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Studying Chiropractic with Imaging: Another Dead Salmon?

The Activator: a spring-loaded thumper. Is this "chiropractic"? Does it really balance the alignment of the lumbar spine and sacrum?

The Activator: a spring-loaded thumper. Is this “chiropractic”? Does it really “balance the alignment of the lumbar spine and sacrum”?

Researchers in Japan have done a study evaluating the effects of chiropractic treatment using MRI and PET scans. It was published in the 2009 report of the Cyclotron and Radioisotope Center (CYRIC) of Tokohu University.

Their rationale for doing the study

Ray Hyman‘s categorical imperative is “Do not try to explain something until you are sure there is something to be explained.” These researchers believe there is something to be explained. They think chiropractic has proven clinical benefits and they are trying to find the underlying physiological mechanisms. They think they have found something with their advanced imaging procedures, but the dead salmon study and Satel and Lilienfeld’s book Brainwashed have taught us that neuroimaging studies can be misleading and must be interpreted with great caution.
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Posted in: Chiropractic

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The stem cell hard sell, Stemedica edition

The stem cell hard sell returns.

The stem cell hard sell returns.

I first became more interested in dubious stem cell clinics nearly two years ago, when I learned that hockey legend Gordie Howe was undergoing stem cell therapy in Mexico to treat his stroke. Prominent in stories about Howe were two companies: Stemedica Cell Technologies, a San Diego company marketing stem cell treatments for all manner of ailments, and Novastem a partner company in Mexico that uses Stemedica products. Also prominent in the stories was Clínica Santa Clarita, the Tijuana-based clinic where Howe received his stem cell infusion. As far as I was able to glean, it’s a clinic to which Novastem supplies Stemedica stem cells. Basically, what happened is that Stemedica CEO Dr. Maynard Howe (no relation to Gordie Howe’s family) and VP Dave McGuigan contacted the Howe family late 2014, after having seen news stories about how poorly Gordie Howe was doing, to offer Howe its stem cell therapy.

Unfortunately, Gordie Howe was not eligible for Stemedica’s US-based clinical trial of its stem cell product for stroke because it had not yet been over six months since his last neurologic event and he was not yet neurologically stable. So Maynard Howe and McGuigan steered the Howe family to Novastem, one of Stemedica’s international partners. As a result, under the auspices of a highly dubious “clinical trial” conducted by physicians utterly unqualified to run a decent clinical trial under Mexican regulations that basically allowed “approved” clinics to do anything they want with stem cells, (whose details I discussed at the time), Gordie Howe received Stemedica stem cell infusions at Clínica Santa Clarita.

Because of Gordie Howe’s celebrity and the admiration Howe and McGuigan had for him, Novastem even waived the normal $30,000 per infusion charged to typical patients. From my viewpoint, they used Gordie Howe as a marketing tool, with the waived $30,000 an investment in publicity. Unfortunately Gordie Howe’s son Murray Howe, who happens to be a radiologist, was all too happy to go along, expressing an extreme sense of obliviousness and entitlement in response to questions about whether Clinica Santa Maria treated his father Gordie for free, responding, “You betcha. They were thrilled and honored to treat a legend. Would you charge Gordie Howe for treating him? None of his doctors ever do. I certainly am not going to criticize them for being generous.” Let’s just put it this way. I doubt that Gordie Howe’s other physicians refrained from charging Medicare and whatever insurance Howe had at the time for their services or collecting their copays.
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Posted in: Clinical Trials, Politics and Regulation, Science and the Media

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American Academy of Pediatrics Calls for End to Pediatric Codeine Use…Again

So, pretty please...with sugar on top. Stop prescribing codeine to kids.

So, pretty please…with sugar on top. Stop prescribing codeine for children.

The safe and effective management of subjective symptoms in the pediatric population, in particular pain, has always been difficult. Young patients, even premature infants at the limit of viability, experience pain, a fact that sadly was not widely accepted until the late last century. But even with full recognition of pain as a potential concern in all pediatric patients, undertreatment of pain remains a system wide issue.

Pediatric pain management is especially challenging for a variety of reasons. Overall there are fewer pediatric friendly pharmaceutical options to choose from and limited data on available pain medications for children, leaving pediatric providers fitting square pegs in the round hole of adult medicine. Further complicating the situation is the fact that kids can have significantly different absorption and metabolism of drugs compared to adults. Finally, young children are more likely to be undertreated because of the reluctance to prescribe, or to consent to the use of, opioid medications by providers and caregivers respectively.

As if things weren’t difficult enough, the AAP Section on Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine has published a clinical report in the September Pediatrics that aims to remind providers that it is “time to say no” to one of the our most popular pain medications: codeine. Sadly, the authors are not raising new concerns. Instead, they are once again pointing out serious problems with this drug, problems we have known about for over a decade that have resulted in deaths and inadequately treated pain.
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Posted in: Science and Medicine

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Fixing the supplement market for consumers

vitamins and supplements

Unsubstantiated claims could be on their way out in Canada

When it comes to regulating and selling dietary supplements, should consumer interests be higher priority than those of manufacturers? While regulations are seemingly created to protect consumers, governments around the world have consistently given manufacturers the upper hand, prioritizing a company’s desire to sell a product over a consumer’s right to a marketplace with safe, effective products. Nowhere is this more the case than in Canada and the United States, where similar regulatory approaches have led to an industry boom and massive sales, but also a confusing marketplace for consumers and no persuasive evidence that all those supplements have any meaningful effects on our health. Drug store shelves in 2016 are packed with hundreds of products with unsubstantiated claims and untested products, and little credible information to guide selection. Since its beginnings, the contributors to this blog has been consistent in calling for more appropriate regulation: one that puts consumers first, not manufacturers, and evaluates all products (drugs, supplements or otherwise) with a consistent standard of science and evidence. Today, it looks like one regulator is preparing to move in that direction. Health Canada, Canada’s equivalent to the FDA, has proposed a new regulatory approach that is expected to block manufacturers from selling products with unsubstantiated and often misleading health claims. And they are asking for your input. Carly Weeks in the Globe and Mail writes, (more…)

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Politics and Regulation

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FTC Sues Predatory Journal

Because I have a university e-mail address I frequently get spam from journals I never heard of soliciting submissions, and even offering editorial positions. I have generally ignored them, and it’s probably a good thing.

Over the last decade we have seen the rise of open-access science journals. The idea is a good one – journals charge a moderate fee to publish an article to cover costs, and then make all articles freely available online. It is a great way to leverage the power of the internet and make published science freely available. This contrasts to the subscription model where published research often sits behind a very expensive paywall.

The problem with the open-access model is that it created the means to easily generate income through predatory behavior. All you need is a website and minimal infrastructure and you can look like a real journal. Since authors are paying you to publish each article, just publish anything that gets submitted.

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Posted in: Legal, Medical Academia

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Parkinson’s Disease: A Detective Story

brainstorms
I didn’t intend to review Jon Palfreman’s book Brain Storms: The Race to Unlock the Mysteries of Parkinson’s Disease, but after reading it I decided it was too good not to share. Palfreman is an award-winning science journalist who has Parkinson’s himself. He has done a bang-up job of describing Parkinson’s disease, its impact on patients, and how science is working to understand and treat it.

The disease

Parkinson first described the disease in 1817. It is characterized by shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty with walking. There is a decrease in dopamine in the basal ganglia in the brain. One million Americans have Parkinson’s disease. The incidence increases with age; by age 80 one in fifty people are affected.

Some very strange phenomena have been observed. Parkinson’s disease is less common among smokers and coffee drinkers. When a patient becomes frozen and unable to take the next step, if you draw a line on the floor they will step over the line and walk on. Patients who can’t walk can run, ride a bike, or ice-skate. Some patients appear to have strong responses to placebos, with reversal of symptoms for long periods. Exposure to vibration seems to decrease symptoms; in the late 1800s patients were treated with vibrating chairs until controlled studies showed they didn’t work. (more…)

Posted in: Basic Science, Book & movie reviews, Neuroscience/Mental Health

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Diet and exercise versus cancer: A science-based view

Exercise time

One of the most effective spin techniques used by advocates of “integrative medicine” (also sometimes called “complementary and alternative medicine,” or CAM for short) to legitimize quackery has been to claim basically all non-pharmacologic, non-surgical interventions as “integrative,” “complementary,” or “alternative.” Thus, science-based interventions such as diet changes to treat and/or prevent disease, exercise, and other lifestyle alterations are portrayed as somehow so special that they need their own specialty, “integrative medicine,” even though they are simply part of medicine. I pointed this out a mere two weeks ago when I discussed the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) review of non-pharmacological treatments for pain. It was a systematic review that was essentially negative but spun as positive for some interventions and lacked some key analyses that a good systematic review includes, such as assessment of the quality of the studies included and evaluating them for bias.

Such were my thoughts over the weekend as I got into a Twitter exchange with an advocate of integrative medicine who was touting the benefits of diet as a cancer preventative and how a course in nutrition “opened her eyes.” That in and of itself wasn’t particularly annoying, although I strongly suspect that the nutrition course she took was not given by actual registered dietitians or other experts in science-based nutrition (she wouldn’t say when questioned). What was annoying is that she trotted out some tropes beloved by integrative medicine proponents, such as the claim that most doctors don’t do prevention because they get paid to treat. She was called out for it:

Oddly enough, on the same day a post from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) came up in e-mail lists that discussed the actual evidence for the utility of diet and exercise for cancer prevention. It’s almost as though Twitter were telling me it was time for me to discuss this issue from a science-based perspective. So I will attempt to do so.
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Posted in: Cancer, Epidemiology, Nutrition

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The Fluoride Dragon Cometh! Or does he?

Fluorine atom with SP3 hybridized 2S22P5 orbitals

Fluorine atom showing its 1S and 2S/2P electron orbitals (hybridized) with atomic nucleus at centre

[Editor’s note: With no further ado, and with no introduction necessary, here is a second post from Craig Pearcey; Witness his science and despair, quacks of the world!]

First for the basic chemistry

There is one particular word that tends to get many CAM supporters very vocal and the conspiracists thinking about running for their home-made bunkers in a basement somewhere. It is the word “fluorine” or any of its analogues. However, before getting into their anti-fluorine claims, we need to briefly review it properties as both an element and in various molecular forms. Without this background it may be possible to make certain assumptions about fluorine that are baseless for a given molecular structure and application. It is this very type of error that the antivaxxers and many in the CAM field make in regards thimerosal – i.e. Ethyl(2-mercaptobenzoato-(2-)-O,S) mercurate(1-) sodium, methyl-mercury, and elemental mercury. All three have significantly differing chemical properties based on their molecular structure, but some individuals/groups continue to attribute the toxicity and chemical properties for elemental mercury to thimerosal (Ethyl(2-mercaptobenzoato-(2-)-O,S) mercurate(1-) sodium). Similarly, drawing conclusions on thimerosal toxicity from methyl mercury is equally flawed. In addition, in their instance in equating the three they refuse to provide any viable mechanism how thimerosal is converted into either elemental mercury of methyl mercury, or how they can be attributed the same chemical properties. (more…)

Posted in: Politics and Regulation, Public Health

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease Speculcation

Enlarged_c_elegans

I knew humans could resemble worms, but this?

My wife and I are entering an age where our aches and pains are becoming a major ongoing topic of conversations. The pain of raising kids has transitioned into the pains of growing older. These aches and pains are, in the scheme of things, minor and intermittent.

At work I get to see real suffering and it keeps my own in perspective. And there are a lot of people who feel awful, some for obvious reasons such as cancer or AIDS and some from ailments that are more enigmatic, such as systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), the illness formerly known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

In the context of SBM, SEID is a gateway disease into the world of pseudo-medicine.

A syndrome with no known cause and few effective therapies at best, those who suffer from the process are easy pickings for SCAM practitioners. When you feel like crap month and month with no improvement or even an explanation for your suffering, you keep looking until you find an answer. (more…)

Posted in: Basic Science, Chronic Fatigue

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NCCIH funds sauna “detoxification” study at naturopathic school

 

Where's the sauna detox?

Where’s the sauna detox?

It is no secret that we at SBM are not particularly fond of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (NCCIH; formerly, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine).  We’ve lamented NCCIH’s use of limited public funds for researching implausible treatments, the unwarranted luster NIH/NCCIH funding bestows on quack institutions, the lack of useful research it has produced, and its failure to shoot straight with the public when discussing alternative/ complementary/ integrative medicine. Nor does NCCIH’s research appear to affect CAM practice. Lack of evidence of safety or effectiveness is no impediment to use among CAM practitioners or “integrative” physicians.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised (NCCIH’s promise to “do some real science for a change” notwithstanding) when, a few days ago, I ran across a study of which I was previously unaware (for good reason, as you’ll see) on clinicaltrials.gov:

Sauna Detoxification Study: Pilot Feasibility

The goal of this study is to assess the feasibility of the approach, conduct a dose-finding investigation, and obtain pilot data on hyperthermia via sauna to apply in follow-up trials in the assessment of human chemical body burden reduction, for general wellness, detoxification, and pain reduction.

The investigators wish to determine if a hyperthermia-based detoxification protocol is feasible to conduct: including assessment of recruitment, enrollment, retention, protocol adherence, adverse events, and changes in serum polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

And:

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Sauna Detoxification Study: Phase I

The purpose of this study is to determine the impact of sauna use on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in the blood of healthy human adults, as well as to assess safety, feasibility, and tolerability, and effects on quality of life and wellness. We hope to determine if there is a link between lower PCB levels in blood and sauna use.

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Posted in: Clinical Trials, Naturopathy

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