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Moxibustion

There are many forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and many have the same underlying theory: they stimulate non-existent acupuncture points to alter the flow of non-existent qi. For each form of TCM there are many variations on a theme. There are, for example, a half-dozen styles of acupuncture and multiple forms of cupping all trying to move the qi. That qi is an untameable beast, hard to corral into a proper gate even by the best acupoint wrangler.

There is, fortunately, yet another way, moxibustion, to alter that most intractable mysterious life energy.

Moxibustion is the burning of mugwort over acupoints.

What is mugwort? I resist the urge to make a Harry Potter pun about where Muggles go to school. No wait, I just did. Sorry. You know the old saying: yield to temptation, it may not pass you way again. Mugwort is a member of the daisy family, related to ragweed and, like ragweed, a common cause of hay fever. It is also used in food and was used in beer before hops was discovered.
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Posted in: Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Hickey

Always start with an excuse. I have been ill for the last 10 days. I suspect I picked up an infection from the woman I slept with in Vegas.* I normally go through the day at warp 5 (I do not want to destroy space-time), but this illness has reduced my mental functioning in the evening to one-half impulse at best, with thoughts moving at the speed of a cold Oregon slug. So bear with me.

There can be an odd popularity to medicine. I see this in antibiotics usage. When a patient is admitted to the ICU with sepsis, while awaiting cultures you try and kill all the likely bacteria that may be trying to kill the patient. At any given time most doctors can only remember two antibiotics and the current popular duo is vancomycin and pipericillin/tazobactam. It is a reasonable choice, one of many combinations that would treat most patients with sepsis. I am not certain how this combination became so popular, although I have been told that the pipericillin/tazobactam reps have been very active at the Universities with medical students and residents. As the adage goes, “Give me a student until he is seven and I will give you the doctor.”

There are also popular trends in alternative medicine as well. Every now and then there is a flurry of mentions on the interwebs suggesting that a pseudo-medicine has become all the rage. Or maybe it is just the echo chamber that is the interwebs.

This week it is Oil Pulling Might Be The Next Big Thing — Or Not and What is cupping? Lena Dunham the latest celeb to try the ancient Chinese remedy for pain relief. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine

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A tale of quackademic medicine at the University of Arizona Cancer Center

Quackademic medicine.

I love that term, because it succinctly describes the infiltration of pseudoscientific medicine into medical academia. As I’ve said many times, I wish I had been the one to coin the phrase, but I wasn’t. To the best of my ability to determine, I first picked it up from Dr. R. W. Donnell back in 2008 and haven’t been able to find an earlier use of the term. As much as I try to give credit where credit is due, I have, however, appropriated the term “quackademic medicine” (not to mention its variants, like “quackademia”), used it, and tried my best to popularize it among supporters of science-based medicine. Indeed, one of my earliest posts on this blog was about how quackery has infiltrated the hallowed halls of medical academia, complete with links to medical schools that have “integrative medicine” programs and even medical schools that promoted the purely magic-based medical modalities known as reiki and homeopathy. It’s been a recurrent topic on this blog ever since, leading to a number posts on the unethical clinical trials of treatments with zero or minimal pre-trial plausibility, the degradation of the scientific basis of medicine, and the acceptance of magical thinking as a means of treating patients in all too many medical centers.

One strong candidate for quackademic ground zero, if there can be such a thing for the phenomenon like quackademic medicine, which is creeping up like so much kudzu in the cracks of the edifice of science-based medicine (SBM), is the University of Arizona. U. of A. is, of course, the home of one of the originators of the concept of quackademic medicine and one of its most famous and tireless promoters, Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil, as you might recall, has even been the driving force for creating a highly dubious “board certification” in integrative medicine. Sadly, apparently this new board certification has been so popular among physicians wanting to “integrate” a little quackery into their practices, that its first examination has been delayed from May to November 2014, so that the American Board of Physician Specialties can figure out how to accommodate the unexpectedly large number of applicants.

So what happens when a patient arrives at U. of A. for treatment? I found out last week when I received an e-mail, which led to a fairly long e-mail exchange, with a man whose son was diagnosed with leukemia and is being treated at the University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC). Although this man gave me permission to use his name, I am going to decline to do so because there is a child involved, although anyone involved in his case at U. of A. will likely quickly be able to identify who the man is. It turns out that he is a professor at U. of A. in a humanities department (which is why I’ll refer to him henceforth as the Professor), and, even though he is not a scientist, he clearly knows how to think (which would not be surprising if you knew what department he was in). In his e-mail, he told me how appalled he was at the sorts of treatments being offered to his son:
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Posted in: Acupuncture, Cancer, Chiropractic, Energy Medicine, Medical Academia, Religion

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Acupuncture Vignettes

I seem to be writing a lot about acupuncture of late. As perhaps the most popular pseudo-medicine, there seems to be more published on the topic. I have a lot of internet searches set up to automatically feed me new information on various SCAMs. Interestingly, all the chiropractic updates seem to be published on chiropractic economics sites, not from scientific sources. Go figure.

Here is a hodgepodge of articles, mostly from the scientific literature, I have read concerning acupuncture and TCM. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Clinical Trials

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Urinary Tract Infections Cause Depression. Directors Cut.*

As some may know I am infectious disease doctor. Urinary tract infections (UTI) butter my bread. Figuratively speaking. There is an enormous amount known about the pathophysiology of UTI’s. It is both a common and complex problem. But for all our knowledge, chronic and recurrent UTI’s remain a vexing issue for the patient and the doctor.

One reason people develop recurrent UTI’s is not because of altered chi along meridians altered by needles stuck in the skin distant from the bladder. That would be ridiculous. I like reasoning from basic principles. Given what we know about anatomy, physiology and microbiology, how might acupuncture interfere with the development of a urinary tract infection? Would it prevent colonization with pathogenic E. coli? Prevent retrograde travel of bacteria up the urethra into the bladder? Stop E. coli from binding to uroepithelial cells? Have a bactericidal or bacteriostatic effect?

None of the above seem likely. To my mind, postulating any of the above as a potential mechanism for acupuncture as a preventative for UTI’s would be ludicrous. And spare me your Boosting the Immune System, a concept that exists as a marketing tool, not a useful therapeutic intervention. My boss used to say that many an academic career floundered on attempting to prevent and treat UTI’s using an immune system approach. With some exceptions, and there are always exceptions, recurrent UTI’s in normal humans are usually due to anatomic or microbiological anomalies.

Despite its popularity, it is clear that acupuncture is not based on reality and, like all pseudo-medicine, only has demonstrable efficacy in poorly-designed studies. Acupuncture displays the usual progression of all pseudo-medicines. Increasingly-well-done studies show decreasing effect until a study that removes all bias shows it to be no better than placebo. Which one would expect for an intervention based on fantasy. Prior plausibility (the toy boat of SBM, try saying it three times very fast) would predict that acupuncture is worthless. And that should be acupunctures, all 6 styles are an elaborate ritual with no more likelihood of efficacy than the superstitions in a Budweiser commercial. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Clinical Trials, Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Ngrams and CAM

Ngram is a Google analytic tool/way to waste lots of time on the internet, a byproduct of Google’s scanning millions of books into its database. In a matter of seconds, Ngram scans words from about 7.5 million books, an estimated 6 percent of all books ever published. Type a word or phrase in the Ngram Viewer search box and in seconds a chart of its yearly frequency will appear. You can also search for a series of words or phrases and the Viewer will provide a color-coded chart comparing frequency of use. More sophisticated searches (e.g., making the search case sensitive, or not) are also possible.

As explained in the New York Times, researchers “have used this system to analyze centuries of word use, examining the spread of scientific concepts, technological innovations, political repression, and even celebrity fame.” Erez Aiden, a computer scientist who helped create the word frequency tool, says he and his co-researcher, Jean-Baptiste Michel, wanted “to create a scientific measuring instrument, something like a telescope, but instead of pointing it at a star, you point it at human culture.” In fact, the title of their new book is Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture. Still, they caution that, like other scientific tools, Ngram’s results can be misinterpreted. An example: the fax machine. If you query that term, it looks as if the fax appears almost instantaneously in the 1980s. In reality, the machine was invented in the 1840s but was then called the “telefax.”

If Ngram can search for scientific concepts, how about unscientific concepts? What might a search of unscientific concepts tell us about our human culture? Let’s find out. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Computers & Internet, Herbs & Supplements, History, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine

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More Acupuncture Misrepresentation

Poorly done acupuncture studies are published every week, so I can’t write about every one that comes out. I probably would have passed this one by, except for the New York Times article using it to tout the effectiveness of acupuncture.

The headline reads: “Acupuncture, Real or Not, Eases Side Effects of Cancer Drugs.

I know that authors, in this case Nicholas Bakalar, often do not write their own headlines, but in this case the article itself is just as bad. It begins:

Both acupuncture and sham acupuncture were effective in reducing menopausal symptoms in women being treated with aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer, a small randomized trial found.

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Posted in: Acupuncture

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Acupuncture Whac-a-Mole ™

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
- George Santayana

Most people don’t have that willingness to break bad habits. They have a lot of excuses and they continue to produce bad clinical studies.
- Carlos Santana (Well, not the last 4 words.)

One is a guitar player, one is a philosopher. I get them confused.

I think George was in charge of SCAM research at the NIH. It was Dr. Gorski who first used the term Whac-a-Mole to describe what we do. The same badly-done studies are done over and over and misrepresented over and over, with only very minor variations on a theme. This is especially true of acupuncture, the most extensively studied pseudo-medicine in search of something, anything, for which it might be effective. They are still searching.

I loved going mano-a-mano with my kids when they were younger on the Whac-a-Mole machine in the Seaside arcade followed by root beer and elephant ears. It was the last time I beat either of them at any athletic endeavor. So I enjoy Whac-a-Mole, with mechanical rodents or bad research. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Clinical Trials, Critical Thinking, Science and Medicine

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2013 Legislative Review: placenta take out

It’s official in Oregon now. You can take your placenta, along with your new baby, home from the hospital. This was already a practice among the CAM set but apparently new mothers were running afoul of laws designed to protect us from bio-hazards. New legislation exempts “the removal from a health care facility . . . of a placenta by a postpartum mother.”

Now, why would anyone want a placenta? Well, SBM is nothing if not your complete source of all things CAM and Harriet Hall has already covered the subject. The short answer is that in Traditional Chinese Medicine placenta-eating is thought to confer all sorts of health benefits on the new mother. I learned of this new law from USA Today, which explains that “some experts say” it has positive health benefits. Well, thank goodness for that. Wouldn’t want a new law passed without “experts” weighing in.

But if handling a placenta makes you squeamish, not to worry. The Placenta Power Wellness Service in Portland (among others) will steam, dehydrate and encapsulate it into a handy pill form for about $150-$250. (Each placenta will make 80-120 capsules, according to the website). If you wish, you can get raw placenta encapsulation instead. Placenta tincture, placenta salve and a print of your placenta (sort of like those newborn footprints) are available for extra. That would be a real conversation starter, sitting there on the mantel.

According to Placenta Power Wellness Service, anecdotal evidence shows women experience an increase in energy, mood enhancement, milk supply and feelings of elation. Plus, it’s been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine “for centuries.”

And folks, that is all you need to get a statute passed adding practices or products to the legally-available health care armamentarium: anecdotes, sometimes relayed by “experts.” Traditional use is icing on the cake. (Or maybe the placenta.) It’s the reason for the DSHEA, the chiropractic, acupuncture and naturopathic practice acts, “health freedom” laws, and getting the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia dumped in toto into federal law, with updates courtesy of the homeopathic industry. “I’ve seen it work!” “It worked for me!” Depending on the method, the evidence for the astounding variety of practices and products legally permitted by these laws generally ranges between none and some, with, I’d wager, most hovering in the “it can’t work” to the “we don’t know if it works” range. Not to mention the evidence of safety, or lack thereof. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Homeopathy, Legal, Naturopathy, Obstetrics & gynecology, Politics and Regulation

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The new Surgeon General nominee and CAM: Is there a problem here?

Our fearless leader, Steve Novella, has informed me that he is traveling today. Unfortunately, I am preparing a talk for later today, and no one else seemed able to come up with a post; so I decided to adapt a recent post from my not-so-super-secret other blog and see what a different readership thought of it. I realize that I’m risking subjecting you all to Gorski overload, but, hey, if the world needs more Mark Crislip, why wouldn’t the world need more David Gorski too? Steve will return next Wednesday, as usual.

I don’t normally give a lot of thought to the Surgeon General because, quite frankly, in recent years it hasn’t been a position of much authority or influence. That’s why I didn’t noticed late last week that President Obama had nominated a new Surgeon General. Normally, my failure to notice isn’t such a big deal, because there really hasn’t been a Surgeon General who has really been particularly well-known or had much of an impact since Dr. C. Everett Koop, although back when President Obama first took office Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s name was floated as a possibility for the position. Obviously, he didn’t get it. (I’m guessing that being a neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent probably pays much better than being Surgeon General.) To be honest, I didn’t even know that the prior Surgeon General had stepped down, but apparently she did in July, leaving the position filled by an interim Surgeon General until a new one could be nominated.

The other day, I learned whom President Obama nominated to be her successor, Dr. Vivek Murthy, a faculty member at the Harvard Medical School:

President Obama will nominate Dr. Vivek Murthy of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital as surgeon general of the United States, the White House announced Thursday night.

Murthy is a hospitalist at the Brigham and is co-founder and president of Doctors for America, a Washington, D.C.-based group of 16,000 physicians and medical students that advocates for access to affordable, high quality health care and has been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act.

If he’s confirmed by the Senate, Murthy would replace acting surgeon general Boris Lushniak. The surgeon general serves a four-year term and the post is essentially a bully pulpit to speak out on public health issues.

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Posted in: Acupuncture, Politics and Regulation, Public Health, Science and the Media

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