Gua sha, sometimes referred to as “scraping”, “spooning” or “coining”, is a traditional Chinese treatment that has also been adopted in several other Asian countries. It has long been popular in Vietnam and is now also becoming
well-known in the West. The treatment consists of scraping the skin with a smooth edge placed against the pre-oiled skin surface, pressed down firmly, and then moved downwards along muscles or meridians, the assumed ‘energy’ channels of traditional Chinese medicine. According to its proponents, gua sha stimulates the flow of the vital energy ‘chi’ and releases unhealthy bodily matter from blood stasis within sored, tired, stiff or injured areas.
Gua sha is a traditional healing technique that aims to create petechiae on the skin for a believed therapeutic benefit. Natural healings are mostly based on repeated observations and anecdotal information. Hypothetical model for healing does not always fit the modern understanding. Yet, the mechanisms underlying Gua Sha have not been empirically established. Contemporary scientific research can now explain some events of traditional therapies that were once a mystery. It is assumed that Gua Sha therapy can serve as a mechanical signal to enhance the immune surveillance function of the skin during the natural resolving of the petechiae, through which scraping may result in therapeutic benefits. The current review, without judging the past hypothetical model, attempts to interpret the experience of the ancient healings in terms of contemporary views and concepts.
The authors conclude that this narrative review draws up a survey of scientific sources on an ancient healing, scraping therapy. It is hypothesized that the skin, the nervous system and immune system interact with one another to generate a cascade of physiological responses to the scraping, through which scraping may result in therapeutic benefits. Within the scope and limitations of this review, only a brief overview could be given of the potential relationship between the observed outcomes and scraping therapy. Implementing effective traditional healings within health systems will require appropriate knowledge translations and future prospective studies.
And they add the following ket points:
- The observed therapeutic effects following scraping therapy may be a physiological response to the minor bruising.
- Scraping is assumed to be a mechanical signal to elicit the immune function of the skin.
- Through natural resolving of the scraping marks (petechiae) a cascade of physiological responses are generated.
- Counterirritation and placebo effect can also contribute to positive effects for symptom relief.
I think that this paper is a good example for highlighting a common misunderstanding in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM): the confusion about how and whether any given therapy might work.
It is in my view utterly irrelevant, to consider or investigate the mechanisms of action of a SCAM that has not been proven to be an effective treatment of a disease or symptom. Such an approach can only lead to confusion about the value of the SCAM in question. In the present case, it makes gua sha look almost like a reasonable therapy, and consumers who read the paper might conclude that gua sha is worth trying.
A deliberately exaggerated example might make this clearer: If I fall down the staircase, a multitude of physiological effects of the fall could easily be verified on my body. Yet, nobody would claim that throwing patients down the stairs is of therapeutic value. Likewise, the forceful scratching of the skin is bound to have all sorts of physiological effects. These are, however, totally irrelevant until someone has shown that the procedure also has therapeutic value.
To put it bluntly: who cares how a SCAM works when it is unproven that it works?
Muscular dystrophies are a rare, severe, and genetically inherited disorders characterized by progressive loss of muscle fibers, leading to muscle weakness. The current treatment includes the use of steroids to slow muscle deterioration by dampening the inflammatory response. Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) has been offered as adjunctive therapy in Taiwan’s medical healthcare plan, making it possible to track CHM usage in patients with muscular dystrophies. This investigation explored the long-term effects of CHM use on the overall mortality of patients with muscular dystrophies.
A total of 581 patients with muscular dystrophies were identified from the database of Registry for Catastrophic Illness Patients in Taiwan. Among them, 80 and 201 patients were CHM users and non-CHM users, respectively. Compared to non-CHM users, there were more female patients, more comorbidities, including chronic pulmonary disease and peptic ulcer disease in the CHM user group. After adjusting for age, sex, use of CHM, and comorbidities, patients with prednisolone usage exhibited a lower risk of overall mortality than those who did not use prednisolone. CHM users showed a lower risk of overall mortality after adjusting for age, sex, prednisolone use, and comorbidities. The cumulative incidence of the overall survival was significantly higher in CHM users. One main CHM cluster was commonly used to treat patients with muscular dystrophies; it included Yin-Qiao-San, Ban-Xia-Bai-Zhu-Tian-Ma-Tang, Zhi-Ke (Citrus aurantium L.), Yu-Xing-Cao (Houttuynia cordata Thunb.), Che-Qian-Zi (Plantago asiatica L.), and Da-Huang (Rheum palmatum L.).
The authors concluded that the data suggest that adjunctive therapy with CHM may help to reduce the overall mortality among patients with muscular dystrophies. The identification of the CHM cluster allows us to narrow down the key active compounds and may enable future therapeutic developments and clinical trial designs to improve overall survival in these patients.
What the authors have shown is a CORRELATION, and from that, they draw conclusions implying CAUSATION. This is such a fundamental error that one has to wonder why a respected journal let it go past.
A likely causative explanation of the findings is that the CHM group of patients differed in respect to features that the statistical evaluations could not control for. Statisticians can never control for factors that have not been measured and are thus unknown. A possibility in the present case is that these patients had adopted a different lifestyle together with employing CHM which, in turn, resulted in a longer survival.
The global market for dietary supplements has grown continuously during the past years. In 2019, it amounted to around US$ 353 billion. The pandemic led to a further significant boost in sales. Evidently, many consumers listened to the sly promotion by the supplement industry. Thus they began to be convinced that supplements might stimulate their immune system and thus protect them against COVID-19 infections.
During the pre-pandemic years, the US sales figures had typically increased by about 5% year on year. In 2020, the increase amounted to a staggering 44 % (US$435 million) during the six weeks preceding April 5th, 2020 relative to the same period in 2019. The demand for multivitamins in the US reached a peak in March 2020 when sales figures had risen by 51.2 %. Total sales of vitamins and other supplements amounted to almost 120 million units for that period alone. In the UK, vitamin sales increased by 63 % and, in France, sales grew by around 40–60 % in March 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year.
Vis a vis such impressive sales figures, one should ask whether dietary supplements really do produce the benefit that consumers hope for. More precisely, is there any sound evidence that these supplements protect us from getting infected by COVID-19? In an attempt to answer this question, I conducted several Medline searches. Here are the conclusions of the relevant clinical trials and systematic reviews that I thus found:
- KSK (a polyherbal formulation from India’s Siddha system of medicine) significantly reduced SARS-CoV-2 viral load among asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and did not record any adverse effect, indicating the use of KSK in the strategy against COVID-19. Larger, multi-centric trials can strengthen the current findings.
- There is currently insufficient evidence to determine the benefits and harms of vitamin D supplementation as a treatment of COVID-19.
- Herbal supplements may help patients with COVID-19, zinc sulfate is likely to shorten the duration of olfactory dysfunction. DS therapy and herbal medicine appear to be safe and effective adjuvant therapies for patients with COVID-19. These results must be interpreted with caution due to the overall low quality of the included trials. More well-designed RCTs are needed in the future.
- No significant difference with vitamin-D supplementation on major health related outcomes in COVID-19.
- there is not enough evidence on the association between individual zinc status and COVID-19 infections and mortality.
- Omega-3 supplementation improved the levels of several parameters of respiratory and renal function in critically ill patients with COVID-19.
- A 5000 IU daily oral vitamin D3 supplementation for 2 weeks reduces the time to recovery for cough and gustatory sensory loss among patients with sub-optimal vitamin D status and mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms. The use of 5000 IU vitamin D3 as an adjuvant therapy for COVID-19 patients with suboptimal vitamin D status, even for a short duration, is recommended.
- In this 2-sample MR study, we did not observe evidence to support an association between 25OHD levels and COVID-19 susceptibility, severity, or hospitalization. Hence, vitamin D supplementation as a means of protecting against worsened COVID-19 outcomes is not supported by genetic evidence.
- These antiviral and immune-modulating activities and their ability to stimulate interferon production recommend the use of probiotics as an adjunctive therapy to prevent COVID-19. Based on this extensive review of RCTs we suggest that probiotics are a rational complementary treatment for RTI diseases and a viable option to support faster recovery.
- In this randomized clinical trial of ambulatory patients diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infection, treatment with high-dose zinc gluconate, ascorbic acid, or a combination of the 2 supplements did not significantly decrease the duration of symptoms compared with standard of care.
- These findings neither support nor refute the claim that 3M3F alters the severity of COVID-19 or alleviates symptoms. More rigorous studies are required to properly ascertain the potential role of Chinese Herbal Medicine in COVID-19.
- NSO (Nigella sativa oil) supplementation was associated with faster recovery of symptoms than usual care alone for patients with mild COVID-19 infection. These potential therapeutic benefits require further exploration with placebo-controlled, double-blinded studies.
- The clinical application of LQ (Lianhua Qingwen Granules or Capsules ) on the treatment of COVID-19 has significant efficacy in improving clinical symptoms and reducing the rate of clinical change to severe or critical condition. Nevertheless, due to the limited quantity and quality of the included studies, more and higher quality trials with more observational indicators are expected to be published.
- The study identified some important potential traditional Indian medicinal herbs such as Ocimum tenuiflorum, Tinospora cordifolia, Achyranthes bidentata, Cinnamomum cassia, Cydonia oblonga, Embelin ribes, Justicia adhatoda, Momordica charantia, Withania somnifera, Zingiber officinale, Camphor, and Kabusura kudineer, which could be used in therapeutic strategies against SARS-CoV-2 infection.
- Shenhuang Granule is a promising integrative therapy for severe and critical COVID-19.
- Low-certainty or very low-certainty evidence demonstrated that oral CPM (Chinese patent medicine) may have add-on potential therapeutic effects for patients with non-serious COVID-19. These findings need to be further confirmed by well-designed clinical trials with adequate sample sizes.
- XYP (Xiyanping) injection is safe and effective in improving the recovery of patients with mild to moderate COVID-19. However, further studies are warranted to evaluate the efficacy of XYP in an expanded cohort comprising COVID-19 patients at different disease stages.
- Our meta-analysis of RCTs indicated that LH (Lianhuaqingwen) in combination with usual treatment may improve the clinical efficacy in patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 without increasing adverse events. However, given the limitations and poor quality of included trials in this study, further large-sample RCTs or high-quality real-world studies are needed to confirm our conclusions.
- Reduning injection might be effective and safe in patients with symptomatic COVID-19.
- In light of the safety and effectiveness profiles, LH (Lianhuaqingwen) capsules could be considered to ameliorate clinical symptoms of Covid-19.
- QPT (Qingfei Paidu Tang) was associated with a substantially lower risk of in-hospital mortality, without extra risk of acute liver injury or acute kidney injury among patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
- This community-based RCT found that the use of a herbal medicine therapy (Jinhaoartemisia antipyretic granules and Huoxiangzhengqi oral liquids) could significantly reduce the risks of the common cold among community-dwelling residents, suggesting that herbal medicine may be a useful approach for public health intervention to minimize preventable morbidity during COVID-19 outbreak.
- Based on unresolved controversies and inconclusive findings, it could be said that generally, a single and specific therapeutics to COVID-19 is still a mirage.
- Keguan-1-based integrative therapy was safe and superior to the standard therapy in suppressing the development of ARDS in COVID-19 patients.
Does the evidence justify the boom in sales of dietary supplements?
More specifically, is there good evidence that the products the US supplement industry is selling protect us against COVID-19 infections?
No, I don’t think so.
So, what precisely is behind the recent sales boom?
It surely is the claim that supplements protect us from Covid-19 which is being promoted in many different ways by the industry. In other words, we are being taken for a (very expensive) ride.
Acupuncture is usually promoted as a safe therapy. This may be good marketing but, sadly, it is not the truth. About 10% of all patients experience mild to moderate adverse effects such as pain or bleeding. In addition, there are well-documented complications, for instance:
However, there have been few reports of deaths due to pneumothorax after acupuncture treatment, especially focused on electroacupuncture.
Japanese authors recently reported an autopsy case of a man in his 60s who went into cardiopulmonary arrest and died immediately after receiving electroacupuncture. Postmortem computed tomography (PMCT) showed bilateral pneumothoraces, as well as the presence of numerous gold threads embedded subcutaneously. An autopsy revealed two ecchymoses in the right thoracic cavity and a pinhole injury on the lower lobe of the right lung, suggesting that the needles had penetrated the lung. There were marked emphysematous changes in the lung, suggesting that rupture of bullae might also have contributed to bilateral pneumothoraces and fatal outcomes. The acupuncture needles may have been drawn deeper into the body than at the time of insertion due to electrical pulses and muscle contraction, indicating the need for careful determination of treatment indications and technical safety measures, such as fail-safe mechanisms.
This is the first case report of fatal bilateral pneumothoraces after electroacupuncture reported in the English literature. This case sheds light on the safety of electroacupuncture and the need for special care when administering it to patients with pulmonary disease who may be at a higher risk of pneumothorax. This is also the first report of three-dimensional reconstructed PMCT images showing the whole-body distribution of embedded gold acupuncture threads, which is unusual.
One-sided pneumothoraxes are common events after acupuncture. Several hundred cases have been published and the vast majority of such incidents remain unpublished or even unnoticed. These events are not normally life-threatening. If ‘only’ one lung is punctured, the patient may experience breathing difficulties, but in many cases these are temporary and the patient soon recovers.
Yet a bilateral pneumothorax is an entirely different affair. If both lungs malfunction, the patient’s chances of survival are slim unless he/she is close to an intensive care unit.
You might think that it needs an especially ungifted acupuncturist to manage to puncture both lungs simultaneously. I might agree, but we need to consider that acupuncture needles are often inserted in a symmetrical fashion into the patient’s body. This means that, if the therapist puts a needle at one point of the thorax that is close to a lung, he is not unlikely to do the same on the other side.
And how does one prevent such disasters?
- train acupuncturists properly,
- avoid needles on the upper thorax,
- or refuse acupuncture altogether.
This multicenter, randomized, sham-controlled trial was aimed at assessing the long-term efficacy of acupuncture for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS). Men with moderate to severe CP/CPPS were recruited, regardless of prior exposure to acupuncture. They received sessions of acupuncture or sham acupuncture over 8 weeks, with a 24-week follow-up after treatment. Real acupuncture treatment was used to create the typical de qi sensation, whereas the sham acupuncture treatment (the authors state they used the Streitberger needle, but the drawing looks more as though they used our device) does not generate this feeling.
The primary outcome was the proportion of responders, defined as participants who achieved a clinically important reduction of at least 6 points from baseline on the National Institutes of Health Chronic Prostatitis Symptom Index at weeks 8 and 32. Ascertainment of sustained efficacy required the between-group difference to be statistically significant at both time points.
A total of 440 men (220 in each group) were recruited. At week 8, the proportions of responders were:
- 60.6% (95% CI, 53.7% to 67.1%) in the acupuncture group
- 36.8% (CI, 30.4% to 43.7%) in the sham acupuncture group (adjusted difference, 21.6 percentage points [CI, 12.8 to 30.4 percentage points]; adjusted odds ratio, 2.6 [CI, 1.8 to 4.0]; P < 0.001).
At week 32, the proportions were:
- 61.5% (CI, 54.5% to 68.1%) in the acupuncture group
- 38.3% (CI, 31.7% to 45.4%) in the sham acupuncture group (adjusted difference, 21.1 percentage points [CI, 12.2 to 30.1 percentage points]; adjusted odds ratio, 2.6 [CI, 1.7 to 3.9]; P < 0.001).
Twenty (9.1%) and 14 (6.4%) adverse events were reported in the acupuncture and sham acupuncture groups, respectively. No serious adverse events were reported. No significant difference was found in changes in the International Index of Erectile Function 5 score at all assessment time points or in peak and average urinary flow rates at week 8.
The authors concluded that, compared with sham therapy, 20 sessions of acupuncture over 8 weeks resulted in greater improvement in symptoms of moderate to severe CP/CPPS, with durable effects 24 weeks after treatment.
The study was sponsored by the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences and the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The trialists originate from the following institutions:
- 1Guang’anmen Hospital, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing, China (Y.S., B.L., Z.Q., J.Z., J.W., X.L., W.W., R.P., H.C., X.W., Z.L.).
- 2Key Laboratory of Chinese Internal Medicine of Ministry of Education, Dongzhimen Hospital, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Beijing, China (Y.L.).
- 3ThedaCare Regional Medical Center – Appleton, Appleton, Wisconsin (K.Z.).
- 4Hengyang Hospital Affiliated to Hunan University of Chinese Medicine, Hengyang, China (Z.Y.).
- 5The First Hospital of Hunan University of Chinese Medicine, Changsha, China (W.Z.).
- 6Guangdong Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Guangzhou, China (W.F.).
- 7The First Affiliated Hospital of Anhui University of Chinese Medicine, Hefei, China (J.Y.).
- 8West China Hospital of Sichuan University, Chengdu, China (N.L.).
- 9China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing, China (L.H.).
- 10Yantai Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yantai, China (Z.Z.).
- 11Shaanxi Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Xi’an, China (T.S.).
- 12The Third Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China (J.F.).
- 13Beijing Fengtai Hospital of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine, Beijing, China (Y.D.).
- 14Xi’an TCM Brain Disease Hospital, Xi’an, China (H.S.).
- 15Dongfang Hospital Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Beijing, China (H.H.).
- 16Luohu District Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shenzhen, China (H.Z.).
- 17Guizhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Guiyang, China (Q.M.).
These facts, together with the previously discussed notion that clinical trials from China are notoriously unreliable, do not inspire confidence. Moreover, one might well wonder about the authors’ claim that patients were blinded. As pointed out above, the real and sham acupuncture were fundamentally different: the former did generate de qi, while the latter did not! A slightly pedantic point is my suspicion that the trial did not test the efficacy but the effectiveness of acupuncture, if I am not mistaken. Finally, one might wonder what the rationale of acupuncture as a treatment of CP/CPPS might be. As far as I can see, there is no plausible mechanism (other than placebo) to explain the effects.
So, is the evidence that emerged from the new study convincing?
No, in my view, it is not!
In fact, I am surprised that a journal as reputable as the Annals of Internal Medicine published it.
This retrospective electronic medical record data analysis compared the characteristics and outcomes of drug-induced liver injury (DILI) caused by paracetamol and non-paracetamol medications, particularly herbal and dietary supplements. Adults admitted with DILI to the Gastroenterology and Liver Centre at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney (a quaternary referral liver transplantation centre), 2009-2020 were included. The 90-day transplant-free survival and the drugs implicated as causal agents in DILI were extracted from the records.
A total of 115 patients with paracetamol-related DILI and 69 with non-paracetamol DILI were admitted to our centre. The most frequently implicated non-paracetamol medications were:
- antibiotics (19, 28%),
- herbal and dietary supplements (15, 22%),
- anti-tuberculosis medications (6, 9%),
- anti-cancer medications (5, 7%).
The number of non-paracetamol DILI admissions was similar across the study period, but the proportion linked with herbal and dietary supplements increased from 2 of 11 (15%) during 2009-11 to 10 of 19 (47%) during 2018-20 (linear trend: P = 0.011). Despite higher median baseline model for end-stage liver disease (MELD) scores, 90-day transplant-free survival for patients with paracetamol-related DILI was higher than for patients with non-paracetamol DILI (86%; 95% CI, 79-93% v 71%; 95% CI, 60-82%) and herbal and dietary supplement-related cases (59%; 95% CI, 34-85%). MELD score was an independent predictor of poorer 90-day transplant-free survival in both paracetamol-related (per point increase: adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 1.19; 95% CI, 1.09-3.74) and non-paracetamol DILI (aHR, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.14-1.36).
The authors concluded that, in our single centre study, the proportion of cases of people hospitalised with DILI linked with herbal and dietary supplements has increased since 2009. Ninety-day transplant-free survival for patients with non-paracetamol DILI, especially those with supplement-related DILI, is poorer than for those with paracetamol-related DILI.
A co-author of the paper, specialist transplant hepatologist Dr Ken Liu, was quoted in the Guardian saying he felt compelled to conduct the study because he was noticing more patients with liver injuries from drugs not typically associated with liver harm. “I was starting to see injury in patients admitted with liver injury after using bodybuilding supplements for males or weight loss supplements in females,” he said. “I just decided I better do a study on it to see if my hunch that more of these substances were causing these injuries was true.”
Liu and his colleagues said there needed to be more rigorous regulatory oversight for supplements and other alternative and natural therapies. They also noticed almost half the patients with supplement-induced severe liver injury had non-European ethnic backgrounds. Liu said more culturally appropriate community education about the risks of supplements was needed.
Dr Ken Harvey, public health physician and president of Friends of Science in Medicine, said it was important to note that Liu’s study only examined the most severe cases of supplement-induced liver harm and that the actual rate of harm was likely much higher. “The study only examines severe cases admitted to a specialised liver unit; they cannot be extrapolated to the overall incidence of complementary medicine associated liver injury in Australia,” Harvey said.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Choice, Friends of Science in Medicine and others have called for an educational statement on the pack and promotional material of medicines making traditional claims, for example saying “This product is based on traditional beliefs and not modern scientific evidence”.
“This was opposed by industry and the TGA,” Harvey said. “But is still needed.”
This overview was aimed at critically appraising the best available systematic review (SR) evidence on the health
effects of Tai Chi. Nine databases (English and Chinese languages) were searched for SRs of controlled clinical trials of Tai Chi interventions published between Jan-2010 and Dec-2020 in any language. Excluded were primary studies and meta-analyses that combined Tai Chi with other interventions. To minimize overlap, effect estimates were extracted from the most recent, comprehensive, highest quality SR for each population, condition, and outcome. SR quality was appraised using AMSTAR 2 and effect estimates with GRADE.
Of the 210 included SRs, 193 only included randomized controlled trials, one only included non-randomized
studies of interventions, and 16 included both. The most common conditions were neurological (18.6%), falls/balance (14.7%), cardiovascular (14.7%), musculoskeletal (11.0%), cancer (7.1%) and diabetes mellitus (6.7%). Except for stroke, no evidence for disease prevention was found, instead, proxy-outcomes/risks factors were evaluated. 114 effect estimates were extracted from 37 SRs (2 high quality, 6 moderate, 18 low, and 11 critically low), representing 59,306 adults. Compared to active and/or inactive controls, a clinically important benefit from Tai Chi was reported for 66 effect estimates; 53 reported an equivalent or marginal benefit, and 6 had an equivalent risk of adverse events. Eight effect estimates (7.0%) were graded as high certainty evidence, 43 (37.7%) moderate, 36 (31.6%) low, and 27 (23.7%) very low. This was due to concerns with risk of bias in 92 (80.7%) effect estimates, imprecision in 43 (37.7%), inconsistency in 37 (32.5%), and publication bias in 3 (2.6%). SR quality was limited by the search strategies, language bias, inadequate consideration of clinical, methodological, and statistical heterogeneity, poor reporting standards, and/or no registered protocol.
The authors concluded that the findings suggest Tai Chi has multisystem effects with physical, psychological, and quality of life benefits for a wide range of conditions, including individuals with multiple health problems. Clinically important benefits were most consistently reported for Parkinson’s disease, falls risk, knee osteoarthritis, low back pain, cardiovascular diseases including hypertension, and stroke. Notwithstanding, for most conditions, higher quality primary studies and SRs are required.
The authors start the discussion section by stating: This critical overview comprehensively identified SRs of Tai Chi published in English, Chinese and Korean languages that evaluated the effectiveness and safety of Tai Chi for health promotion, and disease prevention and management.
I must say that I do not find the overview all that ,critical’. The authors admit that the primary studies often lacked scientific rigor. Yet they draw firm positive conclusions from the data. I think that this is wrong.
Most of the authors of this overview come from Chinese institutions dedicated to promoting TCM. Yet there is no declaration that this fact might constitute a conflict of interest.
I also miss critical comments on two important questions:
- Are the positive effects of Tai chi superior to conventional treatments of the respective conditions?
- Are the effects of Tai chi really due to the treatment per see or might they be largely caused by context effects (which, considering the nature of the therapy, might be substantial)?
Acupuncture is a veritable panacea; it cures everything! At least this is what many of its advocates want us to believe. Does it also have a role in supportive cancer care?
Let’s find out.
This systematic review evaluated the effects of acupuncture in women with breast cancer (BC), focusing on patient-reported outcomes (PROs).
A comprehensive literature search was carried out for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) reporting PROs in BC patients with treatment-related symptoms after undergoing acupuncture for at least four weeks. Literature screening, data extraction, and risk bias assessment were independently carried out by two researchers. The authors stated that they followed the ‘Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses’ (PRISMA) guidelines.
Out of the 2, 524 identified studies, 29 studies representing 33 articles were included in this meta-analysis. The RCTs employed various acupuncture techniques with a needle, such as hand-acupuncture and electroacupuncture. Sham/placebo acupuncture, pharmacotherapy, no intervention, or usual care were the control interventions. About half of the studies lacked adequate blinding.
At the end of treatment (EOT), the acupuncture patients’ quality of life (QoL) was measured by the QLQ-C30 QoL subscale, the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Endocrine Symptoms (FACT-ES), the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–General/Breast (FACT-G/B), and the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire (MENQOL), which depicted a significant improvement. The use of acupuncture in BC patients lead to a considerable reduction in the scores of all subscales of the Brief Pain Inventory-Short Form (BPI-SF) and Visual Analog Scale (VAS) measuring pain. Moreover, patients treated with acupuncture were more likely to experience improvements in hot flashes scores, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and anxiety compared to those in the control group, while the improvements in depression were comparable across both groups. Long-term follow-up results were similar to the EOT results. Eleven RCTs did not report any information on adverse effects.
The authors concluded that current evidence suggests that acupuncture might improve BC treatment-related symptoms measured with PROs including QoL, pain, fatigue, hot flashes, sleep disturbance and anxiety. However, a number of included studies report limited amounts of certain subgroup settings, thus more rigorous, well-designed and larger RCTs are needed to confirm our results.
This review looks rigorous on the surface but has many weaknesses if one digs only a little deeper. To start with, it has no precise research question: is any type of acupuncture better than any type of control? This is not a research question that anyone can answer with just a few studies of mostly poor quality. The authors claim to follow the PRISMA guidelines, yet (as a co-author of these guidelines) I can assure you that this is not true. Many of the included studies are small and lacked blinding. The results are confusing, contradictory and not clearly reported. Many trials fail to mention adverse effects and thus violate research ethics, etc., etc.
The conclusion that acupuncture might improve BC treatment-related symptoms could be true. But does this paper convince me that acupuncture DOES improve these symptoms?
Qigong can be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent. But does it really improve health?
The purpose of this review was to evaluate the effectiveness of Qigong in improving the quality of life and relieving fatigue, sleep disturbance, and cancer-related emotional disturbances (distress, depression, and anxiety) in women with breast cancer.
The PubMed, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Web of Science, Sinomed, Wanfang, VIP, and China National Knowledge Infrastructure databases were searched from their inceptions to March 2020 for controlled clinical trials. Two reviewers selected relevant trials that assessed the benefit of Qigong for breast cancer patients independently. A methodological quality assessment was conducted according to the criteria of the 12 Cochrane Back Review Group for risk of bias independently. A meta-analysis was performed using Review Manager 5.3.
A total of 17 trials were found in which 1236 cases were enrolled. The quality of the included trials was generally low, as only 5 of them were rated high quality. 14 studies were conducted in China. The types of qigong included Baduanjin Qigong (9 trials), Chan-Chuang Qigong (1 trial), Goulin New Qigong (2 Trials), Tai Chi Qigong (2 Trials), and Kuala Lumpur Qigong (1 trial). The course of qigong ranged from 21 days to more than 6 months. Four trials compared qigong to no treatment, one sham Qigong, seven compared to other types of exercise, and 6 to usual care.
The results showed significant positive effects of Qigong on quality of life (n = 950, standardized mean difference (SMD), 0.65, 95 % confidence interval (CI) 0.23–1.08, P = 0.002). Depression (n = 540, SMD = −0.32, 95 % CI −0.59 to −0.04, P = 0.02) and anxiety (n = 439, SMD = −0.71, 95 % CI −1.32 to −0.10, P = 0.02) were also significantly relieved in the Qigong group. There was no significant benefit on fatigue (n = 401, SMD = −0.32, 95 % CI 0.71 to 0.07, P = 0.11) or sleep disturbance relief compared to that observed in the control group (n = 298, SMD = −0.11, 95 % CI 0.74 to 0.52, P = 0.73).
The authors concluded that this review shows that Qigong is beneficial for improving quality of life and relieving depression and anxiety; thus, Qigong should be encouraged in women with breast cancer.
No, this review does not show that Qigong is beneficial for improving quality of life and relieving depression and anxiety!
- Most primary studies were of very poor quality.
- Most were from China, and we know (and have often discussed) that such trials are most unreliable.
- No trial even attempted to control for placebo effects.
A better conclusion would therefore be something like this:
Even though most trials conclude positively, the value of Qigong can, for a range of reasons, not be determined on the basis of the evidence available to date.
Tai chi is a form of exercise that combines deep breathing and relaxation with meditative, slow movements. Originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China, tai chi is now practised around the world as a health-promoting exercise. Despite its popularity, its therapeutic value is not clear.
This randomized, assessor-blinded trial examined the therapeutic efficacy of tai chi for the management of central obesity. A total of 543 participants with central obesity were randomly assigned in a 1:1:1 ratio to:
- a control group with no exercise intervention (n = 181),
- conventional exercise consisting of aerobic exercise and strength training (EX group) (n = 181),
- a tai chi group (TC group) (n = 181). Interventions lasted 12 weeks.
Outcomes were assessed at baseline, week 12, and week 38. The primary outcome was waist circumference (WC). Secondary outcomes were body weight; body mass index; high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), triglyceride, and fasting plasma glucose levels; blood pressure; and incidence of remission of central obesity.
The adjusted mean difference in WC from baseline to week 12 in the control group was 0.8 cm (95% CI, -4.1 to 5.7 cm). Both intervention groups showed reductions in WC relative to control (adjusted mean differences: TC group vs. control, -1.8 cm [CI, -2.3 to -1.4 cm]; P < 0.001; EX group vs. control: -1.3 cm [CI, -1.8 to -0.9 cm]; P < 0.001); both intervention groups also showed reductions in body weight (P < 0.05) and attenuation of the decrease in HDL-C level relative to the control group. The favorable changes in WC and body weight were maintained in both the TC and EX groups, whereas the beneficial effect on HDL-C was only maintained in the TC group at week 38.
The authors concluded that Tai chi is an effective approach to reduce WC in adults with central obesity aged 50 years or older.
This is a decent trial with an odd conclusion: it is not just the Tai chi intervention but both types of exercise that yield significantly positive effects on the primary outcome measure. So, why did the authors not conclude exercise is an effective approach to reduce WC in adults with central obesity aged 50 years or older?
Could it be that such a conclusion would have meant stating the obvious?