Edzard Ernst

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

This pilot study is “delving into the potential benefits of Reiki therapy as a complementary intervention for the treatment and management of stress and anxiety”.

A total of 31 volunteers self-reporting stress, anxiety, or psychological disorders were enrolled. Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) was assessed using the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) Questionnaire for anxiety and depression. Pre- and post-treatment HRQoL scores were meticulously compared, and the significance of the disparities in these scores was meticulously computed.

Analysis was restricted to volunteers who completed the 3-day Reiki sessions. Statistically significant enhancements were discerned across all outcome measures, encompassing positive affect, negative affect, pain, drowsiness, tiredness, nausea, appetite, shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, and overall well-being (P<0.0001).

The authors concluded that the constancy and extensive scope of these improvements suggest that Reiki therapy may not only address specific symptoms but also contribute significantly to a predominant escalation of mental and physical health.

This study is almost comical.

Amongst all the many forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), Reiki is perhaps the most ridiculous scam. It is a form of paranormal or ‘energy healing’ popularised by Japanese Mikao Usui (1865–1926). Rei means universal spirit (sometimes thought of as a supreme being) and ki is the assumed universal life energy. It is based on the assumptions of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the existence of ‘chi’, the life-force that is assumed to determine our health.

Reiki practitioners believe that, with their hands-on healing method, they can transfer ‘healing energy’ to a patient which, in turn, stimulates the self-healing properties of the body. They assume that the therapeutic effects of this technique are obtained from a ‘universal life energy’ that provides strength, harmony, and balance to the body and mind. There is no scientific basis for such notions, and reiki is therefore not plausible.

Reiki is used for a number of conditions, including the relief of stress, tension and pain. There have been several clinical trials testing its effectiveness. Those that are rigorous fail to show that the treatment is effective – and those that are dripping with bias, like the one discussed here, tend to produce false-positive results.

The present study has many flaws that are too obvious to even mention. While reading it, I asked myself the following questions:

  • How could a respectable university ever allow this pseudo-research to go ahead?
  • How could a respectable ethics committee ever permit it?
  • How could a respectable journal ever publish it?

The answers must be that, quite evidently, they are not respectable.

 

Medical Acupuncture is the name of a quarterly journal published for the ‘American Academy of Medical Acupuncture’ that publishes around 60 pro-acupuncture articles every year. Its editor is Richard C. Niemtzow, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H. Richard is a retired US Air Force colonel who was the first full-time physician acupuncturist in the US Armed Forces. He is probably best known for his invention called ‘BATTLE FIELD ACUPUNCTURE’, a form of ear-acupuncture allegedly reducing pain in emergency situations.

Medline lists 79 papers (mostly published in 3rd class journals such as ‘Medical Acupuncture’) in Niemtzow’s name. Only one of them – 21 years ago – was a clinical trial. Here it is:

Purpose: We performed a pilot trial to assess the response of lower urinary tract symptoms and prostate specific antigen (PSA) to acupuncture in a population of patients biopsy negative for prostate cancer.

Materials and methods: A total of 30 patients were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 study groups, including observation for 3 months with 6 blood samples for PSA at set intervals, 9 sessions of acupuncture in 3 months to points of the kidney-bladder distinct meridian expected to treat the prostate with 6 blood samples for PSA at set intervals and 9 sessions of acupuncture in 3 months to points not expected to treat the prostate with 6 blood samples for PSA at set intervals. The effect of acupuncture on lower urinary tract symptoms was assessed monthly using the International Prostate Symptom Score.

Results: Trend analysis (repeated measures ANOVA) revealed no significant changes in the 3-month period in the randomized arms. Statistical analysis showed p = 0.063 for the International Prostate Symptom Score, p = 0.945 for PSA and p = 0.37 for the free-to-total PSA ratio.

Conclusions: Acupuncture to the kidney-bladder distinct meridian neither relieves lower urinary tract symptoms nor impacts PSA.

Yes, an acupuncture study with a negative result!

Niemtzow has, as far as I can see, never himself conducted a study of ‘battle field acupuncture’. In fact, there only very few trials of ‘battle field acupuncture‘. The most recent (albeit lousy) study even suggest that it is less effective than electroacupuncture (EA): EA was more effective than ‘battle field auricular acupuncture’ at reducing pain severity, but both similarly improved physical and mental health scores.

This does not stop Niemtzow to continue praising acupuncture in dozens of papers, particularly his ‘battle field’ version and especially in his ‘own’ journal. The most recent example has just been published; allow me to present an excerpt to you:

In December of 2023, I had the opportunity to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The only day I had for this visit was characterized by a pouring and chilling rain. This did not stop the crowds of people visiting this famous exhibition. I reminded myself that Van Gogh was a troubled spirit. He lived a short tumultuous life characterized by cutting off his left ear lobe and he spent a sojourn in an asylum. Yet, his art emerged in all its beauty and splendor to become famous in the world. Despite all his troubles, he contributed a precious collection of magnificent art. Many individuals would not have surfaced out of personal disorders to produce such a wonderful gift to society. However, history tells us that many sensational contributions originated from people embroiled in mental health illnesses.

Medical Acupuncture published more than 13 years ago the acupuncture ‘‘diagnosis’’ of Vincent Van Gogh. The article, which is worth rereading, discussed the Five-Element pattern associated with the artist’s hallucinations, alcoholism, severe depression, insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, headaches, nightmares, etc. The author, Vera Kaikobad, LAc, stated: ‘‘It is poignant to realize that a few needles in the hands of a skilled acupuncturist may have spared this great artist such torment and perhaps saved his life.’’ Feasibly, in 2024 we should not only examine our patients for their physical complaints; we should venture into their mental health status as well. A back or neck pain is important, but so is anxiety, insomnia, etc. In promoting mental health, we may assist many patients who are perhaps capable of contributing to the well-being of the world. It is our responsibility as acupuncturists not to think of our patients as a neck or back pain, etc.; instead, we must see them as whole persons having spiritual and physical needs that must be addressed.

I feel that, overall, this remarkable effort justifies Niemtzow’s admission to my ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME.

WELCOME, RICHARD!

And let me introduce you to the rest of the 24 laureates:

  1. Helmut Kiene (anthroposophical medicine)
  2. Helge Franke (osteopathy, Germany)
  3. Tery Oleson (acupressure , US)
  4. Jorge Vas (acupuncture, Spain)
  5. Wane Jonas (homeopathy, US)
  6. Harald Walach (various SCAMs, Germany)
  7. Andreas Michalsen ( various SCAMs, Germany)
  8. Jennifer Jacobs (homeopath, US)
  9. Jenise Pellow (homeopath, South Africa)
  10. Adrian White (acupuncturist, UK)
  11. Michael Frass (homeopath, Austria)
  12. Jens Behnke (research officer, Germany)
  13. John Weeks (editor of JCAM, US)
  14. Deepak Chopra (entrepreneur, US)
  15. Cheryl Hawk (chiropractor, US)
  16. David Peters (osteopathy, homeopathy, UK)
  17. Nicola Robinson (TCM, UK)
  18. Peter Fisher (homeopathy, UK)
  19. Simon Mills (herbal medicine, UK)
  20. Gustav Dobos (various SCAMs, Germany)
  21. Claudia Witt (homeopathy, Germany/Switzerland)
  22. George Lewith (acupuncture, UK)
  23. John Licciardone (osteopathy, US)

Mercury is a highly toxic chemical that threatens the health of humans and the environment. When it is released into the environment, it enters the food chain where it accumulates, particularly in fish. Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause harm to the brain, lungs, kidneys and the immune system. For these reasons, dental amalgam fillings which contain mercury have long been criticized. This is particularly true in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) where, as discussed repeatedly, amalgam has long been a subject of both concern and misinformation, e.g.:

In the EU, dental amalgam might soon be merely of historical interest.

It has been announced that the EU Parliament and Council reached a provisional political agreement on the Commission’s proposal to address the remaining uses of mercury in products in the EU in line with commitments set out in the EU’s Zero Pollution Ambition.

In spite of viable mercury-free alternatives, around 40 tonnes of mercury are still used in the EU annually for dental amalgam as current rules only forbid the use of dental amalgam for treating teeth in children under 15 years old as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Negotiators agreed to phase out the use of dental amalgam in the EU by 1 January 2025 except if deemed strictly necessary by the dental practitioner based on the duly justified specific medical needs of the patient.

EU countries that have not yet adjusted their reimbursement system to cover alternatives, may postpone the phase-out up until 30 June 2026, to avoid negative repercussions for low-income individuals that would otherwise be socio-economically disproportionally affected by the phase-out.

The export of dental amalgam will also be prohibited from 1 January 2025, whereas the manufacturing and import into the EU will be banned from 1 July 2026.

After the agreement, rapporteur Marlene Mortler (EPP, Germany) said: “After an intensive week of negotiations, we were able to reach an agreement today to ban dental amalgam containing mercury. This is an important step towards a mercury-free future. I am very pleased with the result – because we have ensured that such dental amalgam may only be used in medically necessary cases. Some Member States have been granted an exemption in order to mitigate the socio-economic consequences of the amalgam phase-out. After all, the ban on dental amalgam must not mean that low-income EU citizens can no longer afford adequate dental treatment in these countries. Another key point of this agreement is the decision that lamps containing mercury may only be exported to countries outside the EU until 30 June 2026. This will ensure that products that are already banned in the EU are not sold to third countries and have environmentally harmful consequences there.”

The deal still has to be adopted by the EU Parliament and Council, after which the new law will be published in the EU Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later.

We have often asked whether the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) is fit for purpose. A recent case bought before the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) of the GCC provides further food for thought.

The male chiropractor in question admitted to the PCC that:

  • he had requested the younger female patient remove her clothing to her underwear for the purposes of examination;
  • he then treated the area near her vagina and groin with a vibrating tool;
  • that he also treated the area around her breasts.

After the appointment, which the patient had originally booked for a problem with her neck, the patient reflected on the treatment and eventually complained about the chiropractor to the GCC. The PCC considered the case and did not find unprofessional conduct in the actions and conduct of the chiropractor. His the diagnosis and treatment were both found to be clinically justified.

According to the GCC, the lesson from this case is that the complaint to the GCC may have been avoided if the chiropractor had been more alert to the need to ensure he communicated effectively so that the patient was clear as to why the intimate areas were being treated and, on that basis, given informed consent. Patients often feel vulnerable before, during and after treatment; and this effect is magnified when the patient is unclothed, new to chiropractic treatment or the work of a particular chiropractor, or they are being treated in an intimate area. Chiropractors can reduce this feeling of vulnerability by offering a chaperone and gown (and recording a note of the patient’s response) as well as taking the time to ensure you have fully explained the procedure to them and obtained informed consentStandard D4 of the GCC Code states registrants must “Consider the need, during assessments and care, for another person to be present to act as a chaperone; particularly if the assessment or care might be considered intimate or where the patient is a child or a vulnerable adult.”

Excuse me?

I find this unbelievably gross and grossly unbelievable!

It begs, I think, the following questions:

  • What condition requires treatment with a ‘vibrating tool’ near the vagina (I assume they mean vulva)?
  • What condition requires treatment with a ‘vibrating tool’ around the breasts?
  • Is there any reliable evidence?
  • Was informed consent obtained?
  • What precisely did it entail?

About 15 years ago, I was an expert witness in a very similar UK case. The defendant was sent to prison for two years. The GCC is really not fit for purpose. It seems to consistently defend chiropractors rather than do its duty and defend their patients.

My advice to the above-mentioned patient is not to bother with the evidently useless GCC but to initiale criminal proceedings.

If I had a £ for each time I was asked during the last few days whether King Charles is going to treat his cancer with homeopathy, I would have my pockets full of cash. The question seems reasonable because he has been singing the praise of homeopathy for decades. But, as I have pointed out previously, he is unlikely to use homeopathy or any other unproven cancer cure; on the contrary he will certainly receive the most effective therapies available today.

In any case, the homeopathic treatment of cancer is currently a most popular topic. As if on command, an article appeared on my screen that promises to address the subject:

“Homoeopathy and Cancer – An Alternative Approach towards the path of Healing”

Here is the abstract of this remarkable paper:

Homoeopathy is a holistic system of medicine rooted on the principle of “Similia Similibus Curentur”. It has gained attention for its potential therapeutic benefits. It offers a holistic approach that addresses both the physical symptoms and emotional well-being of individuals. While this alternative approach of healing has been explored in various health contexts, a notable gap remains in understanding its application in the realm of cancer care. This review seeks to fill this void by exploring the broader landscape of homoeopathy’s principles and applications. Through a critical examination of existing research and evidence, it aims to offer valuable insights into the potential role of homoeopathy as a complementary approach in cancer care and symptomatic relief. This review underscores the need for further research and a more nuanced understanding of homoeopathy’s place in healthcare, particularly in the context of cancer patients and their well-being.

I am sure you are as impressed as I am and keen to learn more. In the article itself, the authors offer some brand-new, cutting-edge science to back up their views:

According to Samuel Hahnemann, “When a person is ill, it is originally merely the spirit-like, autonomic life force (life principle), which is always there in the organism, that is mistuned by the dynamic effect of a morbific agent inimical to life.Only the life principle, tuned incorrectly to such an anomalyis capable of causing irregular functions the body. Cancer may initially be treated as a one-sided disease because the expanded pathology weakens the Vital Force. According to Hahnemann, “Diseases that seem to have just a few symptoms are called one-sided because only one or two prominent symptoms are indicated. This makes these diseases, which primarily fall under the category of chronic diseases, harder to cure. According to Arthur Hill Grimmer, the biggest challenge in treating advanced cancer cases is getting therapeutic individualization of symptoms. Even with all the typical symptoms, it is quite difficult to create a potent homoeopathic prescription. Burnett considered both the characteristic aspects of the patient as well as the ‘action’ or‘organ affinity’ of the remedy he prescribed.

Eventually, the authors (who are affiliated with prestigeous institutions: Rajasthan Ayurved University, Jodhpur; Swasthya Kalyan Homoeopathic Medical College & Research Centre, Jaipur) arrive at the following conclusion:

In the scientific literature, homoeopathy’s use in the treatment of cancer is still largely unexplored. Pioneers have offered intriguing perspectives on disease origins and treatment challenges. The miasmatic perspective offers a distinctive approach that emphasises individualised strategies based on symptoms and characteristics. Some studies suggest an improvement in quality of life of the individuals suffering from cancer. In the dynamic landscape of cancer treatment, more studies are warranted to enhance the scope of holistic, patient-centered care through homoeopathy.

Yes, homeopathy is a joke. This paper (and the many similar publications out there) could thus be intensely funny – except for the fact that these charlatans are playing with the lives of many vulnerable and desperate patients. I sincerely hope Charles manages to stay well clear of homeopathy and its irresponsible practitioners which clearly is one precondition for making a full recovery.

This study tested whether trigger point acupuncture (TrPA) is beneficial for office workers who have reduced job performance (presenteeism) due to chronic neck and shoulder pain (katakori).

A 4-week single-center randomized clinical trial was conducted on 20 eligible female office workers with chronic neck and shoulder pain of at least 3-month duration. The control group implemented only workplace-recommended presenteeism measures, whereas the intervention group received TrPA up to 4 times per month in addition to the presenteeism measures recommended by each workplace. The major outcome measure was the relative presenteeism score on the World Health Organization Health and Work Performance (WHO-HPQ). The secondary outcome measures were pain intensity (numerical rating scale), absolute presenteeism (WHO-HPQ), anxiety and depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale; HADS), catastrophic thoughts related to pain (Pain Catastrophizing Scale; PCS), and sleep (Athens Insomnia Scale; AIS).

All 9 cases in the intervention group and 11 cases in the control group were analyzed. TrPA up to 4 times per month reduced the intensity of neck and shoulder pain by 20% (P < .01, d = 1.65) and improved labor productivity (relative presenteeism value) by 0.25 (P < .01, d = 1.33) compared with the control group over 1 month. No significant differences were observed between the 2 groups in terms of absolute presenteeism score, HADS, PCS, or AIS.

The authors concluded that these results suggest that regular intervention with TrPA may be effective in the relative presenteeism score before and after the intervention and the degree of neck and shoulder pain over 28 days compared with the control group.

Sure, TrPA may be effective.

But is it?

I thought the trial was aimed at answering that question!

But it didn’t!

Why not?

Because, as we have discussed ad nauseam on this blog, the A+B versus B study design cannot answer it. On the contrary, it will always generate a positive result without determining whether the treatment or a nonspecific (placebo) effect caused the outcome (which, of course, is the reason why this study design is so popular in SCAM research).

In view of this, I suggest to re-formulate the conclusions as follows:

The study suggests that the researchers were ill-informed when designing it. Therefore, the findings show nothing of value.

Yestderday, it was announced that King Charles has cancer. He had been in hospital for surgery for his enlarged prostate. Initially, the news was positive, as it was confirmed not to be prostate cancer. However, during the investigations, a cancer was discovered that apparently is unrelated to the prostate. Since the announcement, many journalists and other people have written to me asking what I think about it and what treatment Charles is likely to receive. I therefore decided to write a short post about the matter.

As a physician and human being I am very sorry whenever I hear that anyone has fallen ill, particularly if the condition is serious and potentially life-threatening. That this includes Charles goes without saying. Equally it is self-evident that I wish that all goes well for him, that the treatment he reportedly has already started is not too arduous, that he keeps in good spirit, that he has empathetic support from all his family and recovers quickly and fully.

Charles will, I am sure, have the best treatment anyone could wish for. Will he use so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), for example, the Gerson therapy, one of the SCAMs he once promoted as a cure of cancer? Of course not! He will receive the most effective, evidence-based care that is currently available. Will he thus not try any SCAM at all? I am confident that he will use SCAM wisely, namely not as a cure but as a supportive measure. In my book on this very subject, I go through all the relevant evidence and conclude that, while SCAM is most certainly not a cancer cure, it can have a place in supportive cancer care. Depending on the symptoms that develop during and after the conventional treatments, certain SCAMs can, according to fairly sound evidence, be helpful in improving wellness and quality of life.

Going through a battle against cancer is often a most humbling experience. Therefore, I am hopeful that, as he recovers from his ordeal, Charles will see that modern medicine – he once described it as being out of balance like the leaning tower of Pisa – is not just effective, empathetic and caring but also not nearly as unbalanced and unholistic as he often proclaimed it to be. In that sense, the experience might reform our king, and – who knows? – he might, after all, turn out to be not the self-proclaimed enemy but a true friend of the Enlightenment.

I have to admit that I came across the ‘ARCIM’ (Academic Research in Complementary and Integrative Medicine) Institute only yesterday when writing the post about Buteyko. Naturally, the institution interested me, and I tried to find out more about it. As pointed out previously, the aim of the ARCIM research institute, founded in 2010, is to research complementary and integrative medicine, in particular anthroposophic medicine, on a scientific basis according to rigorous scientific standards established by the Equator Network criteria (http://www.equator-network.org/).

On the ARCIM’s website we furthermore learn that:

  • ARCIM exists since 2010.
  • Consists of a team of 8 co-workers.
  • Its director is the physician Jan Vagedes.
  • Who have published a sizable amount of papers.
  • Is funded by the following sponsors: Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Mahle-Foundation (Mahle Stiftung), Software AG (Software AG), DAMUS-DONATA e.V.
  • Is located in the buildings of the ‘Filderclinic’.

This begs, I think, several questions:

Why is the Federal Ministry of Education and Research sponsoring the ARCIM?

As anthroposophical medicine is based on concepts that fly in the face of science, this seems a legitimate question. Sadly, I have no answer to it.

What is the ‘Filderclinic’?

The Filderklinik in Filderstadt-Bonlanden is one of six anthroposophically orientated hospitals in Germany. It is operated by the non-profit organisation Filderklinik gGmbH. The main founders of the Filderklinik, which has existed since 1975, were Hermann and Ernst Mahle, the founders of the Mahle Group. The Mahle-Stiftung GmbH is the main shareholder and also the largest sponsor of Filderklinik gGmbH. The hospital employs around 915 staff and has 300 beds.

Who is Jan Vagedes?

Jan Vagedes is a specialist for paediatrics and adolescent medicine, neonatology and a doctor for anthroposophic medicine. He studied in and graduated from the LMU in Munich (my alma mater) in 1997. He is the Founder and Scientific Director of the ARCIM Institute, a research associate at the University Children’s Hospital Tübingen, and Head of paediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Filderclinic.

He has no ‘habilitation’ (PhD and in Germany precondition for a professorship). Medline currently lists 42 articles in his name most of which are in 3rd class journals. His first Medline-listed article is dated 2012. As the ARCIM was established in 2010, this means that, when he was appointed as its ‘scientific director’, he had exactly zero published science to his name.

Why did he get the job?

I have absolutely no idea?

(If you know more than I do, I’d be grateful to hear about it.)

 

 

The Buteyko techniques (known in Russia as ‘Voluntary Elimination of Deep Breathing’) are treatments to control respiration developed by the Russian Konstantin Buteyko (1923–2003). Inspired by the methods of respiratory control in yoga, the original Buteyko technique was specifically aimed at easing the symptoms of respiratory conditions, particularly asthma. Konstantin Buteyko postulated that there is a connection between hyperventilation and asthma and that it should be possible to reduce asthma symptoms by deliberate breath control.

The Eucapnic Buteyko method is an adaptation of Buteyko’s original technique which was first introduced in Australia and is now used worldwide. It includes the same focus on ventilation control, but the approach has been re-designed with the aim of achieving better patient-compliance. Both treatments and further variations depend crucially on the cooperation of the patient who has to attend long sessions of learning the technique and must follow the somewhat tedious programme rigorously.

A Cochrane review of Buteyko and similar breathing techniques concluded that “there is no credible evidence regarding the effectiveness of breathing exercises for the clinical symptoms of dysfunctional breathing/hyperventilation syndrome. It is currently unknown whether these interventions offer any added value in this patient group or whether specific types of breathing exercise demonstrate superiority over others.”

Now, a new study adds to this knowledge. This randomized clinical trial included two groups (n = 30 each) of patients with asthma. They received either:

  • Buteyko breathing technique (BBT) together with usual therapy (UT)
  • or UT alone over a period of 3 months.

The primary outcome comprised the voluntary control pause (CP) after 3 months, secondary outcomes an additional breathhold parameter, forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1), capnovolumetry, exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO), Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ) and Nijmegen Questionnaire (NQ), and the use of medication (β2-agonists; inhaled corticosteroids, ICS).

CP showed significant time-by-group interaction [F(1,58.09) = 28.70, p < 0.001] as well as main effects for study group [F(1,58.27) = 5.91, p = 0.018] and time [F(1,58.36) = 17.67, p < 0.001]. ACQ and NQ scores were significantly (p < 0.05 each) improved with BBT. This was associated with reductions in the use of β2-agonists and ICS (p < 0.05 each) by about 20% each. None of these effects occurred in the UT group. While FEV1 and the slopes of the capnovolumetric expiratory phases 2 and 3 did not significantly change, the capnovolumetric threshold volume at tidal breathing increased (p < 0.05) with BBT by about 10 mL or 10%, compared to baseline, suggesting a larger volume of the central airways. No significant changes were seen for FeNO.

The authors concluded that BBT was clinically effective, as indicated by the fact that the improvement in symptom scores and the small increase in bronchial volume occurred despite the significant reduction of respiratory pharmacotherapy. As the self-controlled Buteyko breathing therapy was well-accepted by the participants, it could be considered as supporting tool in asthma therapy being worth of wider attention in clinical practice.

I disagree with this conclusion and think it ought to be changed to:

BBT or a placebo effect was clinically effective.

The reason is that, as many readers have heard me say before, the infamous A+B versus B design does not control for placebo effects and thus is guaranteed to produce a positive result.

The research was conducted by an international team evidently led by the relatively new ARCIM Institute which claims on its website:

The acronym ARCIM stands for Academic Research in Complementary and Integrative Medicine.

The bridging between different treatment and research approaches, disciplines and ways of thinking achieved by the research work of the ARCIM Institute can be symbolized by our logo’s bridge arch. ARCIM integrates this bridge-building metaphor within its name since the Latin term “arcus” means “arch” or “bridge.”

The aim of the ARCIM research institute, founded in 2010, is to research complementary and integrative medicine, in particular anthroposophic medicine, on a scientific basis according to rigorous scientific standards established by the Equator Network criteria (http://www.equator-network.org/).
______________________
“rigorous scientific standards”?
… … …
You could have fooled me!

An alarming story of research fraud in the area of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is unfolding: Bharat B. Aggarwal, the Indian-American biochemist who worked at MD Anderson Cancer Center, focused his research on curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, and authored more than 125 Medline-listed articles about it. They reported that curcumin had therapeutic potential for a variety of diseases, including various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and, more recently, COVID-19.

The last of these papers, entitled “Curcumin, inflammation, and neurological disorders: How are they linked?”, was publiched only a few months ago. Here is its abstract:

Background: Despite the extensive research in recent years, the current treatment modalities for neurological disorders are suboptimal. Curcumin, a polyphenol found in Curcuma genus, has been shown to mitigate the pathophysiology and clinical sequalae involved in neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative diseases.

Methods: We searched PubMed database for relevant publications on curcumin and its uses in treating neurological diseases. We also reviewed relevant clinical trials which appeared on searching PubMed database using ‘Curcumin and clinical trials’.

Results: This review details the pleiotropic immunomodulatory functions and neuroprotective properties of curcumin, its derivatives and formulations in various preclinical and clinical investigations. The effects of curcumin on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), brain tumors, epilepsy, Huntington’s disorder (HD), ischemia, Parkinson’s disease (PD), multiple sclerosis (MS), and traumatic brain injury (TBI) with a major focus on associated signalling pathways have been thoroughly discussed.

Conclusion: This review demonstrates curcumin can suppress spinal neuroinflammation by modulating diverse astroglia mediated cascades, ensuring the treatment of neurological disorders.

  The Anderson Cancer Center initially appeared to approve of Aggarwal’s work. However, in 2012, following concerns about image manipulation raised by pseudonymous sleuth Juuichi Jigen, MD Anderson Cancer Center launched a research fraud probe against Aggarwal which eventually led to 30 of Aggarwal’s articles being retracted. Moreover, PubPeer commenters have noted irregularities in many publications beyond the 30 that have already been retracted. Aggarwal thus retired from M.D. Anderson in 2015.

Curcumin doesn’t work well as a therapeutic agent for any disease – see, for instance, the summary from Nelson et al. 2017:

“[No] form of curcumin, or its closely related analogues, appears to possess the properties required for a good drug candidate (chemical stability, high water solubility, potent and selective target activity, high bioavailability, broad tissue distribution, stable metabolism, and low toxicity). The in vitro interference properties of curcumin do, however, offer many traps that can trick unprepared researchers into misinterpreting the results of their investigations.”

Despite curcumin’s apparent lack of therapeutic promise, the volume of research produced on curcumin grows each year.  More than 2,000 studies involving the compound are now published annually. Many of these studies bear signs of fraud and involvement of paper mills. As of 2020, the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) has spent more than 150 million USD funding projects related to curcumin.

Graphs describing the volume of curcumin research from various sources. Data collected from PubMed and NIH RePORTER. Data may be incomplete in recent years.

This proliferation of research has fueled curcumin’s popularity as a dietary supplement. It is estimated that the global market for curcumin as a supplement is around 30 million USD in 2020.

The damage done by this epic fraud is huge and far-reaching. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, countless hours spent toiling by junior scientists, thousands of laboratory animals sacrificed, thousands of cancer patients enrolled in clinical trials for ineffective treatments, and countless people who have eschewed effective cancer treatment in favor of curcumin, were encouraged by research steeped in lies.

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