Posted by Gary Schwitzer in Evidence-based medicine
The Los Angeles Times wrote about an essay in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, stating:
As if Dr. Paul Offit hasn’t made enough enemies already by insisting (correctly) that parents put their kids’ health at risk when they refuse to get them vaccinated, now the infectious disease expert appears to be picking a fight with those who believe in alternative therapies like prayer healing and acupuncture.
In an essay to be published in Wednesday’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Assn., Offit questions the way the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) doles out its $130-million annual budget.
Excerpts of Offit’s essay:
“…many studies funded by NCCAM lack a sound biological underpinning, which should be an important requirement for funding. For example, NCCAM officials have spent $374 000 to find that inhaling lemon and lavender scents does not promote wound healing; $750 000 to find that prayer does not cure AIDS or hasten recovery from breast-reconstruction surgery; $390 000 to find that ancient Indian remedies do not control type 2 diabetes; $700 000 to find that magnets do not treat arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or migraine headaches; and $406 000 to find that coffee enemas do not cure pancreatic cancer. Additionally, NCCAM has funded studies of acupuncture and therapeutic touch. Using rigorously controlled studies, none of these therapies have been shown to work better than placebo. Some complementary and alternative practitioners argue reasonably that although their therapies might not work better than placebos, placebos may still work for some conditions.
Although evaluating the research portfolio of any institute at the NIH is difficult, social and political pressures may influence area-of-interest funding, and decisions should be based on science. For complementary and alternative medicine, it seems that some people believe what they want to believe, arguing that it does not matter what the data show; they know what works for them. Because negative studies do not appear to change behavior and because studies performed without a sound biological basis have little to no chance of success, it would make sense for NCCAM to either refrain from funding studies of therapies that border on mysticism such as distance healing, purgings, and prayer; redefine its mission to include a better understanding of the physiology of the placebo response; or shift its resources to other NIH institutes.”