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Curse Removal from the Annals

A short post this week. Last weekend was a busy call weekend and as I type this I am heading for Palm Springs for a long weekend of hiking in the desert. If there is no entry in 14 days, look for my bleached bones somewhere in Joshua Tree.

Some observations about a recent article in the once respected Annals of Internal Medicine, whose recent articles  on acupuncture suggest their motto should be “The Annals. We have one too many n’s.”

First there was, Alexander Technique Lessons or Acupuncture Sessions for Persons With Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized Trial (discussed here) and now Acupuncture for Menopausal Hot Flashes: A Randomized Trial.

Why do the study? Why do any acupuncture study? Negative studies will not change practice.  There are no reality based reasons to think that acupuncture would be effective for any process. All the high quality studies show no efficacy.

As of the last Cochrane review, the data suggested for hot flashes that

When acupuncture was compared with sham acupuncture, there was no evidence of any difference in their effect on hot flushes. When acupuncture was compared with no treatment, there appeared to be a benefit from acupuncture, but acupuncture appeared to be less effective than HT.

Treatment is no different than placebo, so for any real therapy it would be concluded that the intervention is not effective.

And the results continue in  this study?

Chinese medicine acupuncture was not superior to noninsertive sham acupuncture for women with moderately severe menopausal HFs.

Nicely said.  Avoided the proper and rigorous interpretation of the study, acupuncture is not effective.  For once the take on the web was correct:  acupuncture doesn’t work for hot flashes.  This probably suggests the authors of the study never learned to spin their results.  So often when acupuncture is equal to placebo, acupuncture is declared effective since it has the “power of the placebo”. You probably do not remember, but two years ago there was a similar study where acupuncture and sham acupuncture were equal for reducing hot flashes.  Then the spin was Acupuncture may reduce severity and frequency of menopausal hot flashes.  

The lead author needs to get her SCAM speak down better, instead saying

“Acupuncture has been shown to be more effective than placebo for a number of conditions, specifically chronic pain,” said the lead author, Dr. Carolyn Ee, a family physician trained in both Western and Chinese medicine. “To say that it doesn’t work for hot flashes is not the same as saying it doesn’t work.”

Chronic pain is singular, so I guess the number of conditions specifically is one.  The loneliest number as I remember.  And while I agree it isn’t the same, acupuncture still doesn’t work.

It would be an interesting sociological study. Do a test of acupuncture vrs sham acupuncture vrs wait list. Doesn’t matter the symptom as long as there is a subjective endpoint. Real and sham will be equal in symptom relief and superior to doing nothing. Then send out two identical press releases except one that concludes acupuncture does nothing and one concludes it is effective.

It would be interesting to see if anyone actually cognates on the releases.

And why would the Annals publish an article that says the study was using

Chinese medicine needle acupuncture designed to treat kidney yin deficiency

My first google hit using “kidney yin deficiency” as a search term suggests kidney yin deficiency

usually presents as lumbar soreness

and

follows the rules of yang vacuity internal cold; therefore it usually presents cold symptoms, e.g. cold and pain in the lumbar area and cold limbs. Kidney qi deficiency is a common clinical diagnosis and does not usually present with cold symptoms. When the kidney’s astringent or storage functions are poor with a kidney qi deficiency, associated symptoms appear, e.g. frequent urination, copious amounts of clear urine, incontinence, enuresis, seminal emission, abortion, or miscarriage

Nowhere on the search result do they mention hot flashes.

Next hit. Menopause hot flashes? Nope

The next? Nope.

So I searched for menopause and kidney yin deficiency and found it.

When hot flashes or sweating are the major complaints, TCM regards these as internal damage problems due to such things as blood and qi deficiency, kidney yin deficiency, spleen and heart deficiency, phlegm stagnation, heat or phlegm irritating heart.

It goes to the heart of Traditional Chinese Pseudo-Medicine. They have zero standards and  basically make stuff up as they go along.

When I see kidney yin deficiency as a rationale for a clinical intervention, I wonder if the Annals would have published a similar trial using the Traditional European Pseudo Medicine of 4 humors as the basis of a study and bleeding as the treatment. It would have the same result. It is a hoax that needs to be played.

One last thought about acupuncture. I like the concept of acupuncture as a complex therapeutic ritual. But the longer I am in the SCAM world, the more I think this gives acupuncture, and other pseudo-medicines, too much benefit of the doubt.

Occasionally there is an article about the arrest of a fortune teller. The fortune teller has convinced someone that they or their material goods are cursed and the curse is the source of problems or discontent in the household. In modern times the curse is sometimes referred to as negative energy.

The fortune teller then helps lift the curse. It may be money to help perform a ritual to lift the curse or remove the negative energy. Sometimes the valuables are cleansed and then disappear.  Magic? In the legal system this behavior is considered fraud and theft and the fortune teller, if caught, often goes to jail.

I cannot find if the victims of the curse scam feel better after their curse has been lifted or the negative energy banished. There are no studies I could locate on the topic. At least I could find no studies outside of the literature for pseudo-medicines.

Is the practice of acupuncture, reiki, homeopathy, chiropractic and the other pseudo-medicines any different from the practice of curse removal? Not that I can see.  They have the same basic principles, just different language. Barely. ‘

Acupuncture is a ritual, it is a curse removal ritual.  At it’s center, so is most of CAM.

Does the ends justify the means? It depends on the ends and the means. But in medicine there are those who consider it OK to do the equivalent of the curse removal, fraud and theft,  as long as the patient reports benefit.

There is little information on curses as a cause of illness outside of the bible references, so it would appear to an area with the potential for growth.

It would be simple enough to do. Get an online pseudo-medical degree like ND, DC or Lac.  Then you can do virtually anything and call it  therapy. Then set up a clinic to remove the negative energies and curses for medical purposes. The authorities will never look twice. And in a year or two you will probably be hired by the local University Medical Center’s Integrative Medical Clinic.  I bet the Cleveland Clinic will be the first.

Now my seat back needs to be in the upright and locked position and my computer stowed under the seat in front of me.  Later.

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Pseudoscience sneaks into Ohio guidelines for non-drug pain treatment

Legitimately prescribed drugs can be stolen from a medicine cabinet a few at a time, usually without notice. From the Iowa Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy.

Legitimately prescribed drugs can be stolen from a medicine cabinet a few at a time, usually without notice. From the Iowa Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

Ohio recently issued Acute Pain Prescribing Guidelines as part of an effort to reduce the epidemic of opioid abuse and death from overdose. They were drafted under the auspices of the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team (GCOAT), assisted by medical organizations and other groups.

The guidelines include recommendations for non-pharmacologic treatment, a typical feature of pain treatment guidelines and a worthy effort to avoid prescribing opioids for pain. Unfortunately, the guidelines include treatments that are not evidence based and potentially harmful. We’ll return to that issue shortly.

But first, a brief look at the extent of the opioid problem. According to the CDC, opioids are used to treat moderate-to-severe pain and are often prescribed following surgery, injury, or for painful health conditions, like cancer. In the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis. From 1999 to 2013, opioid prescription and sales in the U.S. have nearly quadrupled, and overdose deaths have quadrupled right along with them. (more…)

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Is “harnessing the power of placebo” worthwhile to treat anything?

Placebonex
We frequently write about placebo effects here on Science-Based Medicine. The reason is simple. They are an important topic in medicine and, at least as importantly, understanding placebo effects is critical to understanding the exaggerated claims of advocates of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), now more frequently called “integrative medicine” (i.e., integrating pseudoscience with science). Over the years, I (and, of course, others) have documented how CAM advocates have consistently moved the goalposts with respect to the efficacy of their pseudoscientific interventions. As larger and better-designed clinical trials have been done demonstrating that various CAM therapies without a basis in science—I’m distinguishing these from science-based modalities that have been co-opted and “rebranded” as CAM, such as exercise and nutrition—have no specific effects detectable above placebo effects, CAM advocates move the goalposts and claim that CAM works through the “power of placebo” and do their best to claim that “harnessing” that “power of placebo” is a justification to use their treatments. It turns out, however, that when placebo effects are examined rigorously there’s just not a lot of there there, so to speak. Results are underwhelming, and trying to “harness the power of placebo” without an intervention that actually impacts the pathophysiology of disease can even be dangerous. That’s not to say that learning to maximize placebo responses (whatever they are) while administering effective medical treatments isn’t important; rather, it’s to point out that, by themselves, placebo effects are not of much value.

Unfortunately, none of this has stopped what Steve Novella refers to as the “placebo narrative” from insinuating itself into lay discussions of medicine. That narrative proclaims in breathless terms (as Steve put it) the “surprising power of the placebo effect” without putting it into reasonable perspective or even really defining what is meant by “placebo effect.” First, as we have tried to explain time and time again here, there is no single “placebo effect.” There are placebo effects. Second, the only really correct reference to “the placebo response” or “placebo effect” is the outcome measured in the placebo arm of a clinical trial. The problem is that, all too often, discussions of placebo responses conflate the placebo effect measured in a clinical trial with all the other various placebo effects that add up to the response that is measured in that trial. Those effects include reporting biases, researcher biases, regression to the mean, conditioning, and many other components that contribute to what is measured in the outcome of a clinical trial. Another common misconception about placebo effects is that they are somehow “mind over matter,” that we can heal ourselves (or at least reduce our symptoms) through the power of will and mind. This is not true. Placebo effects are not the power of positive thinking.
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Legislative Alchemy 2015: Another losing season for CAM practitioners

legislative-alchemy-image
One of the main, but perhaps underappreciated, reasons quackery thrives in the United States is that the states legalize it by licensing practitioners of pseudoscience as health care providers. These practitioners are placed under the regulatory jurisdiction of, well, themselves. I call the whole deplorable process Legislative Alchemy, and you can see all posts on the topic here. It gives practitioners an underserved imprimatur of state authority and leaves public protection from harmful practices to the oversight of those who are themselves engaging in the very same conduct. Each year, dozens of bills are brought before the state legislatures to establish initial licensure or, once that goal is achieved, scope of practice expansion.

Most attempts fail, but CAM practitioners are a dogged bunch, and they will come back each year until they get what they want. It took chiropractors about 60 years to become licensed in all 50 states. Acupuncturists are almost there. Naturopaths lag far behind, but are slowly gaining ground each year, even if it is only via practice expansion in states where they are already licensed. 2015 was a losing season for all, but not without advancement toward larger goals.

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Australian review finds no benefit to 17 natural therapies

Iridology

Health care systems around the world are being pressured to “do more and spend less”, to make healthcare more cost effective. Owing to aging populations and the growing cost of providing health services, there’s more scrutiny than ever on the value of different health treatments, with the goal of reducing the use of treatments that don’t help. The Choosing Wisely initiative was establishing expressly for this purpose. Regrettably, while well-intentioned, Choosing Wisely hasn’t had as much of an effect as you might expect. Medicine can be slow to change, as David Gorski discussed earlier this week. Unless we ruthlessly scrutinize what we do for effectiveness, and are willing to act on what we learn, self-driven change is unlikely. One way that governments (and insurers) can dramatically reduce the use of a health service or treatment is to simply stop offering it, or paying for it. Yet stopping funding is something that is relatively uncommon in health care. It seems to be much more difficult to stop a practice, possibly owing to inertia, a reluctance to change, and the sometimes-vociferous protests that can emerge from patients or physicians that may feel that their preferred therapy is effective. The formidable challenge of stopping health care funding, once it has started, is one reason why this blog has been very critical of the expanding scope of practice being granted to alternative medicine purveyors – the legislative alchemy that is the first step towards insurance coverage. Because once that’s in place, it will be far more difficult to stop it. So it’s essential to understand the evidence. (more…)

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Acupuncture/TCPM Crapfest

Acupuncture needling

Look Ma! No gloves!

As I get older I get more grumpy. Issues that at one time I was rather sanguine about, now irritate the hell out of me. It is not like it was when I started practice. Information was hard to come by. Going through the Index Medicus, with the world’s tiniest font, wandering the stacks looking for papers, sending off for reprints, getting a precious Xerox (or even a mimeograph) of a classic paper from an attending.

You understood the value of eminence-based medicine, as it took a career to acquire and master the literature. You relied on the wisdom of old geezers like me who had decades of experience and reading.

That was then. Now? The world’s information is available almost instantaneously. You may not be able to master a new topic spending a day on Google and Pubmed, but you can acquire a reasonable understanding, especially of you have some background.

Because of Google and Pubmed, the only reasons for ignorance of your area of expertise in medicine are time, laziness, or stupidity. As a specialist, only time is an excuse. It is my job to keep up with infectious diseases, although with over 10,000 articles a year in ID, it is impossible to read everything. But if I have a question concerning patient care, I need to look it up. I have another blog whose raison d’être is looking up answers to the daily questions that arise in practice.

On the characteristics of a useful clinical trial

So the characteristics of a useful clinical trial are not hard to determine: Randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, adequately powered. Because you want to avoid spending time and money on a study only to end up with no useful conclusions. This is especially important with acupuncture where it not does matter what kind of acupuncture is used, if needles are used, where the needles are placed or even if you mime acupuncture or perform acupuncture on a rubber hand. The key features for success in acupuncture are belief that the patient is receiving acupuncture and that the patient believes the acupuncture will be effective. And the stronger the belief, the better the subjective response. (more…)

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NPR and the False Choice of Alternative Medicine

NPR National Public Radio logo

A recent segment on NPR is an excellent representation of some of the mischief that promotion of unscientific medical treatments can create. The title is a good summary of the problem: “To Curb Pain Without Opioids, Oregon Looks To Alternative Treatments.

The entire segment is premised around a false dichotomy, between excess use of opioids and unproven alternative treatments. It is clear that the reporters didn’t even speak to a pain specialist who relies upon science-based treatments, or if they did the specialist was completely ignored because a SBM approach did not fit into the narrative of the report.

Non-opioid options for pain control

The problem addressed by the segment is real – the current technology of pain control is limited. I don’t want to sell pain management short, we have an array of powerful and effective treatments. There are limitations, however, and many patients are inadequately treated.

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Massage Therapy rubs me the wrong way

Massage therapy? Pranic healing? Polarity therapy? Zero balancing?

Massage therapy? Pranic healing? Polarity therapy? Zero balancing?

Back in my days of practicing law, one of my escapes from reality was a good massage. It was a great treat, exchanging the high-octane atmosphere of the law office for the soothing music, subdued voices and pastel tones of the treatment room. I could have stayed on that table for hours.

Little did I know just how much an escape from reality massage therapy would soon become.

About 15 years ago, when I called to book an appointment with my favorite therapist, a recorded message offered something called “ray-kee” – at least, that is how it was pronounced. I assumed it was just a form of massage and didn’t think anything about it. Then, at one session, while my feet were being rubbed, my massage therapist – an RN, no less – suggested I would be surprised at how often a sore spot actually correlated with a medical problem. She was talking about reflexology, of course.

Fast forward a few years. A new massage therapist and a new location, this time a “health center” (actually, a gym) owned by a local hospital. The massage therapist inquired whether I’d like to try “cranial sacral therapy“. “What’s that?” I asked. “Oh,” she said, “it would be hard to explain.” (She got that right.) She then proceeded to inform me that she had actually used it in one of our sessions. This alerted me to the possibility that informed consent was not part of the massage therapy protocol.

A few more years went by. Another therapist (also an RN), another location. I was pleased with her because I thought she did a good job and she also taught me some simple stretching exercises. To my surprise, in one session, she started pressing on the space between my toes because, she said, it corresponded with the (something, something – I didn’t get this part) of my neck. Reflexology again. (Are they now teaching reflexology in nursing school? I am beginning to wonder.) (more…)

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An Industry of Worthless Acupuncture Studies

Electro-AcupunctureEven more interesting to me than the question of whether or not acupuncture is effective for any particular symptom is the meta-question of how acupuncture proponents have managed to promote a treatment with systematically terrible scientific data. A new study provides a fresh example of this, which I will discuss below.

I think the behavior of acupuncturists reflects the fact that there are subcultures within science, where each community has its own standards, culture, and typical practices. You see this reflected in how they conduct their research and support their claims. Chiropractors, for example, have what is in my opinion a very unscientific culture. Their treatments are not science-based; science is an afterthought cherry-picked to support what is ultimately their philosophy.

The culture of acupuncture

The world of acupuncture has its own culture as well. Within this world there are special, very permissive rules of science that allow acupuncture to work for almost anything. One trend is to look for anything that happens locally in the skin when you stick a needle into it and then declare that a “mechanism for acupuncture.” The rules of the acupuncture culture also allow for a shifting definition of what acupuncture actually is, allowing the definition to conform to whatever the evidence shows. It’s a neat and subtle trick that allows acupuncture proponents to completely subvert the purpose of science.

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Learning quackery for Continuing Medical Education credit

accme-screenshot

 

The Integrative Addiction Conference 2015 (“A New Era in Natural Treatment”) starts tomorrow in Myrtle Beach, SC. Medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, naturopaths and other health care providers will hear lectures on such subjects as “IV Therapies and Addiction Solutions,” given by Kenneth Proefrock, a naturopath whose Arizona Stem Cell Center specializes in autologous stem cell transplants derived from adipose tissue. Proefrock, who was disciplined for using prolotherapy in the cervical spine without proper credentialing in 2008, claims that stem cells treatments are an “incredibly versatile therapy” and uses them for variety of conditions, such as MS and viral diseases. At the same time, he admits that they are not FDA approved and he is not claiming they are effective for anything (and he’s right), which leads one to wonder why he employs them.

Proefrock also offers a typical naturopathic mish-mash of services, from oncology to urology to “naturopathic endocrinology,” and claims he specializes in treating influenza, high blood pressure and kidney stones, as well as addiction. In other words, he doesn’t seem to be the sort of expert you’d find speaking at a science-based conference on addiction medicine.

You’ll find similarly troubling bios of some of the other speakers, as well as dubious treatments for addiction, on the conference website. Here, for example, are speaker Giordano’s and Eidelman’s websites.

Dalal Akoury, MD, is the “Title Sponsor” of the conference and appears to be running the show. Although she is listed by the S.C. Board of Medicine as board certified in pediatrics, she is the founder of the “Integrative Addiction Institute” and runs the “AwareMed Health and Wellness Resource Center” in Myrtle Beach. Like the Arizona Stem Cell Center, it offers a range of treatments that defy categorization as any particular specialty: addiction recovery, “adrenal fatigue” treatment, stem cells, “anti-aging,” weight loss, “functional medicine” and “integrative cancer care“. Yet, only Akoury and one licensed practical nurse are on the staff of the Center. Again, it is questionable whether she is has sufficient qualifications in addiction medicine to run a conference on the subject. (more…)

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