How often have we heard that, even if so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) does not improve the more tangible health outcomes, at least it does improve the quality of life of those who use it. But is that popular assumprion correct?
The present study investigated the use of SCAM and its relationship with health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. A total of 421 patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus who met the inclusion criteria were recruited in this cross-sectional study. The researchers recorded the use of SCAM, such as:
HRQOL was assessed by EuroQOL.
A total of 161 patients (38.2%) with type 2 diabetes mellitus used some type of SCAM. The use of supplements and/or health foods was the highest among SCAM users (112 subjects, 26.6%). HRQOL was significantly lower in patients who used some SCAM (0.829 ± 0.221) than in those without any SCAM use (0.881 ± 0.189), even after adjustments for confounding factors [F(1, 414) = 2.530, p = 0.014].
The authors concluded that proper information on SCAM is needed for patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.
We have often discussed whether SCAM use improves or reduces QoL. The evidence is mixed.
Some studies of often poor quality suggest that SCAM improves QoL, e.g.:
- Can massage improve the quality of life?
- The effect of acupuncture on myelosuppression and quality of life in women with breast cancer
- SCAM-Use and Quality of Life in Patients with Breast Cancer
- Acupuncture is said to improve the quality of life of migraineurs, but I am unconvinced
- Yoga improves quality of life, fatigue and sleep of breast cancer patients
However, other studies suggest that SCAM has no effect or even reduces QoL, e.g.:
- Mistletoe for cancer: Does it improve patients’ quality of life?
- Alternative therapies: do they really improve the quality of life of cancer patients?
- Chiropractic improves quality of life: another bogus claim?
- Homeopathy for cancer? Unsurprisingly, the evidence is not positive.
- Multidisciplinary versus chiropractic care for low back pain
- Use of alternative medicine hastens death of cancer patients
The authors of the present study contribute further evidence to the discussion:
Huo et al. evaluated HRQOL in 17,923 patients with bronchial asthma using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and showed that HRQOL was significantly lower in patients with than in those without the use of CAM . Opheim et al. also demonstrated that HRQOL was significantly lower in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients with than in those without the use of CAM . These findings indicate that the use of some CAM is associated with lower HRQOL. Consistent with previous findings, HRQOL was significantly lower in patients with the use of some CAM than in those without any CAM in the present study.
The issue is obviously complex. Findings would depend on the type of patient and the form of SCAM as well on a multitude of other factors. Moreover, it is often unclear what was the cause and what the effect: did SCAM cause low (or high) QoL or did the latter just prompt the use of the former?
In view of this confusion, it is probably safe to merely conclude that the often-heard blanket statement that SCAM improves QoL is not nearly as certain as SCAM enthusiasts want it to be.
Autogenic training (AT) is a relaxation technique that has garnered attention for its potential to reduce anxiety and improve psychological well-being. This review aimed to synthesize the findings from a diverse range of studies investigating the relationship between AT and anxiety disorder across different populations and settings.
A comprehensive review of 162 studies, including randomised controlled trials (RCTs), non-randomized controlled trials (N-RCTs), surveys, and meta-analysis, was conducted and 29 studies were selected. Participants in the studies were patients with:
- bulimia nervosa,
- coronary angioplasty,
Others were nursing students, healthy volunteers, athletes, etc.
Anxiety levels were measured before and after the AT intervention using a variety of anxiety assessment scales, including the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). The formats, duration, and delivery of the interventions varied, with some studies utilising guided sessions by professionals and other self-administered practises.
The combined findings of these studies revealed consistent trends in the beneficial effects of AT on anxiety reduction. AT was found to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms across a wide range of populations and settings. Following AT interventions, participants reported reduced anxiety, improved mood states, and improved coping mechanisms. AT was found to be superior to no treatment or a comparable intervention in a number of cases.
The authors conclused that the body of evidence supports autogenic training as a non-pharmacological approach to reducing anxiety and improving psychological well-being. Despite differences in methodology and participant profiles, the studies show that AT has a positive impact on a wide range of populations. The findings merit further investigation and highlight AT’s potential contribution to anxiety management strategies.
I was taught AT many years ago and have practised it occasionally ever since. I have also co-authored several papers of AT that showed encouraging results, e.g.:
- Autogenic training for tension type headaches: a systematic review of controlled trials. Complement Ther Med. 2006 Jun;14(2):144-50.
- Autogenic training for stress and anxiety: a systematic review. Complement Ther Med. 2000 Jun;8(2):106-10.
- Autogenic training to reduce anxiety in nursing students: randomized controlled trial. Kanji N, White A, Ernst E.J Adv Nurs. 2006 Mar;53(6):729-35.
- Autogenic training to manage symptomology in women with chest pain and normal coronary arteries. Menopause. 2009 Jan-Feb;16(1):60-5.
- Autogenic training reduces anxiety after coronary angioplasty: a randomized clinical trial. Am Heart J. 2004 Mar;147(3)
Thus, I feel that the conclusions of this review might be correct.
Several further recent papers seem to support the notion that AT is a treatment worth trying, e.g.:
- A review concluded that as an add-on intervention psychotherapy technique with beneficial outcome on psychophysiological functioning, AT represents a promising avenue towards expanding research findings of brain-body links beyond the current limits of the prevention and clinical management of number of mental disorders.
- A clinical trial showed that AT seems to improve sleep quality and could improve some dimensions of quality of life and other symptoms among people living with HIV. Further studies are needed to confirm these results.
Why then AT is not better studied and more popular? A short paragraph of my next book (to be published in about 6 months) on the inventors of so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs), including the German psychiatry professor Johannes Schulz (1884-1970), inventor of AT, might give you a clue:
Schultz supported the euthanasia program of the Nazis, i.e. the extermination of disabled and other people considered ‘unworthy of living’ during the Third Reich. He passed death sentences on “hysterical women” through his diagnoses. In 1933, Schultz began research on a guide-book on sexual education in which he focused on homosexuality and explored the topics of sterilization and euthanasia. In 1935, he published an essay about the psychological consequences of sterilization and castration among men; in it he supported compulsory sterilization of men in order to eliminate hereditary illnesses. With a diagnostic scheme developed by him in 1940, Schulz advocated the execution of mentally ill patients by stating: “I personally have to align myself with Mr. Hoche […], by recalling the ‘annihilation of life unworthy of life’ and by raising the hope that the madhouses will soon become emptied and remodelled according to this principle.” Schultz was fully aware of the consequences of his diagnostic assessment and even used the term “death sentence in the form of a diagnosis”.
I came across this evidence only years after having published my papers on AT. Would I have developed an interest in AT, if I had known about Schulz’s Nazi past? Probably not.
So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) interventions are growing in popularity and are even advocated as treatments for long COVID symptoms. However, comprehensive analysis of current evidence in this setting is still lacking. This study aims to review existing published studies on the use of SCAM interventions for patients experiencing long COVID through a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
A comprehensive electronic literature search was performed in multiple databases and clinical trial registries from September 2019 to January 2023. RCTs evaluating efficacy and safety of SCAM for long COVID were included. Methodological quality of each included trial
was appraised with the Cochrane ‘risk of bias’ tool. A qualitative analysis was conducted due to heterogeneity of included studies.
A total of 14 RCTs with 1195 participants were included in this review. Study findings demonstrated that SCAM interventions could benefit patients with long COVID, especially those suffering from
- neuropsychiatric disorders,
- olfactory dysfunction,
- cognitive impairment,
- mild-to-moderate lung fibrosis.
The main interventions reported were:
- self-administered transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation,
- dietary supplements,
- olfactory training,
- inspiratory muscle training,
- concurrent training,
- online breathing programs,
- online well-being programs.
The authors concluded that SCAM interventions may be effective, safe, and acceptable to patients with symptoms of long COVID. However, the findings from this systematic review should be interpreted with caution due to various methodological limitations. More rigorous trials focused on CAM for long COVID are warranted in the future.
Such wishy-washy conclusions seem to be popular in the fantasy land of SCAM. Yet, they are, in my view, most ojectionable because:
- they tell us nothing of value;
- that something “MAY BE EFFECTIVE” has been known before and cannot be the result of but is the reason for a systematic review;
- a review of 14 RCTs of almost as many interventions cannot possibly tell us anything about the SAFETY of these treatments;
- it also does not provide evidence of effectiveness and merely indicates a lack of independent replications;
- if the abstract mentions an assessment of the study rigor, one expects that it also informs us about this important aspect.
Once we do come around looking at the methodological quality of the primary studies we realize that it is mostly miserable. This means that the conclusions of the review are not just irritating but plainly misleading. Responsible researchers should have concluded along the following lines:
The quantity and the quality of the evidence are both low. Therefore, the effectiveness and safety of SCAM interventions for long COVID remains unproven.
This project was financially supported by The HEAD Foundation, Singapore and in part by the grant from the NIH R61 AT01218.
Shame on the authors, journal editors, peer-reviewers, and funders of this dangerous nonsense!
This review evaluated the magnitude of the placebo response of sham acupuncture in trials of acupuncture for nonspecific LBP, and assessed whether different types of sham acupuncture are associated with different responses. Four databases including PubMed, EMBASE, MEDLINE, and the Cochrane Library were searched through April 15, 2023, and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were included if they randomized patients with LBP to receive acupuncture or sham acupuncture intervention. The main outcomes included the placebo response in pain intensity, back-specific function and quality of life. Placebo response was defined as the change in these outcome measures from baseline to the end of treatment. Random-effects models were used to synthesize the results, standardized mean differences (SMDs, Hedges’g) were applied to estimate the effect size.
A total of 18 RCTs with 3,321 patients were included. Sham acupuncture showed a noteworthy pooled placebo response in pain intensity in patients with LBP [SMD −1.43, 95% confidence interval (CI) −1.95 to −0.91, I2=89%]. A significant placebo response was also shown in back-specific functional status (SMD −0.49, 95% CI −0.70 to −0.29, I2=73%), but not in quality of life (SMD 0.34, 95% CI −0.20 to 0.88, I2=84%). Trials in which the sham acupuncture penetrated the skin or performed with regular needles had a significantly higher placebo response in pain intensity reduction, but other factors such as the location of sham acupuncture did not have a significant impact on the placebo response.
The authors concluded that sham acupuncture is associated with a large placebo response in pain intensity among patients with LBP. Researchers should also be aware that the types of sham acupuncture applied may potentially impact the evaluation of the efficacy of acupuncture. Nonetheless, considering the nature of placebo response, the effect of other contextual factors cannot be ruled out in this study.
As the authors stated in their conclusion: the effect of other contextual factors cannot be ruled out. I would go much further and say that the outcomes noted here are mostly due to effects other than placebo. Obvious candidates are:
- regression towards the mean;
- natural history of the condition;
- success of patient blinding;
- social desirability.
To define the placebo effect in acupuncture trials as the change in the outcome measures from baseline to the end of treatment – as the authors of the review do – is not just naive, it is plainly wrong. I would not be surprised, if different sham acupuncture treatments have different effects. To me this would be an expected, plausible finding. But such differences just cannot be estimated in the way the authors suggest. For that, we would need an RCT in which patients are randomized to be treated in the same setting with a range of different types of sham acupuncture. The results of such a study might be revealing but I doubt that many ethics committees would be happy to grant their approval for it.
In the absence of such data, the best we can do is to design trials such that the verum is tested against a credible placebo which, for patients, is indistinguishable from the verum, while demonstrating that blinding is successful.
The ‘University College of Osteopathy’ announced a proposal to merge with the AECC University College (AECC UC). Both institutions will seek to bring together the two specialist providers to offer a “unique inter-disciplinary environment for education, clinical practice and research in osteopathy, chiropractic, and across a wide range of allied health and related disciplines”.
The partnership is allegedly set to unlock significant opportunities for growth and development by bringing together the two specialist institutions’ expertise and resources across two locations – in Dorset and central London.
As a joint statement, Chair of the Board of Governors at AECC UC, Jeni Bremner and Chair of the Board of Governors at UCO, Professor Jo Price commented:
“We believe the proposed merger would further the institutional ambitions for both of our organisations and the related professional groups, by allowing us to expand our educational offering, grow student numbers and provide a unique inter-disciplinary training environment, providing students the opportunity to be immersed in multi-professional practice and research, with exposure to and participation in multi-disciplinary teams.
“There is also an exciting and compelling opportunity to expedite the development of a nationally unique, and internationally-leading MSK Centre of Excellence for Education and Research, developed and delivered across our two sites.”
The announcement is accompanied by further uncritical and promotional language:
Established as the first chiropractic training provider in Europe, AECC UC has been at the forefront of evidence-based chiropractic education, practice and research for more than 50 years. The institution is on an exciting journey of growth and development, having expanded and diversified its academic portfolio and activity beyond its traditional core offering of chiropractic across a broad range of allied health courses and apprenticeships, working closely with NHS, local authority and other system partners across Dorset and the south-west. The proposed merger with UCO would allow AECC UC to enhance the breadth and depth of its offer to support the expansion and development of the health and care workforce across a wider range of partners.
Now in its 106th year, UCO is one of the UK’s leading providers of osteopathic education and research with an established reputation for creating highly-skilled, evidence-informed graduates. UCO research is recognised as world-leading, delivering value to the osteopathic and wider health care community.
Sharon Potter, Acting Vice-Chancellor of UCO, said:
“As an institution that has long been at the forefront of osteopathic education and research, we are committed to ensuring further growth and development of the osteopathic profession.
“UCO has been proactively considering options to future-proof the institution. Following a review of strategic options, UCO is delighted by the proposed merger, working closely with AECC UC to ensure that UCO and osteopathy thrives as part of the inter-professional health sciences landscape, both academically and clinically. There is significant congruence between UCO and AECC UC in our strong aligned values, commitment to and delivery of excellent osteopathic education, clinical care and research, and opinion leadership.
“AECC UC has a strong track record of respecting the differences in professions, evidenced by the autonomy across the 10 different professional groups supported by the institution. The merger will not only mean we are protecting UCO through preserving its osteopathic heritage and creating a sustainable future, but that our staff and students can collaborate with other professional groups such as physiotherapy, chiropractic, sport rehabilitation, podiatry and diagnostic imaging, in a multidisciplinary MSK and rehabilitation environment unlike anywhere else in the UK.”
Professor Lesley Haig, Vice-Chancellor of AECC UC, commented:
“Preserving the heritage of UCO and safeguarding its future status as the flagship osteopathy training provider in the UK will be critical, just as it has been to protect the chiropractic heritage of the AECC brand. UCO is seen as synonymous with, and reflective of, the success of the osteopathy profession and we fully recognise and respect the important role that UCO plays not only as a sector-leading provider of osteopathic education, research and clinical care, but as the UK’s flagship osteopathy educational provider.
“Overall it is clear that UCO and AECC UC already have a common values base, similar understanding of approaches to academic and clinical delivery, and positive relationships upon which a future organisational structure and opportunities can be developed. It’s an exciting time for both institutions as we move forward in partnership to create something unique and become recognised nationally and internationally as a centre of excellence.”
The proposed merger would continue the already founded positive relations between the institutions, where regular visits, sharing of good practice, and collaborative research work are already taking place. Heads of terms for the potential merger have now been agreed and both institutions are entering into the next phase of discussions, which will include wide consultation with staff, students and other stakeholders to produce a comprehensive implementation plan.
In case this bonanza of platitudes and half-truths has not yet overwhelmed you, I might be so bold as to ask 10 critical questions:
- What is an “evidence-based chiropractic education”? Does it include the messages that 1) subluxation is nonsense, 2) chiropractic manipulations can cause harm, 3) there is little evidence that they do more good than harm?
- How an an “expansion and development of the health and care workforce” be anticipated on the basis of the 3 points I just made?
- What does the term “evidence-informed graduates” mean? Does it mean they are informed that you teach them nonsense but instruct them to practice this nonsense anyway?
- Do “options to future-proof the institution” include the continuation of misleading the public about the value of chiropractic/osteopathy?
- Does the”delivery of excellent osteopathic education, clinical care and research, and opinion leadership” account for the fact that the evidence for osteopathy is weak at best and for most conditions negative?
- By “preserving its osteopathic heritage”, do you intend to preserve also the reputation of your founding father, Andrew Taylor Still, who did many dubious things. In 1874, for instance, he was excommunicated by the Methodist Church because of his “laying on of hands”; specifically, he was accused of trying to emulate Jesus Christ, labelled an agent of the Devil, and condemned as practicing voodoo. Or do you prefer to white-wash the osteopathic heritage?
- You also want “to protect the chiropractic heritage”; does that mean you aim at white-washing the juicy biography of the charlatan who created chiropractic, DD Palmer, as well?
- “UCO and AECC UC already have a common values base” – what are they? As far as I can see, they mainly consist in hiding the truth about the uselessness of your activities from the public.
- How do you want to “recognised nationally and internationally as a centre of excellence”? Might it be a good idea to begin by critically assessing your interventions and ask whether they do more good than harm?
- Crucially, what is really behing the merger that you are trying to sell us with such concentrated BS?
The history of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is rich with ‘discoveries’ that are widely believed to be true events but that, in fact, never happened. Here are 10 examples:
- DD Palmer is believed to have cured the deafness of a janitor by manipulating his neck. This, many claim, was the birth of chiropractic. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because the nerve responsible for hearing does not run through the neck.
- Samuel Hahnemann swallowed some Cinchona officinalis, a quinine-containing treatment for malaria, and experienced the symptoms of malaria. This was the discovery of the ‘like cures like’ assumption that forms the basis of homeopathy. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because Hahnemann merely had an intolerance to quinine, and like does certainly not cure like.
- Edward Bach, for the discovery of each of his flower remedies, suffered from the state of mind for which a particular remedy was required; according to his companion, Nora Weeks, he suffered it “to such an intensified degree that those with him marvelled that it was possible for a human being to suffer so and retain his sanity.” This is how Bach discovered the ‘Bach Flower Remedies‘. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? His experience was not caused by by the remedy, which contain no active ingredients, but by his imagination.
- William Fitzgerald found that pressure on specific areas on the soles of a patient’s feet would positively affect a specific organ of that patient. This was the birth of reflexology. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because there are no nerve connections from the sole of our feet to our inner organs.
- Max Gerson observed that his special diet with added liver juice, vitamin B3, coffee enemas, etc. cures cancer. This is how Gerson found the Gerson therapy. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because he never could demonstrate this effect and others never were able to replicate his alleged finfings.
- George Goodheart was convinced that the strength of a muscle group provides information about the health of inner organs. This formed the basis for applied kinesiology. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because applied kinesiology has been disclosed as a simple party trick.
- Paul Nogier thought that the function of inner organs can be influenced by stimulating points on the outer ear. This was the discovery that became auricular therapy. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because Nogier’s assumptions fly in the face of anatomy and physiology.
- Antom Mesmer discovered that by moving a magnet over a patient, he would move her vital fluid and affect her health. This discovery became the basis for Mesmer’s ‘animal magnetism‘. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because there is no vital fluid and neither real nor animal magnetism have specific therapeutic effects.
- Reinhold Voll observed that the electric resistance over acupuncture points provides diagnostic information about the function of the corresponding organs. He thus invented his ‘electroacupuncture according to Voll‘ (EAV). BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because EAV and the various methods derived from it are not valid and fail to produce reproducible results.
- Ignatz von Peczely discovered that discolorations on the iris provide valuable information about the health of inner organs. This was the birth of iridology. BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED! How can I be so sure? Because discolorations develop spontaneously and Peczely’s assumptions about nerval connections between the iris and the organs of the body are pure fantasy.
I hope that you can think of further SCAM discoveries that never happened. If so, please elaborate in the comments section below; you will see, it is good fun!
By sating ‘IT NEVER HAPPENED’, I mean to say that it never happened as reported/imagined by the inventor of the respective SCAM and that the explanations perpetuated by the enthusiasts of the SCAM regarding cause and effect are based on misunderstandings.
This case report aims to describe the effects of craniosacral therapy and acupuncture in a patient with chronic migraine.
A 33-year-old man with chronic migraine was treated with 20 sessions of craniosacral therapy and acupuncture for 8 weeks. The number of migraine and headache days were monitored every month. The pain intensity of headache was measured on the visual analog scale (VAS). Korean Headache Impact Test-6 (HIT-6) and Migraine Specific Quality of Life (MSQoL) were also used.
The number of headache days per month reduced from 28 to 7 after 8 weeks of treatment and to 3 after 3 months of treatment. The pain intensity of headache based on VAS reduced from 7.5 to 3 after 8 weeks and further to < 1 after 3 months of treatment. Furthermore, the patient’s HIT-6 and MSQoL scores improved during the treatment period, which was maintained or further improved at the 3 month follow-up. No side effects were observed during or after the treatment.
The authors concluded that this case indicates that craniosacral therapy and acupuncture could be effective treatments for chronic
migraine. Further studies are required to validate the efficacy of craniosacral therapy for chronic migraine.
So, was the treatment period 8 weeks long or was it 3 months?
No, I am not discussing this article merely for making a fairly petty point. The reason I mention it is diffteren. I think it is time to discuss the relevance of case reports.
What is the purpose of a case report in medicine/healthcare. Here is the abstract of an article entitled “The Importance of Writing and Publishing Case Reports During Medical Training“:
Case reports are valuable resources of unusual information that may lead to new research and advances in clinical practice. Many journals and medical databases recognize the time-honored importance of case reports as a valuable source of new ideas and information in clinical medicine. There are published editorials available on the continued importance of open-access case reports in our modern information-flowing world. Writing case reports is an academic duty with an artistic element.
An article in the BMJ is, I think, more informative:
It is common practice in medicine that when we come across an interesting case with an unusual presentation or a surprise twist, we must tell the rest of the medical world. This is how we continue our lifelong learning and aid faster diagnosis and treatment for patients.
It usually falls to the junior to write up the case, so here are a few simple tips to get you started.
Begin by sitting down with your medical team to discuss the interesting aspects of the case and the learning points to highlight. Ideally, a registrar or middle grade will mentor you and give you guidance. Another junior doctor or medical student may also be keen to be involved. Allocate jobs to split the workload, set a deadline and work timeframe, and discuss the order in which the authors will be listed. All listed authors should contribute substantially, with the person doing most of the work put first and the guarantor (usually the most senior team member) at the end.
Gain permission and written consent to write up the case from the patient or parents, if your patient is a child, and keep a copy because you will need it later for submission to journals.
Gather all the information from the medical notes and the hospital’s electronic systems, including copies of blood results and imaging, as medical notes often disappear when the patient is discharged and are notoriously difficult to find again. Remember to anonymise the data according to your local hospital policy.
Write up the case emphasising the interesting points of the presentation, investigations leading to diagnosis, and management of the disease/pathology. Get input on the case from all members of the team, highlighting their involvement. Also include the prognosis of the patient, if known, as the reader will want to know the outcome.
Coming up with a title
Discuss a title with your supervisor and other members of the team, as this provides the focus for your article. The title should be concise and interesting but should also enable people to find it in medical literature search engines. Also think about how you will present your case study—for example, a poster presentation or scientific paper—and consider potential journals or conferences, as you may need to write in a particular style or format.
Research the disease/pathology that is the focus of your article and write a background paragraph or two, highlighting the relevance of your case report in relation to this. If you are struggling, seek the opinion of a specialist who may know of relevant articles or texts. Another good resource is your hospital library, where staff are often more than happy to help with literature searches.
How your case is different
Move on to explore how the case presented differently to the admitting team. Alternatively, if your report is focused on management, explore the difficulties the team came across and alternative options for treatment.
Finish by explaining why your case report adds to the medical literature and highlight any learning points.
Writing an abstract
The abstract should be no longer than 100-200 words and should highlight all your key points concisely. This can be harder than writing the full article and needs special care as it will be used to judge whether your case is accepted for presentation or publication.
Discuss with your supervisor or team about options for presenting or publishing your case report. At the very least, you should present your article locally within a departmental or team meeting or at a hospital grand round. Well done!
Both papers agree that case reports can be important. They may provide valuable resources of unusual information that may lead to new research and advances in clinical practice and should offer an interesting case with an unusual presentation or a surprise twist.
But perhaps it is more constructive to consider what a case report cannot do.
It cannot provide evidence about the effectiveness of a therapy. To publish something like:
- I had a patient with the common condition xy;
- I treated her with therapy yz;
- this was followed by patient feeling better;
is totally bonkers – even more so if the outcome was subjective and the therapy consisted of more than one intervention, as in the article above. We have no means of telling whether it was treatment A, or treatment B, or a placebo effect, or the regression towards the mean, or the natural history of the condition that caused the outcome. The authors might just as well just have reported:
WE RECENTLY TREATED A PATIENT WHO GOT BETTER
Sadly – and this is the reason why I spend some time on this subject – this sort of thing happens very often in the realm of SCAM.
Case reports are particularly valuable if they enable and stimulate others to do more research on a defined and under-researched issue (e.g. an adverse effect of a therapy). Case reports like the one above do not do this. They are a waste of space and tend to be abused as some sort of indication that the treatments in question might be valuable.
This systematic review and meta-analysis was aimed at analyzing the effectiveness of craniosacral therapy in improving pain and disability among patients with headache disorders.
PubMed, Physiotherapy Evidence Database, Scopus, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, and Osteopathic Medicine Digital Library databases were searched in March 2023. Two independent reviewers searched the databases and extracted data from randomized clinical trials comparing craniosacral therapy with control or sham interventions. The same reviewers assessed the methodological quality and the risk of bias using the PEDro scale and the Cochrane Collaboration tool, respectively. Grading of recommendations, assessment, development, and evaluations was used to rate the certainty of the evidence. Meta-analyses were conducted using random effects models using RevMan 5.4 software.
The searches retrieved 735 papers, and 4 studies were finally included. The craniosacral therapy provided statistically significant but clinically unimportant change on pain intensity (Mean difference = –1.10; 95% CI: –1.85, –0.35; I2: 44%), and no change on disability or headache effect (Standardized Mean Difference = –0.34; 95% CI –0.70, 0.01; I2: 26%). The certainty of the evidence was downgraded to very low.
The authors concluded that very low certainty of evidence suggests that craniosacral therapy produces clinically unimportant effects on pain intensity, whereas no significant effects were observed in disability or headache effect.
I find it strange that researchers seem so frequently unable to formulate their conclusions clearly. Is it political correctness? Or are they somehow favorably inclined (i.e. biased) towards the treatment that they pretend to critically evaluate?
Let’s look at the facts related to this review:
- Craniosacral therapy (CST) is utterly implausible.
- Only 4 RCTs were found.
- They were of poor quality.
- They were published mostly by people who want to promote CST.
- Therefore the overall statistically significant effect is most likely a false-positive result.
- This means that the conclusion should be much more straight forward.
I suggest something along the following lines:
A critical evaluation of the existing RCTs failed to find convincing evidence that CST is an effective treatment for headache disorders.
Charles III is about to pay his first visit to France, his second visit to any state. Earlier this year, he has already visited Germany. Originally, France had been first on his list but the event was cancelled in view of the violent protests that rocked the country at the time. Now he is definitely expected and the French are exited. I am currently in France and have been asked to give several interviews on the king’s love affair with so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).
The French have long been fascinated by our royal family which seems a bit odd considering what they did to their own. Now that Charles and Camilla are about to appear with an entourage of about 50 servants between them, the press is full with slightly bemused reports and comments:
Since childhood, Charles has been accustomed to a luxurious, gilded life, which is reproduced on every trip outside the royal palaces, to ensure maximum service, comfort and security… The new king always travels with his private secretary, Sir Clive Alderton, his press advisor, his steward, his doctor, his personal valets, his security guards, and his private chauffeur, Tim Williams… And, of course, his regular osteopath to relieve his lower back. Since he’s had a lot of falls playing polo, Charles regularly suffers from back pain…”.
Really, just an osteopath?
What about all the other SCAM-practitioners whose businesses Charles so regularly supported in the past:
- · Acupuncture
- · Aromatherapy
- · Ayurveda
- · Chiropractic
- · Detox
- · Gerson therapy
- · Herbal medicine
- · Homeopathy
- · Iridology
- · Marma massage
- · Massage therapy
- · Pulse diagnosis
- · Reflexology
- · Tongue diagnosis
- · Traditional Chinese Medicine
- · Yoga
Will they not be disappointed?
I do wonder who Charles’ osteopath and doctor are. Are they competent? I am sure they both must be well-informed and evidence-based experts. If that is the case, they will have, of course, told Charles that osteopathy is hardly an optimal solution for an injured back.
In any case, now I am concerned about the royal back and therefore urgently recommend that HIS MAJESTY reads some of my previous posts on the subject, e.g.:
- Manual therapy (mainly chiropractic and osteopathy) does not have clinically relevant effects on back pain compared with sham treatment
- Spinal manipulative therapy for older adults with chronic low back pain fails to generate convincing results
- NICE no longer recommends acupuncture, chiropractic or osteopathy for low back pain
- The Effects of Yoga, Naturopathy, and Conventional Medical Treatment in Managing Low Back Pain
- Chronic non-specific low back pain: comparing cognitive functional therapy and movement system impairment (MSI)-based treatment
- Cognitive functional therapy for chronic low back pain
- Meditation for Chronic Low Back Pain Management?
Let’s hope all goes well here in France, and please let’s not be so akward as to ask about the environmental aspects – we all know how worried Charles truly is about not just his health but also the health of the planet – of moving such an entourage for a two-day visit.
Charles flew in a private jet from London to Paris and took his Bentley with him.
It has been reported that a UK Conservative candidate for the next general election reportedly claimed she healed a man’s hearing through the power of prayer. Kristy Adams has been chosen to represent the Conservatives in Mid Sussex at the next general UK election, which is expected to take place in May or the autumn of next year. Mrs Adams previously stood as the Tory candidate in Hove in 2017, placing a distant second behind Labour MP Peter Kyle.
In a recording from 2010, the Conservative hopeful reportedly told the King’s Arms Church in Bedford how she healed a deaf man by placing her hands over his ears and saying: “Be healed in Jesus’s name”. Mrs Adams is reported to have said: “He had hearing aids in both ears and I just thought that wasn’t right. It just annoyed me. I said ‘can I pray for you?’ and his eyes lit up, which is unusual when you offer to pray for someone’s healing.” After removing her hands, she claims the man could hear without his hearing aids. “I don’t know if he was more surprised or me,” she reportedly said.
Speaking to The Argus during her 2017 election campaign, Mrs Adams said she had asked the Daily Mirror to remove a story about the alleged recording but refused to answer whether she believed non-scientific medical miracles can happen. She said: “Millions of Christians around the world pray every day to help people.”
- Daily prayer against severe COVID – an update of a study started two years ago
- Resolution of blindness after prayer?
- Prayer as a therapy: a new randomised study
- Prayer as a medical therapy? Time to stop this nonsense!
- When an undercover journalist tests alternative cancer healers
- Biblical Naturopathy, another SCAM that is new to me
- The ‘Association of Catholic Doctors’ and homeopathic conversion therapy
- Prof Harald Walach’s new ground breaking study of praying the Rosary
- Higher religiousness/spirituality is associated with a more frequent use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)
- ‘The power of all religions’ is being tested in a study with severely ill corona-virus patients
- Does religiosity influence post-operative survival?
- Daniel P Wirth, his dubious research, and the remarkable apathy of some medical journals
Suffice to say, perhaps, that the evidence for prayer as a therapy is not positive.