Health News Review

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.”


coeruleus posted on May 3, 2012 at 11:49 am

The NIH is facing a $2.4 billion cut next year and this guy is adding wingnut fodder about an institute that has cost a total of $1.6 billion over the past 20 years? He brings up some very good points, but in the face of loosing scores of young scientists to ruthless budget cutters in Congress, it’s just not worth adding fuel to the fire at this point in time.

Nancy L. Corsaro, L.Ac. posted on May 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm

The following statement is untrue regarding acupuncture: “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”. Maybe NIH acupuncture studies have been flawed, but many, many other studies have shown the efficacy of acupuncture for many conditions such as osteoarthritis of the knee, menopausal hot flashes, hot flashes resulting from breast cancer treatment…..the list goes on.

Secondly, I take exception to acupuncture being lumped in with therapeutic touch and aromatherapy. Acupuncture does indeed have a biological basis and has been working for over 3,000 years. Ask any of our patients if the improvement was all in their mind or if it was real.

    Rogue Medic posted on May 4, 2012 at 2:02 am

    Acupuncture is clearly just an elaborate placebo.

    A randomized trial comparing acupuncture, simulated acupuncture, and usual care for chronic low back pain.
    Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Avins AL, Erro JH, Ichikawa L, Barlow WE, Delaney K, Hawkes R, Hamilton L, Pressman A, Khalsa PS, Deyo RA.
    Arch Intern Med. 2009 May 11;169(9):858-66.
    PMID: 19433697 [PubMed - in process]

    The sham acupuncture group outperformed the “genuine acupuncture” group and also outperformed the “individualized acupuncture.”

    There are several possible explanations for this.

    Acupuncture is magic and withholds its healing properties under controlled research conditions.

    Sham acupuncture also has magical properties and should be used more often.

    Acupuncture is just an elaborate placebo.

    Since I do not believe in magic, and I would not need to go to an acupuncturist if magic were real, I accept the results that do not include magic.

    This is not the only study to show this. There are no well done studies of acupuncture that demonstrate that there is any more benefit from acupuncture than from a comparable placebo.

    Acupuncture is really a placebo.

    Am I shocked that an acupuncturist is claiming that acupuncture is not a real placebo?

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” – Upton Sinclair