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

risk/benefit

“Unless positive evidence emerges, the risk/benefit balance of ozone therapy for any condition fails to be positive.”  This is the conclusion I recently drew after assessing the evidence for or against this therapy. Now a new review has just been published. Does it change my verdict?

This review evaluated the available literature on the application of oxygen-ozone therapy (OOT) in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis (KOA) to understand its therapeutic potential and to compare it with other conservative treatment options.

Eleven studies involving 858 patients met the inclusion criteria. Patients in the control groups received different treatments:

  • placebo in 1 trial;
  • hyaluronic acid in 2 studies;
  • hyaluronic acid and PRP in 1 trial;
  • corticosteroids in 4;
  • hypertonic dextrose, radiofrequency, or celecoxib + glucosamine in the remaining 3 trials.

The quality of these studies was poor; none of the studies included reached “good quality” standard, 2 were ranked as “fair,” and the rest were considered “poor.” No major complications or serious adverse events were reported following intra-articular OOT, which provided encouraging pain relief at short term. On the basis of the available data, no clear indication emerged from the comparison of OOT with other established treatments for KOA.

The authors concluded that the analysis of the available RCTs on OOT for KOA revealed poor methodologic quality, with most studies flawed by relevant bias, thus severely limiting the possibility of drawing conclusions on the efficacy of OOT compared with other treatments. On the basis of the data available, OOT has, however, proven to be a safe approach with encouraging effects in pain control and functional recovery in the short-middle term.

The use of ozone for treatment of KOA is highly controversial. The mechanism of action of ozone therapy for the treatment of KOA is unclear. Some studies have suggested that ozone injections results in pain relief, reduction of oedema, and improved mobility. The above review might be valuable in summarising the evidence, however, I fing its conclusion odd:

  • The authors write that they cannot arrive at a verdict about efficacy because of the poor quality of the primary studies. I think the conclusion is very clear and should have been expressed bluntly. THE AVAILABLE DATA FAIL TO SHOW EFFICACY; THE THERAPY IS THUS UNPROVEN AND SHOULD THEREFORE NOT BE USED. Simple!
  • I also disagree that OOT was proven to be safe. No treatment can be proven to be safe on the basis of just a few studies. This would require a much, much greater sample size.

This leaves us with the following situation:

  1. OOT is not plausible.
  2. OOT is unproven.
  3. The risks of OOT are unknown.

To me this means that we should stop using it (and I don’t need to change my above-quotes verdict).

People who use so-called alternative medicines (SCAM) tend to be more vaccine hesitant. One possible conclusion that can be drawn from this is that trusting SCAM results in people becoming more vaccine hesitant. An alternative possibility is that vaccine hesitancy and use of SCAM are both consequences of a distrust in conventional treatments. an International team of researchers conducted analyses designed to disentangle these two possibilities.

They measured vaccine hesitancy and SCAM use in a representative sample of Spanish residents (N = 5200). They also quantified their trust in three CCAM interventions;     

  1. acupuncture,
  2. reiki,
  3. homeopathy                                                                  

and in two conventional medical interventions:

  1. chemotherapy,
  2. antidepressants.

Vaccine hesitancy turned out to be strongly associated with (dis)trust in conventional medicine, and this relationship was particularly strong among SCAM users. In contrast, trust in SCAM was a relatively weak predictor of vaccine hesitancy, and the relationship was equally weak regardless of whether or not participants themselves had a history of using SCAM.

According to the authors of this paper, the implication for practitioners and policy makers is that SCAM is not necessarily a major obstacle to people’s willingness to vaccinate, and that the more proximal obstacle is people’s mistrust of conventional treatments.

This is an interesting study. Yet, it begs a few questions:

  1.  Is it possible to reliably establish trust in SCAM by asking about just 3 specific therapies?
  2. Is it possible to reliably establish trust in conventional medicine by asking about just 2 treatments?
  3. Why those therapies out of hundreds of options?
  4. Could it be that here are national differences (in other countries distrust in conventional medicine is not a strong determinant of SCAM use)?
  5. Is trust in SCAM and distrust in conventional medicine perhaps the common expression of an anti-science attitude or cultist tendencies?

As mentioned before, the US ‘Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) have published a most comprehensive review update entitled ‘Noninvasive Nonpharmacological Treatment for Chronic Pain‘. It followed the AHRQ Methods Guide for Effectiveness and Comparative Effectiveness. The conditions included were:

  • Chronic low back pain
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Osteoarthritis (knee, hip, hand)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic tension headache

 

Here are the main findings related to spinal manipulation:

LOW BACK PAIN

  • Spinal manipulation was associated with small improvements compared with sham manipulation, usual care, an attention control, or a placebo intervention in short-term (3 trials) and intermediate-term (3 trials) function (strength of evidence : low). There was no difference between spinal manipulation versus sham manipulation, usual care, an attention control, or a placebo intervention in short-term pain (3 trials), but manipulation was associated with a small improvement compared with controls on intermediate-term pain (3 trials) (SOE: low for short term, moderate for intermediate term).

CHRONIC TENSION HEADACHE

  • Spinal manipulation therapy was associated with small improvements in function and moderate improvements in pain compared with usual care over the short term in one trial (: low). Approximately a quarter of the patients had comorbid migraine.

HARMS

It was noted that many trails failed to report on adverse effects (AEs). Non- serious AEs reported included mild to moderate increase in pain, local discomfort and tiredness (2 RCTs).

___________________

Hardly impressive, is it?

Yet, some chiropractors treating chronic pain claim they practice Evidence-based medicine. This review seems to disclose this claim as bogus. What chiropractors do practice on virtually all patients is spinal manipulation which generates more harm than it produces benefit.

Please note yet again that:

  • many chiro trials fail to mention AEs (thus violating research ethics),
  • clinical trials are always too small to give a reliable impression about safety,
  • no post-marketing surveillance exists in chiropractic,
  • we thus have to rely mostly on case reports and similar articles,
  • and the collective evidence from such reports shows quite clearly that spinal manipulations are not safe,
  • chiropractors tend to deny all of the above,
  • this is because they have a monumental conflict of interest.

The WHO have issued the following press-release:

The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomes innovations around the world including repurposing drugs, traditional medicines and developing new therapies in the search for potential treatments for COVID-19.

WHO recognizes that traditional, complementary and alternative medicine has many benefits and Africa has a long history of traditional medicine and practitioners that play an important role in providing care to populations. Medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua are being considered as possible treatments for COVID-19 and should be tested for efficacy and adverse side effects. Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in the rest of the world. Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical.

African governments through their Ministers of Health adopted a resolution urging Member States to produce evidence on the safety, efficacy and quality of traditional medicine at the Fiftieth Session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in 2000. Countries also agreed to undertake relevant research and require national medicines regulatory agencies to approve medicines in line with international standards, which include the product following a strict research protocol and undergoing tests and clinical trials. These studies normally involve hundreds of people under the monitoring of the national regulatory authorities and may take quite a few months in an expedited process.

WHO is working with research institutions to select traditional medicine products which can be investigated for clinical efficacy and safety for COVID-19 treatment. In addition, the Organization will continue to support countries as they explore the role of traditional health practitioners in prevention, control, and early detection of the virus as well as case referral to health facilities.

Over the past two decades, WHO has been working with countries to ensure safe and effective traditional medicine development in Africa by providing financial resources and technical support. WHO has supported clinical trials, leading 14 countries to issue marketing authorization for 89 traditional medicine products which have met international and national requirements for registration. Of these, 43 have been included in national essential medicines lists. These products are now part of the arsenal to treat patients with a wide range of diseases including malaria, opportunistic infections related to HIV, diabetes, sickle cell disease and hypertension. Almost all countries in the WHO African region have national traditional medicine policies, following support from WHO.

As efforts are under way to find treatment for COVID-19, caution must be taken against misinformation, especially on social media, about the effectiveness of certain remedies. Many plants and substances are being proposed without the minimum requirements and evidence of quality, safety and efficacy. The use of products to treat COVID-19, which have not been robustly investigated can put people in danger, giving a false sense of security and distracting them from hand washing and physical distancing which are cardinal in COVID-19 prevention, and may also increase self-medication and the risk to patient safety.

WHO welcomes every opportunity to collaborate with countries and researchers to develop new therapies and encourages such collaboration for the development of effective and safe therapies for Africa and the world.

________________________________

While this message – mostly directed towards Africa – seems very clear and reasonable, it is, at the same time, prone to be misunderstood. Here is an excerpt from an Ghana newspaper article commenting on the WHO initiative which demonstrates my point:

In the view of this newspaper, it stands to reason that, since the virus, was transmitted from animals, the best form of cure, is to use herbs.

We have abundance of the plant Madagascar is using to develop the cure. Medical doctors should stop seeing those practicing alternative medicine, as competitors.

The open hatred, and disdain by medical doctors, towards practitioners of alternative medicine, must be a cause for concern by all.

In the considered opinion of this newspaper, the government must bring the two together to work to avert any calamity.

The number of cases recorded so far, is a ticking time bomb. We cannot continue to treat it as business as usual, where traditional medicine practitioners, will claim to make a discovery, which will not be accepted by their counterpart who practice orthodox medicine.

If any country in Africa, should have been the first to announce a discovery of cure for coronavirus, using herbal remedy it should have been Ghana.

We can do a lot, if the two come together, instead of working at cross purpose.

This is how easily the crucial WHO message ‘the use of products to treat COVID-19, which have not been robustly investigated can put people in danger’ can be forgotten.

FIRST TEST

MAKE SURE IT WORKS

MAKE SURE IT’S REASONABLY SAFE

THEN USE IN ROUTINE CARE

Everything else is not going to be helpful!

Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, a cardiologist at the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute in the US, has started a trial of prayer for corona-virus infection. The study will involve  1000 patients with COVID-19 infections severe enough to require intensive care. The four-month study will investigate “the role of remote intercessory multi-denominational prayer on clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients,” according to a description provided to the National Institutes of Health.

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Male or female greater than 18 years of age
  • Confirmed positive for COVID-19
  • Patient admitted to Intensive Care Unit

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Patients admitted to ICU for diagnosis that is not COVID-19 positive

(Not giving informed consent is not listed as an exclusion criterion!)

Half of the patients, randomly chosen, will receive a “universal” prayer offered in five denominational forms, via:

  • Buddhism,
  • Christianity,
  • Hinduism,
  • Islam,
  • Judaism.

The other 500 patients in the control group will not be prayed for by the prayer group. All the patients will receive the standard care prescribed by their medical providers. “We all believe in science, and we also believe in faith,” Lakkireddy claims. “If there is a supernatural power, which a lot of us believe, would that power of prayer and divine intervention change the outcomes in a concerted fashion? That was our question.”

The outcome measures in the trial are

  • the time patients remain on ventilators,
  • the number of patients who suffer from organ failure,
  • the time patients have to stay in intensive care,
  • the mortality rate.

On this blog, we have seen many other ‘corona-quacks’ come forward with their weird ideas. I ask myself why we give them not the opportunity to test their concepts as well? Why do we not spend our resources testing:

In my recent book, I included a short review of the literature on prayer as a medical intervention. This is what I wrote:

  1. Prayer can be defined as the solemn request or thanksgiving to God or other object of worship.
  2. Intercessory prayer is practised by people of all faiths and involves a person or group setting aside time for petitioning god on behalf of another person who is in need. Intercessory prayer is organised, regular, and committed. Those who practise it usually do not ask for payments because they hold a committed belief.
  3. The mechanisms by which prayer might work therapeutically are unknown, and hypotheses about its mode of action will depend to a large extent on the religious beliefs in question. People who believe in the possibility that prayers might improve their health assume that god could intervene on their behalf by blessing them with healing energy.
  4. These assumptions lack scientific plausibility.
  5. Numerous clinical trials have been conducted. Most of them fail to adequately control for bias, and their findings are not uniform.
  6. A systematic review of all these studies is available. It included 10 trials with a total of 7646 patients. The authors concluded that the findings are equivocal and, although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer, the majority do not and the evidence does not support a recommendation either in favour or against the use of intercessory prayer. We are not convinced that further trials of this intervention should be undertaken and would prefer to see any resources available for such a trial used to investigate other questions in health care.[1]

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19370557

Lakkireddy says he has no idea what he will find. “But it’s not like we’re putting anyone at risk,” he says. “A miracle could happen. There’s always hope, right?”

Personally, I have a pretty good idea what he will find. I also find Lakkireddy not all that honest and think his assumptions are deeply mistaken:

  • Lakkireddy cites an extensive list of references; however, the Cochrane review (usually the most reliable and independent source of evidence) that arrived to the conclusions I quoted above, he somehow ‘forgot’ to mention.
  • As the review-authors tried to indicate, further trials of prayer are a waste of resources.
  • There are many much more promising interventions to be tested, and by conducting this study, he is diverting research funds that are badly needed elsewhere.
  • The study seems to have several ethical problems, e.g. informed consent.
  • Contrary to Lakkireddy’s belief, he will harm in more than one way; apart from wasting resources, his study undermines rational thought and public trust in clinical research.

PERSONALLY, I FIND THIS PROJECT DESPICABLE!

Guest post by Christian Lehmann

It’s the end of February. We see the first death, in the Oise department, near Paris, of a French citizen who has not recently travelled abroad. For doctors concerned about what is happening in China, this is the red alert. In spite of of the little notices posted by the health minister, Agnes Buzyn, at airports, the coronavirus has made it onto French soil. Nobody knows at that point how it will spread. Almost nobody, apart from those responsible for it, yet knows that France has completely run down its stocks of masks. Doctors themselves do know that the health service has only held out, for as long as it has, on the backs of its care personnel. Some are assessing the scale of what is to come.

The announcement by Didier Raoult about the spectacular effectiveness of a synthetic antimalarial, chloroquine, has brought enormous relief, followed immediately for many of us health professionals by growing doubts about an accumulation of errors: Raoult denies any toxicity, urges people to “fall upon” a medication requiring sensitive handling. When we locate the Chinese article on which Didier Raoult is basing his crisis communication, we are stupefied. No need for specialised knowledge in statistical methodology to understand that there is something seriously wrong. No numerical data. Nobody knows what dosage has been given, to what type of patient, nor how many have been treated. The article has not been “peer reviewed”, that is to say reviewed by professional equals; decoded, it has the effect of a simple announcement. So of course at this chaotic time we tell ourselves that, given a revelation of such importance, the Chinese wanted to act as quickly as possible, to inform the whole world. And Didier Raoult, who routinely advises, as he explains with delicious modesty, the Chinese, « the world’s best virologists », has probably been entitled to the first fruits of this revelation.

On Youtube, on 28 February, he posts a weird interview, “Why would the Chinese be mistaken?”, in which he repeatedly takes up his interviewer with obvious irritation. “No, that’s not the question that you should be asking me. You should be asking me….” An informal group of doctors and tweeters pass around the link. We are rubbing our eyes in disbelief. What Didier Raoult is passing off as an interview is nothing more then an audience accorded to one of his media aides. We advise him, sarcastically, to make a professional cut of the video before broadcasting it. An hour later the video disappears and returns in a more professional form which could create the illusion of a genuine interview. And rapidly, in the Press which is beginning to turn its microphones towards the Professor from Marseille, he modifies his stance, without ever acknowledging the radical changes.

Chloroquine, spectacular and miraculous only yesterday, disappears as if by magic, replaced from one day to the next by hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), a different medicine, less common. Though its chemical structure is close to that of the antimalarial medication, hydroxychloroquine is used primarily in rheumatic conditions such as rheumatoid polyarthritis, or immune conditions such as lupus. So at least it isn’t lying around in large quantities in medicine cabinets. And its cardiac toxicity, very real, is slightly lower then that of chloroquine. Didier Raoult puts forward HCQ as an immense discovery, continuing in his usual manner to ridicule his detractors. “The doctors who criticise me are neither in my field nor up to my weight”. He flays the inaction of embittered petty health officials, only fit to follow the diktats of the authorities, who, bogged down in their catastrophic crisis management, dare not intervene. And his posturing as a refractory Gaul, a loudmouth taking on the system, gains sympathy, from those to whom he gives hope, from those who understand that the State does not tell them everything, and from those looking for a hero to fit in with their stereotypes: the man on his own against the establishment, the White Knight taking on Big Pharma, the Hippocratic colossus besieged by hordes of soulless ants.

No one among those who hold out their microphones to him, not one asks him the question which we are all asking, GPs, cardiologists, pharmaceutical specialists, emergency specialists, resuscitation specialists – by what sleight of hand has Didier Raoult exchanged his miracle medicine, in 48 hours, openly and publicly? And how is it that no one has noticed the sleight-of-hand? Has this man who makes such a big deal of his image on social networks suddenly become aware of the risk of being confronted about chloroquine with a justifiable public outcry and with deaths by self-medication?

While the World Health Organisation is sounding alarm bells, in the context of overall mistrust with regard to scientific opinion, of confrontation with regard to government, of growing awareness ( belated and sometimes disproportionate) of the influence of Big Pharma, and as the initial fear gives way to real panic for some with the registration of each new case, Didier Raoult piles up Facebook likes, fans, sites to his glory. And for us, fearful, begins the long registration of flagrant mistruths delivered as revealed truths, which this professor will never have the honestly to set right.

For Didier Raoult, a minimum of intellectual integrity would demand that he admits having changed horses in midstream. That he admits that the concern of his despised detractors was well founded, with respect to chloroquine to which many have access without knowing its dangers ( Nivaquine is very often used in suicides). And, because Didier Raoult withdraws nothing, he continues to stash away all the profits of his media coverage. Every supporter of the Wise Man of Marseille piles in with testimony. Their brother, sister, uncle, the father-in-law of their hairdresser has been taking the Professor’s medicine ( Which one? ) for eight years in Africa and has never had a problem, so that’s the real proof that his detractors are just jealous, or, even worse, backed by “the lobbies”.

And untiringly we repeat the fundamental truths:

  • Yes chloroquine has existed for years
  • Yes it is widely used
  • But for a different treatment, the prevention of malaria
  • And in dosages 5 to 10 times smaller
  • And in large dosages it causes cardiac arrest
  • And it has never been effective in fighting a virus
  • Not this virus nor any other
  • And the same is true for hydroxychloroquine
  • In fact it’s rather the opposite

In fact what is being patiently stated by the upholders of the scientific method is very counter-intuitive, almost inaudible, because they are telling worried and disorientated people, who have put their trust and their hope in one man, that in his assertions………nothing makes sense.

These are exceptional times and they need exceptional measures. Therefore, I am yet again deviating from my policy of focussing exclusively on SCAM and welcome my French colleague Dr Lehmann posting a series of articles on the hydroxychloroquine story.

Guest post by Christian Lehmann

 

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

This pandemic diary was begun just before lock down, already four weeks ago, and yet I have scarcely touched on the elephant in the room. Our personal elephant is called Didier Raoult. White-haired with age, venerable in appearance, he has been number one in the press, constantly in capitals in online news headlines, waking hopes, feeding passions. And arousing the interest of a plethora of epidemiologists of renown, from Valerie Boyer to Donald Trump, by way of Alain Soral and Alexandre Benalla.

Everything begins on 25 February 2020, when the microbiology professor from Marseille posts his famous video “Coronavirus, game over”, since more modestly re-baptised “Coronavirus, towards a way out of the crisis?”.

Standing in front of a student audience out of camera, Didier Raoult reveals “a last-minute scoop, a very important piece of news”: the Chinese, whom he regularly advises, rather than seeking a vaccine or new products have been “repositioning”, trying old molecules, “known, old, without toxicity,” among them chloroquine, which has shown itself to be effective in a daily dose of 500 mg per day “with a spectacular improvement and it is recommended for all clinically positive cases of coronavirus. This is excellent news, it is probably the easiest respiratory infection of all to treat” Here, the whole roomful laughs, with pleasure, with relief, and I remember sharing these sentiments, briefly, but completely. Because this was 26th of February, because like others I felt confusedly that the reassurances with which Agnes Buzyn ( then the French Health Minister) was inundating us were built on sand, and that the virus would only laugh at little notices in airports.

I knew Didier Raoult only by name, as a columnist in Point, I had read some of his articles and I had felt simultaneously soothed by his smooth eloquence, attracted by some of his iconoclastic stances, but also sometimes rather irritated by his Mandarin-style fake cool posturing. At the end of February, I immediately reposted the video in the medical forums, on the walls of worried friends, explaining that, if the suggestions of Didier Raoult were confirmed, we would have escaped with a scare which would soon be dispelled by this “magic bullet”, this “game changer”.

Then between two consultations in my GP’s office, later that afternoon, I watched that video “Game Over” again. How could such an important piece of news have reached me by means of a Youtube video? Where were the overseas publications, the much vaunted Chinese study, the releases from AgenceFrancePresse, Reuters, the first articles from the New York Times and the Guardian, proclaiming from the rooftops that the pandemic we had so much feared was in fact only a technical hitch, easily controllable by a widely available drug. It was at that second viewing that I balked. As a GP who had worked in cardiac resuscitation some years ago, I was brought up short by hearing Didier Raoult talking up a medicine “well known, and devoid of any toxicity”. If chloroquine or Nivaquine, to give it its commercial name, is celebrated for the prevention of malaria, it is also a medicine known for its frightening toxicity as soon as the dose is exceeded, with the risk of irreversible visual damage and extremely serious problems with cardiac rhythm which can prove fatal. To say that chloroquine is without toxicity problems is in fact an error, all the more so because the dose suggested by “the Chinese”, without an iota of proof at this stage, is five times larger than the customary dose, 500 mg instead of 100 mg.

Deeply uneasy, I’m in discussion with doctor friends on Twitter when the video makes its appearance there. We know nothing at this point about Didier Raoult’s past, or about his Marseille Institute. Neither the enmity felt towards him by the Parisian intelligentsia represented by Agnes Buzyn and her husband, nor the fact that his institute has just lost its INSERM and CNRS accreditations, nor the stance adopted by him a month earlier explaining that coronavirus would never escape from China and that it was ridiculous to get worked up about it because “the world has gone mad, something or other happens and three Chinese die and that brings about a world-scale alert”.

Some of us, practitioners and first responders, knew well the toxicity of chloroquine, that it was to be handled with care, and that was about all we said on Twitter. It was already too much. The next day in a 20 minute interview Didier Raoult brushed away his detractors. “Malicious gossip, I don’t give a damn about it. When a medication has been shown to work on 100 people while all the world is busy having a nervous breakdown, and there’s some idiots who say there’s no certainty that it works, I’m not interested! It would honestly be medical misconduct not to use chloroquine to treat Chinese coronavirus”. And he drives the point home. “People who have lived in Africa like me took chloroquine every day. Everybody who went to hot countries took it throughout their time there, and for two months after they came home. Billions of people have taken this medication. And it costs nothing: ten centimes per pill. It is a medication which is extremely reliable and it’s the cheapest imaginable. So this is super amazing news. Everybody who learns about these benefits should fall upon it.” This is no longer a mistake, this is grave medical misconduct. Nobody who knows about therapeutics would use such words so lightly.

Cardiologists, resuscitation specialists, emergency doctors, GPs, public-health specialists, we are all alarmed. Our first warnings are vehement and rational, reaffirming the toxicity of chloroquine in cardiology, and the majority of us insisting on the senseless and significant risk which Didier Raoult is running. Because it is familiar, prescribed for long stays in Africa in packages of 100 tablets, chloroquine is lying around in many medicine cabinets. To declare as a fact that we should “fall upon it” in this agonising pandemic context is to encourage unrestrained self medication, and to endanger life. Incoherent, dangerous, this announcement disturbs us deeply. Incredulous, not for a moment do we imagine just what Didier Raoult will unleash, nor that the nightmare had already begun.

 

DD Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, famously claimed that 95% of all diseases are caused by subluxations of the spine and the rest by subluxations of other joints. He said and stated this theory in different forms not once but dozens of times, and it thus quickly became the mantra of chiropractic. When it was noted that subluxation, as imagined by Palmer and his son BJ, did not exist, chiropractors found themselves with a considerable amount of egg on their faces.

Ever since, they have tried to cover up the blemish, some by repeatedly re-defining subluxation, others by claiming that they do not believe in Palmer’s theory anyway. The issue was and is fiercely fought over even threatened to break up the profession. At present, we are being told incessantly that large chunks of the profession are reformed, have come to terms with their profession’s foundation in a fictional concept, and have now abandoned subluxation altogether.

Critics, in turn, are quick to point out that, if that is so, chiropractors lack a ‘raison d’être’. The best chiropractors of this persuasion could do, they say, is to re-train as physiotherapists who also use spinal manipulation but without the nonsensical chiropractic ‘philosophy’.

While this debate is ongoing and shows no sign of subsiding, it is relevant, of course, to ask what proportions of the chiropractic profession belongs to which persuasion. This paper evaluated the issue of the professional identity within the profession of chiropractic based on the literature from 2000 to 2019. Initially 562 articles were sourced, of which 24 met the criteria for review.

The review confirmed three previously stated professional identity subgroups:

  • a vitalistic approach pro subluxation,
  • a approach contra subluxation,
  • a centrist or mixed view.

Whilst these three main chiropractic identity sub-types exist, the terminology used to describe them differs. Research aimed at categorising the chiropractic profession identity into exclusive sub-types found that at least 20% of chiropractors have an exclusive vertebral subluxation focus. However, deeper exploration of the literature shows that vertebral subluxation is an important practice consideration for up to 70% of chiropractors.

The review also found that practising chiropractors consider themselves to be primary care or primary contact practitioners with a broad scope of practice across a number of patient groups not limited to musculoskeletal management.

So, if I understand these findings correctly, they confirm that chiropractors like to see themselves as physicians who are able to treat most conditions that present themselves in primary care. At the same time, their majority considers that vertebral subluxation is an important practice consideration. This clearly suggests they are likely to treat most conditions by adjusting spinal subluxations. In turn, this implies that DD Palmer’s dictum, ‘95% of all conditions are caused by subluxations of the spine’, is still adhered to by about 70% of all chiropractors.

If this is so, the best advice I can give to the general public is this: if you have a health problem, the last person you should consult is a chiropractor.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if we had a treatment that reduces the risk of getting infected with the corona-virus? Well, this paper claims that there is one. Here is its abstract:

Since December 2019, an outbreak of corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) occurred in Wuhan, and rapidly spread to almost all parts of China. This was followed by prevention programs recommending Chinese medicine (CM) for the prevention. In order to provide evidence for CM recommendations, we reviewed ancient classics and human studies.

Methods

Historical records on prevention and treatment of infections in CM classics, clinical evidence of CM on the prevention of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and H1N1 influenza, and CM prevention programs issued by health authorities in China since the COVID-19 outbreak were retrieved from different databases and websites till 12 February, 2020. Research evidence included data from clinical trials, cohort or other population studies using CM for preventing contagious respiratory virus diseases.

Results

The use of CM to prevent epidemics of infectious diseases was traced back to ancient Chinese practice cited in Huangdi’s Internal Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing) where preventive effects were recorded. There were 3 studies using CM for prevention of SARS and 4 studies for H1N1 influenza. None of the participants who took CM contracted SARS in the 3 studies. The infection rate of H1N1 influenza in the CM group was significantly lower than the non-CM group (relative risk 0.36, 95% confidence interval 0.24–0.52; n=4). For prevention of COVID-19, 23 provinces in China issued CM programs. The main principles of CM use were to tonify qi to protect from external pathogens, disperse wind and discharge heat, and resolve dampness. The most frequently used herbs included Radix astragali (Huangqi), Radix glycyrrhizae (Gancao), Radix saposhnikoviae (Fangfeng), Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Baizhu), Lonicerae Japonicae Flos (Jinyinhua), and Fructus forsythia (Lianqiao).

Conclusions

Based on historical records and human evidence of SARS and H1N1 influenza prevention, Chinese herbal formula could be an alternative approach for prevention of COVID-19 in high-risk population. Prospective, rigorous population studies are warranted to confirm the potential preventive effect of CM.

So, what should we make of this conclusion?

To provide an evidence-based answer, I tried to look up the original studies cited in the article. The links provided by the authors seem to be all dead except one which leads to a paper published in the infamous JCAM. Here is its abstract:

Objectives: To investigate the efficacy of an herbal formula in the prevention of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) transmission among health care workers. The secondary objectives are to investigate quality of life (QOL) and symptomology changes among supplement users, and to evaluate the safety of this formula.

Design: Controlled clinical trial.

Settings: Hong Kong during epidemic of SARS.

Subjects: Two cohorts of health care workers from 11 hospitals in Hong Kong, 1 using an herbal supplement for a 2-week period (n = 1063) and a control cohort comprising all other health care workers who did not receive the supplement (n = 36,111) were compared prospectively.

Interventions: Taking an herbal supplement for a 2-week period.

Outcome measures: SARS attack rates and changes in quality of life and influenza-like symptoms were also examined at three timepoints among herbal supplement users.

Results: None of the health care workers who used the supplement subsequently contracted SARS compared to 0.4% of the health care workers who did not use the supplement (p = 0.014). Improvements in influenza-like symptoms and quality of life measurements were also observed among herbal supplement users. Less than 2% reported minor adverse events.

Conclusion: The results of this pilot study suggest that there is a good potential of using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) supplements to prevent the spread of SARS.

How can I be polite and still say what I think about this article? Perhaps by stating this: THIS STUDY WAS INCAPABLE OF INVESTIGATING THE ‘EFFICACY’ OF ANYTHING AND ITS RESULTS ARE NOT CONVINCING.

So, are the Chinese authors correct when concluding that Chinese herbal formula could be an alternative approach for prevention of COVID-19 in high-risk population?

No, I don’t think so! And I even feel that it is irresponsible in the current situation to misguide consumers, patients, scientists and decision-makers into believing that TCM offers an answer to the pandemic.

 

Here is an open letter published yesterday, initiated by SENSE ABOUT SCIENCE and signed by many UK scientists and other experts. If you agree with it, you can still add your name to the signatories (see below):

 

 

Dear Mr Johnson

We urge you to start publishing the government’s evolving plans for coronavirus testing, and the evidence they are based on.

Testing is key to understanding the risks and to how people can get back to work and normal life. It is what major decisions will be based on, but there are also limits to what it can tell us.

People are frustrated and confused about the scientific and logistical challenges of testing and what the government is doing about it. The internet and media are awash with rumours and the public are valiantly trying to work their way through fragments of information. People in senior positions in healthcare, in government departments, in research and in the related industries are struggling to see whether their input is needed and how to give it.

Why is testing delayed? Is there a shortage of tests? Is there a shortage of chemicals? Do they only work 30% of the time? Will there be tests to see whether someone’s had the virus? Can people test themselves or does it have to be done by a clinic? These are just a handful of the many questions being asked. Scientists and government representatives are trying to answer them but it’s a losing battle with volume and reach.

The UK government’s response to this epidemic started by levelling with people in a clear way about the emerging evidence and transparency on the government’s evolving thinking about that evidence. Of course, continuing to tell people what is happening has become complex and challenging. But that won’t be brought under control by limiting communication to behavioural instructions or by your efforts to clamp down on misinformation. The government cannot clamp down on misinformation without substituting information in its place. Would the government please maintain its commitment to evidence transparency and put its evolving plans and evidence on testing on an open site where the public, experts and government agencies can follow them and to which those who are trying to address confusion can direct people.

Yours faithfully

Tracey Brown OBE, director, Sense about Science

Carl Heneghan, director, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine

Justine Roberts, CEO, Mumsnet

Emma Friedmann, campaign director, FACSaware

Professor Sarah Harper, The Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford

Mairead MacKenzie, Independent Cancer Patient Voices

Rose Woodward, Founder, Patient & Advocate, Kidney Cancer Support Network

Dr Bu’Hussain Hayee PhD FRCP AGAF, Clinical Lead for Gastroenterology

I.Chisholm-Bunting, School of Nursing and Allied Health

Rachael Jolley, editor in chief, Index on censorship

Caroline Fiennes, director, Giving Evidence

Dr Ritchie Head, director, Ceratium

Tommy Parker, KiActiv

Professor Annette Dolphin FRS, FMedSci, President of British Neuroscience Association

Dr James May, Vice Chair, Healthwatch and GP

Peter Johnson, Patient representative with respiratory conditions

A. P. Dawid, FRS Emeritus Professor of Statistics, University of Cambridge

Stafford Lightman FMedSci FRS, Professor of Medicine, University of Bristol

Dr Christie Peacock CBE PhD FRAgS FRSB Hon DSc, Founder and Chairman, Sidai Africa (Kenya) Ltd

Caroline Richmond, Medical journalist

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky FAcSS, Chair in Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol

Hugh Pennington CBE, Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology, University of Aberdeen

Prof. Wendy Bickmore FRS, FRSE, FMedSci, Director: MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh

Benjamin Schuster-Böckler, PhD, Research Group Leader, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

Dr Max Pemberton, Daily Mail columnist and NHS Doctor

Diana Kornbrot, Emeritus Professor of Mathematical Psychology, University of Hertfordshire

Professor Patrick Eyers, Chair in Cell Signalling, University of Liverpool

Lelia Duley, Emeritus Professor, University of Nottingham

Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor University of Exeter

Ianis Matsoukas, Biomedical Sciences, University of Bolton

Dr Lorna Gibson, Radiology Registrar, New Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

Sylvia Schröder, Senior Research Fellow, UCL

Dr Emma Dennett, St George’s University of London.

Ellie Wood, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

Sophie Faulkner, clinical doctoral research fellow / occupational therapist

Dr Maya Hanspal, research assistant, UK Discovery Lab

Dr John Baird, University of Aberdeen

Martin Stamp, managing director, Ionic Information

Saša Jankovic, Journalist

Kate Ravilious, Freelance Science Writer

Charise Johnson, policy advisor

Dr Sophie Millar, University of Nottingham

Bissera Ivanvoa, Research Assistant in Linguistics, The University of Leeds

Baroness Jolly, House of Lords

Dr. Simon Keeling MSc, PhD, RMet, FRMetS, The weather centre

Laurie van Someren, Aleph One Ltd

Prof Chris Kirk, former Hon. Sec. Royal Society of Biology.

Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Wilber Sabiiti,Senior Research fellow in Medicine, University of St Andrews

Prof. Bob Brecher, Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics, University of Brighton

Dr Sabina Michnowicz, UCL Hazard Centre

David Orme, Research Assistant, Cortex Lab

Rebecca Dewey PhD, Research Fellow in Neuroimaging

Dr Ricky Nathvani, Imperial College London.

Rita F. de Oliveira, Senior lecturer Sport and Exercise Science, London South Bank University

Prof Christopher C French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London

Kirstie Tew, Lead Scientist, KiActiv®

Dr Ben Martynoga, Freelance writer

Nigel Johnson, Patient representative with respiratory conditions

Dr Mimi Tanimoto – Science Communications Consultant

Till Bruckner, TranspariMED

Lesley-Anne Pearson, The University of Dundee

Sue O’Connell, retired consultant microbiologist, Health Protection Agency

Hao Ni, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, UCL, The Turing Fellow, the Alan Turing Institute

Dr Simon Underdown, FSA, FRSB, Director – Centre for Environment and Society

Matthew A Jay, PhD Student in Legal Epidemiology, University College London

Michael Butcher, Chairman, dataLearning Ltd

Professor Tom Crick, Swansea University

Dr J K Aronson, Consultant Physician and Clinical Pharmacologist, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine

Dr Thomas O’Mahoney, Anglia Ruskin University

Professor Ianis G. Matsoukas PhD (Biomedical Sciences), University of Bolton

Emeritus Professor Nigel Brown, Blackah-Brown Consulting

Danae Dodge, Ask for Evidence Ambassador

Ieuan Hughes, Department of Paediatrics, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke’s Hospital

Mandy Payne, Freelance Medical Editor

Lyssa Gold, University of St Andrews

Please email hello@senseaboutscience.org with your name and description if you wish to add yourself to the letter.

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