 

 

(* for our income)

These days, it has become a rare event – I am speaking of me publishing a paper in the peer-reviewed medical literature. But it has just happened: Spanish researchers and I published a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of craniosacral therapy. Here is its abstract:

The aim of this study was to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of craniosacral therapy (CST) in the management of any conditions. Two independent reviewers searched the PubMed, Physiotherapy Evidence Database, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, and Osteopathic Medicine Digital Library databases in August 2023, and extracted data from randomized controlled trials (RCT) evaluating the clinical effectiveness of CST. The PEDro scale and Cochrane Risk of Bias 2 tool were used to assess the potential risk of bias in the included studies. The certainty of the evidence of each outcome variable was determined using GRADEpro. Quantitative synthesis was carried out with RevMan 5.4 software using random effect models.

Fifteen RCTs were included in the qualitative and seven in the quantitative synthesis. For musculoskeletal disorders, the qualitative and quantitative synthesis suggested that CST produces no statistically significant or clinically relevant changes in pain and/or disability/impact in patients with headache disorders, neck pain, low back pain, pelvic girdle pain, or fibromyalgia. For non-musculoskeletal disorders, the qualitative and quantitative synthesis showed that CST was not effective for managing infant colic, preterm infants, cerebral palsy, or visual function deficits.

We concluded that the qualitative and quantitative synthesis of the evidence suggest that CST produces no benefits in any of the musculoskeletal or non-musculoskeletal conditions assessed. Two RCTs suggested statistically significant benefits of CST in children. However, both studies are seriously flawed, and their findings are thus likely to be false positive.

So, CST is not really an effective option for any condition.

Not a big surprise! After all, the assumptions on which CST is based fly in the face of science.

Since CST is nonetheless being used by many healthcare professionals, it is, I feel, important to state and re-state that CST is an implausible intervention that is not supported by clinical evidence. Hopefully then, one day, these practitioners will remember that their ethical obligation is to treat their patients not according to their beliefs but according to the best available evidence. And, hopefully, our modest paper will have helped rendering healthcare a little less irrational and somewhat more effective.

An article about chiropractic caught my attention. Let me show you its final section which, I think, is relevant to what we often discuss on this blog:

If chiropractic treatment is unscientific, then why do I feel better? Because lots of things alleviate pain. Massage, analgesia and heat – but also a provider who listens, empathises and bothers to examine a patient. Then there is the placebo effect. For centuries, doctors have recognised that different interventions with unclear pathways result in clinical improvement. Among the benefits patients attributed to placebo 100 years ago: “I sleep better; my appetite is improved; my breathing is better; I can walk further without pain in my chest; my nerves are steadier.” Nothing has changed. Pain is a universal assignment; no one has a monopoly on its relief.

The chiropractic industry owes its existence to a ghost. Its founder, David Palmer, wrote in his memoir The Chiropractor that the principles of spinal manipulation were passed on to him during a séance by a doctor who had been dead for half a century. Before this, Palmer was a “magnetic healer”.

Today, chiropractors preside over a multibillion-dollar regulated industry that draws patients for various reasons. Some can’t find or afford a doctor, feel dismissed, or worse, mistreated. Others mistrust the medical establishment and big pharma. Still others want natural healing. But none of these reasons justifies conflating a chiropractor with a doctor. The conflation feels especially hazardous in an environment of health illiteracy, where the mere title of doctor confers upon its bearer strong legitimacy.

Chiropractors don’t have the same training as doctors. They cannot issue prescriptions or order advanced imaging. They do not undergo lifelong peer review or open themselves to monthly morbidity audits.

I know that doctors could do with a dose of humility, but I can’t find any evidence (or the need) for the assertion on one website that chiropractors are “academic overachievers”. Or the ambit claim that most health professionals have no idea how complicated the brain is, but chiropractors do.

Forget doctors, patients deserve more respect.

My friend’s back feels better for now. When it flares, I wonder if she will seek my advice – and I am prepared to hear no. Everyone is entitled to see a chiropractor. But no patient should visit a chiropractor thinking that they are seeing a doctor.

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I would put it more bluntly:

  • chiropractors are poorly trained; in particular, they do not learn to question their own, often ridiculous beliefs;
  • they are poorly regulated; in the UK, the GCC seems to protect the chiros rather than the public;
  • chiropractors regularly disregard essential rules of medical ethics, e.g. informed consent;
  • many try to mislead us by pretending they are physicians;
  • their hallmark intervention, spinal manipulation, can cause considerable harm;
  • it generates hardly any demonstrable benefit for any condition;
  • chiropractors also cause considerable harm, e.g. by interfering with real medicine, e.g. vaccinations;
  • thus, in general, chiropractors do more harm than good;
  • yes, everyone is entitled to see a chiropractor, but before they do, reliable information should be mandatory.

Dry needling is a therapy that is akin to acupuncture and trigger point therapy. It is claimed to be safe – but is this true?

Researchers from Ghent presented a series of 4 women aged 28 to 35 who were seen at the emergency department (ED) with post-dry needling pneumothorax between September 2022 and December 2023. None of the patients had any relevant medical history. All had been treated for a painful left shoulder, trapezius muscle or neck region in outpatient physiotherapist practices. At least three different physiotherapists were involved.

One patient presented to the ER on the same day as the dry needling procedure, the others presented the day after. All mentioned thoracic pain and dyspnoea. Clinical examination in all of these patients was unremarkable, as were their vital signs. Diagnosis was confirmed with ultrasound (US) and chest X-ray (CXR) in all patients. The latter exam showed left-sided apical pleural detachment with a median of 3.65 cm in expiration.

Two patients were managed conservatively. One patient (initial pneumothorax 2.5 cm) was discharged. The US two days later displayed a normally expanded lung. One patient with an initial apical size of 2.8 cm was admitted with 2 litres of oxygen through a nasal canula and discharged from the hospital the next day after US had shown no increase in size. Her control CXR 4 days later showed only minimal pleural detachment measuring 6 mm. The two other patients were treated with US guided needle aspiration. One patient with detachment initially being 4.5 cm showed decreased size of the pneumothorax immediately after aspiration. She was admitted to the respiratory medicine ward and discharged the next day. Control US and CXR after 1 week showed no more signs of pneumothorax. In the other patient, with detachment initially being 5.5 cm, needle aspiration resulted in complete deployment on US immediately after the procedure, but control CXR showed a totally collapsed lung 3 hours later. A small bore chest drain was placed but persistent air leakage was seen. Several trials of clamping the drain resulted in recurrent collapsing of the lung. After CT-scan had shown no structural deformities of the lung, suction was gradually reduced and the drain was successfully removed on the sixth day after placement. The patient was then discharged home. Control CXR 3 weeks later was normal.

The authors concluded that post-dry needling pneumothorax is, contrary to numbers cited in literature, not extremely rare. With rising popularity of the technique we expect complications to occur more often. Patients and referring doctors should be aware of this. In their informed consent practitioners should mention pneumothorax as a considerable risk of dry needling procedures in the neck, shoulder or chest region. 

The crucial question, in my view, is this: do the risks of dry-needling out weigh the risks of this form of therapy? Let’s have a look at some of the recent evidence that we discussed on this blog:

The evidence is clearly mixed and unconvincing. I am not sure whether it is strong enough to afford a positive risk/benefit balance. In other words: dry needling is a therapy that might best be avoided.

I usually take ‘market reports’ with a pinch of salt. Having said that, this document makes some rather interesting predictions:

The size of the market for so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is projected to expand from USD 147.7 billion in 2023 to approximately USD 1489.4 billion by the year 2033. This projection indicates a remarkable Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 26% over the forecast period.

The market for SCAM is experiencing significant growth, fueled by increasing consumer interest in natural and holistic health solutions. This trend reflects a broader shift in societal attitudes towards health and wellness, emphasizing preventive care and natural health practices.

The market’s dynamics are influenced by various factors, including consumer preferences, regulatory standards, and evolving perceptions of health and wellness. As the popularity of these alternative therapies grows, it is crucial for individuals to consult with healthcare professionals to ensure that these non-conventional approaches are safely and effectively incorporated into their overall health regimen. The increasing acceptance of SCAM underscores a collective move towards more personalized and holistic healthcare solutions, resonating with today’s health-conscious consumers.

In 2023, Traditional Alternative Medicine/Botanicals led the market, capturing a 35.2% share, which reflects a strong consumer inclination towards these treatments. Dietary Supplements were prominent in the market, securing a 25.1% share in 2023, which underscores the high consumer demand for nutritional aids. Direct Sales were the most favored distribution channel, accounting for 43.2% of the market share in 2023, which indicates their significant impact on guiding consumer purchases. Pain Management was the predominant application area, holding a 24.9% market share in 2023, propelled by the growing acknowledgment of non-pharmacological treatment options. Adults represented a substantial portion of the market, making up 62.33% in 2023, signifying a marked preference for SCAM therapies within this age group. Europe stood out as the market leader, claiming a 42.6% share in 2023, a position supported by widespread acceptance, governmental backing, and an increasing elderly population. The regions of North America and Asia-Pacific are highlighted as areas with potential, signaling opportunities for market expansion beyond the European stronghold in the upcoming years.

Leading Market Players Are:

  • Columbia Nutritional
  • Nordic Nutraceuticals
  • Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute
  • The Healing Company Ltd.
  • John Schumacher Unity Woods Yoga Centre
  • Sheng Chang Pharmaceutical Company
  • Pure encapsulations LLC.
  • Herb Pharm
  • AYUSH Ayurvedic Pte Ltd.

Recent developments:

  • In December 2023, Adoratherapy launched the Alkemie Chakra Healing Line, an aromatherapy range aimed at harmonizing the seven chakras.
  • Coworth Park introduced the Hebridean Sound Treatment in October 2023, merging traditional Hebridean sounds with guided meditation to offer a novel, restorative wellness experience.
  • The World Health Organization released draft guidelines in September 2023 for the safe, effective application of traditional medicines.
  • Telehealth services, expanding significantly in August 2023, have broadened the reach of SCAM, enhancing patient access to these treatments.

Traditional herbal medicine (THM) is frequently used in pediatric populations. This is perticularly true in many low-income countries. Yet THM has been associated with a range of adverse events, including liver toxicity, renal failure, and allergic reactions. Despite these concerns, its impact on multi-organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS) risk has so far not been thoroughly investigated.

This study aimed to investigate the incidence and predictors of MODS in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in Ethiopia, with a focus on the association between THM use and the risk of MODS. It was designed as a single-center prospective cohort study conducted at a PICU in the university of Gondar Comprehensive Specialized hospital, Northwest Ethiopia. The researchers enrolled eligible patients aged one month to 18 years admitted to the PICU during the study period. Data on demographic characteristics, medical history, clinical and laboratory data, and outcome measures using standard case record forms, physical examination, and patient document reviews. The predictors of MODS were assessed using Cox proportional hazards models, with a focus on the association between traditional herbal medicine use and the risk of MODS.

A total of 310 patients were included in the final analysis, with a median age of 48 months and a male-to-female ratio of 1.5:1. The proportion and incidence of MODS were 30.96% (95% CI:25.8, 36.6) and 7.71(95% CI: 6.10, 9.40) per 100-person-day observation respectively. Renal failure (17.74%), neurologic failure (15.16%), and heart failure (14.52%) were the leading organ failures identified. Nearly one-third of patients (32.9%) died in the PICU, of which 59.8% had MODS. The rate of mortality was higher in patients with MODS than in those without. The Cox proportional hazards model identified renal disease (AHR = 6.32 (95%CI: 3.17,12.61)), intake of traditional herbal medication (AHR = 2.45, 95% CI:1.29,4.65), modified Pediatric Index of Mortality 2 (mPIM 2) score (AHR = 1.54 (95% CI: 1.38,1.71), and critical illness diagnoses (AHR = 2.68 (95% CI: 1.77,4.07)) as predictors of MODS.

The authors concluded that the incidence of MODS was high. Renal disease, THM use, mPIM 2 scores, and critical illness diagnoses were independent predictors of MODS. A more than twofold increase in the risk of MODS was seen in patients who used TMH. Healthcare providers should be aware of risks associated with THM, and educate caregivers about the potential harms of these products. Future studies with larger sample sizes and more comprehensive outcome measures are needed.

I do fully agree with the authors about the high usage of herbal and other so-called alternative medicines by children. We have shown that, in the UK the average one-year prevalence rate was 34% and the average lifetime prevalence was 42%. We have furthermore shown that the evidence base for these treatments in children is weak, even more so than for general populations. Finally, we can confirm that adverse effects are far from rare and often serious.

It is therefore high time, I think, that national regulators do more to protect children from SCAM practitioners who are at best uncritical about their treatments and at worse outright dangerous.

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