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

test of time

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will know that advocates of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) are either in complete denial about the risks of SCAM or they do anything to trivialize them. Here is a dialogue between a SCAM proponent (P) and a scientist (S) that is aimed at depicting this situation. The conversation is fictitious, of course, but it is nevertheless based on years of experience in discussing these issues with practitioners of various types of SCAM. As we shall see, the arguments turn out to be perfectly circular.

P: My therapy is virtually free of risks.

S: How can you be so sure?

P: I am practicing it for decades and have never seen a single problem.

S: That could have several reasons; perhaps the patients who experience problems did simply not come back.

P: I find this unlikely.

S: I don’t, and I know of reports where patients had serious complications after the type of SCAM you practice.

P: These are isolated case reports. They do not amount to evidence.

S: How do you know they are isolated?

P: They must be isolated because, in the many clinical trials of my therapy available to date, you will not find any evidence of serious adverse effects.

S: That is true, but it has been repeatedly shown that these trials regularly fail to mention side effects altogether.

P: That’s because there aren’t any.

S: Not quite, clinical trials should always mention adverse effects, and if there were none, they should mention this too.

P: So, you admit that you have no evidence that my therapy causes adverse effects.

S: The thing is, I don’t need such evidence. It is you, the practitioners of this therapy, who should provide evidence that your treatments are safe.

P: We did! The complete absence of reports of side effects constitutes that evidence.

S: Except, there is some evidence. I already told you that there are several case reports of serious problems.

P: But case reports are anecdotes; they are no evidence.

S: Look, here is a systematic review of all the case reports. You cannot possibly deny that this is a concern.

P: It’s still merely a bunch of anecdotes, nothing more.

S: Only because your profession does nothing about it.

P: What do you think we need to do about it?

S: Like other professions, you need to systematically record adverse effects.

P: How would that help?

S: It would give us a rough indication of the size and severity of the problem.

P: This sounds expensive and complicated to organize.

S: Perhaps, but it is necessary if you want to be sure that your therapy is safe.

P: But we are sure already!

S: No, you believe it, but you don’t know it.

P: You are getting on my nerves with your obsession. Don’t you know that the true danger in healthcare is the adverse effects of pharmaceutical drugs?

S: But these drugs are also effective.

P: Are you saying my therapy isn’t?

S: What I am saying is that the drugs you claim to be dangerous do more good than harm, while this is not at all clear with your SCAM.

P: To me, that is very clear. My therapy helps many and harms nobody!

S: How do you know that it harms nobody?

 

 

… At this point, we have gone full circle and we can re-start this conversation from its beginning.

 

 

Acupuncture for animals has a long history in China. In the West, it was introduced in the 1970s when acupuncture became popular for humans. A recent article sums up our current knowledge on the subject. Here is an excerpt:

Acupuncture is used mainly for functional problems such as those involving noninfectious inflammation, paralysis, or pain. For small animals, acupuncture has been used for treating arthritis, hip dysplasia, lick granuloma, feline asthma, diarrhea, and certain reproductive problems. For larger animals, acupuncture has been used for treating downer cow syndrome, facial nerve paralysis, allergic dermatitis, respiratory problems, nonsurgical colic, and certain reproductive disorders.Acupuncture has also been used on competitive animals. There are veterinarians who use acupuncture along with herbs to treat muscle injuries in dogs and cats. Veterinarians charge around $85 for each acupuncture session.[8]Veterinary acupuncture has also recently been used on more exotic animals, such as chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)[9] and an alligator with scoliosis,[10] though this is still quite rare.

In 2001, a review found insufficient evidence to support equine acupuncture. The review found uniformly negative results in the highest quality studies.[11] In 2006, a systematic review of veterinary acupuncture found “no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals”, citing trials with, on average, low methodological quality or trials that are in need of independent replication.[1] In 2009, a review on canine arthritis found “weak or no evidence in support of” various treatments, including acupuncture.[12]

To put it in a nutshell: acupuncture for animals is not evidence-based.

How can I be so sure?

Because ref 1 in the text above refers to our paper. Here is its abstract:

Acupuncture is a popular complementary treatment option in human medicine. Increasingly, owners also seek acupuncture for their animals. The aim of the systematic review reported here was to summarize and assess the clinical evidence for or against the effectiveness of acupuncture in veterinary medicine. Systematic searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, Amed, Cinahl, Japana Centra Revuo Medicina and Chikusan Bunken Kensaku. Hand-searches included conference proceedings, bibliographies, and contact with experts and veterinary acupuncture associations. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. All controlled clinical trials testing acupuncture in any condition of domestic animals were included. Studies using laboratory animals were excluded. Titles and abstracts of identified articles were read, and hard copies were obtained. Inclusion and exclusion of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers. Methodologic quality was evaluated by means of the Jadad score. Fourteen randomized controlled trials and 17 nonrandomized controlled trials met our criteria and were, therefore, included. The methodologic quality of these trials was variable but, on average, was low. For cutaneous pain and diarrhea, encouraging evidence exists that warrants further investigation in rigorous trials. Single studies reported some positive intergroup differences for spinal cord injury, Cushing’s syndrome, lung function, hepatitis, and rumen acidosis. These trials require independent replication. On the basis of the findings of this systematic review, there is no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals. Some encouraging data do exist that warrant further investigation in independent rigorous trials.

This evidence is in sharp contrast to the misinformation published by the ‘IVAS’ (International Veterinary Acupuncture Society). Under the heading “For Which Conditions is Acupuncture Indicated?“, they propagate the following myth:

Acupuncture is indicated for functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, noninfectious inflammation (such as allergies), and pain. For small animals, the following are some of the general conditions which may be treated with acupuncture:

  • Musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, or traumatic nerve injury
  • Respiratory problems, such as feline asthma
  • Skin problems such as lick granulomas and allergic dermatitis
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea
  • Selected reproductive problems

For large animals, acupuncture is again commonly used for functional problems. Some of the general conditions where it might be applied are the following:

  • Musculoskeletal problems such as sore backs or downer cow syndrome
  • Neurological problems such as facial paralysis
  • Skin problems such as allergic dermatitis
  • Respiratory problems such as heaves and “bleeders”
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nonsurgical colic
  • Selected reproductive problems

In addition, regular acupuncture treatment can treat minor sports injuries as they occur and help to keep muscles and tendons resistant to injury. World-class professional and amateur athletes often use acupuncture as a routine part of their training. If your animals are involved in any athletic endeavor, such as racing, jumping, or showing, acupuncture can help them keep in top physical condition.

And what is the conclusion?

Perhaps this?

Never trust the promotional rubbish produced by SCAM organizations.

On Amazon, someone commented as follows on my biography of Prince Charles:

… Dr. Ernst goes on digressions that mostly seem intended to make Prince Charles look bad. There’s a long chapter on Laurens van der Post, who influenced Prince Charles as a youth, and a lot about somewhat unsavory things he did. So what? …

This made me think. I read the chapter again and find it hard to agree with the comment. To me, this chapter is a short (~2000 words) and essential part of the book. Judge for yourself; here are a few excerpts from it:

“It seemed to have been a union of mutual needs, between a Prince longing to find meaning in his existence and a storyteller who could weave apparent answers out of thin air.” Laurence van der Post was oozing charm and charisma and sensed that “for the Prince, there was a missing dimension”, as Jonathan Dimbleby put it. By 1975, the two men had formed such a close rapport that van der Post felt able to counsel him about spiritual matters, urging him to explore the ‘old world of the spirit’ and ‘the inward way’ towards truth and understanding. Van der Post suggested the two make a seven week journey into the Kalahari desert. This, he believed, would introduce Charles to the spirit world. Preparations were made in 1977 but, in the end, the plan had to be abandoned. Instead, the two later went to Kenya where they spent 5 days of long walks and “intense conversation”.

Van der Post urged Charles to play “a dynamic and as yet unimagined role to suit the future shape of a fundamentally reappraised and renewed modern society”, a reappraisal that would be “so widespread and go so deep that it will involve a prolonged fight for all that is good and creative in the human imagination.” An aspect of this fight, he claimed, would be “to restore the human being to a lost natural aspect of his own spirit; to restore his relevance for life and his love of nature, and to draw closer to the original blueprint and plan of life…”

Laurence left an interview for posthumous publication; in it, he expressed his hope that Charles would never become king, as this would imprison him, it would be more important that Charles continues to be a great prince. “He’s been brought up in a terrible way … He’s a natural Renaissance man, a man who believes in the wholeness and totality of life … Why should it be that if you try to contemplate your natural self that you should be thought to be peculiar?”

“For 20 years they had most intimate conversations and correspondence … with a steady flow of reassurance and encouragement, political and diplomatic advice, memoranda, draft speeches and guidance for reading”.  Van der Post introduced Charles to the teachings of Carl Jung and his concept of the ‘collective unconscious’ that binds all humans together regardless whether they are Kalahari bushmen or princes. On the behest of van der Post, Charles began to record his dreams which van der Post then interpreted according to Jung’s theories. In the late 1970s van der Post tried to convince Charles to give up all his duties and withdraw from the world completely in search for an ‘inner world truth’. This plan too was aborted.

All biographers agree that van der Post was the strongest intellectual influence of Charles’ life.

  • Charles sought van der Post’s advice and spiritual guidance on numerous occasions.
  • When William was born, he made van der Post his godfather.
  • When Charles’ marriage to Diana ran into difficulties, the couple was counselled by van der Post.
  • Charles invited Laurence regularly to Highgrove, Sandringham and Balmoral.
  • Charles visited van der Post on his deathbed.
  • After Laurence’s death, Charles created a series of annual lectures hosted in van der Post’s memory which he hosted in St James’ Palace.

Charles’ notions about medicine were unquestionably inspired by van der Post. Laurence. He, for instance, bemoaned the inadequacy of conventional medicine and wrote: “Even if doctors did … use dreams and their decoding as an essential part of their diagnostic equipment and perhaps could confront cancer at the point of entry, how are they to turn it aside, unless they are humble enough to keep their instruments in their cases and look for some new form of navigation over an uncharted sea of the human spirit?” As we will see in the next chapters, van der Post’s influence shines through in many of Charles’ speeches. Moreover, it contributed to the attitude of many critical observers towards Charles. Christopher Hitchens is but one example for many:

“We have known for a long time that Prince Charles’ empty sails are so rigged as to be swelled by any passing waft or breeze of crankiness and cant. He fell for the fake anthropologist Laurens van der Post. He was bowled over by the charms of homeopathic medicine. He has been believably reported as saying that plants do better if you talk to them in a soothing and encouraging way… The heir to the throne seems to possess the ability to surround himself—perhaps by some mysterious ultramagnetic force?—with every moon-faced spoon-bender, shrub-flatterer, and water-diviner within range.”

The following chapters will show that Hitchens might not have been far off the mark.

___________________________

Yes, I do feel that the chapter is essential for the book. It explains how Charles’ love affair with alternative medicine got started and why it would become so intense and durable. Without it, the reader would not be able to understand the rest of the book. Moreover, it is important to demonstrate that van der Post was a charlatan and an accomplished liar. This is relevant because, in later life, Charles’ skill to choose adequate advisors was often wanting.

Bloodletting therapy (BLT) has been widely used for centuries until it was discovered that it is not merely useless for almost all diseases but also potentially harmful. Yet in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) BLT is still sometimes employed, for instance, to relieve acute gouty arthritis (AGA). This systematic review aimed to evaluate the feasibility and safety of BLT in treating AGA.

Seven databases were searched from the date of establishment to July 31, 2020, irrespective of the publication source and language. BLT included fire needle, syringe, three-edged needle, and bloodletting followed by cupping. The included articles were evaluated for bias risk by using the Cochrane risk of bias assessment tool.

Twelve studies involving 894 participants were included in the final analysis. A meta-analysis suggested that BLT was highly effective in relieving pain (MD = -1.13, 95% CI [-1.60, -0.66], P < 0.00001), with marked alterations in the total effective (RR = 1.09, 95% [1.05, 1.14], P < 0.0001) and curative rates (RR = 1.37, 95%CI [1.17, 1.59], P < 0.0001). In addition, BLT could dramatically reduce serum C-reactive protein (CRP) level (MD = -3.64, 95%CI [-6.72, -0.55], P = 0.02). Both BLT and Western medicine (WM) produced comparable decreases in uric acid (MD = -18.72, 95%CI [-38.24, 0.81], P = 0.06) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) levels (MD = -3.01, 95%CI [-6.89, 0.86], P = 0.13). Lastly, we demonstrated that BLT was safer than WM in treating AGA (RR = 0.36, 95%CI [0.13, 0.97], P = 0.04).

The authors concluded that BLT is effective in alleviating pain and decreasing CRP level in AGA patients with a lower risk of evoking adverse reactions.

This conclusion is optimistic, to say the least. There are several reasons for this statement:

  • All the primary studies came from China (and we have often discussed that such trials need to be taken with a pinch of salt).
  • All the studies had major methodological flaws.
  • There was considerable heterogeneity between the studies.
  • The treatments employed were very different from study to study.
  • Half of all studies failed to mention adverse effects and thus violate medical ethics.

The British Royal Family have been proponents of homeopathy for generations. Homeopathy was originally introduced into the UK by Frederic Hervey Foster Quin who, as a young physician, had visited Hahnemann in Koethen, Germany. Quin was soon fully converted to homeopathy and returned to England. Being well-connected to the European aristocracy, he managed to attract many influential personalities to homeopathy. In 1844, he founded the British Homeopathic Society and, in 1850, he opened the predecessor of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital which is today called the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine.

Our Queen has many times been reported to swear by her homeopathic remedies. Some went as far as claiming her good health in old age must be due to her using homeopathy to keep well. Here is just one example from ‘THE OFFICIAL HOMEOPATHY RESOURCE’ of 2016:

On her 90th birthday, the London Weekly News reports that in spite of criticism the Queen has used homeopathy all her life and has remarkable good health. In fact, many generations of the Royal family have used homeopathy

For as The Queen marks her 90th birthday on April 21, that she has reached such an excellent age is largely due to her lifelong trust in homeopathy. Everywhere that Her Majesty goes she is accompanied by a small case of special cures and tinctures and, although doctors no not care to admit it, it is because of her herbal little helpers that she rarely gets a cold or any other sort of complaint.

Empiricists would argue that as both The Queen and the late Queen Mother have been avid fans of homeopathy and as The Queen Mum died at the age of 101, the glaring probability that it works seems to be rather evident.

Sadly, her good health cannot last forever, and we have all seen recent reports of her being unwell, spending one night in hospital, and announcing the cancellation of all her engagements during the next two weeks resting on doctors’ orders.

Which doctors?

Peter Fisher was her homeopath, but he tragically died three years ago. Did the Queen appoint another homeopath to look after her? Did she go into the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine when she was ill? Was she reported to be taking homeopathic remedies during her recovery? The answer to all those questions seems to be NO.

What does that tell us?

I have often observed that our Royals use homeopathy while they are well and conventional medicine when they are ill. The Queen might have followed this strategy too. But not appointing a successor to Peter Fisher suggests something quite different. Does it indicate, I ask myself, that the Queen has recently had the occasion to look at the evidence and concluded – as most intelligent people did some time ago – that homeopathy does not work beyond placebo?

I certainly hope so, not least because refusing to rely on homeopathy would significantly increase her chances of remaining our Queen for some time to come.

Tinospora cordifolia, a plant used in Ayurvedic medicine, is a widely grown glabrous, deciduous climbing shrub which has been described in traditional medicine texts to have a long list of health benefits. It contains diverse phytochemicals, including alkaloids, phytosterols, glycosides. Preparations utilize the stem and root of the plant which is consumed in the form of capsules, powder, or juice or in an unprocessed form. Its benefits are said to include anti-inflammatory, anti-pyretic properties, anti-viral and anti-cancer, and immune-boosting properties. The latter alleged activity made it popular during the pandemic. Indian researchers recently reported 6 patients who presented with liver injuries after taking Tinospora cordifolia.

Case 1

A previously healthy 40- year-old male without comorbidities, presented with jaundice of 15 days duration. On persistent probing, he gave a history of consumption of TC plant twigs (10 to 12 pieces) boiled with cinnamon and cloves in half a glass of water, once in two days for 3 months prior to presentation. USG of the abdomen was unremarkable. He underwent a percutaneous liver biopsy which showed features of the hepatocellular pattern of liver injury – with lymphoplasmacytic cell infiltrate, interface hepatitis, and foci of necrosis – suggesting the diagnosis of DILI with autoimmune features. He was managed with standard medical treatment (SMT) which included multivitamins and ondansetron for associated nausea. He was followed up for 5 months till the complete resolution of symptoms and normalization of liver function.

Case 2

A 54- year -old female, with type 2 diabetes mellitus, presented with jaundice for 1 week. A 7-month history of unsupervised consumption of TC plant (1 twig per day), which was boiled and extract consumed – was obtained. Evaluation for cause revealed a positive ANA (1:100), negative ASMA, negative viral markers, and normal IgG. USG features showing a liver with coarse echotexture, spleen of 13.4 cm, and minimal free fluid in the abdomen. A percutaneous liver biopsy showed a mixed pattern of liver injury (hepatocellular and cholestatic) with features of lymphocytic, neutrophilic and eosinophilic infiltrate, prominent interface hepatitis, intracytoplasmic and canalicular cholestasis, and altered architecture. She was managed with SMT. In view of chronicity, she was started on oral prednisolone in a dose of 40 mg which was tapered over a period of 10 weeks following which there was the resolution of her symptoms, improvement in LFTs and she was advised regular follow up.

Case 3

A 38- year-male with Beta-thalassemia minor presented with jaundice of 1-week duration. He gave a history of consumption of 3-4 TC plant twigs – boiled and extract consumed 15 ml/day for 6 months prior to presentation. Work up for the etiology showed a positive ANA (1:100). USG showed hepatomegaly (16 cm) with diffuse fatty infiltration and splenomegaly (17.3 cm). A percutaneous liver biopsy suggested the diagnosis of drug-induced hepatitis with a hepatocellular pattern of liver injury along with moderate lymphocytic infiltrate admixed with plenty of eosinophils and few plasma cells, mild interface hepatitis. He was managed with SMT and followed up until complete resolution of symptoms and LFTs.

Case 4

A 62- year-old female with type 2 diabetes mellitus, presented with complaints of malaise, reduced appetite and yellowish discoloration of urine, eyes, and skin with abdominal distension for 15 days. She confirmed consumption of commercially available syrup containing TC plant – 15 ml/day, every alternate day for a month, prior to the onset of her symptoms. Investigations revealed a positive ANA (1:320) and ASMA. Imaging showed hepatomegaly and ascites. A trans-jugular liver biopsy suggested a diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis suggested by lymphoplasmacytic infiltrate with eosinophils and neutrophils, as well as interface hepatitis. There was also cirrhosis suggested by marked lobular disarray, pseudo-glandular transformation, and bridging hepatic fibrosis. She was treated with standard medical therapy including a low salt diet and diuretics for ascites and started on oral prednisolone 40 mg per day. She initially showed clinical improvement and improving trends of LFTs. However, on tapering of steroids, she came back with increasing ascites and oliguria and succumbed to hepato-renal syndrome around 120 days from the first presentation.

Case 5

A 56- year-old female with hypothyroidism presented with yellowish discoloration of urine and eyes. A short, 3-week history of consumption of TC plant boiled extract of 1 twig, 2 to 3 days/week was obtained. Standard investigations for etiology were negative except for a high serum IgG of 2570 mg/dl. The auto-immune markers were negative. USG showed mild ascites, nodular liver, and spleen of 12.3 cm. A trans-jugular liver biopsy showed lymphoplasmacytic infiltrate admixed with plasma cells and eosinophils, moderate interface hepatitis, fibrosis, and altered architecture suggestive of auto-immune cirrhosis. SMT and tapering doses of prednisolone starting with 40 mg orally over 6 weeks led to the resolution of symptoms with the improvement of LFT. She was continued on a maintenance dose of steroids and advised to close follow-up.

Case 6

A 56- year-old female, with hypothyroidism presented with jaundice of 20 days duration. History of TC plant formulation in the form of commercially available tablets – 1 pill a day, for 3 months prior to presentation was obtained. Routine evaluation for the cause of liver injury showed a weakly positive ASMA and a high serum IgG (2045 mg/dl). ANA was negative. USG showed diffuse heterogeneous echotexture of liver and normal-sized spleen. A percutaneous liver biopsy showed chronic hepatitis with lymphoplasmacytic infiltrate, interface hepatitis with significant bridging fibrosis suggesting the possibility of autoimmune hepatitis. She was managed with SMT, leading to complete symptomatic and biochemical resolution. There was no relapse of hepatitis after stopping TC and a follow-up of 2 months.

 

The authors believe that the liver injury seen in these patients was caused by autoimmune-like hepatitis due to consumption of TC, or the unmasking of latent chronic auto-immune liver disease. Most drug-induced autoimmune liver injuries are an acute idiosyncratic reaction which was also supported by the fact that one patient taking the drug for only 3 weeks on alternate days.

Withania somnifera, commonly known as Ashwagandha, is a plant belonging to the family of Solanaceae. It is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. The plant is promoted as an immunomodulator, anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, anti-Parkinson, anti-Alzheimer, cardioprotective, neural and physical health enhancer, neuro-defensive, anti-diabetic, aphrodisiac, memory-boosting, and ant-cancer remedy. It contains diverse phytoconstituents including alkaloids, steroids, flavonoids, phenolics, nitrogen-containing compounds, and trace elements.

But how much of the hype is supported by evidence? Unsurprisingly, there is a shortage of good clinical trials. Yet, during the last few years, a surprising number of reviews of the accumulating evidence have emerged:

  • One review suggested that pre-clinical, as well as clinical studies, suggest the effectiveness of Withania somnifera (L.) against neurodegenerative disease.
  • A further review suggested a potential role of W. somnifera in managing diabetes.
  • A systematic review of 5 clinical trials found that W. somnifera extract improved performance on cognitive tasks, executive function, attention, and reaction time. It also appears to be well tolerated, with good adherence and minimal side effects.
  • Another systematic review included 4 clinical trials and reported significant improvements in serum hormonal profile, oxidative biomarkers, and antioxidant vitamins in seminal plasma. No adverse effects were reported in infertile men taking W. somnifera treatment.
  • Another review concluded that the root of the Ayurvedic drug W. somnifera (Aswagandha) appears to be a promising safe and effective traditional medicine for management of schizophrenia, chronic stress, insomnia, anxiety, memory/cognitive enhancement, obsessive-compulsive disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, type-2 diabetes and male infertility, and bears fertility promotion activity in females adaptogenic, growth promoter activity in children and as adjuvant for reduction of fatigue and improvement in quality of life among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
  • A systematic review of 13 RCTs found that Ashwagandha supplementation was more efficacious than placebo for improving variables related to physical performance in healthy men and women.
  • Another systematic review concluded that Ashwagandha supplementation might improve the VO2max in athletes and non-athletes.

Impressed?

This certainly looks as though that this plant is worthy of further study. But I can never help feeling a bit skeptical when I hear of such a multitude of benefits without evidence for adverse effects (other than minor upset stomach, nausea, and drowsiness).

For some time now, I have been using the umbrella term ‘so-called alternative medicine’ (SCAM). As I explain below, I think it is relatively well-suited. But this is not to say that it is the only name for it. Many other umbrella terms have been used in the past.

Is there perhaps one that you prefer?

  • Fringe medicine is rarely used today. It denotes the fact that the treatments under this umbrella are not in the mainstream of healthcare. Some advocates seem to find the word derogatory, and therefore it is now all but abandoned.
  • Unorthodox medicine is a fairly neutral term describing the fact that medical orthodoxy tends to shun most of the treatments in question. Strictly speaking, the word is also incorrect; the correct term would be ‘heterodox medicine’.
  • Unconventional is also a neutral term but it is open to misunderstandings: any new innovation in medicine might initially be called unconventional. It is therefore less than ideal.
  • Traditional medicine describes the fact that most of the modalities in question have been around for centuries and thus have a long tradition of usage. However, as the term is sometimes also used for conventional medicine, it is confusing and far from ideal.
  • Alternative medicine is the term everyone seems to know and which is most commonly employed in non-scientific contexts. In the late 1980s, some experts pointed out that the word could give the wrong impression: most of the treatments in question are not used as a replacement but as an adjunct to conventional medicine.
  • Complementary medicine became subsequently popular based on the above consideration. It accounts for the fact that the treatments tend to be used by patients in parallel with conventional medicine.
  • Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) describes the phenomenon that many of the treatments can be employed either as a replacement of or as an adjunct to conventional medicine.
  • Holistic medicine denotes the fact that practitioners often pride themselves to look after the whole patient – body, mind, and spirit. This could lead to the erroneous impression that conventional clinicians do not aim to practice holistically. As I have tried to explain repeatedly, any good healthcare always has been holistic. Therefore, the term is misleading, in my view.
  • Natural medicine describes the notion that many of the methods in question are natural. The term seems attractive and is therefore good for business. However, any critical analysis will show that many of the treatments in question are not truly natural. Therefore this term too is misleading.
  • Integrated medicine is currently popular and much used by Prince Charles and other enthusiasts. As we have discussed repeatedly on this blog, the term is nevertheless highly problematic.
  • Integrative medicine is the word used in the US for integrated medicine.
  • CAIM (complementary/alternative/integrative medicine) is a term that some US authors recently invented. I find this attempt to catch all the various terms in one just silly.
  • So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is the term I tend to use. It accounts for two important facts: 1) if a treatment does not work, it cannot possibly serve as an adequate alternative; 2) if a therapy does work, it should be part of conventional medicine. Thus, there cannot be an ‘alternative medicine’, as much as there cannot be an alternative chemistry or an alternative physics.

Yet,some advocates find ‘SCAM’ derogatory. Intriguingly, my decision to use this term was inspired by Prince Charles, arguably the world’s greatest champion of this sector of healthcare. In his book ‘HARMONY’, he repeatedly speaks of ‘so-called alternative treatments’.

You don’t believe me?

Fair enough!

In this case – and in order to save you the expense of buying Charles’ book for checking – let me provide you with a direct quote: “Some so-called alternative treatments seek to work with these functions to aid recovery…” (page 225).

And who would argue that Charles is dismissive about alternative medicine?

 

 

 

I have to admit that the ‘Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research and Development‘ did not formerly belong to my reading list. This will have to change, I guess, because any journal capable of publishing such a hilarious spoof ought to be read regularly.

The article in question is entitled ‘An Integrative Medicine Is Prudential Hope for Covid-19 Therapeutics‘ and is authored by Mayank dimri, Rajendra Singh Pawar, Virbal Singh Rajwar, Luv Kush from the SBS University Balawala, Dehradun- Uttarakhand, India. The paper is so unique that I simply could not resist showing you an excerpt. I hope  you have as much fun reading it as I had when I was alerted to this masterpiece.

Antiviral Astrological Rationality The viral infectivity is governed by Saturn, Rahu and Ketu. COVID-19 is geminian virus, ruled by mercury. It rules lungs / respiratory system and also health/ nutrition house (6th). Antiviral astrological advices are: Stay away from crowds, maintain maximum cleanness and personal hygiene, dietary regimens should be enriched by vitamins, vegetables, nuts and fruits. The foods and drinking water should be warm. The cold and unhealthy environment may be avoided.

The complimentary / alternative integrative medicine conceptualized ethical use of traditional re- medies with
self-responsibility. The concept of herd immunity (epidemological) relates to population. The orthomolecular
medicine10prescribe nutritional supplements for restoration of antiviral immunity. Both have antiviral benefits for fighting global pandemic of COVID-19.

The desirable antiviral activities are anti-replicating to block viral replication, anti-inflammatory for preventing
viral inflammation. Immune stimulatory for strengthening innate immunity and anti-mutagenic for curbing viral mutations.

The ayurvedic herbs have antiviral phytochemicals. Some of them are listed here: Ursolic acid, Apigenin, Rosmarinic acid, Oleanolic acid, Elenoic acid, Hypercin,Liquiritigenin, Acetoside, Glycyrrhizin etc. They have anti RSV activity and possibly prevent viral entry to host cells. The plant extract of Plantago asiatica and Clerodendrum trichotomum proved to be effective antiviral. Fifatrol is an ayurvedic prized medicine against viruses. It is useful in treatment of viral upper respiratory infections and relief from nasal congestion. It is a supportive therapy against COVID-19 virus.

The synergism of vitamins (A, C, D, E) acts as revitaler for fighting against COVID-19. Vitamin C has great potential
as antiviral for respiratory infections. It prevents cytokine induced lung damage and natural immune booster.

Eucalyptus oil has multiple benefits.It is supporter of respiratory system, immune booster and anti-inflammatory. Aromadendrene is an aroma therapeutical, present in oil and moderate antiviral….

I know that the last few months have not been easy for many of us. Therefore, we should be all the more thankful for those who lighten our spirits with some comic relief…

 

 

… or did they actually mean what they wrote?

Someone alerted me to a short article (2008) of mine that I had forgotten about. In it, I mention the 32 Cochrane reviews of acupuncture available at the time and the fact that they showed very little in favour of acupuncture. This made me wonder to what extent the situation might have changed in the last 12 years. So, I made a renewed attempt at evaluating this evidence. The entire exercise comes in three parts:

  1. My original paper from 2008
  2. The current evidence from Cochrane reviews
  3. Comments on the new evidence

PART 1

Acupuncture has a long history of ups and downs. Its latest renaissance started in 1971, when a journalist in President Nixon’s press corps experienced symptomatic relief after being treated for postoperative abdominal distension. He reported this experience in The New York Times, which triggered a flurry of interest and research. In turn, it was discovered that needling might release endorphins in the brain or act via the gate control mechanism. Thus, plausible modes of action seemed to have been found, and the credibility of acupuncture increased significantly. Numerous clinical trials were initiated, and their results often suggested that acupuncture is clinically effective for a surprisingly wide range of conditions. Both a World Health Organization report and a National Institutes of Health consensus conference provided long lists of indications for which acupuncture allegedly was of proven benefit.

Many of the clinical studies, however, lacked scientific rigor. Most experts therefore remained unconvinced about the true value of acupuncture, particularly as a treatment for all ills. Some investigators began to suspect that the results were largely due to patient expectation. Others showed that the Chinese literature, a rich source of acupuncture trials, does not contain a single negative study of acupuncture, thus questioning the reliability of this body of evidence.

A major methodological challenge was the adequate control for placebo effects in clinical trials of acupuncture. Shallow needling or needling at non-acupuncture points had been used extensively for this purpose. Whenever the results of such trials did not show what acupuncture enthusiasts had hoped, they tended to claim that these types of placebos also generated significant therapeutic effects. Therefore, a negative result still would be consistent with acupuncture being effective. The development of non-penetrating needles was aimed at avoiding such problems. These “stage dagger”-like devices are physiologically inert and patients cannot tell them from real acupuncture. Thus, they fulfil the criteria for a reasonably good placebo.

The seemingly difficult question of whether acupuncture works had become complex—what type of acupuncture, for what condition, compared with no treatment, standard therapy, or to placebo, and what type of placebo? Meanwhile, hundreds of controlled clinical trials had become available, and their results were far from uniform. In this situation, systematic reviews might be helpful in establishing the truth, particularly Cochrane reviews, which tend to be more rigorous, transparent, independent, and up-to-date than other reviews. The traditional Chinese concept of acupuncture as a panacea is reflected in the fact that 32 Cochrane reviews are currently (January 2008) available, and a further 35 protocols have been registered. The notion of acupuncture as a “heal all” is not supported by the conclusions of these articles. After discarding reviews that are based on only 3 or fewer primary studies, only 2 evidence-based indications emerge: nausea/vomiting and headache. Even this evidence has to be interpreted with caution; recent trials using the above-mentioned “stage-dagger” devices as placebos suggest that acupuncture has no specific effects in either of these conditions.

Further support for the hypothesis that acupuncture is largely devoid of specific therapeutic effects comes from a series of 8 large randomized controlled trials (RCTs) initiated by German health insurers (Figure). These studies had a similar, 3-parallel-group design: pain patients were randomized to receive either real acupuncture, shallow needling as a placebo control, or no acupuncture. Even though not entirely uniform, the results of these studies tend to demonstrate no or only small differences in terms of analgesic effects between real and placebo acupuncture. Yet, considerable differences were observed between the groups receiving either type of acupuncture and the group that had no acupuncture at all.

The most recent, as-yet-unpublished trial also seems to confirm the “placebo hypothesis.” This National Institutes of Health-sponsored RCT included 640 patients with chronic back pain. They received either individualized acupuncture according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, or a standardized form of acupuncture, or sham acupuncture. The results demonstrate that acupuncture added to usual care was superior to usual care alone, individualized acupuncture was not more effective than standardized acupuncture, and neither type of real acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture.

Figure

Schematic representation of the recent acupuncture trials all following a similar 3-group design. These 8 randomized controlled trials related to chronic back pain, migraine, tension headache, and knee osteoarthritis (2 trials for each indication). Their total sample size was in excess of 5000. Patients in the “no acupuncture” group received either standard care or were put on a waiting list. Sham acupuncture consisted of shallow needling at non-acupuncture points. Real acupuncture was semi-standardized. The differences between the effects of both types of acupuncture and no acupuncture were highly significant in each study. The differences between sham and real acupuncture were, with the exception of osteoarthritis, not statistically significant.

Enthusiasts employ such findings to argue that, in a pragmatic sense, acupuncture is demonstrably useful: it is clearly better than no acupuncture at all. Even if it were merely a placebo, what really matters is to alleviate pain of suffering patients, never mind the mechanism of action. Others are not so sure and point out that all well-administrated treatments, even those that generate effects beyond placebo, will induce a placebo response. A treatment that generates only non-specific effects (for conditions that are amenable to specific treatments) cannot be categorized as truly effective or useful, they insist.

So, after 3 decades of intensive research, is the end of acupuncture nigh? Given its many supporters, acupuncture is bound to survive the current wave of negative evidence, as it has survived previous threats. What has changed, however, is that, for the first time in its long history, acupuncture has been submitted to rigorous science—and conclusively failed the test.

[references in the original paper]

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

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